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“An Onion Of Crazy”: Republicans Have A Joni Ernst Problem

Throughout the 2014 campaign season, the Iowa Senate seat held by retiring Democrat Tom Harkin has emerged as a surprisingly strong pickup opportunity for the Republican Party. President Barack Obama is wildly unpopular in Iowa, and Democratic nominee Bruce Braley has struggled to gain traction throughout the race (over the past five months, he’s seen a 10-point lead evaporate). But Republicans have a problem: their own nominee, state senator Joni Ernst.

Ernst has been an unconventional candidate from the beginning, but recently her curiosities have developed from quirky to extreme. In May, Ernst claimed that Iraq did, in fact, have weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded. In June, video emerged of her vowing to stop Agenda 21, a non-binding UN resolution that she erroneously sees as a nefarious plot to outlaw property ownership. In July, she struggled to explain her flip-flop on whether President Obama “has become a dictator” who needs to be removed from office. Later that month, it was reported that Ernst believes that states can nullify federal laws they dislike.

Now another of her far-right positions is drawing widespread attention. In a Monday interview with the Globe Gazette, Ernst called for completely eliminating the federal minimum wage.

“The minimum wage is a safety net. For the federal government to set the minimum wage for all 50 states is ridiculous,” she said.

“The standard of living in Iowa is different than it is in New York or California or Texas,” she added. “One size does not fit all.”

Ernst’s comments represent a fundamental misunderstanding of how the minimum wage works. It is not “one size.” Although the federal government guarantees that the minimum wage cannot dip below $7.25 per hour, states can set their own rates (and they do — for example, New York’s is $8, and California’s is $9).

This is not the first time that Ernst has spoken out against the minimum wage; sensing opportunity, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has compiled an extensive list of her statements that government should have no role in the issue.

But Iowa voters seem unlikely to give her credit for consistency. In terms of both policy and politics, Ernst’s position is far out of line with her own state.

Iowa, which currently has a $7.25-per-hour minimum wage, would benefit greatly from the bill proposed by Senator Harkin and Rep. George Miller (D-CA) to gradually raise the federal minimum to $10.10. According to an Economic Policy Institute analysis, a $10.10 minimum wage would increase wages for 306,000 workers in Iowa — more than one-fifth of the workforce — and generate $272,483,000 of economic activity. Eliminating it altogether? Not so much.

Polls have consistenly shown that Iowans side with Braley, who favors an increase to $10.10, over Ernst in this case. So it’s no surprise that Braley has been using the issue to go after the Republican nominee.

The minimum wage attacks are just one part of Democrats’ broader campaign to paint Ernst as too far on the fringe for Iowa (or “an onion of crazy,” as Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz recently put it). They have also targeted her as out of touch on Medicare and Social Security.

If Democrats can’t make Iowans fall in love with Bruce Braley by November, it appears that they will try to do the next best thing: Make them view Ernst as extreme to the point of unelectability. And nobody is helping them make that case more than Ernst herself.

 

By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, August 26, 2014

August 31, 2014 Posted by | Joni Ernst, Republicans, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Time To Leave The 19th Century Behind”: Let’s Stop Whistling Dixie; Missouri’s Toxic Political Culture Must Change

Quite properly, journalistic reaction to events in Ferguson, Missouri, has focused on the militarization of the police, on the role of racism in the killing of unarmed African-American men, and on the political disenfranchisement that allows communities like Ferguson to operate in obvious defiance of public sentiment.

But there is another element peculiar to Missouri politics that must have light shed upon it. That is the sharp right-ward turn conservative politics in that State has taken. In its best moments, conservatism stands for caution, for prudence, for a government that is efficient yet serves the needs of all.

There was a time when conservatives in Missouri stood for these things, but that is no longer the case. Rather, what is visible to the outside observer is a dangerous movement towards the outermost fringes. For it is fair to say that a toxic neo-confederatism has emerged as a force to be reckoned with at the very heart of Missouri’s government — its state legislature.

Let’s consider Brian Nieves, a State Senator from West St. Louis. Nieves is not some obscure back-bencher. He’s been a member of the State Legislature since 2002, rising to the position of House Majority Whip before moving on to the Senate, where he now chairs the Committee on General Laws.

And what has Senator Nieves been doing in this position of trust? He has injected neo-confederatism into the law-making function. Consider Senate Joint Resolution 45, a state constitutional amendment Nieves proposed in January, 2012, which sought to revive the discredited Confederate principle of state nullification. The amendment would have declared that Missouri enjoyed the “sovereign” right to treat as null and void all federal law on gun control; abortion; climate change; federally-subsidized health care; same-sex marriage; hate crimes; and a range of other topics. In other words, had this amendment been adopted, Missouri would have been free to reject as non-binding a large body of federal statutes and judicial decisions.

Nullification, of which this is a modern manifestation, is an idea that has its origins in the efforts of the Southern planter class of the 1820’s and 1830’s to defend slavery against an encroaching federal government. In 1832, the federal government tried to enforce a tariff in South Carolina that posed a threat to the profitability of the slave-based cotton trade that formed the cornerstone of that State’s economy.

Purporting to defend the Constitution from an allegedly unconstitutional tariff, the South Carolina Ordinance of Nullification declared that laws which “violated the true meaning and intent [of the Constitution] are null, void, and no law.” When President Andrew Jackson threatened a military response, South Carolina backed down, although three decades later it chose secession rather than recognize Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States.

Nieves’ joint resolution did not carry the day. But that did not deter the nullificationists in the State Legislature from a second, more successful attempt to assert Missouri’s self-proclaimed right to nullify federal law.

“The Second Amendment Preservation Act,” it was called, and it was introduced in January, 2014. It took direct aim at federal gun control legislation. Listing numerous federal laws on the subject, it declared the named provisions “shall be invalid in this state, shall not be recognized by this state, are specifically rejected by this state, and shall be considered null and void and of no effect in this state.” Just like the South Carolina slave owners of the 1830s, the bill’s sponsor declared that the proposed law was needed to defend the Constitution against an aggressive and out-of-control federal government.

This time, the nullificationists enjoyed greater success. In February, 2014, the Missouri Senate approved the bill by a vote of 23-10, with near-unanimous Republican support. The Missouri Tea Party rejoiced. In April, 2014, the State House of Representatives also passed the bill.

It is past time, way past time, 150 years past time, to be playing around with Confederate ideology. That Republicans in the Missouri legislature gave overwhelming support to a piece of legislation whose origins can be traced to the ugliest moments in America’s slave-owning past stands as a badge of infamy. The Missouri Republican Party would do well to repudiate this legislation and promise to stop playing with the dynamite of nullification.

I’ve got news for Missouri’s political class. They need to stop reviving the odious, discredited ideology of the Southern slaveocracy. They must instead return to reality and address the social crisis Ferguson represents. For in truth, African-Americans face substantial obstacles in Missouri. The four-year high-school graduation rate for African-Americans is 76 percent (as of 2009/2010). (The white graduation rate is 89 percent). The poverty rate for African-Americans is 27.7 percent (as of 2007/2011). The white poverty rate for the same period is 12.1 percent. The unemployment rate of African-Americans (2008/2012) is 18.0 percent. (For white Missourians it is 7.3 percent). The incarceration rate for African-Americans (as of June 30, 2012) is 38.2 percent.

It’s time for Missouri’s right-wingers to leave the nineteenth century behind. It is time for all Missourians — indeed, time for all Americans — to start building a more just and equitable world, one free of institutional racism and yawning racial disparities. Missouri was once the home of far-sighted progressives. Harry Truman desegregated the Armed Forces in 1948. Democratic Senator Stuart Symington voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act at great political risk. Missouri, it is time to get serious. The world is watching.

 

By: Charles J. Reid, Jr., The Huffington Post Blog, August 20, 2014

August 21, 2014 Posted by | Missouri, Missouri Legislature | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Crossing The Constitutional Line”: Gun Bill In Missouri Would Test Limits In Nullifying U.S. Law

Unless a handful of wavering Democrats change their minds, the Republican-controlled Missouri legislature is expected to enact a statute next month nullifying all federal gun laws in the state and making it a crime for federal agents to enforce them here. A Missourian arrested under federal firearm statutes would even be able to sue the arresting officer.

The law amounts to the most far-reaching states’ rights endeavor in the country, the far edge of a growing movement known as “nullification” in which a state defies federal power.

The Missouri Republican Party thinks linking guns to nullification works well, said Matt Wills, the party’s director of communications, thanks in part to the push by President Obama for tougher gun laws. “It’s probably one of the best states’ rights issues that the country’s got going right now,” he said.

The measure was vetoed last month by Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, as unconstitutional. But when the legislature gathers again on Sept. 11, it will seek to override his veto, even though most experts say the courts will strike down the measure. Nearly every Republican and a dozen Democrats appear likely to vote for the override.

Richard G. Callahan, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, is concerned. He cited a recent joint operation of federal, state and local law enforcement officials that led to 159 arrests and the seizing of 267 weapons, and noted that the measure “would have outlawed such operations, and would have made criminals out of the law enforcement officers.”

In a letter explaining his veto, Mr. Nixon said the federal government’s supremacy over the states’ “is as logically sound as it is legally well established.” He said that another provision of the measure, which makes it a crime to publish the name of any gun owner, violates the First Amendment and could make a crime out of local newspapers’ traditional publication of “photos of proud young Missourians who harvest their first turkey or deer.”

But the votes for the measure were overwhelming. In the House, all but one of the 109 Republicans voted for the bill, joined by 11 Democrats. In the Senate, all 24 Republicans supported it, along with 2 Democrats. Overriding the governor’s veto would require 23 votes in the Senate and 109 in the House, where at least one Democrat would have to come on board.

The National Rifle Association, which has praised Mr. Nixon in the past for signing pro-gun legislation, has been silent about the new bill. Repeated calls to the organization were not returned.

Historically used by civil rights opponents, nullification has bloomed in recent years around a host of other issues, broadly including medical marijuana by liberals and the new health care law by conservatives.

State Representative T. J. McKenna, a Democrat from Festus, voted for the bill despite saying it was unconstitutional and raised a firestorm of protest against himself. “If you just Google my name, it’s all over the place about what a big coward I am,” he said with consternation, and “how big of a ‘craven’ I was. I had to look that up.”

The voters in his largely rural district have voiced overwhelming support for the bill, he said. “I can’t be Mr. Liberal, St. Louis wannabe,” he said. “What am I supposed to do? Just go against all my constituents?”

As for the veto override vote, he said, “I don’t know how I’m going to vote yet.”

State Representative Doug Funderburk, a Republican from St. Peters and the author of the bill, said he expected to have more than enough votes when the veto override came up for consideration.

Adam Winkler, a professor of law at the University of California, Los Angeles, who follows nullification efforts nationally, said that nearly two dozen states had passed medical marijuana laws in defiance of federal restrictions. Richard Cauchi, who tracks such health legislation for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said: “Since January 2011, at least 23 states have considered bills seeking to nullify the health care law; as of mid-2013 only one state, North Dakota, had a signed law. Its language states, however, that the nullification provisions ‘likely are not authorized by the United States Constitution.’ ”

What distinguishes the Missouri gun measure from the marijuana initiatives is its attempt to actually block federal enforcement by setting criminal penalties for federal agents, and prohibiting state officials from cooperating with federal efforts. That crosses the constitutional line, said Robert A. Levy, chairman of the libertarian Cato Institute’s board of directors — a state cannot frustrate the federal government’s attempts to enforce its laws.

Mr. Levy, whose organization has taken a leading role in fighting for gun rights, said, “With the exception of a few really radical self-proclaimed constitutional authorities, state nullification of federal law is not on the radar scope.”

Still, other states have passed gun laws that challenge federal power; a recent wave began with a Firearms Freedom Act in Montana that exempts from federal regulations guns manufactured there that have not left the state.

Gary Marbut, a gun rights advocate in Montana who wrote the Firearms Freedom Act, said that such laws were “a vehicle to challenge commerce clause power,” the constitutional provision that has historically granted broad authority to Washington to regulate activities that have an impact on interstate commerce. His measure has served as a model that is spreading to other states. Recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down Montana’s law, calling it “pre-empted and invalid.”

A law passed this year in Kansas has also been compared to the Missouri law. But Kris W. Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, disagreed, saying it had been drafted “very carefully to ensure that there would be no situation where a state official would be trying to arrest a federal official.”

In Missouri, State Representative Jacob Hummel, a St. Louis Democrat and the minority floor leader, said that he was working to get Democrats who voted for the bill to vote against overriding the veto. “I think some cooler heads will prevail in the end,” he said, “but we will see.”

Taking up legislative time to vote for unconstitutional bills that are destined to end up failing in the courts is “a waste of taxpayers’ money,” Mr. Hummel said, adding that more and more, the legislature passes largely symbolic resolutions directed at Congress.

“We’re elected to serve the citizens of the state of Missouri, at the state level,” he said. “We were not elected to tell the federal government what to do — that’s why we have Congressional elections.”

The lone Republican opponent of the bill in the House, State Representative Jay Barnes, said, “Our Constitution is not some cheap Chinese buffet where we get to pick the parts we like and ignore the rest.” He added, “Two centuries of constitutional jurisprudence shows that this bill is plainly unconstitutional, and I’m not going to violate my oath of office.”

Mr. Funderburk, the bill’s author, clearly disagrees. And, he said, Missouri is only the beginning. “I’ve got five different states that want a copy” of the bill, he said.

 

By: John Schwartz, The New York Times, August 28, 2013

August 30, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Nullification, Symbolism Over Substance”: How States Are Making It A Felony To Enforce Federal Gun Laws

In mid-April, Kansas passed a law asserting that federal gun regulations do not apply to guns made and owned in Kansas. Under the law, Kansans could manufacture and sell semi-automatic weapons in-state without a federal license or any federal oversight.

Kansas’ “Second Amendment Protection Act” backs up its states’ rights claims with a penalty aimed at federal agents: When dealing with “Made in Kansas” guns, any attempt to enforce federal law is now a felony. Bills similar to Kansas’ law have been introduced in at least 37 other states. An even broader bill is on the desk of Alaska governor Sean Parnell. That bill would exempt any gun owned by an Alaskan from federal regulation. In Missouri, a bill declaring federal gun laws “null and void” passed by an overwhelming majority in the state House, and is headed for debate in the Senate.

Mobilizing the pre-Civil War doctrine of “nullification,” these bills assert that Congress has overstepped its ability to regulate guns — and that states, not the Supreme Court, have the ultimate authority to decide whether a law is Constitutional or not.

The head of the Kansas’s State Rifle Association, an affiliate of the National Rifle Association, says she put the bill together and found it a sponsor. While the NRA regularly lauds passages of states’ gun-rights laws, it stayed silent on Kansas’ law, and, so far, has kept a low profile on nullification. (The group did not respond to our requests for comment.)

Many observers see nullification bills as pure political theater, “the ultimate triumph of symbolism over substance,” as UCLA law Professor Adam Winkler put it. He said he doubts the laws will ever be enforced, and, if they are, expects them to be struck down by the courts.

Winkler and others say nullification laws violate the Constitution, which makes federal law “the supreme law of the land…anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.” Indeed, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder wrote a letter last week to Kansas governor Sam Brownback, asserting that Kansas’ law is “unconstitutional.” (Brownback, who signed the bill into law, did not immediately respond to our requests for comment.)

But the growing number of such bills — which have passed by large majorities in at least one chamber of seven state legislatures–highlight the challenge gun control advocates face in their attempt to fight for gun regulation at the state level.

It also shows how nullification is fast becoming a mainstream option for state politicians. In Pennsylvania, 76 state legislators signed on to sponsor a measure that would invalidate any new federal ban of certain weapons or ammunition. The bill would impose a minimum penalty of one year in prison for federal agents who attempt to enforce any new law.

Supporters of nullification are not simply frustrated at what they see as congressional and presidential overreach. During a hearing about one of the nullification bills she had introduced, Tennessee state senator Mae Beavers called the Supreme Court a “dictatorship.”

“You think that the Supreme Court is the ultimate arbiter of any of these laws. I don’t believe that. I don’t believe it was ever granted the authority under the Constitution,” Beavers was quoted as saying in The Tennessean. (Reached by phone, she asked to comment later, then did not respond to further requests.)

The Supreme Court rejected nullification in 1958, after Southern states tried to use the concept to avoid desegregating public schools. “No state legislator or executive or judicial officer can war against the Constitution without violating his solemn oath to support it,” the Court ruled.

Winkler, the UCLA law professor, said that even though the nullification trend was likely to be ineffectual, “It represents a strong, powerful opposition to our government.”

The concept of nullification has had a resurgence since the beginning of President Obama’s administration. More than a dozen states have introduced bills to nullify Obamacare.

The Tenth Amendment Center, a group that advocates nullification as the solution to a range of policy issues, from marijuana legalization to Obamacare, publishes model gun nullification language. The center has little direct contact with state legislators, Michael Boldin, the center’s founder, said.

The roots of guns law nullification trace back nearly a decade.

In 2004, Montana gun rights activist Gary Marbut drafted a bill stating that any guns manufactured and retained in Montana are not part of interstate commerce, and thus are exempt from federal regulation. The bill failed twice, but it became law in 2009 after Republicans took control of the state House. By Marbut’s count, at least eight states soon enacted “clones” of the Montana law. (Those laws don’t go quite as far as the more recent nullification legislation. For instance, most of them don’t make it a crime to enforce federal law.)

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms responded to the earlier laws with letters to local firearms dealers explaining that federal laws and regulations “continue to apply.”

The day the Montana law went into effect, Marbut filed a lawsuit in federal court asserting the right to manufacture weapons in the state without a federal license. The suit, now before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, has been backed by a large group of supporters, including Gun Owners of America, the Second Amendment Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Goldwater Institute, and a group of nine attorneys general, some of them from states that had passed their own versions of the Montana law.

Representatives of Goldwater and the Cato Institute said they see the case as not primarily about guns. Instead, they say, it’s meant to persuade the Supreme Court to roll back the Congress’ power to regulate commerce within a state.

“The likelihood of victory is low,” said Trevor Burrus, a research fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies.

The latest set of bills — including Kansas’ new law —represent a far broader and more aggressive challenge to federal law. Even conservative organizations have been skeptical of the trend.

“A state law that criminalizes federal activity — I would oppose that as both imprudent and wrong,” Burrus said. The Cato Institute’s chairman wrote an op-ed recently arguing this kind of nullification is invalid.

Goldwater Institute’s Nick Dranias, a Constitutional expert, said the term “nullification” is sometimes applied to legitimate attempts to exert state sovereignty, “and sometimes it is essentially lawless civil disobedience.”

States should only pass laws challenging federal power “when there is a reasonable legal argument for sustaining them,” he said. And the penalty for enforcing federal law in “hard cases” should be “a misdemeanor at most.”

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group, released a “fact sheet” last year titled “Nullification: Unlawful and Unconstitutional.” (The fact sheet does not address guns in particular.)

The Montana activist who helped inspire the nullification movement in Kansas is also a bit skeptical. While he simply chose to challenge the federal government’s commerce power, Kansas is “bucking federal power more generally,” he said.

“I think, maybe tactically, they may have gone a little further than they needed to,” Marbut said.

Though he supports the principles behind the Kansas law, “I don’t know how much of that they can uphold when it gets to the courts.”

But Marbut hopes that the rapid spread of gun law nullification bills across the country will encourage the Supreme Court to hear his case.

“I see the tide moving our way,” Marbut said. “I think the Supreme Court has figured out that the people of America are gathering their torches and pitchforks and it’s time to settle things down by reeling in the federal giant.”

A spokeswoman for Alaska’s Parnell, who has not either approved or vetoed the state’s nullification bill, said last month that “he is supportive of it.” But, she added, “The bill (as with all bills that pass) is currently undergoing a thorough review by the Department of Law.”

In Kansas, Patricia Stoneking, the president of the Kansas State Rifle Association, said she was recommending that Kansans not start manufacturing guns under the new law until its legal status has been clarified.

Even if Kansas’ law ends up being struck down in court, “We actually are not going to roll over and play dead and say, ‘Oh, no, shame on us,’” Stoneking said. “The fight will not be over.”

 

By: Lois Beckett, ProPublica, May 3, 2013

May 5, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Larger Terrifying Trend”: Nullification Must Never Be On The Table

About a week ago, Robert Schlesinger reported on a bill in Montana’s state legislature that would have “forbidden Big Sky law enforcement from enforcing any new assault weapons ban or ban on high capacity magazines,” even if such a law were passed by Congress. In effect, a majority of Montana state lawmakers said they want to be able to nullify a federal law they don’t like.

In this case, the Montana bill was largely pointless — a law that doesn’t exist can’t be rejected — and was vetoed by Gov. Steve Bullock (D) anyway. But the effort was a reminder about a larger, rather terrifying trend: a growing number of state Republican policymakers consider nullification a legitimate use of state power.

For context, it’s worth remembering that there was a rather spirited debate in the mid-19th century over whether states could choose to ignore federal laws. The debate was resolved by a little something called the U.S. Civil War — those who argued in support of nullification lost.

And for the last several generations, that was that. But as Republican politics has grown increasingly radicalized in recent years, the discredited legal principle has started to move from the outer fringes of American life to state capitols. Consider this story out of Tennessee this week, for example.

The state House and Senate speakers have agreed to have a joint committee conduct hearings over the summer and fall on federal government laws and executive orders that may have exceeded constitutional authority, Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, told colleagues Tuesday.

Beavers’ announcement came after declaring she would not push for passage of the “Balance of Powers Act” (SB1158), which would have set up a joint legislative committee to determine which federal laws should be nullified in Tennessee by the General Assembly.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but there’s nothing to discuss — state lawmakers can’t pick and choose which federal laws they’ll honor. But instead of realizing this basic tenet of modern American law, Tennessee will actually hold hearings on a concept that is, in the most literal sense, radical.

And it’s not just Tennessee.

As Schlesinger noted in his report, some states are looking to nullify gun laws that don’t yet exist; West Virginia is thinking about nullifying federal regulations on coal mining; and Mississippi, like Tennessee, is eyeing the creation of a nullification committee to pare down federal laws the state doesn’t like.

Let’s also not forget that in North Carolina, there’s pending legislation that says the First Amendment doesn’t apply to the state, federal courts can’t determine what’s constitutional under the U.S. Constitution, and North Carolina has the right to declare its own state religion.

If we broaden the context a bit, we can even look at the anti-abortion measures recently approved in North Dakota and Arkansas. Lawmakers were well aware of the fact that these bills are unconstitutional under existing Supreme Court precedent, but they decided it didn’t matter.

It’s my sincere hope that this is just a bizarre fad among radicalized Republicans, and to borrow a phrase, the “fever” gripping GOP politics will soon fade without incident. Chances are, cooler heads will prevail and these various nullification efforts will fade away, left to become a punch-line among future historians marveling at the far-right hysteria of the Obama era.

But I’d lying if I said this isn’t disconcerting and more than a little alarming.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 4, 2013

April 8, 2013 Posted by | Federal Government, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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