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“Protecting Conservative Principles”: Alabama Blocks Local Control On Minimum Wage

It’s been nearly two years since Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) announced that her state would not only ignore calls for a higher minimum wage, but also that the state law would block any effort by local Oklahoma communities to raise wages at the municipal level. In other words, if a city in Oklahoma wanted a higher minimum, the state would effectively declare, “Too bad.”

Last year, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) made the same move, prohibiting local control over minimum-wage increases. And last week, MSNBC’s Zack Roth reported on the identical circumstances playing out the same way in Alabama.

Birmingham, Alabama, raised the city’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour on Tuesday. Two days later, the state took it away.

Alabama passed a bill Thursday, largely along party lines, that bars cities and counties from raising the minimum wage or requiring employers to provide leave or other benefits. Because the law applies retroactively, it wipes out Birmingham’s raise.

Republican legislative leaders fast-tracked the bill in order to pass it before Birmingham’s raise was set to take effect March 1. The GOP enjoys super-majorities in both houses. Within an hour or so of the bill’s passage, Gov. Robert Bentley (R) announced he had signed it.

It’s amazing how quickly Republican policymakers can move when they feel strongly about an issue. In this case, their zeal applied to blocking a city that wanted to raise its own minimum wage.

The L.A. Times reported that there are now 17 states that prohibit their own cities from raising a local minimum wage – because if there’s one thing the right believes in as a bedrock principle of their entire ideology, it’s the importance of local control, except when Republicans decide they actually believe the exact opposite.

As we discussed the last time this came up, contemporary conservatism generally celebrates the idea that the government that’s closest to the people – literally, geographically – is best able to respond to the public’s needs.

But when communities consider progressive measures Republicans don’t like, those principles are quickly thrown out the window.

So, let this be a lesson to everyone: when officials in Washington tell states what to do, it’s an outrageous abuse and clear evidence of government overreach. When states tell cities what to do, it’s protecting conservative principles.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 29, 2016

March 1, 2016 Posted by | Conservatism, Conservatives, Minimum Wage, State and Local Governments | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Ugly Assumptions Driving The Policy”: GOP Governors Recommit To Welfare Drug-Testing Schemes

The Wall Street Journal recently noted that when it comes to welfare recipients, “few” applicants have been caught up in the “drug-screening net.” How few? The piece noted that in Arizona, for example, between 2011 and 2014, over 108,000 people seeking benefits were subjected to drug screen. A grand total of 2 applicants were disqualified due to testing positive.

Note, I don’t mean 2 percent; I mean literally 2 individual people out of 108,408.

In recent years, the idea of imposing drug tests on welfare beneficiaries – which is to say, poor people receiving aid; those who receive corporate welfare benefits are exempt – has become exceedingly popular among many Republicans. The problem for proponents is that the programs keep failing – in practice, in the courts, or both.

And yet, several GOP policymakers just can’t seem to help themselves.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is pushing forward with a plan to make food stamp recipients pass drug tests – a requirement that the Obama administration says violates federal law. […]

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (known as FoodShare in Wisconsin), says it’s against the rules for states to require drug testing as a condition of receiving benefits. The federal government could yank administrative funding from states that are out of compliance – a threat the USDA leveled at Georgia over a similar drug testing scheme last year. Georgia backed down.

Walker has been aware of the rule from the start. “We believe that there will potentially be a fight with the federal government and in court,” he told the Journal Sentinel in September.

Indeed, for the ambitious Republican governor, it’s a two-fer – he gets to look “tough” on poor people in advance of his presidential campaign, and at the same time, Walker gets to boast about a big fight with the Obama administration, which will make a nice addition to his presidential stump speech.

Of course, it’s not just Walker. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) recently approved a policy of drug testing welfare recipients, and Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) is an enthusiastic supporter of the idea.

The case against the policy is pretty straightforward. It’s legally dubious for states to require poor people to give up bodily fluids in exchange for benefits they’re entitled to; it’s exceedingly expensive to administer the tests; and wherever these policies have been implemented, they’ve failed to produce much of anything in the way of results.

But as we’ve discussed before, perhaps the most striking problem is the ugly assumptions driving the policy itself. For many, especially on the right, it makes sense to assume those who are struggling are to blame for their plight.

If you’re relying on TANF aid to help your family keep its head above water, maybe there’s something wrong with your lifestyle.  If you’ve fallen on hard times and need the public safety net, the state should probably assume you have a drug problem.

Real-world evidence, however, points in a different direction.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 23, 2015

January 26, 2015 Posted by | Drug Testing, GOP, Welfare Recipients | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Where’s The Accountability?”: In Michigan, Public Records Could Very Well Be Gone Forever

Whether you’re a conservative, liberal, moderate, tea partier or progressive, there is one thing we can all agree on: We all want government to be accountable to the public.

One of the best ways to understand the inner workings of government and hold elected and public officials accountable is through open records laws. The Freedom of Information Act or FOIA allows watchdog groups, citizens and reporters to request and access public documents.

That’s why we were shocked on Wednesday to find out that the Michigan Department of Community Health had illegally deleted all email communications from its director despite the fact that state law requires them to remain on file for two years.

Here’s a little background: In Michigan, lawmakers and the governor are exempt from FOIA. In order to help the public see how government is working for them, we decided to request all email communications between department heads and the Governor and his chief of staff. It’s a roundabout way of doing it, but it is one of the only ways to get around the exemption in Michigan law.

Through this process we’ve discovered a number of things and have posted all of the documents for the public to view. One of our biggest findings was the fact that the Snyder administration quietly cancelled a $98,000 fine against the Aramark Corporation, an out-of-state company that has a prison food service contract with the state, after a series of contractual blunders.

Our latest FOIA request revealed another bombshell of information, but this time it’s the lack of information that was damning.

On Wednesday, after a month of waiting for the Department of Community Health to respond to our FOIA request, our attorney was informed that the emails didn’t exist because they had been deleted upon the director’s retirement.

That’s illegal. Under Michigan law, the emails that we were requesting must be kept on file for at least two years. In some of our other FOIA requests we’ve received emails dating back even further than that two-year timeframe. Deleting them before that time expires is a misdemeanor.

As a former journalist, I feel sick thinking about the fact that public records could very well be gone forever. We don’t know what was in those emails. We don’t know if there was anything nefarious or illegal going on in those conversations. That’s not the point. The point is public records were illegally destroyed.

The question that needs to be asked is, why? Why were these records destroyed? Who ordered their deletion? Those are questions that are burning in our mind and we’re determined to find out.

The department might as well have set a filing cabinet of public records on fire or shoved hundreds of pages of communications through a paper shredder. In this case, someone pressed delete and the public’s right to know went completely out the window.


By: Sam Inglot, The Huffington Post Blog, November 4, 2014

November 5, 2014 Posted by | Freedom Of Information Act, Michigan, Politics | , , , | Leave a comment

“The Broader GOP Benefits Of Walker Losing”: Intra-Party ‘Feud’ Complicates Walker’s Race In Wisconsin

No gubernatorial race in the country is as competitive as Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) re-election bid in Wisconsin. The last four publicly released polls have shown the race either tied or within one percentage point.

And with just a week until Election Day, the incumbent governor isn’t convinced the Republican Machine is rallying to his defense to the degree he’d prefer.

At a morning campaign stop in Mayville, Wisconsin, Walker openly groused that the outside spending supporting his campaign “pales” in comparison to the Democratic effort to defeat him. He spoke dismissively of an upcoming campaign visit from [New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie], telling reporters that the Garden Stater was visiting because “he asked if he could come and we weren’t going to say no.”


In fairness, Walker later clarified that he’s grateful for Christie’s support, but he’s frustrated because he believes Democrats are rallying behind Mary Burke’s campaign with even stronger support.

The result is an awkward “feud” of sorts – Walker desperately needs backing from the Republican Governors Association, which is chaired by Christie, but at the same time, Walker believes the RGA is holding back, in part because of 2016. And he may have a point – both Christie and Walker are preparing to run for president, and if the Wisconsin governor comes up short, Christie will have one less credible rival for the GOP nomination.

It’s created a dynamic in which Christie’s RGA wants Walker to win, but it also sees the broader benefits of Walker losing.

And that in turn has generated chatter about whether the New Jersey Republican is undermining his Wisconsin ally on purpose to advance Christie’s ambitions.

The Weekly Standard, which is clearly attuned to Republican insiders’ thinking, had an interesting report on this late last week.

Is New Jersey governor and Republican Governors Association chairman Chris Christie undercutting Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s reelection effort? That’s a question a number of influential Wisconsin Republicans have been asking behind the scenes over the past week after an October 16 Associated Press report indicated that Walker and his allies were being outspent by Democratic challenger Mary Burke and her allies. […]

Why would the RGA spend more on Rick Snyder than Scott Walker? A number of top Wisconsin Republicans have expressed the same concern in separate conversations with THE WEEKLY STANDARD: That RGA chairman Chris Christie might be tanking Walker, a potential rival for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. As Republican governors who took on public employee unions in blue states, Christie and Walker would be chasing after some of the same donors and voters in the 2016 race (if both men decide to run). Knocking Walker out of the running now (while giving extra help to Rick Snyder, a governor of an important early GOP primary state) could be in Christie’s interest.

As for Democrats, President Obama will be in Wisconsin today, rallying support for Burke’s campaign, which “comes on the heels of high-profile events with Michelle Obama and former President Bill Clinton.”


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 28, 2014

October 28, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, Midterm Elections, Scott Walker | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Right-Wing Incumbent’s”: Five Awful GOP Governors Who Need To Go

Senate, Senate, Senate. Of course it’s the most important battle this fall, the top fight on the card. But there’s a lot of other action to watch. I’ll write plenty about Senate races between now and Election Day, but today, let’s look at the key governors races. From a liberal point of view, there are five that are clearly the most important; five where taking out the right-wing incumbent would be gratifying either for its own sake, for what it might suggest about 2016, or in some cases both. Here we go, in order:

1. Rick Scott, Florida. Scott seems to be maintaining a slender lead over Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist, who’s running against him. But it’s all margin-of-error stuff at this point—Scott leads narrowly in most polls, and every so often one finds Crist ahead. There is a third candidate, Libertarian Adrian Wyllie, who’s running between 4 and 8 percent and, according to one poll, drawing equally from Scott and Crist.

The most important thing about this race is not political but—lo and behold!—substantive. If Crist wins, the biggest state in the union that is not participating in Obamacare may do so. Governor Crist would have to battle with the legislature about accepting the Medicaid money, but this has been a central plank of his campaign, just as refusing the money has been central to Scott’s campaign. If Crist were to win and push acceptance of the funds through, the state could gain $66 billion in federal dollars over the next decade and insure 1.1 million more people. It’d be a huge step forward for the Affordable Care Act.

And of course there are 2016 ramifications as well. In most states that have taken the Medicaid money, doing so has turned out to be pretty popular. If Crist gets in and manages to implement Obamacare in a reasonably successful way, that has to help whoever the Democratic candidate is. And when a party controls a governor’s mansion, its donor base is more engaged and its network of local activists and volunteers is more energized.

2. Scott Walker, Wisconsin. I’m confident I speak for all of American liberalism when I say we’d love to see this smarmy, smug, self-satisfied little blobfish go down to defeat. Right now, he’s basically tied with Democrat Mary Burke. He’s ahead by three points in one recent poll, she’s up four in another. One factor that could help Walker in turnout terms is that, of the state’s eight congressional districts, the only two in which the races are competitive are GOP-leaning districts, so that could push Republican turnout up a bit. On the other hand, Obama’s job approval in Wisconsin isn’t so bad, at 45-49, so it’s not like a Kentucky or Arkansas, where loads of conservative voters are going to vote just to register their animus toward the president.

I rank Walker second on my list because he’s a potential presidential contender for 2016. The conventional wisdom now in Washington is that he’s the 2016 Tim Pawlenty—the guy who looks good on paper but isn’t ready for prime time. But who knows, the conventional wisdom is wrong all the time about these things. And if somehow Walker were to demonstrate that he’s ready for prime time and capture the Republican nomination, then there’s a chance he could win—only a chance, I think—his home state, and that’s 10 electoral votes that would really alter the Electoral College calculus (the Democrats haven’t lost Wisconsin since 1984). Better just to take him out now and not have to worry about such exigencies.

3. Nathan Deal, Georgia. A true wingnut, former House member Deal has presided over the new gun law that lets people pack heat in America’s busiest airport, spoken fondly of the old Stars and Bars, and sent most of the other signals you’d expect someone like that to send to reactionary white voters. While in the House, he was something of a birth-certificate “truther.” That all combines to stand a chance of rendering Deal a bit much even by the hardened standards of the Peach State, where polls show him one or two goober peas ahead of Jason Carter, grandson of Jimmy. Carter is well to grandpap’s right—he supported the new gun law, for example. But at least he’d probably not say things like, “My wife tells me she could look at her sixth-grade class and tell ya which ones are going to prison and which ones are going to college.”

But here’s the real importance of this race: A Carter win would terrify the GOP heading into 2016. Remember, Obama lost the state by just eight points. I can guarantee you that on the day after the election in 2012, when political pros on both sides saw that result, their universal next thought was: Holy smokes, Hillary could win that state. And indeed, while statewide opinion polling on Clinton vs. GOP field in ’16 is scant, as often as not, it shows that she leads the major Republicans already. A Carter victory would start intensive “Will Georgia Turn Blue?” talk. Whereas a flip of Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes would make life a little more complicated for the Democrats, a flip of Georgia’s 16 would pulverize any GOP chances of the White House.

4. Rick Snyder, Michigan. Like Walker, Snyder is an anomaly, a conservative Republican who won in a usually slightly left-of-center state in 2010, the tea party year. He’s been better than Walker—he did, for example, come around to accepting the Obamacare Medicaid money after having initially opposed it. And he signed a bill raising the minimum wage. But he’s been plenty conservative, too, pushing for hugely controversial right-to-work legislation, and presiding over the usual scorched-earth public education policies. Snyder is basically tied with Democrat Mark Schauer.

Snyder is too conservative for that state. It’s as if, oh, Indiana had a Democratic governor—it’s something that happens, but it’s just not the natural order of things. Besides which, if he wins reelection, we’re going to have to endure a mountain of GOP spin about how the party is going to take back Michigan in ’16, even though Republicans haven’t carried it since 1988. If he loses, there’s a sporting chance the media will be less gullible about such nonsense

5. Paul LePage, Maine. This one has no 2016 ramifications. The Democratic presidential candidate will win Maine, although the state is one of two where it’s legal to split electors, so the Republican could conceivably win one of the state’s four electoral votes. But LePage is just America’s highest-ranking elected baboon, with a long string of comments that aren’t just “incendiary,” to employ one of the standard euphemisms, but simply embarrassing to the Republican Party, the state of Maine, and the human race. He’s running just a hair behind Democrat Mike Michaud, a member of the House of Representatives. There’s an independent candidate polling in the low double digits and stealing more from Michaud than LePage, so he might be the incumbent’s salvation.

There are several other important governor’s races. I left Kansas’ Sam Brownback off my list because it already looks as if, while there’s still plenty of time on the clock, he’s going to lose. But the significance of a Republican incumbent governor losing in Kansas would be pretty great, although obviously it wouldn’t impact 2016, since a Democratic presidential candidate will win Kansas the same year the great and powerful Oz returns in his hot-air balloon to the state fair. Arizona, Colorado, and Illinois are all tight races, too. There’s no denying it. Election night is likely to be a long night for liberals. But catching glimpses of the concession speeches from the above quintumverate would make the night a lot less painful.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, September 22, 2014

September 23, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Republican Governors | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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