Nel's New Day

September 25, 2014

More Voter Discrimination

Exactly 50 years ago this summer, Andrew Goodman, a 20-year-old anthropology major at Queens College, Mickey Schwerner, a 24-year-old graduate student in social work at Columbia University, and James Chaney, a 21-year-old volunteer with the Congress for Racial Equality, participated in Freedom Summer, urging Mississippi blacks to register to vote. In 1964, only 6.7 percent of blacks were registered in Mississippi; the county where they spoke had not one registered black person.

On June 21, 1964, the three were arrested, released, and then abducted by the Ku Klux Klan. Their bodies were found 44 days later in an earthen dam. The two white men had each been shot once; Cheney, who was black, had been mutilated beyond recognition. Only the Voting Rights Act, which President Lyndon Johnson signed on August 6, 1965, moved the country toward voting rights for eligible citizens. The law stopped literacy tests and poll taxes used to keep blacks from registering in the South and prevented future voter suppression methods. Now Mississippi has more black elected officials than any other state.

One year ago on June 25, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling that invalidated the requirement that states and regions have to “preclear” their voting changes with the federal government. Chief Justice John Roberts claimed that the data was outdated and cited the “fundamental principle of equal sovereignty” among states. He did concede that “voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that” but that the country didn’t need the “extraordinary measures” of the VRA. Tuesday’s blog shows the need for these “extraordinary measures.”

The 22 states suppressing voting since the 2010 election are using “extraordinary measures” to ensure that only “certain people” could vote: strict photo IDs, elimination of early voting, harsher laws to register people to vote, rescinding voting rights for non-violent ex-felons, etc. Conservative discrimination against low-income people and minorities were obvious in the new laws. Eighteen of the 22 states have GOP legislatures or governors. Seven of the 11 states with the highest black turnout in 2008 have new restrictions. Nine of the 12 states with the biggest Hispanic population growth between 2000 and 2010 have the same new restrictions. Nine of the 15 states previously covered by the Voting Rights Act, almost two-thirds, passed new voting restrictions.

Although most of these states are in the South, other states farther north joined them: Kansas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Two of these have backed down, but Kansas and Wisconsin kept their oppressive anti-voting laws.

In her dissent to overruling the VRA section, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote, “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” People in Texas lost the umbrella protecting them from voter restrictions within two hours of the decision’s announcement. North Carolina waited only two months to pass the most stringent set of voting restrictions among all 50 states.

Local governments have also adopted strategies to cut out minorities. Augusta (GA) moved city council elections from November to July when black turnout is traditionally far lower. Pasadena (TX) approved an at-large system for electing council members to reduce the number of successful Hispanic candidates. Beaumont (TX) followed the same process for its school board. The federal government blocked the move, but Beaumont did an end run and succeeded in state court. Decatur (AL) has a new system to rid the city council of its one black member.

After the five conservatives of the Supreme Court eviscerated the VRA, it claimed that Congress could clean up their mess. With the GOP-caused gridlock, this will not happen now or, possibly, in the near future. Rep. Eric Cantor seemed amenable to listening to the voting problems after a trip to Mississippi with Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who was beaten by state troopers during the civil rights movement, and David Goodman, who is the brother of the slain Andrew Goodman. Cantor said, “This voting issue is not a partisan issue.” He has not been re-elected.

[Thanks to Ari Berman for these thoughts and words.]

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, believes that there is no voting discrimination because current laws don’t allow this to happen. Goodlatte still thinks that Section 2 of the VRA, which remains after the Supreme Court ruling, is sufficient protection. It allows victims of racial discrimination in voting to file suit. Therefore, Goodlatte will not schedule a hearing on the issue.

A broad coalition of civil rights, labor, and progressive leaders launched the VRA for Today Coalition with a petition signed by more than 500,000 Americans who strongly support restoring the Voting Rights Act and protecting all voters from discrimination. Advocates who tried to deliver the names of the petition signers this month found that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) had locked his office door during normal business hours.

The voiced argument for voting suppression in 34 states has always been a self-righteous claim that laws are necessary to stop voting fraud. Sworn congressional testimony by Loyola Law Prof. Justin Levitt in September 2011 cited only nine potential cases of in-person impersonation since 2000 out of 400 million votes cast during that time. A non-partisan news consortium in 2012 found one more case. Levitt updated his data recently and found 31 cases out of 1 billion ballots cast in the past 14 years. Some of these 31 cases have not been thoroughly investigated which means that they may be debunked through computer error or confusion of names. This is a fraud rate of 0.00002 percent. Impersonation results in a $10,000 fine and three years of imprisonment—for just one vote. It would also require the name of another person registered at a specific polling place who has not yet voted and does not know the person.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), presidential wannabe, has waffled about photo ID, but this week he again argued that the GOP is causing problems for minority voters. At the Liberty PAC conference, he said:

“So many times, Republicans are seen as this party of, ‘We don’t want black people to vote because they’re voting Democrat, we don’t want Hispanic people to vote because they’re voting Democrat. We wonder why the Republican Party is so small. Why don’t we be the party that’s for people voting, for voting rights?”

As a U.S. senator, Paul has sponsored no legislation to protect voters targeted by the GOP. In July he said that he wanted to bring back a federal role for the Voting Rights Act, but he has failed to sign on to a legislative proposal to do just that. He hasn’t even come up with an alternative.

Update to Kansas: Since my report two days ago about Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s insistence that the Democrats name a candidate for the U.S. Senate on the ballot, a Kansas Democrat, whose son is the regional field director for GOP Gov. Brownback’s re-election campaign, filed a lawsuit intended to force Democrats into selecting a new candidate for the highly contented U.S. Senate race. The Kansas Supreme Court sent the case to a lower court which must consider barriers to mandamus relief. It’s doubtful that the case will be settled there before ballots have been printed for Election Day on November 4. The Kansas Secretary of State polls show that Kris Kobach and his Democratic challenger Jean Schodorf are even in the race.

The residence of the GOP candidate for U.S. Senate, incumbent Pat Roberts, is in question. He has signed a mortgage on a Virginia residence that declares Fairfax County as his “principal residence.” In Kansas he owns a duplex in Dodge City and registers to vote at the home of supporters and donors C. Duane and Phyllis Ross. He joked, “I have full access to the recliner.” For this privilege he pays $300 a month. He said in an interview, “Every time I get an opponent — I mean, every time I get a chance — I’m home.” (No, that’s not satire.)

 

June 19, 2013

GOP Protests Immigrants, Filibuster Control

The House GOP passed its ridiculously restrictively anti-abortion bill yesterday, re-alienating women. Now they’re moving on to reject Hispanics with bigoted their stand against immigrants. GOP Congressmen have worked hard to tell anyone that letting minorities into the United States is counterproductive because most of them will vote Democrat, especially those from Latin America.

Tea Party representatives have put House Speaker John Boehner between the proverbial rock and a hard place by demanding that he not allow any immigration reform bill on the House floor unless a majority of Republicans is willing to vote for it—meaning that he must reject all bills that the Tea Party opposes. Unless he doesn’t. When he was asked yesterday if a bill would require majority GOP support to get to the House floor, he said, “We’ll see when we get  there.”

Immediately after the 2012 election, when the GOP was pursuing ideas to move their voting base beyond white men, Boehner said that he and President Obama could find common ground to immigration reform because “a comprehensive approach is long overdue.” Fast forward seven months, and he said that the idea that he is “pushing a comprehensive immigration bill” is “just not true.”

Media have spent a great deal of time trying to determine exactly what Weathervane Boehner means when he says, “I don’t see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn’t have a majority support of Republicans.” One side says he’s bluffing; the other side claims that he will join the GOP in killing immigration reform.

The GOP business community wants the reform bill to pass, not only to get cheap labor but also to win the 2016 presidential election. Yet the party base is dead set against immigration reform. Most likely most of the GOP legislators are bad-mouthing the bill in public while demanding in private that it be brought to the floor. Boehner may think that his language gave him wiggle room, but his base won’t agree. The question for Boehner is how much he is willing to endanger his position as Speaker of the House.

Today the far-right members of the House made themselves very clear in their rejection of immigration reform through a day-long press conference, organized by Reps. Steve King (R-IA) and Louie Gohmert (R-TX). Scheduled for the west side of the Capitol, the group was joined by Tea Partiers who were there to protest the IRS. In addition to the usual far-right suspects from Congress, Glenn Beck, who had decided that he should stop trying to divide the country and then developed paralyzed vocal chords, returned with his toxic rhetoric.

Yesterday he used his television show to draw a comparison between the immigration reform advocates peacefully protesting outside the home of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and the Ku Klux Klan. “The left is set up on revenge,” Beck said, comparing the demonstrators to Greece’s Golden Dawn party, a neo-Nazi group with ties to anti-immigrant hate crimes. Kobach was not home during the protest, as the Sunflower Community Action knew, but he threatened to shoot them if necessary. One of Kobach’s achievements is writing Arizona SB 1070, an anti-immigrant law that drove thousands of people out of the state in fear.

King’s six-hour anti-immigration reform press conference/rally today opposed “amnesty” for “illegal aliens,” Sharia law, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). A sizeable group of the conservatives booed Rubio’s name and carried anti-Rubio signs including “Marco Early Advocate of Muslim Brotherhood Takeover. Obamas [sic] Idiot.” Once in favor of the immigration reform bill, Weathervane Rubio opposed it and then appeared on ABC’s This Week last Sunday to say that “95, 96 percent of the bill is in perfect shape and ready to go.”

Rubio is one of the many GOP presidential wannabes of 2016. Meanwhile Allen West, former representative from Florida, has said that he’s considering a run against Rubio, if God sets his feet on that path. In addition to being virulently anti-government, West has shown himself to be sexist, anti-Muslim, pro-corporation—the list continues.

King has compared immigrants to dogs and livestock. For years he has tried to “clarify” the 14th Amendment that provides U.S. citizenship for anyone born in the country. In 2010, he said, “The framers did not consider the babies of illegals when they framed the 14th amendment because we didn’t have immigration law at the time, so they could not have wanted to confer automatic citizenship on the babies of people who were unlawfully in the United States.”

When DREAMers came to his office to advocate for immigration reform after the House voted to deport them, King tweeted:

20 brazen self professed illegal aliens have just invaded my DC office. Obama’s lawless order gives them de facto immunity from U.S. law.

#Gof8 You promise border security. How, when we can’t secure Congress from Obama amnesty? Schumer, McCain, come guard my door.

Here are the fearsome 20. King would never survive a high school classroom.

king aliens

While part of the GOP Congressional caucus stands on the Capitol steps to alienate Hispanics, House Republicans are planning a series of meetings with Hispanic-Americans in the nation’s capital as part of a GOP effort to woo minority voters. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), the one woman allowed to be on the House leadership team, is planning four meetup sessions between Hispanic-Americans and GOP lawmakers at the Capitol Building this summer, starting today. Wonder how that went with the anti-immigration talk outside.

The situation in the Senate is growing so dire that even Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is finally considering the so-called “nuclear option,” ending filibusters of administration nominees in the upper chamber, after years of opposing the loss of the filibuster. If this were to happen, judicial nominees and Senate-confirmed administration positions, including the presidential cabinet, could be approved with a simple majority rule. To employ this option, he would need almost unanimous support of the chamber’s Democrats, which he most likely can’t get, starting with the retiring Carl Levin (D-MI).

GOP senators are coming unglued about the possibility of returning Senate procedures to a few decades ago before they mandated 60 percent of the vote on even the simplest action. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has threatened Reid if he were to follow through with his plans. If the GOP were to take over the Senate, Alexander said that the GOP agenda would repeal Obamacare, convert all federal education funding into school vouchers and scholarships, open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling, and repeal the estate tax.

This threat is the most hollow of any I’ve heard in a long time. The minute that the GOP gets a Senate majority, this is exactly what they will do—and far worse!

April 25, 2012

Romney: ‘Vote for Me; I’m Great’

“I have a very different vision for America, and of our future. It is an America driven by freedom, where free people, pursuing happiness in their own unique ways, create free enterprises that employ more and more Americans. Because there are so many enterprises that are succeeding, the competition for hard-working, educated and skilled employees is intense, and so wages and salaries rise.

“I see an America with a growing middle class, with rising standards of living. I see children even more successful than their parents – some successful even beyond their wildest dreams – and others congratulating them for their achievement, not attacking them for it.

“This America is fundamentally fair. We will stop the unfairness of urban children being denied access to the good schools of their choice; we will stop the unfairness of politicians giving taxpayer money to their friends’ businesses; we will stop the unfairness of requiring union workers to contribute to politicians not of their choosing; we will stop the unfairness of government workers getting better pay and benefits than the taxpayers they serve; and we will stop the unfairness of one generation passing larger and larger debts on to the next.

“In the America I see, character and choices matter.  And education, hard work, and living within our means are valued and rewarded.  And poverty will be defeated, not with a government check, but with respect and achievement that is taught by parents, learned in school, and practiced in the workplace.”

Nobody can disagree with the importance of fairness, rising salaries, growing middle class, small business, education and hard work, etc. In fact, President Obama has been talking about these for years. These are the values that Mitt Romney espoused last night in his kickoff speech as presidential nominee for the GOP. Not enough delegates yet, but everyone else is dropping like flies except Ron Paul. Romney’s basic problem with his speech is no explanation of how he would accomplish these laudatory goals.

Romney’s speech could be summed up in one statement: “Vote for me: I know America is a great country.”

In discussing Romney’s speech, Ezra Klein described the three parts of an effective political speech: extolling values; defining policy goals; and providing specific ideas or proposals or programs that achieve these goals. Romney did two out of three but nothing about how he plans to raise salaries etc.  Keeping general keeps from alienating much of his audience. Between supporting the Ryan budget and discriminating against immigrants, Romney has a big problem.

Republicans do seem to be falling in line behind Romney. Despite an earlier statement from one Congressman that Congress is not there to be Romney’s cheerleaders, both House and Senate conservatives are already changing their positions on key issues. Romney supports the Violence against Women Act, so Republicans senators say they will vote for the bill, letting Republican representatives in the House fight about the controversial language expanding special visas to illegal immigrants seeking protection from abuse, a provision specifically naming same-sex partners as eligible for domestic violence programs, and another empowering American-Indian tribal authorities to prosecute abuses alleged to have happened on their reservations.

Once in lockstep opposition to keeping the interest rate below 4 percent for college loans, Republicans are now vigorously supporting the extension of the current interest rate for federal student loans for one more year on top of the past five years. (Republicans are big on short-term fixes!) The catch is that while Democrats plan to pay for the supposed $6 billion cost by ending tax subsidies for oil and gas companies, Republicans hope to take the funding from the health care “slush fund”—House Speaker John Boehner’s words. As usual, the Republicans prefer to give money to wealthy corporations rather than using it to fight obesity and tobacco use as well as respond to public health threats and outbreaks.

Thus Romney shows support for women through VAWA and students through the federal loan program. He has a harder time with immigration reform even with Republican support in an attempt at an the “Etch a Sketch” reversal. Republicans have their own 180-degree turns: in February Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) criticized Romney’s “self-deportation” approach, that life be made so miserable for Latino immigrants that they leave this country. Now McCain emphatically claims that Romney never made that statement, despite videos of Romney using this term, even in his debates last year.

Also in the debates, Romney referred to Arizona’s discriminatory law SB1070 mandating profiling people as a “model” for the nation. In a current poll, 14 percent of the Latinos support Romney whereas 70 percent support President Obama, a separation that might grow when the reason behind SB1070 becomes better publicized. Co-authors Kris Kobach, past Romney adviser, worried about foreign terrorists, while Michael Hethmon feared that immigrants would overburden the environment.

According to Hethmon, immigration is “on track to change the demographic makeup of the entire country. You know, what they call ‘minority-majority.’ ” Hethmon said, “How many countries have gone through a transition like that–peacefully, carefully? It’s theoretically possible, but we don’t have any examples.” So the purpose of SB1070 as a “model” is to keep the country from making a “transition” away from a majority of Anglos?

Women, immigrants, massive cuts to the country’s safety net—these are parts of the baggage that Romney will carry during his campaign against President Obama. As Dana Milbank wrote, “Aficionados of the Etch a Sketch will recall a certain flaw in the toy: If you use it often, some of the lines drawn no longer disappear when you shake the device, instead leaving an indelible trace of where you have been.” The lines are not disappearing for Mitt Romney’s outrageously far-right statements no matter what platitudes he spouts in speeches.

Correction: The North Carolina election for the anti-marriage equality amendment is on May 8.

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