Nel's New Day

December 23, 2015

New Gov. Bevin Gives Kentucky Lumps of Coal

 

 

MinWageIncrease2016

US_minimum_wage_map.svgEighteen states are raising the minimum wage in 2016, 14 on January 1 and four others later in the year. At $10 an hour, California and Massachusetts the highest rates; Arkansas has the lowest increase, going up $7.50, $.25 over the federal rate in 21 states, last changed in 2009. Eight states are indexed to the cost of living which did not increase this year.

Of the 21 states that must follow the federal rate because they have no minimum wage or law puts it below federal rate, most are in the South.  [Map for 2015: Green – higher than federal rate; blue – same as federal rate; red – lower than federal rate; yellow – no minimum wage; Arkansas created minimum wage since map was published.]

Kentucky Governor-elect Matt Bevin responds to a question during a press conference in the Kentucky State Capitol Rotunda, Friday, Nov. 6, 2015, in Frankfort, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

 (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Kentucky and its newly elected Tea Party governor belong to the bottom 21 states. Some of the approximately 16 percent of eligible voters who elected Matt Bevin as governor, only the third Republican since World War II, will soon going to suffer from buyer’s remorse if they aren’t already doing so. Bevin’s actions show what can happen if the United States elects a Republican president.

One of five orders Bevin issued on December 22, two weeks after his inauguration, was to lower the minimum wage for state workers and contractors to $7.25. Rent on an average one-bedroom apartment in the state would require a person to work a 60-hour week. He also stated that he doesn’t believe in minimum wage, that “wage rates ideally would be established by the demands of the labor market instead of being set by the government.” The top one percent could make even more by dropping their wages to the dollar-a-day that “free market” sets in the Third World. The danger there is that people couldn’t buy their products—even food.

Tipped state workers are even worse off. Last summer, the former governor raised the hourly wage for waiters and waitresses at state parks from $2.19 to $4.90. Bevin put them back at $2.19 an hour.

In addition to declaring a moratorium on hiring state employees, Bevin reversed Beshear’s practice of requiring merit employee actions be approved by the secretary of the governor’s Executive Cabinet. Bevin’s order also requires a review of all vacant positions in any agency to determine their necessity. In addition, he eliminated the Governor’s Employee Advisory Council, which advised the governor’s office on merit employee wages and terms of employment. The council was established by Democratic Gov. Paul Patton, disbanded by his successor Republican Ernie Fletcher and re-established by Beshear.

When former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear restored voting rights to at least 140,000 with felony convictions, Kentucky was one of just three states that permanently disenfranchised all people with felony convictions. An early action by Bevin was to again disenfranchise all these people after they have paid their debt to society. Bevin had campaigned last year on restoring these people’s rights, but he reversed his earlier opinion. In Kentucky, one in five blacks lost their voting rights after conviction, compared with one in 13 nationally.

In another order, Bevin saved Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis from future jail terms by ordering the state to remove names of county clerks from marriage licenses. Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins, whose office serves the state’s second largest city, Lexington, said Bevin may have exceeded his authority because these licenses, a civil transaction, require clerks’ names for historical record. Another legal issues comes from the altered marriage licenses issued to couples in Rowan County since September that don’t include Davis’ name or the name of the county. Because of a question about their legality, the ACLU has asked U.S. District Judge David Bunning to order Davis to reissue the licenses, but Bunning has not yet made a ruling.

Nationally, the most controversial of Bevin’s actions comes from his declaration that he would eradicate health care for Kentucky residents. The state has been touted as an icon of improvement in health care, but Bevin pulled all ads for the state health exchange, Kynect. The earliest that he could shut down Kynect would be in 2017 because the law requires a 12-month notice to the government. Changing to the federal health care exchange, as Bevin has suggested as a possibility, would be more expensive than Kynect. Its annual budget of $28 million is funded by a one-percent assessment on health premiums. A federal exchange requires 3.5 percent in assessment, and dismantling Kynect would cost the state an estimated $23 million.

Some of the people who voted for Bevin are worried about the loss of their health care, but others think that people don’t deserve Medicaid. One of the latter is Angel Strong, an unemployed nurse, who went on Medicaid after she lost her job. “I had never had Medicaid, because I had insurance at my job,” said Strong. “Now I am out of a job and I am looking for another job, but in the meantime I had no income.” Medicaid recipient Strong doesn’t want other people to get Medicaid. She says that they need “tough love” because “[people] want everything they can get for free.” Most of Strong’s neighbors in Jackson County also need financial help for health insurance coverage, but most of these people didn’t consider their loss when they voted.

Rick Prario, 54, found he was eligible for Medicaid after losing his longtime job at a hardware store, but he’s angry because he had to pay the law’s tax penalty for going uninsured in 2014 when he was still working. During that time he skipped treatment for diabetes, high blood pressure, and arthritis, treatment that he now receives on Medicaid. His plan now is to quality for disability that he sees as a surer thing than Medicaid.

During two terms with former Gov. Beshear, the unemployment fell to a 14-year low, and the state’s uninsured rate dropped by over 40 percent. The new GOP governor was exposed as a “con man” and a “pathological liar” during his failed senatorial primary run against Mitch McConnell earlier this year. Among other actions, he failed to pay taxes, got a $200,000 federal grant for a fire in his Connecticut business, told people that he was unaware that he was actually attending a cockfight, claimed graduation from MIT—the list goes on and on. The GOP was so disenchanted with Bevin that they failed to support him for the governor’s race.

Bevin’s lies don’t end there. He’s accused Beshear of leaving Kentucky “burdened with a projected biennial budget shortfall of more than $500 million” despite the million in surplus.

The new governor won’t have an easy term. He has to deal with the only state House of Representatives in a Southern state controlled by Democrats. His first strategy was to appoint Democratic legislators to other positions that paid more, but Speaker Greg Stumbo is fighting Bevin’s takeover in all the issues that drive Kentucky backward. For example, Bevin has promised to repeal state taxes on inventory and inheritances with no plans to replace the revenue.  Bevin’s secretary of state and attorney general are both elected Democrats. AG Andy Beshear is the former governor’s son.

coalBevin may have won because he isn’t a “career politician” (although rigging the voting computers may have had some influence). Kentucky will now have a “laboratory experiment” for people who think that people with no experience and education in a profession will do a better job. By now, however, people may be learning that their Christmas stockings contain lumps of coal instead of something to make their lives better. As the website for Kentucky for Kentucky state, “Nothing says ‘I do not approve of you,’ like a real live chunk of Kentucky’s filthiest export.” It’s too late for this year, however, because they’re sold out, but there’s probably enough lying around in the state that the new governor can find.

Today, December 23, is Festivus Day, made famous by scriptwriter Dan O’Keefe, who wrote for Seinfeld. Celebrated with an aluminum Festivus pole, the holiday includes “Airing of Grievances.” People living in Kentucky will have lots to air for this year’s Festivus Day and most likely much more by Festivus Day 2016, especially those 400,000 people who may lose health care because of Matt Bevin. And the 140,000 who lose the right to vote. And the people who lose salaries and pensions. And ….

November 4, 2015

Elections Advance Progressive Issues

Mainstream media articles today sent the message that progressives lost the country after yesterday’s election. Seventeen percent of voters in Kentucky picked a GOP governor for the first time since, a man who even the RNC was reluctant to support. Virginia kept a Republican legislature, and Houston kept trans people from being able to use the appropriate restroom for them. Almost 10,000 voters in Coos County (OR) decided that they could not obey gun laws that they don’t like. But across the country were pockets of successes for human rights.

 

  • Pennsylvania: In a highly expensive election, Democrats swept three seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, giving them a five-to-two majority; previously, Republicans had controlled the bench three-to-two, with two vacancies. This majority will influence the next round of legislative redistricting because it picks the tiebreaking vote for the commission that draws maps for the state legislature. Republicans chose the tiebreaker last time, but the newly elected judges with ten-year terms will be there in 2021. Eliminating the gerrymandering from the past redistricting session could move the legislature to progressive instead of conservative.
  • Ohio: In another movement to stop gerrymandering, voters—by a margin of 71 percent to 29 percent—passed a constitutional amendment to greatly reduce or even eliminate gerrymandering of state legislative districts in 2021. The state Senate had approved the measure by 28-1, and the state House of Representatives had voted in favor by 81-7. Ohio joins Virginia to be is one of the most gerrymandered states in the U.S. While Democratic candidates for the House got 55,000 more votes than GOP candidates, Republicans won 60 out of 99 seats. The GOP got 75 percent of the U.S. Representative seats despite getting only 57 percent of the vote in 2014.
  • Colorado: Voters decided to leave the taxes on cannabis with the state rather than collecting about $8 each. They made this decision despite advertising from the Tea Party (Teapublicans?) urging them to oppose the initiative that would take that money out of their pockets. The taxes go to public education, youth programs, and law enforcement.
  • Indianapolis (IN): Democrat Joe Hogsett defeated Republican Chuck Brewer 63-37 after the city had a GOP mayor for the past eight years.
  • Salt Lake City (UT): In this very red state, Democrat Jackie Biskupski unseated two-term Mayor Rich Becker (a fellow Democrat) by a 52-48 margin, making her the first openly gay mayor in Utah history.
  • Charlotte (NC): Democrat Jennifer Roberts squeaked out a 52-48 win over Republican Edwin Peacock to win the mayoralty in the state’s largest city, possibly slowing his political career. The city’s last GOP mayor, Pat McCrory, is now governor.
  • Mississippi: State Attorney General Jim Hood, the last Democrat holding statewide office in the Deep South, won a fourth term by a 56-44 spread. He has been a strong advocate for Hurricane Katrina victims still battling insurance companies. Democrats also took two of three seats on the Public Service Commission, the board that regulates utility companies. This may help keep the Mississippi Power Company from passing massive cost over-runs for a new $6.5 billion power plant to customers.
  • Maine: Voters expanded the state’s Clean Election Act by a 55-45 margin. The result is greater public funding for candidates, mandatory donor disclosure, and penalties for violators.
  • Seattle (WA): A wide margin passed the new campaign finance system to give each voter four $25 “democracy vouchers” every two years that they could then give as donations to candidates for city races like mayor and city council. Recipients will have to abide by additional caps on donations and spending as well as participating in at least three debates.
  • Tacoma (WA): Voters approved an $12 increase in the minimum wage over the next two years.
  • Elizabeth (NJ): The state’s fourth-largest city joined the three biggest ones to institute paid sick leave along with the states of California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Oregon.
  • Jefferson County (CO): Conservatives on the school board who tried to rewrite the AP U.S. history curriculum to “present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage” and “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system” lost their seats. In this case, the Koch brothers’ big cash infusion on the part of the losing school board members in the state’s second-largest school district was wasted.
  • New Jersey: Democrats picked up three more seats in the state Assembly, giving them the biggest majority in 36 years. Their governor, Chris Christie, is rapidly going done in the polls of presidential candidates.
  • Ohio: Voters successfully opposed the legalization of marijuana. Although this vote may not seem progressive, the constitutional amendment would have given all sales rights of the cannabis to just seven wealthy people. The state also voted to keep the initiative process from being used for personal economic benefit as it would “prohibit any petitioner from using the Ohio Constitution to grant a monopoly, oligopoly, or cartel for their exclusive financial benefit or to establish a preferential tax status.” Although this sounds good, the Ohio Ballot Board determines whether this is the intent of an initiative. Right now that board is a 2-to-2 split between Republicans and Democrats with the GOP Secretary of State Jon Husted breaking any tie. That gives him sole power for the determination of what a “monopoly” might be. In future initiatives about legalizing marijuana, Husted could determine that 1,000 growers equal a monopoly.

Kentucky elected a GOP governor who plans to take health insurance from 400,000 state residents, but a Kentucky county clerk, Kim Davis, may have changed the nation’s view on “religious liberty.” She claimed that being forced to issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples violates her Freedom of Religion rights, but 56 percent of the people in the United States now think that she is wrong. According to this majority, government officials should put aside their religious beliefs when doing their jobs. Just last July after the Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality, 49 percent of the people thought that Davis was right; that number has been dropped by 14 percent to 41 percent. Among Republicans, that figure dropped from 72 percent to 58 percent, almost a 20 percent decrease.

As for the future of Kentucky, the people may need more than prayer. Under the two terms of Gov. Steve Beshear (D), Kentucky became a state with an unemployment rate at a 14-year low and a reduction of its uninsured by over 40 percent. When the newly elected governor, Matt Bevin, ran against Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) a year ago, Republicans called Bevin a “con man” who “pathologically” lies. He didn’t tell the truth about his educational background, and his business needed a taxpayer bailout. During his campaign, he also repeatedly lied about being delinquent on property taxes owed in Louisiana and on a Maine vacation home. He lied about giving a speech at an illegal cockfighting gathering. Caught in his lies, he created an “enemies list” of journalists who confronted his lying. Kim Davis’ Rowan County, however, didn’t vote for Bevin. [Photo: Bevin with Kim Davis and her husband, Joe, with Ted Cruz lurking in the background.]

Joe-Davis-matt-Bevin-Kim-Davis-Facebook-800x430

Bevin’s term will show how far he will go to hurt his constituency. If the governor of Kansas, Sam Brownback, is any example, people of Kentucky are in for a rocky road.

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