Nel's New Day

August 28, 2014

Campaign Fever: Governors

August hit the doldrums for a few weeks, but political scandals have hit the media. With over 80 percent of the governors, states may be changing parties this coming year. The luckiest governor is Texas’s Rick Perry because he isn’t running for re-election. Perry has, however, been indicted for abuse of official capacity and for coercion of a public servant, both felonies. After DA Rosemary Lehmberg was arrested for drunk driving, he threatened to defund the state Public Integrity Unit if she didn’t resign. She stayed, and he took away $7.5 million from the investigating.

Borowitz-Rick-Perry-Strikes-Back-690Although Perry has ridiculed the charges, there are two legal issues. First, this looks a lot like extortion: the funding would stay if she quit. The second is the lack of outrage for other drunk DAs, maybe because they were both Republicans. The Kaufman County DA’s conviction for drunk driving was his second offense, and the Swisher County DA’s conviction was accompanied by a scandal involving the prosecutor and a bad sting operation. Lehmberg, however, was investigating one of Perry’s friends for corruption.

As satirist Andy Borowitz wrote, “Perry blasted the indictments and called for a return to an era of limited government that focuses on requiring gynecological procedures. ‘We are living in dark days indeed when the state of Texas is spending time and money probing its officials instead of its women,’ he said, to thunderous applause.”

Fortunately for Perry, his presidential hopes are a couple of years off. Yet his statements such as referencing Ukraine in complaints about “historic” breeches of the border “from countries with terrorist ties” will return to haunt him.

Wisconsin’s governor, however, is campaigning for another term, and he’s had a bad week. At least on the outside, Scott Walker seemed to think that the investigation into his allegedly fraudulent use of campaign resources was going away—until records went public last Friday. Apparently, he personally solicited millions of dollars in contributions for a conservative group during the 2011 and 2012 recalls. For example, Gogebic Taconite gave $700,000 to Wisconsin Club for Growth and got legislative approval to streamline regulations for a massive iron ore mine in the northern part of the state. Wisconsin Club for Growth ran ads supporting the governor and helped disperse campaign funds to conservative allies. An aide gave Walker these talking points when he asked Sheldon Adelson for donations in Las Vegas:

“Stress that donations to [Wisconsin Club for Growth] are not disclosed and can accept corporate donations without limits. Let [potential donors] know that you can accept corporate contributions and it is not reported.”

A Walker campaign consultant referred to donations to the Wisconsin Club for Growth as “investments.” The same email to a campaign adviser stated that “as the Governor discussed … he wants all the issue advocacy efforts run thru one group to ensure correct messaging.” In short, Walker illegally rerouted donations to, then coordinated with, Club for Growth. Walker’s sordid background is available here.

Even worse for Walker, he’s losing ground to his opponent, Mary Burke. He’s slightly ahead with registered voters but behind two points with likely voters.

Wisconsin GOP’s Gov. Scott Walker got elected four years ago partly on his promise to create 250,000 jobs for the state. His philosophy to take from the poor and give to the rich has raised a great deal of ire, especially since the state has seen only 100,000 new jobs during his term. In bragging about the state being #1 in Midwest personal income growth, he skipped the growth for the wealthy and decrease for the rest of the population.

In claiming that Wisconsin has also seen the lowest unemployment since 2008, he used the October figures. State current unemployment is 5.8 percent compared to 4.7 percent in 2008. Wisconsin rates 25th in the nation in unemployment and 37th in job creation, nothing to brag about.

Another GOP governor in trouble is Michigan’s Rick Snyder who took over many municipalities by assigning dictators called “Emergency Managers.” Snyder’s pension “reform” raised taxes for the poor, elderly, and middle class by 36 percent and reduced corporate income taxes by 81 percent, while the legislature refuses to repair crumbling roads. Now Snyder is trying to identify with his constituents—like the residents in Detroit who have had their water turned off and the others suffering from recent floods.

He told WJR radio host Frank Beckmann about a leak at his vacation home:

“I’ve been through a lot of things like that, Frank. We just recently had holes in our roof from storm damage to our lake house. We have a vacation place and we had a limb come down on the roof and had water running through the whole place; those experiences are not pleasant ones and they had to take some trees down.”

At least three people died because of the flooding: one woman suffered seizures while stranded in her car, a 100-year-old woman drowned in her basement, and a man died while trying to push his van out of flood waters.

Democratic candidate Mark Schauer has taken a slight lead in the polls.

Republicans may survive election efforts in Florida because of the gerrymandering that the court currently upholds, but the governor’s position is state-wide and Rick Scott has a lot going against him. Questions have been raised about Scott’s campaign and the GOP paying over $227,000 for a jet owned by his wife’s business. Another problems were whether Florida campaign finance laws have been violated through undisclosed expenditures and the transfer of money from a communication organization to a political committee.

An analysis of polls on Nate Silver’s website shows that Scott and his opponent, Charlie Crist, are both so unpopular that it is not predicting the winner. Crist, once a Republican governor, was far more popular before Scott poured money into negative campaigning instead of explaining why people should vote for him. Crist has come back with his own ads, reminding people of the biggest Medicare fraud while Scott was CEO of the hospital company. The company ended up paying $1.7 billion. The ad also points out Scott’s tax giveaways while taking money from seniors.

The lieutenant governor who helped Scott win four years ago because of her outreach to minorities and was forced out in 2013 and now has a new book. It’s not a pretty picture of the GOP candidate for governor. In “When You Get There,” Jennifer Carroll states that Scott got six percent of the black vote because of her actions that the campaign opposed. Without those votes, she wrote, “Scott would have lost the election.”

The good news today in Pennsylvania is the Gov. Tom Corbett has become the ninth GOP governor to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. This act will give 500,000 low-income individuals subsidies to purchase private insurance and reduces the number of available benefit plans to be reduced from 14 to two, a “high-risk” option and “low-risk” options. Much as I would like to commend Corbett for his humanitarian impulse, I’m more likely to think that he was reacting to the latest poll numbers: he’s down 25 points to his Democratic opponent, Tom Wolf.

Looking good is Gov. John Kasich (Ohio), one of six governors who Gov. Chris Christie (NJ), responsible for GOP governors’ campaign fundraising, placed high priorities on; the others are the four above and Paul LePage in Maine. Projections say that LePage will lose, but he may be lucky again in another three-way race against Democrat Michael Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler.

Meanwhile things are so economically bad in Koch-country Kansas, that the once popular Sam Brownback is eight points down. Jimmy Carter’s grandson, Jason Carter, is up by four points over incumbent Nathan Deal in Georgia. A lot can happen in the next 68 days.

May 7, 2013

GOP, the Party of Ignorance

Mark Sanford lied to the people of South Carolina when he was governor by leaving the state ungoverned for five days while he visited his mistress, spent taxpayer funds to go there, broke the law by trespassing in the home of his ex-wife, published the telephone numbers of people who called him, and showed other instances of unethical behavior. This is the candidate who has just been elected to the District #1 of South Carolina, defeating Elizabeth Colbert Busch.

Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler, called Sanford “America’s great sex pioneer,” and said in his endorsement of the candidate, “Mark Sanford has demonstrated by his words and deeds that traditional values are shameful and that he will not live by such rules.” And now the conservatives of South Carolina have chosen a “sex pioneer,” who demonstrates “that traditional values are shameful” to represent them.

Joining a group of hypocrites and downright ignorant GOP lawmakers in Congress, Mark Sanford was able to run for his new position after Gov. Nikki Haley (R) appointed Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC) to senator after Jim DeMint (R) left to head up the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation. Arriving in Washington on the Tea Party wave of 2010, Scott’s actions demonstrate what we have come to expect from conservatives:

  • Impeach President Obama because the conservatives claimed that the debt ceiling is an unconstitutional infringement on the 14th Amendment.
  • Cut off food stamps for a family if one member goes on strike—no exceptions for children or other dependents.
  • Spend an unlimited amount of taxpayer money to display the Ten Commandments outside a county building in Charleston to “remind council members and speakers the moral absolutes they should follow.”
  • Protect over $50 billion in oil subsidies at the same time that oil companies are raking in tens of billions in profit every quarter.

Although South Carolina has only six Congressional districts, one-sixth of those in Texas, the state seems to be cornering part of the market on crazy. Last week, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) introduced a bill to bar the U.S. Census Bureau from conducting almost all surveys except for its decennial population count. If this were to pass, President Obama couldn’t be criticized for the unemployment rate: the bill removes statistics for that. Businesses, researchers, academics, and government agencies would lose information about commuting, income, family structure, education, housing, and finance. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) proposed making part of the this survey optional. Actually, they already are.

Duncan’s proposal, with 10 co-sponsors, would also eliminate the agricultural census, economic census, government census, and mid-decade census. Also lost would be the measurement of the nation’s GDP. Duncan has other bizarre positions, some of them about the Boston bombing, which led the patient Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to say that his ignorant inquiries were “full of misstatements and misapprehensions,” and “not worthy of an answer.”

In an attempt to keep up with South Carolina, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) introduced a bill, ironically called the “High Quality Research Act,” to mandate that any research using federal funds—and there’s lots of that in the United States—must have its results and findings approved by the House Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate and the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. If those House representatives don’t agree to the findings, then the research is removed from those who performed the studies and then disposed of. Smith claims that “the intent of the draft legislation is to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent on the highest-quality research possible.” With a couple of college science courses, he also sees himself as a “peer” to the researchers.

Smith voted to bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, voted no several times on tax credits for renewable energy and incentives for energy production and conservation, voted against raising fuel efficiency standards, and rejected implementation of the Kyoto Protocol. In addition, he denies that climate change has been caused by humans. Chair of the science committee, he is its most moderate GOP member.

Several senators joined in the conspiracy theory that Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) announced on MSNBC about the Obama administration deliberately orchestrating airline delays. “The administration is clearly manufacturing a crisis for political gain,” Toomey said. The short term fix for air-traffic controller furloughs comes out of airport repair and improvement, a move which will start long-term delays in a few years.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has brought back the disgusting term “anchor babies.” While discussing immigration reform at a town hall meeting last week, he insisted on border control before allowing undocumented immigrants a “probationary” status. Ryan wants to change the constitution so that people don’t come into the United States and have children. “That’s what they call it, anchor babies.”

During the same town hall meetings, Ryan suffered serious memory lapses. When an EPA worker talked about losing thousands in his income because of the sequester, the House Budget Committee Chairman blamed the president for the sequester, failing to remember that he bragged about the GOP getting legal caps on spending with the sequester. His excuse now is that the president won’t promote Ryan’s budget plan. Ryan, however, failed to tell the EPA employee that the Ryan budget plan guts the EPA.

Governors aren’t exempt from ignorant prejudice. In Pennsylvania where Tom Corbett (R) has low job approval ratings and economic recovery, he tried to explain why his state is 49th in the nation for job creation last March. “There are many employers that say we’re looking for people but we can’t find anybody that has passed a drug test, a lot of them.” His state has a pilot program that requires drug testing for those convicted of felony drug offenses who apply for welfare. In the past 15 months, only two people have failed these tests.

Also on the state level, California GOP Assembly President Celeste Greig voiced agreement with Todd Akin’s infamous “legitimate rape” comment:

“Granted, the percentage of pregnancies due to rape is small because it’s an act of violence, because the body is traumatized. I don’t know what percentage of pregnancies are due to the violence of rape. Because of the trauma the body goes through, I don’t know what percentage of pregnancy results from the act.”

California is not as understanding as other states: the Assembly voted her out, but only by six votes.

North Carolina State Senator Tommy Tucker summarized how the GOP feels about the people in the United States. A recent bills that he pushed through committee is to not inform people with important government decisions through omitting the requirement that the government publish legal notices about these decisions—such as a sewage plant in the neighborhood. Questioned by the Charlotte Observer about his bill, Tucker said:

“I am the senator. You are the citizen. You need to be quiet.”

This is where the United States is going these days—everyone should just be quiet.

[Note: The Republican Party has removed the word “Republican” from its website: now it’s just NRCC. Currently in their attempt to attract minorities, it has an article called “The History about Cinco de Mayo That You Might Not Know.”  The article headlined “Nancy Pelosi: The Least Liked Person in Congress” is actually about only the four Congressional leaders. Rep. Pelosi (D-CA) is actually tied with House Speaker John Boehner at 31 percent favorability. Always interesting to see how the GOP—excuse me, the NRCC—twists and tortures the facts.]

August 22, 2012

Did You Lose Your Right to Vote?

Over 180 bills that restrict voting have been introduced in 41 states since the beginning of 2011; 34 states successfully passed such restrictions as mandating photo ID and limiting times when people can vote. Nowhere are these new laws more important than in the swing states of Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Although voting should be a constitutional right, the controls in different states limit the abilities of people to vote differently. People have different voting rights depending on where they live.

Initially conservatives tried to justify voter restriction by claiming massive voter fraud. Now, many admit that there’s no problem. An investigation of 2,068 purported cases of fraud during the last decade found only 10 cases of fraud among 146 million voters—one per 15 million voters. James O’Keefe, notorious for video stings, showed two supposed non-citizens voting. Both are actually U.S. citizens. Despite the falsehoods of his video, O’Keefe will be a Republican conference speaker at an exclusive luncheon where he will talk about “the role of the citizen journalist.”

Florida started purging their voting roles weeks ago with no apparent reason other than trying to hoping to keep more liberal voters from participating in the process. This was after Florida passed draconian laws preventing people from registering new voters. Then they moved forward in their attempts to limit students, seniors, and the poor from voting by curtailing the times that people could vote in the last election. A federal appeals court stopped the state from limiting early voting because it was determined racially discriminatory under the federal Voting Rights Act.

Because this act covers only five of Florida’s 67 counties, Tampa plus four other small counties, there is a question about what the state will do now. If the state fails to file an amended plan for Justice Department approval, the entire election reform bill will be struck down. Gov. Rick Scott persuaded four of the five states that voters would be fine with polls open for 12 hours during eight days of early voting. The fifth election supervisor, a Republican in the Florida Keys, is sticking to his guns, and Scott is threatening to fire him.

The state of Ohio isn’t covered by the Voting Rights Act so the Republicans in charge of county voting and the Republican secretary of state John Husted have limited early voting to 8:00 am-5:pm on weekdays. Doug Preisse, chair of the Franklin County Republican party, said, “We shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban, read African-American, voter-turnout machine.” Because many people who want to vote earlier also work during the day, 82 percent of those who cast their votes in the last election went to the polls during the now-banned times.

Politics got even nastier in Ohio when Husted, who had established the restrictive voting times, removed the two Democrats on the Montgomery County Board of Elections. Because Dennis Lieberman and Tom Ritchie, Sr., did not see any written prevention of weekend voting, they brought up the issue at the board meeting. A 2-2 tie along party lines sent the issue to Husted to settle where all the problems with voting times began. Because all county election boards are split 50-50 between Democrats and two Republicans, Republican Husted makes the final decision.

Husted’s letter to the country election board demanded that it rescind Lieberman’s motion and threatened them with being fired if they didn’t. Lieberman, an attorney and former county Democratic Party chair, refused to withdraw his motion, arguing both that his motion did not violate the directive and that it was best for local voters. Both Democrats were suspended; the two Republicans remained on the board.

In Pennsylvania, a Republican state court judge ruled that the new voter ID law is constitutional.  One of the lead plaintiffs, a 93-year-old woman, doesn’t have her birth certificate or any photo ID because her purse was stolen while she was shopping, but the Republican judge didn’t see this as a problem. Also the name on her birth certificate was different from that on other documents, a not unusual situation for any woman who changed her name after she married, but a situation that can keep her from voting. Since the lawsuit, election officials gave her an ID card, an illegal action for them, but she is just one of possibly 600,000 people who would have to go to extremes to gain the ability to vote for the first time in their lives.

Watching the Pennsylvania photo ID court case unfold was black comedy. Pennsylvania Republican House Leader Mike Turzai (R-PA) was very open about his opinion that photo ID would guarantee Mitt Romney’s election:  “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.” The commonwealth’s Republican governor, Tom Corbett—the same guy who signed the measure into law—couldn’t remember what IDs he is making his constituents have to vote. During her testimony, Carole Aichele, secretary of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth, didn’t know what the law said but was positive that 99 percent of voters had valid identification. She just couldn’t provide an evidence for her claim.

The pre-hearing filing made all this very clear:

– There have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania

– The state is not aware of any in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania

– The state will not offer any evidence that in-person voter fraud has occurred

– The state will not offer any evidence or argument that in-person voter fraud is likely to occur in the absence of the photo ID law

According to the Supreme Court ruling in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood, plaintiffs have to show that a law is unconstitutional—extremely difficult until it goes into effect. Gonzales v. Carhart requires the court to make the assumption that legislators make laws in good faith—frequently no longer true and certainly not true with the photo ID laws. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett announced the day after the ruling to keep photo IDs that he was dumping plans to let voters apply online for absentee ballots and register online to vote. During testimony in the case, the governor’s administration had promised to take these two actions, but, heck, they won. They don’t need to help people register to vote.

Fortunately, the Department of Justice is investigating the effects of the Pennsylvania law.

In Massachusetts, Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) protested a federal voter registration law. The 1993 National Voter Registration Act, sometimes called the Motor Voter bill, mandates that citizens be offered the opportunity to register to vote when they get a driver’s license or apply for social services. Sued for lack of compliance, the Commonwealth settled the case out of court and agreed to contact by mail 477,944 welfare recipients who might have been denied their right to be offered a chance to register to vote. Because the daughter of Elizabeth Warren, Scott’s opponent, is chair of one of the boards that sued, Brown made this statement:

“I want every legal vote to count, but it’s outrageous to use taxpayer dollars to register welfare recipients as part of a special effort to boost one political party over another. This effort to sign up welfare recipients is being aided by Elizabeth Warren’s daughter and it’s clearly designed to benefit her mother’s political campaign. It means that I’m going to have to work that much harder to get out my pro-jobs, pro-free enterprise message.”

One conservative governor deserves praise. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, known for appointing removing democracy from towns and schools in his state by appointing emergency managers, vetoed voter suppression laws. In his veto statement, he wrote that “voting rights are precious.”

Conservatives that lose the voter restrictions might be able to rig the election through computers. The swing states of Pennsylvania and Virginia use paperless systems that cannot do recounts and have no way to recover lost votes. Two large suburban counties around Denver (CO) also have no audit trail. Much of Ohio and Nevada use touchscreen electronic machines that print a cash register-like record of votes; Ohio does require polls to have backup paper ballots. Printouts from these computers, however, may not be the legal equivalent of a paper ballot marked by a voter if a recount is necessary.

Other swing states, such as Florida, North Carolina, and much of New Hampshire, scan paper ballots that may miss votes. Earlier this year, Palm Beach County (FL) scanners identified the wrong winner in two local contests, an error not discovered until a routine audit the next week. In 2010, Humboldt County (CA) officials finally figured out that when they re-scanned batches of mail-in ballots that the previous batch count was erased. The manufacturer knew about that problem but hadn’t told a new local election official. In the recent New York City congressional primary involving Rep. Charlie Rangel, officials failed to record all of the results from optical scan tabulators causing some precincts to report zero votes.

Computers also allow gatekeepers to magically “discover” more votes after an election.. Such was the case with Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus who personally got David Prosser his place on the Wisconsin Supreme Court because she was the only person in charge of the computers that “found” 7,582 votes for him, two days after the election, just enough for Prosser to win the election without a recount. Wisconsin’s state’s attorney general announced yesterday that he is filing a petition to the Supreme Court to place a harsh state photo identification law—already ruled unconstitutional by two Wisconsin judges—into effect before the November election.

When he signed the Voting Rights Act 47 years ago, President Johnson called the right to vote “the basic right without which all others are meaningless.” It seems that Republicans beg to differ.

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