Democracy is Getting in the Way of Legislatures around the Country

Angry protesters

New Orleans  The Freedom House in its annual ranking of democratic practice pushed the United States down the list again this year.  Pundits argue that this is a direct result of life under the autocratic whims of President Trump.  Sadly, that would be a simpler problem to solve with a fixed date in 2020 to take care of the job, but a greater problem has to be closer to the root than that branch of government and can be found in the states where recalcitrant legislatures are refusing to abide by the will of the people.

Of course, for years we have been contending, albeit poorly, with the restrictions on voter access in state after state under Republican control.  After the midterms we saw legislatures in Wisconsin and Michigan try to follow the playbook of their buddies in North Carolina by taking away some of the traditional powers of newly elected Democratic governors.  Normally, I would have thought it was harder to do that on an issue, as opposed to an individual politician, because the peoples’ will is expressed so clearly in the votes on such initiative ballots.

In Arkansas, where voters overwhelming approved an increase in the state’s minimum wage that will see $11 per hour in the future, we now have a Republican legislator pushing forward a bill that would take the minimum wage back to $7.25, create a sub-minimum for teens, and probably bring back bonded labor, but I haven’t read the full bill.  He may have overreached so vastly that he tripped himself up.

More than 53% of the voters in Utah approved expansion of Medicaid for people up to 138% of poverty about $16,750 a year for an individual to cover 150,000 people.  In Idaho 60% of voters approved an expansion of Medicaid.  Legislators in both states are now trying to undo the voters’ will and either cap the expansion differently, add barriers, or make the entitlement contingent on state resources like sales taxes.

Reportedly a bill is being rushed through the Utah legislature that would limit the expansion to the poverty level rather than the 138% figure that adds more lower waged working families.  Their plan would knock an estimated 60,000 in the state from the coverage.  In fact, they want to add a work requirement on top of that as well, both in Utah and Idaho.  All of the bad news from Arkansas is that a stringent work requirement is super successful at knocking thousands off of Medicaid.  These western legislatures may not have read the fine print on all of the litigation in Arkansas challenging this clawback.

Washington and Trump’s Center for Medical Services have to give waivers to allow these shenanigans to take effect.  All of the pols claim they are getting good vibes from Washington, but we can hope this is fake news.  Arkansas comes up again like a bad penny in these stories since the state also has a request to be able to cut back the ACA expansion to the poverty line as well. There is nothing about the Affordable Care Act that defines the expansion as only a measure to benefit people at the poverty line.  The heart of the reform is the additional coverage past that line.  If anything, we need to expand the definition of poverty, not push people farther back into poverty.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The Election Gauntlet of Cameroon

Phillipe Nanga, head of an election observation NGO

Phillipe Nanga, head of an election observation NGO

Douala    Make no mistake. Any notion that Cameroon is a democracy is the same as believing that an obstacle course is the same as a straight road. Yes, there are parties. Yes, there are elections. But, there is no even playing field, so whatever one might want to call this form of government, no matter how you shake-and-bake it, there’s nothing particularly fair about it. It is no surprise that the existing president has been in office for more than 34 years, is 84 years old, and is expected to stand for another seven-year term in 2018.

We spent some time early in the Organizers’ Forum in a visit with Phillipe Nanga, the head of Un Monde Avenir, the World to Come, a fair elections NGO, and his staff, who gave us a good sense of the problem and a crash course in the election obstacles and voter suppression. They work closely with Elections Cameroon, called EleCam, a state agency that is responsible for registering voters. There is nothing easy about voter registration. I’m not saying that they invented difficult registration, but I will say that the system is reminiscent of the process used by many southern states even at the dawn of the 1970’s in the USA. A graphic illustration over his head went through their steps of training election observers down to protection of the ballot box. I asked Nanga if ballot box theft was common, and he answered without hesitation, yes.

difficult election process

difficult election process

To register you either have to personally go into the EleCam office nearest you and successfully present your documents or someone employed by EleCam has to somehow come to you in a meeting, rally, market, or some such. The reason EleCam is a good partner for Un Monde Avenir is that they are on a quota for registrations by the government so anything that is organized for them, makes their jobs easier, and allows them to keep their jobs. Voting of course requires an ID, but a national ID is required to do everything in Cameroon, so that is not an obstacle here since everyone has one. More than half of the population is under 19 years old, so, not surprisingly, you cannot register to vote until you are 20 years old. Un Monde Avenir has been focusing on registering youth. We were told by their staff that they had registered 100 people so far this year.

Of the 23,130,708 people in the population as of June 2015, 5, 981,226 were registered. There are no accurate figures but a solid estimate would mean that between 40 and 45% of the eligible voters in the population are not registered to vote: a very large voting pool! When those who are successful in registering are allowed to vote, a fair number do so. 68% of the eligible voters in fact did vote in the 2011 presidential election, the last time they had a chance.

leader of largest opposition party

leader of largest opposition party

We spoke to two leaders of parties in Cameroon, one was the leader of the largest, Elembe Lobe Abel. His party, SDF, has close to a score of national parliamentarians in each house and more than 800 local office holders in the country. I asked him how he saw his party’s prospects in the election expected sometime in 2018. He answered that for any opposition party to have a chance, the constitution would have to allow for a runoff. The winner is now “first past the post,” which always favors an incumbent. He felt the only way anyone would have a chance without a change in the no-runoff election would be if the existing president somehow declined to run. Interesting to the Forum delegates was Abel’s description of Bollore as a criminally, corrupt corporation in Cameroon.

head of the CPP party and Cameroon Obasso

head of the CPP party and Cameroon Obasso

We also spoke to the dynamic head of another large party CPP which is also interesting in that it has a political, but nonpartisan operation called Cameroon Obasso or Cameroon Let’s Go which operates almost like a community organization with various marginal populations. They are also part of an amalgamation called Stand Up for Cameroon, which has attracted wide support. She had run for president in 2011. She was more focused on the transition or, said another way, the inevitable death of the existing president, when the country would have the opportunity for change.

There are hundreds of parties in Cameroon. The law also prevents them from fusing or cross endorsing, so each is on its own in the fight for democracy against great odds in Cameroon.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail