Pigs Flying in Florida as Even Republicans Call for Voting Reforms

voting lines in Miami 2012

New Orleans   Yes, it snows in July in Florida.  Yes, pigs are on the runway in Miami getting ready to fly, and it is not because of loosening travel restrictions in Cuba, but because finally after more than a dozen years of being the case study for anti-democratic vote suppression and election chaos, even Republican governor Rick Scott has finally decided that Florida should not be the laughing stock of the electoral world.

I’m not saying that they he or the Republican Party in Florida have decided that they should endorse democracy or a citizen’s right to vote.  That would be way too radical for them!  Being for democracy would include making it easier once again for citizens to register to vote, and that’s way over the line.

But, at least they have decided that some of the more obvious obstacles that they had put in the way of voters like cutting the number of early voting days, taking away the Sunday before Election Day which had been so popular with African-American voters and larding up the ballot should be reformed.  Election supervisors had guaranteed that these changes would create long lines and total disruption, and the fact that the whole country waited for days, yes DAYS, after the last Presidential election to finally know whether Obama or Romney won the state (Obama did of course), must have been the last straw.

Well, maybe not the last straw.  That straw might have been a report by University of Florida professor of political science, Daniel A. Smith, which was released the same day as Governor Scott’s epiphany.  The report established that black and Latino voters were disproportionately affected.  Hello, was that not the point?!?  Almost half of black voters voted early, no longer trusting the election process, but then caught in the maelstrom of long lines to such a degree that more than a half-million voted absentee, lengthening significantly the waiting time to tally the final results from around the state.  According to a story in the Times,

Absentee ballots cast by blacks were twice as likely to be rejected as those by whites.  Racial and ethnic minorities also cast a disproportionate number of provisional ballots and saw them rejected at higher rates.

And to think that the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court has questioned whether there should still be Department of Justice review of voting matters in southern states?!?  The only real question should be whether or not all 50 states should have a departmental and judicial review to ensure access, equity, and fairness.

This is Florida, so this is a baby step.  We will have to watch this.  Keep remembering how hard it will be for these pigs to fly.

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State Initiatives Move the Needle on Key Issues in USA Elections

New Orleans  Obvious disclosure:  I’m a huge proponent of the strategic and tactical value of local and statewide initiative on our issues to build organizational power and actually win campaign results.   This is obvious given the number of living wage, lifeline utility, sales tax on food & medicine, generic drug, minimum wage increase, and single member district measures we put on the ballot – and mostly won – before voters in cities and states throughout the country with ACORN.  When people are given the opportunity to speak and be counted, and when organizations prove they have both the wherewithal and the courage to put the questions before them, the needle moves.  Sometimes it moves with us, and sometimes it moves against us, but, doggone it, it moves!

In the elections around the country it moved yesterday in some interesting ways, so let’s look at a couple with undoubtedly more to come:

  • In Michigan I had called attention recently to a number of measures where unions were willing to take their case to the voters on important collective bargaining issues.  There were mixed results.  The preemptive effort to ward off “wisconsinitis” and protect the public employees bargaining rights in the constitution failed, though it may have immunized the state in the future, which is critical.  On the other hand the powers of “emergency managers” to take over schools and cities and reject existing collective bargaining contracts won decisively.
  • Teachers, and this is mostly the NEA, were able to turn back statewide initiatives by so-called school “reformers” masking as hard right turners in Idaho and South Dakota and protect both collective bargaining and tenure in those states.
  • In California upending all of the Debbie Downers and pollsters that were signally that Governor Jerry Brown was going down, voters decisively voted to raise their taxes to try and rebuild the once great public school system in that state.  This is the first successful pushback to “repeal” the impact of the Howard Jarvis property tax limitations from over 30 years ago that have crippled public funding.  This is huge!
  • Maryland and my friends at Casa de Maryland have much to celebrate having not only won a state-based “DREAM” act through the legislature but also winning voter approval to the measure in the shadow of the White House.  We’re going to win DREAM soon, I would bet.
  • On protest votes on Obamacare voters in Alabama, Wyoming, and Montana on health exchanges:  I’m glad I only got to Montana for fish and fun, because my brothers and sisters there are drinking bad water before voting these days.  Florida voted “yes” which should have been a message to Romney, but whatever for the 47%, eh?  It doesn’t matter though since federal law preempts state measures in the USA.  The tide is moving out on this rightwing resistance.  Even the business-based conservative Times-Picayune in New Orleans editorialized a couple of weeks ago in our solid red state that Republican Governor Bobby Jindal was a fool to not take “free” federal money for three years to provide Medicaid support for Louisiana citizens.  Their message was essentially “don’t play national politics with the lives of Louisiana poor people.”  A lot of these governors are going to be getting this message about reality now.
  • Remember that Planned Parenthood is still fighting in the trenches state-by-state to protect its health services program after the ACORN-style Congressional scam attack, well in Florida voters lined up to say that state funding for their programs and others around birth control were fine with them.
  • On other “wedge” issues dividing modern voters, two more states, Maryland and Maine are ok with gay marriage.  My bet is that the Supreme Court will be watching these state plebiscites with decisions coming before it soon on this issue.  Washington and Colorado were OK with legalizing marijuana (yes, I can already hear the advertisements about being a “mile high” there!), but Oregon said no.  Unclear how this will sort out since the US and the Attorney-General are still insisting anything about marijuana is a crime, but Latin America is also moving this way with Uruguay and other countries believing we must legalize to stop the Mexican drug cartels.  Change is coming on both of these issues no doubt!

Let the people speak and be prepared to follow.

We need to put more living wage and minimum wage efforts on the ballot locally and statewide in 2014.  We need to look at some of these other issues and assess what it takes and start making plans.

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Stealing Congress Seat by Seat in Texas

brick homes all the way to the top in La Paz

La Paz  We flew overnight via Miami to La Paz, Bolivia for the 10th consecutive International Dialogue with the Organizers’ Forum.  We came at a good time.  Forty-eight hours earlier, we would have been stuck in the small airport there as striking miners blocked all of the highways coming into the city in a dispute that seems to involve trying to prevent privatization of the mines.  In the pre-dawn, the city was serene and beautiful.  The airport at 13,000 feet drops you down to 11,000 odd feet in the city, still the highest capital of any country in the world.  We could see peaks emerging from the clouds and sweeping vistas of brick houses rising in browns and reds up the mountains around us.

We all hoped to get here early to acclimate a bit to the altitude, though we’ve already beaten a path to the pharmacy for reinforcements.  In between naps and cups of hot water with coca leaves floating in them, which is the recommended local cure, I would wake up to continue reading a sobering and somewhat shocking tale even in these jaded political times by Robert Draper in the current issue of The Atlantic called the “League of Dangerous Mapmakers.”  I was especially horrified to read a story probably well-known in Texas, but still amazing in its ham fisted transparent voter manipulation.

The U.S. Census every ten years counts the country.  Where there has been growth there, maybe new Congressional seats, especially in Texas and Florida, and where there have been losses in the Midwest and in Katrina-ravished Louisiana, there may also be losses of seats.  Legislatures are responsible for the redistricting, so where Republican control has increased, once again in states like Florida and Louisiana, fairness can be an issue.  The Voting Rights Act fortunately still places some obstacles for Republican legislatures if there is blatant racial discrimination to suppress the representation of African-Americans and Hispancis.

Draper pulls the curtains open in Texas though:

…Texas, which was granted a whopping four.  But on the other hand, most of each state’s new residents are African Americans and (especially) Hispanics.  In Texas, the population has swelled by 4.3 million over the past decade.  Of those new residents, 2.8 million are Hispanic and more than half a million are African Americans.  While those groups grew at a rate of 42 percent and 22 percent, respectively, the growth in white Texans was a merger 4.2 percent.  In other words: without the minority growth, Texas – now officially a majority-minority state – would not have received a single new district.  The possibility that a GOP map-drawer would use all those historically Democratic leaning transplants as a means of gaining Republican seats might strike a redistricting naïf as undemocratic.  And yet that’s exactly what the Texas redistricting bosses did last year.

It kind of took my breath away, which was the theme of the day for me.  The courts refused to allow in some of cases so they didn’t totally get away with it, but they mostly got away with it, and Draper makes it clear that if they hadn’t been some stubbornly stupid about the way they did it, they likely would have succeeded altogether as they did in North Carolina and elsewhere.

Hard ball politics is one thing, but when it is this undemocratic and meant to do little more than rob citizens of representation and voice, there’s no excuse.

murals along the municipal plaza in La Paz

street vendors in La Paz

 

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Judge Stops Florida Voter Suppression and Anti-Registration Law

Springfield   This late in the game with an election looming in the critical, battleground state of Florida a lot of the damage is already done since the clock has already moved to the 11th hour in terms of registering new voters.  Nonetheless, a federal judge in Florida finally will bring some justice to the matter by demanding a halt to several of the more draconian efforts by the state and its Republican majorities to suppress votes.

Some of Judge Robert Hinkle’s order bordered on the sarcastic according to the Times:

Judge Hinkle, however, banned a significant rule that forced third-party voter registration groups to turn in completed forms within 48 hours or risk fines, calling the measure too vague.

“If the goal is to discourage voter registration drives and thus also to make it harder for new voters to register, this may work,” the judge wrote.

“Otherwise there is little reason for such a requirement.”

The ruling also opposed a provision of the law that opens up volunteers to possible felony charges if they registered ineligible voters, even if unknowingly.

Both of those requirements are likely to be found unconstitutional, Judge Hinkle wrote.

Yes, your honor, the Republican law-fakers might have said, were they honest about, that is exactly our intention:  we want the access to voting to be us and our buddies, not the poor working stiffs and low income families for goodness sakes!

The Judge was clear in another way as well:

“Allowing responsible organizations to conduct voter registration drives — thus making it easier for citizens to register and vote — promotes democracy,” wrote Judge Robert L. Hinkle of Federal District Court in the order granting a temporary injunction.

What can we say, but, we told you so!

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Florida: Detroit with Palm Trees

West Palm Beach
The boosterish headline in the West Palm Beach paper was
curious and somewhat contradictory. They were trumpeting the fact that the “values” of houses
were “bargains” and should be swiftly picked up because the comparable available prices in this
normally high flying market had not existed for 15 years or more. Not many writers can spin a
full-on recession front page story and a graph that must be gut wrenching to many homeowners
and foreclosure resisters into something that pretends to be good news all around. The real
estate market and homeownership in Florida may be in the dumps, but hucksterism is still alive
and well, so Florida has a future.
More sobering were some notes I exchanged with a good friend in the Tampa/St.
Petersburg area, who has been following the housing market up there in one the nation’s top
foreclosure hotspots with a close eye, while I was passing through the state over the last several
days. In detailing the disaster she was seeing in her area, she made the following points,
including a telling description of her area as “Detroit with palm trees,” which says it all in my
book. Here are some of her points from the front line observation post:
….the shadow inventory of foreclosed homes in Florida is being snapped
up at an alarming rate by cash buyers (investor flippers) so the whole
cycle appears to be poised to start again. The City of St. Pete
renovated a buncha single family homes in distressed neighborhoods
with the NSP funding — guess what; there are no buyers in those
neighborhoods who can qualify with lenders right now; and the state
program (SHIP) which used to provide down payment assistance is all
over also.
….Pinellas County has a twenty percent vacancy rate for single family
homes. We are Detroit with palm trees. Meanwhile the homelessness
population has jumped astronomically, particularly homeless families
who could live in those homes.
….We have a mobile home park down Fort Myers way right now that houses
every farmworker within like a 200 mile radius that is in the process
of being shut down. The greater community is just starting to figure
out they won’t have anybody to pick the crops. No dinner, oops!
…once the “Hardest Hit” funding is used up that appears to be the end
of the federal government’s contribution to foreclosure prevention.
The “new” philosophy being espoused by the industry (and I think the
government, too); is let the foreclosures all happen; and then we can
begin to come up with a system for valuation of real estate again.
When it comes to housing, housing policy, foreclosures, bank supervision, foreclosure
prevention, foreclosure modifications, there is simply nothing going on anywhere. What I
watched close at hand in the Phoenix area over the last year is happening the same way in
Florida.
It is not just a matter of “who is on first, what is on second,” but more disturbingly, no
one in the federal or state government seems to even been suiting up to play in the game.
President Obama may think Arizona is a lost cause, but Florida is still one that he needs.
Standing under a palm tree with the beach at his back, when the President and his yes
men and women look out and see the For Sale signs, abandoned houses, and soaring numbers of
homeless squatting in what used to be their own homes, and he realizes he’s in Detroit, as my
friend notes, it may be too late for find his way back in good graces.

4977923001_fb4c74db64West Palm Beach The boosterish headline in the West Palm Beach paper was curious and somewhat contradictory. They were trumpeting the fact that the “values” of houses were “bargains” and should be swiftly picked up because the comparable available prices in this normally high flying market had not existed for 15 years or more. Not many writers can spin a full-on recession front page story and a graph that must be gut wrenching to many homeowners and foreclosure resisters into something that pretends to be good news all around. The real estate market and homeownership in Florida may be in the dumps, but hucksterism is still alive and well, so Florida has a future.

More sobering were some notes I exchanged with a good friend in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, who has been following the housing market up there in one the nation’s top foreclosure hotspots with a close eye, while I was passing through the state over the last several days. In detailing the disaster she was seeing in her area, she made the following points, including a telling description of her area as “Detroit with palm trees,” which says it all in my book. Here are some of her points from the front line observation post:

….the shadow inventory of foreclosed homes in Florida is being snapped up at an alarming rate by cash buyers (investor flippers) so the whole cycle appears to be poised to start again. The City of St. Pete renovated a buncha single family homes in distressed neighborhoods with the NSP funding — guess what; there are no buyers in those neighborhoods who can qualify with lenders right now; and the state program (SHIP) which used to provide down payment assistance is all over also.

….Pinellas County has a twenty percent vacancy rate for single family homes. We are Detroit with palm trees. Meanwhile the homelessness population has jumped astronomically, particularly homeless families who could live in those homes.

….We have a mobile home park down Fort Myers way right now that houses every farmworker within like a 200 mile radius that is in the process of being shut down. The greater community is just starting to figure out they won't have anybody to pick the crops.  No dinner, oops!   
…once the "Hardest Hit" funding is used up that appears to be the end of the federal government's contribution to foreclosure prevention.  The "new" philosophy being espoused by the industry (and I think the government, too); is let the foreclosures all happen; and then we can begin to come up with a system for valuation of real estate again.

When it comes to housing, housing policy, foreclosures, bank supervision, foreclosure prevention, foreclosure modifications, there is simply nothing going on anywhere. What I watched close at hand in the Phoenix area over the last year is happening the same way in Florida.

It is not just a matter of “who is on first, what is on second,” but more disturbingly, no one in the federal or state government seems to even been suiting up to play in the game. President Obama may think Arizona is a lost cause, but Florida is still one that he needs.

Standing under a palm tree with the beach at his back, when the President and his yes men and women look out and see the For Sale signs, abandoned houses, and soaring numbers of homeless squatting in what used to be their own homes, and he realizes he’s in Detroit, as my friend notes, it may be too late for find his way back in good graces.

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The Right Advances; Parenthood Defunding Continues, O’Keefe Wins Tax Exemption

planned_parenthood_1West Palm Beach People are pretty excited here South Florida about the Miami Heat’s victory at least folks who actually live here, since the airports and highways seem to be swarming with folks sick of the cold country looking for warmer weather and mainly willing to memorialize the sun itself this weekend.   Add to that the fact that a Dane County judge threw out the anti-union Wisconsin law for an “open meetings” violation, and there you pretty much have the good news for the day.

But back to reality the right advances steadily, and everywhere we look.

The U.S. Supreme Court found it fine and dandy that Arizona of all places (a comic on TV last night called Arizona the “Lindsay Lohan of the states”) can put its boot up the butt of businesses in the state and punish them for hiring undocumented workers.  Speaking of Lindsay Lohan, it sounds like Sarah Palin is moving to Arizona too and has “fire in her belly,” which means that even on the darkest days, there’s still a silver lining in those clouds!

Where the strategic work of the right and the Republicans continues to pay off for them is in their systemic and strategic efforts to eviscerate the “support” institutions of progressives through defunding and extremism attacks.  Planned Parenthood may have escaped Congressional censure but is still fighting in the trenches at the state level to support the health needs of poorer women, and there the news is frightful.

USA Today summarized the on-going efforts in six states yesterday to strip Planned Parenthood of funding:

  • Indiana passed and signed a bill in mid-May that bars “any entity that performs abortions…from contracting with Medicaid to provide health and preventive care.”  There is a lawsuit, but I bet the courts will rule that Indiana can stop its own state contracts though it can’t restrict a federal contract.
  • Tennessee passed a measure in its Senate, though this is not a done deal.
  • Wisconsin (of course) approved a bill through its Joint Finance Committee to strip $1M per year, but compared to everything else Wisconsin is doing Planned Parenthood is probably not losing much sleep on this million.
  • The Texas Senate is looking a piece of legislation that has a poisoned bill in it.  If the courts allow funding to go to Planned Parenthood, then the whole program is defunded!
  • Kansas legislature passed a budget that defunds Planned Parenthood, which once again raises the issue of what they are “teaching young girls in Kansas,” as Josey Wales pointed out.
  • North Carolina also passed a budget to bar the state from giving Planned Parenthood contracts.

Planned Parenthood has lawyers and supporters and they are howling so none of this is over, until it’s really over, but the fight itself augurs poorly for the future.

Meanwhile James O’Keefe has been notified by the Internal Revenue Service that he has received tax exempt status for his vanity vehicle, Project Veritas, which he says will make it easier for him to raise money and train “an army of citizen journalists” to specialize in this kind of skullduggery and create more right wing scam-caspades!

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