Wrong for Work Legislation

One of the more popular political tactics is to give legislation a sunny or strong name, regardless of what it actually does.  Most recently, this has been the case with so-called “Right to Work” legislation (which, coincidentally, has nothing to do with your right to work).  Democrats have tried to coin the phrase “Right to Work for Less,” but to no avail.  That idea forgets the most basic rule of bumper sticker debate: shorter is always better.

This idea of using positive terminology in legislation goes back several decades.  We don’t name anything the Judiciary Act anymore.  I’m sure you all remember the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism,” right?  You’ probably know it better as the USA PATRIOT Act, which was the reactionary legislation to the 9/11 attacks.

the-patriot-act-turning-citizens-into-suspects-since-2001

Now that we’re finding out more and more every day about what it actually does, do you still feel like a Patriot?  The powers of the Executive Branch were expanded greatly, something that supporters were fine with under Bush the Younger, but suddenly it’s overreach when used by President Obama.  By the way, if you’re deemed an “enemy of the state,” you can kiss goodbye your right to be tried by a jury of your peers.  You can be detained indefinitely on suspicion of terrorist activities, without being convicted of anything.  If you’re scared, it’s very simple…just don’t make anyone think you’re an enemy of the state.  What defines an enemy of the state isn’t exactly clear, so your best bet is just to never leave your house again.  And let’s not forget that the NSA Scandal that angered so many “patriots” was technically legal under, you guessed it, the USA PATRIOT Act.

obama-hes-not-your-dad

How about the No Child Left Behind Act?  Who could possibly vote against a name like that?  Now go ask any teacher that has suffered through this ridiculous program what they think about it.  There’s the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known by most people as Obamacare.  Though that’s not nearly as bad as its antithetical partner, “ObamaCare: A Budget-Busting, Job-Killing Health Care Law.”  Seriously.

The Prison Rape Elimination Act, the Rural Rejuvenation Act, Prevention of Terrorism Act, Protection of Freedoms Act…and on and on.  Many of these bills have riders attached that actually go against the very title of the legislation.

If I ever make it to Congress, the first bill I will author will be the “No More Titles in Legislation Act.”

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the Wrong for Work legislation.  This may be the last time I talk about it for a long time, even if it passes in Wisconsin, for reasons I will explain later.  The major deception in this kind of law is that it is disguised as an issue about freedom.  What the legislation does, in the simplest of terms, is allow workers in a traditional union job to decline to pay dues to the union.  On the surface, it seems to make sense, which is why polling has always shown Americans to be in broad support.  But this is where the deception comes in.  Because, as you may or may not know, labor unions have actually done a lot of stuff that has directly benefited all workers. Do prefer a 40 hour work week with anything exceeding that paid as overtime, or would you like 60-70 hours to be standard with no pay difference?  How about work condition requirements that keep you from getting sick or killed in your job?  Unions have fought for a ton of rights for their members, which are now enjoyed by nearly all workers because the private sector needed to be able to compete.

The problem is that a few bad seeds within unions got greedy, and it came at the worst possible time.  Now unions are demonized, people see them as nothing more than cash cows, and many of those people will now be given the choice of whether to pay union dues.  Oh, and let’s not forget…those that pay their union dues and those that don’t within any given occupation will all equally reap the benefits negotiated by the union.  Perfectly fair, amiright?

Don’t let this fool you.  This legislation has one goal, and one goal only, the same goal as Wisconsin’s Act 10 (aka the “Budget Repair Bill” *gag*).  Cripple the unions, and you remove pretty much all sources of funding for Democrats to compete in elections.  In Act 10, one of the provisions that was eventually struck down was one that prevented union employees from being able to have their dues deducted automatically from their check.  What’s the harm in allowing someone that chooses to continue paying dues from being able to do it as easily as they did it before?  To me, this provision is the clearest example of the true agenda, which has nothing to do with repairing a budget.  And that wasn’t the only provision to do so; there were countless others that served to do nothing but make it more difficult to stay in a union, even if you want to.  How is that freedom?

If you’re not yet convinced of the dangers of Wrong for Work legislation, then perhaps this will help seal the deal. The fact that this legislation has been sweeping the country through the last decade is not by accident.  It’s pure exploitation.  Wait for the economy to completely tank people to be out of work, then finally going back to work saddled with debt.  Then tell them you’re going to give them the “right” to keep $40 a month from their paycheck, and all they have to do is quit their union.  Everyone has a threshold, and even those that love their union are forced to consider it because they’re already living paycheck-to-paycheck.  Extra $40 a month sounds pretty good right now, but unfortunately it ignores the fact that long-term, they will statistically earn less money, have worse benefits, and find themselves worried about how they will ever retire in comfort.

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I would love nothing more than to sit down and talk to as many people as possible about the dangers of this legislation on their rights as a worker, but I don’t see it doing much good.  There’s one more key to the timing of this legislation; in Wisconsin, it now has time to fester, and Democrats will re-actively try to fight back, and they will lose because of it.  And Republicans know this.  This legislative idea has broad support among citizens who think it has something to do with their right to work or their freedom, and because the deceptive truth is several levels deep, it will not make it to a large majority of voters.  And Democrats will lose.

Do not be sucked in by this.  Either change the name through a massive marketing campaign, or largely ignore the topic.  Of course, state your opinion if you’re against it.  I’m not saying we should mislead people on our point of view on the topic; I’m simply stating this cannot be the focus of the 2016 campaign season for Democrats.  Politically, it’s a loser.  If you’re going to talk about it, I would suggest using Wrong for Work, or Left to Work, Late for Work, Right to Steal. Come on, let’s be a little more clever about this.  Anything that will make people question what the legislation is actually about so that they will do the research. Otherwise, ’16 might be even harder to watch than ’14.

But, as always, in life and in unions, we have to do this together.

pro union republicans

 

We Lost, Time to Get Over It

After the 2012 election, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus released a document he referred to as the “Autopsy Report.”  It’s a little strange of a name, since an autopsy is performed on something that is already dead, but I can forgive the semantics.  As much as Reince and I disagree on almost everything political, he hit the nail on the head with this report.  The authors presented months-long research offering 219 suggestions to fix the obvious problems in the GOP, and like Republicans, the party moved forward with the easy suggestions while ignoring the ones with larger implications.  An example of the latter: after declaring that it’s time for the GOP to embrace comprehensive immigration reform, and having a bi-partisan bill pass the Senate, the GOP-led House has been sitting on it for over a year.  They didn’t listen, and they will once again pay the price in the 2016 Presidential election cycle.

The thing I respected about Reince’s document is the brutal honesty.  He didn’t sugarcoat anything, instead laying the blame squarely on himself and the entire Republican establishment that had lost touch with the needs of the people.  He didn’t seek to change the Republican platform, but he wanted to change the way that platform was communicated.  I still think the guy is a weasel, but I truly respect his efforts.

In the 2014 midterm elections, Democrats experienced a similar fate, getting demolished across the board.  Rather than copy Reince and his autopsy report, what follows is a simple do/don’t do list for the Democratic Party moving forward.  Some of these ideas have already been expressed elsewhere, but there will be a few originals that I hope you will take the time to consider.

What To Do, and What Not To Do

Midterm Crazy

1. As was pointed out early and often after the election, you cannot push away a President from your own party and expect your party, and by extension, you, to maintain credibility.  It was clearly evident that Democratic candidates did not want to be seen with or compared to Obama.  And why?  Not because of anything that Obama did, but because his approval ratings were below 50%.  In politics, it seems that behind every decision, there is a poll, and the consequence of so many polls is bone-headed decisions by people who don’t understand how to read them.

The profoundness of this treachery was on full display in Kentucky, where Alison Lundergan-Grimes was battling Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell for U.S. Senate.  Nearing the election, Lundergan-Grimes was still hanging within the margin of error in the polls, spreading belief that a strong GOTV could push her over the top.

Then she was asked if she voted for Obama…

That’s just plain hard to watch.  Not only does she look like she’s searching every part of her brain for an answer that will pass without actually being an answer, but there’s something even more important there.  She signals to voters that Obama is not respected by his own party, which tells voters that the top Democrat is not respectable, which tells voters that all Democrats are not respectable.  I don’t agree with everything Obama has done, but I respect him, and I’m proud to say that I voted for him in both 2008 and 2012.  I also voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004.  I regret those votes, but I own them, and you will never hear me deny them.

The hardest part of that video is that I respect the idea of not disclosing your vote to maintain confidentiality, but the attempt to deflect threw that concept out the window.  If she had simply said, “I think everyone’s vote is their own business, so I respectfully decline to answer that question,” she may have had some ground to stand on.  I would have accepted that answer.  But did you notice she wouldn’t even say Obama’s name?  He’s just, “the President.” That didn’t stop her from name-dropping Hillary Clinton, though.  If you can’t or don’t want to answer a question, then step up and say that.  We’re all sick of the deflections.  Which brings me to number 2…

2. Enough with the deflections -  Answer the question or don’t answer the question, but I’m sick of every question being twisted into a talking point.  Yes, this has worked in the past, but for Republicans, because voters don’t expect much more out of them.  We’re supposed to be the liberal elites…so answer the damn question.  If you can’t answer it, that tells me you’re either hiding something about your answer, or you’re not smart enough to even have an answer.  This has always been glossed over by the Republican voter because they expect it; we have a responsibility to rise above it.  Speaking of liberal elites…

3. It’s time to accept and embrace the terminology that is used to describe us in a negative light.

They call us the liberal elite, and they mean it as an insult!  Think that one all the way through.  I’ll even give a short intermission to really let it sink in.

Waldo

On with the show.  If you’re elite, and a Republican calls you elite, then why would you try to hide from being elite? When you enter the voting booth, do you seek out candidates to vote for because they’re less elite?  Would you prefer mediocrity from your elected officials?  Because that’s what we’ve been getting ever since we tried to catch up to Republicans on the Good Ole Boy Scale.

Remember when we were called “tree-huggers”? I actually don’t recall being called one; I was a Republican back then, so I was calling other people tree-huggers as a not-so-thinly-veiled insult.  But now that I see things from the other side, I have to wonder…would I have used that term as an insult if liberals had embraced it?  In many ways this is analogous to the term Obamacare.  At first, it had a negative connotation and you saw the President constantly trying to push the Affordable Care Act name.  And he failed miserably, so he changed tactics and embraced the term. EVERYthing about the topic of Obamacare was flipped around, and Democrats started praising Obamacare, using the name Obamacare.  The logic is fairly simple: ignore that something is there and people will wonder why you’re ignoring it, but embrace it in a positive light and people will see it for its positive effects.  Trees are good.  People like trees.  So hug them and be proud.

There are many other important terms that could stand to get a better impression, but none more important than the flinging of a term deeply rooted in our history.  Socialism.

We have tried our hardest to deny it, but deep down, most Democrats, and even most Republicans, know that a lot of our most popular programs in this country are socialist.  So why is it such a taboo term in blue circles?  I blame Russia.  Seems like the easiest thing to do.  But that’s not the whole of it, because this is our fault.  If we’re being compared to Marx every time we bring up universal health care, that’s not Marx’s fault, that’s our fault for allowing it.

But let’s talk about Russia (or the former Soviet Union) for a minute.  The biggest misconception of the entrance of “socialism” or “communism” into Russia is that it failed due to its principles.  The ultimate failure of socialism is that, like capitalism, it relies greatly on the honesty of those in power.  With greed at the top, both of those systems will ultimately fail, and because socialism is designed to spread wealth and equality, the gut-punch for those within the system finding out that they’ve been swindled is that much stronger.  In a capitalist society, we expect and even reward greed, so finding out that our economy was crashed by millionaires and billionaires seems like just another day.

The point is this: if Republicans are going to call us socialists regardless of the extent of socialist tendencies, then we might as well start working on informing people of what it actually means.

4. Candidates – We need candidates that can see levels below the surface, explain a world that isn’t black-and-white, and connect with people in a way that makes those people want to go to the voting booth.  When a candidate makes a statement on an issue, it has to make you feel like the candidate explained something that you strongly agree with but haven’t been able to put into words.  It has to enlighten you to the spectrum of possibilities and the depths of the human mind.

I’m done hearing candidates sputter on about being pro-life or pro-union or anti-gun or anti-death penalty.  I’m no longer interested in hearing from candidates that take these uncompromising positions because it fits with the party platform.  I want to hear a candidate truly struggle with making those decisions.  And I want them to explain that struggle to me, because there’s a decent chance that I’ve carried the same struggles.  To fight yourself on a concept, to truly examine and reflect on a topic and suffer the anguish of not being able to come up with the perfect answer.  That is what I want to hear.  That is who I want to represent me.  Because that struggle tells me they actually care.

5. Focus on apathetic voters – They’re not permanently gone, I promise.  They’ve just lost hope.  So let’s give them hope.  We need to latch on with any campaign to get money out of politics, even if it means raising a ton of money in order to prevent us from raising a ton of money.  Fire with fire.  We need to force real debates, not the garbage of the last few decades with poll-tested, scripted answers to softball’d questions.  I say we jump on board with run-off elections so that 3rd and 4th party candidates actually have a shot without ruining it for the major party candidate that they more closely align with.  We need to set standards on how easy it is for a candidate to lie and get away with it.  And we need to apply those same standards to ourselves.

We have spent so long wondering how independent voters could possibly be undecided when the two major parties are so far apart on nearly everything.  Well, I submit that they just don’t care, because they see a system that can’t possible succeed on its present course, and they don’t think it matters which puppet wins the election.

I also believe they have a hard time identifying with either candidate in an election because their views don’t follow strict liberal or conservative rules.  Maybe someone doesn’t like “entitlement programs” in general, but they think Medicare serves an important purpose, and they think a food stamp program could be successful with a few changes. Perhaps the independent voter feels that we have a Constitutional right to own guns, but they also feel that every purchase should have a background check and certain regulations of what weapons can be owned outside the military.  Maybe they think homosexuality is a sin, but they don’t understand why our government cares.

These are the voters that are coming.  Gen X and Gen Y are already here, and Millennials are just hitting voting ages, and they have a very different view of up or down, fear or love, right or wrong.  And they’re smart enough to see bullshit.  Perhaps it’s time we stopped trying to give it to them anyway.

 

Platform-ish – Part V – Job Creation

Job creation is a topic that covers a vast amount of information, and at the end of the day, we blame whatever government official is on top, be it President or Governor.  This topic is also very close to my heart, as I have experienced being terminated and enduring almost 5 months of unemployment.  Many have had to go longer.  With the extended unemployment benefits not renewed by Congress, I was just over a month away from being cut off.  We would have had to sell our house, and possibly surrender our dogs, both of which I’m certain had no desire to go back to the shelter.

I could blame all of this on President Obama or Governor Walker, but it would be a futile exercise.  One person in such a position can have a strong impact on preventing job losses, as Obama did with the bailouts and stimulus package (which many economists agree was too small, by the way).  Job GAINS, on the other hand, are a very different story.   The bailouts are actually indicative of this, as they were mainly a way to shore up bad investments and bad policy that companies had been following for years, sometimes decades.  The bailouts didn’t add jobs, but prevented many from being lost.  This did not have a direct correlation to demand for the products, other than the consequential fact that a recession leads to less demand.

A key point to remember with that argument is that, had the bailouts never occurred, demand for those products would have plummeted straight down, rather than the somewhat sharp dive that they took instead.  Preserving jobs, therefore, is a consequence of preserving demand.  Gaining jobs, then, is a consequence of growing demand.  This is one of the more prominent areas of disagreement between conservatives and liberals.  Conservatives generally follow a supply-side variation of choice, most commonly referred to as “trickle-down economics.”  This says that by cutting out red tape and allowing companies to expand their business through deregulation and tax breaks, they will create jobs to increase their supply, thereby allowing their wealth to “trickle-down” to those below them in wealth.

The problem with such a concept should be evident from the start.  I’ve actually heard conservative economists try to explain that it works because they have some statistical evidence that it works (refusing to believe it could be an anomaly and refusing to examine longer samples).  However, there’s never any reason for the statistics.  It’s as if the believe is that, if we do this, good things will happen.  There’s no logic behind it…just some sort of Voodoo magic that guides the market.  It’s a pretty special concept, one that has led to the greatest wealth inequality the U.S. has ever seen.

**Tangent: I could talk for hours about all of the political decisions made because of the prominent believe in magic.  I’m not talking about all people that believe in divine intervention; there are levels to which I can understand that belief.  I’m talking more along the lines of the people who say God sent a hurricane because gay people can now file joint tax returns.  This will likely be a spin-off post, so stay tuned…moving on…**

In contrast, the liberal point of view on this is quite the opposite.  Start from the bottom of the wealth spectrum, or at the very least, try to spread out from the middle.  And the reason is simple: people at the bottom aren’t stashing their money in tax havens or sitting on piles of cash.  People at the bottom up through the middle do something very important with most or all of their pay…they spend it.  Bills, food, clothes, housing, transportation, medical care, you name it.  If you give someone $250 a week to live on, I can promise you that at least $249 of that will go back into the economy.  Give someone $250,000 a week to live on, and a few thousand might be spent, maybe tens of thousands.  But the rest goes elsewhere.  In some cases, it will go towards retirement, which is understandable and still helps the economy.  In other noble cases, portions will go to charity.  But a significant chunk will leave the U.S., either towards out-sourcing of employees or into accounts in tax havens so they don’t have to pay tax…a double whammy on regular Americans.

Corporate profits are hitting records year after year, so you would think, based on supply and demand, that they should be creating tons of jobs.  Instead of using those extra profits to hire more employees, they are instead hoarding that cash overseas, waiting for a business climate that isn’t facing a government shutdown or debt ceiling debate every few months.  They are also waiting for something else, something far more important than a tax holiday.  They’re waiting for demand.  Because even though unemployment is at a healthy 5.8%, the economic recovery has pushed more money up the chain, leaving lower wages that many people have had to accept.  Believe me, I’m one of those people.

If we truly want to create long-term, stable job growth, then our businesses need to be convinced of the benefit of having a long-term plan.  Sure, dropping some environmental standards for this year might help a few companies tack on some more profit, but the cumulative effect on the surrounding community and the long-term effect of pollution and climate change clearly should outweigh concerns about shareholder stock price.  We need to move in the direction of the businesses that will define our future, but more importantly, we first need to define that future.  The free market is a great thing when you give it some guidance.  Let it run wild, and the roller-coaster economy will be felt by all.  When things are bad, you will be asked to sacrifice; when things are good, they will call it “unstable,” and you will be asked to sacrifice.  And the gap will continue to widen.

Let’s define a better future.

Platform-ish – Part IV – Taxes

Taxes

Taxes are riddled with complexities to the point where few people could ever understand them.  This leads to every politician promising to lower taxes and silly “pledges” childishly thrust upon them by Grover Norquist.  For once, I want it to not be political suicide for a politician to say we might need to raise some taxes.  Instead, everyone stays quiet about it, which leads to taxes only being raised on those without a voice loud enough to fight back.

Here is the reality: We have a lot of government expenses.  Somehow these expenses have to be paid.  If we want a prohibitive military, someone has to pay for it.  If we want roads and bridges, someone has to pay for it.  If we want utilities, fire protection, police protection, someone has to pay for it.  And guess what.  If you don’t want to be paying $10 for a gallon of gas, $8 for a gallon of milk, $25 for a pound of beef, and a dramatic price increase on everything that contains corn (which, by the way, is nearly everything), then someone has to pay for it.  At least that’s what those industries will tell you.  Go read up on government subsidies; you’ll come out of it angry and confused, I promise.

tax increase kitten

This is one of those annoying political areas where someone says, “Do you believe in raising taxes or lowering taxes?”  That’s a stupid question, so please don’t ask it to anyone.  The amount of context that is left out of that question is staggering.  No one wants taxes to be raised, so a politician saying anything other than that would be a sound byte that would haunt them forever.  But what if our country is attacked?  What if another country is attacked and needs our help?  This costs a lot of money, and not addressing it by increasing revenues is what has led us to the enormous deficits and overall debt for the nation.

The reason I harp on people like Grover Norquist and his “no tax pledge” is that, not only does it ignore all context, it doesn’t even allow context to enter the discussion.  Do I think the very wealthy should pay more in taxes so all poor people can get a Lexus?  Of course not.  Do I think people making over $1 million a year could pay a little more in taxes so adults making $7.25/hour can feed their children?  Saying no to that should be the political equivalent of clubbing a baby seal.  Unfortunately, it’s not.  Somewhere along the line, our society decided the seal deserves it.

It’s time for politicians to tell you the truth.  Sometimes taxes need to be raised.  Perhaps saying that will come back to bite me if I run for political office, but if I were to run, honesty would be the most prominent part of my platform, and this is the honest truth.  If ever a politician tells you different, he or she is lying to you.  They can be lowered again when our debt is lower or gone, and our obligations to our state and country have been fulfilled.

We could actually be there now.  In 2001, President Bush enacted his first round of tax cuts because, and I’m completely serious about this, they were afraid to pay the debt down to 0.  The Clinton Administration left the country with a surplus, and the debt was going down.  Now, there are obvious reasons that a country having 0 debt could be a problem; namely, what happens to surplus money after the debt is paid off.  The government buying up private property would not be a situation that ends pretty.

The more important part of this is that, under testimony before Congress, Alan Greenspan said these tax cuts were the best way to slow down paying off the debt, which seems reasonable…a more controlled approach.  A very important recommendation in that testimony from Greenspan was largely ignored, though.  Because he knew how quickly the economy can change, he suggested automatic tax hikes if the government started running deficits again.  The automatic tax hikes were left out, the World Trade Centers were attacked, and we jumped into trillion dollar wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Then Bush the Younger threw in another round of tax cuts in 2003, because apparently the deficit wasn’t screwed up enough yet.  The result of all this was fiscally conservative Republicans cranking the national debt up and blaming everything on terrorists.  Dick Who Shall Not Be Named used the Vice Presidency to get his company a $39.5 billion profit from the Iraq War.  Deregulation going back into the Clinton Administration finally crept up and suddenly a bunch of investors found out at the same time they were carrying toxic assets, everyone bailed and every company got bailed out, and the market tanked.  Companies started laying people off in droves, and the combination of lower income tax revenues (less people working) and increased unemployment benefits kept the debt piling up.

A huge swath of all that could have been avoided if we weren’t so afraid of the mere concept of a tax increase.  Everyone wanted us to attack Afghanistan and, for what we now know were misleading reasons, Iraq.  Going to war means everyone at home has to pitch in extra.  We can’t have our military police the world and simultaneously cut taxes.  So next time you find yourself wanting to whine about your taxes, think about all the things around you that you need and use often that would not be possible without those taxes.  You want your taxes cut, just remember you get what you pay for.

Elections: Lessons from Our Strangest Political Movies

travojones:

Spectacular. And still relevant after election day, because it’s not too long before the next one.

Originally posted on The Stake:

Our next national election of unprecedented significance is one week away. Non-presidential midterm elections sometimes lack inspiration for voters, and turnout tends to be down compared to presidential election years.

Which is unfortunate because midterm elections matter. The outcome of every election has consequences, from the most local of local elections to to the highest seats in our federal government. If nothing else, it matters that voters realize the consequences of our elections.  So go vote, and know that your vote matters if only because you choose to exercise the right to vote.

And when you do go vote (next Tuesday!) remember these lessons about political elections in the United States, from some of our strangest political movies

From Bulworth: Money is the Problem, Voting is the Solution

Senator Bulworth is out of favor. A Democrat of the 70s, he’s now become an entrenched career politician. Hiding affairs from the public (but…

View original 957 more words

A Canadian’s View On Our Disrespect Of President Obama’s Presidency

travojones:

It’s nice to hear an outside perspective. Sometimes it feels like we’re being drowned on the inside. President Obama isn’t perfect, nor has he ever claimed to be. There are several issues that I will continually call him on, most notably his passing on public financing in 2008. But he has also done a ton of good things, including a health care bill that means my wife and her pre-existing condition can’t be denied health insurance anymore.

Originally posted on The Fifth Column:

EgbertoWillies.com

America – He’s Your President for Goodness Sake!

By William Thomas

There was a time not so long ago when Americans, regardless of their political stripes, rallied round their president. Once elected, the man who won the White House was no longer viewed as a republican or democrat, but the President of the United States. The oath of office was taken, the wagons were circled around the country’s borders and it was America versus the rest of the world with the president of all the people at the helm.

Suddenly President Barack Obama, with the potential to become an exceptional president has become the glaring exception to that unwritten, patriotic rule.

Four days before President Obama’s inauguration, before he officially took charge of the American government, Rush Limbaugh boasted publicly that he hoped the president would fail. Of course, when the president fails the country flounders. Wishing harm upon…

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Platform-ish – Part III – Election Law

Election Law

One of the more under-the-radar topics of elections was brought to the forefront this year due to massive redistricting efforts by state legislatures and some questionable new laws regarding identification and early voting put forth by many of the same states.  Terms like “voter suppression” and “poll tax” continue to stir in Democratic circles, and state and federal courts have spent more time talking about election laws than I’m sure any of them feel comfortable.

What bothers me about the process of setting elections laws in many states is that elected officials set them.  In some cases, even the judges that hear these cases are elected.  How is this not the greatest and widest conflict of interest ever?  Just think about that…elected officials set the laws for the elections that get them elected, and inexplicably, no one sees a problem with what.  That would be like telling your boss what your job requirements will be, then setting them specifically to make sure your job performance is as high as possible.  It sounds great in theory, if you’re the employee, but it is not in the best interest of the company.  Similarly, election laws set by elected officials will not be in the best interest of their bosses, also known as their constituents.

This is a Wisconsin map showing each of the eight Congressional Districts in the state, with lines drawn prior to the 2010 census, and after:

wisconsin district map

The significance of this is that it was drawn, in private, by Republicans.  I’m not naive enough to think that an all-Democrat state government would have behaved differently, and in fact there are examples of this just to the south in Illinois.  Take a look at the recent hatchet job on Illinois 4th Congressional district:

Illinois 4th

The most disturbing part of this map is how the bottom and top are connected on the left.  It literally runs up the width of I-294.  There are no actual constituents there; it’s just a stretch of highway.

The reason they did this in both Wisconsin and Illinois, and several others states, is simple.  If the state legislature draws up lines that combine highly populated areas that usually vote Democrat, or rural areas that usually vote Republican, the result is all non-competitive races, to the advantage of the party that drew the lines.  This actually doesn’t happen all that often because it requires one party to hold all three branches of state government: State Senate, State Assembly, and Governor.  That also has to happen in a government that will span a census (every 10 years, last time in 2010).  But that doesn’t mean it’s anything new.

Original Gerrymander

There are several solutions to gerrymandering, most notably in Iowa, where the lines are drawn by a non-partisan group called the Legislative Services Agency.  They are not allowed to take into consideration any information on where voters are located, who they voted for, or even where legislators are located.  And the results are clear.  In the 2014 midterm elections, the eight districts in Wisconsin were completely void of any competition.  Only one district, the 6th, didn’t re-elect the incumbent, but only because 35 year Congressman Tom Petri retired.  That district did, however, go to a member of the same party.  56%-43% was the closest U.S. House election in Wisconsin; all but two races were decided by at least 20 percentage points.  One race was 70%-27%.

Now compare that to Iowa. where only one of the four races was decided by more than 10 percentage points.  One of them was 51%-49%, another was 52%-48%, all because the lines weren’t drawn by one party or the other, but rather drawn to show the most even and reasonable look at the population.

Our election laws are just messed up, and the only way to change that is for some elected officials with integrity to step up and do what’s right for their bosses.  In Wisconsin, Democrats and a few Republicans are supporting Assembly Bill 185 and Senate Bill 163, which would have the Legislative Reference Bureau, a non-partisan entity, draw the district lines.  This needs to happen before the next census, and I would hope Republicans would see this, since 2020 will be a Presidential election year, where Democrats typically turn out in far higher numbers.  This bill would protect them, and more importantly, protect the voters.  It’s hard to feel like a vote makes a difference when the races are all called an hour after polls close.

And it doesn’t end there.  Identification requirements, early voting days, voter intimidation practices…all of these should not be decided by Republicans or Democrats, but by a non-partisan agency that will remove partisan politics from the rules of the election process.  This should be in the best long-term interest of both parties, regardless of who is currently in power.