Since Washington and Colorado voters passed ballot initiatives in November that legalized marijuana in their states, the shadow of the federal government has loomed large. As the months went by and each state went about setting up systems of regulation to determine the minutiae of the policies, there was no word from the Department of Justice (DOJ) on how—if at all—it would respond to these new state laws that directly violate the Controlled Substances Act. Most pressing was whether the DOJ would challenge the laws in court.
In the two weeks since Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department would no longer charge low-level drug offenders with crimes that carry mandatory minimum sentences—and would consider releasing some elderly, nonviolent prisoners early—something remarkable has happened. There’s been no major outcry from the right. While the attorney general certainly has no shortage of outspoken detractors in the Republican ranks, the initiative hasn’t prompted any major voices to decry him as “soft on crime.” In fact, in plenty of conservative circles, he’s earned praise—or something close to it. “Eric Holder gets something marginally right,” wrote the Daily Caller.
It’s hard to find a politician these days who doesn’t at least pay lip service to the idea of “early childhood education.” But actually improving pre-kindergarten remains an enormous hurdle—and in some states the situation has gotten worse. While a number of states made investments in pre-K ten or 15 years go, the 2010 Tea Party wave, combined with budget crises in many states, led to big cuts even in states were already had minimal pre-K funding. In the 2010-2011 school year, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities—a progressive economic think tank—reports that 12 states reduced enrollment in pre-K programs while others shortened the number of school days or found other methods of scaling back. It’s not much better at the federal level. While the Obama administration bandies about a new plan to expand pre-K and integrate it with the rest of public education, the sequestration process meant a $350 million cut to Head Start, the public preschool program for low-income three- and four-year olds. For many local activists, particularly in anti-Obama states, help isn’t likely to come soon from either the state or federal level.
It’s no surprise that Florida’s decision to once again try to scrub the voter rolls of noncitizens has prompted an outcry from voting-rights advocates and local elections administrators. While no names have yet been removed, letters went out to elections supervisors last week about the new effort. Republican Secretary of State Ken Detzner has begun creating a new list of suspect voters. Famous for its poorly run elections, the state is picking up where it left off last year, when Detzner announced that he had a list of more than 180,000 voters who shouldn’t have been on the rolls. The list—90 percent of whose voters were nonwhite—turned out (surprise!) to be based on faulty and outdated information. The previous push also happened fewer than 90 days before Florida’s statewide primaries, leaving little time to alert the voters whose registration was being questioned and allow them to bring documentation to show they were eligible to vote. Elections supervisors in many counties began raising concerns about inaccuracies in the lists they’d received. The Department of Justice ordered the state to stop the purge and soon after, the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections also recommended counties halt the process. The list later got chopped down to 1,800 names, and then to fewer than 300.
When a politician announces she may or may not run for office, it’s usually not news. But when Texas Democrat Wendy Davis told her audience at the National Press Club Monday that she could “say with absolute certainty that I will run for one of two offices, either my state senate seat or governor,” it prompted a slew of stories across the national media. Without saying much, Davis, who became a national liberal star when she filibustered a 20-week abortion ban last month, had everyone speculating. “Wendy Davis: Ready to ride for governor of Texas?” asked the Christian Science Monitor. "It Sure Looks Like Wendy Davis is Running for Governor" proclaimed The New Republic. Among conservatives, the speech prompted RedState founder and Fox contributor Erick Erickson to dub Davis “abortion Barbie.”
By the time the North Carolina General Assembly ended its six-month session last Friday, the state’s first Republican supermajority had done everything in its power to transform the South’s most moderate state into a right-wing dystopia. No state in recent American history has been pushed further to an ideological extreme by a single legislative session. Among many other measures, Republican lawmakers rejected Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. They ended federal unemployment benefits for 170,000 North Carolinians and slashed them for everyone else. They severely cut public-school funding (while making room for a voucher program that will send public dollars to private schools). They drastically decreased access to abortion. They quashed the earned income tax credit for working, low-income families. In the last days of the session, they passed an astonishingly far-reaching bill that makes voting harder in just about every way—from cutting down on early voting to creating a strict voter-ID requirement to ending same-day registration to prohibiting state-sponsored voter registration drives. On every conceivable front, the newly ascendant Republicans rapidly did—to borrow from the outraged New York Times editorial board—“grotesque damage” to the state.
It’s hard to overstate the magnitude of the voting bill currently hurtling through the North Carolina legislature. What the Republican-dominated body calls a “Voter Protection” bill has a laundry list of provisions, almost all of which make voting harder for the general population and disproportionately hard for voters of color, young voters, or low-income people. “The types of provisions are not unheard of,” says Denise Lieberman, senior council for the voting rights advocacy group the Advancement Project. “What’s unheard of is doing all them all at once.” Lieberman calls the measure “the most broad-sweeping assault on voting rights in the country.” She’s not exaggerating.
For months before the November election, battles raged in Pennsylvania over whether the state would require voters to show one of a few forms of photo ID in order to cast a ballot. Many voting rights activists saw the bill, passed by a Republican legislature and signed by a Republican governor, as an attempt to tamp down turnout among nonwhite and poor Pennsylvanians. Estimates of just how many people lacked ID ranged tremendously, but clearly nonwhite voters would be disproportionately impacted by the new requirement. State House majority leader Mike Turzai seemed to only confirm the worst when he said publicly that the new law would “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”
Native Texans living elsewhere raise their children to be expats, fluent in the motherland’s culture. So, growing up in Virginia, I was well versed in the six flags of Texas and the Battle of the Alamo. I learned from my grandfather to shape my chubby toddler hands into the “Hook ’Em” shape every University of Texas fan knows. I understood that our family cheered for the Dallas Cowboys, and never the Washington Redskins. In baseball, in good, bad, and heart-wrenchingly disappointing times, we pulled for the Houston Astros, the team my father had rooted for since 1962, when (as the Colt .45s) they became the first major league team in Texas.
When Rick Perry's staff advertised a press conference on Monday to unveil his "exciting future plans," they didn't say just who the plans would excite. Would it be Perry’s Texas supporters, thrilled to hear he was running for re-election in 2014? Would it be the political pundits and national supporters, pleased to discover Perry would make another bid for president?
Two years ago, the Texas Legislature passed a law requiring that women seeking abortions first have a sonogram. If it's early in a pregnancy, the law would require submitting to a transvaginal sonogram, with a wand inserted into the vagina. Even though a similar measure subsequently stirred national controversy in Virginia, prompting its defeat, progressives in Texas could barely mount a fight. Passage was inevitable, everyone knew, and the cause quixotic—because, after all, this was Texas.
As soon as Rick Perry uttered his infamous “oops” during the Republican presidential primary, most Americans likely figured the Texas governor’s political career would soon fade to black. Even before he forgot which federal departments he wanted to axe, Perry’s performance had been less than inspiring, and the aftermath only made things worse, culminating with an overtly homophobic ad complaining that “there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military, but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.” I’m guessing once Perry finally suspended his campaign, most folks—those outside Texas—thought he’d return to Austin and quietly wait out the rest of his gubernatorial term.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo spent his career cultivating the image of a man who gets what he wants. In 2011, he rammed same-sex marriage legislation through the legislature, even with a Republican-controlled Senate. In 2012, when he wanted New York to be the first state to pass gun-control laws after the Newtown shooting, he was similarly productive. This year, Cuomo has said he wants to make state elections fairer, by lowering contribution limits and supplementing small donations with public dollars to give them more weight. The governor was unabashedly critical of the state legislature’s history of corruption and pointed to campaign finance reform as a key solution. But as it looks increasingly unlikely such a measure will pass before the Assembly adjourns on June 20, it’s Cuomo who stands to face the blame.