Abby Rapoport

Welcome to the Future of Voting Rights

AP Images/John C. Whitehead
For months before the November election, battles raged in Pennsylvania over whether the state would require voters to show a state-issued photo ID in order to cast a ballot. Many voting rights activists saw the state's voter ID 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 it was clear that nonwhite voters would be disproportionately affected by the new requirement. Mike Turzai, the state house majority leader, seemed to only confirm the worst when he said publicly that the new law would “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” But Pennsylvania is not a state with a long history of voter suppression. It wasn’t mentioned in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which required certain states and counties to get new election laws “precleared” by the feds. In those states, controversial measures often...

Take Me Out with the Crowd

AP Images/Ron Frehm
N ative 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. My earliest baseball love was the Astros’ first baseman Glenn Davis, a power hitter called up to the major leagues a month before I was born in 1984. According to family lore, as a baby I would point to Davis as my favorite player, and when I was old enough to write, I sent him a letter asking him to be my best friend. Then disaster struck. In...

Meet Rick Perry's Most Likely Replacement

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
AP Images/LM Otero W hen 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? As it turned out, the people most excited weren’t Perry’s people at all. After the longest-serving Texas governor announced he would not seek re-election—while avoiding the question of whether he might take another whack at the presidency in 2016—it was Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott whose supporters were celebrating. Abbott may not have formally announced that he’s running for governor, but his new Austin campaign offices and his whopping $18 million war chest do a lot of talking for him. Until Monday, speculation was rampant about what would happen if Perry—who lost much of his intimidating...

The Wendy Davis Rebellion in Texas

AP Images/Eric Gay
AP Images/Eric Gay A rowdy crowd of women making demands as loudly as they can—and winning? That sort of thing doesn’t happen in Texas. Except that now, apparently, it does. Beginning on Tuesday morning and stretching into the wee hours of Wednesday, Democrat Wendy Davis, a state senator from Fort Worth, became a national pro-choice hero as thousands of Texans flooded the state capitol to cheer her effort to stop a draconian anti-abortion bill. Governor Rick Perry had added abortion restrictions to the agenda halfway through a special session of the legislature originally intended to pass new redistricting maps. Before the session ended at midnight on Tuesday, Republican lawmakers hoped to rush through what would have been one of the nation’s most extreme anti-abortion laws. For 11 hours, Davis filibustered a bill that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks and shut down all but five of the state’s abortion clinics. It was high drama: If Davis could hold out till midnight, she’d...

A Victory for Reproductive Rights in Texas?

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. That era may be over. For the past several days, activists have been waging a pitched battle in Austin against Senate Bill 5, a measure that would severely restrict abortions after 20 weeks and close most of the state’s abortion clinics. Since Thursday night, hundreds of activists have been protesting, packing galleries and committee hearings and every spare nook of the capitol. The intensity of the public outcry is notable in a state known for low voter turnout and a vastly outnumbered Democratic...

Oops, Will Perry Do It Again?

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
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, those outside Texas imagined he’d return to Austin and quietly wait out the rest of his gubernatorial term. But his latest decisions—including a string of more than two dozen vetoes—seems to only further confirm what most Texas insiders have been saying for months: Perry is paving the way for a second act and a second bid for the White House. And he’s not moving toward the center. The...

Cuomo Finally Gets in the Campaign Finance Reform Game

AP Images/Mike Groll
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. After weeks of mounting pressure from activists and donors, Cuomo finally unveiled his plan for campaign reform on Tuesday, but he was already backpedaling. According to The...

Will Cuomo Champion Campaign Finance Reform?

AP Images/Mike Groll
AP Images/Mike Groll The fight to make elections fairer in New York has become a primary goal for campaign finance reformers. A majority in the assembly and a majority in the senate support giving additional public dollars to campaigns that raise money from small donors, matching each dollar raised with six taxpayer dollars. Among voters, the idea is popular. Most importantly, Governor Andrew Cuomo has beaten the drum, declaring his support in state of the state addresses and other speeches. But now with just two weeks left in the session, the efforts have stalled, and Cuomo has not actively championed the issue. Some are starting to worry whether public financing might become a victim of Cuomo’s presidential ambitions. There’s still time to pass a bill but time is of the essence. “A lot can still happen—but a lot needs to happen,” says Karen Scharff, the head of Citizen Action of New York , one of the leading groups in favor of public financing legislation. If New York could pass a...

Republicans Play Defense in Texas

AP Photo/Harry Cabluck
AP Photo/Harry Cabluck On Tuesday, the Texas Republican Party chair Steve Munisteri announced plans to open five new field offices and hire nearly two dozen full-time outreach workers, who will target nonwhite voters and young people. The national party will help support the effort, investing a currently undisclosed amount. According to a spokesperson for the Texas Republican Party, the details are still being worked out. Since the GOP already dominates the state, you might expect the news would only further depress beleaguered Democrats—a well-funded effort to build inroads among voters who don’t typically vote Republican. Instead, some Democrats were celebrating. Battleground Texas, the group headed by former Obama staffers that promises to turn Texas blue largely through an emphasis on door-to-door canvassing, registration drives, and the like, sent out an email blast highlighting the news, with “This is amazing” as the subject line. The email proclaimed: “There is no clearer sign...

Can Obama's Organizing Army Take Texas?

This piece is the second in our Solid South series. Read the opening essay by Bob Moser here , Sue Sturgis and Chris Kromm's North Carolina reporting here , and Jamelle Bouie on Virginia here . S hortly before the Battleground Texas tour stopped in Austin’s old AFL-CIO building in early April, the sky opened up. Thunder and lightning raged, parts of the city flooded, and traffic came to a standstill. But Democrats kept arriving, some dripping wet, others clutching umbrellas rarely used in the city, and the meeting room soon filled with about 100 folks, some no doubt drawn by curiosity. Launched in February by two of Team Obama’s hotshot organizers, Battleground Texas was promising to inject into the nation’s biggest Republican stronghold the grassroots field tactics—the volunteer-organizing, the phone-banking and door-knocking, the digital savvy—that won the 2012 presidential election. After years of national Democrats seeing Texas as hopelessly red, what made this fledgling group...

Three Reasons Why State Polarization Is a Big Deal

Flikr/Americans Elect
Those of us who report on state-level politics usually brag about how much better it is than following Congress. On our beat, after all, bills actually get passed and become law—unlike in D.C., where the Senate can’t even vote for lack of cloture and the House just keeps reapproving the repeal of Obamacare in some endless Politico version of Groundhog Day . In state legislatures, deals get made, budgets get passed (even balanced, if that’s your thing), and not every single issue is defined by a Democratic-Republican split. Turns out we’ve been overstating things. A new study shows that polarization —the ideological gulf between the average Republican and average Democrat—is growing in state legislatures. Political scientists Boris Shor ( University of Chicago) and Nolan McCarty (Princeton University) combined survey results from the Project Vote Smart office-holder questionnaire with roll-call votes, comparing the average Republican and Democratic lawmakers in each state. (The data...

Washington, Colorado, and the Headaches of a Legal High

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
When Colorado and Washington State passed ballot measures legalizing marijuana last November, they weren’t just the first states in the country to do so—they were the first governments in the world to do so. While other nations and states, most notably the Netherlands and California, have decriminalized marijuana possession, the drug is still technically illegal. That means that while it’s tolerated by law enforcement, the government need not concern itself with a full-scale system for regulation and taxation. But there are advantages to legalizing the drug; Washington and Colorado can have a hand in making the product safer while they benefit from tax revenues. Both states are in the early stages of creating systems for taxation and regulation; the Washington State Liquor Control Board released a set of standards earlier this month, while Colorado’s state legislature has passed a series of recommendations from a task force. The differences between the two states' approaches will...

Disaster at Close Range

AP Images/ J. Pat Carter
As the reports from Oklahoma got worse and worse Monday afternoon, it was increasingly hard not to take some emotional distance. “Why didn’t they leave?” I asked myself of the Moore, Oklahoma, residents as the death toll began to climb. As scenes of flattened buildings and huge gray clouds rolled across the television, I told myself we would have left—somehow. The CNN and MSNBC anchors went over and over the sheer enormity of the tornado, a mile at its base, with more than two and a half miles of debris swirling around it, until news began breaking of the little children, stuck in their elementary schools when the funnel cloud touched down. ”Would we have sent children to school if there was any chance of a tornado hitting?” I thought. “Surely not.” It’s all stupid, of course—the things you tell yourself to feel at least a little safe. No one in Moore, the populous suburb outside Oklahoma City, could have anticipated the level of destruction this tornado, one of the most powerful on...

Five Voting Fights You’ll Care About Come Election Time

AP Images/Dave Martin
Remember last year when we all cared about voting policies? Back then, newspapers were filled with updates on different states’ legal battles over strict voter ID—the laws that require photo identification to cast a ballot. Republicans pushed the laws, ostensibly to combat fraud, but Democrats and voting-rights advocates argued that the actual goal was to suppress likely Democratic voters, since poor and nonwhite communities disproportionately lack ID. With Republicans controlling an unprecedented number of state legislatures in the wake of the 2010 Tea Party wave, voter-ID bills began popping up across the country in 2011 and 2012. Similar battles emerged when some states tried to remove names from voter rolls too close to an election. Then there was early voting; Republicans, most notably in Florida and Ohio, cut back early voting days and hours, and voters in several Florida counties faced hours-long lines. Then Obama won, created a commission to find solutions and everyone stopped...

Labor's Plan B

Flickr/ Fibonacci Blue
AP Photo/Mark Kegans A week ago, labor-rights group Working America launched FixMyJob.com. The text of the site reads a bit like an infomercial: “Tough day at work? Are you feeling overworked, underpaid, unsafe or disrespected by your boss?” But instead of selling a new set of knives, the writers are hawking organizing skills. “Our tool can help you identify problems in your workplace and give you info about what others have done in similar situations.” The famous raised fist of labor is sideways, holding a wrench. The website is yet another attempt by the country’s once-powerful union movement to connect to workers in an increasingly hostile national workplace. “We also are trying to find new ways for workers to have representation on the job,” writes Working America spokesperson Aruna Jain in an email. “We want to train and educate people on how to self-organize, and to learn collective action—the single most effective way of improving their working conditions. This is one way we...

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