Elections

North Carolina's Tug-of-War

What happens when a state becomes more progressive and more conservative at the same time?

Victor Juhasz
Victor Juhasz This piece is the third in our Solid South series. Read the opening essay by Bob Moser here , Abby Rapoport's Texas reporting here , and Jamelle Bouie on Virginia here . B ill Cook may be a relative newcomer to North Carolina politics—he won his 2012 state senate race by 21 votes, after two recounts—but he has big plans for the state. By this spring’s filing deadline, Cook, a power--company retiree from the coastal town of Beaufort, had sponsored no fewer than seven measures aimed at rewriting the state’s election rules—largely in ways that would benefit Republicans. Over the past decade, North Carolina has become a national model for clean elections and expanded turnout, thanks to reforms like early voting, same-day registration, and public financing of some races. New voters—mostly people of color and college students—helped Democrats turn the state into a presidential battleground, which Barack Obama won by a hair in 2008 and lost narrowly in 2012. This new electorate...

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...

The End of the Solid South

Victor Juhasz
Victor Juhasz This piece is the first in our Solid South series. You can read Abby Rapoport's Texas reporting here , and Sue Sturgis and Chris Kromm on North Carolina here , and Jamelle Bouie on Virginia here . T he final rally of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign took place on symbolically charged ground: the rolling fields of Manassas, site of the first major battle of the Civil War. It was the last stop on an election eve spent entirely in the South: Jacksonville, Charlotte, and finally Northern Virginia. In the autumn chill, an estimated 90,000 people spread out across the county fairgrounds and waited for hours to cheer a new president—and a new South. By this point, Virginians knew Obama well. In February, he had beaten Hillary Clinton 2 to 1 in the state’s Democratic primary, a blow to her floundering bid. After clinching the nomination, he’d kicked off his general-election campaign in rural Virginia and been a frequent visitor since. Bucking conventional wisdom, Obama’...

I Don't Think We're in Kansas Anymore, Keystone

Flickr/350.org
AP Photo/Elise Amendola I t’s rare for environmental organizations to lead outside spending in an election. Even the largest don't have that much cash to burn. But in last month's Senate primary in Massachusetts, no other interest group spent more. 350.org Action Fund, the young political arm of the climate campaign group 350.org, picked this as its first race and dropped just over $50,000 during the primary. Hedge-funder Tom Steyer's NextGen Committee spent more than $500,000, according to the Federal Election C ommission—almost half of which went to the League of Conservation Voters (LCV). The LCV contributed a fair bit of its own money on the race, too, with its total spending ringing in around $850,000. All of this money went to support Representative Edward J. Markey or to oppose Representative Stephen Lynch, the two main candidates in the primary to choose which Democrat would vie for John Kerry’s old Senate seat. When climate change was on Congress’s radar, Markey was a leader...

A Devil of a Problem for Labor in the City of Angels

AP Photo/Reed Saxon
AP Photo,File T omorrow, Angelenos go to the polls to select a new mayor. Well, some Angelenos—actually, not a hell of a lot. Indeed, turnout is projected to be so low that the winner may get fewer votes than Fletcher Bowron did in winning the election of 1938 , when Los Angeles was less than half as populous as it is today. The reason for the low turnout is straightforward: Not all that much differentiates the two candidates. Both City Controller Wendy Greuel and Hollywood-area City Councilman Eric Garcetti are mainstream Democrats. Unlike the election, say, of 1993, which pitted Republican businessman Richard Riordan against liberal Democratic Councilman Mike Woo—two candidates with widely divergent views on how to fix the L.A. police in the wake of the Rodney King riots—no great issues separate the two candidates this year. Unlike the election of 2005, in which former California Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa ousted incumbent Mayor Jim Hahn, this year’s election won’t be a...

How to Stop the Next IRS Scandal

Flickr/Adam Fagen
T he root of the recent scandal at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)—in which the agency admitted to singling out Tea Party groups for special scrutiny—is simple: terrible campaign-finance laws. Here’s the story: The IRS must determine whether organizations applying for 501(c)(4) non-profit status—a classification that exempts you from paying taxes—meet the requirements. As election-law scholar Rick Hasen explains, the central criterion is that “ campaign activity cannot be your primary purpose. ” Unfortunately, the law gives the IRS little guidance in how it should determine whether this is a group’s “primary purpose,” and Congress has given the IRS insufficient staffing to really do the vetting properly. The shortage of resources was only made more dire by the explosion of these types of organizations after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. What they apparently did in response to the avalanche of 501(c)(4) applications was to improperly use what seem to be partisan...

The Transgender Candidate

AP Photo/Shakil Adil
AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen D espite twin bombings at the Awami National Party offices in Karachi this Saturday—an inauspicious start to polling day—Bindiya Rana, one of Pakistan’s first transgender candidates, remained optimistic. Rana’s spent the last several weeks canvassing the alleys of district P.S. 114, handing out self-printed promotional material between concrete buildings under tangles of telephone wires. After several tense months—130 civilians have died in pre-election violence—she was deterred by neither the danger or her slim chances of winning. “The important thing is to face this world very boldly,” she said. In Pakistan, gender issues have historically been prone to violence— Malala Yousafzai made international news when she was shot on a school bus by the Taliban last year—but overall women’s rights have been slowly improving. The country appointed its first female foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, and data from the Election Commission show a 129 percent increase...

Who's the Next John Kerry?

AP Photo/Harry Hamburg
Yesterday Massachusetts held a primary for the June special election to fill new Secretary of State John Kerry's senate seat. Roughly four people turned out to vote in my district, with a total of 153 voters statewide. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. There were four people in my polling place when I went in to vote, at 5:30 pm—a time when, were it a presidential election, the line would be down the block. As I write this, The Boston Globe is reporting an estimated 10 percent turnout. My guess is that that the number of people who were aware of the fact that the primary was yesterday, compared to the number of Massachusetts residents aware of the first names of both marathon bombers, was roughly 1:100. We’ve had a rough few weeks here in Boston, as I know you’ve heard. While the rest of the country has—rightly—moved on to the next public event, we’re going to be stuck on this one for some time. But even were this the most neutral of times, a special-election primary is a pretty sleepy...

An Antidote to Citizens United?

Last week, 72 New York State Assemblymen sent a letter to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver urging him to support a public financing program for primary, general, and special election campaigns for statewide offices. Such a program would match modest contributions with public funds, which allow small contributors to have a larger impact and brings more donors into the political process. As New York legislators consider adopting a public financing system, a new report from Demos shows the positive impact public financing has had in Connecticut. Fresh Start: The Impact of Public Financing in Connecticut analyzes how public financing has affected both legislators and the legislative process by complimenting empirical data studies with interviews of current and former legislators. Connecticut has offered public financing for candidates running for statewide office, the General Assembly, and the State Senate since 2008. The report finds that the program is very popular and that 77 percent of...

California Fights Back

Flickr/ Neon Tommy
Last fall, California voters were confronted with two major and hotly-contested ballot measures—Governor Jerry Brown’s proposal (Proposition 30) to raise taxes on the rich to end the state’s chronic budget shortfalls, and a conservative initiative (Proposition 32) which would have curtailed unions’ ability to spend their treasuries on political campaigns. Proposition 30 passed and Proposition 32 was soundly defeated, but they had to overcome a joint, well-funded campaign by rightwing interests to prevail. As we reported in the January-February issue of the Prospect, the anti-30, pro-32 campaign received an $11 million contribution a few weeks before the election whose source could not be traced. The money came into the campaign from an Arizona-based 501c4—a “social welfare” organization that spends its funds on political campaigns but is not required to list the source of its funding. Under public pressure and in response to a court order, the Arizona group did reveal shortly before...

Arizona versus the Right to Vote

Flickr/Wally Gobetz
As part of a broader anti-immigration initiative in 2004, Arizona passed Proposition 200, a law requiring voters to provide proof of citizenship before registering to vote. One person affected by this law was Jesus Gonzalez, a custodian and naturalized American citizen who twice had his registration rejected by the state. Arizona couldn't verify his naturalization number and erroneously identified his driver's license as belonging to a non-citizen. Gonzalez's case has reached the Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments about the constitutionality of Proposition 200 on Monday. The Court should rule that Arizona's burdensome requirements are inconsistent with federal law and therefore illegal. The Supreme Court has dealt with Republican legislators' attempts to suppress voting before. In a highly dubious 2008 decision , the Supreme Court found that an Indiana statute—requiring a show of ID before hitting the ballot box—was not unconstitutional on its face, although it left open the...

Republicans for Election Reform?

Flickr/Joseph Holmes
Election reformers were expecting big things from this year’s State of the Union address. They knew that President Barack Obama had invited 102-year-old Desiline Victor, a Floridian who’d waited three hours to cast her ballot. They had heard him acknowledge the many folks who stood in long lines when he ad-libbed in his election-night speech, “We have to fix that.” They were encouraged when he subsequently acknowledged the need for a broad range of fixes to the broken system. Hopes for an ambitious reform package were high. But Obama’s big reveal seemed less than inspiring: a bipartisan commission to study the problem. This is indeed a promising moment for bipartisan election reform, but that reform isn’t likely to come from Washington. Instead, it’s likely to emerge from the states where party lines on election reform are beginning to blur. This year, new laws to improve elections and expand voting may pass not only in blue states like New...

What We'll Be Talking about in 2016

AP Photo/Mark Hirsch
Yes, pundits of all stripes are already starting to handicap the presidential fields for 2016. Yes, that’s a long time from now … although we are under three years to the Iowa Caucuses, and probably just about two years from the first debates, so it’s not all that long. More to the point: as long as the candidates are running—and they are—there’s no reason to pretend the contest hasn’t started yet. While the identity of the next Democratic and Republican nominees is important, what’s even more important is what they intend to do if elected. Indeed: the nomination process is important because it’s how parties sort out their differences and make decisions about who they are, and what kinds of public policy they support. Moreover, the nomination process is the best chance for groups and individuals within the party to have a chance of affecting what the party will do if it wins. In general elections with huge electorates, there’s not much one person can do that makes any difference. In...

Outsiders as Insiders

Flickr/Office of Governor Patrick
Flickr/Office of Governor Patrick M assachusetts could be the harbinger of a hopeful national trend in Democratic Party politics – the reformer as regular. For 16 years, this bluest of blue states oddly kept electing Republican governors. Between 1990 when Gov. Michael Dukakis stepped down and 2006 when Deval Patrick took the governorship back, no fewer than four Republicans sat in the governor’s chair. And then Democrats blew the special election for Ted Kennedy’s seat in January 2010, when Scott Brown upset Attorney General Martha Coakley. This occurred in a state that reliably votes Democratic for president, and hasn’t sent a Republican to the U.S. House since 1994. Despite the Democratic sentiments of Massachusetts voters, the institutional party has often seemed dysfunctional, decrepit, and not welcoming of new blood. In this odd history, however, one fact screams out. The two big statewide winners of recent decades were complete outsiders—Deval Patrick and Elizabeth Warren...

Did Republicans Lose the Election?

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Last November, Democrats seemed to be justified in believing that their party had won a victory of genuine significance. The ideological differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were clear-cut, and Obama was re-elected. Despite the advantage that Republicans initially enjoyed in Senate races, Democrats increased their majority to 55, and that new majority is more liberal than the old one. In races for the House, more voters cast ballots for Democratic than for Republican candidates, though Republicans kept their majority thanks in large part to gerrymandered districts. But if you step back now, look at government as a whole, and think about the likely course of politics in the next several years, things look different. In what was a bad year for Republicans, they emerged with enough power to stymie major Democratic legislative initiatives and to advance key items on their own agenda through the arms of government that they continue to control. In other words, the United States...

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