Abby Rapoport

Postcards from the Shutdown Edge

AP Photo/Brian Skoloff)
AP Photo/Chuck Burton T en days into the shutdown, it’s easy to wonder just how much the federal government helps people day-to-day. We’ve heard about delays in highways maintenance and about federal workers who have to wait until the government opens to get paid. What about those programs conservatives are always complaining about? You might have expected stories about people suffering without help from various federal services—from food stamps to welfare checks. Instead, there’s been little to indicate needy people are going without. That’s because the worst potential effects of the shutdown have been delayed—for now. States, even deep red states, are currently covering for the feds. Some programs waiting for re-authorization—like food stamps—are still largely intact because the federal government sends out reimbursements at the end of the month, so there’s still money and state employees to administer the benefits. Others programs have state money to thank. Through moving funds...

The Wendy Davis Scouting Report

AP Images/Nick Wass
AP Images/Nick Wass T he 2014 political season is just beginning to ramp up, and, for fans and the professionals, it’s time to start gauging which races to watch—and guessing which candidates can go all the way. Thursday will mark the emergence of one of the hottest Democratic prospects to come out of Texas in more than a decade: State Senator Wendy Davis, who’s set to announce her candidacy for governor. But hold on to your hats, sports fans, 'cause this one is gonna get messy. Davis garnered national attention this summer when she successfully filibustered an abortion ban that was passed in a later special session of the state legislature. Over 100,000 people watched a live feed, and in Texas thousands stormed the capitol in a show of support unprecedented in recent memory. By all accounts, today Davis will tell the world that she’ll be the standard bearer for a team with that’s lost more than 100 consecutive races statewide: the Texas Democratic Party. But Texas Democrats are in...

Eric Holder's Big Voting-Rights Gamble

AP Images/Manuel Balce Ceneta
J ust about everyone who goes through a musical-theater phase at some point falls in love with Sky Masterson of Guys and Dolls . In the movie version, Marlon Brando plays the gambler who will wager “sky high” stakes and finds himself singing “Luck Be a Lady” while rolling the dice to see if he gets the girl. Going all in may be what you’d expect in a fictional singing crapshooter, but it’s a bit more surprising in a U.S. attorney general. Eric Holder’s announcement Monday that the Justice Department was going to bring a lawsuit against North Carolina’s new and wide-sweeping election law , which includes a laundry list of voter restrictions and changes making it harder to vote, showcases just how high he’s willing to make the stakes when it comes to voting rights. His department is now going to be litigating two high-profile cases—one against a voter-ID law in Texas, and the other against the omnibus bill in North Carolina. The DOJ is also involved in a case to show that Texas’s...

Can Republicans Buck the Tea Party?

AP Photo/Marc Levy
AP Photo/Harry Hamburg S ince the Tea Party emerged following President Barack Obama’s victory in 2008, Republican governors have frequently been the faces of some of the most extreme policies in recent political memory. Even before her infamous “finger point” at the president, Arizona’s Jan Brewer was signing and defending her state’s racial-profiling bill, SB 1070. In Ohio, John Kasich championed a law—later repealed by voters—to strip public employees of bargaining rights. In Florida, Rick Scott has pushed a plethora of hard-right policies, from drug screening of welfare recipients and government employees to reductions in early voting. Michigan’s Rick Snyder, who has a moderate streak, went to the extreme last December when he approved “right to work” legislation in a state built largely by union labor. Yet Brewer, Kasich, Snyder, and Scott are among the nine GOP governors who have staked considerable political capital on Medicaid expansion, a key piece of the Affordable Care Act...

The Conservative Plan for Medicaid Expansion

AP Photo/Osamu Honda
AP Photo/The Columbus Dispatch, Chris Russell A number of policymakers on both sides of the aisle cheered when, in April, the Arkansas Legislature passed a law both expanding Medicaid and transforming it into a service available in a marketplace of insurance options, a move known as the “private option.” Similar cheers erupted in June when Iowa Governor Terry Branstad approved a similar measure. The legislation marked a major accomplishment—not because the policies are necessarily improvements over traditional Medicaid but because they establish politically palatable paths for conservatives who want to increase access to health care. In Pennsylvania, GOP Governor Tom Corbett—who was against Medicaid expansion and this week announced he is is tepidly for it—has pointed to the these new plans as a model he might consider (among other, more controversial changes.) The private option may be a way to make comprehensive health-care coverage viable in other Republican states—but that depends...

Bloomberg's Rocky Mountain Rout

AP Images/John Minchillo
Tuesday’s recall elections in Colorado—the first ones in state history—resulted in two Democratic state senators losing their seats. It also resulted in an excruciating amount of spin about what the losses meant for gun-control efforts in other states and at the federal level. Colorado was among the first states to pass gun-control legislation in the wake of two mass shootings, one of which occurred at a movie theatre in a Denver suburb. But though the recall was undoubtedly prompted by anger over the vote, as I wrote last week, the actual elections results were never going to tell us much about gun-control opinions one way or another. While the National Rifle Association and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns both got involved in the race, the elections quickly became about a broader swath of issues. Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-funded Tea Party group, lambasted the two senators for their positions on taxes and Obamacare, getting pretty far...

Coming Out Guns Blazing in Colorado's Recall Elections

AP Images/Michael Ciaglo
AP Images/Michael Ciaglo This Tuesday, in a low-turnout election, voters in two Colorado districts will decide whether they want to recall their state senators. Based on the outcome of those two elections, media around the country will determine whether gun control legislation is a safe political bet for elected officials who want to keep their seats; pro- and anti-gun control groups will see if flexing their muscles with large donations has all been for naught. You might say the stakes in Colorado’s first-ever legislative recalls are high. But they probably shouldn’t be. Back in March, the two Democratic state senators now facing recall—Angela Giron and Senate President John Morse—both helped pass gun control legislation that limited the size of ammunition magazines and extended background checks. The legislation came less than a year after a gunman opened fire in a Colorado movie theater, killing 12 and injuring 70, and three months after the Newtown elementary school shootings...

Reefer Madness: The Guide to New Federal Pot Policy

AP Images/Elaine Thompson
AP Images/Elaine Thompson S ince 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. Both states could finally breathe a metaphorical sigh of relief last week when the Department released a series of guidelines, more than nine months after the initiatives passed, and it became clear the DOJ would not take the states to court. In a memo to U.S. attorneys, Deputy Attorney General James Cole wrote that so long as the state policies did not interfere with federal priorities, U.S. attorneys should not focus on prosecuting...

Prison Reform: No Longer Politically Toxic?

AP Images/Rich Pedroncelli
AP Images/Rich Pedroncelli I n the two weeks since Attorney General Eric Holder announced 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 . Not long ago, the lack of a right-wing furor would have been unthinkable. So would Holder’s initiative; criminal-justice reform has long been politically toxic for Democrats as well as Republicans. But in 2013, even with an administration whose policy proposals almost always prompt pushback...

Get to Know Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act

AP Images/Evan Vucci
AP Images/ Evan Vucci E arlier this summer, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the most potent provision of the Voting Rights Act : Section 5, which had required nine states and a number of individual counties with long histories of voter discrimination to clear any new election law changes with the feds. In the weeks since the decision, voting rights advocates have been searching for new strategies to protect voting rights. And now, in recent days, a previously ignored portion of the Voting Rights Act has become a key tool in the fight. Advocates—as well as Attorney General Eric Holder—are hoping Section 3 will prove to be a powerful tool in the face of an onslaught of voting restrictions from Republican legislatures—and can at least partially replace the much stronger voter protections the Supreme Court took away. Since that Supreme Court decision, the states that had been covered by Section 5 have run roughshod over voting rights. Texas has set about implementing a voter ID law—...

Houston Rockets Pre-K to Top of the Priority List

AP Photo/The Paris News,Sam Craft
AP Photo/LM Otero I t’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 10 or 15 years ago, the 2010 Tea Party wave, combined with budget crises in many states, led to big cuts even in states that 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-...

Just How Bad Will the Florida Voter Purge Be?

Flickr/lakelandlocal and whiteafrican
Flickr/Erik Hersman I t’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...

Wendy Davis's Catch-22

AP Photo/Eric Gay
AP Photo/Eric Gay Texas state senator Wendy Davis W hen 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.” The national interest in Davis’s non-announcement only reflects the extreme anticipation among politicos; plenty of liberals see the stars...

Moral Mondays and the South’s New Liberal Gospel

Jenny Warburg
The American Prospect/Jenny Warburg B y 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...

Republicans vs. Democracy in North Carolina

Jenny Warburg
I t’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. Simply put, the law would turn the state with the South’s most progressive voting laws, and the region’s highest turnout in the last two presidential elections, into a state with perhaps the most restrictive voting laws in the nation. In doing so, it could also provide a national model for erecting obstacles to...

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