Abby Rapoport

Scott Walker Raises More Than Newt Gingrich

(Flickr/WisPolitics.com)
It's only a week until Wisconsin Democrats decide who will be the challenger in the gubernatorial recall that's grabbed the national spotlight. But while the polling shows a tight race between Governor Scott Walker and the two leading Democratic candidates, the numbers are out and the war for dollars is already won. Walker's a national favorite for conservative donors. Because of the competitive Republican presidential primary and the likely to be close general election, Walker has managed to raise $14.2 million from donors across the country. Thanks to a loophole in state election law , between the time recall activists started collecting signatures and when a judge finally ruled there needed to be an election, Walker was able to ignore the state's $10,000 donation cap. That allowed him to collect a bunch of six-figure donations, including two over $500,000. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has an excellent piece laying out the fundraising landscape, explaining that Walker managed to...

This Should Be Good News for Texas Planned Parenthood (But Isn't)

(Flickr/WeNews)
A judge today ruled that the state of Texas cannot exclude Planned Parenthood from its Women's Health Program, which offers basic reproductive health care for poor women. It's seemingly good news for the organization; last session, conservative lawmakers barred Planned Parenthood from the federal program because of its ties to abortion. (For the record, in Texas the program only serves women who aren't pregnant and public dollars do not fund abortion services.) Because of the decision, the state has lost federal support for the program , a big loss since the feds paid 90 percent of the program costs. Since then, Governor Rick Perry has promised to find funding for the program—a challenge given the state's serious budget troubles—and officials have outlined a plan for a state-run version . But even if there's money, without Planned Parenthood clinics, there's simply a capacity shortage. So Planned Parenthood might actually get its way, and become part of the program, the state could...

Voter ID's $7 Million Ohio Price Tag

(Flickr/Katri Niemi)
The fight over voter identification laws generally gets debated over two major questions. 1) How important is it to stop in-person fraudulent voting (despite virtually no evidence that this is a problem)? And 2) How important is it to protect access to the ballot, particularly for those who have faced discrimination in the past? Poor and minority citizens are less likely to have photo IDs, meaning the laws may suppress voting among vulnerable communities. Though there are obvious partisan implications, voter ID debates are generally moral debates about the nature of voting and citizenship. But in Ohio, where lawmakers are considering a strict photo-ID requirement, one think-tank took a different approach: Just how much will this whole thing cost? Turns out quite a bit. According to a report from Policy Matters Ohio, the measure would likely cost the state up to $7 million. From the report: Assuming the lower $8.50 per-ID cost (the current cost of a state ID in Ohio), the total cost...

Move Over Housewives: The Real Governors of Virginia

(Flickr/videocrab)
I'm in the midst of reporting gig, so blogging's been a bit slow lately. But I rushed to my computer when I saw the news: Tareq Salahi has announced he's running for governor of Virginia. If you don't know of whom I speak, well, you're obviously wasting your time not watching Bravo reality television. Tareq and his then-wife Michaele famously snuck into a 2009 White House state dinner without invitation. More impressive, a Bravo film crew that was following them for the show Real Housewives of Washington D.C. filmed the couple as they got ready for the event and then went through various checkpoints. (In case you were wondering, it's the only one in the Housewives franchise to not get renewed for a second season.) But that's not even close to all. After the state dinner fiasco, there was the fake-kidnapping in 2011 . Tareq believed his wife had been taken, only to discover she'd run away with Journey band member Neil Schon. Earned media, I'm guessing, will not be a problem for Salahi...

The Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama, Focused Largely in Wisconsin

A 2009 Tea Party rally in Madison protesting then-Governor Jim Doyle. (Flickr/cometstarmoon)
Based on emails from the Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama, the Tea Party-affiliated political action committee seems more like the Campaign to Support Scott Walker. Daily—sometimes multiple times a day—the organization sounds out emails blasting the move to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. The emails don't mince words. An April 15 email (subject line: Fox News + Wall Street Journal ALERT) tells subscribers that "If Obama's operatives and the union bosses win, they will export their tactic of million-dollar funded RECALLs against Republican governors across the country, and they will likely win Wisconsin's 10 Electoral Votes for Obama in November." "But," the email goes on to say, "if they lose, it will deal a massive blow to Obama, his allies and the labor union bosses." And those aren't just any allies. Another email went into more detail: "The complete power and force of the state and national Democrat Party, combined with millions upon millions of dollars from state and...

Six States, Six Fates for Pro-Life Bills

(Flickr/SMN)
As states around the country consider legislation to limit access to abortion and reproductive rights, the outlook isn't bright for women's health advocates. Here's the latest from five states: Through a tied-vote, the Iowa Senate defeated a measure that would stop public dollars from funding abortions in rape and incest cases. Iowa currently allows tax dollars to fund abortion procedures for low income women if there's a danger to the life of the mother or if the pregnancy came through rape or incest. The House already approved the bill earlier in the week. In Tennessee, the state House has approved a measure that creates criminal penalties for harming embryos. The state can already prosecute someone for harming a fetus, but those laws don't include the first eight weeks of pregnancy. Of course that may be because, in the first eight weeks, many don't know they're pregnant yet and many embryos die from a variety of natural causes. The bill passed 80-18 Thursday in the House and now...

A New Kind of Gold Standard?

(Flickr/tao_zhyn)
In the latest issue of the magazine, I have a piece examining a strange and growing trend in some conservative circles—pushing states to adopt alternative currencies to the federal dollar. The basic concern is one you've probably heard from Ron Paul: The Federal Reserve can't be trusted, the national debt is out of control, so the U.S. dollar, backed only by faith in the government, may become worthless. (The story outlines some of the more obvious economic problems with this theory.) To deal with the concern, problem-solving state lawmakers have started introducing bills to create a second currency, one of gold and silver. Sounds like a fringe concept right? Well, not entirely. In the 2011-2012 legislative cycle, 17 states saw some form of the legislation introduced, either implmenting a second currency or at least prompting a study of one. The famous (and failed) "doomsday bill" in Wyoming included one such study. Utah already passed its version last year, so you can now start...

Relax, Ladies! The Texas GOP Has Your Back

(Flickr/ Planned Parenthood Federation of America)
Texas health officials are telling low-income women not to worry. The Women's Health Program, the Medicaid program serving 130,000 women, will still be there for them. Of course, how it will be paid for and whether enough clinics will be left providing services are still subjects up for debate. The Republican-dominated Texas Legislature cut funding for the program—which offers poor women basic reproductive health services like birth control and cancer screenings—by two-thirds last year. The cuts came out of fear that the health-care providers were too linked with the so-called abortion industry. Just to be safe, conservative lawmakers barred Planned Parenthood from participating in the program. Of course, since the beginning of the program, no public dollars could go to abortions, and women could only participate if they were not pregnant. The results were swift. The budget cuts resulted in clinic closings around the state , and the decision to exclude Planned Parenthood violated...

ALEC Gives In, But There's No Reason to Celebrate

(Flickr/Sunset Parkerpix)
After weeks of pressure, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) appears to be backing away from long-term efforts at creating barriers to voting (voter-ID laws) and pushing "Stand Your Ground" legislation. The latter allows those who feel threatened in public places to use force; Florida's version is currently at the center of the Trayvon Martin case. Giving in to public pressure, ALEC announced Tuesday that it was disbanding its Public Safety and Elections Task Force, which promoted such legislation and helped see it proliferate. The organization is now "reinvesting these resources in the task forces that focus on the economy." ALEC's spokesperson did not respond to interview requests nor did Public Safety Task Force Chair Jerry Madden, a Texas state representative. ALEC, which proudly calls itself "the nation's largest, non-partisan, individual public-private membership association of state legislators," has operated as a largely secret arena in which corporate sponsors...

To Infinity—and Alabama

(Flickr/NASA Goddard)
I have one word I want to say to you: Spaceports. The space shuttle program may be over, but for some states, now's the time to get excited about the great beyond, thanks to the idea of launch sites for cargo, satellites, and—of course— commercial flights . The Federal Aviation Authority has already licensed eight such sites in six states across the country . Now Alabama is shooting to get one of its own. A new proposal filed Tuesday would create a nine-person committee that could recommend builing the "Alabama Spaceport Authority." If approved by the panel and the feds, the project would be fully funded with federal dollars. But as WHNT reports "it could still be another four to six years before Alabamians could launch into orbit from their backyard." This is all part of NASA's new effort to encourage private space exploration and private launches. Two private companies, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp,, have already hired a slew of laid-off NASA scientists and, according to the...

Will Connecticut Abolish the Death Penalty?

(Flickr/League of Women Voters)
Connecticut may become the fifth state in the last five years to end the death penalty. The state Senate will likely vote today on a measure that would end capital punishment in all future cases. However, it would not have a direct impact on any of the 11 people currently on death row. If the Senate approves the measure, it will probably have an easy path forward; both the House and the governor support the repeal. But the vote will almost certainly be very close. The state has hardly been liberal with the death penalty. In the last five decades, the state has only executed one person, a serial killer who ultimately supported the sentence. There's been talk of repealing the death penalty in Connecticut for a while—the legislature passed a similar measure in 2009 only to have it vetoed by then Governor Jodi Rell. A brutal triple murder in 2007 brought more attention to capital crimes. Two men broke into the home of the wealthy Petit family in Chesire, murdering the mother and two...

In New York, a Bipartisan Call for Reproductive Rights

(Flickr/M. Markus)
A few weeks ago, Teresa Sayward did the unthinkable. The New York state Republican assembly woman told a state news program that she'd consider voting for Obama. "I really, truly think that the candidates that are out there today for the Republican side would take women back decades," she said on Capitol Tonight. Apparently, she's not the only one worried about her party's direction on women's health. A new story from North Country Public Radio highlights Sayward and fellow Republican Janet Duprey, who are both supporting the Reproductive Health Act, which would codify access to abortion and contraception. Sayward is one of the co-sponsors. In the segment, Duprey spoke out about her own commitment to women's health. She noted her own adolescence in the early '60s, when women and girls had few options. "We can never return to that era," she told the radio station. "We absolutely cannot." As the Prospect 's Jamelle Bouie noted Monday, the GOP's efforts to restrict access to...

Tennessee Lawmakers Tackle Sagging Pants

(Flickr/ Tobyotter)
Tennessee's lawmakers have been on a roll with vital pieces of legislation, necessary to the well-being of their residents. There's the bill to protect teachers who tell students that scientific ideas like evolution and climate change aren't necessarily true . There's the bill to ensure public buildings can display the Ten Commandments (and other "historically significant documents") if they choose. But now, they've really hit the meat of important issues with a bill to outlaw saggy pants. The bill, which now awaits the governor's signature, creates a statewide dress code for public-school students , making it illegal to dress in an "indecent manner." In addition to sagging pants, sports bras may also be under threat, as the legislation forbids showing "underwear or body parts" if it "disrupts the learning environment." (As I remember high school, body parts seemed to distract and disrupt even when covered.) But despite the measures passing with overwhelming support (unanimously in...

Is There An Actual Crisis in U.S. Education?

(Flickr/-Marlith-)
Over at the American Journalism Review , The Washington Post 's Paul Farhi has a much-needed critique on how the "education in crisis" narrative cropped up in journalism across the country. Farhi, a veteran education reporter, notes how widespread the idea of school failure has become, pointing out that in January alone, there were at least 544 stories about "failing schools" (He doesn't even mention the report from the Council on Foreign Relations arguing education has gotten so bad it constitutes a national security risk ). While the stories tend to carry similar messages—in particular that self-proclaimed education reformers are helping to stop the downward spiral—these conclusions don't square with all the data. Elementary and middle school students have improved consistently in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study , and matriculation to higher education has never been higher. "All told," Farhi writes, "America's long-term achievements in education are nothing...

With the Wisconsin Recall Official, Who's Winning?

(Flickr/Sue Peacock)
With the Wisconsin recall election now official , state Democrats are in a sticky place. Pro-recall forces were able to look united through much of the process, and the million petitions they turned in sent a powerful signal that folks were united against the governor. But there are currently four Democratic candidates hoping they'll be the one to displace Walker. Furthermore, there are no clear winners; two Democrats are in a virtual tie, both in their primary and against Governor Scott Walker. Things got considerably more complicated on Friday afternoon when, hours after the Government Accountability Board made its announcement, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett announced he was throwing his hat into the ring. Barrett narrowly lost to Walker in 2010, and as mayor of a Democratic stronghold, he's got good name recognition around the state. He's also controversial with the state's labor unions—an awkward situation since it was the fight over collective bargaining rights that triggered the...

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