Abby Rapoport

State of the Week: The Wisconsin Recall

(Flick/wackybadger)
This week's state of the week is ... Wisconsin! Well folks, it's official: Wisconsin's Scott Walker is the third governor in history to face a recall election . It's hardly shocking news. After all, anti-Walker forces turned in more than a million petitions—almost double the number they needed. But given the volume of petitions, the Government Accountability Board, tasked with verifying the signatures, needed additional time to check things out. That gave Walker more time to fundraise; thanks to a loophole in Wisconsin law , once the signature-gathering for a recall begins, the incumbent in jeopardy no longer has to abide by normal campaign donation limits. Walker successfully raised millions from key conservative donors in the last several weeks. Now that the recall is official, campaign donation limits are back in effect. But it's still unclear who Walker will face. Democrats have yet to coalesce around a single candidate; many are still waiting to see if Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett...

It Takes an Election

Last year's Save Texas Schools rally produced thousands of people, but education funding was still slashed by $5.4 billion. (Flickr/matthewjuran)
Last year, Save Texas Schools held a rally that wowed most of us covering it. Around 10,000 people came from across the state , traveling hours on buses to demand lawmakers prioritize education funding, and forego the unprecedented cuts the legislature's initial budget had proposed. In a state with little history of organization and few structures for bringing people together, the rally was an impressive success. But here's the thing: Even with the public outcry, lawmakers went ahead and slashed education funding anyway. So perhaps it's not a surprise that this year's rally only had about 1,000 attendees at its height (though organizers say a total of 4,500 people came through at one point or another). Toward the end, the numbers seemed to be in the low hundreds. The speakers each had a different pet cause or complaint —testing, funding, equity—and the overall program ran about 30 minutes longer than it was supposed to. Over at The T exas Observer , I left the program thinking the...

Hawaii's Race Back to the Top

Welcome to Hawaiia, Department of Ed! (Flic/jerine)
Friday, Hawaiian education officials can bid farewell to officials from the U.S. Department of Education. For now, anyways. The four-day visit was part of an evaluation to see how the Aloha state has fared in implementing the changes it promised when it won a lucrative Race to the Top grant for $75 million. The state set high goals : Officials said they would eliminate achievement gaps by 2018 and begin measuring teacher effectiveness. Since then, however, the state has struggled to make the necessary changes, and the feds have taken note. At the end of 2011, the U.S. Department of Education labeled the state's grant "high risk," limiting its access to the grant money. It may be in jeopardy of losing the funding entirely. While the state legislature is considering bills to reduce teacher contract protections like tenure , the state's teachers have been reticent about making changes, and earlier this year, voted down a proposed contract that would have included more performance-based...

Anti-Abortion Measures Die with a Whimper

(Flickr/World Can't Wait)
Women's health and abortion access have dominated state legislatures across the country and, until recently, dominated the headlines as well. But as legislative sessions are wrapping up and final decisions get made, there's been less focus on the issues. Perhaps it's because, in several cases, the bills are dying with whimpers instead of bangs. This week, many of the measures look doomed. Idaho's pre-abortion sonogram bill died Tuesday, with pro-life activists accepting defeat—at least for this year. According to the Spokesman-Review , House State Affairs Chair Tom Loertscher worried that the controversy around the sonogram could threaten the state's other anti-abortion measures. The bill did not have any exemptions for rape or incest and would likely have required invasive, transvaginal sonograms—the kind that got Virginia so much attention. Right to Life of Idaho has said it plans to bring the bill back next year. In Pennsylvania, a similar sonogram measure has stalled after...

Tennessee Travels Back to 1925

(Flickr/latvian)
By the end of this week, teachers in Tennessee will likely have new protections if they teach creationism alongside evolution or rely on dubious reports that climate change is a myth. A measure awaiting gubernatorial approval explicitly protects teachers who give countering theories to evolution, climate change, and the like, in an effort to foster critical-thinking skills. The bill received overwhelming legislative support, and the governor is expected to approve it. "It's a really sad state of affairs," says Steven Newton, policy director at the California-based National Center for Science Education. "In an era where other countries are pushing forward … the United States is passing anti-science bills in some of its states." As I wrote last week , the measure create any requirements, and, as the Times Free Press reports , its sponsor has been adamant that it "does not endorse, promote or allow the teaching of any nonscientific, nonconventional theories in the scientific classroom."...

Brown vs. Mandel

(Flickr/OhioProgressive)
A poll today from Rasmussen brought big news for those in Ohio, where Senator Sherrod Brown is fighting for his political life against state Treasurer Josh Mandel. The new results show the two men tied, each with 43 percent. The survey asked 500 likely voters and had a 4.5 point margin of error. This is the first poll to show Brown without a sizable lead; a poll from NBC earlier in March had the incumbent ahead 47-37. It's hardly time to panic though. While the race is on many watch lists, The Cook Report , a favorite of political prognosticators, has Brown with the advantage, labeling it "Leans Democrat." Furthermore, Rasmussen polls often seem to tilt Republican. A couple years ago, Nate Silver addressed the pattern directly, calling Rasmussen polls "biased and inaccurate." Still the news will likely bring more attention to the Senate race. Brown is one of the most vocal and visible liberals in D.C., with The Washington Post calling him a "modern-day Paul Wellstone." (For the record...

Drug Tests for Everyone!

Right this way Representative... (Flickr/Francis Storr)
Drug testing is in these days. Already, Arizona and Missouri test anyone receiving government aid who's suspected of drug use. (In other words, leave your Bob Marley shirt at home.) In Florida, meanwhile, the humiliating process is guaranteed—everyone getting aid must also pee in a cup. 23 states are considering such laws this year, according to USA Today. On Monday alone, a panel in Oklahoma approved one drug-testing measure , while Utah's governor signed a measure into law. If tax dollars are heading in your direction, the thinking goes, we have to make sure you're not some junkie. Many frame the issue as one of fiscal responsibility—if you can afford to do drugs, you should not receive aid. (The extra dose of humiliation recipients face is just a side benefit, I guess.) It's not just those receiving aid who are suspect. Florida beefed up its laws this year with a measure requiring random drug tests for those receiving a state paycheck. Governor Rick Scott just signed it into law a...

A Life Without Compromise

(Flickr/Zoran Veselinovic)
Thanks to a nasty bug last week, I'm still emptying my South by Southwest notebook. A documentary about a musician's fall is sure to be particularly powerful stuff at a festival known largely for launching bands to stardom. Perhaps that's part of what made Beware of Mr. Baker such a favorite at South by Southwest, where it won the coveted Grand Jury Award. The documentary, after all, tells the tale of talented, rakish drummer Ginger Baker, who has finally become old, sitting at home in South Africa, low on cash, short on friends, and far removed from his heyday. The documentary is in many ways a straightforward, chronological narrative of Baker's life, largely based around interviews with those who have known or been influenced by the drummer. For those of us lacking in a strong background of rock history, the film does an excellent job establishing Baker's unique talent in a context. Jay Bulger, the movie's director and writer, seemed to have found just about every famous drummer in...

Did Virginia Democrats' Budget Gamble Pay Off?

Smoother roads ahead? (Flickr/401K)
Today the Virginia Senate will likely pass a budget. After weeks of deadlock, that's quite a feat in itself. But for Senate Democrats—who had already voted down two previous budgets and prompted a special session—the latest document is a much bigger victory. For weeks, Senate Democrats had engaged in a risky game of political chicken , demanding both more committee leadership positions and more spending on both state infrastructure and government programs. While the GOP dominates the state House, the upper chamber is divided evenly. However, in split decisions, it falls to Republican Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling to cast the deciding vote—and guess which side he favors. That means that despite a having 50 percent of the seats, the Senate Dems have little committee leadership positions and have been powerless to stop a series of measures, including most famously the state's pre-abortion sonogram measure. When it comes to the budget, though, Bolling can't vote, and Democrats decided...

GOP Senator Defends Planned Parenthood

(Flickr/JRockefellerIV)
The last time Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison took on Rick Perry, things didn't go so well. Hutchison, among the most popular politicians in the state at the time, was the favorite to win the Republican nomination, and instead Perry rode into the general with overwhelming support. Among Hutchison's key problems—besides simply running a bad campaign—a nagging reputation as a moderate, who was at least somewhat pro-choice and who'd voted for the bank bailout. After the disappointing finish, she later announced she wouldn't run for re-election in the Senate. This may be her last year in politics. And evidently, she's decided that it's no time to back down from her political rival. On MSNBC Thursday morning, the senator openly criticized Perry's decision to defund Planned Parenthood and jeopardize the state's federal funding for the Women's Health Program. "We cannot afford to lose the Medicaid funding for low income women to have health care services," she said. "We cannot." Hutchison...

A Sure-Fire Way to Liven Up Committee Meetings

(Flickr/VectorPortal)
As someone who has sat through a lot of them, I can say with authority that legislative committee hearings are, on the whole, a bit arduous. There are exciting moments—a major bill debate, a particularly interesting or moving witness, and the like—but often, it's fairly uneventful. Unless, of course, you're in a packed committee meeting on public safety and a state rep drops his gun . The moment occurred in New Hampshire Tuesday. The gun was loaded, but didn't go off thanks to a safety mechanism. The freshman rep responsible blamed his "shoulder holder"—and the fact he was a bit lightheaded from giving blood. Somehow I guessing everyone was a little more alert after that.

Georgia's War over Charter Schools Heads to the Ballot

(Flickr/knittymarie)
For months, the Georgia Legislature has served as a key battleground for the charter-schools debate. Now the fight goes to the voters, who will ultimately decide the fate of a constitutional amendment to allow "state-chartered" schools over the objection of local school boards. The measure, which creates a state charter-school commission to approve charters rejected by local school boards, became a major focal point of the legislative session. Wausau Daily Herald broke down the thousands of dollars that lobbyists spent on meals and gifts to woo state lawmakers to their side, which verge on the ridiculous. For instance, the American Federation for Children, advocating for the measure, "paid $75 for frames for photos of state lawmakers with former Braves pitcher John Smoltz." The House passed the measure in March, but it stalled in the Senate. It was only on Monday that four Democrats chose to support the measure , giving it more than the two-thirds it needed. Now advocates and...

Worries About Scientific Weakness of Scientific Theories

(Flickr/Loren Javier)
Monday was a busy day in the Tennessee Legislature. In the Senate, they were debating a measure that guarantees teachers the right to help students "understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught, such as evolution and global warming " (Emphasis mine). The eight members of the state's National Academy of Science have vocally opposed the measure. Since the state was also home to the 1925 Scopes "monkey" trial , over the right of teachers to teach evolution, the comparisons have been frequent. "Let me say what this bill does not do ... as may have been mischaracterized by many," Watson told the Times Free Press . "This bill does not endorse, promote or allow the teaching of any nonscientific, nonconventional theories in the scientific classroom." It does however give credence to the supposed "scientific weakness" of theories that the vast majority of...

The Difference Between Contraception and Mainlining Heroin

(Flickr/romana klee)
Last week, I mentioned two state legislatures had passed abstinence-only sex education bills . While Wisconsin's governor was already supportive of the measure, in Utah, Governor Gary Herbert was less certain. The measure would have banned any discussion of contraception, or for that matter, homosexuality. The current law in Utah already requires parents to "opt-in" if the course includes discussion of contraceptives, but this measure would have actually removed even the option for students to learn about more than simply abstinence. It had passed overwhelmingly in both chambers, despite protests and opposition from the state PTA and teachers' groups. Late Friday, after protests, phone calls, and significant pressure from both sides, Herbert announced he had vetoed the measure . In his statement , he said he was unwilling to say "the State knows better than Utah's parents," noting a majority of parents choose to have their children learn about contraception. Herbert described himself...

Woody Guthrie at 100—at SXSW

(Flickr/Karen Apricot New Orleans)
If there was one song I didn't expect to hear during the hipster-convention that is the South by Southwest Music Festival, it was "This Land Is Your Land." And while I didn't expect to hear it, I sure as hell didn't expect to sing. Let alone sing it twice on the same day. But then again, I'd forgotten that this year would have marked Woody Guthrie's 100th birthday. The SXSW organizers had not—and the folk legend's memory was in the air for quite a bit of the festival. The twangy Okie and migrant worker who chronicled fights for social and economic justice died in 1967, but he influenced everyone from Bob Dylan to Joe Strummer to Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen, it turned out, was keynoting the festival Thursday, and prior to his address, a Guthrie tribute was in order. Eliza Gilkyson and Jimmy LeFave took the stage to sing Guthrie standards. Joining them for the second half of their set was Colombian pop star Juanes. Juanes, who rarely sings in English, spoke of his own love for the...

Pages