Abby Rapoport

Not Just Marriage: The Other Fights for Gay and Trans Rights

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It's already clear that gay marriage will be, once again, a major issue this year. Today, in a major victory for gay marriage advocates, a panel of federal judges ruled California's gay marriage ban is constitutional. Last week, the Washington state Senate approved a bill recognizing same-sex marriage, paving the way for gay marriage to become law. But the fight for same-sex marriage is only a piece of a larger civil rights struggle. And with all eyes focused on the issue of matrimony, it's easy to miss some of the other battlegrounds. For instance, parental rights has long been an issue for gay couples concerned about legal protections. In Iowa, health officials are looking to the courts for how to identify same-sex couples with children. According to the Muscatine Journal , last month, the Polk county court ruled the state should list both the birth mother and her female partner as the parents of one child, conceived through an anonymous sperm donor. The Iowa Department of Public...

Whatever Happened to Christine O'Donnell?

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Christine O'Donnell may not be a witch , but it appears she's also not much of a political figure. Just when we'd almost forgotten about the woman who seemed to spend her youth making unfortunate statements to Bill Maher, the Wilmington News Journal offered a damning look at the former candidate who garnered national attention in 2010 when her upstart Tea Party campaign defeated Congressman Mike Castle, the Republican establishment pick, in the GOP primary for Delaware's U.S. Senate seat. The campaign soon turned into burning mess that most of us watched with a combination of shock and schaudenfreude as bizarre statements she'd made in her youth, including some about witchcraft, came to light. She was trounced in the general election by her Democratic opponent. Since then, we now learn, things seem to have spiraled. The News-Journal article, which features several D.C. talking heads dismissing O'Donnell's future, outlines just about every way in which O'Donnell's career seems to be...

Does Right to Work Actually Lead to More Jobs?

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Most people watching the Super Bowl last night probably had no idea that only a few days before, in the same city of Indianapolis, Governor Mitch Daniels signed a law that will cripple unions. As I've written before, Indiana is the first Rust Belt state to pass a right-to-work law, which prohibits both mandatory union membership and collecting fees from non-members. The news, however, has hardly gotten the attention the labor-minded might have expected. Blame it on the big game or the GOP presidential primary. Or blame it on the loss of union power that allowed the law to pass in the first place. Whatever the reason, this lack of stories has meant little discussion of the actual impact of right-to-work legislation. Daniels, along with many proponents of such measures, argues that companies choose to locate in right-to-work states rather than in states with powerful unions. And the Indiana governor says he's already seeing the fruits of the newly passed law. Union advocates, meanwhile...

State of the Week

Each Friday—well at least most Fridays—I'm going to sum up the big news happening in states around the country. To make it more interesting, I'm naming a State of the Week where the biggest news came from. See something that's missing? Tell me: arapoport@prospect.org or on Twitter @RaRapoport. And this week's state of the week is ... Washington! Gay marriage moves forward It's not law yet, but Washington's state Senate passed legislation to recognize same-sex marriages . The bill now goes to the state House, where it's expected to pass, and then to the governor, who already announced her support for the measure. While many state legislatures are considering similar bills, Washington's effort is by far the most likely to be fruitful. But the good news for gay-rights advocates hardly means they can relax. Opponents are already organizing against the measure , hoping to put it on a state referendum this fall. Right-to-Work Enters the Union Stronghold Moving at lightning speed, Indiana's...

In Case You Were Underestimating ALEC's Role

Florida Representative Rachel Burgin recently filed a pretty typical bill for a conservative Republican, asking the federal government to lower corporate taxes. But there was one thing that made Burgin's measure a little unusual: It began by stating the mission of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). That's likely because Burgin's bill had its origins with the corporate-funded nonprofit. Most Americans have never heard of ALEC. The innocuously named group offers a meeting ground for conservative state legislators and corporations. The organization boasts nearly 2,000 members and partnerships with almost 300 corporations and private nonprofits. The "partnerships" give major businesses the opportunity to shape policy in states around the country. Last year, The Nation embarked on a six-part series called "ALEC Exposed," investigating the group's overwhelming influence on everything from deregulation to privatizing education to killing off unions. But much of the group...

Q&A: What to Make of Facebook's IPO

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Not being particularly tech-savvy, I've found following the Facebook-going-public news to be a bit perplexing. Sure, I know that the Internet behemoth just filed its IPO registration yesterday , revealing for the first time that the company has been profitable for three years and brought in $3.7 billion in revenue in 2011. But what does that mean? And what does Facebook's entry into the public market mean for the Internet? For Google? For the hundreds of millions who use the site? To get some answers, I called up Nicco Mele . Mele—named one of the "best and brightest" in 2003 by Esquire—pioneered Internet fundraising as webmaster for Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign. He later founded EchoDitto, which consults on Internet strategy with both Fortune 500 companies and nonprofits, and also had a hand in several Internet start-ups. He's currently teaching at Harvard's Shorenstein Center for the Study of Press, Politics and Public Policy. According to Mele, the information raises...

It Pays to Be Rich

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There's not a single state in the country in which the rich pay a higher percentage of their income in state (though not federal) taxes than the poor. According to a state-by-state scorecard from the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), only Washington, D.C. has an equal tax burden for its wealthiest and poorest citizens. The CFED scorecard looks at income taxes, property taxes and consumption taxes to determine its percentages, and the results are clear. For instance, if you're in the poorest 20 percent of Washington state, you pay almost 7 times as much in state taxes as the top 1 percent. In fact, Washington taxes its poor at the highest rate in the country while its wealthiest residents have one of the lowest rates. It's the most extreme example of the difference in tax burdens between the rich and the poor, but it's hardly alone. In Wyoming, Nevada, South Dakota and Florida, the bottom quintile pays at least five times as much as the top 1 percent. But the "Assets and...

Indiana Senate Passes Right-to-Work

The Indiana Senate has passed so-called right-to-work legislation, paving a clear path to Gov. Mitch Daniels' desk. The passage was expected—after Democrats in the state House ended their boycotts and efforts to water down the legislation last week, there were almost no major road blocks left. Republican majorities in both chambers were already in favor of the bill and Daniels has repeatedly voiced his support. As I wrote this morning, the move marks a major turning point in labor history as Indiana becomes the first state in the traditionally pro-union northern block to pass the measure. The legislation forbids mandatory union membership and keeps unions from collecting fees from non-members. Still to come, however, is the union response. Indianapolis is hosting this weekend's Super Bowl and Republicans have rushed to get the bill passed before strikes and slowdowns could hurt the festivities. While the event organizers have no-strike deals with relevant unions, strikes could still...

Where Indiana Goes, So Goes the Nation

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy) Rob Parsons, a steelworker from Merrillville, Ind., screams during a union workers protest on the steps of the Statehouse after the Senate voted to pass the right-to-work bill in Indianapolis, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012. The governor is expected to sign the bill later in the day. On March 4, 1957, Indiana passed right-to-work legislation. The Sunday Herald out of Bridgeport, Conn described how a crowd of 5,000 union members arrived at the state's Capitol the day before the bill passed, demonstrating and demanding that then-Gov. Harold W. Handley veto the measure. The day before, according to the Milwaukee Journal , more than 10,000 demonstrators had come to show their opposition. When the measure finally passed both chambers, Maine's Lewiston Daily Sun declared it " the biggest news right now in labor union circles. " "Seventeen other States have right-to-work laws which declare that no individual shall be forced to join a union as a condition of employment,"...

When Semantics Mute Substance

Iowa Congressman Steve King would be a great guest if I ever get to make my surefire TV hit "Lawmakers Say the Darndest Things." King rarely misses an opportunity to make an over-the-top or exceedingly controversial statement. There was the time he said Barack Obama's policies come down on " the side that favors the black person ." There was the time he said someone in Washington needed "to stand up for the lobby." Most famously, he argued if Barack Obama were elected, terrorists would be "dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11." But while he stands by his statements, King evidently has a keen eye for a misquote. According to the Sioux City Journal's political blog , King took issue with an email from CREDO super PAC, which is targeting King along with nine other Tea Party conservatives. King rebutted many of the lines in the press release, beginning with the statement that he'd called former U.S. Sen. Joe McCarthy, who in the 1950s had investigated...

It's a Toss-Up for Gabby Giffords's Seat

Before the horrific shooting last year that left her struggling to stay alive, U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords shocked politicos as one of the only Democrats to keep a Republican-leaning seat in the wake of the 2010 Tea Party wave. While her colleagues lost seats in droves and her party lost control of the House, Giffords kept her seat by a point and a half. According to Arizona Democratic Party Executive Director Luis Heredia, it was a victory that could be won by only a "a superstar candidate like Gabby Giffords." But in November, as a new set of candidates vie for the seat, the seat will no longer be "Republican leaning." Thanks to redistricting, Giffords's district will soon be almost evenly divided between registered Democrats, Republicans, and independents. According to Heredia, Republicans currently have a slight edge over Democrats, albeit by a matter of a couple of percentage points. The new maps, however, leave the district as a statistical toss-up. "The new lines itself...

Does Gerrymandering Violate Free Speech?

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State parties across the country have already taken out knives to hack up political maps in the bloody process of redistricting. Now, many states are going to the mat to defend the highly partisan maps that, in most cases, got passed by the dominant political party in the state to the detriment of the minority party. The legal battles—particularly the ongoing Texas saga—are usually based largely around whether maps violate the Voting Rights Act. But in Illinois, the bipartisan League of Women Voters is challenging gerrymandered districts based on a new legal claim: that they violate free speech. While a district court already dismissed its claim, the League of Women Voters can—and has—appealed to the Supreme Court. Because it's a redistricting case, the Court will have to rule on the matter. "This is the first time a really bipartisan group has challenged gerrymandering as a regulation of speech," says Thomas Geoghegan, the attorney for the group. "What's really shocking is that in...

Indiana Wades into the Culture Wars

Indiana is hardly a state known for its intense culture wars and political battles. Mostly, it's known for one of the greatest sports movies of all time . But this year, Indiana is entering territory usually occupied by places like Kansas and Texas. The state legislature is not only about to pass a controversial bill to decrease union power; a measure to teach creationism has already passed out of the state Senate's Education Committee. The right-to-work legislation is hurtling at lightning speed for Governor Mitch Daniels's desk. After a year of fighting, including recent boycotts from Democrats, the legislation passed the state's House last week, leaving little doubt that the measure, supported by the governor and most of the state Senate, will soon become law. Indiana will be the first state in the Rust Belt to pass such legislation, which prevents mandatory union membership and forbids unions from collecting fees from anyone who chooses to opt out. Proponents argue that the move...

Gay Marriage Moving Forward Around the Country

It's been a good week for gay-rights advocates. Washington state gained the crucial 25th vote needed to pass same-sex marriage . The news prompted headlines around the country, but it was hardly the only place where such legislation moved forward. In Maryland, Governor Martin O'Malley is once again pushing a gay marriage bill. Last year's bill stalled, but this time around, lawmakers are making broader exemptions for religious institutions. O'Malley and other advocates are also trying to drum up public support for the bill, which if passed will likely be put to a public vote this fall. Current polling shows Maryland closely divided on the issue , but no one is tiptoeing around it. Today, O'Malley's wife went so far as to call the bill's opponents "cowards." Maine advocates announced Thursday that they had more than double the signatures necessary to put get gay marriage on the ballot. While there was little surprise that the coalition had gathered the signatures, some speculated that...

Has Hell Frozen Over?

Last week, I mentioned California Gov. Jerry Brown's state of the state address , which argued for more moderate approach to education and investments into infrastructure like high-speed rail. Perhaps most shocking, however, is that Brown's plan calls for some slight tax increases. And since California requires voters to approve such increases, Brown is embarking on a campaign around the state to convince people it might not be such a bad idea. In the world of political strategy, this sounds ludicrous. Except that it just might work. A poll from the Public Policy Institute of California shows over 68 percent of California likely voters support Brown's tax proposal. And it's not just Democrats; 65 percent of Republicans favor the governor's plan. According to the LA Times Brown's plan to wallop the well off—individuals earning $250,000, couples making $500,000—pleases the middle class. Raising the sales tax, the governor hopes, will neutralize the business lobby, which mostly fears...

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