Abby Rapoport

Wisconsin Walk-Through

Wisconsin activists shocked onlookers last week when they presented more than one million petitions asking for Governor Scott Walker to be recalled. Since then, the pendulum has seemingly swung in the governor's favor: high fundraising numbers, a state of the state address celebrating his policies, and a poll showing him leading four potential opponents. But there's still a lot of time left to go: two months of verifying signatures, and then, assuming at least 540,000 are valid, an election six weeks later. If there's a Democratic primary, the process will be even longer. With all that time and a divided electorate, the key questions will likely come down to which side can frame the debate and which side can turn out its voters. With Walker currently ruling the television waves and his opponents perfecting an impressive grassroots organization, it's hard to see one side with a clear upper hand. Even the poll offers few conclusions. So let's take this week's news, point by point. THE...

Does Changing the Dropout Age Matter?

Among the many policy proposals in the president's state of the union last night, you may have missed his one-liner, urging states to adopt a dropout age of 18, with a goal of reducing the dropout rate. Right now, in most states students must attend school until they are 16 or 17. However, even before last night's speech, several states were considering legislation to raise the dropout age, like Wyoming and Kentucky . Many states—19 back in 2009—already had raised the age for compulsory attendance to 18. With so many states doing it, and the president pushing the policy, presumably it works, right? Well, not exactly. In 2009, the Rennie Center in Massachusetts came out with a report investigating the impact of the policy . Their conclusion? Focus on other policies first. The comprehensive report showed a lack of evidence that changing the age for compulsory school attendance had a major impact on the dropout rate. Based on 2004-05 data, it showed that of the ten states with the...

What's the Matter with Kansas, Tax Edition

While around the country, many Republican primary voters are up in arms that Mitt Romney only paid about 13 percent of his income in taxes last year, in Kansas, Governor Sam Brownback is pushing a proposal that would not only benefit wealthy Kansans but raise taxes on the state's poorest residents. A new report released yesterday argues that the plan will benefit some large corporations but fail to create jobs. The plan gets rid of a number of tax deductions—including those for home mortgages and charitable giving. It also takes away the earned-income tax credit and food-sales tax rebate. As the AP noted last week: According to the Department of Revenue's own figures, the only class of taxpayers that would see an increase in its aggregate income tax burden would be the one with people whose incomes are $25,000 or less, while the largest percentage cut would go to the group with incomes exceeding $250,000. As a group, the lowest-income taxpayers actually get a net payment from the...

In Baseball as in Life

I imagine being an Astros fan is not that different from being an old-style, Goldwater-type Republican. One day, you wake up and realize that you don't recognize the team you've spent your life rooting fo. In the case of the Astros, it's not so much that they've played poorly but that the new owner has already cut a deal to send my beloved team to the—ugh, yuck—American League in 2014. (I was raised to believe the designated hitter would be this country's undoing.) Now, adding insult to injury, there's talk of changing the team's name. It's enough to make you doubt the sustaining qualities of baseball. Then I see a picture of a young Ron Paul in the old-style Astros uniform , and somehow, I feel quite comforted.

Just How Does Mitt Romney's Wealth Stack Up?

In case there was any question, after the release of his tax returns, it's clear that Mitt Romney is rich , even by 1 percent standards. But it's one thing to be rich compared with the general public. Some of our readers wondered just how Romney's wealth stacks up against his would-be peers: the presidents. Turns out, were he to be elected, Romney would be among the top four richest people to become president. In 2010, the website 24/7 Wall Street did an analysis of all 44 presidents' assets and adjusted their peak wealth to 2010 dollars. The article points out that the comparisons over time can be a little sticky. "The fortunes of American presidents are tied to the economy in the eras in which they lived. For the first 75 years after Washington’s election, presidents generally made money on land, crops, and commodity speculation," it says. "A president who owned hundreds or thousands of acres could lose most or all of his property after a few years of poor crop yields."...

Texas Redistricting: Hurry Up and Wait

Friday, the Supreme Court sent a series of redistricting maps back to the panel of federal judges in San Antonio that drew them. Today, that panel decided to speed things up. In a five-page order Monday afternoon, the panel asked all parties in the redistricting case to be ready for a status hearing on January 27—rather than February 1. The candidate filing deadline, currently set for next Wednesday, is also likely to be extended. The court explained that it will likely have to throw out the already-delayed primary date of April 3, unless all parties can agree to a set of interim maps and submit them to the court by February 6. That's about as likely as [insert your hell-freezing-over analogy here]. The Supreme Court determined that the panel of judges should have given more weight to the maps approved by the Texas Legislature when redrawing the lines last fall. The San Antonio panel wants to wait to create a new set of maps until yet another court case is done—a case in the D.C...

Rick Scott's Strange Math

Updated to clarify Texas' use of stimulus dollars. I was surprised when I saw the headline, "Scott, lawmakers agree: Schools need at least $1 billion more." Florida governor Rick Scott kicked off his term last year with proposals to eliminate 7 percent of state government jobs and slash the state budget . He also cut the public-education budget by $1.3 billion. Now, as the Miami Herald reports , the governor is pushing for pumping money back to schools. Well sort of. As the article explains, of the billion dollars, $220 million would make up for the losses in propert-tax collection that school districts across the state face; $190 million would fund the 30,500 new students coming into schools; and $224 million would "replace one-time revenue used to plug a hole in this year's budget." In other words, a majority of that "new" money would simply let districts maintain the status quo. Education spending is generally complicated and money comes in from a variety of different streams. That...

Go Big or Go Home

For those watching labor fights, the two very close, hard-fought games for the AFC and NFC championships yesterday (I'm talking football here, people), might have echoed what's happening in Indianapolis, host city to this year's Super Bowl. The battle over collective bargaining in one of the country's original manufacturing havens has already spawned teams, rules, and some hard-hitting tackles. And soon, one side may be trying for a Hail Mary. State Republicans, including Governor Mitch Daniels, are pushing for "right to work" legislation that would forbid unions from requiring non-members to pay representation fees. Such laws generally leave unions with little power to bargain collectively, and according to the U.S. Department of Labor, workers in states with such laws make $5,300 less than those in states that allow workers to organize. Proponents of the proposed Indiana legislation argue it will lure more businesses and therefore, more jobs. For three weeks, the Indiana state House...

The 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 ... Wisconsin! Labor Pains The effort to recall Wisconsin governor Scott Walker had a huge victory this week, when activists announced they'd collected over a million petitions , almost double what they needed to prompt a new election. The announcement came almost a year after Walker's efforts to dismantle collective-bargaining rights in the state prompted massive protests. But the fight is far from over. The anti-Walker crowd has yet to settle on a candidate to put up against the incumbent governor, and in the meantime, Walker has been traveling the country raising money and attention to his cause. A state judge already ruled election officials must screen...

Back to the (Redistricting) Drawing Board

AP Photo
You might think that since the Supreme Court made a decision today regarding the ongoing Texas redistricting saga, that, well, something had been decided . But let's just be clear on what is still up in the air: 1. Whether the maps are discriminatory based on the Voting Rights Act 2. The date of the primary, currently scheduled for April 3 with almost no one believing that's a realistic date 3. Just what the district lines will be If you haven't been following along on this oh-so-fun ride, here's a recap. Last year, the Republican-dominated state legislature passed redistricting maps greatly favoring Republicans. According to the U.S. Census, Texas gained four million new residents, most of whom were Latino. The growth gave the state four new congressional seats, but the state-approved maps gave almost no additional seats or power to minority communities. The Voting Rights Act specifically requires that Texas (and other states with a history of discrimination) get changes to election...

Life Imitating Art—and Parks

Scrolling through clips of state news, I happened on the latest from Idaho: The Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation is launching a new program that allows vehicle owners to voluntarily pay a $10 fee when they register their cars that gives them access to 30 state parks in an effort to raise money for the embattled agency. Director Nancy Merrill hopes the idea, modeled after a successful program in Michigan, will alleviate financial pressure on her agency that has been mounting since Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter moved to wean it from taxpayer support two years ago. A few years ago, I probably wouldn't have cared much what the Idaho Parks and Recreation units were doing. However, that was before I became an avid viewer of the television show Parks and Recreation. Devotees will remember that at the end of the second season, the city of Pawnee, Indiana was in dire economic straights and the Parks and Recreation Department was in trouble. Leslie Knope, heroine of both the show and my heart...

Common Sense Radicalism

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
Apparently California Gov. Jerry Brown missed the memo. Across the country, governors outlining educational priorities for their states have focused largely on more testing and doing away with teacher tenure. The approach is so in-vogue, it reaches across party lines. A few examples: Last week, South Dakota's Gov. Dennis Daugaard outlined his education reform package , including merit pay for high performing teachers and the right to fire those whose students fail to perform on tests two years in a row. On the east coast, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is also asking legislators to do away with tenure , while New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, under pressure from the U.S. Department of Education, is determined to implement more teacher evaluations, based largely on standardized tests . In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal wants to create a full-scale voucher program , as well as getting rid of teacher tenure. Finding "high quality" teachers is a key component of the education reform movement, but...

Fumbling Towards an Exit

AP Photo/Matt Rourke
You remember that moment when the seventh-grade bully arrived in high school and was, in turn, bullied by the big kids? It's hard to know what you feel—some satisfaction, sure, but somewhere in there, there's bound to be some pity. And of course the big question of whether the experience will leave him humbler and more kind or just more eager to maintain power. Texas Gov. Rick Perry dropped his bid for the GOP nomination today . "I have come to the conclusion that there is no viable path forward for me in this campaign," he said at a press conference. "As a Texan, I've never shied away from a fight," he went, explaining he was making "a strategic retreat." He endorsed Newt Gingrich, the man who lost his initial campaign staff this summer to the Perry hoopla. It's hard to remember back to the summer, when Rick Perry seemed like the man who would take the national stage by storm. Instead, his moment in the sun lasted less than a month before a spiral of gaffes and political...

A Party with Pirattitude

Question : What do some disgruntled pirates do when they want to advocate for more privacy rights and government transparency? Answer : They form a political p-ARRR-ty. (For those of you who don't get pirate humor, well, I'm sorry .) In honor of the SOPA protest day, I thought I'd point everyone to the Massachusetts Pirate Party . According to its Facebook page, the party wants to "open up government, defend your privacy" through copyright reform and abolishing patents. A fairly specific agenda, but the pirates are only one of 21 third parties in Massachusetts, explains an article in the Cape Cod Times . According to the article : Out of the nearly 4.2 million Massachusetts voters who registered for the 2010 elections, 52 percent, or 2.16 million, were unenrolled. Around 1.53 million, or 36 percent of voters, registered as Democrats. Eleven percent, or 474,798, were Republicans and 15,857, or 0.38 percent, were Libertarians. Another 8,438 Massachusetts voters, or one-fifth of 1...

Recalling History

Governor Lynn Frazier of North Dakota was recalled in 1921 after accusations that he was a socialist. AP Photo
Yesterday, Wisconsin activists turned in more than one million petitions supporting the recall of Scott Walker . It was almost double the number they needed to turn in. The Republican governor prompted mass protests last year when he slashed public-employee benefits and then began dismantling collective-bargaining rights in the state. Unions, Democrats, and others affected by the policies were all eager for political payback. "This is the most participated major recall in American history," Meagan Mahaffey, executive director of the coordinating group United Wisconsin, told me with evident pride. But that's not saying as much as you might think; only two governors have ever been recalled. The recall of former California Governor Gray Davis is relatively well known, but I, for one, wasn't familiar with the first official gubernatorial ouster, which took place 90 years ago in North Dakota. Deciding to put that liberal-art history degree to use, I dug around a bit to discover the story...

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