Texas is the Voter Suppression State

From today’s New York Times:

For those of you keeping track of the “As Texas goes, so goes the nation” notion, I have either very good or very bad news.

The state that gave you two recent mediocre-to-crummy Republican presidents (who are starting to look downright Lincolnesque compared to you-know-who), gerrymandering in the guise of redistricting (thanks a lot, Tom DeLay) and a profound if misguided antipathy to government in general is now surging ahead in a new field: voter suppression. As someone who loves Texas with a triple shot of ambivalence, I take no pleasure in spreading this news. But if it is your goal to keep people of color from the polls — some Republican leaders come to mind — it’s time once again to look to Texas for guidance.

Our state officials in their infinite wisdom last week announced that they hoped to excise 95,000 people from voter rolls because they didn’t seem to be citizens. Our secretary of state, David Whitley, insisted that, with the help of the Department of Public Safety, he had been able to compile a list of those supposedly illegally registered. It was even suggested that 58,000 of those folks had actually already voted, a felony in these parts. This finding was heralded in a tweet by ourattorney general, Ken Paxton, as an all-caps “Voter Fraud Alert.” Paxton, you may or may not know, is himself under indictment for securities fraud.

The state, which as yet cannot take anyone off the voter rolls, turned to county officials, who can. They are supposed to hunt those miscreants down by sending notices demanding they appear at voter registrars’ offices with proof of citizenship (birth certificate, passport, etc.) within 30 days. Otherwise, they would be stricken from the rolls and, presumably, ICE would be pounding on their doors soon after.

Among many who seized on this appalling narrative was President Trump, who tweeted: “These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. All over the country, especially in California, voter fraud is rampant. Must be stopped!”

Well, yes, someone had to be stopped here in Texas, and the narrative was appalling, but not for the stated reasons. Within 24 hours, various groups devoted to voting rights had put on their thinking caps — they don’t give them out at the Statehouse — and were noting a few problems with the list.

Read the complete article here.

CBO estimates shutdown cost $11 billion, $3 billion won’t be recovered

From today’s ABC News Online:

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the longest-running government shutdown in U.S. history came at a price. It cost the economy $11 billion, with $3 billion that will never be recovered, according to a report released Monday.

For the fourth quarter of 2018, the CBO estimated real gross domestic product was reduced by $3 billion compared to what it would have been. The level of real GDP for the first quarter of 2019 is estimated to be $8 billion lower, due to a combination of the partial government shutdown delaying approximately $18 billion in federal spending, suspending services for federal workers and a reduction in demand lowering output in the private sector.

“Risks to the economy were becoming increasingly significant as the shutdown continued,” the report read. “Although their precise effects on economic output are uncertain, the negative effects of such factors would have become increasingly important if the partial shutdown had extended beyond five weeks.”

While CBO anticipates a majority of the lost real GDP will be recovered, about $3 billion will not be. That’s about 0.02 percent of the projected annual GDP in 2019, according to the report.

“Among those who experienced the largest and most direct negative effects are federal workers who faced delayed compensation and private-sector entities that lost business,” the report said. “Some of those private-sector entities will never recoup that lost income.”

Read the complete article here.

Thousands of Furloughed Federal Workers File for Unemployment Benefits

From today’s New York Times:

On the second day of the year, Danielle Miller gave up on the federal government.

Furloughed from her Internal Revenue Service job near Cincinnati and fearful of running out of money during the partial government shutdown, she filed for unemployment benefits: $414 a week, about $200 less than usual.

“Once Christmas came and went, after New Year’s, I was like, I can’t go on,” said Ms. Miller, a single mother who has worked for the I.R.S. for almost 14 years. She spent part of this week calculating when her first unemployment check would arrive. “It’s disappointing, and it’s frustrating,” she said. “I have a job.”

The shutdown, the longest on record, is prompting tens of thousands of federal employees to seek jobless benefits. As the impasse meanders through its fourth week and more bills come due, their numbers have been growing.

On Thursday, two days after the White House doubled its projections and warned that the shutdown was reducing quarterly economic growth by 0.13 percentage points per week, the Labor Department reported 10,454 initial claims by federal workers for the week that ended Jan. 5, doubling the previous week’s figure. Thousands more have applied since, state officials said.

Read the complete article here.

New York legislature passes major overhaul of outdated voting laws

From today’s edition of The Hill:

New York’s state legislature on Monday passed a package of election and voting reform measures aimed at overhauling one of the most restrictive regimes in the country. The measures, planned by Democrats who reclaimed control of all levers of state government for the first time in modern memory, would allow voters to cast their ballots early or by mail for the first time in state history. They would also allow voters to register and vote on the same day, and it would require the state to hold state and federal primaries on the same day. 

“Easing access to voting and having New Yorkers exercise their Constitutional right to have their voices heard shouldn’t be partisan or controversial,” said state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D). “Other states have taken the lead on issues like early voting, same-day registration, pre-registration and no-excuse absentee voting. It is time for New York State to catch up, so we can once again lead the way forward,” she added. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has signaled he will sign the package of bills. Nine Republicans in the state Senate voted with Democrats to expand voting access. “It’s really significant advance towards bringing NY’s elections into the 21st century,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, which advocated for the overhauls.  

Read the complete article here.

Pence and Cabinet Members Are Due a Raise, as Federal Workers Go Unpaid

From today’s New York Times

Vice President Mike Pence, members of the cabinet and other high-ranking political appointees in the Trump administration are positioned to receive a pay bump of about $10,000 a year even as 800,000 federal employees are entering their third week without paychecks.

The increases are the result of Congress’s failure to renew a longstanding freeze on raises for high-ranking officials and political appointees. An extension of the freeze was included in the spending bills funding multiple government agencies that were not acted on before the expiration of the 115th Congress on Thursday.

That has created an unexpected optics issue for the Trump administration: While correctional officers, Transportation Security Administration agents, and other federal employees work without pay during the government shutdown, Mr. Pence’s annual salary could jump to $243,500 from $230,700. Cabinet secretaries who are paid $199,700 a year could see their annual pay rise to $210,700.

The administration appeared to be aware of the perception problem, and hoped to avoid it. Asked at his news conference on Friday if he would freeze the raises during the shutdown, President Trump said he “might consider that.” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, later explained that the administration was “exploring options to prevent this from being implemented while some federal workers are furloughed” and described the situation as “another unnecessary byproduct of the shutdown” that she said could be remedied by Congress.

Read the complete article here.

Senate votes to overturn Trump’s IRS disclosure rule allowing “dark money”

From today’s Politico Online:

The Senate passed legislation Wednesday to reverse a Trump administration policy limiting donor disclosure requirements for political nonprofits in a rare rebuke to the White House.

In a 50-49 vote, the Senate approved a resolution from Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) that would block the recent Treasury Department change to IRS forms allowing political nonprofits to avoid listing some donors.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) joined every Democrat in support of the measure, which required only a simple majority to pass under the Congressional Review Act.

“The Trump administration’s dark money rule makes it easier for foreigners and special interests to corrupt and interfere in our elections,” said Wyden, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee in a Senate floor speech.

Tester had also been optimistic earlier this week about the resolution’s prospects.

“I think it’s gonna be close but I think we’ve got the votes,” he said Tuesday.

Prior to the vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the resolution was an “attempt by some of our Democratic colleagues to undo a pro-privacy reform. … In a climate that is increasingly hostile to certain kinds of political expression and open debate, the last thing Washington needs to do is to chill the exercise of free speech and add to the sense of intimidation.”

Read the complete article here.

First Wisconsin, now Michigan GOP moves to strip Democrats’ power

From today’s MSNBC News:

Republicans who control Michigan’s Legislature voted Wednesday to advance a measure that strips campaign-finance oversight power from the Democratic secretary of state-elect, and they were poised to give lawmakers authority to stand up for GOP-backed laws if they think the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general are not adequately defending the state’s interests.

The lame-duck moves followed within hours of similar efforts in Wisconsin, where lawmakers voted earlier Wednesday to shift clout to the Republican-controlled Legislature and weaken the Democrat replacing the GOP governor.

Michigan Democrats in January will jointly hold the governor, attorney general and secretary offices for the first time in 28 years, but the Legislature will continue to be controlled by Republicans.

A day after GOP lawmakers finalized an unprecedented maneuver to gut minimum wage and paid sick leave laws, a Senate panel passed legislation that would create the Fair Political Practices Commission to enforce the campaign-finance law rather than Secretary of State-elect Jocelyn Benson, who ran in part on a pledge to advocate for election transparency.

Democrats called the bill a blatant power grab that would fly in the face of voters.

Read the complete article here.

WI Republicans Approve Bills Stripping Power From Incoming Dem. Governor

From today’s New York Times:

After a rancorous, sleepless night of debate, Republican lawmakers early Wednesday pushed through a sweeping set of bills that will limit the power of Wisconsin’s newly elected Democrats, including the incoming governor and attorney general.

The legislation, which Democrats vehemently opposed and protesters chanted their anger over, passed through the Republican-held State Legislature after hours of closed-door meetings and some amendments. The votes fell largely along party lines; no Democrats supported the measures.

“That’s what this is about: power-hungry politicians using their grubby hands in their last-ditch effort to desperately cling to power,” said State Representative Katrina Shankland, a Democrat, before the vote Wednesday morning. “All we’ve seen demonstrated today and over the past few days is a contempt for the public.”

The fight over power in Madison came after Republicans, who have controlled the state for the last eight years, lost the offices of governor and attorney general during the midterm elections. Tony Evers, a Democrat, defeated Scott Walker, a two-term governor who drew national attention with a brief run for president.

Read the complete article here.

“Unqualified” Trump appointee set to take over consumer protection agency

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

If all goes according to Republican plan, this is the week a person with no experience in consumer protection will take over the consumer watchdog agency that the party has been steadily weakening to the point of irrelevancy.

Kathy Kraninger, a White House budget official, received the green light for final approval last week after Republican senators shut down debate on her nomination with a party-line vote of 50 to 49. The only wild card is whether memorial services for former President George H.W. Bush will delay action by a few days.

Kraninger would replace White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney, who has been leading the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on an interim basis and fulfilling President Trump’s pledge to make the agency friendlier to the businesses it was intended to crack down on — banks, payday lenders and others.

“If the Senate approves this unqualified acolyte of Mick Mulvaney, who has no consumer protection or financial regulation experience, expect her to simply follow his playbook,” said Ed Mierzwinski, senior director of the federal consumer program for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

That means Kraninger will “leave service members and their families at the mercy of predatory lenders, work with payday lenders to eliminate the payday lending rule even Congress was afraid to vote to repeal, and reduce enforcement penalties, if any, to parking tickets, not punishments,” he said.

Read the complete article here.

Georgia Set To Remain A Battleground For Voting Rights Ahead Of 2020

From today’s NPR News:

When Democrat Stacey Abrams ended her bid last week to become governor of Georgia and the first black woman ever elected governor of any state, she issued a stinging indictment of Georgia’s voting system, a system overseen by her Republican opponent Brian Kemp, who was the state’s top election official during the 2018 midterms.

“Democracy failed Georgia,” said Abrams in a speech acknowledging Kemp would be the state’s next governor.

“Make no mistake, the former secretary of state was deliberate and intentional in his actions,” Abrams said. “I know that eight years of systemic disenfranchisement, disinvestment and incompetence had its desired effect on the electoral process in Georgia.”

In an interview this week with NPR, Abrams spoke about how she was nearly denied the chance to vote in person this year due to a clerical error.

Abrams said she’s preparing to sue the state of Georgia for “the gross mismanagement” of the 2018 election, and announced the launch of “Fair Fight Georgia,” an initiative to “pursue accountability in Georgia’s elections and integrity in the process of maintaining our voting rolls.”

For months, Kemp resisted calls from Democrats and civil rights groups for him to step aside from his role as the state’s top election official. He was also criticized for policies making voting more difficult for people of color, in order to gain a political advantage.

Read the complete article here.