Drive Against Gerrymandering Finds New Life in Ballot Initiatives

From today’s New York Times:

The movement to take politics out of setting legislative district boundaries seemed to suffer a grievous, and perhaps even mortal, blow this spring when the Supreme Court passed up three chances to declare partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional.

But it turns out that reports of its death are exaggerated. As federal courts dither over how to resolve the issue, activists have begun tackling it state by state at the grass roots.

In Michigan, a proposed constitutional amendment to end gerrymandering, written and promoted by a nonpartisan group called Voters Not Politicians, will be on the ballot in November, unless blocked by a court challenge that has so far fallen short. So many Michiganders signed petitions to bring the measure to a vote — 110,000 more than state law requires — that the group ended its signature campaign 70 days short of the six months allowed.

In Missouri, another nonpartisan group called Clean Missouri needed 180,000 signatures to get its anti-gerrymander initiative on the ballot; it collected 346,000. Final certification is expected next month.

In Utah, a group called Better Boundaries collected 190,000 signatures, 75,000 more than were required, to place its proposition to end gerrymanders on the November ballot.

And in Colorado, both the Democratic-run state House and the Republican-run Senate voted unanimously in May to place two proposals on the November ballot that would shift the duty to draw state legislative and congressional districts away from lawmakers and into the hands of independent redistricting commissions.

Those proposals join another, in Ohio, that became law in May. The state legislature there put a measure to curb partisan gerrymandering of the state’s congressional districts on the ballot for the state’s May 8 primary, after it became apparent that a citizens’ campaign for an even tougher measure was likely to succeed. Ohioans approved the legislature’s version by a three-to-one margin.

Read the complete article here.

#VotingRights Update: Group Targets GOP States to Attack Gerrymandering

From today’s New York Times:

A Democratic group backed by former President Barack Obama intends to pour millions of dollars into an eclectic array of elections in a dozen states, in an effort to block Republicans from single-handedly drawing congressional maps after 2020, officials leading the group said.

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, formed last year under the leadership of Eric H. Holder Jr., the former attorney general, has settled on a strategy to contest a combination of governorships, legislative seats and more obscure state offices to chip away at Republicans’ sweeping control of the redistricting process.

Mr. Holder said in an interview that the group was chiefly determined to deny Republicans so-called trifectas in state governments — places where a single party controls the governorship and an entire legislature, as Republicans do in Ohio and Florida, among other critical battlegrounds.

The group’s list of high-priority states includes most of the critical states in presidential elections. Mr. Obama, who has made redistricting a focus of his attention since leaving office, plans to visit some of those states in 2018, and Mr. Holder reviewed his strategy with the former president in Washington on Monday, aides said.

States at the top of the just-finalized target list include traditional purple states like Michigan and Wisconsin, where Republicans can currently design maps without Democratic input, and others — including Colorado, Minnesota and Nevada — where Democrats have significant influence in government but must defend it in the 2018 elections.

Read the complete article here.

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) to resign amid many accusations of sexual harassment

From today’s LA Times:

Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives, resigned Tuesday after his support among fellow Democrats collapsed amid accusations of sexual harassment by several female employees.

Conyers endorsed his son, John Conyers III, in a rambling radio interview with Detroit host Mildred Gaddis.

“I am retiring today, and I want everyone to know how much I appreciate the support, incredible undiminished support I’ve received,” Conyers said.

Conyers’ use of the word “retiring” rather than “resigning” left some uncertainty over when he was vacating the congressional seat he has held since 1965. Later in the day, however, he sent a letter to congressional leaders saying he was stepping down “effective today.”

Conyers’ replacement will be chosen in a special election.

The Detroit-area seat is strongly Democratic, so Conyers’ departure will not affect the balance of power in the House. But it does set up a potential family fight: While the congressman endorsed his son to succeed him, a great-nephew, state Sen. Ian Conyers, has publicly said he intended to seek the seat.

The announcement by John Conyers came after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), fellow Congressional Black Caucus leader Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and increasing numbers of House members urged him to quit as former aides offered detailed accounts of inappropriate sexual advances he had made over decades.

A longtime civil rights activist — the only remaining member of Congresswho was elected in the 1960s — Conyers is the highest-profile political figure to be forced from office in the midst of a national debate over sexual harassment that began weeks ago with accusations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein.

Conyers has continued to deny any wrongdoing, although on Nov. 26, he agreed to step down as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee in what served as the first acknowledgment of his vulnerability.

Read the entire article here.

MI workers resist “right-to-work” law

Michigan lawmakers began debate today on controversial “right to work” legislation that would forbid requiring workers to pay union dues. The legislation is expected to pass despite widespread protests in and around the state capital. If it passes MI will be  the 24th state with such laws that limit union participation as a condition of employment.

Two years ago Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker proposed other controversial legislation limiting the bargaining power of public employee unions as a cost-cutting measure. The measure passed despite opposition from both unions and the public, but Walker was punished for it in a brutal recall election he barely survived. Similar legislation failed to pass in Ohio a year later as anti-union sentiment continues to thrive in a difficult economic climate.

So-called “right to work” legislation is anything but employment guarantees and workplace protections. In fact, by diluting the power of unions to maintain “closed shops” with employers, such legislation actually diminishes the individual and collective voice rights in labor contracts, making it easier for employers to pay weak wages, provide little benefits, and terminate employees on demand.

The recent movement to pass “right to work” laws has been backed by corporate and industry lobbying efforts in conjunction with the Republican Party and groups such as the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. The wisdom of such legislation is questionable in the long run as the wages of American workers continue to decline and the cost of employment benefits are increasingly placed on the shoulders of employees. In the short term support for this misnamed legislation has received a boost from calls for austerity against big government. However, it isn’t big government spending that is to blame for the sluggish economic recovery, but declining revenues tied to a tax base that has significantly shrunk in the wake of the recession.

Once again it appears that workers with good paying jobs will pay the price of corporate and political corruption, and unfortunately many Americans are helping to destroy these jobs by backing right-wing policies against workers‘ rights.