Its two Republican commissioners wanted no part of it, and Gov. Jeb Bush said it "needlessly fosters racial disharmony," but the US Commission on Civil Rights reported that state officials ignored problems that denied the right to vote to countless residents, most of them minorities. Among other things, the panel noted that 51% of those incorrectly struck from the voter rolls on the suspicion of being felons were actually African Americans whose names resembled those of felons. The panel also heard from Allan Lichtman, chair of American University's department of history and a veteran voting rights lawyer, that 14.4% of ballots cast by Florida's African-American voters were rejected, compared to a 1.6% rejection rate for non-blacks. He studied the rejection rates in predominantly black precincts of Dade, Duval and Palm Beach counties, which accounted for 47% of bad ballots.
Greg Palast, who reported on the improper purge of suspected felons from the Florida voter rolls for the BBC, the British newspaper The Observer, Salon.com and The Nation, noted in a column in the Washington Post that since the election 10 states have adopted computer-aided purges of centralized voter records similar to Florida's flawed system and 16 other states are considering them.
Palast noted that Florida contracted with Database Technologies (later bought by ChoicePoint Inc. of Atlanta) to cross-match a list of convicted felons with voter rolls. In June 2000, on the basis of ChoicePoint's results, the Florida Division of Elections ordered county election officials to remove some 58,000 names from voter rolls unless the counties had evidence that they were not convicted felons. One of those 58,000 was Linda Howell, who is Madison County's election supervisor and has never committed a felony. Another was the Rev. Willie D. Whiting Jr., whose rap sheet contains a single traffic ticket. "His biggest 'crime' was his resemblance on paper to Willie J. Whiting (no Jr.), a convicted felon born two days after the reverend," Palast wrote.
Fortunately, Whiting lives in Leon County -- which, alone among Florida's 67 counties, independently researched every name on its scrub list. The county could only verify that 34 of the 694 cited -- 5% -- actually had criminal records. Because officials already were skeptical of the list, Whiting was able to convince them he should be permitted to vote when he turned up on Election Day.
Researchers from Salon.com who investigated lists in 13 Florida counties found that at least 15% of the names should not have been there. ChoicePoint spokesmen subsequently told Palast "they don't dispute that figure, and they consider it a reasonable rate of error."
If Salon's 15% error figure is right -- and data like Leon County's indicates it is much higher -- almost 9,000 of the 58,000 names on the scrub list belonged to rightful voters. "Furthermore," Palast wrote, "2,883 other names belonged to people convicted of felonies in states that restore voting privileges after a sentence is served. These people were also purged -- even though they should not have lost their civil rights merely by moving to Florida."
A Fox News poll, taken June 6 to 7, found 58% of the public gets angry when they are "thinking of how ... votes were counted" in Florida's 2000 presidential contest, while 28% say that they are "satisfied." Even 36% of Republicans are still mad.
O'NEILL GETS STOCK WINDFALL. Two months after Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill agreed to sell $100 million in stock in Alcoa, the aluminum company he used to run, O'Neill still had not fully divested and refused to say how much stock he has left in his former company, Jake Tapper reported on Salon.com on June 7. By delaying his sale of the stock, Tapper noted, O'Neill could have reaped a $62 million windfall as the stock price has soared 30% in recent months -- in part because of federal government initiatives. O'Neill on March 25 said he would sell his stock. In April, federal officials asked aluminum producers to halt or reduce their production for up to two years in order to conserve energy. The news was a bonanza for the industry, Tapper noted, as it became clear that the aluminum supply would decrease, demand was certain to rise. A Treasury spokeswoman said that O'Neill had sold some of his stock, but would not say how much, refusing to characterize his transaction as either large or small, saying only that "it will all be gone by June 22. His financial advisors are selling pieces of it on a routine basis." Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity, a government watchdog group, said, "One of the sad truths of Washington is you can't take people at their word anymore on anything." He added, "When we hear people are selling their stocks, silly us -- we actually thought he was selling it."
BUSH PROTESTERS BUSTED IN FLA. When George W. Bush spoke at Legends Stadium in Tampa, Fla., June 4, in an event that was advertised as open to the public, three elderly protesters were arrested, handcuffed and hustled out of the stadium for attempting to wave signs. Janis Marie Lentz, 55, of New Port Richey, Mauricio Rosas, 37, of Tampa, and Sonja Haught, 59, of Clearwater, were each charged with trespassing, police said. Haught also was charged with disorderly conduct because police say she tried to resist arrest. Police had relegated protesters to a "First Amendment Zone" a third of a mile from the stadium, but several protesters carried letter-sized signs that said: "Investigate Florida Votergate" into the stadium. Once inside, Haught told the St. Petersburg Times, when one of the protesters unveiled a gay-pride sign, somebody grabbed it and Haught felt her purse being pulled as her "Votergate" signs were being yanked away. Tampa police officers arrived at the scuffle, took the signs and handcuffed the three protesters. During the events one of them fell or was pushed into an 81-year-old protester who lay on the ground bleeding from a cut on the head. A Secret Service spokesman told the Times that his agency was not involved in removing protesters, but said rally organizers were within their rights because it was a private event. However, the Times noted that the White House organized the rally with local supporters at Legends Field, a publicly financed stadium, and the public at large was invited to hear the president. The Times editorialized that the police response was "a cowardly exercise in suppressing legitimate protest." It added that the use of "First Amendment zones" isolated from political events is unacceptable. "All of the United States is a First Amendment zone."
D'S 'COME HOME' ON FAST TRACK. Two influential House Democrats who supported the North American Free Trade Agreement, Rep. Martin Frost of Texas and Rep. Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota, have joined the "Fair Trade" bloc in Congress and are working to defeat George W. Bush's request for "Fast Track" approval to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. Michael Dolan of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch said citizen action is needed because, while many Congress members claim to support Fair Trade, which demands labor and environmental standards as part of the trade deal, "unless we lock them down firmly, a fair amount of them are susceptible to support a Fast Track proposal that merely mentions the words 'labor' and 'environment' but that has toothless enforcement mechanisms or otherwise is nothing but Fast Track and a fig leaf." Republican House leaders are promoting a "clean" bill that would only grant fast-track approval procedures to trade agreements without labor and environmental provisions. You can phone your Congress member via the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121. Ask to speak with the person who handles trade issues, and explain that you hope the member will sign on to the "Dear Colleague" letter about Fast Track from Reps. Frost and Pomeroy on Fast Track.
PRO-DEMOCRACY CONVENTION. The Center for Constitutional Rights and more than 50 organizations are sponsoring a National Pro-Democracy Convention in Philadelphia June 29 to July 1. With the Voter's Bill of Rights as a primary focus, the Convention will be a vehicle to gather up and galvanize the disparate and disaffected constituencies and movements outraged by the flawed election to build a permanent force for real democracy. A National Town Hall Meeting will feature John Anderson (Center for Voting and Democracy), Melanie Campbell (National Coalition for Black Civic Participation), Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Granny D (Alliance for Democracy), Ron Daniels (Center for Constitutional Rights), Cheri Honkala (Kensington Welfare Rights Union), Arianna Huffington (author), Rev. Jesse Jackson (Rainbow/PUSH), Martin Luther King III (Southern Christian Leadership Conference), Rev. Al Sharpton (National Action Network), and June Zeitlin (Women's Economic and Development Organization), to name a few. There will also be workshops and plenaries on the principles outlined in the Voters' Bill of Rights and strategies for strengthening the pro-democracy movement. To register or for more information, see www.pro-democracy.com, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the Center for Constitutional Rights at 212-614-6452.
BUSH SUPPORT PLUMMETS. George W. Bush's overall job approval was down 8 points, to 55%, in a Washington Post/ABC News Poll released June 4. Respondents said by a 2-1 margin -- 41% to 20% -- that recent changes that gave Democrats control of the Senate are good for the country. The survey found that Bush should compromise with Democrat-ic lawmakers on energy policy, patients' rights, Social Security and other top issues, the Post reported. The number of Americans who disapprove of Bush's handling of the energy situation has increased 15 points, to 58%, while Democrats had almost a 20-point lead over Bush on handling of the environment -- 54% to 35%, and 56% think the federal government should set limits on the wholesale price of electricity. Bush's energy plan is weighted toward increasing production of oil, coal and natural gas, as well as nuclear power. Democrats contend the plan would benefit the energy industry without lowering prices for consumers.
Democrats now hold a 42% to 40% lead over the president on the question of who should set the nation's policy agenda. Even the $1.35 trillion tax cut has generated more ambivalence than political payoff for Bush and the GOP. Some 58% approved of Bush's tax cut. But an even larger majority said they would have preferred it if the president had spent the money on popular programs such as education and Social Security.
MASS. CLEAN ELECTIONS AT RISK. State legislators are still resisting appropriating $10 million to implement Clean Elections in Massachusetts. Voters enacted the initiative, similar to Maine and Arizona models, by a margin of 2-1 in 1998, but they left it up to legislators to set aside the money to finance campaigns for statewide and legislative candidates who agree to limit their contributions and expenses. In the past two sessions, the law's opponents have tried to gut it, each time backing down in the face of protests. This year the Massachusetts House, at the behest of Speaker Tom Finneran -- a Democrat who specializes in incumbent protection -- voted May 1 to defund the law, eliminating its annual $10 million appropriation and shifting its funding solely to voluntary taxpayer checkoffs on their tax returns. Senate President Tom Birmingham, another Democrat, has promised to fight for the Clean Elections funding, but in The Nation, Micah Sifry of Public Campaign, which advocates public financing, noted, "The climactic fight to restore the law's funding will come in mid-to-late June, when the state budget goes to conference and the real bargaining occurs." For more information, see www.massvoters.org (Mass Voters for Clean Elections, phone 617-451-5999) or www.publicampaign.org (Public Campaign, phone 202-293-0222).
CHUY'S PAYBACK FOR BUSH TWINS' TROUBLE. The First Twins were charged with being minors in possession of alcohol, a Class C misdemeanor, but the Republican-controlled Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission may get their revenge on Chuy's, the restaurant whose manager turned in Jenna Bush for using someone else's ID to buy a margarita. The liquor cops decided to investigate the popular restaurant for serving drinks to Barbara Bush and another minor. (Not that the White House would stoop to retaliation!) Republican activists also have posted on the Internet personal information on the bar manager, including her address, birthdate, drivers license information, physical description, and even birth information about her infant child, along with calls for punitive actions, according to Salon.com. The Austin American-Statesman, which originally played down the Chuy's bust, editorialized June 9 that Jenna apparently received preferential treatment when she was cited for a Class C misdemeanor rather than the more serious Class B usually given to minors trying to buy alcohol with phony IDs. "Statistics from Austin Municipal Court show that most minors cited for using false ID to buy alcohol receive the higher charge. In what can only be described as a wry twist of fate, the twins' father, when he was governor, signed the 1999 law increasing the charge for using false identification to purchase alcoholic beverages" the newspaper noted. "... Now Chuy's faces an inquiry from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission for having served underage customers using phony IDs. The TABC should be careful that it doesn't compound one possible abuse of official power with another by harassing Chuy's for following the law."
HAHN WINS LA MAYOR. James Hahn, a moderate Democrat and longtime city attorney, put together a coalition of black and white voters to beat an aggressive campaign from Antonio Villaraigosa, the former state Assembly Speaker who had hoped to be the city's first Hispanic mayor in more than a century. Hahn, 50, won with 54% of the vote in the runoff race. Villaraigosa, 48, had the support of organized labor, the Democratic Party, the Los Angeles Times and outgoing Mayor Richard Riordan, but Hahn counted on support from black voters who remembered his father as well as white voters in the San Fernando Valley who responded to Hahn's advertisements depicting Villaraigosa as soft on crime and drug abuse. Villaraigosa, 48, the son of a Mexican immigrant, grew up in East Los Angeles and was a former union organizer. In another race, progressive former state legislator Tom Hayden apparently lost a race for City Council by less than 300 votes, but the Times reported that the new council is likely to invest more heavily in affordable housing and measures to address homelessness, increase the number of "living-wage" jobs, concentrate more closely on the environment and press harder for reform at the Los Angeles Police Department.
ORGANIZATION FOR COMPETITIVE MARKETS addresses the most pressing issues in the food and agriculture subeconomy at its 2001 Food and Agriculture Conference July 19-20 at the Radisson Hotel Opryland in Nashville, Tenn. The first day will focus on new initiatives to create competition, while the second day will focus on confronting the problems stemming from the consolidated industry structure in the food and agriculture sectors. Phone OCM at 662-476-5568, email email@example.com or see www.competitivemarkets.com.