The Republican surge in state-level races in the South continued, Chris Kromm noted at SouthernStudies.org (11/4). Last year, GOP lawmakers enjoyed a net gain of 65 seats in Southern state legislatures, with the Kentucky House emerging after Election Day as the only chamber in the South where Democrats held onto a majority.

This year, Kentucky was Exhibit A of the GOP’s continuing dominance in state-level politics in the South, with Louisville businessman and Tea Party favorite Matt Bevin trouncing Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway — the front-runner in most polls — in a 53% to 44% landslide.

Bevin, who launched his campaign on Tea Party positions including promises to eliminate the state’s widely-used Kynect health insurance exchange, end Medicaid expansion and defund early childhood education, will become just the second Republican governor in Kentucky since 1971.

Sensing opportunity, the Republican Governors Association — which had largely abandoned the race in September and October — injected $2.5 mln into ads on Bevin’s behalf in the final two weeks. But spending by outside groups benefited Democrats overall, with the Democratic Governors Association and labor spending $9 mln on Conway’s behalf compared to about $5 mln total for Bevin.

The Washington Post’s Amy Goldstein reported from Pike County, Ky., where many have come to rely on the state’s health network, but where many nevertheless voted for the far-right candidate who’s promised to destroy that network.

“Dennis Blackburn has this splintered self-interest. The 56-year-old mechanic hasn’t worked in 18 months, since he lost his job at a tire company that supplies a diminishing number of local coal mines…. He has a hereditary liver disorder, numbness in his hands and legs, back pain from folding his 6-foot-1-inch frame into 29-inch mine shafts as a young man, plus an abnormal heart rhythm – the likely vestige of having been struck by lightning 15 years ago in his tin-roofed farmhouse.

“Blackburn was making small payments on an MRI he’d gotten at Pikeville Medical Center, the only hospital in a 150-mile radius, when he heard about Big Sandy’s Shelby Valley Clinic. There he met [Mindy] Fleming, who helped him sign up for one of the managed-care Medicaid plans available in Kentucky.”

It would appear Blackburn is exactly the kind of Kentuckian who would go out of his way to protect the health benefits he needs – and yet, Blackburn told Goldstein he voted for Bevin, as did 55% of the county’s voters, because he isn’t a “career politician” and Blackburn thought a businessman would be more apt to create the jobs that Pike County needs.

The governor’s race wasn’t the only setback for Kentucky Democrats. With turnout at 37% of registered voters, Republicans also won races for agricultural commissioner, auditor and treasurer. Democrat Andy Beshear, son of former Gov. Steve Beshear, narrowly won the race for attorney general, and incumbent Alison Lundergan Grimes, who ran for US Senate last year, held on to her secretary of state seat. (State Senate and House races will be held in 2016.)

SouthernStudies.org noted that the GOP’s resounding victory in Kentucky was the most surprising in an off-year election marked by Republican and conservative victories over much of the South:

VIRGINIA GENERAL ASSEMBLY: All 140 General Assembly seats were up for grabs, and Democrats aimed to win back the state Senate where Republicans enjoyed a narrow 21-19 majority. Despite a four-day, 24-event barnstorming effort by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), the GOP held on to their Senate margin and continued their dominance in the House. Money flowed into the races from a pro-gun control group backed by New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg, which spent $2.2 mln, and substantial spending by Americans for Prosperity, the National Rifle Association and Republican State Leadership Committee.

MISSISSIPPI ELECTIONS: As expected, Gov. Phil Bryant (R) was re-elected in a landslide with two-thirds of the vote, along with six other Republicans who won state office. The GOP also gained at least four seats in the state House, where it already enjoyed a 67-55 majority coming into the elections. With 71 seats confirmed and another three still too close to call, Republicans are within striking distance of the 74 seats needed for a supermajority. In a rare bright spot for Democrats, incumbent Attorney General Jim Hood won a fourth term to remain the only Democrat holding statewide office in Mississippi.

MISSISSIPPI SCHOOLS INITIATIVE: In a blow for public school advocates, Mississippi voters defeated Initiative 42, a proposed change to the state constitution that would have given courts more leverage to challenge underfunding of education. Mississippi adopted a formula for funding public schools 18 years ago, but lawmakers have abided by the formula only twice; this year, the school budget falls $200 million short. The initiative, which would have given courts the ability to enforce the law, was opposed by 54 percent of voters, although supporters say the reason the initiative fell short was in part due to confusion created by a competing alternative proposal also put on the ballot.

HOUSTON ANTI-DISCRIMINATION ORDINANCE: An anti-discrimination ordinance in Houston, Texas, which had narrowly passed the city council in May and was then ordered to be put before a citywide vote after legal wrangling, was defeated by 61% to 29%. The measure included protections to prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, city contracting and business services for 15 classes, including race, age and sexual orientation. However, opponents singled out transgender residents, centering their campaign around the slogan “No Men in Women’s Bathrooms.”

MAINE, SEATTLE VOTERS REJECT ‘CITIZENS UNITED’ WITH CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORMS. It wasn’t all bad news in the 11/3 elections, as voters in Maine and Seattle approved several ballot initiatives to reduce the amount of money in politics and empower ordinary voters over wealthy donors.

In Maine, 55% of voters approved Question 1 to strengthen the state’s Clean Elections Act by increasing public funding for candidates, after they have raised a qualifying number of small contributions. The initiative also requires outside groups to disclose their top funders on political advertisments.

Seattle voters passed the “Honest Elections’” initiative (Initiative 122) with 60% of the vote, tightening campaign finance limits and creating a first-in-the-nation program to provide registered voters up to $100 in “Democracy Vouchers” to support local candidates of their choice in exchange for city funds for their campaigns. The initiative would restrict donations from city contractors, regulated businesses, and lobbyists while also speeding up the disclosure of campaign donations.

Since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling to grant corporations and unions a First Amendment right to make political expenditures as protected speech, the amount of campaign spending in state and national elections has increased dramatically. Move to Amend, the national campaign launched in the wake of Citizens United, praised the efforts by volunteers and organizers in Seattle and Maine.

“These ballot initiatives represent the American people’s overwhelming rejection of the Supreme Court’s doctrine of money equals speech and the dangerous precedent they set in Citizens United,” said Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, National Director of Move to Amend (MoveToAmend.org). “Voters in Seattle and Maine join a growing movement of people from all walks of life rejecting the overwhelming influence of corporations in politics, and demanding a genuine democracy that is accountable to We thePeople, not corporate interests.”

QUESTIONS ABOUT KY. GOVERNOR RESULTS. Some critics of electronic vote counting are questioning Matt Bevin’s upset victory over Jack Conway for Kentucky governor.

Democratic Attorney General Conway was leading by a fair margin (about 3 to 5 points) in almost every pre-election poll in his race for governor, but ended up being announced as the loser to ‘Tea Party’ Republican candidate Bevin by a landslide (almost 9 points) — according to the state’s 100% unverified computer tabulation systems, Brad Friedman noted at BradBlog.com (11/4).

Friedman noted that Karoli Kuns of CrooksAndLiars.com pointed out that Democrats running in down-ballot races — for secretary of state, attorney general and even state auditor — each reportedly received tens of thousands more votes than Conway did at the top of the ticket!

Bev Harris, of BlackBoxVoting.org described the higher vote totals in the down-ballot races as a “significant anomaly.” She said that, at least until more records are requested and examined, the Kentucky governor’s race “has to be looked at as a questionable outcome, particularly because of the discrepancies in the down-ballot races. More votes in those races and not at the top … that just doesn’t happen.”

Friedman noted that “We’ve seen malfunctioning paper ballot op-scan systems report losers as ‘winners’ until a hand-count corrects the record. We’ve seen how easy it is for hackers to game election equipment. We’ve seen election insiders, even as recently as last week, breaking in to computerized central tabulators. And we’ve even seen high-ranking election officials in Kentucky … convicted for decades of insider election fraud, including the manipulation of electronic voting systems.

In 2009, high-ranking election officials in Clay County, Ky. — including the county clerk, a circuit court judge, the school superintendent, a former Magistrate and several polling place officials — were arrested in a massive vote buying/selling and electronic vote-machine rigging conspiracy which netted the criminals millions of dollars over the previous decade. The federal charges included the county clerk and other members of the Board of Elections having intentionally falsified election reports to include inaccurate voting results when submitted to the state.

One Republican election official pleaded guilty after the arrest and the other eight were found guilty and convicted in 2010 in federal court. They were sentenced to a total of more than 1,871 months in federal prison.

TRUMP RECALLS ‘OPERATION WETBACK.’ When Donald Trump at the 11/10 Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee praised then-President Dwight Eisenhower’s executive action in rounding up and deporting 1 mln Mexican immigrants to Mexico in 1954, Trump was referring to “Operation Wetback,” under which immigrants inside the US were rounded up and deported to remote places inside Mexico, resulting in deaths and criticism of human rights abuses.

On NPR (11/11), conservative Republican Alfonso Aguilar slammed Trump’s comments. “The Eisenhower mass deportation policy was tragic,” said Aguilar. “Human rights were violated, people were removed to remote locations without food and water, there were many deaths, sometimes US citizens of Hispanic origin were removed, it was a travesty, it was terrible. To say it’s a success story, it’s ridiculous.”

US authorities used trains and ships to transport Mexican nationals to Mexico, where they were handed over to Mexican officials who took them deep into the interior of the country, where Mexican growers were complaining about the lack of workers. “[A] congressional investigation likened one vessel (where a riot took place on board) to an ‘18th century slave ship’ and a ‘penal hell ship,’” historian Mae Ngai wrote in Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America [Princeton University Press, 2014].

Though Trump extolled the program’s praises on the GOP debate, he didn’t call “Operation Wetback” by name, as “wetback” is widely seen as a slur toward Mexican immigrants.

“I’m just shocked he didn’t come out and say it,” University of Maryland political scientist Stella Rouse told NBC News. Yet she said it was very clear what Trump was advocating.

“It’s unbelievable, but he and the people who support his attitude are more and more comfortable expressing it in different ways - with no impunity,” said Rouse. “If you’re racist and nativist that’s what gets rewarded without any specificity or viability of how do these things, it’s amazing.”

Like Aguilar, Rouse said in an interview with NBC News (11/11) that regardless of whether people agree with “sending back” immigrants, the 1950s program has been widely criticized for human rights abuses,among them shaving the heads of Mexicans so the Border Patrol could recognize them if they were trying to come back through the border or Attorney General Herbert Brownell’s comments to “shoot” Mexicans on sight if they attempted to cross the border.

Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, a fellow at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, told KUT radio (11/11) Eisenhower militarized the immigration and border agents because Congress wouldn’t act to deport Mexicans who had been brought into the country to work during World War II in the “Bracero” program. But she noted that demand for workers — particularly farmworkers — never changed, and the numbers of undocumented immigrants increased.

NEW POLL CLARIFIES CHALLENGE FOR DEMS. A new poll shows that members of the Rising American Electorate (RAE) — minorities, millennials, and single women — are significantly less tuned in to next year’s election than GOP-aligned voter groups are.

The poll, commissioned by Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund and conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, has some good news for Democrats. The survey, which was taken in four key battleground states — Colorado, Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin — suggests that in those states, the demographics do favor Dems. That’s because the RAE voter groups — who helped drive Obama’s wins — now make up a “majority or near majority of the vote” in all those states. The poll also finds Dems leading in Senate races in two of those states and tied in two others.

But members of the RAE are insufficiently engaged in next year’s election when compared to Republican-aligned voter groups:

Greg Sargent notes at WashingtonPost.com (11/9), “Unmarried women, minorities, and particularly millennials are less interested in next year’s voting than seniors, conservatives, and white non-college men are. Non-college women — a group the Clinton camp is reportedly eyeing as a way to expand on the Obama coalition — are also less interested.”

However, he notes, ”If Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, and the prospect of electing the first female president seems increasingly within reach, you could see engagement kicking in much more substantially. (It will be interesting to see how non-college, unmarried, minority and millennial women respond.)”

He added, “Greenberg’s pollsters are sounding the alarm now, warning that Democrats need to take more steps to tailor their message towards boosting the interest level among these voters. As Stan Greenberg outlines in his new book, America Ascendant, the key to engaging these voters is two-fold. It isn’t enough to simply outline bold economic policies to deal with college affordability, child care (universal pre-K), workplace flexibility (paid family and sick leave), and so forth, though those things are crucial. What’s also required to engage these groups, Greenberg argues, is a reform agenda geared to reducing the influence of the wealthy, the lobbyists, and the special interests over our politics. Today’s new poll suggests the same.”

The reason is that “many Americans don’t believe government can or will actually deliver on those policies.” However, writes Greenberg, “when voters hear the reform narrative first, they are dramatically more open to the middle-class economic narrative that calls for government activism in response to America’s problems.”

Sargent added that Clinton’s campaign has embraced the need for reforms to reduce the political influence of the wealthy in politics. It’s important that other Democratic candidates do so as well — down ballot as well as presidential candidates.

GREEN ENERGY CAN REDUCE COSTS AND CREATE 2M JOBS. Transitioning to a clean energy economy would be an economic boon to the US, increasing employment, reducing costs to consumers, and benefiting investors, NextGen Climate America reports. Investment in efficiency, renewable sources of electricity, and fuel switching — such as moving from fossil fuel-powered cars to electric vehicles — would add 1 mln jobs by 2030, and roughly 2 mln jobs by 2050, while increasing GDP by $290 bln and improving household income. The researchers looked at scenarios that would reduce emissions by 80% below 1990 levels.

“While addressing climate change is one of our greatest challenges, it is one of our greatest opportunities to build the economy,” Tom Steyer, co-founder of NextGen and billionaire climate activist (and a board member of the Center for American Progress, which operates ThinkProgress), said on a call with reporters (11/9).

The construction industry, in particular, could see a huge bump in jobs — to the tune of 1.2 mln more in 2050 than under the business-as-usual scenario. That’s because it will take a lot of people to build the wind farms, install the solar panels, and retrofit the buildings needed to reduce America’s dependence on fossil fuels. (Samantha Page, ThinkProgress.org, 10/10)

DUKE ENERGY SEEKS $120K FINE AGAINST SOLAR GENERATOR. Duke Energy, which last year reported a profit of almost $2 bln, is seeking a $120,000 fine against a nonprofit for trying to undermine the company’s solar power sales monopoly in North Carolina, the Institute for Southern Studies reported at SouthernStudies.org (11/2).

NC WARN, an energy watchdog group based in Durham, N.C., began selling solar power to Faith Community Church in Greensboro in June after installing a 5.2 kilowatt photovoltaic system on the roof of the predominantly African-American church. North Carolina is one of only four states that do not allow third-party sales of solar power, requiring instead that electricity be sold through a handful of regulated utilities granted monopoly status.

At the time it began selling solar power to the church, NC WARN asked the N.C. Utilities Commission (NCUC) for a declaratory ruling to clarify state policy on third-party sales, which increase access to solar power by allowing customers to pay for rooftop systems over time with no up-front installation costs.

NC WARN argues that the arrangement with Faith Community Church is consistent with state energy policy and the constitutional ban on monopolies. Supporting NC WARN in its case are SolarCity, which is the nation’s largest solar company, and other solar providers. It’s also been joined by the nonprofit NC Interfaith Power & Light, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center.

But Duke Energy submitted a filing with the NCUC opposing the request for a declaratory ruling and asking regulators to issue a cease and desist order against the nonprofit.

“Instead of waiting for the Commission to rule upon the legality of its scheme … NC WARN has already admitted to generating and selling electricity to its chosen customer,” the filing states. “NC WARN’s Request must be rejected and its blatant disregard for the law and this Commission’s authority should not be condoned.”

Duke Energy is also asking the NCUC to require NC WARN to return payments made to it by the church — which the nonprofit says have amounted to “a few hundred bucks” — and to impose civil penalties of up to $1,000 for every day the violation occurred, which in this case could add up to $120,000.

A bill to allow third-party solar sales was introduced this year in the North Carolina legislature, but it languished in committee. Duke Energy was among the interests that lobbied against it.

CHOMSKY: WORLD FACES ‘DEEP TROUBLE’ WITH GOP PRESIDENT. In an interview with C.J. Polychroniou at Truthout.org (11/5), MIT linguist and longtime political activist Noam Chomsky conveyed his fear that the election of a Republican president in 2016 could further destabilize US international relations, jeopardizing the security of the nation and ripped the notion of “democracy promotion” as a driving force of US foreign policy.

Asked whether he anticipated any major changes in US foreign policy under a new administration, Chomsky predicted a Democratic administration would likely carry on President Obama’s policy of relying on “primarily the drone global assassination campaign,” which he described as breaking “new records in international terrorism,” and Special Forces operations, but had this even more dire prediction about a Republican as commander-in-chief:

“The situation with a Republican administration is much less clear. The party has drifted far off the spectrum of parliamentary politics. If the pronouncements of the current crop of candidates can be taken seriously, the world could be facing deep trouble. Take, for example, the nuclear deal with Iran. Not only are they unanimously opposed to it but they are competing on how quickly to bomb Iran. It’s a very strange moment in American political history, and in a state with awesome powers of destruction, that should cause not a little concern.”

COMCAST IMPOSES USAGE CAPS. Comcast wants you to believe that its latest push to control the Internet is about fairness, Timothy Kerr noted at FreePress.org (11/10). The cable-Internet colossus has expanded its plan to impose unnecessary broadband-usage caps on Comcast users in cities across the South.

Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas told the Associated Press that caps “introduce some more fairness” into the way Internet users pay for data. Comcast users who exceed a monthly 300 Gigabyte usage cap will have to pay additional fees.

That’s a bitter pill to swallow for the millions of Comcast customers who’ve already seen bills for the company’s cable bundle rise at many times the rate of inflation, Kerr wrote. Those hoping to save costs by cutting free of cable television altogether now face a Comcast-imposed scheme to choke out the popular trend of watching TV over the Internet.

“Cord cutters be damned. Your monopoly-minded cable provider says its approach is all about fairness. But it’s not,” Kerr wrote.

In documents leaked onto Reddit, Comcast instructed its customer service representatives in how to spin the latest expansion of data caps. The reasons for the caps, the documents say, are “fairness and [the need to provide] a more flexible policy to our customers.” But what could be more fair and flexible than giving customers the unlimited data plan that many originally paid for?

The argument Comcast and other Internet service providers trot out is that streaming a lot of data hurts others on the network. Yet there’s absolutely no real-world evidence of congestion on wired networks.

Comcast admits as much. In the same leaked documents, Comcast tells customer reps NOT to say that “the program is about congestion management. (It is not).” Kerr noted this admission got quite a bit of coverage, but the cable industry surrendered this phony congestion rationale years ago, as former FCC chairman turned cable lobbyist Michael Powell said in 2013 that caps aren’t about congestion. They’re all about making money for the cable company. Powell confessed that he and his colleagues were “wrong” to portray data caps as tools needed to alleviate congestion on behalf of users.

Kerr noted: “Here’s the truth: Comcast is imposing these arbitrary limits and penalties on customers simply because it can.

“Customers in Comcast markets have few to no other options for affordable high-speed wired-line access. According to the FCC, three out of every four US households have no choice of providers for an Internet service that meets most people’s requirement for home broadband today (20% don’t have access; 55% have access to only one provider). In sum, most Internet users slammed with extra data charges have nowhere else to go for true high-speed access.”

VOICES OF RESISTANCE. “In West Virginia, we’ve been extracting coal longer than anyone else. And after 150 years of making other people rich, West Virginia is almost dead last among states in per capita income, education rates and life expectancy. And it’s not an anomaly. The areas with the richest fossil fuel resources, whether coal in West Virginia and Kentucky, or oil in Louisiana and Mississippi, are the areas with the lost standards of living. In part, this is a necessity of the industry. The only war to convince someone to blow up their backyard or poison their water is to make sure they are so desperate that they have no other option.” — Tim DeChristopher, in a statement to the federal court in July 2011 before being sentenced to two years in federal prisons and fined $10,000 for making a false bid at a government oil and gas auction. He served 21 months in prison.

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2015


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