Sunday, November 09, 2014

31% of Americans Vote for Gridlock

[Photo courtesy of Snarky Democrat/]
The results of last Tuesday's mid-term election results were sobering for those Americans who skew towards a more progressive political mindset.

So what kind of country is America going to become over the next two years with Republicans exercising control over the nation's legislative agenda?

Perhaps 90 year-old Arnold Abbot and two church officials being charged by police for trying to feed homeless people in a Ft. Lauderdale, Florida gives us some insight into that.

According to an article on Abbot, a local advocate for the homeless, was handing out plates of food for a group of folks living on the street when, "An officer said, 'Drop that plate right now -- like I had a weapon,'".

What is it with the state of Florida? Anyone can carry a concealed loaded handgun, but you can't give a homeless person a plate of food?

Speaking of the Sunshine State, Governor Rick Scott won re-election there by 66,127 votes over Democratic candidate Charlie Crist even though they were locked in a virtual tie heading into election day.

There were numerous documented complaints of issues with voting machines not working that prevented many people in heavily Democratic areas like Broward County from casting their votes in the morning before they had to go to work.

Some folks were given the wrong polling site information, then weren't allowed to cast their votes when they finally arrived at the correct polling site. There are also reports of minority voters being intimidated into not being allowed to vote.

Watch this video Florida citizen Izak Alexander Pratt took on his cellphone as he confronts poll workers who initially told an African-American citizen he couldn't vote even though he had a valid US passport which IS sufficient ID in Florida to vote.

The man was only allowed to vote after Pratt left the building, quickly Googled the Florida voting ID requirement, then rushed back and showed the poll workers proof that the man's valid US passport was acceptable ID in Florida.

If you watch the video, the testy poll site supervisor seems annoyed when Pratt comes back in to question the poll workers about why they initially told the black citizen he wasn't allowed to cast his vote. The supervisor eventually explains it in a remarkably dismissive tone as a "clerical error." 

How many other "clerical errors" were there in Florida last Tuesday? If you think race wasn't a factor in the Florida elections consider this: Democratic candidate Charlie Crist lost the votes of white working-class voters without college degrees by a margin of 32% to winner Rick Scott's 61%.

Now there's no denying that the low overall voter participation across the nation, particularly among Democrats was troubling; we'll get to that in a moment.

But it's also important to consider some of the positives that came out of the 2014 elections and keep an eye on the bigger strategic picture by analyzing the important lessons the results reveal.

Overall African-American voter turnout was solid and Democrats did well amongst Hispanics, young voters and people with college degrees and post-grad degrees; support amongst Asians slipped a little.

In the aforementioned state of Florida, Democratic candidate Gwen Graham defeated incumbent Republican House Rep. Steve Sutherland by 2,193 votes. Sutherland was one of the Republican Congressmen who voted with the Tea Party extremists to defund Planned Parenthood and oppose the Violence Against Women Act.

Democrats worked hard for that victory too; including an aggressive ground game that registered 9,958 new voters in the district to boost turnout.

Out on the west coast, voters in the state of California took an important step towards reforming one of the largest prison systems in the nation after Proposition 47 was passed.

As Nicole Flatow reported on, this ballot initiative was one of the measures taken by California to comply with a Supreme Court order mandating that the state reduce the massive overcrowding in its prisons.

Prop 47 reclassifies six non-violent, low-level offenses from felonies to misdemeanors; the offenses include writing bad checks, theft, forgery, shoplifting, receiving stolen property and drug possession for personal use - provided the value of any of these offenses is LESS than $950.

Prop 47 will make thousands of inmates who pose no risk to the public eligible for release from prison and ensure that juvenile offenders do not serve longer sentences than adults for the same crime.

But perhaps most importantly, it will allow prisoners convicted of non-violent, low-level offenses to have the felony conviction removed from their permanent records, allowing them to apply for jobs and vote when they are released.

Washington State voters passed proposal I-594, legislation that will mandate that all people who purchase a gun must pass a background check. Chalk one up for common sense gun laws.

In the mid-west, Democrats made GOP Congressman Lee Terry pay for being one of obstructionist Tea Party extremists that voted to shut down the government; he got his political clock cleaned by 4,132 votes.

According to data from the Democratic Campaign Committee (DCCC), there were fourteen different races that were too close to call on Tuesday night, but as of Saturday November 8th, Democrats have won nine of them; including Scott Peters' victory in California's 52nd Congressional District; which is traditionally a GOP stronghold.

Remember those highly-publicized efforts out in the state of Arizona to allow businesses to refuse service to customers because they are gay? SB 1062, also known as the "No Gays Allowed" bill was authored by Speaker of the Arizona House Andy Tobin.

A tough Democratic ground game there organized by the DCCC resulted in Tobin being defeated by 9,346 votes. There are other pending recounts and runoffs too.

Now obviously those victories are overshadowed by the GOP taking control of the Senate, increasing their majority in the House and winning gubernatorial elections in places like Maryland, Kansas and Wisconsin.

The reality of right-wing extremist politicians being given the keys to the American legislative kingdom is a hard enough pill to swallow, but the millions of Americans who didn't bother to vote is downright disappointing.

According to data from the Elect Project, preliminary results suggest the mid-term elections were decided by (drum roll please...) less than 35% of the American populace. That would be the lowest voter turnout since 32.5% of the population turned out in the early 1940's - when millions of Americans were serving in the military in World War II.

So listening to tapes of interviews with Reince Preibus and other victorious GOP politicians prattle on self-righteously about how America voted for "conservative ideals" on Tuesday night is misleading at best.

As a conciliatory e-mail from the DCCC noted, during the course of President Obama's 2nd term Republicans used a variety of obstruction tactics to block legislation like a comprehensive jobs bill or extension of unemployment insurance for millions of out-of-work Americans that could have helped the nation recover faster from the ravages of the Great Recession.

Then the GOP had the gall to campaign on the idea that Obama wrecked the nation.

Republicans took the Southern Strategy to a whole new level, capitalizing on the Supreme Court's gutting of a key provision of the 1965 Voter Rights Act to resurrect voter suppression tactics against voters of color not seen in this nation since the Jim Crow era.

Democrats were hurt nationwide by the fact that white working-class voters without college degrees overwhelmingly voted Republican; a reflection of the GOP's non-stop bashing and distortion of President Obama's record.

While more detailed data based on poll results is still emerging, particularly the effect voter ID laws had on minorities, the elderly and young voters being able to cast votes, it's all but certain that the GOP's non-stop voter suppression tactics (in some districts already gerrymandered by the Republican Congress) swayed tight races in Georgia, Florida and North Carolina.

Remember back in September when Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer David Tropeano, actually arrested voting rights activist Ty Turner on Labor Day for handing out leaflets with voter information?

In the Tar Heel State, incumbent Democratic Senator Kay Hagan was defeated by voter suppression advocate Thom Tillis, the speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives - one of 54 of the 170 NC state legislators who are members of ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council); the shadowy extremist policy group responsible for the GOP's national campaign of voter suppression.

ALEC is responsible for drafting the actual language of most of the controversial voter ID and "voter integrity" laws passed by (wait for it..) majority Republican state legislators.
The bottom line: there were a number of factors leading to the Republican victory last Tuesday (nicely summarized on the New Republic Website) but it all boils down to voter turnout.

Even with votes being suppressed, an apathetic voter base turned off by GOP obstructionism in Congress allowed a numerical minority that makes up less then a third of the nation's population to vote a GOP majority into both houses of Congress; that is some seriously scary math.

But what's done is done. The GOP's 2010 Senate class is up for election in 2016 and the presidential race is now underway; and Democrats traditionally vote in much larger numbers during presidential election years.

If Hillary Clinton decides to run she's going to have a huge advantage with a big Democratic gun like Bill Clinton campaigning on her behalf.

Remember, he's more popular than ever and his pragmatic political centralism, charm, wit and intelligence helped bring white working-class voters over to the Democratic side in two presidential elections. 

Republicans won't have anyone else to blame for their Congressional record either now that they're in control - and whether they can rein in the Tea Party nutbags within their party (who'd shut down the government and put the nation's credit rating at risk in order to make an obscure ideological point) remains to be seen.

The GOP won this one. Not exactly fair and square, but they won it. What they do with it remains to be seen, but trying to take away people's health care, voting for more tax breaks for the super wealthy and trying to restrict abortion is not the path to the White House.

The game, as a wise detective famously said, is afoot. 2016 is closer than you'd think; and that's a whole new ball game.

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