How to Save Democracy in Florida: Step 2
And the latest on the f-word
Welcome to the big Sunday edition of Progressives Everywhere!
I’ve got some very exciting news: Over the last week, we have raised over $56,000 for the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. The money will go toward helping returning citizens pay Florida’s disgraceful poll tax and register to vote in the state’s next election. We are quite literally restoring democracy to working people.
In this edition of the newsletter, one of Florida’s highest-profile civil rights leaders outlines for us his big plan to end the state GOP’s Jim Crow voter suppression regime for good. It’s the next step in the fight against disenfranchisement in Florida — and we can help.
We’ll also look at some election results in Texas and a troubling development from a troublesome Democratic senator.
But first, thank you to our latest crowdfunding donors: Gita and Maud!
As the Florida Voting Rights Restoration Coalition helps returning citizens overcome unfair poll taxes and register to vote, a group called People Over Profits is embarking on a campaign to make the FRRC’s work no longer necessary.
People Over Profits launched an effort last week to qualify a ballot amendment that would make most formerly incarcerated Floridians eligible to vote as soon as they’ve completed their full sentence. If passed, the initiative would finally end a legal disenfranchisement that reaches all the way back to 1845, when Florida was a slave state.
It is one of three voting rights amendments the organization is working to put on the 2022 ballot.
To rehash what we went over last week: In 2018, 65% of Floridians approved Amendment 4, a ballot initiative intended to restore the voting rights of over one million people and end the permanent disenfranchisement of returning citizens going forward. It was a massive triumph of grassroots democracy, but just a few months later, Republicans in the state neutered the amendment with a law that stipulated returning citizens must pay off onerous fines before gaining access to the ballot.
With more than 750,000 Floridians unable to meet or even track down those financial requirements, the GOP’s law quickly returned Florida to a Jim Crow status quo; Black people make up about 17% of Florida's total population but nearly half of its prison population. In 2018, Black Floridians accounted for nearly a third of the 1.4 million permanently disenfranchised — nearly 20% of Florida’s entire Black voting-age population.
“I know when I voted for Amendment 4, I didn't anticipate fees and fines would stand in the way of some returning citizens being able to vote, and I think I'm probably in the majority of most people that voted for it,” says Sean Shaw, a former Democratic state representative and founder of People Over Profits. “It's a shame that we've got to come back and do this, but that's what we're here to do.”
The other two amendments are focused on making registering to vote easier for everyone: One would enact same-day voter registration while the other would update the state’s Motor Voter law so that eligible Floridians would be automatically registered to vote or have their registration info updated if necessary.
“Taken together, we estimate these three amendments would [lead to] a million new voters on the rolls,” Shaw explains. “I don't know if those are Republican voters, I don't know if those are Democratic voters, I don't know if those are NPA [no party affiliation] voters. I just know that more eligible people participating in democracy is good for democracy.”
That should not be a controversial statement, but the Republican trifecta in Florida has instead moved to make voting much more difficult this session. The party’s new voter suppression law has a long list of pernicious clauses, including ones that:
Create strict voter ID requirements on mail-in ballots
Require more frequent mail-in ballot requests
Severely restrict the number of ballot drop boxes and who can access them
Criminalize ballot delivery by volunteers and friends
Ban counties from accepting help in administering elections
Gives state legislature and attorney general more control over county legal matters related to elections
These are all designed to stop voter turnout, while another law specifically targets ballot initiatives like those Shaw and his organization are trying to qualify and enact. Together, they’re being called the Fair Elections for Democracy Amendments.
In each of the past three elections, Floridians have voted overwhelmingly to approve medical marijuana (2016), pass Amendment 4’s voting rights expansion (2018), and raise the minimum wage to $15-an-hour (2020). The massive price tag inherent for a statewide campaign in Florida meant that each of those initiatives required significant financial support from major civic-minded donors. The Florida GOP, eager to cut off all forms of democracy, passed a law last month to limit donations to ballot initiative campaigns to just $3,000 per person, a limit that they did not extend to political campaigns.
The ACLU immediately sued the state over the law, which it asserts infringes on the right to free speech and nullifies direct democracy. Shaw, who lost a close contest for state attorney general in 2018, says he’s confident that the law, which he calls “blatantly unconstitutional,” will be overturned. And if the right-wing Supreme Court doesn’t overturn the new law, Shaw says that the campaigns will be much harder to win — but not at all impossible.
People Over Profits estimates that it would take about $20 million to get these amendments on the ballot, but the group has already baked in a structure to make up for potential limits on fundraising. Each ballot amendment is being sponsored by a different organization established for that express purpose. Being under the Fair Elections for Democracy umbrella will also all them to pool their efforts when it comes to collecting petition signatures.
The FRRC is also backing the effort, creating an important synergy after the overwhelming success of Amendment 4. Fair Vote Florida is backing the rights restoration amendment, Florida Votes Matter is behind the same-day registration effort, and Our Votes Matter is pushing the automatic registration amendment.
“Any church that I went to visit had petitions for Amendment 4 in the back and people were filling them out, they were just everywhere,” Shaw says. “Everywhere you went, there were petitions for Amendment 4 and we’re just gonna have to replicate that.”
They will do their best to pay signature-gatherers if their funds are limited, but it’s going to have to be a massive grassroots campaign that overwhelms the many roadblocks put in their way. There really isn’t any other option — it’s pass these amendments or see democracy burned to the ground.
“We really hope that we get this over the finish line this cycle, because there's no telling what the legislature might do next session to make it even harder [in 2024],” Shaw says. “So we’ve got to get this done now and that's why we're all working really hard for this to get these three done this cycle.”
New York: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman threw their support behind Maya Wiley’s mayoral campaign on Saturday. The support isn’t so much affirmation of her progressive bona fides as it is a last-minute consolidation behind the last acceptable candidate who might be able to stave off a Democratic victory by center-right candidates Eric Adams or Andrew Yang.
The announcement came a day after Dianne Morales’s meteoric rise and fall came to a final flaming crash-landing somewhere in the East River. I wrote all about the semi-absurd Democratic mayoral primary on Friday in a premium edition of this newsletter, which you can check out right here.
Texas: Some good and bad news out of the Lone Star State. While the Democratic candidate was edged out in the Fort Worth mayoral election, some exciting young progressives backed by the Working Families Party racked up a number of big municipal runoff victories in city council races in San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Grand Prairie.
These victories should have both immediate and long-term ramifications. First, there will be more progressives in cities that, with the exception of Fort Worth, are largely controlled by moderate Democrats. That should help enact more progressive policy and move the electorate slowly but surely to the left; perhaps next time San Antonio has a ballot initiative on taking away bargaining power from its police union, it will pass by a small margin instead of falling by a small margin.
Second, every victory by a young, energetic progressive in Texas (or anywhere, really) creates another potentially viable candidate for higher office while also helping to build a new organizing and electoral infrastructure to replace a creaky old party apparatus.
Grassroots Texas Democrats have made great strides over the last few years, but they’re trying to change a culture that has been steeped in conservatism for 50 years. It takes time to move public opinion and running mostly inexperienced candidates with little existing infrastructure means that there’s a big learning curve. Between activists racking up multiple campaign cycles’ worth of experience and the party now more dynamic office-holders who had to build up political operations to win competitive elections, things are slowly but surely looking up for the party… assuming Republicans don’t destroy democracy with their draconian voter suppression bill and gerrymandering plans.
You can read about the Texas Republican Party meltdown in… yep, you guessed it, this past Friday’s premium edition of the newsletter.
Reminder: I cover lots more news, keep up on these stories, and publish interviews throughout the week in the issues sent out to premium members!
Colorado: Back during the New Deal era, farmworkers and domestic laborers were left out of worker rights legislation in deference to the power and racism of southern conservative senators. Labor activists have been trying to plug that hole for the last 80 years, with fleeting success. In Colorado, Democrats are on the verge of enacting a long-overdue Agricultural Workers’ Bill of Rights; it passed the State Senate yesterday and a House committee on Friday.
The bill would grant farmworkers a dozen different fundamental rights that most workers generally take for granted. They include guaranteed:
Overtime pay for those working more than 40 hours in a week or 12 hours in a single day
Meal and rest breaks
Protections during a health emergency
Getting this thing past would be a monumental win. Almost there!
California: Speaking of essential workers being underpaid by a government agency, firefighters employed by the federal government make a starting wage of $13.45-an-hour, which is $1.55 below California’s minimum rate.
No surprise, fire departments are having a serious problem keeping and hiring firefighters in the state, which is particularly worrisome as wildfire season approaches. California’s wildfires continue to get exponentially more dangerous, so why put your life on the line for less than you’d make at McDonald’s?
Pennsylvania: Gov. Tom Wolf has spent his seven years in office asking the Republican legislature to raise the state minimum wage to $12-an-hour and put it on a path to $15-an-hour. Republicans continually argue that minimum wage jobs are supposed to provide pocket money for teenagers, but a new study from the PA Department of Labor proves that stereotype is very inaccurate.
Raising the wage, the study suggests, would help over one million workers earn more money, including 300,000 workers who are 40 or over. People in their 50s and 60s make up a growing proportion of those working low-wage jobs as retirement drifts further and further into the realm of the impossible fantasy.
New Hampshire: The Republican trifecta failed to enact a “right to work” law in the suddenly reddish state. What’s most surprising is that it wasn’t Democrats that stopped them from passing it — Dems didn’t have enough votes to do that — but instead a band of 21 moderate Republicans who did not want to thrash the state’s labor unions.
Oklahoma: It’s clear why voters approved a ballot initiative to expand Medicaid last summer: they desperately needed health care. Registration for those newly eligible for the government health care program began on June 1st, and in just three days, over 50,000 Oklahomans signed up and were approved for coverage. That’s over 8% of the state’s entire population.
Nebraska: Voters in Nebraska approved Medicaid expansion via ballot initiative back in 2018, but implementation had been held up by Republicans in the state as they figured out how to how they could still hurt poor people. Eventually, billionaire Gov. Pete Ricketts came up with a plan to sandbag the newly eligible by creating a lower tier with barebones benefits and a program that looked more like parole than health insurance:
To get dental, vision and over-the-counter medications, which are covered under traditional Medicaid, applicants would have had to comply with several wellness, personal responsibility and community engagement requirements. The latter included working, volunteering or doing other specified activities for 80 hours a month.
While the Trump administration gave it the green light, Biden’s CMS pulled the waiver and told Ricketts to knock it off. Last week, Ricketts admitted defeat and announced that all newly eligible beneficiaries will receive equal treatment when they come under the plan in October.
Oh, did you really think I wasn’t going to comment on the latest Democratic disaster?
Joe Manchin is an ostrich with his head in the sand and a “KICK ME” sign slapped across his behind. Even worse, I think he likes it that way.
As Republicans continue to enact extreme voter suppression laws and begin fraudulent, Big Lie-driven “audits” to delegitimize the 2020 election, Democrats have become seemingly powerless to stop them. Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema disgraced herself with ridiculous, ahistorical comments in defense of the filibuster last week and now Sen. Joe Manchin has just stomped on the skull of the For the People Act, which as it stands is the one law introduced in Congress that could fix the increasingly, outrageously rigged American election system.
In an op-ed in his home state Charleston Gazette-Mail today, Manchin declared that he won’t back S1 or even make an exception to the filibuster for crucial voting rights legislation. Here are two brain-dead excerpts:
The truth, I would argue, is that voting and election reform that is done in a partisan manner will all but ensure partisan divisions continue to deepen.
Our founders were wise to see the temptation of absolute power and built in specific checks and balances to force compromise that serves to preserve our fragile democracy. The Senate, its processes and rules, have evolved over time to make absolute power difficult while still delivering solutions to the issues facing our country and I believe that’s the Senate’s best quality.
I believe that partisan voting legislation will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy, and for that reason, I will vote against the For the People Act. Furthermore, I will not vote to weaken or eliminate the filibuster. For as long as I have the privilege of being your U.S. senator, I will fight to represent the people of West Virginia, to seek bipartisan compromise no matter how difficult and to develop the political bonds that end divisions and help unite the country we love.
It needs not be said just how absurdly incorrect Manchin is about literally everything he’s saying:
The filibuster was not created by the Founding Fathers
It was never used to create bipartisan comity or deliver solutions
Stopping legislation that has vast popular support and delivering nothing to Americans is certainly not the Senate’s best quality
This country is already being torn apart by partisan voting laws that are sweeping the nation.
Absolute power is why Republicans have clamped down on voting rights in half a dozen states and counting. It’s also why Republicans have felt comfortable bullying trans kids. And it’s why two dozen GOP governors have unilaterally stripped federal unemployment benefits from hard-up workers to force them into shitty low-pay jobs.
Manchin is a multi-millionaire who never has to worry about being bullied by cops, paying rent, being denied the right to vote, or having the cash to see a doctor. Worse, he can’t even empathize with those that do have those problems. He fetishizes bipartisanship, which is the same at this point as making a deal with the devil. None of this is new, but it’s disappointing just how delusional he’s become.
It should also be noted that Manchin is doing this on behalf of a number of other Democrats who don’t want to take the heat. They don’t like the idea of shutting down their money spigot or not having gerrymanders guarantee their power over their state parties. He is the figurehead for this subversive sabotage.
It’s hard to underline just how dangerous this is becoming. Georgia is now pursuing an election audit, largely because Republicans realize there is no one to stop them. Republicans in Pennsylvania are trying to pull the same thing. There are no consequences for anything Republicans do, including supporting an insurrection on the Capitol. These aren’t normal partisan Republicans, either. They’re maniacs, worm-brained conspiracy freaks, hate-mongers, and little Nazi wannabes openly overthrowing democracy. And somehow we need their permission to save the country. Even Fox News anchor Chris Wallace gave Manchin shit and said he was confused today.
People and the party apparatus tend to say "Welp, we just have to help Democrats win more seats in 2022,” but that discounts how actual humans work. They’re living in a partisan fantasyland. Why would people go out of their way to donate or bust their asses as volunteers for a party that makes big promises and then fails to deliver? This is the last chance for the Democratic Party to show it is on the side of the people who work so hard to put them in power. The refrain is that Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can’t magically change Manchin and Sinema’s minds, but right now, it doesn’t look like Biden is trying all that hard, either.
So where do we go from here? The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act that Manchin prefers is not nearly expansive enough to undo the already enacted voter suppression laws, nor will it protect voters from the worst kinds of gerrymanders. Today, Sen. Jeff Merkley suggested that perhaps the For the People Act could be winnowed down some to Manchin’s satisfaction, which I’ll assume means the striking of the public financing of elections, restrictions on fundraising, and uniform voting standards. But a skinny version of HR 1 or HR 4 still needs to get through a filibuster, which just isn’t going to happen. The filibuster has to go.
People of color make up the bulk of Democrats’ base. Not passing simple legislation that allows them to exercise their right to vote is the biggest slap in the face that Democrats could possibly deliver.
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