Tag Archives: Paul Weyrich

democratic (small d) Power Grab

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the emperor with no clothes from Kentucky, calls the sweeping election reform bill Democrats back a “partisan power grab.”

Well, yes, guilty as charged! Democrats, indeed, will benefit from a federal election law that ends gerrymandering, prevents voter suppression, overturns state laws that permit voter nullification, makes election day a federal holiday, and limits the corrupting power of big money in politics. Democrats (with a big D) will benefit from democracy (with a small d). Free and fair elections, which the voting reform bill insures, means more people will vote, and more people voting is a good thing for Democrats.

So, yes, Republicans are right, election reform is a Democratic power grab. It is also a democratic power grab. And, it is the right thing to do.

It is, of course, always easy to be cynical about politics and politicians. But, sometimes, shocking as it may seem, self-interest and doing the right thing align. It happens!

As the advocacy group Public Citizen tweeted in response to McConnell, “This is a bill that stops voter suppression and ends gerrymandering. How depraved do you have to be to insist that more people voting is somehow a power grab? What sort of anti-democratic garbage is that.” Public Citizen, in a separate tweet, also noted, “Mitch McConnell is absolutely terrified of a bill that simply makes it easier for people to vote. This tells you all you need to know.”

As I have pointed out before, Republicans have understood, for decades, that more people voting is bad for Republican electoral chances. As early as 1980, Paul Weyrich, the co-founder of the right-wing Heritage Foundation, said, “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” For more than a decade, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a Koch-funded organization, has written draft legislation for Republican state legislators to introduce that impedes voters at every step in the electoral process. And, former President Donald Trump said in March 2020, that if the Democratic election reform bill passes, “You’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

Trump may well be right. After all, since 1992 the Republican candidate for president has won the popular vote only once — George W. Bush in 2004. Democrats routinely outpoll Republicans in cumulative votes for members of the House and Senate, but the distribution of seats in both chambers rarely reflects the vote totals. Republican representation in the House benefits from gerrymandering, which allows state legislatures to draw congressional district lines to the benefit of their party. Both parties do this, of course, but in recent decades, gerrymandering has helped Republicans more than Democrats. 

Republicans benefit from institutional protections that cannot easily be changed, if at all. The Electoral College elevated George W. Bush in 2000 (with help from the Supreme Court) and Donald Trump in 2016 to the presidency even though both candidates lost the popular vote. Republicans have disproportionate power in the Senate because of the constitutional guarantee that gives each state two senators, insuring that small Red states such as Wyoming are equal in the Senate to large Blue states such as California.

But, those constitutional protections do not satisfy today’s Republican Party. Its leaders understand that even the built-in advantages in the Electoral College and the Senate cannot guarantee Republican dominance. Thus, Republican state legislators for decades, and most assiduously since the 2020 election, have been passing legislation to suppress the vote and give Republican state officials the power to overturn election results. Yes, in other words, to give Republican state officials the power to take away citizens’ votes. 

The problem Republicans have is that the modern version of the party is beholden to special interests and to the very wealthiest of Americans. The concerns of the groups and individuals Republicans represent do not align with those of most Americans, so to win elections, Republicans hide their indebtedness to special interests like the fossil fuel industry by claiming, for example, their opposition to new energy sources is rooted in economic growth. In a more sinister vein, Republicans often appeal to the baser instincts of the electorate by railing against immigration and stoking White fears about the growing electoral power of people of color. 

That kind of political flimflam only goes so far, so Republicans have to back it up with measures to limit the vote to people receptive to their messages. Republicans are right: The more people who can vote, the worse it is for the party. And, so at the state level, Republicans pass legislation to limit the vote and, at the federal level, Republicans filibuster every attempt by Democrats to enact legislation to guarantee American elections are free, fair, and democratic. 

So, yes, election reform is a Democratic power grab. It advances democracy, and it is a democratic (small d) power grab. It is also the right thing to do.

Posted October 26, 2021 

Corrupt Republican Power Grab

Dead men talk, it turns out, telling interesting tales of political chicanery and cynicism. And, if the dead man has an estranged daughter, well, his secrets do not last long.

Death and a divided family yielded the evidence to confirm what suspicious political junkies knew all along: The Trump administration is attempting to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census to give Republicans and white voters a specific electoral advantage. The ploy is yet another attempt by conservatives — unable to win at the ballot box — to change the rules in order to preserve power. 

The incriminating information was found in the files of Thomas Hofeller, a Republican redistricting strategist who died last August. According to lawyers representing plaintiffs challenging the census question, Hofeller “played a significant role in orchestrating the addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 Decennial Census in order to create a structural electoral advantage for, in his own words, ‘Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.’” The lawyers directed their letter to District Judge Jesse Furman, one of three federal judges who ruled against the admission of the question last year. The lawyers also said the Trump administration deliberately hid Hofeller’s role during earlier court proceedings. 

The newly discovered information on Hofeller’s hard drives was found by Stephanie Hofeller Lizon who then shared them with Common Cause for use in a lawsuit challenging gerrymandering in North Carolina. Files on the drives show that Hofeller wrote a study in 2015 arguing that inclusion of a citizenship question in the census would enable Republicans to increase their legislative representation at the expense of Democrats by drawing even more extremely gerrymandered maps. Even more cynically, Hofeller claimed the question was needed to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act — using the act that guaranteed equal access to the ballot to give the Trump administration the rationale to include the census question. 

The disclosures prove the administration wants to add the question to the 2020 census to help Republicans win more seats in Congress. The Justice Department, to no one’s surprise, says Hofeller’s study “played no role in the department’s December 2017 request to reinstate a citizenship question to the 2020 decennial census.” In arguments before the Supreme Court in April over the issue, the Justice Department claimed the benefits of obtaining accurate data on citizenship offsets any damage caused by the reluctance of minority groups and noncitizens to participate in a census containing a question on citizenship.

A citizenship question would discourage noncitizens — both legal and illegal residents — from participating in the census. That undercount — in favor of white voters — would skew money and political power from urban to rural areas. Knowing the number and location of noncitizens would allow states to exclude them from population totals used after every census to redraw political maps. Using citizen population as the basis for those maps would yield an electorate less diverse than the nation at large, an electorate more likely to vote Republican.

The Hofeller argument — and its adoption by the Trump administration — is intentionally racist. The attempt by Republicans to use the census to insure the political power of white voters reflects the continuing fear of a changing and more diverse America. It is further evidence that racial resentment is the primary indicator of support for President Donald Trump. Not all Trump voters are racist; but many fear losing their dominance. The day is not far off — only a few decades away — when nonwhites will be a majority in this country. The Hofeller plan is part of a tactic geared to delaying that future new majority’s political power.  

Using the census for such crass political purposes upends the goal of achieving an accurate decennial count. As indicated, the census has a political component: It determines the number of seats each state has in the House of Representatives. But the census is used for much more than that. It determines the distribution of federal funding for such differing programs as aiding the elderly, building new roads, erecting new schools, contributing to neighborhood improvements, and assisting in improving public health, all goals requiring an accurate count of where all who live in America reside.

Republicans appear willing to sacrifice the sanctity of the census to preserve political power. The inclusion of the citizenship question is one more piece of evidence that Republicans are unwilling to play by the rules that have governed American politics for generations. The modern Republican Party’s mantra is clear: If it cannot win fair and square, then it changes the rules.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s cynical manipulation of the president’s right to appoint a justice to the Supreme Court is a case-in-point. He is so cynical that he was willing to change the rules in 2016 to deny President Barack Obama his constitutional prerogative and, then, turn around and say that in 2020 he wants to play by the old rules again. The only thing that changed was the political party of the incumbent president. Another instance of this is the repeated attempts — at the state and national level (remember Trump’s ill-fated Presidential Advisory Committee on Voter Integrity?)— by Republicans to require voter ID cards to frustrate electoral turnout. These laws are intended to frustrate voting by minority groups and the young who are more likely to support Democrats. Paul Weyrich, the first director of the conservative Heritage Foundation, described the motivation behind voter suppression efforts. “I don’t want everybody to vote,” said Weyrich. “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” Weyrich spoke in generalities; Pennsylvania Republican Mike Turzai spoke in specifics when he said in 2012, “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor [Mitt] Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.” It did not, but not for want of trying.

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” said British politician Lord Acton. Republicans know that in free and fair elections they lose, especially as the nation’s demographics continue to change. To frustrate the inevitable, many Republicans are willing to act absolutely corruptly.

Posted June 7, 2019

GOP’s Electoral Strategy: Cheat

The Republican Party’s post-midterm electoral strategy demonstrates an alarming disregard for democracy. In several states, GOP leaders have decided to undo the results of last month’s elections to insure that Republican-enacted measures cannot be repealed and to weaken the power of incoming Democratic state officials. Post-election, Republican officials are changing the rules, using methods reminiscent of European countries edging toward autocracy, such as Hungary and Poland.

The tilt toward anti-democratic tactics is not new for Republicans. For several decades, Republican leaders nationally and in the states have tried to suppress voter turnout among Democratic-leaning groups — the young, the poor, and minorities.  In 1980, Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, admitted, “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” Before the recent midterm elections, Republican officials in Georgia, North Dakota, and Kansas tried to limit voting as a means to preserve GOP power in those states. 

Where suppressing the vote failed, Republicans are now trying to undo Democratic victories. Perhaps, the most notorious anti-democratic actions are occurring in Wisconsin, once the laboratory for democracy in the Robert La Follette years during the Progressive Era. The Republican-controlled legislature in the Badger State is considering legislation that would prevent the new Democratic governor, Tony Evers, from making good on a promise to withdraw from a lawsuit attacking Obamacare. Republicans have proposed other measures restricting Evers’ powers, and they also want to limit the power of the new Democratic attorney general.

Wisconsin Republicans suffered a shellacking in the recent election, which might prompt them, one would think, to find better ways to throw a wider net and appeal to more voters. But, in fact, party leaders have proposed new restrictions on early voting, even though a similar measure was declared unconstitutional two years ago because of its obviously partisan tilt. Republican anti-democratic electoral laws have a long history in Wisconsin. The party enacted a strict voter-ID bill in 2011; passed a law in 2017 to disband the non-partisan elections board after it looked into the campaign practices of Republican Governor Scott Walker; and created one of the most gerrymandered states in the country. This year, Republicans won 46 percent of the vote yet occupy 63 percent of the seats in the state Assembly.

Republican leaders are not trying to hide their motives. Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said the GOP wants to protect legislation accomplished under Walker in the last eight years. “We do not believe any one individual should have the opportunity to come in and with a stroke of the pen… eliminate laws passed by our Legislature,” Vos said. He cited the voter ID law, among other legislation. Of course, the new governor is the governor of all the people who voted for him and is elected to serve all the people of Wisconsin. But, apparently, that does not matter to Wisconsin Republicans. 

In Michigan, the story is similar. Republican legislators are considering bills to strip the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general of power, and the lawmakers have proposed legislation to give themselves control over court cases involving the state, previously the role of the executive branch of the state government. In addition, the Republican-dominated legislature is trying to gut popular citizen-initiated laws that mandated paid sick leave and increased the state’s minimum wage for all workers. 

Similar attempts to undo the results of the 2018 elections have been undertaken in Missouri and Ohio, and in North Carolina, where an ugly Republican power-stripping attempt occurred in 2016, there is evidence that the congressional campaign of Mark Harris engaged in widespread voter fraud. House Democratic leaders say they may not seat the Republican Harris if North Carolina certifies his election. “If there is what appears to be a very substantial question on the integrity of the election, clearly we would oppose Mr. Harris being seated until that is resolved,” said Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat who will be the majority whip in the incoming House of Representatives.  

What Republicans are doing is not lawmaking as usual, nor is it a reflection of the normal right-versus-left, liberal-conservative divide in American politics. Republicans may be wrong on tax policy, trade initiatives, immigration, healthcare, abortion, gun control, and many other issues, but there is nothing inherently anti-democratic about their positions on these issues. And, in some instances, Republicans may have a valid point about shifting the power of the executive-versus-legislative branches of government. Except, of course, Republicans in Wisconsin, in particular, saw no virtue in curbing the power of the governor when the party controlled both branches of the state government. Only when Democrats won the governorship did Republicans become ardent defenders of the people’s branch of government. 

Expect more Republican anti-democratic actions in the future as the voting population becomes younger, more urban, and minority-dominated. The presidency of Donald Trump has accelerated a trend that has been ongoing for a number of years: The flight of young, minority, female, and college-educated voters from the GOP. Saddled with Trump, whose poll numbers have been falling, Republicans may well conclude that their only options are to prevent likely Democratic voters from casting ballots and engage in power grabs wherever possible. 

Of course, a party chastened by the recent electoral results might consider ways to appeal to voters who no longer support it. But, that is not the case. As The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin put it, “There has been little self-examination among Republicans about why a midterm that had seemed at least competitive became a rout.” Instead, many Republicans seem to think thievery and cheating are the best ways to remain in power. 

Perhaps, they simply think they are entitled to power. So much for democracy!

Posted December 7, 2018

Still Struggling for Voting Rights

Politics can be frustrating. Political victories achieved in one generation are often undone in another, forcing the political system to revisit old victories over and over.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a case study in the impermanence of democratic solutions. The law, passed with support of both political parties and with the vigorous backing of President Lyndon B. Johnson, finally granted African Americans the political power to guarantee the achievements of the Civil Rights revolution would be protected.

“The results were almost unimaginable in 1965,” writes Ari Berman in his new book, Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America. In subsequent years, the number of African Americans registered to vote in the South soared from 31 percent to 73 percent and the number of African American elected officials increased from fewer than 500 to over 10,000. And, Barack Obama was elected president of the United States — twice.

Isn’t the very success of the Voting Rights Act proof it is no longer needed? This is the argument of a group of activists, Berman dubs them “counterrevolutionaries,” who waged a decades-long struggle to undermine the enforcement powers the act gave the Justice Department to insure equal access to the ballot for all Americans. Chief among the counterrevolutionaries has been Chief Justice John Roberts, who used his perch in the Justice Department in the Reagan Administration to argue against the provision in the 1965 bill that required some states and individual jurisdictions with a history of discrimination against minorities, mostly in the South, to obtain the approval of the Justice Department for changes in their election laws. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby v. Holder, these states and jurisdictions no longer have to seek pre-clearance for rewriting election laws or redrawing district maps. The majority decision was written by Chief Justice Roberts.

There has been a debate over the last 50 years as to whether the Voting Rights Act simply provided access to the ballot, as conservatives claim, or whether the intent of the law was to encourage greater representation, as liberals maintain, among African Americans and other minorities in the political system. The Supreme Court’s decision in the Shelby case enshrined the conservative, narrow interpretation of the law, and it gave renewed emphasis to the recent conservative push to restrict voting by stressing alleged voter fraud.

Republicans understood that Barack Obama won the presidency because his organization brought large numbers of newly enfranchised voters — the young, minorities, and the poor — to the polls. Early voting, particularly Sunday voting, eased their participation. It is axiomatic in American politics that higher voter turnout helps Democratic candidates. “I don’t want everybody to vote,” said Paul Weyrich, the first director of the conservative Heritage Foundation. “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” Give Weyrich plaudits for candor, but he earns demerits for his lack of devotion to democracy.

Conservative state legislatures cannot be as honest as Weyrich when attempting to restrict voting by African Americans, Latinos, the young, and the poor. To limit access to the ballot, conservatives invented the bogeyman of “voter fraud” to limit early voting, end registration drives, and justify voter ID laws, which require anyone showing up at the polls to posses a driver’s license, a passport, or other form of often hard-to-obtain identification. Middle class suburban white voters usually have these documents while many poor and inner-city residents do not. That minorities, the young, and the poor trend overwhelmingly Democratic is hardly a coincidence.

Alabama has gone one step further in restricting African American participation at the polls. The state, which already has a stringent voter ID law, is closing 31 driver’s license offices, including those in every county in which African Americans make up more than 75 percent of registered voters, ostensibly to cut costs. In other words, minority voters who do not have driver’s licenses are now required to possess a license they cannot obtain.

Election fraud is extremely rare in the United States. From 2000 to 2010, there were 2,068 cases of alleged election fraud out of 600 million votes cast, amounting to a .000003 incidence of election fraud. Voter fraud is even rarer: Of the 2,068 cases of alleged election fraud, only 633 involved alleged voter fraud. And in-person voter fraud — where someone other than the person registered shows up at the polls and tries to vote — is virtually nonexistent. Out of the 600 million votes cast from 2000 to 2010, there were only 10 cases of in-person voter fraud. It is noteworthy that ID laws are never applied to voters casting absentee ballots, where the risk of fraud is greater than in in-person voting. Interestingly, Republicans are more likely to be absentee voters.

Berman details all this sorry retreat from the initial promise of the Voting Rights Act. “No matter how much evidence emerged to the contrary, the voter-fraud myth would never die,” he writes. The non-existence of fraud has become the pretext for the creation of the much more serious problem of obstructing legitimate votes. Activists in states like North Carolina have undertaken civil protests of voter restriction laws, an invocation of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, which led to passage of the 1965 act. It is likely that one or more of these new, restrictive laws will wind up before the Supreme Court, which unfortunately has already gutted the Voting Rights Act once.

Give Us the Ballot helps readers understand why we are still fighting over who gets to exercise the most basic of American rights and why some victories have to be won — and won again.

Posted October 9, 2015