Out-of-state money flowing to campaign against Cole County judge

Pat Joyce has been grinding out decisions on the Cole County Circuit Court for 20 years. A Democrat, she is 59, married with five children and a member of the Roman Catholic church.

But that’s not the image you get from television ads that began airing this week on a Jefferson City television station, courtesy of the Washington-based Republican State Leadership Committee.

In the ad, entitled “Groovy,” Joyce’s picture is surrounded by brightly colored tie-dyed walls, next to a couple with wild hair and sunglasses. A voice says: “Meet liberal judge Pat Joyce. Radical environmentalists think Joyce is so groovy. And the lawyers funding her campaign do, too.”

A footnote refers to a single decision six years ago, when Joyce barred a large hog farm from operating near the Arrow Rock, Mo., historic site.

The GOP leadership committee is spending $100,000 on the attack ads and sent another $100,000 directly to her Republican opponent, Jefferson City Prosecutor Brian Stumpe. Before the check arrived, his campaign was $12,976 in debt and had $58.47 in the bank. Now, he is blanketing the airwaves with ads touting himself as the county’s next judge.

The blitz has cast a spotlight on the little court with the outsized influence in Missouri, as well as the state’s campaign finance law, which allows unlimited contributions with murky disclosure.

“I pretty clearly think it’s an attempt to intimidate the judges in the county courthouse,” said Chuck Hatfield, an area lawyer and a Democrat. “The message that’s coming through is, if you’ve ruled the way you think you ought to rule and it is contrary to some interest groups, they’re going to take you out.”

Cole County judges don’t just handle run-of-the-mill civil and criminal cases. Because Jefferson City is the seat of state government, they rule on the constitutionality of state laws and regulations, political corruption cases involving high-ranking officials and fights over initiative petition ballot wording, for example.

And Joyce has issued some high-profile rulings over the years, such as one in 2012 rewriting the ballot description for St. Louis mega-donor Rex Sinquefield’s plan to overhaul Missouri’s taxes, in effect killing his effort to put it on the ballot that year.

(Excerpted from St. Louis Post Dispatch 10/15/14 )

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JeffCo Recorder Asks Why Military Hasn’t Ousted Obama Yet

Jefferson County Recorder of Deeds Debbie Dunnegan took to her Facebook page this week to ask her military friends why no one has taken action against “our domestic enemy… supposedly the commander in chief.” That’s right, she asked why President Obama hasn’t been taken care of (or something) by the military yet. Apparently, in Dunnegan’s Constitution the military has “the authority” to oust the President for unspecified misdeeds.

(Excerpted from Progress Missouri 10/10/14 )

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The Big Lie Behind Voter ID Laws

Election Day is three weeks off, and Republican officials and legislators around the country are battling down to the wire to preserve strict and discriminatory new voting laws that could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court — no friend to expansive voting rights — stepped in and blocked one of the worst laws, a Wisconsin statute requiring voters to show a photo ID to cast a ballot. A federal judge had struck it down in April, saying it would disproportionately prevent voting by poorer and minority citizens. Last month, however, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit allowed it to go into effect, even though thousands of absentee ballots had been sent out under the old rules.

There was sure to be chaos if the justices had not stayed that appeals court ruling, and their decision appears to be based on the risk of changing voting rules so close to an election. But they could still vote to uphold the law should they decide to review its constitutionality.

Similar laws have been aggressively pushed in many states by Republican lawmakers who say they are preventing voter fraud, promoting electoral “integrity” and increasing voter turnout. None of that is true. There is virtually no in-person voter fraud; the purpose of these laws is to suppress voting.

In Texas, where last week a federal judge struck down what she called the most restrictive voter ID law in the country, there were two convictions for in-person voter impersonation in one 10-year period. During that time, 20 million votes were cast. Nor is there any evidence that these laws encourage more voters to come to the polls. Instead, in at least two states — Kansas and Tennessee — they appear to have reduced turnout by 2 percent to 3 percent, according to a report released last week by the Government Accountability Office.

Voter ID laws, as their supporters know, do only one thing very well: They keep otherwise eligible voters away from the polls. In most cases, this means voters who are poor, often minorities, and who don’t have the necessary documents or the money or time to get photo IDs.

n her remarkable 143-page opinion in the Texas case, Federal District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos found that the law violated both the Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act, and that by forcing registered voters to track down and pay for qualifying documents, it functioned as an “unconstitutional poll tax.”

Most striking of all, Judge Ramos found that the rapid growth of Texas’s Latino and black population, and the state’s “uncontroverted and shameful history” of discriminatory voting practices — including whites-only primaries, literacy restrictions and actual poll taxes — led to a clear conclusion: Republican lawmakers knew the law would drive down turnout among minority voters, who lean Democratic, and they passed it at least in part for that reason. Judge Ramos’s finding of intentional discrimination is important because it could force Texas back under federal voting supervision, meaning changes to state voting practices would have to be preapproved by the federal government. (Texas appealed the ruling; a federal appeals court is now considering whether to put it on hold until after the election.)

Eventually the issue will be back before the Supreme Court, which last reviewed a voter ID law in 2008, when it upheld an Indiana law because there was no clear evidence showing how it would harm voters. Thanks to the work of voting-rights advocates and the extraordinarily thorough rulings of Judge Ramos and Judge Lynn Adelman, who struck down Wisconsin’s law, the evidence is in.

The next time voter ID laws reach the justices, they should see them for the antidemocratic sham they are.

(Excerpted from New York Times 10/12/14)

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Pentagon Signals Security Risks of Climate Change

The Pentagon on Monday released a report asserting decisively that climate change poses an immediate threat to national security, with increased risks from terrorism, infectious disease, global poverty and food shortages. It also predicted rising demand for military disaster responses as extreme weather creates more global humanitarian crises.

“The loss of glaciers will strain water supplies in several areas of our hemisphere,” Mr. Hagel said. “Destruction and devastation from hurricanes can sow the seeds for instability. Droughts and crop failures can leave millions of people without any lifeline, and trigger waves of mass migration.”

The report is the latest in a series of studies highlighting the national security risks of climate change. But the Pentagon’s characterization of it as a present-day threat demanding immediate action represents a significant shift for the military, which has in the past focused on climate change as a future risk.

The new report does not make any specific budget recommendations for how the military will pay for its climate change agenda, but if the Pentagon does request funding from Congress for its initiatives, it will clash with congressional Republicans, many of whom question the established scientific evidence that human activities are causing climate change.

(Excerpted from New York Times 10/13/14)

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GAO Study Finds Voter ID Laws Reduced Turnout in Tennessee, Kansas

Turnout among African-American and younger voters suffers when states require photo identification at the polls, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office said Wednesday, publishing a study of voting in two states as the Supreme Court weighs whether Wisconsin can implement new ID requirements in next month’s elections.

The issue has broken along sharply partisan lines. Republicans have pushed for voter ID rules, saying they can prevent impostors from casting fraudulent ballots. Democrats contend such restrictions suppress elements of their base: poor, minority and young voters who are less likely to carry acceptable IDs.

The GAO report, requested by Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) and other Senate Democrats, found voter ID rules reduced turnout by 1.9% to 3.2% over several elections in the two states selected for study, Kansas and Tennessee. Participation fell disproportionately further among voters age 23 and younger, voters who had been registered for less than one year, and African-American voters, the study found.

“A 2% effect from voter ID is pretty significant,” said Stanford law professor Nate Persily, former research director for the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration. “The magnitude is much larger than I would have thought.”

The 206-page report examined 10 prior studies on the effects of voter ID laws. But the GAO’s statisticians and social scientists also conducted original research, focusing on Kansas and Tennessee, they said, because those states adopted voter ID without making other major voting changes, increasing the likelihood changes in turnout didn’t spring from other factors.

After comparing Kansas and Tennessee results with those in other states, the GAO found turnout fell by statistically significant percentages that “were attributable to changes in those two states’ voter ID requirements.”

The GAO study also found little evidence of in-person voter fraud, but said the lack of comprehensive data made it difficult to assess how often such impersonation occurs.

(Excerpted from Wall Street Journal 10/08/14)

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National Republicans spend big in race for circuit court that has jurisdiction over major constitutional questions involving state leaders and, more importantly to voters statewide, questions regarding ballot initiatives

For a judge, being elected to the Cole County 19th Judicial Circuit Court is a big deal.

While its jurisdiction is only over a county of 75,000 people, it includes one important thing that no other county has: The seat of Missouri government. That gives the court jurisdiction over major constitutional questions involving state leaders and, more importantly to voters statewide, questions regarding ballot initiatives.

Over the past few election cycles, Republican candidates have slowly beat many of the Democrat incumbents on the 19th Circuit. This year, Presiding Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce is the last Democrat standing.

Over the weekend, the Washington, D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee gave $100,000 to Joyce’s Republican opponent in an effort to get her off the court.

The money made its way into Republican Bryan Stumpe’s campaign coffers after taking three steps. First, it was contributed by someone to the RSLC’s national non-profit organization. Then, it was contributed to the RSLC’s Missouri political action committee on Oct. 3. Finally, it made it into Stumpe’s campaign account on Oct. 4.

Because of federal disclosure rules regarding non-profit organizations like the RSLC, it likely will not be clear until after the November election who it was that contributed the money that made its way to Stumpe’s campaign.

“I am pleased they see the importance of this race and have chosen to support my campaign,” Stumpe said told the Jefferson City-News Tribune when asked about the contribution.

When asked by the paper if he knew where the money came from, he told the paper he did not know.

“The RSLC has thousands of donors and spends millions every election helping to elect conservative Republican candidates,” he said.

Prior to receiving the contribution, Stumpe – whose campaign had just $287 in the bank – had already begun filming a television commercial in downtown Jefferson City, according to one source.

The RSLC has a handful of Missouri-based donors, including St. Louis billionaire Rex Sinquefield, whose lawyers often argue before the 19th Circuit on cases regarding ballot initiatives and constitutional amendments. Quietly near the end of October 2012, Sinquefield contributed $475,000 to the RSLC, which wasn’t made public until well after voters went to the polls in November.

Jill Bader, a spokeswoman for the RSLC, said the organization has not received any money from Sinquefield this election cycle and that donors are not given the option to earmark their contributions.

“The RSLC has over 100,000 donors in all 50 states. Our donors are publically disclosed on our 8872 (form) we file monthly with the IRS,” she said.

The RSLC was formed in 2002 to help Republican candidates seeking down-ballot seats like state legislator or lieutenant governor. This year, it launched the “Judicial Fairness Initiative,” its effort to expand that help to Republicans seeking hoping to jump on the bench.

Prior to the big contribution over the weekend, the race had been fought in the way many of these offices that have jurisdiction over small geographic territories are typically fought: Candidates battling for the hearts and minds of voters by knocking on doors, passing out literature and marching in parades.

Compared to large statewide campaigns, judicial elections are often times cheap. Before last weekend, Stumpe had raised a total of $900. This cycle, Joyce – a third term incumbent – raised a total of $30,000 and currently has over $18,700 in the bank.

Following criticism of Stumpe by the Jefferson City News Tribune’s editorial board, Better Courts for Missouri – a conservative-aligned group active in judicial politics – took a shot at Joyce for accepting more than $14,000 in contributions from lawyers, some of whom practice before the Cole County circuit.

James Harris, executive director of the group, said Joyce should “either refund these contributions or agree to recuse herself any time her donors come before her court.”

(Excerpted from PoliticoMO 10/08/14)

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Why Do We Re-elect Them?

When you buy a new car, you dodge the sketchy salesman, read up on consumer ratings, get a feel for the ride. When you get married, you think about growing old with a person, love beyond lust, do a life gut check. And when you elect a federal lawmaker next month, you go against everything you believe in to reward the worst Congress ever.

How else to explain the confit of conventional wisdom showing that voters are poised to give Republicans control of the Senate, and increase their hold on the House, even though a majority of Americans oppose nearly everything the G.O.P. stands for?

The message is: We hate you for your inaction, your partisanship, your nut-job conspiracy theories; now do more of the same. Democracy — nobody ever said it made sense. Of course, November’s election will be a protest vote against the man who isn’t on the ballot, a way to make a lame duck president even lamer in his final two years.

But before buyer’s remorse sets in, voters should consider exactly what Republicans believe, and what they’ve promised to do. It ranges from howl-at-the-moon crazy talk and half-truths to policies that will keep wages down and kill job growth.

Let’s start with the Republican Ryan Zinke, a square-jawed former member of the Navy SEALs who is likely to be the next congressman from Montana. Earlier this year, he said, “We need to focus on the real enemy” — that is, the anti-Christ. And who should that be? Why, Hillary Clinton. O.K., he’s just one talk-radio spawn from the Big Sky state. Lock the man up in a room with Ayn Rand novels and the tomes of the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises and he’ll be right in the head.

But Mr. Zinke is not a lone loon. More than one in five Republicans last year told a pollster they believed that President Obama was the anti-Christ.

It’s harmless hyperbole, you say. The 114th Congress will not take up the matter of what to do with the Beast at the end times. But they will hold crucial votes on whether one of the world’s largest users of energy — us — can curb carbon emissions enough to mitigate climate change. Here Mr. Zinke is practically a lefty in his party. He says climate change is not a hoax, which puts him at odds with 58 percent of Republicans who believe that it is.

But then, he says that the matter is not “settled science.” Oy vey. One more time: 97 percent of climate scientists agree that warming over the last century is very likely because of human activity. It is settled, except in the science-denial party. Only 3 percent of Republicans in Congress have been willing to go on record to accept that consensus. Good thing gravity is not under discussion.

You say you favor raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10, as did 73 percent of those polled by Pew. Yay, let’s do something about income inequality! But the Republican leadership will not let this come up for a vote. Nope. Never. It’s locked in the closet, with compromise. And in Iowa, just to pick one race that could make a huge difference in the lives of millions, the Republican who is close to taking the Senate seat of the retiring Tom Harkin is against raising the federal minimum wage. That would be Joni Ernst, a Koch brothers tool, who has also pledged fealty to the anti-tax absolutism of Grover Norquist.

Americans want their politicians to meet in the middle. Well, most. If you wonder why Republicans will not budge on common-sense issues supported by a majority, it’s because the other party supports those ideas. This year, another Pew survey found that 36 percent of Republicans believe the Democratic Party is a threat to the nation’s well-being. You don’t compromise with a threat.

The biggest issue is the economy. But here, it seems many voters don’t know what to believe, and what they do believe is wrong. What’s the unemployment rate? A poll this month found that 27 percent of people pegged the jobless rate at 9 percent, and nearly one in five said it was closer to 12 percent. The rate is 5.9 percent.

On Obama’s watch, the stock market went on a record run and 10 million new jobs have been created — more new jobs than in Europe and Japan combined. The president gets no credit for this, because people don’t feel it. Wages are flat. Economic anxiety rides the October air.

The Republicans have no jobs plan, as Speaker John Boehner indirectly acknowledged this week with a five-point tweet that listed … nothing. But they talk about austerity and cutting spending, exactly what Europe did to catastrophic effect.

There is one more deep-held red state belief that could explain our national cognitive dissonance. Two-thirds of Republicans think people can be possessed by demons. We don’t need a new Congress. We need an exorcist.

(Excerpted from Egan New York Times 10/08/14)

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Voodoo Economics, the Next Generation

Even if Republicans take the Senate this year, gaining control of both houses of Congress, they won’t gain much in conventional terms: They’re already able to block legislation, and they still won’t be able to pass anything over the president’s veto. One thing they will be able to do, however, is impose their will on the Congressional Budget Office, heretofore a nonpartisan referee on policy proposals.

As a result, we may soon find ourselves in deep voodoo.

During his failed bid for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination George H. W. Bush famously described Ronald Reagan’s “supply side” doctrine — the claim that cutting taxes on high incomes would lead to spectacular economic growth, so that tax cuts would pay for themselves — as “voodoo economic policy.” Bush was right. Even the rapid recovery from the 1981-82 recession was driven by interest-rate cuts, not tax cuts. Still, for a time the voodoo faithful claimed vindication.

The 1990s, however, were bad news for voodoo. Conservatives confidently predicted economic disaster after Bill Clinton’s 1993 tax hike. What happened instead was a boom that surpassed the Reagan expansion in every dimension: G.D.P., jobs, wages and family incomes.

And while there was never any admission by the usual suspects that their god had failed, it’s noteworthy that the Bush II administration — never shy about selling its policies on false pretenses — didn’t try to justify its tax cuts with extravagant claims about their economic payoff. George W. Bush’s economists didn’t believe in supply-side hype, and more important, his political handlers believed that such hype would play badly with the public. And we should also note that the Bush-era Congressional Budget Office behaved well, sticking to its nonpartisan mandate.

But now it looks as if voodoo is making a comeback. At the state level, Republican governors — and Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, in particular — have been going all in on tax cuts despite troubled budgets, with confident assertions that growth will solve all problems. It’s not happening, and in Kansas a rebellion by moderates may deliver the state to Democrats. But the true believers show no sign of wavering.

Meanwhile, in Congress Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, is dropping broad hints that after the election he and his colleagues will do what the Bushies never did, try to push the budget office into adopting “dynamic scoring,” that is, assuming a big economic payoff from tax cuts.

So why is this happening now? It’s not because voodoo economics has become any more credible. True, recovery from the 2007-9 recession has been sluggish, but it has actually been a bit faster than the typical recovery from financial crisis, despite unprecedented cuts in government spending and employment. In fact, the recovery in private-sector employment has been faster than it was during the “Bush boom” last decade. At the same time, researchers at the International Monetary Fund, surveying cross-country evidence, have found that redistribution of income from the affluent to the poor, which conservatives insist kills growth, actually seems to boost economies.

But facts won’t stop the voodoo comeback, for two main reasons.

First, voodoo economics has dominated the conservative movement for so long that it has become an inward-looking cult, whose members know what they know and are impervious to contrary evidence. Fifteen years ago leading Republicans may have been aware that the Clinton boom posed a problem for their ideology. Today someone like Senator Rand Paul can say: “When is the last time in our country we created millions of jobs? It was under Ronald Reagan.” Clinton who?

Second, the nature of the budget debate means that Republican leaders need to believe in the ways of magic. For years people like Mr. Ryan have posed as champions of fiscal discipline even while advocating huge tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations. They have also called for savage cuts in aid to the poor, but these have never been big enough to offset the revenue loss. So how can they make things add up?

Well, for years they have relied on magic asterisks — claims that they will make up for lost revenue by closing loopholes and slashing spending, details to follow. But this dodge has been losing effectiveness as the years go by and the specifics keep not coming. Inevitably, then, they’re feeling the pull of that old black magic — and if they take the Senate, they’ll be able to infuse voodoo into supposedly neutral analysis.

Would they actually do it? It would destroy the credibility of a very important institution, one that has served the country well. But have you seen any evidence that the modern conservative movement cares about such things?

(Excerpted from Krugman New York Times 10/5/14 )

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Missouri Republican legislators eat like kings on lobbyists’ dime while people they represent suffer

It is unconscionable that five Missouri lawmakers would enjoy a night at an expensive Dallas restaurant and let lobbyists pay the bill of more than $3,000 while more than 1 million Missourians struggle to get enough food just to eat.

A study released in August by Feeding America and the Missouri Food Bank Association shows that 1 in 5 people, or 1,190,600 Missourians, every year rely on food pantries and meal service programs to feed themselves and their families. Yet House Speaker Tim Jones, a Eureka Republican; Majority Leader John Diehl, a Republican from the St. Louis suburbs; Rep. Sue Allen, a St. Louis County Republican; Sen. Ed Emery, a Lamar Republican; and Sen. Wayne Wallingford, a Cape Girardeau Republican, went out on lobbyists’ dime for a steakhouse dinner, The Kansas City Star reports. It was part of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s annual convention in August.

Compare that to Missourians struggling to get enough to eat. The Feeding America study shows that of the people the food pantries and meal programs serve, 70 percent are white, 20 percent are black and 3 percent are Latino. About 46 percent of the households affected have at least one employed person, which means a lot of Missourians are working in jobs that don’t pay enough for them to afford food.

Food pantries and meal programs also report an increase in the last year in the number of people they are serving. The Missouri Food Bank Association is a coalition of the six food banks providing hunger relief in every county in the state as well as the city of St. Louis. Together they distribute more than 115 million pounds of food annually through a network of more than 1,500 community feeding programs.

What’s also distressing compared to the extravagance lavished on elected officials is 69 percent of the people receiving assistance have had to choose between paying for food versus utilities. And even worse, 65 percent of the clients must pick between paying for food versus paying for medicine/medical care.

That’s despite the Republican-dominated Missouri legislature deciding not to expand Medicaid so that more low-income Missourians would have the health care they and their families need.

Keep in mind that Missouri is the only state in the Union without limits on campaign donations or on how much an elected official can take in gifts from lobbyists. So the lobbyists can lard even more stuff for lawmakers like feeding them at the Dallas Chop House while the people, whom elected officials are supposed to serve, suffer. Rattlesnakes have more of a conscience.

(Excerpted from Kansas City Star 10/8/14)

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Who are “We the People”

WHO is a person? How do you qualify for basic human rights? What is required for you to be able to speak or worship freely or to be free from torture?

Throughout American history, the Supreme Court has considered and reconsidered the criteria for membership in the club of rights, oscillating between a vision limiting rights to preferred groups and another granting rights to all who require protection. These competing visions have led to some strange results.

Corporations (as well as unions) can spend on political speech to further their group interests as though they were individual political actors. Corporations can assert religious rights to gain legal exemptions from laws that would otherwise apply to them. Muslim detainees at Guantánamo Bay, however, have none of these rights

The Roberts court [Supreme Court] has already charted a course in which rights are extended to those who have real clout in American society and denied to those who are more marginal. In two critical cases, Citizens United and Hobby Lobby, the court decided by a 5-to-4 vote that corporations had broad rights of speech and of religion, which left corporate owners in a position to trumpet their political and religious views while diminishing or even silencing other voices.

As the Roberts court begins its 10th term, there is a clear shift away from decades of jurisprudence in which the court envisioned its role as protector of the essential human dignity of those who lacked the political power to protect themselves. Justice William J. Brennan Jr. called the Constitution “a sublime oration on the dignity of man.” But historically the Supreme Court had ignored the dignity of a broad section of humanity: Native Americans, slaves, women, racial minorities, aliens, Japanese internees, gays and lesbians, and now Muslims at Guantánamo.

The current court is solicitous of those who pool their capital and obtain the protection of the corporate form. It is sympathetic toward the interests of mainstream elites, expanding religion, protecting commercial wealth and even protecting gay rights, an issue that crosses class lines. The dignity of prisoners, employees, or ethnic and racial minorities is far less likely to engage the moral imagination of this court.

It takes courage for the Supreme Court to stand up for the powerless and the despised. Sometimes it has risen to the challenge and sometimes it has not. With the Roberts court, what we see is a self-referential worldview, which leads the court to enhance the rights of insiders and deny protection to outsiders. On Monday, the justices will begin another term with the question of whether their commitment to the protection of human dignity will be universal or limited to “persons” just like them.

(Excerpted from Eric Lewis New York Times 10/5/14 )

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Republican voter suppression efforts

For every unit of energy and resources Democrats devote to reduce the difference between their midterm and general electorates, Republicans are responding—not with turnout-boosting strategies of their own, but by making it harder for the pool of voters who make up that difference to vote, even if they want to. In a way, the story of the 2014 elections can be boiled down to two counterposed strategies, with Democrats on one side trying to mitigate their midterm drop off and Republicans on the other trying to exacerbate it. In 2012, Republican efforts to suppress Democratic turnout may have backfired. The Republican response was not to scale back those efforts but to make them more impervious to blowback.

No two stories heighten the contrast between strategies than this Washington Post article about Senator Mark Begich’s unrivaled ground game in Alaska—the most difficult state in the country to canvas—and this News & Observer article about the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which ran afoul of the North Carolina election board by sending hundreds of thousands of erroneous voter registration forms to residents (and at least one cat) around the state.

It’s unclear whether AFP or other conservative groups are sending misleading application forms to voters in states other than North Carolina (though AFP has a storied history of intimidating and caging voters with shady mailers in recent years). But in North Carolina, and maybe elsewhere, these efforts work in tandem with new, highly restrictive laws, which are nominally intended to reduce non-existent problems like voter fraud and election spending, but are in fact designed to make it harder for young people and minorities to vote, even if they intend to.

After the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act last year, North Carolina passed the most restrictive voting law in the country. It included a much-discussed voter ID requirement, but, perhaps more importantly, it canceled a week of early voting, did away with a pre-registration program for high school students, nixed same-day registration, and eliminated provisional ballots for voters who show up at the wrong precinct.

Voting rights advocates are also asking courts to weigh in against suppressive voter ID laws in other battlegrounds—including Wisconsin, where Democrats are hoping to unseat Governor Scott Walker; and Arkansas, which may determine whether Democrats maintain control of the U.S. Senate. Tens of thousands of registered voters in these states don’t have, and will be unable to secure, proper identification in time for the election. Since Democrats respond to voter suppression efforts with more sophisticated organizing and GOTV, the idea this year is to make those suppression tactics less vulnerable to those efforts.

So the question isn’t just whether Democrats can find their drop-off supporters and turn them out to the polls, but, assuming that plan is successful, whether Republicans will let them vote when they get there.

(Excerpted from The New Republic 10/5/14)

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Missouri Lawmakers Receive A Lot Of Cardinals Tickets, Snacks From Lobbyists

Lobbyists have paid for more than $130,000 worth of Cardinals tickets and baseball snacks for Missouri lawmakers since 2007, according to our analysis of the data.

10 lawmakers took free tickets to Game 3 of the 2013 World Series. The average price of the tickets was $250 apiece, and they were paid for by AT&T, Pelopidas LLC (a Rex Sinquefield-backed lobbyist), and John Bardgett & Associates, a lobbying firm. The game ended in the bottom of the 9th with an obstruction call.

Three lawmakers went to (game 7 of the 2013 World Series), mostly paid for by Ameren. The other companies were AT&T and Pelopidas LLC.

Ameren ($1,000), AT&T ($750) and Pelopidas LLC ($400) paid for five lawmakers (and one staffer) to go to one of the best playoff games in recent history [Texas Rangers vs Cardinals].

The top five groups who spent the most money on taking legislators out to ‘the old ball-game’ since 2007.
1. Ameren: $24,610.26 – An energy provider based in St. Louis. It also happens to be the company that spends the most on lobbyist gifts in Missouri.
2. AT&T: $16,107.00 – The telecommunications giant.
3. John Bardgett & Associates: $13,568.15 – A lobbying firm based in Chesterfield, Missouri. Consistently in the top five organizations that buy gifts for lawmakers.
4. Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield: $7,315.00 – A wealthy retired financier and his wife, both with an interest in Missouri politics.
5. Pelopidas, LLC: $5,993.80 – A lobbying firm backed by multi-millionaire Rex Sinquefield.
6. St. Louis Cardinals: $5,121.00 – The MLB team itself.
7. U. S. Cellular: $4,971.65 – A regional telecommunications company.
8. Laclede Gas Company: $4,312.89 – A natural gas utility.
9. Missouri Fire Service Alliance: $3,433.93 – Organization made up of fire and emergency service organizations in Missouri.
10. Missouri Cable Telecommunications Association: $2,569.00 – Statewide organization representing cable telocommunications companies.

(Excerpted from St. Louis Public Radio 10/3/14 )

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Ad blitz that will be paid for by a not-for profit entity with close ties to PAC heavily funded by Sinquefield

An ad blitz begins Monday on two area television stations that will be paid for by a not-for-profit entity with close ties to a political action committee funded heavily by conservative activist Rex Sinquefield.

The Missouri Club for Growth purchased $68,970 worth of commercial time on KOMU-TV and KMIZ-TV, making an initial purchase on Sept. 15. The not-for-profit increased both orders after incumbent state Rep. John Wright, D-Rocheport, purchased $41,700 worth of commercial time on KOMU on Sept. 25.

The Missouri Club for Growth is a not-for-profit entity created under Missouri laws to engage in political activity and does not disclose its donors. The Missouri Club for Growth PAC, registered with the Missouri Ethics Commission, does disclose its donors and records show it received $3.6 million since May 2012, 99.9 percent of its funding over the past three years, from Sinquefield. The Tribune initially credited the ad buys to the Club for Growth PAC instead of the not-for-profit entity.

Wright, a freshman lawmaker targeted for defeat by Republicans, is opposed by retired air traffic controller Chuck Basye in the 47th House District.

Sinquefield is a donor to many organizations and in 2013 created a committee called Grow Missouri. That organization, which receives 100 percent of its funding from Sinquefield, suffered a blow to its public image last week when a public relations firm under contract with Grow Missouri attempted to hire five political reporters to write anonymously for its blog. Grow Missouri issued apologies and fired the Boston firm that solicited the reporters.

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Grow Missouri also became embroiled in a new controversy today after a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter revealed she had been approached by the public relations firm Skyword and offered money to write content for Grow Missouri’s blog.

“Grow Missouri if offering to pay contributors $250 for bylined, or no byline if preferred, articles ranging from 500 to 700 words in length with the opportunity to earn more for special on-site projects,” the email to the reporter said.

Other reporters later said they or their organizations had been approached by Skyword.

“You’ll be happy to know this reporter cannot be bought,” Alex Stuckey, the Post-Dispatch reporter, tweeted.

(Excerpted from New-Leader 9/26/14 and Progress Missouri 9/26/14 )

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Missouri’s hunger problem gets worse and worse

If you are poor, hungry live in Missouri, you don’t need a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to tell you how bad things are. Those Missourians who are more fortunate need to know. Every year, the USDA issues its “food security” report, which analyzes hunger problems across the country. In Missouri, the news is very, very bad.

In a state that is getting used to ranking poorly in things that count — like education funding, poverty and health-care outcomes — Missouri is No. 1 in a dubious category for the second year in a row.

Over the past decade, as a percentage of population, more Missourians have fallen into hunger, defined in the report as “very low food security,” than in any state in the nation.

All of Missouri’s rankings in the hunger report got worse in 2013 compared to 2012.

Nearly 17 percent of Missourians reported being food insecure, meaning at least once last year, in most cases several times, they skipped meals for lack of money. That’s the fifth-highest percentage in the nation, up two spots from 7th the year before.

Worse, more than 8 percent of Missourians reported more severe hunger, defined as “very low food security,” second only to Arkansas in terms of the dubious ranking. Here’s where the numbers get really bad, and they don’t show up in the USDA report: Over the past year, as Missouri’s hunger problems got worse, fewer Missourians had access to food stamps to help feed their families.

St. Louis activist Glenn Koenen has been collecting food stamp numbers from the Department of Social Services for the past year. Mr. Koenen is the chairman of the hunger task force for the Missouri Association of Social Welfare, and the former executive director of the Circle of Concern food pantry in Valley Park. His research indicates that nearly 90,000 fewer Missourians have access to food stamps than they did a year ago. These aren’t people who have magically found jobs and improved their economic status, but people who have been frustrated by the system.

Over the past few years, the administration of Gov. Jay Nixon has reorganized the Family Support Division, which administers important health-care and food programs to the poor, in an effort to save money. The same problems that have caused a backlog in Missourians trying to get access to the Medicaid insurance they qualify for has affected the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Progam (food stamps).

“I have talked to pantry folk who routinely hear from families who have waited two and three months for a routine re-authorization of the food stamp account,” Koenen wrote in an email. “Many pantry customers talk of lost documents, the inability to talk to a person who knows their case when they call, and, general confusion in the system.”

This is a tragedy and an embarrassment. It should shame every politician and bureaucrat in Jefferson City. Missourians are better than this. Statistically, the hunger problem in Missouri is getting worse, caused by ongoing and rampant poverty, and yet the government’s ability to provide aid to those who qualify under even weak guidelines is hampered by poor funding and mismanagement.

Simply put, there aren’t enough social workers to get the job done in a state that has public policies which are making the economy worse, not better.

In January 2013, current and former GOP speakers of the Missouri House gathered in the Capitol to celebrate a decade of Republican control in the Legislature. Among the honorees was former Speaker of the House Rod Jetton, who used to brag about being on food stamps in his college days, before he and the speakers who followed him committed to making Missouri tougher on people who are hungry.

In cutting taxes in a low-tax state, Missouri Republicans have made it harder to take care of the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

In fact, hundreds of thousands of Missourians, in big cities and rural counties alike, still live in poverty. For them, the recession never ended. For them, record profits on Wall Street are a vicious joke.

The numbers don’t lie. In the past decade, hunger has gotten worse in the Show-Me State. Ever more Missourians are going hungry. Food stamps only provide $1.46 per meal in Missouri, but state government’s response has been to make it harder for them to get help. And then government brags about it.

This is a tragic legacy. It should not be celebrated, but fixed.

(Excerpted from St. Louis Post Dispatch 9/22/14)

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Those Lazy Jobless

Last week John Boehner, the speaker of the House, explained to an audience at the American Enterprise Institute what’s holding back employment in America: laziness. People, he said, have “this idea” that “I really don’t have to work.

It’s hardly the first time a prominent conservative has said something along these lines. Ever since a financial crisis plunged us into recession it has been a nonstop refrain on the right that the unemployed aren’t trying hard enough, that they are taking it easy thanks to generous unemployment benefits, which are constantly characterized as “paying people not to work.” And the urge to blame the victims of a depressed economy has proved impervious to logic and evidence.

But it’s still amazing — and revealing — to hear this line being repeated now. For the blame-the-victim crowd has gotten everything it wanted: Benefits, especially for the long-term unemployed, have been slashed or eliminated. So now we have rants against the bums on welfare when they aren’t bums — they never were — and there’s no welfare. Why?

First things first: I don’t know how many people realize just how successful the campaign against any kind of relief for those who can’t find jobs has been. But it’s a striking picture. The job market has improved lately, but there are still almost three million Americans who have been out of work for more than six months, the usual maximum duration of unemployment insurance. That’s nearly three times the pre-recession total. Yet extended benefits for the long-term unemployed have been eliminated — and in some states the duration of benefits has been slashed even further.

The result is that most of the unemployed have been cut off. Only 26 percent of jobless Americans are receiving any kind of unemployment benefit, the lowest level in many decades. The total value of unemployment benefits is less than 0.25 percent of G.D.P., half what it was in 2003, when the unemployment rate was roughly the same as it is now. It’s not hyperbole to say that America has abandoned its out-of-work citizens.

Strange to say, this outbreak of anti-compassionate conservatism hasn’t produced a job surge. In fact, the whole proposition that cruelty is the key to prosperity hasn’t been faring too well lately. Last week Nathan Deal, the Republican governor of Georgia, complained that many states with Republican governors have seen a rise in unemployment and suggested that the feds were cooking the books. But maybe the right’s preferred policies don’t work?

Why is there so much animus against the unemployed, such a strong conviction that they’re getting away with something, at a time when they’re actually being treated with unprecedented harshness?

My guess, is that it’s mainly about the closed information loop of the modern right. In a nation where the Republican base gets what it thinks are facts from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, where the party’s elite gets what it imagines to be policy analysis from the American Enterprise Institute or the Heritage Foundation, the right lives in its own intellectual universe, aware of neither the reality of unemployment nor what life is like for the jobless. You might think that personal experience — almost everyone has acquaintances or relatives who can’t find work — would still break through, but apparently not.

Whatever the explanation, Mr. Boehner was clearly saying what he and everyone around him really thinks, what they say to each other when they don’t expect others to hear. Some conservatives have been trying to reinvent their image, professing sympathy for the less fortunate. But what their party really believes is that if you’re poor or unemployed, it’s your own fault.

(Excerpted from New York Times 9/21/14 )

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7 Actions that Could Shrink the Gender Wage Gap

Although women are the primary, sole, or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of families, dollar for dollar they continue to earn, on average, 22 percent less than their male counterparts, with Latinas and African American women experiencing the sharpest pay disparities compared to white men. There are a number of factors that contribute to the pay gap, including where women work, differences in hours worked, and education differences. But there is also a portion of the pay gap that is unexplained; researchers have estimated that as much as 10 percent to 40 percent of the gender wage gap cannot be explained even when taking into account gendered differences between the occupations, educations, and work histories of men and women.
Closing the gap will require multifaceted solutions that together help ensure that the work women perform is valued fairly, that women are not penalized unfairly for their caregiving responsibilities, and that there is greater transparency in workplace pay practices. Here are seven steps we can take that could make a difference.

1. Raise the minimum wage – Women make up a disproportionate share of low-wage workers, and estimates show that differences between women’s and men’s occupations could account for nearly one-half of the gender wage gap. Raising the minimum wage will help hardworking women better support their families.

2. Raise the tipped minimum wage – The gender wage gap is particularly prominent among tipped workers. The federal tipped minimum wage, which hasn’t been changed since 1991, only pays workers $2.13 per hour.

3. Support fair scheduling practices- Women, especially women of color, are more likely to work in low-wage jobs and often have rigid, unpredictable schedules that can change with little notice, making it difficult for working parents—especially mothers—to anticipate their schedules and arrange for child care. These workers risk losing their job because they lack the flexibility to alter their schedules when they need to take their child to the dentist or pick up a sick child from school—tasks that are more likely to fall to mothers than fathers.

4. Support pay transparency – When women are not able to discuss their salaries with their colleagues, they often cannot tell when they are making less than their male colleagues for doing the same job. The Paycheck Fairness Act would reduce pay secrecy, give women better tools to address pay discrimination, and make it more difficult for companies to pay male workers more than female workers—an important tool in combatting the gender wage gap.

5. Invest in affordable, high-quality child care and early childhood education – For parents of young children, particularly those who are low-income, the lack of affordable, high-quality early childhood programs can prevent working parents from ensuring that their families are cared for while they fulfill the demands of their jobs and can inhibit their long-term success. Furthermore, child care costed more than median rent in every state in 2012, yet access to reliable child care is a requirement for working parents to maintain employment.

6. Pass paid sick days legislation – Almost 40 million U.S. workers, or about 40 percent of the private-sector workforce, do not have access to any paid sick days. For part-time workers, that figure climbs to 73 percent. As a result, these employees often must go to work sick, send their sick children to school, or leave their sick children at home alone because they fear they will be reprimanded or fired for missing work.

7. Pass a national paid family and medical leave insurance program
Because caregiving responsibilities most often fall to women and mothers, women are more likely to have to leave the paid labor force to provide family care.

(Excerpted from Centre for American Progress 9/19/14)

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Even when Rex loses, Missouri loses worse

How did one man spend so much, lose so often, and still have so many politicians, most of them Republicans, bow down to nearly his every wish?

Part of the answer is timing. Mr. Sinquefield made a lot of money and decided to spend it at a time when the Supreme Court and state governments had taken restraints off political spending. If money is a form of speech, as the court has ruled, then Mr. Sinquefield is talking freely, loudly and ceaselessly. He found no shortage of people willing to take his money, even for candidates and causes that were doomed.

Last week, one of Mr. Sinquefield’s pet projects died a painful death even before voters had a chance to reject it. Teach Great, one of numerous “Astroturf” (fake grass roots) organizations funded by Mr. Sinquefield to make it look like his ideas have widespread support, announced it was ending its efforts to pass Amendment 3 in November.

If lawmakers won’t do his bidding, he buys new lawmakers. If that doesn’t work, he buys ballot access. If that doesn’t work, he tries to buy the secretary of state so he can control the ballot access. And if that doesn’t work?

Mr. Sinquefield has currently invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in candidates for statewide office in 2016. On Friday, one of Mr. Sinquefield’s political arms announced it was investing $2.5 million to support a a pet project of the next speaker of the House, state Rep. John Diehl, R-Town and Country.

Here’s where this week’s abandon-ship effort by Teach Not-So-Great really shows off the cynical approach adopted by Mr. Sinquefield’s team of political oxpeckers who feed off his back: Unless he goes to court and asks a judge to take Amendment 3 off the ballot, opponents of the bad idea will still have to spend large sums of money to simply counter the fact that it is there and make sure it goes down in flames. That means Mr. Sinquefield spent about $2.3 million just to put the rest of the state through an exercise in futility. He quit when it became clear it “was not the right time” for the effort, which probably means the polls were bad.

This is the second time in three years that an ill-conceived ballot initiative has been placed before voters and then abandoned by its supporters. The last time was when a group of Republicans tried to replace Missouri’s nonpartisan court plan with a system in which well-heeled folks like Mr. Sinquefield could buy their judges at election, like they do most other political offices in the state.

Missourians shouldn’t wait until scientists of the future look at the crumbling ruins of our democracy and offer an analysis of the cracks in the foundation. The state’s ballot initiative process needs to be changed. Its campaign finance and ethics rules need work.

The biggest crack in Missouri’s broken democracy is an easy one to identify and a tough one to fix: The pernicious and sleazy influence of too much money on politicians who lust for it.

(Excerpted from St. Louis Post-Dispatch 9/15/14)

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Missouri appeals court gets early voting challenge

A Missouri appeals court has set a Sept. 12 hearing on a challenge to a ballot measure authorizing a limited early voting period.

The state Court of Appeals’ Western District approved an expedited schedule for the case after a Cole County judge on Monday rejected a challenge to the ballot wording.

At issue is a measure placed on the November ballot by the Republican-led legislature that would allow a six-day early voting period before future general elections. The measure prohibits voting on weekends or after regular business hours.

A lawsuit filed by an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union contends the ballot summary is misleading because it fails to say early voting would be allowed only during regular business hours and only if funded by the legislature.

(Excerpted from ;Missourian 8/29/14 )

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Hard to resist – the Affordable Care Act

A successful first open enrollment period with 8 million enrollees. The uninsured rate at a record low 13.4 percent. Insurers clamoring to join state exchanges for next year. Health insurance premiums for 2015 beating expectations. The successes of the Affordable Care Act are clear.

Supporters of the law in competitive races have taken notice, and are increasingly running on, not from, the ACA. But they are not the only ones acknowledging the changing political landscape; the ACA’s opponents have also seen it, and are taking action. In particular, some GOP-led states who have been putting politics over people by opposing Medicaid expansion are now taking steps to accept it. Here are some of the latest to change their tune:

Pennsylvania: The Keystone State will become the 27th state, and the 12th Republican-led state, to expand its Medicaid program in accordance with the Affordable Care Act. The Obama Administration announced last Thursday that it had granted a waiver and reached agreement with the state to provide health care coverage to 500,000 low-income residents through private insurance. Gov. Tom Corbett (R), the deeply unpopular Pennsylvania governor, has previously fought against expansion but trails in his re-election bid by 25 points while 59 percent of voters support expanding Medicaid.

Tennessee: Gov. Bill Haslem indicated late last week that the state will likely submit a Medicaid expansion plan this soon. “I think we’ll probably go to [the Obama Administration] sometime this fall with a plan … that we think makes sense for Tennessee,” Haslem said. While he did not comment on any further details, the move could mean health coverage for 162,000 Tennesseans.

Wyoming: After initially rejecting Medicaid expansion that would provide health insurance to 17,600 low-income Wyoming residents, Gov. Matt Mead has now said he is now in negotiations with the Obama Administration to find a way to expand the program next year. The LA Times reports that “the reason for Wyoming’s wavering is clear: It’s money.” The state stands to save $50 million per year by expanding. Meanwhile, Wyoming hospitals are losing $200 million per year by treating people who lack insurance.

Another thing for these states, and all other conservative-led states who continue to deny health care to their low-income residents, to consider: they are sending hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to other states who are expanding Medicaid, and receiving nothing in return.

BOTTOM LINE: As candidates who support the ACA increasingly embrace it on the campaign trail, conservatives nationwide are downplaying their opposition to the law. In the latest sign, more conservative states are finally changing course by pushing forward with Medicaid expansion to provide health care to hundreds of thousands of low-income working people and save billions of dollars

(Excerpted from Think Progress 9/3/14)

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