This is What Democracy Looks Like

One man–or even a cabal of them–cannot unravel a democracy unless the people allow it. This is why if November 9, 2016, shook my faith in our democratic institutions, then January 21, 2017, breathed new life into it.

Millions of citizens–representing a cross-section of our country–peacefully assembled in our nation’s capital and in cities around the country–in red states and blue states–today to stand for justice, equality, and the progress we’ve made and the work that remains undone.

This was the view of downtown Lexington today:

16265243_611798315690062_5930237451387259440_n

Over half-a-million people descended on Washington, DC, the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration to participate in Women’s March there, which began as a second-thought social media post and swelled into a movement. Cities across the United States hosted “sister” events, including in Lexington and Louisville.

It is quintessentially grassroots–an effort of resistance that began from the ground level and earned national media attention and went viral in a matter of weeks.

And it also serves as a dramatic contrast with the Trump Inauguration yesterday and not just because the inauguration crowd was relatively sparse:

The more compelling difference, though, is the competing visions of American democracy presented in the past two days. As Benjamin Wallace-Wells notes in The New Yorker, in addition to veering sharply from the perfunctory nod to one’s place in the grand history of our country, to the need for unity after a particular divisive campaign, and to a call to action to build upon the work that’s been done, Trump spoke in stark, dark, and dreary terms. As the 42nd, 43rd, and 44th Presidents watched from the dais, Trump claimed that the era of “American carnage” had ended.

Fifty six years ago at his own inauguration, President John F. Kennedy called on Americans to, “Ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.” Yesterday, Trump echoed the “I only can fix it” language from his convention speech:

There should be no fear — we are protected, and we will always be protected.

We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement and, most importantly, we are protected by God…

We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action — constantly complaining but never doing anything about it.

Rather than a call to action, Trump, as Wallace-Wells writes, makes his audience passive participants in the process. He assures them that they will be “protected” by the military under his command and will have politicians who “do something” for them. There is no talk of shared sacrifice, no emphasis on the need for unity to accomplish results. Instead, Trump talks of unity as a means to achieve security, a frightening start to a chain of reasoning that validates concerns about his authoritarian tendencies.

The aim is to discourage participation, to discourage a sense of investment and a stake in our democracy’s success. It’s the core governing philosophy of the Republican Party–to disengage citizens, muddy the waters, and make democratic institutions our enemy rather than a means of change. In so doing, they secure power while pushing an agenda wholly out-of-step with the interests of the American people.

That brings us to the Women’s March in Washington and cities not only around the United States but around the world. It’s evidence that democracy and the democratic order will not go gently into the good night, that citizens will not retreat under the false promise of some undefined “security,” and that we will heed the call to action issued by President Obama in his first inaugural address:

America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we, the people, have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears and true to our founding documents. So it has been; so it must be with this generation of Americans…Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

That’s what democracy looks like and that’s what democracy requires. Let’s get to work.

The Path Forward

These are the times that try Democrats’ souls–and those of anyone concerned about the progress we’ve made on a wide range of issues from health care to job creation and everything in between.

Today’s inauguration capped off what we’ve been bracing for since that dreary Wednesday in November. In Kentucky, the blow came more swiftly with the Republican takeover in Frankfort the first week of January.

While despondence is expected and understandable, it is by no means a sustainable state in the face of these political headwinds.

Since our rally to save the ACA in Lexington this past weekend, many people have asked me about parallels between resistance to Trump and the new Republican majority and the Tea Party which formed in opposition to President Obama and Democrats in 2009.

The transfer of presidential power does not change who ultimately holds power in the our democracy–the citizens who show up, who engage on the issues, and who speak out for the values in which be believe. But the Tea Party was focused on obstruction, on throwing sand into the gears of government, and grinding it to a halt.

In profound contrast, those of us who are resisting the efforts of the Trump Administration are committed to making the system work for all Americans–yes, even those who felt frustrated and fed up with the status quo and were ripe for Trump’s anti-establishment appeals. It’s a resistance to unraveling the system and the work that created 16 million jobs, expanded health insurance to 20 million Americans, made advances toward combating climate change, put in place protections for consumers while reigning in Wall Street, and so on.

Trump and his allies in Washington and Frankfort believe government should get out of the way–not of average citizens–but of the corporate interests that are their political lifeblood. Which is why it should come as no surprise that Trump’s first executive actions as President include cancelling mortgage premium cuts to help low-income home buyersimposing a freeze on regulations, and making repealing the ACA his top priority.

Obviously these “first day” actions contrast dramatically with the populist image they and their team try to present. Just as Frankfort Republican’s repeal of prevailing wage laws ran counter to vows of focusing on “jobs and the economy” this legislative session.

These are indeed challenging times. And the challenge for us to better explain the direct impact these actions have on real people in real communities across our country–most especially (ironically) in the reddest of counties and towns. And for that reason they require our commitment and determination now more than ever. The path forward requires our determination not only to resist the actions of these executive and congressional majorities, but also to advance a desire to make the system work for everyone.

KY GOP: A Study in Irony

At the same time Republicans in Frankfort were pushing through bills limiting abortion and imposing additional restrictions on a woman’s right to choose, they were also living their dream of making Kentucky a “right-to-work” state. The fact that these initiatives were being pushed concurrently seemed lost on Bevin, when he advanced this argument in favor of right-to-work legislation:

Perhaps Bevin should’ve included #awkward on that tweet. It seems that, for the GOP, the freedom of choice is wholesomely American when choices are made by corporate executives and inure to their benefit. When made by workers or women, that it is a fundamental attack on American values.

This level of irony is endemic in Republican policies and their purported ideological underpinnings. To take them at face value would require an Olympic-level of intellectual gymnastics. Take, for example, the delays imposed by the Bevin Administration to  bring Kentucky into compliance with the federal REAL ID regulations.

For some background, the (Republican) Congress passed the Real ID Act in 2005 based on the recommendations of the (bipartisan) 9/11 Commission. In fact, it was passed in the Senate with a vote of 100-0. It was signed into law by (Republican) President Bush in May 2005.

The initiative required states to institute additional security measures for state issued IDs. Kentucky received an extension that expired last year:

For states that don’t receive an extension, enforcement measures for noncompliance will begin in January [2017], Rodriguez said. At that point, Kentucky residents wouldn’t be able to use their state-issued driver’s licenses to enter secure federal facilities such as the Homeland Security headquarters or nuclear power plants. They would have to use an alternative form of ID.

The biggest impact on Kentuckians would happen in January 2018, when they would need to bring another kind of ID, such as a U.S. passport, to the airport with them in order to take a domestic flight since their state-issued driver’s licenses alone would no longer be accepted.

Last year, before the extension expired, the Kentucky General Assembly passed a bill with bipartisan support that would bring Kentucky into compliance and avoid these consequences. Governor Bevin initially supported the bill, saying there was “nothing to be concerned about” in a video posted to his Facebook page:

 

But in a stunning about-face a month after this video, Governor Bevin vetoed it amid conspiracy theories advanced by his Tea Party compatriots:

During the legislative session, Bevin voiced support for the bill but said in his veto message Wednesday that since then “it has become increasingly clear that there is tremendous opposition and misunderstanding about the bill.”

“We also owe the voters of Kentucky the ability to see what effect, if any, the next presidential administration will have on this issue,” he said.

REAL ID is a hot topic among Tea Party conspiracy theorists, who claim that the bill is a secret government attempt to leech our personal information, equipping them with the tools to create a national database to aid in the government’s total destruction of personal liberty and freedom. What’s next? Microchips?

With the clock running out before Kentuckians will not be able to use their IDs to simply board an airplane, the issue is being reintroduced in the state legislature but with the newfound assurance that the incoming administration will save us!

Several members of the Tea Party, who heavily backed Bevin’s run for governor, had expressed concerns about too much federal intervention in people’s private lives.

Bevin also said it was important that Kentucky voters be allowed to see what effect, if any, the next presidential election had on the issue.

Bevin spokeswoman Amanda Stamper said Friday that state officials have been in contact with the Department of Homeland Security and officials in President-elect Donald Trump’s administration.

“We are actively working to secure a short extension like the one granted in recent days to Oklahoma, while we determine what additional actions may be required by Kentucky,” Stamper said. “We are confident that we will achieve resolution to this matter during the current legislative session.”

So our personal information is safe in the hands of the Trump Administration, right? Only they will avoid that pesky “federal intervention in people’s private lives.” (No guarantees, though, about avoiding Russian intervention in our elections.)

And here we have yet another study in irony from our GOP friends. Unsubstantiated, conspiracy-driven fears of government “intervention in people’s private lives” are sufficient to jeopardize Kentucky’s compliance with federal homeland security regulations and halt a bipartisan piece of legislation in its tracks. But the very first bill introduced by the new Republican majority in Frankfort codified government intervention in one of the most private aspects of women’s health.

This is not a party of principal nor is it even a party of ideas. These and other ironies result from their total surrender to Trumpism and demagoguery–from Washington to Frankfort.

KY GOP Seeks to Expand Power with Constitutional Amendment

Republicans in the Kentucky legislature are advancing a constitutional amendment that would move Kentucky’s elections for Constitutional Offices (Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Auditor of Public Accounts, State Treasurer, and Commissioner on Agriculture) to even-numbered years. Specifically, they want these offices to appear on the ballot during Presidential election years, beginning in 2024:

“This is a nonpartisan issue,” McDaniel said. “I’ve put this out there when the Democrats were winning all of the constitutional offices and I’ll continue to put it out there if Republicans win or Democrats win. It doesn’t really matter to me. All I want to do is have increased voter participation and save money.”

If Republicans were truly concerned about “increased voter participation,” they would lend their support to efforts by Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes and others to expand access to early voting in Kentucky and streamline the voter registration process. But Republicans have balked at these measures to expand ballot access.

Thanks to Grimes efforts, GoVoteKY.com introduced online registration just last year and provided voter information resources. But Kentucky remains one of the most difficult states in which to vote early or by absentee.  Our 6:00 PM poll closing time often poses a challenge to workers and families with small children. The inability to cast ballots early without signing a declaration that you will be out of the county on Election Day poses additional hurdles.

Just like the attempts to pass laws to weaken labor unions and therefore these organization’s support of Democratic candidates, the motive behind this initiative is rooted in the desire of Frankfort Republicans to strengthen their hold on power by playing pat-a-cake with democracy.

Kentucky has become a reliably red state, giving its 8 electoral votes to the Republican in the last five  Presidential elections. In 2016, we tied with South Dakota as the fifth reddest state in the country, with Trump winning by 30%. Indeed, the “Trump effect” helped Kentucky Republicans gain a supermajority in the State House.

The GOP, then, hopes to nationalize elections for Governor and other State Constitutional offices in the same way, solidifying their grip on power in the State Capitol. Issues impacting the state would be lost in the fray of a national election and a ballot cluttered with offices from the U.S. Senate and Congress all the way down to city council. Candidates for constitutional offices would be invariably and unwittingly tied to national candidates. And thus is the aim of this amendment–to muddy the waters and distract voters from issues on which the Governor and these offices can have a significant impact.

If they truly care about increasing voter participation, they would support Grimes’ efforts. Until then, it’s time to call this effort what it is: yet another attempt by the GOP to use their current power to gain more power.

 

Drunk With Power

bevin

Governor Matt Bevin poked a hornet’s nest last year when he fired the entire University of Louisville Board of Directors via executive order and appointed ten new members, reducing by seven the total  members of the Board and seeking to remake it in his image all while asserting his power.

The challenge for Bevin, though, was that these actions were on legally dubious ground, an observation that anyone with even a casual understanding of jurisprudence could recognize on the surface of this issue:

Ruling that Gov. Matt Bevin had illegally acted as “judge, jury and executioner” in abolishing the University of Louisville board of trustees and appointing his own, a judge on Wednesday permanently set aside Bevin’s orders.

In another blow to Bevin’s executive powers, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd said Bevin’s June 28 actions were “entirely without precedent.”

Shepherd wrote in a 17-page opinion that Bevin “maligned the integrity and competence” of the former board members by calling them “operationally dysfunctional,” then broke the law by giving them “no recourse whatsoever” to contest his “unilateral fiat.”

“Unilateral fiat” is the perfect summary of the Republican approach to governing; this is especially true now that Republicans have a firm grip on both the legislative and executive branches of government. After warnings by accreditation officials last fall that Bevin’s actions could jeopardize the university’s standing, Bevin dismissed these concerns, gambling that a newly elected Republican majority would rubber-stamp his actions and codify them into law.

Following their “unilateral fiat” approach to government, the Republican majority this weekend rushed through a piece of legislation that would do just that:

The bill, approved on a largely party-line vote, closely mirrors Gov. Matt Bevin’s executive orders from last summer in which he attempted to scrap the 20-person board and replace it with a 13-person board. But it also gives the state Senate the ability to confirm a governor’s appointees to the board…

The bill approved Thursday would still result in the remaining U of L board members losing their seats without due process.

Accreditation officials, in a letter released today, were not amused by the Republicans’ parlor games:

In a Jan. 11 letter, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools President Belle Wheelan said U of L has failed to demonstrate it is free from undue political influence. She said Bevin’s executive actions abolishing the board of trustees in June 2016 “demonstrate the board is functioning with considerable external control and influence,” and that such a move jeopardizes the board’s “capacity to be ultimately responsible for providing sound education program.”

Wheelan goes on to say that four of SACS’ accreditation standards were violated by Bevin when he signed that executive order sacking the current board.

“The governor dismissed board members without adequate due process in accordance with existing Kentucky statutes and policies,” Wheeland said. “Board reorganization efforts appear to have been used to circumvent the use of and adequate and fair process for the dismissal of board members.”

There is little daylight between an executive action that extends the power of the Governor beyond reasonable constitutional limits and a piece of legislation that does the same. And it’s alarming that Governor Bevin and Republicans in the legislature are willing to jeopardize the educational footing of Kentucky’s second largest institution of higher education.

And equally troubling is the fact that these actions embody the modus operandi for Republicans fresh off a power grab. They always overplay their hand. Congressional Republicans did it in 2004 after George W. Bush’s re-election, going for broke on a medieval immigration bill, attempting to privatize Social Security, digging in their hills on Iraq. And they’re doing it now, salivating over the prospect of a President Trump serving as their personal rubber stamp.

The irony of all this is, of course, that their extension of executive and legislative (and, yes, even judicial) power when they control those branches of government is ideological out of sync with their self-avowed “conservative” views on governing. The reality is that Republicans only favor “limited-government” when  it isn’t their power being limited.

The policies they prioritize, then, run counter to the promises so common in their campaign themes. And by overplaying their hand, they remind us how out-of-step they are with the people they purport to represent. That’s why holding them accountable now is more important than ever–in Washington and in Frankfort. Hopefully when voters see first-hand the perils of granting Republicans such power (and when we remind them of those perils), it will be easier to make the case that our Commonwealth deserves better.

 

The ‘People’s House’?

We’ve heard much talk in Frankfort from the “New Majority” about this Republican supermajority titling themselves the “People’s House.” They just don’t clarify, though, which people they mean.

For such clarity, we need not look further than the legislation that Republicans chose to prioritize in their whirlwind and costly #RocketDocket: right-to-work, repealing the prevailing wage, dismantling automatic dues deduction, and imposing restrictions on access to women’s health care.

The thread connecting these initiatives is that they essentially parrot efforts by Republican legislatures in others states over the past few years–like Wisconsin, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and others–which constitute a cynical, concerted effort to silence the voice of every day citizens and strengthen the grip of wealthy, corporate interests on the reins of government. Much of this legislation is based closely on model legislation propagated by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, a Koch-funded tasks force whose main focus is funneling pro-corporate legislation through state legislatures across the country.

This is most readily apparent in the right-to-work and so-called “paycheck protection” act, which are aimed solely at dismantling and busting organized labor. The political power of labor, a group which has long supported Democratic candidates, is a threat to Republican control; it should therefore be no surprise that literally the first bill introduced by the new legislative majority takes aim at unions.

While conservative judges are busy expanding the power and reach of corporate money in our electoral system, conservative legislators are busy limiting the the power and reach of organized labor in our electoral system. These dual actions are alarming and disturbing threats to our democracy.

Repealing the prevailing wage falls under the failed supply-side worldview in which Republicans are firmly cemented, making Arthur Laffer’s investment in the GOP efforts to take back the Kentucky State House particularly prescient. Laffer is the father of supply-side economics, which lately seems to be the only aspect of the Reagan legacy Republicans recall (what with Trump’s bizarre affection for Putin). A brief skim through a history book, though, will teach you that Laffer’s theories failed by all practical measures. I recall well a professor in college who often commented that the Laffer curve was named that for two reasons: 1) Laffer was the guy who created it and 2) It’s idea was laughable.

During debate in Frankfort on Saturday, I listened as one Republican State Senator said the majority was not trying to go after minimum wage, then he paused and added a sinister, “yet.” By repealing the prevailing wage, Republicans continue to chip away at the idea that the economy does best when more money is in the pockets of consumers and middle class families who fuel the economy. By depressing wages, Republicans are padding the pockets of their corporate allies and ideologues like Lafffer who invested millions of dollars in their victory.

Finally, how does the perpetual assault on women’s access to health care tie into this concertedly corporate agenda? It’s nothing short of a distractor, a red herring for their base and the rural voters to whom they appeal by redefining and simplifying moral questions into black-and-white, soundbiteable issues like abortion and gay marriage. Adding the abortion and informed consent bills to this weekend docket is a fundamental “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” move by Republicans. They can return to their districts and tell their constituents they voted to “save the unborn” while ignoring the havoc their policies will wreak on those very families and in those very communities–areas for whom they have no practical solutions.

The Kentucky House of Representatives is no more the “People’s House” than the Koch Brothers are the Stanley Brothers. From Washington to Frankfort, the Republican Party is pulling one of the biggest con jobs in the history of American politics. They talk the talk of populism while walking all over middle class and rural communities. They claim that they support working families, but as their priority agenda made clear, nothing could be further from the truth.

We have a chance in the next two election cycles to repair the damage that 2016 has wrought in Kentucky and reclaim the reins of leadership in this Commonwealth. That task begins with exposing the con, and conveying a message to the people of the Commonwealth that this is, by no means, their House.

 

 

KY GOP Wastes No Time Attacking Unions, Workers, and Women

In a rare Saturday morning session, the new Republican majority in the Kentucky Legislature rammed through legislation hand-written by their corporate allies, as jeers and chants of protesters echoed through the Capitol.

The whiplash-inducing start to the session—which marks the first time in nearly a hundred years Republicans have control of both chambers–was tactically designed to stymie debate, discussion, or public discourse on legislation that Republicans have coveted for years, which up to this point had passed in the GOP-dominated Senate only to be killed in the Democratic controlled House.

The Republicans wasted no time in the majority passing five controversial bills this morning in both chambers, setting them up for Governor Matt Bevin’s signature:

  • HB 1 — Makes Kentucky a “Right-to-Work” state, following path of Republicans in Wisconsin and the South.
  • HB 2 — Expands Kentucky’s existing “informed consent” laws to require a woman seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound prior to the procedure and, if possible, let the woman listen to the fetal heartbeat.
  • HB 3 — Repeals prevailing wage laws in Kentucky, which require higher wages be paid to construction workers on state and local infrastructure projects.
  • SB 5 — Prohibits abortion after a woman reaches the 20th week of pregnancy. While it does make exceptions for the life of the mother, it does not make exceptions for cases of rape, incest, or mental health issues.
  • SB 6 — Requires worker to give explicit written permission before an employer is allowed to withdraw union dues from his/her paycheck.

All of these bills include an “emergency” provision that would allow them to take effect immediately upon the Governor’s signature. In combining bills that advance their corporate, Koch brother-funded agenda with cultural issues like abortion, Republicans hope to distract voters from the true meaning of these rushed actions.

We’ve seen this scenario play out before in Wisconsin, Michigan, and throughout the South. Union members and their allies organized a rally at the Capitol this morning but they were blocked from getting near the House of Senate Chambers:

Meanwhile, Republicans denied gallery passes to Democrats even as protesters flooded the Capitol rotunda and hallways:

While frustrated with the outcome and the whirlwind pace with which Republicans pulled the rug out from under working families in Kentucky, protesters interjected chants of “Shame!” with reminders that, “We will remember in November.” Let’s work to make sure voters remember, too.