*Borat Voice* Great Success for Workers!

And mixed news out of Texas

Welcome to the big Sunday edition of Progressives Everywhere!

A quick note before we get started: Between a deadly pandemic that was exacerbated to genocidal heights by malicious Republicans, Trump’s four-year hostile takeover of every facet of our culture, and the anti-democratic laws being passed by proudly bigoted and treasonous right-wing extremists in various state governments, it’s easy to assume that what’s left of modern and decent American society is on the verge of being snuffed out for good. (Hyperbole doesn’t help, either.)

But in reality, in cities and states across the country, there are progressive lawmakers enacting forward-looking legislation and activists whipping up and harnessing grassroots energy to wrest power from those that abuse it. That stuff is easy to miss while rueing the truly vicious and cynical policies of the GOP and corporate America, a trap into which I often fall myself. So going forward, I will be devoting at least half of each issue of Progressives Everywhere to highlighting wins, positive developments, important grassroots campaigns, and ways that people can help make positive change.

On that note, if you spot an encouraging news story or you are involved in organizing an action or campaign, reach out and let me know about them!

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Reminder: I cover more news, keep up on these stories, and publish interviews throughout the week in the issues sent out to premium members!

Colorado

Health Care: Something of a mixed bag this week. The good news is that Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill that expands the scope of the state’s prescription drug reimportation program. In 2019, the legislature gave the thumbs up to importing pharmaceuticals from Canada, and now, other (vetted) countries are being added to the list, assuming the federal government gives them the OK.

Big pharma obviously hates laws like this one and it seems that lawmakers in Colorado decided that pissing off one group of health care lobbyists was enough for this legislative session. Democratic leaders on Thursday removed the public option portion of a previously introduced bill intended to expand access to legitimately affordable health care. The initial plan proposed that the state sponsor a nonprofit public health insurance option if for-profit insurers didn’t lower costs by at least 20% over four years. It’s unclear what will incentivize companies to lower their costs now.

Gun Control: Unlike federal lawmakers, Colorado’s legislature is actually taking action to curb gun violence following the mass shooting at a supermarket in Boulder last month. Here’s a brief overview:

The measures would require that a background check be completed before any firearm purchase, regardless of how long it takes, and prohibit people convicted of certain misdemeanors from buying a gun for five years. They would also give local governments and public colleges and universities authority to enact gun control measures that are more strict than the state’s.

The ability for local governments to go beyond the state’s gun laws is especially notable, given existing precedent. In 2003, when Republicans had a trifecta in the state, they passed a law banning municipalities and even public universities from enacting gun restrictions that exceed statewide limits. Like Virginia, Colorado has become a solidly blue state, and since Democrats won a trifecta in 2018, they have continued to pass a steady flow of new progressive (and progressive-ish) policies.

Washington State

The legislative session wrapped up this week with some very big victories for progressives.

Workers’ Rights: Democrats approved another $340 million for the state’s excluded workers fund, bringing the overall pot of money dedicated to immigrants who have been ineligible to receive stimulus checks and unemployment benefits offered during the pandemic to over $400 million. It’s the second largest fund of its kind, trailing only New York’s recently established excluded workers fund, which clocks in at a whopping $2.1 billion.

The legislature this week also passed a law that removes the long-standing loophole that rendered agricultural workers ineligible to collect overtime pay. While not explicitly targeted at working class immigrants, they will benefit disproportionately from the new policy (in so much as they won’t be treated quite as poorly as before).

Police Reform: While states like Florida are giving cops almost carte blanche to do whatever they want, Washington is imposing a number of much-needed restraints on police power. They include:

  • A ban on chokeholds and other “neck restraints” as well as no-knock warrants, which has become a national cause following the murder of Breonna Taylor.

  • Requirements that officers use “reasonable care” when engaging in physical conflict and mandating that any nearby officer who witnesses unreasonable violence intervene in the situation. Not sure where where they put the line between reasonable unreasonable, but it’s a good idea in spirit.

  • The establishment of a new independent unit that is charged with investigating every incident in which a police officer uses deadly force (though that certainly isn’t guaranteed to create much accountability).

Economic Inequality: The legislature passed a 7% capital gains tax on capital gains exceeding $250,000. This is particularly important in Washington because the state is barred (by an old ruling by its own Supreme Court) from levying income taxes.

Washington also established a major affordable housing and rental assistance fund that will be financed with money from a minor new real estate transaction fee. More than $1 billion overall is being put towards affordable housing and ending homelessness.

Missouri

Medicaid: ICYMI, the legislature passed a budget that fully excludes the funds demanded by the Medicaid expansion inserted into the state constitution by voters last summer (we have a big story for subscribers on it here). Given the huge surplus of cash that the state has right now, the GOP’s cries of fiscal conservatism aren’t just bullshit, they’re insulting. There will be plenty of lawsuits to come on this.

St. Louis: The city’s new progressive mayor is not wasting any time in making her mark. Mayor Tishaura Jones, who was elected just a few weeks ago, has proposed cutting the police budget by $4 million and investing the excised money on affordable housing, homeless aid, and civil rights representation. The cuts would eliminate 98 open police jobs. Maybe aspiring cops should learn to code instead.

The St. Louis police budget is $177 million, so they’re not exactly going to be hurting for money, but Jones is certainly signaling her intent right out of the gate.

Unions

It’s rare that we get to say this these days, but this past week saw some *Borat voice* great success for union organizers and negotiators. Let’s run through a few, shall we?

Maine Medical: New England’s largest hospital and health care system will now have unionized workers for the first time since its founding in 1874. After an intense four-month campaign that saw their bosses fly in some of the most expensive union-busting lawyers in the country, more than 57% of the 1750 voting nurses at Maine Medical Center and affiliated hospitals voted to defy management and certify a union. They will be represented by Maine State Nurses Association and National Nurses United. This is a huge deal.

Volvo: After nearly two weeks on the picket lines, nearly 3000 striking workers at a Volvo plant in Dublin, Virginia are headed back to the production lines thanks to a new five-year contract hammered out between the auto company and the UAW. Terms have not yet been released.

Not all of the workers are happy about this development, in part because they’re not sure what’s in the contract, either.

Illinois: A few years ago, Republican then-Governor Bruce Rauner stripped hundreds of public sector workers of their right to be represented by unions. The State Senate just passed a bill that would effectively undo that decision; the bill is likely to also pass in the State House of Representatives.

Call Center Calls For More: Stymied in his effort to raise the national minimum wage earlier this year, President Biden last week signed an executive order that raises the minimum wage paid to all federal contractors to at least $15 an hour. The order doesn’t become compulsory until 2022, but the 10,000 workers at Maximus, a company that runs the Medicare call-in lines for the government, are pressuring the company to give them the pay bump right out the gate.

It’s hard to argue that these employees are making any kind of irrational demand, as anyone that spends day after day talking with seniors about their health coverage deserves robust compensation.

Follow Along: In honor of May Day yesterday, the folks at Cornell’s prestigious School of Industrial and Labor Relations rolled out an impressive new strike-tracking website. The site aims to provide an ongoing record of every worker action that happens across the country.

Ballot Initiatives

Idaho: Our friends at Reclaim Idaho just filed a ballot referendum that proposes raising income taxes in order to inject $200 million into the state’s public education system, which has the lowest per-student expenditure in the country.

This crew proved that it knows how to run a populist ballot initiative campaign in a conservative rural states by winning Medicaid expansion in 2018, but the road to victory will be even more uphill this time. Idaho just passed a new law that makes qualifying a proposition for the ballot a much more difficult task. Reclaim Idaho plans to sue the state over the law.

South Dakota: The State Supreme Court just heard a government-backed challenge to the constitutional amendment to legalized marijuana approved by 54% of the state’s voters in November. Both the legislature and sociopathic Gov. Kristi Noem do not want to recognize the peoples’ desire to get blazed in the Badlands, so they’re hoping to invalidate the law.

The stakes are big here, and not just for weed legalization. If successful, the challenge would set a precedent that could seriously complicate a brand new ballot initiative for Medicaid expansion launched by our friends at the Fairness Project.


Texas

Municipal elections were held across much of Texas on Saturday, including in some of its biggest cities and counties. There were a few marquee races and a number of close calls, which underscores how much the state’s pending voter suppression law could impact outcomes.

San Antonio

Mayoral: Incumbent Mayor Ron Nirenberg won a third term in office by wiping the floor with former City Councilman Greg Brockhouse in a rematch of their much closer 2019 race. This one went to Nirenberg by a 62-31% margin.

Though the office is officially nonpartisan, Nirenberg was endorsed by the Texas Democratic Party in 2019 and campaigned for Democratic congressional candidate Gina Ortiz-Jones in 2020. He’s more of a technocrat focused on policy than an outspoken politician, but Brockhouse is a hard-right firebrand who was accused of domestic violence by both an ex-wife and his current wife during the last campaign.

Prop B: Progressive activists fell just short on a ballot measure that would have stripped the San Antonio police union of its right to collectively bargain with the city. Doing so would have severely limited cops’ ability to murder people with contractual impunity, but alas, the measure fell by a slim 51-49% margin. (As a side note, it’s somewhat ironic that progressives were rooting for a union to lose its bargaining power on International Workers’ Day, but racist and reckless cops are not the workers that need protecting.)

Relatedly, the Texas State Senate on Thursday passed a bill that would force all municipalities to get voter authorization for any proposed cuts to police budgets. It’s very expensive to run an initiative, so even if the idea is popular, as it might be in some of the state’s larger cities, the bill could make it cost-prohibitive to actually pursue budget cuts. It’s unclear, however, whether it’ll pass in the Texas State House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, in the more moderate State House, three solid police reform measures passed by a wide bipartisan margin on Thursday. As outlined by Texas Tribune, they would:

  • Require Texas law enforcement agencies to implement more uniform and substantive disciplinary actions for officer misconduct;

  • Bar officers from arresting people for fine-only traffic offenses;

  • Require corroboration of undercover officer testimony.

On the flip side, not all of those policies are going to have an easy time in the State Senate.

Fort Worth

Mayoral: The race to succeed Mayor Betsy Price will be going to a June run-off, with Deborah Peoples taking 34% of the vote and Mattie Parker clocking in as the choice of 31% of voters. This race is also nonpartisan, but Peoples just so happens to be the head of the Tarrant County Democratic Party and Parker was the chief of staff to the outgoing mayor, who was very much a Republican.

Peoples’ lead might be a bit misleading, as two other more hardcore conservative candidates scored an additional 24% of the vote. The only other significant Democratic-leaning candidate won 9% of ballots cast. It wasn’t a great day for Democratic turnout throughout Texas yesterday.

Austin

Prop B: Another regressive result on a local ballot proposition B. Voters in Austin resoundingly chose to re-criminalize homeless camps in public spaces, reinstating a law that had been repealed in 2018 by the mayor and Austin City Council. A PAC pushing the proposition, run by the head of the Tarrant County Republican Party, poured nearly $2 million into the campaign.

The cost of living in Austin has skyrocketed as the city, once a laidback oasis of weirdos as immortalized in Richard Linklater seminal ‘90s indie film Slacker, has rapidly gentrified and become a tech hub over the last decade. Now Mayor Steve Adler, who was against the proposition, is calling for at least 3,000 new units of affordable housing to be built in the next few years.

Florida

Congress: The death of Rep. Alcee Hastings last month has set off a scramble amongst Democrats hoping to score a promotion to Congress. Late last week, first-term State Rep. Omari Hardy threw his hat into the ring and promised to run as an “unapologetic progressive.”

The 31-year-old lawmaker is a phenom in the making; a video of him challenging a local mayor for allowing the city commissioner to shut off people’s utilities last March, as the pandemic was beginning to take off, went super-viral and earned him something of a public platform.

The biggest obstacle to his election might be Gov. Ron DeSantis’s seeming disinterest in calling a special election. Gotta cut DeSantis some slack, though, as he’s been totally swamped with attacking voting rights and making life hell for trans kids.


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