Welcome to the Thursday night edition of Progressives Everywhere!
Note: I generally only send out one non-subscriber email during the week, but tonight’s news is just too important to not send wide. In the end, the goal is to keep you informed and build a more progressive America.
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The Supreme Court on Thursday green-lit the disenfranchisement of over a million Floridians when it refused to strike down a very racist, very partisan poll tax enacted by the state’s GOP last year. As a result, former felons who have served their prison sentences but have not repaid very onerous court fines and fees will not be able to vote in the state’s August primary election. They are also at risk of being disenfranchised in November, as well, pending an August hearing of at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.
Florida is one of only three states that permanently bans former felons from voting even after they’ve completed their prison sentences. Back in 2018, nearly two-thirds of Floridians voted yes on Amendment 4, lifting that ban (on everyone other than sex offenders and murderers) and expanding the electorate by up to 1.4 million people. That is a full tenth of Florida’s voting-eligible population and includes nearly 20% of Black adults in the state, which made the amendment’s passage one of the most significant civil rights victories of this era.
But instead of respecting the will of their constituents, Florida Republicans quickly worked to gut the amendment and void its intended purpose. The GOP passed a law, introduced by State Rep. James Grant, that required people to pay off all fines and fees before registering to vote. They did this despite knowing that at least 775,000 people couldn’t afford to pay back their fines, which are generally difficult to track, as the state keeps no central database, and that a majority of them were Black.
After a federal judge ordered Florida to allow everyone to register to vote regardless of their financial situation this spring, the appeals court blocked that decision and scheduled the August hearing. Thursday’s decision, which was unsigned, earned a scathing response from three of the court’s liberal justices (RBG is at home after being hospitalized); Justice Sotomayor wrote that the court’s order prevents people from voting “simply because they are poor.”
The Jim Crow tax’s lead sponsor, Rep. Grant (HD-64), was already known for his work at loosening gun restrictions, fighting Medicaid expansion, trying to destroy unions, and bypassing the state’s constitutional term limits to improperly keep his office. Now, he’s earned the nickname Jim Crow Jamie and is one of the Democratic Party’s top targets in 2020.
After coasting to re-election throughout his career, Grant survived by just 5000 votes in 2018, when he faced a spirited challenge by a local middle school teacher named Jessica Harrington. She got in late and was underfunded the first time around, but she’s running a much more robust campaign in 2020. I reached out to Harrington, who I featured in this newsletter this spring, for her comments on the Supreme Court’s decision.
She did not hold back.
“We know that Florida is a 1% state —we win and lose elections by razor-thin margins. This Governor knows that and my opponent knows that. They know that the voters that would have their rights restored will vote against the very party that has held their rights hostage for years,” Harrington said. “We are disenfranchising thousands of people in our community before the most important election of our lifetime. This fight is not over, and I want to thank Justice Kagan, Justice Sotomayor, and Justice Ginsburg for being on the right side of history.
“My race against Jamie Grant could be decided by just a few hundred votes, just as the State Senator that flipped her seat in this district two years ago was,” she added. “This could absolutely play a role in our election. We will not let this deter us from continuing to fight hard and win this seat.”
Here’s a photo of the racist:
Harrington has also been pushing back on Gov. Ron DeSantis’s absurd school opening orders these past few weeks. While Florida is now the country’s worst COVID-19 hot spot, the governor is commanding schools to open in just a few weeks, which has created chaos in the state.
“DeSantis's school order is a death sentence for our teachers,” Harrington told me. “At a time when the number of cases are out of control in Florida, with a governor not taking the virus seriously … we absolutely cannot go back to brick and mortar. What is the number of teachers and staff that will die before they close down schools again? That is not a risk we can take. We understand it is difficult to keep kids at home to do E-learning, but we can always make up for gaps in education; we can never get back a life after it's lost.”
While DeSantis rallies behind Donald Trump and the state’s GOP focuses its efforts on disenfranchising Black people, Harrington has been out on the frontlines, fighting for children’s lives and voting rights. There are few more important state races this year, especially now that Republican incompetence and mendacity is setting Florida on fire.
Bloomberg Pops Up Again
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg blew $1 billion of his own money on a presidential campaign that face-planted harder than me those few times I tried to skateboard? Good times.
Once he pulled out of the primary, Bloomberg pledged to pour lots more money into defeating Trump. Instead, he transferred $18 million to the DNC and laid off his massive staff, who he’d promised to keep employed through November. Not so good times.
Bloomberg went silent after that, but he reemerged on Wednesday to announce that his gun control group, Everytown for Gun Safety Victory Fund, will spend $1 million to turn Pennsylvania blue. Democrats need to flip nine seats in the State House this November and there are 11 districts where they lost by less than five points in 2018. Expand it out a bit and there are 21 seats that they came within 10 points of nabbing in that election — it’ll be tight, especially as Democrats have to defend some seats, but it’s also doable.
Here is the current breakdown of the state legislature:
More Texas Targets
Last night, I sent out a long list of Congressional and legislative districts that Democrats in Texas are targeting as flip opportunities. A diversifying electorate, a surge in voter registration, and the GOP’s infuriatingly incompetent handling of COVID-19 are together giving Democrats unprecedented momentum in the state, to the point that strategists are even beginning to plan for the 2022 gubernatorial election.
The Texas Tribune brings word of a new group focused on raising money to deny Gov. Greg Abbott a third term. Beat Abbott PAC is already honing in on the governor’s terrible mismanagement of the pandemic, which has led to a massive spike in COVID cases and deaths in the state this month. The money it raises, the Tribune reports, will go to the eventual Democratic nominee for governor. There are no declared candidates on the Democratic side yet, but speculation earlier this year suggested that Julian Castro and Beto O’Rourke as obvious contenders. Since flaming out of the presidential primary, O’Rourke has spent his time campaigning for Democrats working to flip the state legislature.
Abbott, meanwhile, is facing pressure from within his own party. Right-wing Republicans are furious that he had the audacity to finally issue a mask mandate as the state’s new cases of COVID-19 explode — they’ve even suggested censuring him over it. Abbott gave a video address to the state’s GOP convention today defending his decision and promised there would be no further closing of the state’s economy.
Absentee Ballots Are Good
Thanks in part to Donald Trump’s lie-filled campaign against absentee voting, Republicans across the country are now obliged to do everything they can to stifle the process. They’ve been successful in some places — Texas is making it incredibly difficult to qualify for an absentee ballot and it ain’t too easy to apply in Georgia — but in states that embrace mail-in voting, the GOP continues to either fall short or shoot itself in the foot (see: Florida).
In 2018, Michigan voters passed a constitutional amendment that allowed anyone to vote by mail. As such, Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in May sent every registered voter in the state an absentee ballot application for both the primary and general elections, a sensible step given the fact that COVID-19 is ravaging the state.
I bet you can guess what happened next! That’s right, she was sued by a few Republicans!
Thankfully, it looks like the lawsuits aren’t going to go very far. The Detroit Free Press reports that a state judge denied the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction, suggesting that the lawsuits are unlikely to succeed. The Free Press has a good rundown of why Benson is probably going to win this case. To synthesize it down and oversimplify the analysis, the amendment that Michigan voters passed was way more precise than Amendment 4 in Florida and requires a broad interpretation to promote voting rights.
Seriously, the constitution now literally says the absentee ballot amendment shall be "liberally construed in favor of voters’ rights in order to effectuate its purposes.”
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is so determined to overpower his state’s mayors and ensure as many people get COVID-19 as possible that he’s now taking his fight against mandates to court. The mayor of Savannah is not pleased.
The battle over publicly available COVID-19 data is terrible and smacks of the disinformation tactics used by communist countries and dictatorships.
I still can’t get on Twitter :(
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