Can Shame Save Voting Rights?

Or make Ron DeSantis blush?

Welcome to a premium Tuesday evening edition of Progressives Everywhere!

While the Congressional hearings on the Capitol insurrection dominated today’s headlines, I’m going to steer clear of the topic in tonight’s newsletter. Why? Well, first of all, you’ve likely already gotten your fill of the proceedings from cable news, so you don’t need me to reiterate the most outrageous moments.

More importantly, I’m concerned that the event and Democrats’ circle-the-wagons spirit risks obscuring and perhaps even dooming some of the very urgent issues that must be addressed within the next few weeks. For example, we have less than a month to go until the release of census data that will make it much more difficult to prevent gerrymandering, but Senate Democrats have been too busy being humiliated by Republicans on infrastructure to even start working on the issue.

The maniacs that attacked the Capitol might get a few years behind bars, and Republicans may have to pretend to disavow the people they stoked into launching a terrorist attack, but if we don’t pass the For The People Act, the right-wing attack on democracy will go down as a success. It’s important to hold people responsible for the Capitol insurrection, but even more important to stop them from achieving their bigger goals.

In brighter preamble news, the video More Perfect Union released on Sunday night about the abused and abandoned Frito-Lay employee has gone uber-viral, racking up over two million views over the last 48 hours. More importantly, our video has raised over $94,000 and counting for Brandon Ingram and his family, with more than 2700 donors pitching in to help them get back on their feet and build a small business.

I included the video at the bottom of the newsletter on Sunday evening, but in case you overlooked it, prepare to be equal parts angry and depressed:

If you could make a contribution to the Ingram family’s GoFundMe, I know it would be deeply, deeply appreciated. This week has been a stunning turn of events for them and I’m just excited that we were able to help while bringing attention to the regular horrors that Frito-Lay and the insurance company Sedgwick subject people to on a regular basis. There will be more to come.

OK, now let’s get to the news!

New York: State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (and long-time friend of this newsletter) has a slick new campaign website. Why is this relevant? Well, she’s been one of Gov. Cuomo’s harshest and most outspoken critics over the past 18 months, led the way on some major progressive wins during this latest legislative session, and first won office in 2018 by taking down a powerful an ultra-powerful but corrupt Albany swamp creature.

No, I don’t know that she’s planning on primarying Cuomo as he attempts to outlast his scandals and win a fourth term, but she’s not exactly discouraging speculation. Obviously, Biaggi is a long-time friend of this newsletter, so I’d absolutely love to see her run and would be eager to fundraise for her.

Biaggi won her first election, against turncoat State Sen. Jeff Klein, with the backing of the Working Families Party, the most powerful “third party” in New York. Cuomo went to war on the WFP after it backed Cynthia Nixon in the 2018 gubernatorial primary, and while it survived his attempt to throw them off the ballot and played a big role in city council primaries this year, there are more challenges ahead.

Progressive candidates often run on both the Democratic and WFP lines, but the much-maligned NYC Board of Elections is using a technicality to keep the WFP off the ballot this fall. The absence won’t really impact elections this year, but an unaccountable board made up of political patrons wielding absolute power over the ballot is unsettling to say the least!

Buffalo: Speaking of entrenched power pursuing a vendetta against progressive Working Families Party-backed candidates, the Buffalo Common Council is so bent on not having democratic socialist India Walton as the city’s next mayor that it is exploring ways to eliminate the top position altogether.

Walton defeated three-term incumbent Byron Brown in a shocking upset last month, and while Brown is running a write-in campaign, his allies on the Common Council think their best path to maintaining the status quo might just be defying voters and instituting a radical reworking of government.

Of course, they’re not pitching it that way. The council member who is sponsoring the effort claims that it’s a reaction to the substandard job Brown has done as mayor. But with Brown likely set to leave office, why would now be the time to change the system? Add to that the fact that they’re trying to institute a system in which the Common Council would choose a city manager and ultimately control them, it sure seems as if they want to end any chance Walton has of running the city.

Florida: It’s no secret that I loathe Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis more than any other politician — he’s a hateful, corrupt, malignant boil of smug ambition who has spent the last year getting people killed in an effort to raise his profile and further ingratiate himself with the extreme far right of the Republican Party. As such, I’m pleased to report that DeSantis is having an absolutely terrible week.

On Covid, DeSantis has tried to walk the line between anti-science, conspiracy-obsessed, performatively defiant Republican and a governor who is constitutionally required to not directly encourage constituents to commit suicide. His strategy has relied on flippant, cruel, and very public-facing policy choices like banning mask orders and vaccine passports and trying to force schools open, while also encouraging people to get vaccinated (even if he only delivered vaccines to his rich donors). Now, his attempt to strike a horrible balance is blowing up in his face.

Covid cases in Florida are skyrocketing, ending the inexplicably glowing coverage he was receiving from national media and drawing more scrutiny to his record over the past year. Like other Republicans, DeSantis has spent the last two weeks scrambling to more overtly encourage people to get vaccinated, which is in turn really pissing off the anti-vax nut jobs he’s been courting for the last year. It is in no way a good thing that Covid is surging in the state, but after DeSantis largely avoided criticism during the first few waves, it’s a silver lining to see him take it from all sides this time.

Oh, and then there’s this new billboard up right near the governor’s mansion:

DeSantis should be tied to Matt Gaetz at all times. It won’t hurt him with Republicans, at least not yet, but I can’t imagine it’ll be all that helpful with a general election audience.

Voting Rights

Georgia: One of the worst parts of the Georgia voter suppression law is the clause that lets the Republican legislature take control of county election boards.

Now, Republicans are looking to do just that in Fulton County, the diverse and Democratic home of Atlanta. Secretary of State Raffensperger is pushing the move in an effort to get back in the good graces of the Republicans who called for his head last winter when he refused to overturn the presidential election. Once again, I wish Democrats feared their voters like Republicans fear their base, because if that were the case, we wouldn’t be having to cajole and beg the people we put in power to protect voting rights (among many other things).

Arizona: And yet, because Democratic lawmakers are entirely unconcerned with what their most ardent supporters think, a 79-year-old, Parkinson’s-stricken Tev. Jesse Jackson had to fly to Arizona and march in the heat in order to demonstrate in front of Kyrsten Sinema’s office. Jackson, Rev. William J. Barber, a handful of state lawmakers, and a number of other civil rights activists were there to demand that Sinema drop her militant defense of the filibuster so that the For The People Act, John Lewis Act, and heretofore unwritten criminal justice reform bill could pass through the deadlocked, useless Senate.

How were they received? Sinema was in Washington, letting Republicans drag out infrastructure negotiations, so the office stonewalled until a bunch of cops showed up to arrest Jackson and co. for trespassing in the private office building where she keeps what should be a publicly accessible office.

As I’ve been documenting, Sinema has been getting slaughtered in the local Arizona media for her steadfast refusal to move on the filibuster or even meet with constituents. This headline, in today’s Arizona Republic, is the most brutal one yet:

It’s mostly a rhetorical question, as the author notes, because (and this is my editorializing) Sinema has proven to be absolutely shameless. As I outlined Sunday, this may come back to doom her politically, as elected Democrats and party leaders in the state are becoming increasingly vocal about their frustration with their senator. That continued on Monday, with the vice-chair of the Arizona Democratic Party speaking out on the matter, and it’s only going to get worse unless something changes very soon.

I would have already started fundraising for a prospective primary candidate, but ActBlue does not allow you to raise money without it going to a specific person in a primary. As an alternative, I’m looking into groups that are actively trying to recruit and back a strong primary challenger. Fundraising for their efforts will make it easier for them to find a candidate and build a grassroots infrastructure around them, which is also going to be essential. I’ll keep you updated.

Blowback: The White House is also beginning to take fire from the civil rights community and Black lawmakers, who again, were key to putting Biden in office. The ill-considered suggestion that Black and brown groups “out-organize” voter suppression poured gasoline on a simmering flame, leading to public rebukes like this one:

As the White House lets voting rights fade away, they’re not only dooming Democrats in the 2022 midterms, they’re likely also ending any hope of re-election in 2024. As essays like this one make clear, Democrats have long taken Black voters for granted and a failure to stand up for their most basic rights could well see civil rights leaders largely sit out of the next few cycles.

The argument has long been that Democrats may not be great, but at least they’re not as bad as Republicans. But if Democrats don’t lift their fingers to help at all, functionally sanctioning racist voter suppression, is there really any difference?

Redistricting: Not to continue to bum you out, but here’s a good explainer of just how Republicans are going to construct their extreme gerrymanders once they get census data next month and how they will unquestionably get away with it.

Health Care

Oklahoma: Earlier this summer, low-income residents of Oklahoma rushed to apply for the expanded Medicaid program that voters in the state approved via a ballot initiative last fall. Now that many of the 190,000 eligible residents are officially enrolled, they’re not rushing to the doctor’s office — in many cases, for the first time in years.

Missouri: Now that the state Supreme Court has ruled that elections still have consequences and that Missouri must expand Medicaid, the big question is how it will be funded for the long term. While this whole mess happened because the legislature showed no interest in funding the Medicaid program the first time around, their refusal to do so now that the program has to serve the expanded population would cause even bigger problems:

Gov. Parson spokeswoman Kelli Jones said in a statement last week that “after today’s court decision, the executive branch still lacks the necessary budget authority to implement MO HealthNet coverage to the expanded population.” Hatfield said that may be a reference to how the legislature needs to provide Parson authority to spend the federal match for Medicaid expansion.

“They'll get the cash,” said Hatfield, noting that the federal government should provide matching funds for expansion when a plan is submitted. “But the executive branch needs appropriation authority to spend it. And I assume that's what they meant.”

“They've got the money to enroll people tomorrow,” he continued. “That's what the Supreme Court said. And I think as a matter of math, they could provide these services for a month or two months or whatever that number is. But I assume they mean they want more authority to pull in the federal money.”

There’s no doubt Republicans would love to bankrupt the Medicaid fund, but that’s just not politically feasible, even in increasingly red Missouri.