Ohio’s Gerrymandered Theocracy Exhibit the Stakes of Voting Rights

But we can fix it!

Welcome to the big Sunday edition of Progressives Everywhere!

On July 4th, we commemorate the birth of our very imperfect and increasingly endangered democracy. Patriotism in a nation predominantly built by slaves and generations of ostracized immigrants is an inherently thorny concept, and the past few years have brought a public resurgence of division over the basic tenents of what it is to be an American and who should enjoy the rights conferred by democracy.

It shouldn’t be this difficult. The men who signed the Declaration of Independence faced daunting odds in their battle against the grip of monarchic autocracy; today, securing a future of self-determination only requires a few votes by Democratic senators who speak exhaustively of their admiration for those Founding Fathers while misinterpreting the democratic system they created. The Founders had an abundance of personal and political failings, but the filibuster was not amongst the original sins that they bequeathed to future generations.

None of this is academic. In today’s newsletter, we’ll look at the very real, life-or-death consequences of the kind of rigged elections and minority rule abhorred even by the likes of Alexander Hamilton, who was the opposite of a populist. Then we’ll look at some primary races, hear from a special election candidate in Georgia, and highlight some newsworthy headlines.

But first, thank you to our latest crowdfunding donors: Robert and Mary Beth!

In November 2018, voters in Ohio made it abundantly clear that they sought moderation and bipartisanship. Republican Mike DeWine won the gubernatorial election by three points, Senator Sherrod Brown scored re-election with an eight percent margin, and Democratic state legislative candidates earned an even split of the overall vote total with the Republicans running in those races.

Due to the design of the state’s legislative districts, however, Republican candidates wound up winning 73 of the 116 seats up for grabs that year, a 63% win rate that gave them a supermajority in both chambers of the state legislature. The state Senate result was especially disproportionate, with GOP candidates achieving dominance with just 48% of the overall vote share.

Last year, all it took was a modest increase in rural turnout for Republicans to not just overcome the party’s central part in the biggest corruption scandal in the history of the state, but actually expand their lead in both chambers.

The egregiously skewed partisan breakdown in Ohio’s legislature is a direct result of extreme gerrymandering, which has now been fully blessed by the US Supreme Court. With an overwhelming majority and districts designed to guarantee re-election, Ohio Republicans have been able to indulge in their most pernicious and nihilist policy ambitions, limited only by the occasional veto by Gov. DeWine when he fears that a bill might earn too much national attention.

The budget passed by the Ohio legislature and signed into law by DeWine last week embodies this miserable, dangerous dynamic. The final product, even after more than a dozen DeWine line-item vetoes, is a testament to uninhibited right-wing control of government, as it both embraces long-time GOP goals and seizes on more recent Fox News obsessions.

Omnibus of Bad Stuff

State budgets are often the biggest single item enacted in a given year because, as must-pass legislation, they become vessels for policies that might not pass on their own. The Ohio budget was a great example of this terrible phenomenon, with provisions that stretched far beyond any kind of financial purview. Here are some of the worst items, based on conversations with conversations with Ohio Democrats and progressives.

1. The “Flat” Tax Cut

Though states were technically barred from using money from the American Rescue Plan to enact tax cuts, Ohio Republicans, like their counterparts in states such as Arizona and Georgia, used an influx of unexpected revenue to fatten the wallets of the state’s richest residents. In this case, the top income tax bracket was outright eliminated, leading to a 16.8% cut on incomes above $221,300 and a 9.6% cut on earnings between that $221,299 and $115,000.

Every other taxpayer in Ohio received a 3% tax cut. Here’s how it all shakes out:

  • The top 1% will receive an average $5,400 tax cut

  • Those making $42,000 and $65,000 will receive an average a $49 tax cut

Yes, those numbers are accurate.

2. Abortion

The legislature continued its ongoing assault on women’s reproductive freedom this year, using last-minute additions to the budget to make life hell for women in the southwest part of the state.

Some context: Ohio requires clinics that perform abortions to have a transfer agreement with a local hospital, which can create a considerable hurdle for clinics in more rural places. Two Planned Parenthood-operated clinics, the Mount Auburn Health Center and Women's Med Center have had exemptions to that rule, allowing them to substitute a hospital affiliation for a list of four doctors who could treat women in rare emergencies.

Now, doctors that are involved in the transfer agreement must work within 25 miles of the clinic and outright bans physicians who teach at state hospitals and medical schools to be involved in the agreement at all. It just so happens that each of the doctors who have been listed as the physicians for Mount Auburn and Women’s Med are teachers at Wright State and its medical school, both of which are public institutions.

With their physicians no longer ineligible for affiliation, both clinics may be forced to shut down.

3. The “moral” health care sham

If the addition of those vindictive restrictions on abortion considerably weakened the GOP’s cynical argument that the hospital requirements were enacted in the interest of public health, this provision blows the whole thing out of the water.

DeWine signed off on a new “medical conscience clause” that allows doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers to refuse to provide medical treatment if they think it violates their own personal ethics or moral beliefs. Insurance companies, meanwhile, are now permitted to refuse to pay for treatments that violate their beliefs, as if health insurers follow some sacred code. The provision also provides immunity from criminal and civil charges for refusing care.

The whole thing is a pretty transparent permission slip to discriminate against LGBTQ+ residents, and people in the progressive space in Ohio tell me that they’ll be pushing back hard on this new provision. The Supreme Court just refused to hear an appeal by a florist who was successfully sued for their refusal to serve a gay potential client, so expect the lawsuits to fly on this one.

4. An early anti-voter rule

While Ohio’s giant voter suppression bill will have to wait until the legislative session resumes in August, Republicans were able to sneak an early salvo in at the elections process.

The new provision bans public-private partnerships on anything to do with elections. That will end regular civic events such as voter registration drives, which are sponsored by organizations that range in size from local non-profits to the Cleveland Cavaliers. It will also ensure that local governments cannot accept grants for election administration or voter education.

This is a Heritage Foundation special, down to the conspiracy-addled justification offered for the rule: The donations that Mark Zuckerberg made out of guilt to local governments to help them administer a uniquely difficult 2020 election.

“That money was not evenly distributed and was disproportionately spent to boost turnout and to affect the election in the liberal precincts to the exclusion of the conservative precincts,” said Rep. Bill Seitz, somehow unaware of how deeply and infuriatingly ironic that is coming from the chief sponsor of the state’s voter suppression law.

New York City: We still don’t know who will serve as our next mayor, but there is now clarity in what is in some ways an even more significant position: Alvin Bragg, a veteran prosecutor of Wall Street crooks and other white-collar criminals, will be the next Manhattan District Attorney.

This is a huge triumph over corporate money, as Farhadian Weinstein, the wife of a hedge fund magnate, donated $9 million to her own campaign and took in millions from other Wall Street and big business titans. It should also dash the left-bashing narrative that emerged soon after the first round of votes were tallied in the mayoral election (but I’m not holding my breath on that one).

Buffalo: I teased an interview about the Buffalo mayoral race in last Sunday’s edition of the newsletter and the rest of the story turned out to be very much worth the wait. Less than a week after activist India Walton scored a stunning upset over four-term Mayor Byron Brown, the incumbent announced that he will be running a write-in campaign in November.

You can read our updated feature on that suddenly dramatic race for the future of a city and the Democratic Party right here.

Georgia: Two special legislative elections will take place on July 13th in the Peach State. Only the race for House District 34 features a Democratic candidate, and as it so happens, a colleague of mine is working on their campaign.

Priscilla Smith is a renaissance woman who is probably best known for her serious activism around the statehouse under the satirical guise of Donna J. Trump, and when I asked her to write a little something about herself for this newsletter, she more than delivered. Here’s a little excerpt about how she got started with protesting the GOP’s extreme abortion ban at the statehouse in Georgia:

I decided that they liked me so much at the capitol that I would just make sure to be present every day of the 2019 legislative session. And I was. … I wanted to celebrate civic engagement, encourage it. I counted the steps of citizens (and non-citizens)  speaking with legislators, wearing “Handmaid” attire in protest of the Forced-Birth (a.k.a. “Heartbeat”) bill, or lobbying for causes important to them.

I saw some awful, mendacious behavior of “lawmakers” in both House and Senate chambers and in committee meetings. I saw clearly the stark differences between the right and the left side of the aisles: One side was virtually all white, largely grey-headed, and wearing neckties and trousers. The other side was, shall we say, quite different. I saw great courage, intelligence, and integrity as women spoke up for bodily autonomy. I witnessed real integrity as committee members challenged their colleagues’ sententious authority while obfuscating favoritism for big corporations. I was inspired.

You can read the rest of her remarks right here — they’ll make you laugh and get you fired up.

Wisconsin: I’ve done my best to avoid saying much about the Senate campaign that I’m working on, but I want to quickly flag a new spot that we released last week. Remember the corny Harry & Louise ads that helped sink the Clinton health care plan back in 1994? We decided to twist the concept and use it to promote Medicare For All.

Tom’s wife really did have breast cancer (a disease that claimed the lives of both Tom’s mother and stepmother) and the numbers they read off really were the line items on their medical bills. Unconscionable.

Workers’ Rights

Minimum Wage: As the federal minimum wage continues to languish at $7.25 with no raise in sight, the baseline pay continues to inch up in (mostly Democrat-run) cities and states. Last week, the minimum wage jumped up in the above jurisdictions:

  • Washington, D.C.: $15.20 an hour

  • Montgomery, MD: Between $13.50 and $15 depending on the size of a business.

  • Chicago: $14 or $15 for hourly workers, with the city’s tipped minimum wage hitting $9.

  • Minnesota: $12.50 for small businesses, $14 for franchises in Minneapolis; $10 for “macro-businesses” of five employees or fewer, $11 for small businesses, and $12.50 for large (100+ employees) businesses in St. Paul.

  • Nevada: $8.75 for employees who receive health benefits, $9.75 for those who do not.

  • Oregon: $12 for sparsely populated counties, $12.75 for “standard” counties, and $14 in the Portland metro area.

Bad Employers: Lots of companies have been in the news recently for treating workers like disposable peons who deserve zero respect or dignity. Some of the biggest employers include:

More to come.

Ballot Initiatives

Arizona: The effort to undo the GOP’s dissolution of the permanent mail-in-ballot is officially underway. I covered the voting rights politics of Arizona with great depth on Thursday and the overall state of the battleground’s capitol dysfunction last Sunday.

Seattle: The fight over homelessness continues in the city that has long been a poster child for both income inequality and resultant housing inequality. Downtown business groups and some non-profits just qualified a questionably named ballot initiative called “Compassionate Seattle” that would ban the homeless embankments in city parks while requiring the opening of more affordable housing and funding for social services like mental health care.

The city’s DSA chapter is less than impressed, considering cities’ tendencies to make good on the enforcement mechanisms of these kinds of deals while ignoring the civil services and housing portions. The city’s public defenders’ association is more welcoming of the initiative — assuming there’s follow-through.

Mississippi: In an absolute shocker, the Mississippi Supreme Court is refusing to reconsider its decision to toss out not just the medical marijuana initiative that passed last November but the state’s entire direct democracy system altogether.

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