Progressives Every Day: Absentee Action and Bravery in Florida

Welcome to the Monday night edition of Progressives Everywhere!

It is oppressively hot in New York City today and the world is melting, but on the bright side, I got my Twitter account back! (Actually, that’s also somewhat depressing, as well, as I detailed in this story over at Observer.)

OK, let’s get going!

Absentee Action

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate sent out absentee ballot applications to all registered voters ahead of the June 3rd primary election, a concession to COVID-19 that wound up facilitating the largest primary turnout in the state’s history.

Displeased with broad and accessible democracy, the GOP-controlled legislature passed a law that required Pate to seek permission from a legislative council to do the same ahead of the general election. The idea was clearly to cut off absentee balloting in the state, but it backfired almost immediately. The county executives in the state’s most blue counties promised to send applications themselves, which would give Democrats an immediate and significant advantage in November.

Because their principles are entirely fungible in the service of winning, the GOP did an about-face on Friday, voting to give Pate the thumbs up. Regardless of the cynicism behind the decision, it’s great news for voters in Iowa — though not as good as it could have been. The legislative council declined Democratic requests to expand early voting and is banning county clerks from pre-filling voter information in ballots, which is certain to make it more confusing for some people.

Over in New Hampshire, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed permanent no-excuse absentee balloting but approved a more narrow version that permits voters to cite fear of COVID-19 when requesting an absentee ballot this year. The law also dictates that applications will cover both the September 8th primary and the November general election, and crucially, municipalities will be able to begin counting absentee ballots before election day.

Other state legislatures need to follow suit, especially those that are new to no-excuse absentee balloting. Look at what’s happening in New York, where votes are being counted at a glacial pace and up to 1-in-5 absentee ballots may be thrown out due to inane issues like problems with their postmarks. In my home district, only 800 of 65,000 absentee ballots have been counted in a hotly Congressional primary that will be too close to call until every vote is tabulated.

School Daze

Yesterday, I reviewed the drama around impending school reopenings in the biggest coronavirus hotspots. I did not mention Missouri, but that state’s Republican governor may be the most sociopathic of all.

Parson’s comment on the coronavirus signaled that the decision to send all children back to school would be justified even in a scenario in which all of them became infected with the coronavirus.

“These kids have got to get back to school,” Gov. Mike Parson told a radio host on Friday. “They’re at the lowest risk possible. And if they do get COVID-19, which they will — and they will when they go to school — they’re not going to the hospitals. They’re not going to have to sit in doctor’s offices. They’re going to go home and they’re going to get over it.”

Putting aside the fact that his science is totally off — kid above 10 are just as susceptible to the virus — Parson ignores the fact that exposing and sending children home will create mini infection vectors statewide. That will endanger parents, grandparents, and every other adult, producing viral explosions in every single Missouri municipality.

Meanwhile, Florida’s largest teachers union is now suing Gov. Ron DeSantis for trying to force school reopenings next month. In response, DeSantis is trying to pretend that he has nothing to do with the executive order he’s been flogging for weeks.

John Lewis’s Replacement

OK, no one can ever replace the late Congressman John Lewis, but Georgia Democrats are required to put someone on the ballot for his very safe seat in the House of Representatives. The party’s executive committee met on Monday to select Lewis’s successor and made a pretty obvious choice: State Senator and Georgia Democratic Party Chairwoman Nikema Williams.

As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes, not all Democrats are pleased with how the selection was made. Lewis already won the primary last month, so the party was required to choose someone to put directly on the ballot, but the fact that leaders did so without any conditions rankled some close to Lewis:

Some called for the party to tap a “place-holder” candidate who would serve only one two-year term or resign in January to clear the way for a wide-open vote. Among them was Michael Collins, Lewis’ former top aide, who urged the committee in a letter sent Monday to carry out the “will of the people.”

“He believed very strongly that the people who represent the citizens should be elected by the citizens,” Collins wrote of Lewis. “And that a free and fair election, where all individuals have a level-playing field, is in the best interest of our democracy.”

Andrew Gillum’s Bravest Speech

This time last year, Former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum looked like one of the Democratic Party’s fastest rising stars. A progressive favorite who rode grassroots momentum to come within a half-point of becoming governor of Florida in 2018, he was building a national profile as a regular on CNN and serving as a voting rights advocate, with an eye on helping the party flip the state in 2020.

Then in March, Gillum was found drunk in a Miami Beach hotel room with a gay porn actor who’d overdosed on crystal meth. The scandal rocked Florida and would have been a bigger national story had it not been for the mushrooming virus that was shutting down the country. Gillum withdrew from public life, announced that he was entering rehab, and then went silent. Until today.

In a video posted to his Instagram account, Gillum discusses his struggles with depression and addiction, which he says overwhelmed him in the 18 months that followed his narrow loss to now-Governor Ron DeSantis. He’s candid and straight-forward in the video, admitting that the loss was more devastating than he’d expected. His father, he says, died from alcoholism, and he found himself mired in a similar cycle of self-harm when the police found him in that hotel room.

The video is below, and I suggest you watch it all, but I wanted to highlight this quote, which I found to be particularly brave — people are so often willing to discuss the pain that comes from things that happen to them, but rarely mention their own shortcomings in such an honest way:

“I had totally underestimated the impact that losing the race for Governor had had on my life and on the way those impacts started to show up on every aspect of my life. I didn’t want to talk emotionally or really deeply about what had happened in the race for Governor because it was a constant reminder of failure and my own personal failures. It was a reminder that I had let so many people down.”

Given just how terribly and cruelly DeSantis has performed throughout his term, especially during the COVID-19 crisis, it’s heartbreaking to see the humanity that Floridians missed out on. Other lawmakers have reclaimed careers (or even gone unpunished) after truly criminal acts and moral failures, so Gillum more than deserves another chance, should he want that.

I am thankful to so many of you who have wished me well during this especially challenging time. I wanted to provide a personal update on how I have been doing. Take good care of yourselves during this season and I will see you on the other side. Warmest, Andrew
July 20, 2020

RIP Michael Brooks

The beloved progressive radio host Michael Brooks died suddenly on Monday, shocking listeners, activists, and friends. Brooks made the fight for justice fun and introduced progressivism to a new generation. Few have the gifts he made look so natural.


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