Sound, Fury, and the Filibuster

What's it gonna take?

Welcome to a premium Tuesday evening edition of Progressives Everywhere!

I gotta say, things have really escalated since I sent out Sunday’s newsletter: The battle over voting rights in Texas has gone national, some Iowans made some big news, the beloved Kmart/portal to another dimension at Astor Place was abruptly shut down, and Mets’ star first baseman Pete Alonso won his second-straight All-Star Home Run Derby in Colorado last night.

Tonight, we will discuss three of those things and check in on some other news, too.



Iowa: Voting rights advocate Deidre DeJear went public yesterday with an exploratory committee for a potential 2022 run for governor. She ran a strong race for Iowa Secretary of State back in 2018 and was one of the first candidates that I interviewed and fundraise for via this newsletter.

On the other hand, another bright young Iowa candidate and Progressives Everywhere endorsee, JD Scholten, announced today that he will not seek any elected office in 2022. Instead, he will lead RuralVote.org in an effort to help progressive populists regain a foothold in the rural regions where they once dominated. He nearly unseated Rep. Steve King in 2018, a near-upset that set up the avowed Nazi’s primary downfall in 2020.

Given the extreme right tilt of Iowa’s 4th Congressional district (R +16!), Scholten didn’t stand much of a chance against the more standard-issue Republican Randy Feenstra in last year’s general election, but he remains a bright young talent who has done yeoman’s work trying to force Democrats to pay attention to rural issues like farm monopolies. I’m excited to see what he does with his new organization.

Georgia: As the blowout results of a special legislative election in Cobb County made clear tonight, Republican voters are very motivated right now. It would be nice to give Democrats reasons to volunteer and get out the vote, too.

Florida: The fight to legalize sports betting in the state just hit the jackpot. FanDuel and Draft Kings have each put $10 million into a ballot initiative, which is being led by a group called Florida Education Champions. Why the strange name? Its leaders claim the tax revenue from sports betting would go to education, which is hard to imagine happening under the current Florida regime!

The money was transferred right before the GOP enacted its preposterous $3000 cap on donations to ballot initiative campaigns, which was almost immediately suspended by a judge.

Arizona: State Rep. Mark Finchem, one of the foremost lunatics driving the endless vote “audit" and a candidate for Secretary of State, will be speaking at a major QAnon convention in October. Too bad the filibuster precludes us from preventing these people control our elections going forward!


Voting Rights

On Sunday, Republicans in the Texas state legislature advanced two versions of the most extreme anti-voter bill in the country.

On Monday, Democrats not only repeated the quorum-break gambit that first stopped the voter suppression bill in late May, but also risked their own arrest by fleeing the state altogether. Over 50 members of the caucus flew on two charter planes to Washington, DC, where they have resumed an effort to convince stubborn Democratic senators to finally give in on the filibuster and pass the For The People Act.

The move shouldn’t have come as a surprise to astute readers of this newsletter, as Rep. Trey Martinez Smith hinted heavily at the great escape in an interview we published on Sunday, mere hours before the news broke:

“All of our tools are on the table,” he said. “The issue of us having a quorum is embedded in our Texas constitution, so for folks who criticize our use of the quorum, the issue is really better directed at our Texas constitution, because that's a constitutional right that we have. We'll put all those tools on the table and we will use them if necessary.”

If that didn’t make it obvious enough, here was the kicker to that story:

“If it takes a band of ragtag Texas Democrats from the State House of Representatives to walk out and take our fight to Washington, DC and convince senators, whether it be Senator Manchin or Sinema or anybody else for that matter, that does not see the sense of urgency here, we're happy to bring our story to our nation's capital again,” he said. “This is a now-or-never moment for our country. And if we're gonna have voting rights reformed in this cycle, it's going to be done now.”

The Texas lawmakers began raising a ruckus for voting rights before they even got on the planes to DC, and since they’ve landed, they’ve done everything in their power to build more pressure on reluctant Democrats. They’ve been greeted as heroes by leaders in DC and scored a meeting right off the bat with Vice President Kamala Harris, who is leading the point on voting rights for the White House.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has promised to have the lawmakers arrested once they arrive back in the state, which may not be for a while, considering that he also pledged to call special session after special session until he is able to sign the suppression bill into law.

Biden gave a big address on voting rights today in Philadelphia, during which he sounded all the right notes but left out the only part that actually mattered. The President condemned the GOP’s Jim Crow revival and made a forceful defense of American democracy but made no mention of the filibuster, the parliamentary ally of generations of bigots and autocratic monsters. That glaring omission was immediately picked up by civil rights activists, who made their concern clear in comments to the press.

No array of lawsuits or voter registration events will make up for not stepping up and passing the For The People Act. Republicans will always cheat in any way available to them, whether it’s gerrymandering or overturning elections or suppressing the vote. A speech without a promise to truly use the power of the presidency to push for the law’s passage is just a performance. Without going in on the filibuster, he might as well have just read out an ActBlue URL, which is exactly what the White House is doing right now:

The White House defends Biden's efforts on behalf of the For the People Act and says he will once again call for its passage Tuesday. But officials have been careful about how he uses his political capital, seeing a better use in mobilizing Democrats to put voting rights front and center in next year's midterm elections.

If that doesn’t scream “cynically using the assault on democracy to raise money” to you, here’s an email sent by the DNC this morning:

Whether the Texas Democrats can move Biden further or the recalcitrant senators at all remains to be seen. But it’s not just voting rights that are at risk here — just about every right we enjoy could be wiped out by a GOP takeover of government.

If Democrats don’t pass the For The People Act, they will be handing Republicans the opportunity to gerrymander and Jim Crow their way to majorities in both Congress and in state legislatures. 

At that point, Democrats will lose any opportunity to confirm new Supreme Court justices or pass new protections for women’s health.

They’ll be subjecting LGBTQ+ people to the extreme bigotry of right-wing Republicans.

They’ll be abandoning the 30+ million Americans without health care. 

They’ll be empowering white supremacists.

They’ll be surrendering to corporate greed.

And they’ll be dooming the planet to climate change apocalypse. 

History will turn on this decision. And if Democrats don’t step up, they’ll be remembered forever, or for however long this planet lasts, as cowards who actively enabled our downfall.

North Carolina: While the presence of Democratic Governor Roy Cooper will stop these bills from becoming law, the state’s Republican legislators are making it clear that they are one midterm election win from enacting their own voter suppression laws.

In North Carolina, the GOP would significantly reduce the absentee voting window, add voter ID provisions, and ban the use of outside donations for election administration. Their last round of voter suppression laws got struck down by the Democratic-controlled state Supreme Court, but after flipping two seats in 2020 (including winning one painfully close race) l, they’ve got a chance to turn the court red in 2022.

Georgia: There was never any doubt that the GOP’s voter suppression law was specifically designed to make it harder to vote in the state’s bluest (and most multicultural) counties, and now we have the numbers to prove it. If anything, the extent to which the law disproportionately disadvantages voters in those places is even more extreme than expected; the number of ballot drop boxes available in the four counties in question will drop from 111 to a maximum of 23, which will undoubtedly lead to a not insignificant decline in turnout:

According to the Supreme Court, this is completely legal right now. The tattered remnants of the Voting Rights Act will no longer protect us against even the most blatant voter suppression, no matter how much donor money Democrats wage at it. Once again, we need a robust new voting rights law.

Spending Money on Good Stuff

National: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer just announced a deal on a $3.5 trillion infrastructure plan that the party plans to pass via budget reconciliation. Take a look:

How do progressives feel about this? Well, on the one hand, Bernie Sanders literally just rejected a $3.5 trillion top-line number on Sunday, but on the other hand, the package includes an expansion of Medicare that the Vermont senator has long championed.

Maybe now they can start focusing on saving democracy?

Rhode Island: Providence is launching a very small universal basic income pilot program. Starting in September, the city will start sending a monthly $500 check to 110 residents that have been randomly selected from a pool of applicants limited to those with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty line:

The guaranteed income pilot program is aimed in part at conducting research on the effect of providing unconditional cash payments to families each month, run by the Center for Guaranteed Income Research at the University of Pennsylvania. There will also be a control group that does not receive the money, and both groups will be asked to participate in surveys, focus groups and interviews. (A stipend will be provided to the control group for participating.)

The money for the study is being provided by a number of rich philanthropists, including Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey.

The fall of the Astor Place Kmart: It might not seem particularly relevant to our coverage tonight, but it’s a big-box retailer that just killed some jobs, so let’s count it.

I worked directly above and lived nearby that Kmart for a number of years, so I wound up spending a fair amount of time in that haunted dungeon of commerce. It provided me plenty of junk food and shoddy off-brand homeware in a pinch, and even though big-box retailers are largely a menace to the city, I am far from the only New Yorker who has oddly fond memories of the place and experienced a tinge of melancholy nostalgia when learning of its demise.


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