Purvi Patel was sentenced to 20 years in prison for allegedly terminating her own pregnancy with medication she ordered online. By the time the Indiana Court of Appeals overturned the feticide conviction in 2016, Patel had been incarcerated for three years.
Patel is one of at least 20 people who was arrested or investigated for a self-induced abortion since 1973.
“We don’t want anybody else to have to suffer that fate,” said Jill Adams, chief strategist of the Self-Induced Abortion (SIA) Legal Team.
The growing hostility to abortion rights could mean an uptick in arrests, and so lawyers with the SIA Legal Team formally launched a free, confidential helpline and website on Tuesday to help anyone who’s criminalized for “self-managing,” or performing an abortion themselves.
“While we know of at least 20 people arrested for self-managing abortion or helping a loved one do so, we suspect the number is far greater than that and we anticipate that the helpline will bring our attention to many more of these cases,” Adams told ThinkProgress.
With the advent of medication abortion and mounting research demonstrating its safety, there’s a fear among reproductive rights/justice advocates that a prison cell might replace the “coat-hanger” motif as more people choose to self-manage.
In the last six months, Dutch physician Rebecca Gomperts has sent low-cost medication to roughly 600 people living in the United States who wanted to terminate their pregnancies at home. Residents who’d prefer to have an abortion outside a clinical setting or, for example, just can’t travel 100 miles to the nearest provider now have the option to order a prescription of misoprostol and mifepristone for $95 using the website, Aid Access. (The federal government now wants to shut the website down.)
“The main risks for people who are going to self-manage or use Aid Access are not medical risks,” said Dr. Abigail Aiken, who studies self-managed abortion.
When taken 24 hours apart, misoprostol and mifepristone can effectively and safely terminate a pregnancy up to 10 weeks. Indeed, in one study conducted by Aiken and Gomperts, 95 percent of 1000 women successfully terminated their pregnancy without professional interference using medication they ordered online. Only seven had serious complications and reported receiving blood transfusions, but there were no deaths.
“The risks to people are legal ones,” Aiken told ThinkProgress. That’s why she’s grateful for SIA Legal Team’s new helpline.
Laws in dozens of states across the country could be used to punish patients who self-manage their abortions — albeit, there’s a concerted effort to eliminate these decades-old laws.
While it’s nearly impossible to determine whether someone self-manages or miscarries, patients are usually reported to law enforcement by people they confide in, like medical providers (even though providers aren’t required by law to report suspicion). For instance, police learned about Patel after she went to a Catholic hospital for a severe hemorrhage and her treating OB-GYN, who was affiliated with an anti-abortion group, called her in.
Regardless of how or why someone decides to self-manage, patients who are afraid they’ll be questioned by police or even arrested are being advised to call 844-868-2812 or Signal 707-827-9528. People who call the SIA Legal Team helpline will be able to immediately talk to a non-attorney advocate about their rights. Should they need a lawyer, they’ll eventually be connected to one.
SIA Legal Team lawyers are also available to back up public defenders who know little to nothing about self-managed abortion. Adams suspects a lot of public defenders and criminal defense attorneys have defended people accused of self-managing but didn’t see the through line because they were charged with a drug-related crime or child abuse. She foresees a swell as the anti-abortion movement is further emboldened.
“The makeup of all three branches of the federal government, the culture surrounding abortion, and growing antipathy toward people who have abortions make this helpline more needed and more promising than ever,” said Adams.
“People of color, immigrants, and low income people are most at risk of being arrested or suspected for self-managing their abortions and that is, number one, because of the obstacle to clinic-based care and, number two, because of the structural inequities to health care access.”
A practical support network already exists for marginalized communities who need to have a clinic-based abortion. There are advocacy groups who pay for abortions if patients are uninsured, or even drive and house them if it’s more than a day’s procedure. Given the ongoing barriers to access, a parallel network for self-managed abortion is now forming alongside this.
A Monday campaign event for Corey Stewart, the Republican Senate candidate from Virginia and Minnesota man who is very concerned about the destruction of Confederate monuments, featured a speaker who urged conservatives “to turn that ‘blue wave’ into a blue grave.”
According to a video tweeted by Ian Sams, communications director for Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Stewart was introduced in Lynchburg by an unidentified woman who said, “We need to do everything we can to turn that ‘blue wave’ into a blue grave.”
Woman introducing @CoreyStewartVA in Lynchburg today: “We need to do everything we can to turn that ‘blue wave’ into a BLUE GRAVE.”
This is days after pipe bombs are mailed to numerous leading Democrats and 11 are murdered in a Pittsburgh synagogue.
This is not okay. pic.twitter.com/CTmqPOrFtQ
— Ian Sams (@IanSams) October 29, 2018
The remarks come just one week after several prominent Democrats who have been frequent targets of Trump’s incendiary rhetoric were sent explosive devices. The suspect, Cesar Sayoc, reportedly attended multiple Trump rallies and drove a van covered in stickers supporting the president and taking aim at numerous Democrats and the media.
Stewart, a favorite of white nationalists, has a long history of racism. The Trump-endorsed Republican deleted a tweet in August that referred to Democrat Abdul El-Sayed, a son of Egyptian immigrants and Rhodes scholar, as a “far left ISIS commie.” Stewart later claimed that tweet “was posted by a vendor that his campaign contracted to help build support through social media.”
Stewart also recently deleted another tweet, this one saying Kaine should worry about “his own Virginia citizens” instead of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist and Virginia resident who was murdered inside a Saudi Arabian consulate earlier this month.
Trump said Stewart, who lost Virginia elections for lieutenant governor in 2013 and governor in 2017, has “a major chance of winning” in June. The Republican trails Kaine by an average of nearly 20 percentage points in recent polling.
President Donald Trump’s administration announced on Monday it is sending 5,000 active-duty troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in the latest stunt designed to raise fears about a migrant caravan traveling north from Central America.
The Pentagon, under Defense Secretary James Mattis, reportedly approved operation Faithful Patriot last week. Despite initial estimates that 800 troops would be sent to the border, Fox News reported that 1,700 members of the U.S. military are expected to be at the southern border by Saturday.
JUST IN: US troops already flowing to border. 800 arrived today. Another 200 to arrive tomorrow. 1700 will be in place by Saturday, according to senior US defense official. 5000 total expected to be sent. Mattis signed order Friday authorizing troops to be there through Dec 15,
— Jennifer Griffin (@JenGriffinFNC) October 29, 2018
Politico noted some troops already at the border “are actually feeding and shoveling out manure from the stalls of the Border Patrol’s horses.”
Gil Kerlikowske, former Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) commissioner, told the Washington Post that Trump’s action is “a misuse of active duty military,” adding, “To say this isn’t a political stunt is misleading the public.”
The Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham noted the number of U.S. troops at the border will exceed the number of members of the caravan, which continues to shrink as migrants claim asylum in Mexico during the dangerous journey.
Number of troops being sent to the border: 5,200
Est. current size of caravan: 3,000-4,000
Normal daily number of pedestrian crossings at El Paso crossing: 18,000
— Christopher Ingraham (@_cingraham) October 29, 2018
Earlier on Monday, Trump resumed tweeting conspiracy theories about the migrant caravan. The anti-Semite who has been charged with murdering 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday also ranted about right-wing caravan conspiracy theories on social media.
The smears of migrants fleeing violence, natural disasters, and brutal authoritarian crackdowns have been amplified by conservative media and elected Republicans alike, as the manufactured migrant caravan controversy has become the GOP’s closing argument in advance of next week’s midterm elections.
Numerous prominent Republicans, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX), Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), and Trump, have amplified the baseless conspiracy theory that the migrant caravan is being funded or directed by George Soros, who was targeted in last week’s spate of attempted bombings of Democrats who have been frequent focuses of Trump’s incendiary rhetoric.
Last week, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said there are no plans for the U.S. government to shoot at the asylum-seekers “right now.”
Shepard Smith, Fox News’ unofficial on-air ombudsman, reacted to the Pentagon’s announcement by telling viewers, “There is no invasion. No one is coming to get you. There is nothing at all to worry about.”
Shep Smith on the migrant caravan: "There is no invasion. No one is coming to get you. There is nothing at all to worry about." pic.twitter.com/4dLmPuZem0
— Jon Passantino (@passantino) October 29, 2018
On Monday, the Supreme Court turned away an effort to reinstate Pennsylvania’s gerrymandered congressional maps. Although this is not the first time the Court refused to bail out the GOP’s partisan gerrymander in this state, it is the first time it turned away this case since Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation gave Republicans a solid majority on the Supreme Court.
The case is Turzai v. Brandt.
Last January, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down that state’s congressional maps because they violated the state constitution. The unconstitutional maps were so aggressively gerrymandered that Republicans won 13 of the state’s 18 congressional districts in 2012 even though Democrats won a majority of the popular vote.
The state supreme court’s decision should have been the final word on the case. As a general rule, state supreme courts have the final word on questions of state law, and the Supreme Court of the United States cannot overrule their interpretation of a state constitution. Nevertheless, Pennsylvania Republicans came to the U.S. Supreme Court with a legal theory that is simultaneously outlandish but nevertheless well-crafted to appeal to Republican judges.
The Constitution provides that “the times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.” Pennsylvania Republicans argue that this language prevents the state supreme court from tossing out a partisan gerrymander because a court is not a legislature.
The U.S. Supreme Court, however, has repeatedly rejected this reading of the word “legislature.” It did so most recently in its 2015 decision in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistrict Commission.
More than a century ago, the Supreme Court held that redistricting can be determined by a referendum. Not long thereafter, the Supreme Court held that the governor may veto state redistricting legislation, even though the governor is not a member of a state’s legislative branch. Taken together, these cases establish that when the Constitution assigns the power to draw districts to the “legislature,” it refers to the state’s valid lawmaking process — not necessarily to the body of lawmakers elected by the people.
Nevertheless, Arizona State Legislature was a 5-4 decision, with four Republicans arguing that the word “legislature” can only refer to a state’s legislative branch.
The Court’s fifth Republican, Justice Anthony Kennedy, crossed over to vote with the Court’s four Democrats in Arizona State Legislature. But Kennedy is no longer on the Court, and his replacement, Brett Kavanaugh, is a hardline conservative who appeared to call for revenge against Democrats during his confirmation hearing.
At the very least, however, Kavanaugh will not be able to take his revenge in this particular case. The Court’s decision not to hear Turzai suggests that, at the very least, Republicans don’t have the votes to reinstate one of the nation’s most egregious gerrymanders.
I publicly came out as transgender while living as an immigrant in Washington, D.C. — less than a week before Donald Trump was elected president.
I was allowed four whole days of excitement before election night turned that feeling into fear and anger. Still, I somehow felt I could count on a sense of hope that the new administration would be met with resistance; that the political center would still hold. It took another year before America convinced me otherwise. And I ended up moving back across the Atlantic in terror and despair.
The reason I had such high hopes to begin with was North Carolina, where I’d previously lived and worked as a reporter from 2015 to 2016, covering topics like the anti-trans bathroom bill (HB2). It was a formative experience, for two reasons. The first was interviewing all the incredible LGBTQ activists fighting back against then-Gov. Pat McCrory (R), who led Republican lawmakers in discriminating against trans people. Witnessing their courage firsthand, gave me the courage I needed to finally come out as transgender. The second reason was that it was Southerners, the Americans most widely maligned overseas as near-ubiquitously unprogressive, who showed me the mettle and decency of ordinary U.S. citizens when they are galvanized to act.
North Carolina had been particularly horrified by the way HB2 was used as a recruitment tool for the KKK, and so disgust at an extreme right resurgence made the state vote even harder against McCrory in 2016. And on election night, it was Southern friends — on the left, skeptical of endorsing Hillary Clinton — who phoned me to say they’d held their noses and voted Hillary specifically to protect people like me.
Trump administration just laid out its legal argument against trans rights — it’s hot garbage
Even after Trump’s inauguration, I regarded this, along with widespread liberal outrage at the new administration, as a sign of the resistance we were about to witness nationwide. But there were other signs that caused me to start doubting that North Carolina was a blueprint for America’s political will after all.
Trump’s election saw an immediate spike in hate crimes nationally, and a ThinkProgress study of 261 hate incidents found 41.7 percent were connected to Trump’s victory. Pro-Trump hate crimes proceeded to rise for a second straight year. A far-right rally in Charlottesville in August 2017 demonstrated not just the extreme right’s commitment to hate and assault, but also the White House’s commitment to validate the perpetrators.
To the horror of trans people across America, and devastatingly counter to what North Carolina’s resolve had led me to believe, the White House found it easy to divide progressives on the matter of our right to exist in record time. We watched as liberal public intellectuals nastily wrung their hands about whether trans women should be called women. And we watched as the left split like ripe fruit over Trump’s proposed ban on trans troops, as if it were somehow anti-imperialist, rather than a calculated move to devalue the existence of trans people in a national culture curiously dependent on the honoring of soldiers.
Trans people predicted each new blow before it happened, and each time we were shrugged off as either irrelevant or overly dramatic.
Meanwhile the political center ultimately chose to prevaricate about “both sides,” almost unanimously smearing the now-exonerated inauguration protesters while running puff profiles on prominent fascists and defending the promotion of ethnic and transphobic cleansing (by known opportunists) as a valid topic for which public platforms must host debates to serve the “marketplace of ideas.”
Trans people predicted each new blow before it happened, and each time we were shrugged off as either irrelevant or overly dramatic. That we were an easy target for oppression became increasingly obvious to ourselves, and to the White House, but for some reason not to several ostensibly pro-LGBTQ institutions and leaders on the center right — such as the Log Cabin Republicans and well-known trans Republicans, like Caitlyn Jenner.
The past week has been the worst, so far, for trans Americans. It was revealed that the Department of Justice is pushing the Supreme Court to rule in favor of housing and employment discrimination against trans people. Perhaps even more horrifying, a leaked government memo has proposed genetic testing (a “federal registry of genitals” which could affect anyone) to define sex as “either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with.”
Trump’s anti-trans memo joins a long list of attacks against transgender people
Trans writers and journalists with far less inconsistent track records than Jenner et al expressed despair last week at having their voices kept out of legacy media outlets during their most devastating week of this administration. A slim but growing majority of Americans poll in support of trans rights, yet powerful media institutions remain stubbornly disinterested in reflecting the lives and needs of their own readerships. Perhaps just for the clicks, trans rights and the ordinary voters who support them remain smothered by editors overwhelmingly committed to unscientific, bad-faith coverage from professional concern trolls.
The moral majority, and the fine activism of progressives against this government’s increasingly rabid transphobia, still have too little traction in the corridors of power where Americans should expect their day-to-day realities to be reflected.
This is why, by the time Heather Heyer was murdered by a far-right activist who drove his car through a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, I was already thinking it might be time for me to flee. I’d been forced to consider that America was unwilling, after all, to stick to its own declarations of outrage at the rise of fascism.
It was impossible to place any faith in the spluttering condemnation of Trump’s “many fine people on both sides” comment, because I felt too certain those outraged progressives would soon be aping that same rhetoric in misguided acts of appeasement. I remembered that premonition particularly strongly last week, when Democrats were sent pipe bombs and Chuck Schumer’s top priority (perhaps thinking of rape survivors yelling in restaurants at his poor frightened Senate colleagues) was to broadcast the absurd pretense that “despicable acts of violence and harassment are being carried out by radicals across the political spectrum.”
The anti-trans Trump memo is already a reality for people like me
My last home in the United States was a small college town in Ohio, a progressive haven for queer and trans people to live as themselves. Last fall, in the dead of night, a local far-right group rolled into town to cover it in flyers proclaiming their commitment to preserving the “traditional American family.” Local police dismissed offhand people’s fears that this was a threat to LGBTQ families and people of color in town. Members in my own household responded with irritation to my fear that the government could end up doing something that might define me out of existence, angrily refusing to discuss such a surely histrionic and absurd prediction of a thing that very much took place last week. I had nothing left to give, and I was gone within the month.
Though I fled the country in fear, I was only able to because I was lucky enough to have somewhere to go. But for the vast majority who cannot leave (and who are, in any case, entitled to live safe and free in their own country), I still think North Carolina shows us the way in how best to support trans people, from seeking out and amplifying trans voices, to supporting and donating to trans organizations, to remaining vocal and turning up the pressure on those in power. The fight against HB2 represented the best of America. And it’s the kind of advocacy and leadership trans people deserve.
Laurie Richards is a British journalist covering transgender topics in the U.K. and U.S.
President Donald Trump called Brazil’s far-right president-elect Jair Bolsonaro on Monday, congratulating him on his victory and vowing, on Twitter, that the United States and Brazil would “work closely together on Trade, Military and everything else!”
Had a very good conversation with the newly elected President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, who won his race by a substantial margin. We agreed that Brazil and the United States will work closely together on Trade, Military and everything else! Excellent call, wished him congrats!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 29, 2018
Although U.S. trade has been operating at a slight deficit with Brazil, President Trump has not excluded the country from the list of nations he claims are taking advantage of the U.S. with high tariffs on American imports.
“That’s a beauty, they charge us whatever they want. If you ask some of the companies, they say Brazil is among the toughest in the world, maybe the toughest in the world. We don’t call them and say, ‘hey, you’re treating our businesses unfairly, you’re treating our country unfairly,'” said Trump earlier this month.
Now, President Trump has reason to be enthusiastic about Bolsonaro’s victory: For one thing, the Brazilian hard-liner is a fan of his, even using Trump’s language in is campaign appearances and interviews.
Anna Prusa, program associate at the Wilson Center’s Brazil Institute told ThinkProgress that Bolsonaro’s election has a potential to reshape U.S.-Brazil relations.
Brazil’s new president is far-right populist who called a congresswoman too ugly to rape
“For the first time in decades…we have a leader of Brazil and a leader of the United States who are pretty well-aligned on key issues, but two leaders who also seem like they’ll get along on a personal level — they’re very similar in a number of ways,” said Prusa.
“Just like he wants to make America great, I want to make Brazil great,” said Bolsonaro, already called “the Donald Trump of Brazil,” in a TV interview in July.
Like Trump, Bolsonaro, a former military captain, positioned himself the outsider who could wipe out corruption (aka “drain the swamp”) and has dropped a trail of anti-gay, sexist, and racially charged, anti-immigrant comments along with way.
He has spoken in favor of torture, dictatorship, and like President Trump, his supporters have threatened the media.
Still, the U.S. State Department issued a statement on Monday congratulating Bolsonaro, highlighting “our mutual commitment to promote security, democracy, economic prosperity, and human rights.”
The massive corruption scandal that fueled the rise of Brazil’s Bolsonaro
A supporter of the National Rifle Association, Bolsonaro wants to change the country’s gun laws, making it easier to buy guns in a country with soaring violent crime rates.
Making guns more available is an interesting move. Brazil has strong (if uneven) arms sales, and according to the country’s federal police the bulk of guns that end up in the hands of its criminals come from the United States.
Prusa said Bolsonaro would get a law passed in congress in order to allow for gun ownership for the general public — and he will likely have the majority he needs when the new congress is sworn in in 2019.
“One of his core constituencies within that congress is what we call the ‘Bullets, beef and Bible’ caucus — a coalition of conservative law-and-order people, agribusiness and the evangelicals…and if [Bolsonaro] wanted to make guns more available, they would help him do it,” she added.
“He certainly borrowed a lot from the Trump campaign in terms of the use of social media, the inflammatory rhetoric, this idea of speaking directly to the the people — and Bolsonaro has said several times that he’d like to see better relations with the United States,” said Prusa.
Some of that, she said might just be talk, or just “presidential diplomacy” — just support for each other on the world stage and maybe, eventually, a bilateral trade deal.
As with President Trump, Bolsonaro is shifting his country’s domestic and foreign policy to the far right — he said he will move the Brazilian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as President Trump has controversially done, and is considering pulling out of multinational deals and agreements such as the Paris Climate Accord, as Trump has.
Like Trump, Bolsonaro has vowed to play hardball with China on trade (although, so far, President Trump’s locking of horns with China Xi Jinping has only served to damage both economies). He’s also vowing to loosen environmental rules in favor of the mining industry.
Regionally, though, a more cooperative Brazil could be very useful to Trump administration goals.
“I think the White House would love to see Bolsonaro take a strong lead in the region on issues like Venezuela, helping lead the right-leaning governments, like Chile and Paraguay, to contain Venezuela and counter the more left-leaning governments in the region,” said Prusa.
Venezuela is drowning political and economic strife, hemorrhaging people to neighboring countries as its currency drops and as shortages of food and medical supplies crush its population. The Trump administration has considered a number of options there — from an invasion to instigating a military coup — but ended up backing away from both.
“They won’t want to see [Bolsonaro] go too far — I don’t think Brazil will invade Venezuela, for example — but I think the White House won’t want to see the refugee crisis get much worse,” she added.
Trump resumes tweeting about caravan conspiracy theories that apparently inspired Pittsburgh shooter
President Donald Trump resumed tweeting baseless conspiracy theories about a migrant caravan that is traveling north from Central America on Monday morning, less than 48 hours after an anti-Semite who reportedly promoted similar conspiracy theories on social media murdered 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue.
Many Gang Members and some very bad people are mixed into the Caravan heading to our Southern Border. Please go back, you will not be admitted into the United States unless you go through the legal process. This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 29, 2018
Trump also tweeted a message to members of the caravan on Thursday, urging them to “go back” to their countries.
To those in the Caravan, turnaround, we are not letting people into the United States illegally. Go back to your Country and if you want, apply for citizenship like millions of others are doing!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 25, 2018
Robert Bowers reportedly hinted at his plan to kill Jewish people in his final message posted on Gab, a refuge for white supremacists who have been banned from Twitter, hours before Saturday’s shooting.
An analysis of Bowers’ other social media activity reveals numerous references to absurd conservative conspiracy theories about the migrant caravan being funded or directed by George Soros. Several prominent Republicans, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX), Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), and Trump, have amplified Soros smears in recent weeks. The 88-year-old Holocaust survivor was a target of last week’s spate of attempted bombings of Democrats who have been frequent focuses of Trump’s incendiary rhetoric.
The very rude elevator screamers are paid professionals only looking to make Senators look bad. Don’t fall for it! Also, look at all of the professionally made identical signs. Paid for by Soros and others. These are not signs made in the basement from love! #Troublemakers
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 5, 2018
The costliest House race in the nation — so far — will end with the election of either a Republican who welcomes President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement or a Democrat who believes the United States has a responsibility to the world to reduce its carbon emissions.
It’s not unusual for a Republican running for Congress to back Trump’s position on the Paris agreement. But the Republican in this expensive election is atypical because, along with expressing his climate denial views, he also is touting an award that he received from an environmental group that strongly opposes Trump’s environmental record.
At an October 17 debate between the contenders for Washington state’s 8th congressional district, Republican candidate Dino Rossi embraced Trump’s rhetoric about the Paris climate agreement, claiming that global efforts to fight climate change let China and India “off the hook” and “handcuffed America.” Under the agreement, though, China and India are obligated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
Kim Schrier, Rossi’s Democratic opponent, said she strongly opposed Trump’s decision to pull the United States from the Paris agreement, emphasizing that she has grown frustrated with policymakers who have turned reducing greenhouse gas emission into a political issue. “I look at this as a pediatrician and a mom and what our actions today really mean for the next generation and generations beyond,” she said.
Behind Washington’s ambitious carbon fee proposal, a diverse coalition works for the future
Environmental groups have accused Rossi, who has served in the Washington state Senate, of “greenwashing” his record. At the debate, Rossi pointed out that the Washington Conservation Voters, a state group affiliated with the League of Conservation Voters, gave him a “Distinguished Deeds” recognition. However, that recognition came in 2002.
“That award from the Washington Conservation Voters is so old it could have its own driver’s license,” Schrier said at the October 17 debate in response to Rossi citing the award to boost his environmental record. Meanwhile, for this year’s midterm election, the Washington Conservation Voters’ national affiliate has endorsed Schrier.
“They have endorsed me in this race,” she said, “because they know I take this issue seriously and I will absolutely be a champion for climate action.”
Rossi’s environmental record has declined since he received the award in 2002; his scorecard in the Washington state legislature in 2017 was 0 percent. For his entire career in the state Senate, Rossi has a 31 percent lifetime score from the state environmental group.
“Why is Dino Rossi repeatedly boasting about a 16-year-old acknowledgement from a group whose national affiliate has endorsed against him?” Pete Maysmith, LCV Victory Fund senior vice president for campaigns, said in a statement. “Rossi’s misleading rhetoric shows he now knows that the voters of the 8th district want a pro-environment leader in Congress — but Rossi also clearly doesn’t want those same voters to know about his failing record on environmental issues.”
In his unsuccessful 2010 Senate campaign to unseat Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Rossi’s talking points on climate change were similar to the statements made today by climate deniers. His Senate campaign said Rossi believes the Earth is warming but isn’t sure how much humans are to blame.
Rossi also unsuccessfully ran for governor of Washington in 2008. During that campaign, Rossi emphasized “there’s still a lot of debate going on” about climate change. “We’ll see how this debate goes, but I don’t think anyone should panic at this point,” he added.
In May 2010, however, the National Academies of Science (NAS) reported to Congress that “the U.S. should act now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and develop a national strategy to adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change” because global warming is “caused largely by human activities.”
And earlier this month, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change followed up on the 2010 NAS report, concluding in a new study that the world has about a dozen years to take action or else it will cross a key threshold of dangerous climate change by 2040.
In Washington’s 8th district, access to clean air and water, protecting public lands, and addressing the effects of climate change are important issues to residents, according to Shannon Murphy, president of Washington Conservation Voters.
Farming is a major part of the congressional district’s economy. “This agricultural district depends on natural resources for its economy and livelihood,” Murphy said Monday in an email to ThinkProgress.
The retirement of Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA), announced in September 2017, set up the open-seat race between Rossi and Schrier. Reichert is a member of the House Climate Solutions Caucus. The 8th district includes the eastern portions of King and Pierce counties, Washington, and crosses the Cascade mountains to include Chelan and Kittitas counties.
Landmark climate study thoroughly debunks one of deniers’ go-to talking points
The focus on climate and the environment in the 8th congressional district is occurring in the same year that Washington residents will vote on whether to adopt a carbon fee, a policy to combat climate change that charges polluters for the right to emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Washington will make history if the measure passes, becoming the first state to adopt a carbon fee or tax and the first government anywhere to do so by ballot referendum.
Democrats have outspent Republicans nearly 2-to-1 in the race, with Schrier and Democratic groups spending more than $16 million, compared to about $9.5 million for Rossi and Republican groups, the Seattle Times reported Sunday. Among his benefactors, Trump’s presidential reelection effort has contributed $2,000 to Rossi’s campaign.
Earlier this year LCV Victory Fund named Washington’s 8th congressional district as a priority race for an investment of at least $15 million in retaking a green House majority, with more specific announcements expected in the coming days.
UPDATE: Article updated to include the comments of Washington Conservation Voters President Shannon Murphy.
Several weeks back, the Pennsylvania press uncovered the fact that Marty Nothstein, the Republican nominee for the open Pennsylvania 7th Congressional District seat, was placed on unpaid leave by a former employer after he was accused of sexual misconduct. Now, slightly behind in polling, he has launched a vicious smear ad suggesting his Democratic opponent was complicit in child rape because she once successfully represented a non-profit in an insurance claim case.
Pennsylvania press uncovers sexual misconduct allegation against House candidate
The 30-second spot, launched over the weekend, claims that Democrat Susan Wild had worked as a lawyer for “a large corporation that employed a serial child rapist who raped and assaulted a young boy.” The ad then misleadingly suggests that she was involved in representing them against the victim, saying “after losing and settling, she tried to get the insurance company to pay, claiming the rape as a ‘medical incident’.” An image of Wild’s face appears with the word “guilty” in white capital letters over it.
Last week in a radio interview, Nothstein was even more blatantly dishonest, falsely claiming that “she lost the case, found guilty.” But Wild did not represent the organization — a not-for-profit mental health provider — against the victim, nor was she “guilty” of anything. According to a local newspaper, her involvement was only in a legal action forcing the non-profit’s insurance carrier to pay the cost of the settlement. And their effort was successful, eventually the court did order the insurance company to pay the claim as a “medical incident” under the policy.
After local media reported in August that Nothstein was the subject of a misconduct claim after an alleged incident from around 2000, he said the allegation was “100 percent false” and that there was “no victim.”
Environmental advocates and human rights supporters reacted to the victory of far-right Brazilian presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro with outrage and concern on Sunday night, even as they vowed to continue their activism.
With a decisive 55 percent of the vote, Bolsonaro, a congressman and former army captain, sailed to victory in South America’s largest country, likely ushering in a dramatic shift for Brazil. The 63-year-old has gained prominence on a deeply conservative, inflammatory platform, which he has used to target people of color and indigenous communities, along with LGBTQ Brazilians, refugees, and other vulnerable groups.
He has also repeatedly threatened the future of Brazil’s environmental ministry, while pledging to do away with regulations and safeguards that ensure the protection of areas including the Amazon.
Following his victory, Bolsonaro doubled down on his threats against political opponents, arguing in a Facebook Live address that Brazil must cease “flirting with socialism, communism, populism and the extremism of the left.”
Bolsonaro has previously said he will jail opponents, something that has sparked concern for environmental activists, who are already vulnerable in Brazil for their efforts to defend the land. In the hours following his election, green groups and activists all over the world have widely expressed their fears about the future. Many emphasized, however, that they hope Bolsonaro’s rhetoric will subdue as he enters office.
“Brazil has the potential to be a leader on curbing climate change, but Jair Bolsonaro needs to commit to a Zero Deforestation policy instead of weakening environmental protections to make way for more industrial cattle grazing and farming,” said Asensio Rodriguez of Greenpeace’s Brazil arm in a statement to ThinkProgress and other publications.
Rodriguez also commented that “nature is not a resource for profit, it is a way to guarantee future generations’ lives are safe.”
Brazil’s environmental activists are bracing for dark future
As the overseer of both the Amazon and the Cerrado savanna, Brazil plays an outsized role in global climate efforts. The country’s steps over the course of the past decade to reduce deforestation and protect delicate biodiverse areas have earned acclaim worldwide — Brazil has reduced its once-staggering deforestation levels by 70 percent since 2004. Deforestation is responsible for roughly 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
But in recent years Brazil has slowed those efforts, relaxing environmental protections even as the country has grown significantly more dangerous for land defenders. The watchdog group Global Witness documented 57 instances in 2017 where environmental activists were killed in Brazil during clashes with poachers, loggers, ranchers, and others. Many worry Bolsonaro’s election will exacerbate that fraught reality.
“He is promoting violence,” said Rubens Born, an activist with the climate network 350.org, referencing the time leading up to the election along with the current political climate. “Several NGO activists in different fields are getting threats… We are in a very bad and sad situation in terms of democracy and human rights.”
In addition to fearing for their own lives, activists worry Bolsonaro’s presidency will almost certainly imperil some of the world’s most precious natural resources. Bolsonaro has threatened to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, a pledge he has walked back in recent weeks.
If Brazil were to leave, others might follow suit, even as climate scientists and experts largely agree the world has around a decade left before the planet passes a dangerous global warming threshold. Bolsonaro has also said he will give controversial hydroelectric dam projects in the Amazon the green light, along with okaying logging efforts and other sources of concern for environmentalists.
“His reckless plans to industrialize the Amazon in concert with Brazilian and international agribusiness and mining sectors will bring untold destruction to the planet’s largest rainforest and the communities who call it home, and spell disaster for the global climate,” said Amazon Watch program director Christian Poirer in a statement following the election.
Farmers and ranchers have largely supported Bolsonaro’s rise, which many see as crucial to preserving their jobs and livelihoods. White men and wealthy Brazilians also appear to have contributed to the candidate’s victory.
Some world leaders are also likely to find common ground with the Brazilian leader. President Donald Trump, who has overseen the mass rollback of U.S. environmental regulations and to whom Bolsonaro has been compared by much of Western media, offered the president-elect his congratulations on Sunday. Trump reportedly called Bolsonaro to commit to working together and deepening ties between the United States and Brazil.
Bolsonaro is set to take office on January 1, 2019, to serve an initial four-year term.
Tawuan Townes may or may not have been sentenced to die in violation of the Constitution. The answer to that question can be found in an audio recording of Townes’ murder trial.
Yet this audio recording “no longer exists,” according to the trial court that presided over Townes’ conviction and death sentence. And the Supreme Court revealed on Monday that it will do nothing whatsoever about this destruction of evidence.
We learned all of these facts from a brief statement from Justice Sonia Sotomayor, which the Supreme Court released on Monday. In that statement, Sotomayor ultimately agrees that her Court should not take up Mr. Townes’ case. Nevertheless, she argues that “the trial court’s failure to preserve the original recording gives cause for deep concern.”
The specific dispute in Townes v. Alabama hinges upon a single word.
Under Alabama law, “if the jury found that Townes intended to kill” his victim, then Townes is eligible for the death penalty. If, on the other hand, Townes “lacked specific intent to kill,” then he cannot be killed by the state. The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Townes intended to kill in order for him to receive a death sentence.
The original transcript of Townes’ trial shows that the judge told the jury that an intent to kill “must be inferred if the act was done deliberately and death was reasonably to be apprehended or expected as a natural and probable consequence of the act.” Faced with this transcript, a state appeals court ordered Townes’ conviction and death sentence thrown out — because the use of the word “must” effectively relieved the state of its obligation to prove that Townes acted with the intent to kill.
After this appeals court decision, however, a second court reporter listened to an audio recording of the trial, and concluded that the judge actually said the word “may” instead of “must.” Based on this new transcript, the appeals court withdrew its original order and affirmed Townes’ conviction and sentence.
So the whole case turns on this recording, which appears to have been destroyed after the second court reporter created the new transcript. Without that recording, as Sotomayor acknowledges in her statement, there is no way to determine whether Townes’ conviction violates the Constitution.
That left Sotomayor with little to do but throw her hands up in frustration. Before a defendant is convicted, the state has the burden to prove his or her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. After conviction, however, this burden of proof typically shifts to the person who was convicted.
Thus, without the evidence he needs to prove that he was wrongfully convicted, Townes is out of luck. If courts are unable to determine who is right and who is wrong, the prosecution wins the tie.
Moreover, while the Supreme Court could conceivably prevent this situation from arising in the future — potentially by taking the Townes case and announcing a rule requiring lower courts to preserve evidence — there is little chance that this Supreme Court will do so.
Given the current Supreme Court’s hard right edge, Sotomayor has nothing to gain — and people like Townes have everything to lose — from the Court taking up this particular case.
On Monday morning, President Trump weighed in on the Florida gubernatorial race with a tweet in which he smeared the Democratic candidate, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, as an unintelligent criminal.
“In Florida there is a choice between a Harvard/Yale educated man named @RonDeSantisFL who has been a great Congressman and will be a great Governor – and a Dem who is a thief and who is Mayor of poorly run Tallahassee, said to be one of the most corrupt cities in the Country!” Trump tweeted, alluding to Gillum, who is running to become the first black governor in Florida’s history.
In Florida there is a choice between a Harvard/Yale educated man named @RonDeSantisFL who has been a great Congressman and will be a great Governor – and a Dem who is a thief and who is Mayor of poorly run Tallahassee, said to be one of the most corrupt cities in the Country!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 29, 2018
Gillum is an alum of Florida A&M, a highly-rated historically black college and university. Despite what Trump would have you believe, Gillum has never been convicted of a crime.
Racist dogwhistling has been a centerpiece of DeSantis’ campaign against Gillum. During a Fox News interview in late August, DeSantis characterized Gilllum as an “articulate spokesman for the far left views and a charismatic candidate,” before warning that “the last thing we need to do is to monkey this up” by embracing his “socialist agenda.”
After his “monkey up” comment generated a nationwide outcry, DeSantis went back on Fox News and indicated he had no regrets, dismissing the whole thing as “a phony controversy” that was the product of “nonstop political correctness.”
Florida Republican decries ‘nonstop political correctness,’ has no regrets about his racist comment
During yet another Fox News interview last week, Fox & Friends‘ Brian Kilmeade pushed another dogwhistle about Gillum, praising him for his “intellect.”
“His intellect is obviously strong after the debate performance,” Kilmeade said.
More than 20,000 people have now signed an open letter declaring that President Trump is not welcome in the city of Pittsburgh until he denounces white nationalism and reverses his policies targeting minorities and immigrants.
Organized by the progressive Jewish group Bend the Arc, the letter follows Saturday’s deadly shooting that killed 11 worshippers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue.
The alleged gunman, Robert Bowers, 46, made anti-Semitic remarks during the attack and has threatened and targeted Jews on his social media accounts in the past. An account on Gab — a social media site favored by white supremacists and far-right extremists — showed he had pushed several right-wing conspiracy theories, including one that claimed Jews were responsible for funding a caravan of migrants headed to the U.S.-Mexico border from Central America.
“For the past three years your words and your policies have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement,” the letter states. “You yourself called the murderer evil, but yesterday’s violence is the direct culmination of your influence.”
Interspersed through the letter’s text are four bold statements declaring what changes Trump must make in his leadership before he’d be welcome in Pittsburgh. When the letter was read at a White House vigil Sunday, participants read these bolded lines together:
- President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you fully denounce white nationalism.
- President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you stop targeting and endangering all minorities.
- President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you cease your assault on immigrants and refugees.
- President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you commit yourself to compassionate, democratic policies that recognize the dignity of all of us.
The letter also states that Trump has “deliberately undermined the safety of people of color, Muslims, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities,” noting that Saturday’s shooting was “not the first act of terror you incited against a minority group in our country.”
Plenty of examples substantiate this claim, including Trump’s claim that there were “very fine people” on both sides of the Charlottesville white supremacist rally; his multiple attempts at implementing a Muslim ban; his never-ending calls to “build a wall” and his demonizing lies about the migrant caravan; his mocking of a reporter with a disability, and his barrage of anti-LGBTQ policies, including a plan to completely erase transgender people from recognition under federal law.
Trump called for arming of places of worship. The mayor of Pittsburgh says that’s a terrible idea
Trump has indicated his intentions to visit Pittsburgh in the wake of the shooting, but Josh Friedman of Bend the Arc’s Pittsburgh chapter expects such a visit would “only be met with derision.”
Lynnette Lederman, former president of Tree of Life, echoed this sentiment in an interview with CNN. “We have people who stand by us, who believe in values — not just Jewish values,” she said. “And those are not the values of this president, and I do not welcome him to Pittsburgh.”
Lynnette Lederman, former President of Pittsburgh's Tree of Life Synagogue, says of Trump, "I do not welcome this President to my city … He is the purveyor of hate speech. The hypocritical words that come from him tell me nothing." pic.twitter.com/vEtgZ9D87m
— New Day (@NewDay) October 29, 2018
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway complained Monday that people shouldn’t be pointing their fingers at Trump or anybody else. “The blame game,” she said, is disrespectful to the victims.
Trump, of course, had already retaliated in this game Sunday evening by blaming “The Fake News” and its “Fake & Dishonest reporting” for “causing problems far greater than they understand.”
A far-right mob brutally beating counter-protesters while yelling “faggot.” A series of pipe bombs mailed to the prominent liberals who are most featured in right-wing conspiracies. A white supremacist murder of two black senior citizens in a Kentucky grocery store. The mass shooting of eleven worshipers at a synagogue in what is described as the worst anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history.
All these events have happened in just over a fortnight. More crucially, they all bear hallmarks of violent, far-right bigotry, which President Donald Trump still refuses to call out and denounce.Proud Boys’ attacks
Events started spiraling on Oct. 12 after the Proud Boys, a “Western chauvinist” group who frequently ally with other far-right groups, left a talk at the Metropolitan Republican Club in New York City. Their leader, Gavin McInnes, had taken part in a “lecture” at the club in which he re-enacted the murder of a Japanese socialist politician. When the Proud Boys were confronted by counter-protesters, they violently attacked them, yelling “Do you feel brave now, faggot?”
One day later, a “Flash Mob for Law and Order” in Portland, Ore., in which the Proud Boys took part in also descended into violence.
Soon after the New York attack, the NYPD announced it was seeking charges of riot and assault against nine members of Proud Boys. So far, five men affiliated with the group have been charged, and a sixth man was arrested on Friday. Among those charged, at least two were also members of prominent skinhead gangs. One of them was part of a far-right organization linked to the brutal beating of two grad students in 2017; another attended last year’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va.Attempted pipe bombings
On Oct. 22 police were called to investigate after a crude explosive device was delivered to George Soros, the billionaire and prominent liberal philanthropist. Soros is routinely the central figure in far-right conspiracy theories, which mainstream Republicans have now picked up. The most recent conspiracy theory about Soros, also parroted by “mainstream” conservatives, including elected officials, claims Soros is covertly funding the migrant caravan in Mexico headed towards the U.S. border.
BREAKING: Footage in Honduras giving cash 2 women & children 2 join the caravan & storm the US border @ election time. Soros? US-backed NGOs? Time to investigate the source! pic.twitter.com/5pEByiGkkN
— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) October 17, 2018
One bomb quickly turned into a cascade. Over the next three days pipe bombs were discovered to have been sent to prominent Democrats, including the Hillary and President Bill Clinton, President Barack Obama, former Attorney General Eric Holder, the offices of CNN, and others. On Friday, officials arrested Cesar Sayoc, a Trump devotee who frequently attended rallies and who had engaged with far-right conspiracy theories online.Kentucky hate crime
In the midst of the panic over the pipe bombings, a hate crime in Kentucky initially flew under the radar. Gregory Bush, 51, entered the Kroger supermarket in Louisville, Ky. and shot two elderly African-Americans before being arrested. According to police, Bush initially tried to enter an African-American church, as white-supremacist mass murderer Dylann Roof had done in 2015.
According to one witness, Bush engaged in a brief standoff within the supermarket with a white bystander who was armed. “Don’t shoot me and I won’t shoot you,” Bush was reported to have said. “Whites don’t kill whites.”Synagogue mass shooting
On Saturday, as authorities were still piecing together Cesar Sayoc’s motives, another attack unfolded. A gunman had entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Penn. and killed eleven worshipers — most of them elderly — before engaging in a gun battle with police. He was taken into custody and will be charged with 29 criminal counts, including charges related to hate crimes.
Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich called the crime scene “one of the worst I’ve ever seen.”
(3/3) "It is time to treat domestic terrorism as the national threat that it is, and track, analyze, and punish political violence at the federal level. Winning the fight against domestic terrorism is not about parties or political views; it is about ending political violence.”
— FBI Agents Assoc. (@FBIAgentsAssoc) October 24, 2018
It emerged that the shooter, Robert Bowers, was a rabid anti-Semite. He’d repeatedly aired extreme, hateful views on Gab, a far-right-friendly social media site, and told a SWAT officer in the aftermath of the attack that “all Jews must die.” Federal prosecutors have now filed hate-crime charges against him. Gab, meanwhile, is rapidly being “deplatformed.”
It’s not hard to the common thread between the suspects or attackers in these cases. An embrace of the conspiracy theories which have now become popularized by the GOP, clues to online radicalization that could have been picked up earlier by tech companies hosting that hate speech, and, of course, a hatred and targeting of minorities.
If these attacks were carried out by anyone else — ISIS, MS-13, Hezbollah or any other of the perpetual conservative boogeymen — there would be ear-splitting outrage from the GOP. But as it is, and despite the “domestic terror” warnings of law enforcement agencies like the FBI, the attacks are treated as separate, isolated incidents from whom the Trump administration can absolve blame, and place on others.
There’s little reason to expect there won’t be more incidents: the president himself has doubled down on blaming the media for the recent wave of violence.
“There is great anger in our Country caused in part by inaccurate, and even fraudulent, reporting of the news,” Trump tweeted on Monday morning. “The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly.”
“In just six days,” according to a study published in the Columbia Journalism Review, “the New York Times ran as many cover stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails as they did about all the policy issues combined in the 69 days leading up to the election.”
Two years after the Times helped place Donald Trump in the White House by presenting the 2016 election as a referendum on Secretary’s Clinton’s IT practices, they’ve learned absolutely nothing.
That’s how the Times chose to cover the victims of a terrorist attack. On Friday, law enforcement arrested Cesar Sayoc, an outspoken Trump supporter who allegedly mailed pipe bombs to several prominent Democrats and other critics of the man in the White House. The conceit of the Times’ piece — which we intentionally are not linking to because the Times should not be rewarded with more pageviews — is that it lays out several quotes by Sayoc’s victims where they criticized Trump, as well as statements from Trump criticizing those victims.
The piece, by Times reporter Liz Robbins, begins with a victim-blaming paragraph which suggests that these victims are somehow responsible for the fact that Sayoc attempted to kill or injure them.
One called him a danger to the world. Another said he was drunk on power. A third even refuses to call him the president. This week, packages containing crude pipe bombs were sent to these critics of President Trump and several others.
The Times has since edited its headline slightly to read “They Were Sent Pipe Bombs. Here’s What Trump Said About Them — and What They Said About Trump.”
For the record, criticizing a head of state is an entirely normal activity in a democracy — there’s even a constitutional amendment which protects the right to do so in the United States! The use of violence to intimidate or coerce a political adversary, by contrast, is literally the definition of terrorism.
In Florida, those who can’t vote are fighting to restore voting rights for the formerly incarcerated
MIAMI, FLORIDA — Nicole Visas can’t vote, but that isn’t stopping her from knocking on dozens of doors every week so that 1.4 million Floridians can.
Visas is a third year nursing student at Nova Southeastern University and beneficiary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program created by President Barack Obama to give work permits and temporary relief from deportation to young people who came to the United States as children.
Despite her legal status, Visas isn’t afraid to be out in the community, advocating for Amendment 4 — an initiative on the ballot in Florida this election cycle that would restore the voting rights of individuals with minor felony convictions.
These are the Floridians trying to overturn a Jim Crow-era disenfranchisement law
“It’s hard sometimes, but DACA is always something that’s known to be temporary and with this administration you never really know what’s going to happen,” Visas tells ThinkProgress in an interview before a canvassing session Sunday afternoon. “So yeah there’s days you’re in fear but it’s important that we come together and fight for the minority members of our community and make a change.”
Visas is part of a canvassing network comprised of dozens of volunteers for United We Dream, the nation’s largest youth immigrant organization. United We Dream organizers in Miami aren’t canvassing for specific candidates or even immigration policy — the group is laser-focused on Amendment 4.
Maria Asuncion-Bilbao, an organizer for United We Dream’s Miami chapter, believes the goals of the ballot initiative overlap with the those of the undocumented community.
“We believe that [the formerly incarcerated] deserve a second chance and denying them the right to vote is a form of oppression,” Bilbao tells ThinkProgress. “For the undocumented community, we can’t vote, so we fight for those who can but are currently being oppressed.”Maria Asuncion-Bilbao and Nicole Visas collecting a pledge to vote Yes on Amendment 4 (CREDIT: Rebekah Entralgo)
Bilbao is originally from Argentina and has spent the last 17 years undocumented in the United States employed as a domestic worker and raising her three children. She became a U.S. citizen this past May.
The back of her shirt reads: “Unafraid from deportation. Unafraid from incarceration. Unafraid from profiling. Unafraid to raise our voice. Unafraid to thrive together. Unafraid to live our best lives.”
After helping other volunteers set up an early voting party tent (complete with homemade empanadas and reggaeton music), Bilbao and Visas set out with clipboards to canvass in a nearby neighborhood in between Little Haiti and Liberty City. Sunday’s outing is focused primarily on “low propensity voters” — those not expected to cast a ballot during the 2018 midterm elections.
Most voters Bilbao and Visas meet with today have already heard of Amendment 4 and willingly sign a pledge promising they will vote in support of the initiative.
According to Bilbao, canvassers collect an average of 150 pledges each day.
This is how Florida makes it nearly impossible for ex-felons to get their voting rights restored
One woman, Lilian Armstrong, is sitting outside her house with her neighbors when she tells Visas that yes, she will vote for Amendment 4. But she’s skeptical that it will actually change anything.
Her husband completed his sentence and appeared before Florida’s clemency board to have his voting rights restored nearly six years ago. He was able to vote in one election until he lost his wallet and was never sent a replacement for his voter ID card, despite repeated requests.
Whatever happens in the highly contested Senate, House, and gubernatorial races, progressives in Florida will likely clinch a significant win on Election Day when it comes to voting rights. Polling suggests Amendment 4 is predicted to pass on November 6, with nearly 74 percent of Floridians in support of the measure.
Kellyanne Conway appeared on CNN on Monday morning and denounced the politicization of tragedy by everyone except her boss, President Donald Trump.
Much of Trump’s political rise and presidential rhetoric has been thanks to one thing: exploiting tragedy to divide America. From fear-mongering about Muslims in order to push a religious test for travelers to scapegoating immigrants for most of the nation’s ills, Trump’s Twitter feed and speeches take any tragedy that he believes fits his political narrative and use it, even when doing so runs explicitly counter to the wishes of victims’ families.
Where Americans see a deadly tragedy, Trump sees an opportunity to score political points
But now that Trump’s own violent rhetoric and his dalliances with anti-Semitism have been under renewed scrutiny following last week’s assassination attempts on his political opponents and Saturday’s mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, his administration suddenly is very concerned that tragedies not be politicized.
Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don't want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 12, 2016
Conway, Trump’s White House counselor and 2016 campaign manager, told CNN’s New Day that since Trump had (finally) issued a clear denunciation of anti-Semitism, it was unacceptable for politicians and the media to point fingers at her boss.
“I don’t like when the politicians are pointing fingers, when the media immediate[ly] start the blame game and others start the blame game, for a very simple reason.” she said. “We’re disrespecting the victims and we’re disrespecting the opportunity to instruct everybody as to why this happened.”
After neo-Nazis and white supremacists violently attacked protesters last year in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump infamously proclaimed that there were “very fine people on both sides.” And since these two tragedies, Trump has already blamed the victims in Pittsburgh for not having enough guns and complained that the bombing attempts had distracted from his political messaging.
Since a gunman who expressed his hatred for Jewish people on social media shot and killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) is under renewed scrutiny for his ties to neo–Nazi groups.
The Washington Post reported on Thursday that during a trip to Europe that was funded by a Holocaust memorial group, Republicans’ resident white supremacist met with members of Austria’s Freedom Party, a far-right party founded by a former Nazi SS officer.
The Post caught up with King on the campaign trail in Iowa following Saturday’s mass shooting. The GOP congressman brushed aside concerns about his anti-Semitism, claiming that groups he associates with are more accurately described as “far-right” than neo-Nazi.
Specifically citing Austria’s Freedom Party, the Iowa Republican said:
“If they were in America pushing the platform that they push, they would be Republicans.”
As the Post reported, Austria’s Freedom Party is “now led by Heinz-Christian Strache, who was active in neo-Nazi circles as a youth.” Despite the party insisting it has abandoned Nazi ideology, in February, a top official in the party was forced to resign after it was revealed that he used to lead a fraternity that used a songbook that joked about murdering Jewish people.
The GOP lawmaker, who has served in Congress since 2003, tweeted “we can’t restore our civilization with someone else’s babies” in March 2017. A year earlier, he implied that white people had contributed more to society than “any other subgroup.”
ORLANDO, FLORIDA — Marquis McKenzie lost his right to vote before he’d even earned it.
Late one evening more than a decade ago, he held up a stranger at gunpoint. It was a crime that McKenzie, who was just 14 at the time, admits in retrospect didn’t make much sense.
“Only thing I got from him was a wallet and a cell phone and I had a wallet and cell phone of my own in my pocket,” he said. But he was young and immature, and wanted to prove himself on the streets. A teenage brain isn’t completely developed and he said he didn’t fully understand right from wrong.
The state of Florida didn’t see it that way. Prosecutors charged McKenzie as an adult. He was convicted and sent to prison but continued his education behind bars, ultimately earning a GED. When he was released for good behavior in 2008 after serving two years, he was determined to turn his life around.
His hope for a fresh start hit an immediate roadblock, however, when he learned that because of his criminal record, he would never be allowed to vote. “It’s hard to be back into society if you’re not going to be treated like a citizen,” said McKenzie, now 28 years old.
Florida is one of just four states that permanently bars people with felony convictions from voting. More than 1.6 million citizens are prohibited from casting a ballot in Florida, which excludes more people from the democratic process than any state in America. Like McKenzie, many of those affected are African American. One third of Florida’s 1.6 million disenfranchised are black. Nearly one in four black adults in the state is denied the right to vote.
That may be about to change, thanks to disenfranchised Floridians who have turned their frustration into activism. The effort is being led by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC), a group trying help people with felony records regain the right to vote. The organization’s political arm has raised more than $17 million. In May, McKenzie was hired to work as an organizer alongside dozens of other employees with felony convictions.
The organization collected more than 840,000 signatures to get the Voting Restoration Amendment, known commonly as Amendment 4, certified in January for the Nov. 6 ballot. If approved, it will restore voting rights to roughly 1.4 million of Florida’s 1.6 million disenfranchised voters. (It would only apply to those who have completed their sentences, and murder and violent sexual assault would be excluded.) The measure needs 60 percent approval, which it seems likely to get. If passed, it would be the largest single restoration of civil rights since women’s suffrage.
The accomplishment will be more historic, though, given the law’s deep-rooted racist origins.
Florida’s felony disenfranchisement law, a holdover from the Jim Crow-era, was written after the Civil War into the state’s constitution by white lawmakers in 1868 to keep newly freed slaves from gaining political power. Florida was one of a number of southern states to adopt constitutions around that time to permanently revoke voting rights from people with felony convictions.
But the law didn’t function on its own. Florida’s white lawmakers also passed legislation making felonies of some misdemeanors commonly committed by African Americans struggling to survive in the aftermath of the Civil War, such as chicken theft. By 1890, 90 percent of the prison population in the South was black.
The United States has made significant progress toward ending discrimination and segregation since the beginning of the civil rights movement in the 1950s. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was followed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, extending protections to African Americans who still faced barriers at the ballot box. Yet those landmark laws never addressed felon disenfranchisement.
In other southern states, lawmakers have moved to weaken disenfranchisement laws. Last year, Alabama enacted legislation narrowing the list of felonies that disqualified an individual from voting. Louisiana passed a law allowing people on parole and probation to cast ballots, as long as they’ve been out of prison for five years. But in Florida, the governor has keep the power to determine who can vote and who is shut out of the democratic process for life.
It wasn’t until the 21st century that Florida’s disenfranchised realized that if they wanted the law to change, they couldn’t rely on those in power. They’d have to do it themselves. The movement to pass Amendment 4 is led almost entirely by people out or prison or who have finished probation following felony convictions, or as they sometimes call themselves, “returning citizens.”
“I was thinking about it the other day,” McKenzie said one sweltering summer afternoon in his hometown of Orlando, a few months before the election. “You don’t have to so much be in office to run your community. I guess that’s what organizing is all about.”McKenzie takes a selfie with his wife after she cast a ballot in the Florida primary in August. CREDIT: Kira Lerner Desmond Meade
Political activism was not a given for McKenzie. His road to regaining the right to vote started three years ago, while attending a lecture near his home in Orlando on the issues of criminal justice and voting.
The speaker was an African American man, built like a lineman with the voice of a preacher, named Desmond Meade. His story about starting his life over and the power of second chances resonated with McKenzie. “Whatever you got going on, I want to be a part of it,” McKenzie told him.
Meade, who is 51, has touched the lives of countless formerly incarcerated people in Florida, inspiring them to join the fight to reclaim their civil rights. A gifted speaker, he has an almost magical ability to soften hearts and captivate audiences.
With his yearslong effort to restore voting rights now poised for success, Meade has become something of a Florida celebrity. He has shared in countless television interviews and he has an army of supporters lining up to join his cause.
It hasn’t always been that way.
For the better part of his youth, Meade was in and out of prison on drug charges, living on the streets and battling a cocaine addiction. He recounts hitting rock-bottom a little more than 10 years ago, when he was brought so low that he contemplated ending his life. Standing beside railroad tracks in 2005, he planned to throw himself in front of the next oncoming train. “I saw no hope,” Meade said. “I didn’t see a future.”
A train never came that day, which Meade took as a hopeful sign.
He began to rebuild his life. He checked into a rehab program and got clean. He completed college and then earned a law degree from Florida International University. But the state wouldn’t let him sit for the bar exam because of his criminal record. He looked into applying for clemency and discovered how difficult Florida made that process as well. Meade couldn’t understand why, after all he had done to start his life fresh, the state couldn’t look past his felonies.
Within a few years, he became the leader of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, a group started by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and other groups after the 2000 election. He criss-crossed the state, knocking on doors, trying to persuade people to sign a petition for a constitutional amendment. He knew it would be a long shot, but he had to start somewhere. One by one, more people joined him, and he went from being an unpaid organizer to the leader of an organization staffed by dozens of paid and volunteer workers.
The mission of restoring voting rights has become his life’s work. The principle behind his efforts is clear: Politicians, he said, shouldn’t have the power to decide whether more than a million Floridians are treated as full citizens. “We knew that we had to get that power out of the hands of politicians and put it in the hands of people,” Meade said.
Exercising the right to vote, he said, will be more than the fulfillment of a dream. It will mean he finally feels like a fully vested American.
“My being able to vote really gives me back my voice as a citizen, and I think that would be another surreal moment for me,” Meade said. “Not as good as when I married my wife, but it’s going to rank up there.”Marquis McKenzie
The sun was barely rising, but inside Marquis McKenzie’s home — the same house where he was raised — the day was well underway.
McKenzie is tall and muscular, with the beard of a grown man — he’s 28 — but with the goofy grin and easy manner of someone years younger. He has tried to find a home for his family, but his felony conviction gives landlords an easy reason to reject his rental applications. For now, he and his family squeeze into his mother’s three-bedroom home, where his three children get ready for school after his mother already has left for work, like a carefully choreographed dance.
McKenzie was moving slowly this humid August morning. He had slept just a few hours, having worked well past midnight. With his new cleaning business taking off, he’s been shouldering much of the work alone until he can hire more staff. Most nights, he drives across Orlando, cleaning several homes and businesses, spending hours vacuuming, sweeping and scrubbing floors. Running a business while juggling his work for the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition leaves little time for sleep.
When he arrives at the FRRC office a few hours later, McKenzie sits in on staff meetings and strategizes about goals and talking points for the little time that remains before the election. He said the most important part of his job, however, is when he goes out into the community and tells his story. Sharing what it means to him personally to be disenfranchised allows him to connect with voters, who often have similar stories of their own.
“It affects everybody,” he said. “Everybody in their family has someone that’s been incarcerated or knows someone that’s been incarcerated. It affects you whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat.”
Ask McKenzie about his criminal conviction and he’ll tell you it was a blessing in disguise. As a kid, he and his friends in the neighborhood competed for “strikes.” He said he was arrested for armed robbery on a Thursday, just one day before he planned to kill somebody — the final strike he hadn’t yet earned.
“It’s crazy, because I didn’t know anything about the law,” he said. “I would have killed somebody and would still be in prison today. The first person I came in contact with, I was going to kill them. I don’t know what I was thinking, to be honest with you. But I look back every day and I’m glad. I’m glad God stopped me that Thursday.”
During the two years he spent in a youth facility, McKenzie learned how to scrub his bunk until it was spotless, repeatedly earning accolades for having the cleanest space. And he became interested in politics, even dreaming of one day running for public office. “It’s crazy. I used to think about being president on my prison bunk,” he said.
Being in prison also gave him time to reflect on his mistakes. He committed himself to staying out of trouble with the law, an attitude he carried with him long after his release.
“I realized, I couldn’t wait for life,” he said. “I wasn’t going to keep repeating the same stuff I was doing. So from that point, actually being in the system, I started to kind of change my life around and rethink the way I was thinking about a lot of stuff in life.”
In opening his cleaning business, The Dirt Master, McKenzie followed in the footsteps of his father, who tried the same line of work but was never successful. He has become active in political issues in his community. But not being able to cast a ballot means that he still sometimes misses being part of something bigger.
“When I came home and got involved into politics, realizing that the way you can change a lot of policy is by voting, I realized I couldn’t have no … say into none of that,” he said.
Finding the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition has felt like an easy fit. In the organization’s Orlando office, McKenzie has connected with dozens of people in his situation. Some, like him, have started their own small businesses — a necessity for many, since there are fewer job opportunities for ex-felons. The organization has even supported McKenzie’s business by giving him a contract to clean its office space.
The group also has given him an outlet for his political ambitions, which has made him realize the power people like him can have to change policy. He’s convinced that Amendment 4 is going to pass and thinking about how that will change his life makes him almost giddy.
“Just being able to do something I was told I could never do again,” he said, a big smile plastered across his face. “I think it will open up other doors for other policies to be changed.”Neil Volz
McKenzie works at the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition alongside Neil Volz, a man he likely would never have met, if not for the movement to pass Amendment 4.
Volz is a good example of the range in experiences held by organizers with the group. The group’s political director and second-in-command, Volz was convicted for his participation in a white-collar crime — a political corruption scandal.
A native of Ohio, Volz made his way to Washington, D.C. as a college student in 1994 to work for his hometown congressman, Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-OH). He worked on policy proposals and eventually rose to become the Republican lawmaker’s chief of staff. In 2002, Volz helped move the bipartisan Help America Vote Act through Congress after the Bush-Gore recount disaster in Florida.
“I remember watching groups come up and testify before our committee about the difference between the voting systems and then how poor communities were actually getting counted less than communities that had more wealth, and that just didn’t seem right,” Volz said.
But voting would not become Volz’s primary concern for almost another 20 years. After working in Congress for close to a decade, he took a position lobbying with Washington insider Jack Abramoff. When officials launched a major criminal investigation into Abramoff’s illegal lobbying practices, Volz pleaded guilty in 2006 to sending gifts from Abramoff’s firm to Ney, his former boss in Congress.
Ney and Abramoff would both serve time in prison, while Volz received a fine and a sentence of probation and community service. “I [made] some stupid decisions, some selfish decisions and I crossed some lines I shouldn’t have crossed,” he said. “Ultimately, the consequences were good for me, but the consequences included becoming a felon and having a felony conviction as a part of my record.”
The felony conviction meant that Volz could no longer find a job in politics. He eventually began volunteering at a Washington homeless shelter and then found a job with a local church. In 2008, he relocated to Florida, beginning what he called a “10-year journey of embracing a second chance and rebuilding my life.”
As he began to move past the shame he felt about of his conviction, Volz looked into applying for clemency. But by the time he got around to it, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) had instituted a mandatory five-year waiting period before an ex-felon could even appeal to get voting rights restored.
The previous governor, Charlie Crist, had instituted an automatic process to restore voting rights which ended disenfranchisement for more than 150,000 people during his four years in office. Scott eliminated the automatic process, however, and required every petitioner to appear before him. Since he took office in 2011, his administration has granted just over 3,200 petitions.
Volz said he began losing hope as he discovered how “burdensome” and “subjective” Florida’s clemency process was. It quickly became clear to him that his adopted state is an outlier when it comes to felony disenfranchisement.
Two states, Vermont and Maine, allow incarcerated individuals to vote, while 44 others restore voting rights either when an individual leaves prison or when he or she completes his or her sentence.
“I could move up north to Georgia, or Texas, and I could be able to vote,” he said. “And yet, here in the state of Florida we’re unable to.”
In 2015, Volz heard Desmond Meade give a lecture at a university near his home in Fort Myers. At the time, Meade was in the middle of a campaign to collect enough signatures to put the amendment on the ballot. The two men talked, and Volz said he knew immediately he wanted to help.Volz works in the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition's Orlando office in August. CREDIT: Kira Lerner
Volz and Meade are now the two most prominent faces of the movement. As Volz, who is white, likes to say, they’re exemplary of the diversity of “returning citizens.”
“One of the things I love about this movement is, it’s a movement made up of people from all walks of life,” he said. “We’re a diverse group, we have people who are partisan, we have people who aren’t partisan,” he said.
As with many organizers at FRRC, black and white, Volz is reluctant to talk much about the racist roots of felony disenfranchisement. Many supporters of Amendment 4 emphasize that most disenfranchised people in Florida are white. They insist that restoring voting rights for people with felony convictions is an issue that transcends race.
The movement’s aspiration to be colorblind may be one reason it’s gaining bipartisan support. In September, a group funded by the conservative businessman Charles Koch pledged its support, and recent polls show the amendment with more than 70 percent approval.
Volz believes polls showing strong support for the measure, but also is aware that his Republican Party has been hostile to voting rights in recent years. If the amendment were to pass and 1.4 million people suddenly were to become eligible voters, Republican politicians in Florida could be in trouble. But he said that in the end, expanding democracy is more important than partisan politics.
“Amendment 4 passing would be life-changing to me,” he said. “It would mean a better state, it would mean safer communities, it would mean that we’re actually getting behind a very basic principle of, when a debt is paid, it’s paid. I can’t imagine what’s possible if our state actually got behind this simple premise.”Susanne Manning
Like so many other returning citizens, Susanne Manning started her own business when she discovered how difficult it was for someone with a criminal conviction to find a good paying job. Manning and her husband were charged in 1992 with embezzling $400,000 from her former employer. After serving 20 years in prison, Manning’s family encouraged her to go back to baking, a beloved hobby from her youth. “My dad’s favorite thing for me to bake was a coffee cake,” she said. “When I came home, he asked me to bake him a coffee cake and I was like, ‘Poppy I don’t think I’ll be able to do that. I don’t have that recipe anymore.’ Everything I had was gone.”
“He said, ‘Girl it’s not like that anymore. There’s such a thing as YouTube and the internet,'” she recalled. She soon discovered a wealth of recipes and tutorials online and now operates a small business making cakes. She hopes to one day employ others trying to rebuild their lives after a brush with the law.
Manning is currently on her seventh year of a 20-year parole. While 14 states and the District of Columbia allow their citizens to vote while serving probation or parole, Amendment 4 would apply only to individuals who have completed their sentences and paid off all fines associated with their convictions.
“Even though Amendment 4 passing this year would not affect me until my probation is over, I still think it’s essential that it get passed and that it’s just the right thing to do,” she said.
At the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition office, Manning appears somewhat out of place. She’s older than most volunteers, with short gray hair, a soothing voice and gentle manner. That comes in handy in her work as Florida Rights Restoration Coalition re-entry coordinator, a job that means she’s responsible for helping other returning citizens find housing and jobs — often a difficult challenge for people with felony records.
“I believe that the right to vote affects returning citizens in every aspect of their lives,” she said. “Right now, if a returning citizen can’t vote, how do they have a say into the laws that are passed regarding housing? How do they have a say into laws that are passed regarding jobs? We have absolutely no say into things that affect our live on a daily basis.”
White women are not often the face of felony disenfranchisement. But Manning said that she brings a unique perspective to the work and can connect with communities that aren’t always open to civil rights issues. Even among those groups, she has found widespread support for an issue that some mistakenly believe affects mostly African Americans and other minorities.
“I’ve never found anybody that tells me they don’t think it’s right or they shouldn’t do it,” she said. “I’m extremely hopeful about this passing.”David Ayala
Aramis Ayala was elected Florida’s first African American state’s attorney two years ago. She made that historic breakthrough without the vote of her husband David, who could not cast a ballot in that election. That’s because David Ayala, a native of New York, has a federal felony conviction on his record and he has never been able to vote.
Ayala said he caught his first drug-related conviction at just 12 years old. From there, the criminal justice system “became a revolving door from the age of 12 to the age of 33,” he said. For his entire adolescence and into adulthood, he was shuttled into and out of a succession of group homes, juvenile facilities, jails and prisons, including New York’s notorious Rikers Island Facilities.
Ayala said he was eventually able to pull his life together, but it was a case of having to hit rock-bottom before being able to rebound. “During that time in federal prison, that’s when I grew up,” he said. “I told God I would change my life and make some better choices.”
When he was released in 2006, he found a job as a fitness trainer and met his wife, whom he credits with pushing him to go back to school. The couple had two daughters, became active in political issues, and Aramis Ayala decided to run for elected office. Around that time, David Ayala learned that because of his federal drug conviction in Pennsylvania, he wouldn’t be able to vote in Florida.
“While I was in the middle of her campaign, I was organizing, I was knocking on doors, I was in a Latino community speaking out for her, and it was an awesome experience,” he said. “However, I was not able to do the one most important thing you could do for any candidate and that’s vote for them.
“To know that my wife made history here in the state of Florida and I wasn’t able to be part of that history, that was sad,” he said, slowing down as he choked on his words. “When my daughters get older, I’m sure that question will come up. ‘Daddy, did you vote for mommy when she made history?’ And I’ll have to tell them no and explain to them why.”
Around the time of his wife’s election, Ayala said he received a message on Facebook from Meade. “I’ve heard me and you have several things in common,” he remembered Meade writing. “He called me that night and we were on the phone for two, three hours, just sharing our stories with each other and seeing how we had so much in common.”
After that call, Ayala began volunteering with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, collecting the necessary petitions to have the amendment certified by the Florida Supreme Court.
This year, Ayala, who is of Puerto Rican heritage and who identifies as Afro-Latino, is working as a community organizer for Latino Justice, another organization working to pass Amendment 4. He’s often out in communities trying to engage Latino voters. He said the issue is especially resonant for Puerto Ricans, who often do not understand why Florida would revoke civil rights at all. In Puerto Rico, citizens can vote, even if they are incarcerated.
Ayala stresses how difficult it has been for him to start a new life when Florida keeps reminding him of his worst mistakes.
“I have spent 12 years… putting my past behind me,” he said. “I have cut all ties to the justice system, I completed my sentence, my probation, and I paid off my fines. Right now, if I was arrested here in Florida, they would not be able to use my prior convictions on my score card because they’re so back-dated. Yet they’re using them to keep me from voting.”David Ayala (left) and Desmond Meade CREDIT: Kira Lerner
For now, Ayala said he will try to persuade Floridians to vote on his behalf. Through a group called The Love Vote, he’s asking people to commit to casting a vote on his behalf. More than 120 people have said they will, and he fully believes that voters in his state will make sure this is the last time that he must make that request. He said he plans to vote for his wife when she is up for re-election in 2020.
“When Amendment 4 passes, it’s going to be a… I don’t know,” he said, trailing off as a smile spread across his face. “I know I’m going to be happy. It’s going to make me feel like I have a voice again. The feeling is one of those things that you really cannot explain until that happens.”A changing Florida
Roughly 6 million Americans are disenfranchised because of a felony conviction nationwide, with roughly a quarter of them living in Florida. If Amendment 4 were to pass, most disenfranchised Floridians would be able to register to vote right away and could dramatically reshape the electorate in one of the nation’s most critical swing states.
Elections in Florida often are decided by a relatively small number of votes. In 2016, Donald Trump won the state by less than 113,000 votes. George W. Bush was credited with winning the state, and the 2000 presidential election, by a miniscule 537 votes.
At the time of that election, Republican officials across the country were engaged in an effort, which they’ve ramped up in recent years, to chip away at the voting rights of non-white voters. After the 2000 election, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission found that state officials may have wrongly labeled about 12,000 citizens as ex-felons and prohibited them from voting. Had they been allowed to vote, that historic election almost certainly would have turned out differently.
University of Florida political science professor Daniel A. Smith called the purge highly problematic. “The 2000 election kind of put it on the scene,” he said, noting that Florida’s actions led to a wave of similar problematic voter purges across the country that have had a disproportionate impact on black voters.Voters enter an early voting center in Orlando, Florida in August. CREDIT: Kira Lerner
Florida has two marquee races this year. In one, Gov. Rick Scott is challenging Democrat Bill Nelson for his seat in the U.S. Senate. In the other, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (D) is facing off against former House member Ron DeSantis (R) in a bid to become governor.
Gillum, who is African American and hopes to become the state’s first black governor, has made second chances a pivotal part of his campaign.
“Our society doesn’t look well on people who have a criminal record,” he said in a campaign video released in March when he announced he’d be running for office. “I believe firmly that people deserve second chances. That you make mistakes, you break the law, you pay the penalty, but that you ought to be given a second chance. Yet we punish people for a lifetime for a mistake.”
His Republican opponent DeSantis, who is white, is against the amendment, though he kept his view quiet until recently when he spoke out about his belief in law and order. “When people are dangerous and they commit crimes that hurt people, we held them accountable,” he said.
Perhaps surprisingly, there is no organized opposition and no formal political action committees have formed to raise money to oppose it. One small group, Floridians For A Sensible Voting Rights Policy led by Tampa attorney and registered Republican Richard Harrison, takes issue with the amendment’s “one-size-fits-all approach.” He compared Florida governor’s clemency power with the presidential pardon, saying it is not an entitlement. While he is not against clemency in appropriate cases, Harrison said he is opposed to changing the constitution in a way that would treat “career violent criminals” the same as low-level drug offenders.
“The answer to a flawed process, if you believe it is flawed, is not to throw it out and just grant everybody a blanket restoration of rights,” he said. “Amendment 4 is the constitutional equivalent of lighting your car on fire and burning it to the ground because the mechanic said you need a new set of tires.”
Harrison said he doesn’t buy into the racial justice argument, which he believes is stoking division. He’s also surprised that more groups haven’t come out against Amendment 4, but said he suspects that the polling on the issue is hard to trust.
“Just because there’s not a lot of vocal opposition doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of people who think this is a bad idea,” he said.
Two groups — the Trump Club 45 PBC, one of the biggest political organizations in Palm Beach County, and the Broward County Republican Party — have told members to oppose Amendment 4. On the other side, a prisoners’ rights group opposes the amendment because it does not include violent sexual felons and murderers.
Scott has not directly responded to the amendment, but he is fighting a lawsuit brought by the Fair Elections Legal Network, a national voting rights organization, claiming Scott’s clemency process is “wholly arbitrary” and leaves millions of people’s voting rights up to the “unrestrained discretion” of elected officials. In legal filings, the group has asked Scott to create a new system to restore voting rights to Floridians.Florida Governor Rick Scott greets people as he makes a campaign stop. CREDIT: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
A district court ordered Scott in February to create a new clemency system, finding that the process is politically and racially biased and does not pass constitutional muster. But the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals stayed that ruling in April, allowing the current process to stand, at least until the midterm election. “The governor has broad discretion to grant and deny clemency, even when the applicable regime lacks any standards,” Judge Stanley Marcus wrote in the order.
Since Scott took office, each of the 3,200 people who have had their voting rights restored have had to go in front of him and the three other members of his cabinet who make up Florida’s Clemency Board. The panel meets four times a year, and petitioners are given just a few minutes to plead their case.
Some applicants for clemency, like Takesha Tyler, get lucky, and their journey to Tallahassee pays off when the board restores their rights. Others have to respond to probing questions about their criminal history, traffic violations, how often they go to church, and whether all of their children have the same mother. A majority of applicants are denied, often leaving the Capitol building dejected as they realize they may have lost their only opportunity to ever cast a ballot again.
This Florida woman had to travel 10 hours by bus to have her voting rights restored
Amendment 4 would take that power out of the hands of elected officials. Citizens convicted of violent sexual assault or murder would still have to petition the board for clemency, but the right to vote would be automatically restored to most people when they finish their sentence and pay off all fines.
Experts say it’s not clear what kind of impact the change would have on future elections.
“We don’t really know what the political impact would be,” said Marc Mauer, the executive director of the Sentencing Project. “How many people would go out and register to vote and take advantage of their rights? How many of them would show up? Who they would vote for? There’s a lot of speculation about how the votes might play out, but we’ve never really seen this large a group all at once regain their right to vote.”
Still, it seems likely the amendment will benefit Democrats. A 2010 study published in the American Sociological Review found that from 1972 to 2000, an estimated 70 percent of people with felony convictions would have supported Democrats, and Democratic politicians have been more supportive than Republicans of overturning disenfranchisement laws during the last few decades.
Nevertheless, at a time when Republican lawmakers have been pushing other forms of voter suppression like voter ID laws and purges of the voter rolls, many conservatives are supportive of Amendment 4. That’s because FRRC has been able to cast the movement as an issue of fairness like other struggles for equal rights.
“A hundred years ago, women were granted the right to vote and I don’t think the debate at the time was whether they were more likely to vote Democratic or Republican, but was this the right thing to do,” Mauer said. As a result, the movement has support from the types of conservatives who have partnered with Democrats on criminal justice reform in recent years, like the Koch brothers and their businesses.
“We believe that when individuals have served their sentences and paid their debts as ordered by a judge, they should be eligible to vote,” Mark Holden, senior vice president of Koch Industries, said in a statement when the Koch-connected Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce (which he also chairs) announced its decision.
To win conservative support, FRRC leaders have avoided discussing race, including disenfranchisement’s disproportionate impact on African Americans. Instead, they remind voters that numerically, there are more disenfranchised Floridians who are white. Experts say that strategy is very intentional. “They made a political calculation that to gain the 60 percent of the vote they need, the racial justice argument isn’t their strongest suit,” Mauer said.
Unlike many other states, Florida’s disenfranchisement law was written into the state constitution, making it harder than a simple legislative fix to overturn. That’s also why, despite mass support for second chances, advocates didn’t successfully lobby for an amendment to appear on the ballot until 2018. Mauer said there are many reasons why those advocates were finally successful this year.
“Partly, they’ve tried everything else,” he said. “Partly, there’s a substantial amount of money now to run a campaign that wasn’t there any time in the last 20 years. These things are very expensive.” He also said that increasing attention on voting rights has helped the movement gain broader attention and allowed a restoration amendment to qualify for the ballot for the first time in history.
This is how Florida makes it nearly impossible for ex-felons to get their voting rights restored
While litigation and certain governors, including Florida’s Crist back when he was still in office, have tried to chip away at the disenfranchisement law over the years, nothing has had the type of support or money behind it that the movement this year has generated.
If Amendment 4 passes, experts say that the three other states with lifetime voting bans — Kentucky, Iowa, and Virginia — are likely to reconsider their policies. A success in Florida would add to the growing momentum over the last couple of decades to overturn disenfranchisement, Mauer said. Twenty-three states have loosened their felon disenfranchisement laws in some way since 1997, according to the Sentencing Project.
For FRRC organizers, the approval of Amendment 4 would mean the end of feeling like “second-class citizens.” Many said that even before November, being involved in this movement has restored their hope.
“It’s empowering to see and talk to so many people who know that this system doesn’t work as well as it should, and that we’re all coming together to try and change a broken policy,” Neil Volz said.
A thoughtful expression came across his face as he pondered what he will do when he casts his first ballot in Florida.
He said that vote will be emblematic of so much more than finally seeing his own felony conviction behind him. The movement to restore the right of felons to vote, Volz said, has allowed him “to connect with people from different walks of life and from different places in the state and realize that there’s a lot more that we have in common in terms of moving forward and changing this policy that’s broken.”Desmond Meade, President of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition speaks during the Get Out The Vote Kick-Off Event at Evans High School Auditorium on October 3, 2018 in Orlando, Florida. CREDIT: Gerardo Mora/Getty Images
The success of the movement so far has been surprising even to Desmond Meade, who said that not all that long ago the goal seemed unattainable. Over the years, even in moments of profound doubt, he said he was always driven to fight against what he feels to be the unjust restriction of his civil rights.
Thinking about how, as of November, the final barriers that have held back his career and made him feel less than whole may be lifted, makes him so overwhelmed with emotion that for a few seconds, he’s at a rare loss for words.
“I have overcome quite a lot of obstacles, going from homelessness to becoming an attorney graduating law school,” he said. This burly man, who has stared down challenges from drug addiction to being on the brink of suicide, now is on cusp of removing the final barrier that has held him back.
“Me not being able to practice [or vote] reminds me that I still have a hurdle to get over,” he said.
This story was published with the support of a fellowship from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism’s Ira A.Lipman Center for Journalism and Civil and Human Rights.
Amid the grief and horror of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that killed 11 people and wounded six others, members of many faith traditions are rallying to show a united front against bigotry, hatred and anti-Semitism.
Notably, an online campaign led by Tarek El-Messidi, a Muslim-American activist in Philadelphia and founder of the nonprofit CelebrateMercy, paved the way with a crowdfunding effort that raised tens of thousands of dollars within the first few hours after the shooting.
According to a rolling update on the LaunchGood site, El-Messidi’s call for cash contributions set an original goal of $25,000, only to see it exceeded in the first six hours.
A new goal of $50,000 was established and, as of Sunday afternoon, that goal was busted and the new goal of $75,000 is sure to be broken with nine additional days to go in the campaign.
Muslims, let’s stand with our Jewish cousins against hate, bigotry, & violence. https://t.co/RCl4p4AOGV
— Tarek El-Messidi (@Elmessidi) October 27, 2018
On the CelebrateMercy/LaunchGood website, the crowdfunding effort aims to assist shooting victims, “whether it is the injured victims or the Jewish families who have lost loved ones.” The site also notes:
Through this campaign, we hope to send a united message from the Jewish and Muslim communities that there there is no place for this type of hate and violence in America. We pray that this restores a sense of security and peace to the Jewish-American community who has undoubtedly been shaken by this event.
Police arrested Robert Bowers, 48, in Saturday’s mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. He has been charged with 29 offenses, including hate crimes.
On Saturday, thousands gathered for an interfaith prayer vigil at Pittsburgh’s Sixth Presbyterian Church, filling the sanctuary with grieving people of various faiths across the community.
According to a news report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Rev. Vincent Kolb, a pastor at Sixth Presbyterian, borrowed words from its famous congregant Fred Rogers, the children’s show host, to comfort those in attendance.
“It is in that spirit of neighborliness that we gather here tonight to be allies to our Jewish neighbors who have been victimized and traumatized by this tragedy,” Kolb said.
To be sure, ecumenical voices have loudly demonstrated their shared grief for the shooting victims, which has been described as the worst attack on worshipping Jews in American history, according to the American Jewish Archives. Additional prayer vigils are planned across the country this week.
11 victims of Pittsburgh shooting identified, gunman to face 29 separate federal charges
In a separate fundraising campaign, Shay Khatiri, an Iranian who currently lives in Washington, DC, initiated a GoFundMe effort, according to Khatiri’s profile on the website. Khatiri, who doesn’t have an apparent link to Pittsburgh or the victims, tweeted he was moved enough to donate to help those in need and wanted to offer the opportunity for others to join him, hoping it would go viral.
That’s a fair question. I woke up today to my friend telling me what happened. My first reaction was “I’m gonna donate a little money to the synagogue to help them recover.” Then I realized that my donation would be too little to make any change, but I could make a viral campaign
— Shay Khatiri (@ShayKhatiri) October 28, 2018
Additionally, Muslim-Americans and other online activists took to social media, using the hashtag #Muslims4Pittsburgh to promote crowdfunding campaign for the shooting victims and their families.
Another GoFundMe campaign for The Tree of Life has raised over $247,000, exceeding its initial goal of $100,000, which is now set at $1 million. The Tree of Life synagogue is also accepting donations on its website, according to a post on the GoFundMe page.