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By Chris Kromm:
It’s like 2011 all over again.
It was two years ago that, after Republicans claimed big gains in state legislatures across the South and country in the 2010 mid-terms, lawmakers made a national push for changes to voting laws, with one of the most controversial being restrictive bills requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls.
Now, with the 2012 elections behind them, state GOP leaders have again pledged to make voter photo ID a priority this year. But has the debate — and public sentiment about voter restrictions — changed this time?
This week, Republican lawmakers in Michigan — birthplace of the United Auto Workers and, more broadly, the U.S. labor movement — shocked the nation by becoming the 24th state to pass “right-to-work” legislation, which allows non-union employees to benefit from union contracts.
While Michigan’s momentous decision has received widespread media attention, little has been said about the origins of “right-to-work” laws, which find their roots in extreme pro-segregationist and anti-communist elements in the 1940s South.
Wednesday night, reporter John Frank tweeted that North Carolina delegates to the Democratic National Convention were sharing high-fives after former President Bill Clinton’s epic 45-minute address. No surprise there: Clinton’s tour-de-force was a huge hit with Democrats of all flavors in Charlotte and nationally.
But the speech also had a specific goal: to help sell President Obama and the Democratic brand to whites — including Southern whites — who have been an increasingly challenging demographic for the party.
This week Republicans revealed the theme of their national convention in Tampa, Fla., which kicks off on Aug. 27: “We Built It.”
A GOP press release says the message pays homage to those who “achieve their dreams within the free enterprise system,” but it’s also a jab at President Obama.
It also fits the anti-government views of Republican VP pick Rep. Paul Ryan, who famously makes uber-libertarian Ayn Rand “required reading” for his staff and interns because of the impact it’s had on his own thinking.
Over the last year, the spread of voter photo ID laws and other new voting restrictions have earned widsepread attention from election watchdogs and the media. But one important issue has largely escaped public scrutiny: the large number of citizens blocked from voting due to a past felony conviction.
In part, the lack of attention to felon disenfranchisement laws has been due to a dearth of fresh data.
The Supreme Court’s closely-watched 5-4 decision upholding the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration’s signature health care reform initiative, has sent shock waves through state legislatures that will carry it out.
The fallout from the ruling will be especially interesting to watch in Southern states, which have some of the highest rates of uninsured people — as well as lawmakers who have been some of the Act’s most vociferous critics.
This week, the board of the Alabama Educational Television Commission came out of an executive session and made a surprise announcement: Alabama Public Television veteran broadcaster Allan Pizzato and his deputy Pauline Howland were to clean out their desks and leave the station’s Birmingham offices immediately.
According to a report in Current, a blog about public media, no explanation was given for the dismissals. Howland said she was “baffled.” Pizzato merely offered there was an “irreconcilable difference in opinion of the future direction of the station.”
Last week, in a case closely watched around the country, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that a key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act was constitutional.
But it also exposed the fault lines that will likely push the case to the Supreme Court, posing one of the gravest threats to a provision in the Act that has been used most recently to force court review of voter ID laws in Southern states.
The face of the Southern electorate is changing, and perhaps nowhere is the shift clearer than Florida and North Carolina. In the two critical battleground states, the share of white voters has shrunk since the last presidential election in 2008, and the number of African-American, Latino and other people of color voters has steadily grown.
But while the numbers show key Southern states continue to move towards an increasingly diverse electorate, new voting restrictions could undermine its political potential.
As expected, North Carolina voters passed a constitutional amendment yesterday stating “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized.”
On Super Tuesday, the South was divided.
Each Southern state picked a different Republican presidential hopeful, with Georgia going to home-state favorite Newt Gingrich; Tennessee’s religious conservatives handing a victory to Rick Santorum; and Mitt Romney taking Virginia — thanks largely to the fact that Gingrich and Santorum weren’t on the ballot.
Aside from the size of Santorum’s victory in Tennessee — 37.3 percent of the vote, for 25 of the state’s 46 delegates — none of Super Tuesday’s results were a big surprise.
Last month, officials in South Carolina, facing resistance from the Department of Justice to their new voter ID law, concocted a ghoulish tale of dead voters taking over the state’s elections.
As was suspected from the beginning, the fevered stories of “zombie voters” turned out to be fantasy. This week, state elections officials reviewed 207 of the supposed 950 cases of dead people voting, and couldn’t confirm fraud in any of them.
Last year, North Carolina was one of several states where Republican state leaders aggressively pushed — and passed — a voter ID law. But the move prompted a backlash from civil rights and election watchdog groups, resulting in a veto by Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue.
Ever since, Republicans have been threatening to override the veto. In fact, fear of a vote that could push through the voter ID bill — maybe even during a surprise vote, like one held at midnight in January targeting teachers’ unions — was one of the reasons behind a 70-strong rally at the legislature last week led by Democracy North Carolina and other groups. (Republican N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis had even suggested last year that waiting for a session when Democrats failed to show up would be “the easy way to override” Perdue’s veto.)
The latest evidence comes from The Huffington Post, which claims to have viewed internal emails confirming Handel’s instigator role, as well as providing this anonymous email from a Komen staffer:
Karen Handel was the prime instigator of this effort, and she herself personally came up with investigation criteria. She said, ‘If we just say it’s about investigations, we can defund Planned Parenthood and no one can blame us for being political.’
With Florida now perhaps the most important swing state in the country — 29 Electoral College votes, 11 percent of the magic 270 needed to win the presidency — analysts are scouring this week’s primary results for clues about what it means for November.
Florida offered mixed signals: On one hand, former Gov. Mitt Romney won almost every demographic in a state that has faithfully picked the eventual GOP nominee every year since 1972. On the other, Republican turnout was down 14 percent from 2008 … But the primaries did clearly highlight the importance of two broader trends: The power of Florida’s growing New Majority, and the influence of Big Money.
After Iowa’s inconclusive GOP presidential primary, eyes are turning southward to the next primaries on the calendar, including the January 21 contest in South Carolina.
South Carolina primaries have a rough-and-tumble reputation. In 2000, Sen. John McCain famously suffered from a whispering campaign that claimed his wife was a drug addict and his adopted Bangladeshi daughter was a “black child” that resulted from an illicit affair.
But South Carolina won’t just be a test of who’s toughest; it will also be a broader referendum on the state of Tea Party politics in the South.
South Carolina was a big success story for the Tea Party: In 2010, the burgeoning movement helped sweep Gov. Nikki Haley into office, as well as four Congressional Republicans. But part of Haley’s support came from moderate Republicans, including an endorsement from presidential hopeful Gov. Mitt Romney.
In 1938, with the U.S. still doggedly fighting to escape the Great Depression, FDR’s administration declared the Southern region to be “America’s Economic Problem Number 1.” Although the country as a whole was struggling, the pain was most acutely felt in the South, which lagged by almost every economic measure: jobs, wage levels, family income and more.
Many of the reasons Roosevelt’s experts gave for the South’s dismal situation were specific to the era, like being “crushed” in the Civil War, the “vicious period” of Reconstruction and tariffs on cotton and tobacco. The way railroads were set up and subsidized in the late 1800s was still conferring a big advantage to Northern businesses.