Judge Strikes Down PA Voter ID Law

In 2012, over the protests of thousands of Pennsylvanians, forty five organizations, and every Democrat in the state legislature, Governor Tom Corbett signed into law one of the strictest voter ID requirements in the country. The Speaker of the Pennsylvania House acknowledged that he pushed the law to help Mitt Romney win the state.

This morning the two-year-old law was ruled unconstitutional. Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley wrote that law was a “substantial threat” and that it would hinder the ability of many to vote freely.

In the ruling, Judge McGinley stated

“Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the Voter ID Law does not further this goal.”

People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council said of the law last year:

“The purpose of this law has been clear from the beginning. It was meant to keep African Americans, students, and other traditionally suppressed communities from  exercising our hard-won right to vote. Even the law’s supporters have admitted that there is absolutely no evidence of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania. Instead, this law is a purely political attempt to disenfranchise citizens who have every right to vote. I am dismayed at today’s decision and hope that as this case moves through the courts, our judges recognize the ugly intent and real consequences of voter ID.”


 

PFAW Foundation

Corbett Forced To Apologize After Comparing Same-Sex Marriage To Sibling Incest

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett hasn’t been helping his own approval ratings lately.

A Corbett administration legal brief filed on August 28th regarding the state’s same-sex marriage ban seemed to argue that same-sex marriage is analogous to the marriage of two 12-year-olds. Corbett rejected that argument after the fact in a written statement, but then in a TV interview made an even worse analogy. 

On WHY-TV’s ‘Ask The Governor” segment Friday morning, a smirking Corbett called his legal advisors’ analogy ‘inappropriate,’ but then asked the news anchor interviewing him ‘I think a much better analogy would have been brother and sister, don’t you?” 

The shocked news anchor didn’t quite know what to say other than “I don’t know,” and attempted to move on to the next question after saying she was going to leave the comments to Corbett.

Things didn’t get much better from there, with Corbett saying Federal courts shouldn’t get involved in Pennsylvania’s same-sex marriage cases because the U.S. Supreme Court left that decision up to the states, failing to specify what court case to which he was referring.  Later Friday morning Corbett then was forced to apologize for his offensive comparison of same-sex marriage and sibling incest.  Corbett’s approval ratings continue to drop after a stream of self-inflicted gaffes he has made, even when given questions in advance; leading Philadelphia Independent and Watchdog.org reporter Eric Boehm to label the Governor ‘Gaffe-tastic.’

PFAW

Governor Corbett's Condescending Anti-Marriage Argument

Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett has been floundering recently, facing personnel problems and dire poll numbers. But his abysmal public approval ratings aren’t stopping the governor from charging full steam ahead on his extreme agenda. A brief filed by the Corbett administration today in its lawsuit to stop Montgomery County, PA from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples argues that gay marriage licenses have no “value or legitimacy,” and that issuing those licenses is just like issuing marriage licenses to 12-year-olds:

“Had the clerk issued marriage licenses to 12-year-olds in violation of state law, would anyone seriously contend that each 12-year-old . . . is entitled to a hearing on the validity of his ‘license’?”

Unfortunately, we’re all too used to this form of argument, where homosexuality’s legitimacy is dismissed or ridiculed by comparing it to any number of things, from bestiality to alcoholism or even murder. Now, we know that the governor of Pennsylvania is also struggling to understand the concept of consent, which is what makes gay marriage actually nothing at all like children getting married: children can’t consent, adults can. These actions show Corbett’s deep misunderstanding of marriage equality, and an inability (or refusal) to see it for what it is. They also show that, despite the great Supreme Court victories for gay rights this year, there’s still a lot of work to do.

PFAW

Pennsylvania’s Tea Party Governor at War with Public Schools

Americans have gotten a pretty good look at what happens when you turn state government over to people who hate government – in Wisconsin, for example, or more recently North Carolina. Another Tea Party governor who hasn’t gotten the attention he deserves (although he did win the championship in Progress Now’s March Badness competition this year) is Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett, who has sacrificed the interests of Pennsylvanians with a far-right ideological agenda that includes voter suppression, his own transvaginal ultrasound bill, and a reluctance to tax or regulate fracking operations in the state’s Marcellus shale formation.

In Salon this week, writer Aaron Kase spells out another casualty of Corbett’s anti-government agenda – the Philadelphia public schools. The Philadelphia school system, which is under state control, is facing a catastrophic opening, with the city borrowing $50 million to give the district so that schools can open on September 9.

The needs of children are secondary, however, to a right-wing governor in Tom Corbett who remains fixated on breaking the district in order to crush the teachers union and divert money to unproven experiments like vouchers and privately run charters. If the city’s children are left uneducated and impoverished among the smoldering wreckage of a broken school system, so be it.

To be clear, the schools are in crisis because the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania refuses to fund them adequately. The state Constitution mandates that the Legislature “provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education,” but that language appears to be considered some kind of sick joke at the state capital in Harrisburg.

It’s worth noting that the state itself runs the Philadelphia School District after a 2001 takeover. The state is also responsible for catastrophic budget cuts two years ago that crippled the district’s finances. And in a diabolical example of circular logic, the state argues that the red ink it imposed, and shoddy management it oversees, are proof that the district can’t manage its finances or its mission and therefore shouldn’t get more money.

The article explains that the school district has been in crisis-management mode in recent years, laying off thousands of teachers and other employees and applying one financial band-aid after another. Governor Corbett could help if he wanted to, but he doesn’t.

Unlike the city, the state could come up with the necessary cash without excessively burdening its finances. Pennsylvania has the lowest severance tax of any state drilling for Marcellus shale gas, with plenty of room for an increase. The state had a modest surplus at the end of the last budget year. The governor has no trouble coming up with money to build new prisons, which will serve as future homes for all too many children of Philadelphia who are being failed and tossed aside by adult leadership, if you can call it that.

The pattern has become clear: defund the schools, precipitate a crisis and use that as an excuse to further attack the schools, pushing them closer and closer to a point of no return. The $50 million to open the schools this year is just the latest and most immediate example of three years of brinkmanship.

Behind this of course, is the kind of anti-union, anti-public employee, pro-outsourcing agenda pushed by other Tea Party-connected governors.

Leering over the whole mess is the controversial charter school movement, which siphons $675 million from district schools. The charter experiment has been a mixed bag, with some performing well, others proving mere vehicles for graft and corruption. Critics see them as a way to divert public money into politically connected private hands, and even more important, a way to break the teachers union because they aren’t bound by district collective bargaining rules.

It’s not hard to see the same forces at work here as those taking apart public sector unions in Wisconsin and trying to confiscate Detroit city employees’ pensions in Michigan. Indeed, the district leadership met Thursday to unilaterally suspend the school code to get around teacher seniority and automatic raise rules as they use the $50 million to rehire some of the employees laid off earlier this year.

Last summer an editor for the Harrisburg Patriot News slammed Corbett for interpreting his Tea Party-supported election as a mandate for far-right activism:

But his biggest flaw is that he misread Pennsylvania. Flash back to 2010 when Corbett ran for office, and the tea party was at the height of its glory. Corbett interpreted his victory as a shift to the right….

“He’s tried to govern as an ideologue in a state that has historically had moderate to centrist governors,” political analyst Michael Young says.  “He’s [an] antagonist and hostile to government, to legislators and to state employees. It reflects a deep, ideological bias, and that just does not fit the Pennsylvania electorate or milieu.”

 

PFAW

Calling Out Corbett: PFAW Press Conferences in Pennsylvania

The pushback against Pennsylvania Republicans’ electoral vote-rigging bill continues to grow, as more and more public officials and average voters call on Governor Corbett to dump the hyper-partisan scheme plan.

On Monday, People For the American Way held a press conference in Philadelphia with state Senator Anthony Williams and a representative from the office of U.S. Rep. Robert Brady, who said that he fears this legislation represents “more of the same” partisan tactics that we saw with last year’s voter ID bill.

Yesterday in the state capitol of Harrisburg, state Auditor Eugene DePasquale and state Treasurer Rob McCord added to the calls for Corbett to put aside partisan politics and “stand up and say, ‘This isn’t right.’” McCord warned that the bill would mean millions in lost economic activity, and called it a “shame.” DePasquale said that the bill would greatly reduce the influence of Pennsylvania in national elections by limiting the number of electoral votes in play to 3 or 4, similar to small states like Wyoming. “When was the last time you saw a major policy announcement from a president in Wyoming?,” he asked.

With the chorus of voices against the bill growing ever louder, from both Democrats and Republicans, it’s becoming harder and harder for Corbett to maintain his tacit support for this scheme. If Pennsylvanians keep speaking out against this bill, Corbett won’t be able to act like he can’t hear us for much longer. 

 

PFAW

Wolf Calls On Corbett to Drop Electoral College Bill: PFAW Press Conference

This morning, gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf became yet another in a long line of prominent Pennsylvanians of both parties to speak out against the Republican electoral college rigging proposal. At a People For the American Way press conference in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, this morning, Wolf and Sally Lyall of the Lancaster County Democrats called on Governor Tom Corbett to denounce the electoral vote rigging scheme drummed up by State Senator Dominic Pileggi. Wolf denounced the scheme as a “bad idea,” saying:

"There is such a thing as a bad idea. This is it. It’s a bad idea because it’s not fair…it’s not democratic. But it’s also a bad idea because it’s not smart. It puts Pennsylvania at a great, great disadvantage. I urge Governor Corbett to oppose this law as the bad idea it is.”

Governor Corbett has so far refused to denounce the bill even after more than 100,000 petitions against the scheme were dropped off at his office and hundreds of volunteers went door to door successfully mobilizing Pennsylvania voters in key districts to oppose the bill. Corbett continues to kowtow to the narrow special interests and Republican Party leaders like Senator Pileggi instead of standing with the people of Pennsylvania.

“Since Governor Corbett refuses to state his position on this scheme, we can only assume he sides with state Republican leadership and against Pennsylvania voters. Instead of focusing on growing the state’s economy, he would rather push a plan to disenfranchise millions of voters, gerrymander legislative districts and make Pennsylvania irrelevant in presidential elections. That is not  the kind of leadership Pennsylvania needs,” said Randy Borntrager, political director of People For the American Way.

It’s been clear for a while now that the Republican strategy on this bill has been to say it isn’t a priority, or just entirely avoid the question, not to actually defend its merits- because they know it doesn’t have any. They know it isn’t popular, fair, or right for Pennsylvania, but that won’t stop them from trying to sneak it through. Every day that we wait for an answer from Corbett is another day that this bill threatens the rights of Pennsylvanians. But People For the American Way isn’t going to wait quietly. With our partners in Pennsylvania, we’re asking the governor to stand up and be honest about his position on this bill.

 

PFAW

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett Just Can't Find ANY Latinos

Sometimes, Governors ‘say the darndest things.’  In a roundtable discussion hosted by the Al Dia Spanish language newspaper at The Union League of Pennsylvania Wednesday, PA Gov. Tom Corbett let it slip that he didn’t ‘have any’ Latinos serving in his administration.

MODERATOR: Do you have staff members that are Latino?
CORBETT: No, we do not have any staff members in there. If you can find us one, please let me know.
MODERATOR: I am sure that there are Latinos that…
CORBETT: Do any of you want to come to Harrisburg? See?!

Could Gov. Corbett really not “find” any Latino Pennsylvanians to serve on his staff? The latest numbers indicate that there are 719,000 people in Pennsylvania who identify as Latino or Hispanic according to the Pew Research Hispanic Center.  That’s just over 6% of all Pennsylvanians, and growing. 

While talking about representing all Pennsylvanians, Corbett and Pennsylvania Republicans continue to overlook the Latinos all around them. Really, Governor, you couldn’t ‘find’ any qualified Latinos to serve on your staff?  Or is it that you aren’t really looking?

PFAW

The Right's 2012 Solution: "Just Close Your Eyes"

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Last month, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett offered a solution for women who were going to be forced by the government to undergo a completely unnecessary ultrasound against their wills: "You can't make anybody watch, okay? Because you just have to close your eyes." The governor's suggestion would be almost comical, if it weren't for the tragic fact that forcing women to watch was the whole point of the legislation Corbett supported.

But it seems that Corbett's suggestion doesn't just apply to women seeking abortions in the Keystone state. It is, in essence, what the GOP is telling to every woman turned off by the party's attacks on reproductive rights, equal pay and domestic violence protections: "You just have to close your eyes."

Mitt Romney's campaign is banking on the fact that voters of both genders are concerned about the economy in these uncertain times. Polls show that they're right. But just because you're concerned with the economy doesn't mean you ignore it when a group of people are systematically taking away your rights for their own short-term political gain.

Sadly, this is the new normal. The Tea Party's success has been based on this "just close your eyes" formula. Swept into power on a wave of economic dissatisfaction, Tea Party legislators in Washington and the states asked the country to "close its eyes" as it did everything but fix the economy. "Pay no attention while we roll back decades of progress everything else you care about. Just close your eyes while we bash immigrants, cut essential services, make it very hard to vote, and take away collective bargaining rights". Many minorities have been affected, particularly in the last two years, but arguably and amazingly, no group has been under attack more than the American majority--women.

A new report from People For the American Way investigates the new landscape that the Tea Party is creating for American women. Mississippi is set to become the only state in the country without a legal abortion clinic. Texas is on the path to denying reproductive health care to 130,000 low-income women. Wisconsin repealed its enforcement mechanism for equal pay lawsuits. Senate Republicans are fighting to stop the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Following an all-male panel speaking on women's health, a woman who dares speak in front of Congress about the importance of affordable contraception is called a "slut."

Even with closed eyes, these things are very hard to miss. The Romney campaign has attempted to distract voters from this train wreck of anti-woman policies by claiming that a second Obama administration will hurt women economically. Last week, they hammered hard on the claim that women have accounted for 92 percent of job losses under President Obama- a mangled statistic that ignores, among other factors, that many of those losses were the result of Republican-led layoffs of teachers and other government employees. Then they decided to accuse Democrats of waging a "War on Moms" - forgetting, perhaps, the candidate's history of aggressively pushing low-income women to work outside of the home when their children are very young.

Women haven't bought it. In polls, Romney still trails Obama among women voters by double digits. And in an under-reported fact, among women ages 18 to 29, he's losing by an astounding 45 points. You don't need a political science degree that know that that spells disaster.

Mitt Romney and congressional Republicans seem to think they can get away with almost anything because, in the end, their Election Day hopes will be saved by a bad economy. The problem is, the people they attack on a regular basis - women, gays, Latinos, Muslims, you name it -know the Tea Party's record on the economy and its history of cynical, culture-war attacks that deeply affect the lives of real people. We have our eyes wide open.

PFAW

The Right to Vote under Attack: Latest News from the States

Voting rights and voter suppression, especially voter ID, continue to make headlines in many states. Below is a sample of the latest. For more information, click here and also check out The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box, a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation.

Colorado

Voter ID (HB12-1111) made it through the House but was postponed indefinitely in the Senate. One of its lead sponsors, Representative Kenneth Summers, is an ALEC member.

Florida

Evidence continues to mount against what should properly be called the Voter Suppression Act for its disenfranchising impacts, including its reduction of early voting hours and its harsh new restrictions on community groups seeking to help register voters. HB 1355 was originally sponsored by Representative Dennis Baxley, who has ties to ALEC.

Minnesota

The voter ID constitutional amendment (HF 2738) sponsored by ALEC State Chairwoman Mary Kiffmeyer has been approved by the state legislature and will now go to the voters in November. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie says that it will “turn our state's entire election system upside down.” Mike Dean, Executive Director of Common Cause Minnesota, “expects groups opposed to photo ID to challenge the amendment in court on the discrepancy between the ballot question and the actual changes to the Constitution.”

Missouri

Cole County Circuit Court Judge Pat Joyce struck down the proposed voter ID constitutional amendment (SJR 2) on the grounds that the ballot summary is “insufficient and unfair.” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorialized, “In a perverted, poetic justice kind of way, it's pitch perfect that in their alleged attempt to stop voter fraud, Missouri Republicans committed, well, fraud.” Prospects for an appeal are unclear, but the legislature is already working on contingency plans. They might try to bring the same bill back up with a new amendment (HCR 53), or they might get around the court by passing HJR 89. Representative Shane Schoeller, an ALEC member, is behind both, as well as efforts (HB 2109) to pass proof of citizenship for voter registration.

Nebraska

Voter ID looked set to pass before voting rights advocates put the brakes on LB 239, sponsored by Senator Charlie Janssen, ALEC member. But that doesn’t mean their work is over. Nebraskans for Civil Reform and Nebraska Appleseed have called for an investigation into polling place closures in Douglas County. Omaha World-Herald: “But is that cost savings worth making it harder for some people to exercise their right to vote? Is it worth eroding the American voting franchise, discouraging voters from going to the polls, not only because of the extra distance but also because of longer lines?” A lawsuit may be looming.

New Hampshire

SB 289, which would require voters to present valid photo identification, and SB 318, which would alter residency requirements and make other voter registration changes that could have a profound impact, especially among the student population, have both passed the Senate and are due soon in the House, as early as April 10. SB 318’s lead sponsor, Senator Sharon Carson, is an ALEC member who also supports SB 289. Tabled in committee was a bill (HB 1301) concerning oaths for vote challengers and the voters they challenge.

North Carolina

The voter ID battle began last session when the state legislature passed HB 351, legislation requiring photo ID, whose 3 primary sponsors all have ties to ALEC. But the House failed to override Governor Perdue’s veto. Now voting rights advocates are concerned that HB 351 will be pulled out of the “veto garage.”

Ohio

In July 2011, Governor John Kasich signed a sweeping “election reform proposal” (HB 194) into law. Voting rights supporters were able to move forward with a referendum for repeal, which is set for the November ballot. Now the forces behind HB 194, sponsored by former Representative and ALEC member Robert Mecklenborg, want to head off what they worry will be an embarrassing defeat at the ballot box. Senator William Coley, also an ALEC member, has sponsored his own version of repeal through SB 295. It has passed the Senate and is expected in a House hearing on April 17. We’ll have to see what they try to replace it with, likely much of the same language.

Pennsylvania

Last month, Representative Daryl Metcalfe’s (an ALEC member) HB 934 passed the Pennsylvania Senate. It got through concurrence by a House vote of 104-88. Governor Corbett signed it as soon as it got to his desk. Though photo ID is now law in Pennsylvania, the legal debate continues, and voting rights supporters continue efforts to demonstrate the impacts, including what it means for students and what it really costs to have “free” ID.

South Carolina

With the state still embroiled in its battle over voter ID, the ACLU and League of Women Voters have moved to intervene, as has the Department of Justice, which rejected the law last year. HB 3003 was originally sponsored by Representative Alan Clemmons, an ALEC member.

Wisconsin

Evidence continues to mount against voter ID and now the issue is before the state Supreme Court. Act 23 (aka AB 7) was originally sponsored by Representative Jeffrey Stone and several others with ties to ALEC.

PFAW Foundation

UPDATE: PA Passes ID Under Objections of 45 Groups and 13,000 Pennsylvanians

UPDATE: Last weekHB 934 passed the Pennsylvania Senate. It got through concurrence yesterday by a House vote of 104-88. Governor Corbett signed it as soon as it got to his desk. Now photo ID is law in Pennsylvania.

On Wednesday, in a 26-23 vote on HB 934, the Pennsylvania Senate passed photo ID. Having passed the House last June, it now goes to concurrence (final negotiations) and will soon reach Governor Corbett’s desk, where it’s expected to be signed into law. It’s important to note that the lead sponsor, Representative Daryl Metcalfe, is an ALEC member.

Protect Our Vote has taken a strong stand against photo ID in their state. Made up of 45 groups, the voting rights coalition recently held a rally at the state Capitol Rotunda, at which they unveiled a petition containing the signatures of 13,000 Pennsylvanians. Have you ever wondered what 13,000 signatures looks like?

It took 1,000 feet to display the strong opposition to photo ID. And voting rights supporters won’t stop there. There is already talk of lawsuits to challenge the (expected) new law.

For more information, check out The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box, a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation.

PFAW Foundation