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A Diversity Milestone for Federal Judges

President Obama had as many women judges confirmed as Bush did in 8 years, but Republicans are preventing votes that would further diversify our courts.
PFAW

Highlighting YEP Endorsees

The YEP Endorsee Highlights series is dedicated to informing readers about the plethora of quality progressive candidates on the YEP endorsee list. This entry in the series contains a new batch of young progressives from across the country, including the first openly gay man in the Montana Legislature and a man who will become one of the youngest politicians in the country if elected.
 
Brian McGrain is running for reelection to the Ingham County Board of Commissioners in Lansing, Michigan. Originally elected in 2008, Lansing won reelection in 2010 and continues to serve as the associate director of Community Economic Development Association of Michigan, a nonprofit organization committed to rebuilding neighborhoods. He serves on the Board’s Human Services and Finance Committees and is involved with several other commissions. To learn more about Brian, click here.
 
Bryce Bennett is running for reelection to the Montana House of Representatives. He was originally elected in 2010 and currently works for a non-profit organization called Forward Montana -- which he helped found in 2004 -- that engages young Montanans in the political process. Bennett was appointed to the Education and State Administration committees and is the first openly gay man to serve in the Montana Legislature. Click here to learn more.
 
Chris Clark is running for a City Council seat in Mountain View, California. Possessing a degree in political science from Stanford and previously serving on Mountain View’s Environmental Planning Commission and Community Healthy Awareness Council, at age 25 Clark will be one of the youngest politicians in the country if elected. Clark hopes to represent the 18-36 year old demographic group, a key constituency in Mountain View without representation. Click here to learn more about Chris.
 
Dar’shun Kendrick is running for reelection to the Georgia State House. She was first elected in 2010. Representative Kendrick is the only freshman to Co-Chair Committee, as she does for the Economic Security and Development Committee. Additionally, she serves on the Children and Youth, Interstate Cooperation and Special Rules Committees. She has recently received endorsements from Planned Parenthood and Georgia’s WIN List. Click here to learn more about Dar'shun.
 
Diane Russell is running for reelection to the Maine House of Representatives. She has served two terms in the 120th district. She serves on the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee and is a proven progressive champion advocating for working families and the immigrant community of Maine. She is a founding board member of the Opportunity Maine Campaign, which fights to make college more affordable. Click here to learn more about Diane.
PFAW

YEP Primary Winners

People for the American Way extends its congratulations to two Young Elected Progressives (YEP) endorsees who emerged victorious in Massachusetts’ legislative primary elections yesterday.

Sean Garballey, who is currently a state representative for the 23rd District of Massachusetts, ran to retain his current seat, which he acquired in 2009; he was unopposed.

Carl Sciortino is a Democratic member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and has represented the 34th District since 2005. Carl ran unopposed to retain his current seat.

PFAW

Highlighting YEP Endorsees

PFAW takes an expansive approach when looking for endorsees, selecting progressive candidates running for a variety of elected positions across the country. Here is just a small sample of our endorsee list that we’d like to highlight today. These candidates have advocated for progressive causes in their respective communities and represent the future of the country; it is thus important that you and I show them our support.
 
Adam Goode is running for reelection to the Maine House of Representatives. Goode currently serves on the Joint Standing Committee on Insurance and Financial Services and is a member of the Worker Rights Board of Eastern Maine. He has proven to be a leader in engaging Mainers in the decision-making process as well as fighting for health care reform. Learn more about Goode here.
 
Adam Lawrence is running for election to the Michigan House of Representatives in the 99th District. Currently, Lawrence serves as a community organizer and recently graduated and received his master’s degree from Central Michigan University. He hopes to greatly improve public education funding and help veterans and seniors receive entitlements. Click here for more information about Lawrence.
 
Andrew Gillum is the National Director of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network and is running for reelection to the Tallahassee City Commission. Since being first elected in 2003, Andrew has been a leading progressive voice, fighting for working families and small businesses, forming community partnerships, and improving youth academic, personal, and professional development. For more information on Gillum, click here.
 
Andrew McLean is running to represent Gorham in the Maine House of Representatives. He has worked in education at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham. McLean is a progressive champion and has been endorsed by Victory Fund and will lead on education and economic opportunity for Gorham and for Maine as a whole.
 
Ben Allen is the current School Board President in Santa Monica, California and is running for reelection. He is also an adjunct professor at UCLA. He was unanimously voted in as President by his fellow School Board members. He is fighting to receive more government funding from the state as well as improving race relations between the students within the Santa Monica and Malibu area schools. Click here to learn more about Allen.
PFAW

8th Circuit Rules Against Disclosure Law

A sharply divided court blocks Minnesota's campaign finance disclosure rules for organizations making independent expenditures in state elections.
PFAW

Chance to Vote on Citizens United!? Yes, This November

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

In today's polarized political climate, there are a few things on which American voters overwhelmingly agree. For all our disputes, we can find common ground in this: we're completely fed up. About 80 percent of us don't think Congress is doing a good job. Only aboutone third of us view the federal government favorably. In a precipitous drop, less than half of Americans have a favorable view of the Supreme Court. Across all political lines, 75 percent of Americans say there is too much money in politics, and about the same percentage think this glut of money in politics gives the rich more power than the rest in our democracy.

Interestingly, another thing that most Americans have in common is that 80 percent of us have never heard of Citizens United v. FEC, the case in which the Supreme Court ruled that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. Our feelings of frustration with Washington are deeply connected with the widespread, and entirely founded, suspicion that our elected officials aren't representing voters, but are instead indebted to the wealthy interests that pay for their campaigns. This distrust has only deepened as politicians and the courts have handed over more and more power to those with the deepest pockets.

Citizens United is only the most famous of the recent spate of Supreme Court decisions aimed at eliminating hard-won campaign finance regulations. In fact, shortly before Citizens United, the George W. Bush-created right-wing bloc of the Supreme Court issued major rulings that had already begun to undermine decades of federal clean election laws.

And we are only partway down the slippery slope. It keeps getting worse as the Supreme Court gradually dismantles state-level clean elections laws, as it did in Arizona, and clarifies that its sweeping decision in Citizens United applies to states as well, as it did in Montana. Indeed, it won't be long before this or some future right-wing Supreme Court cuts to the chase and lifts the century-old ban on direct corporate contributions to political candidates, one of the most basic checks we have against widespread corruption.

Believe it or not, this November, we'll have the chance to vote on whether this slippery slope continues, or whether we stop it and roll it back. Each of these regressive campaign finance rulings has had a monumental impact on our democracy. It's easy to forget that they have been made by one-vote 5-4 majorities of the Supreme Court. That means we're just one Supreme Court vote away from stopping the trend in its tracks -- and even reversing it. Although Mitt Romney has flip-flopped on many issues, he's crystal clear about how he feels on this issue and exactly what kind of judge he would appoint to the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts. He has said he believes "corporations are people" and he means it. He's promised to nominate more Supreme Court justices like the ones who handed down Citizens United. And his chief judicial adviser, former judge Robert Bork, is legendary in his opposition to individual voting rights while advocating expansive corporate power. On this issue in particular, President Obama has been very clear and comes down unambiguously on the opposite side. Look no further than his Supreme Court picks so far. Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor have consistently resisted the right-wing court's radical transformation of our democracy. In fact, his nominees now represent half the votes in the High Court who are standing up for democracy against "government by and for" the highest bidder.

Some 2008 Obama voters may not be thrilled by the last four years. Some may even be considering giving Mitt Romney a chance, despite their misgivings. But no matter who your candidate is, what issues you care about or on what side you come down on them, most importantly your vote this November will likely determine the Supreme Court for a generation. If Romney has the opportunity to replace one of the more moderate Supreme Court justices, the Court's far-right majority will not remain narrow. The votes will be there to dismantle any remaining limits of money in politics for the foreseeable future. Conversely, future Obama appointments give Americans the chance to halt this downward spiral and the opportunity to reclaim our democracy.

Whatever the issues you most care about, this November's election will be a choice between two Supreme Courts. And the two alternatives could not be more different. Quite simply, this is the chance that the overwhelming majority of Americans -- who recognize that there is too much money in politics and that it is corrupting our government at every level -- finally have to vote on it.

Will we seize this opportunity?

PFAW

Trade Associations Funnel Secret Corporate Campaign Cash

“[T]he big winners” of Citizens United are trade associations and their corporate members that can now spend undisclosed, unlimited amounts of money to affect elections.
PFAW

Democratic Platform Open to a Constitutional Amendment

The Democratic platform recognizes that an amendment may be needed to restore our democracy after Citizens United.
PFAW

Big Government the Right Likes: The Kind That Keeps People From Voting

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

The Republican Party claims to be the party of small government -- with the obvious exceptions of denying marriage equality and massive government oversight of women's medical decisions. But there is another kind of big government that the party has overwhelmingly, enthusiastically gotten behind: expensive and intrusive attempts to make it harder for Americans to vote.

A trio of federal court decisions in Florida, Ohio and Texas last week ripped the lid off the increasingly successful right-wing campaign to limit opportunities for low-income people, minorities and students to vote -- especially, and not coincidentally, in swing states. These decisions, from even-handed and moderate federal judges across the country, show just how far the Right has gone to use the power of government to disenfranchise traditionally disenfranchised groups.

In Florida, a federal judge permanently blocked a law that had made it almost impossible for good government groups to conduct voter registration drives -- which had led groups like the venerable League of Women Voters to all but shut down operations in the state. In Ohio, a federal court ordered the state to reopen early voting in the three days before November's election, which Republicans had attempted to shut down. Early voting on the weekend before the election was enormously successful in 2008 -- especially among African Americans -- and the judge found that Republicans had no legitimate reason to want it to stop.

And finally a federal court, which is required to review changes in election policy in states and counties with a history of voting discrimination, ruled that Texas' new voter ID law couldn't go forward because it "imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor, and racial minorities in Texas."

The effort that Republican governors and legislatures across the country have gone through in the past two years to make it more difficult for citizens to vote is truly remarkable. They have been willing to buck both the law and the spirit of our constitutional democracy to bar groups of people from participating in it. And they have been willing to set up extra layers of government and bureaucracy -- things they claim to despise -- in order to keep people from the polls.

There are plenty of areas of genuine disagreement in our politics, but the right to vote shouldn't be one of them. In an interview with The Atlantic last week, Rep. John Lewis, a hero of the Civil Rights movement, said "there should be public outcry" and a "sense of righteous indignation" at what is happening to our elections. He's right.

It's astounding that nearly 50 years after the Voting Rights Act banned racial discrimination at the polls, it's still needed as a shield against such egregious violations of its principles. And it's astounding that the self-proclaimed party of small government wants to use government's power to keep people from exercising their fundamental right to vote.

PFAW

President Obama voices his support for a constitutional amendment

Two days ago, President Obama sat down for a live “Ask Me Anything” session on the popular social news website Reddit. Of the ten questions President Obama was asked, one pertained to money in the politics:

What are you going to do to end the corrupting influence of money in politics during your second term?

Although not specifically asked about the amendment strategy, President Obama raised the issue in his answer:

Money has always been a factor in politics, but we are seeing something new in the no-holds barred flow of seven and eight figure checks, most undisclosed, into super-PACs; they fundamentally threaten to overwhelm the political process over the long run and drown out the voices of ordinary citizens. We need to start with passing the Disclose Act that is already written and been sponsored in Congress - to at least force disclosure of who is giving to who. We should also pass legislation prohibiting the bundling of campaign contributions from lobbyists. Over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United (assuming the Supreme Court doesn't revisit it). Even if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight of the super-PAC phenomenon and help apply pressure for change. [Emphasis added]

President Obama already had, through spokespeople, acknowledged his support of constitutional remedies to overturn Citizens United; he had not however done so himself, until now. The very fact that the sitting U.S. President is speaking seriously about the use of constitutional remedies to overturn Citizens United shows how far the movement has come. The movement has clearly made its move to the mainstream.

To date, here is what PFAW and our allies have accomplished:

- 1,951 public officials are now in support of constitutional remedies

- 96 House Representatives; 29 Senators

- 14 amendment resolutions introduced in the 112th Congress

- Over 275 cities and towns have passed resolutions supporting an amendment

- 7 State Legislatures have passed resolutions (HI, NM, VT, MD, RI, CA, and MA)

PFAW

YEP Primary Winners

People for the American Way extends its congratulations to three Young Elected Progressives endorsees who emerged victorious in yesterday’s primary elections.

In Arizona, Ed Ableser, who currently represents the 17th District in Arizona’s state House, won the Democratic primary for state Senate in the 26th District; he ran unopposed. Meanwhile, Stefanie Mach won the Democratic primary to represent the 10th District in the Arizona House.

In Vermont, Kesha Ram, incumbent state representative from Chittendon’s 3-4 District, won her primary contest; she ran unopposed.

PFAW

New TV Ad! "Mitt Romney's Supreme Court: Too Extreme For America"

Mitt Romney says that a woman's right to choose an abortion even in cases of rape and incest is a "decision that will be made by the Supreme Court." But Romney has promised Supreme Court Justices who would overturn Roe v Wade...
PFAW

Nikki Haley Amplifies the GOP’s Assault on Voting Rights

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley took to the stage at the Republican National Convention Tuesday night, asserting her unwavering support for voter identification laws that make it harder for Americans—particularly minorities, students, and the elderly—to  exercise their constitutional right to vote.

The Justice Department is currently suing to stop South Carolina’s new voter ID law from taking effect, charging that it discriminates against traditionally disenfranchised groups. The voter ID laws particularly violate Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which outlaws discriminatory voting practices and gives the federal government open-ended oversight of states and communities with a history of voter discrimination.
 
In an attempt to defend the voter ID measures in South Carolina, Haley affirmed the alleged necessity of voters showing a picture ID: “…if you have to show a picture ID to buy Sudafed and you have to show a picture ID to set foot on an airplane, then you should have to show a picture ID to protect one of the most valuable, most central, most sacred rights we are blessed with in America - the right to vote.”
 
Haley’s statement was met with a fervent standing ovation from the Republican audience.
 
What Haley failed to mention is the overwhelming evidence proving that the implementation of voter ID laws will severely hinder many minorities from casting their vote—a right that is preserved by the Constitution. The Constitution does not protect a citizen’s right to buy Sudafed or fly on an airplane.
 
Under the South Carolina law, anyone who wants to vote but does not have one of the five acceptable forms of photo ID must acquire a new voter registration card that includes a photo. A birth certificate can be used to prove identity. But the Obama administration says the law is vague about how the new cards would be distributed, raising the issue that voters might have difficulty obtaining a new card in time for the November 6 election.
 
Another concern arising from these voter ID requirements is that many African Americans born in the era of segregation do not have accurate birth certificates or any birth certificate at all. Effectively, by requiring people to obtain a photo ID, which necessitates a birth certificate, states like South Carolina are encoding the segregation era into current voting laws.
 
 
Proponents of this law claim that it is a preventative measure that will end cases of voter fraud. Yet these claims are unfounded, as there have been no proven cases of voter misrepresentation fraud in South Carolina. During this week’s trial over South Carolina’s voter ID law, state Senator George “Chip” Campsen III even testified that he could not find cases of voter impersonation in South Carolina.
 
This law is an infringement on the constitutionally granted voting rights of minorities—a demographic that has historically maintained a liberal outlook and voted for Democratic candidates. These voter ID laws solve a problem that doesn’t exist in order to keep progressive-leaning voters from the ballot box.
 
 

 

PFAW

Three New YEP Endorsements

It’s that time again – we’re unveiling three more new endorsees of People For the American Way’s Young Elected Progressives program. We’re excited to introduce you to the next generation of America’s leadership, candidates 35 years of age or younger who have been strong advocates for progressive values in their communities.

Brittany Pettersen (CO) Brittany Pettersen is running for the Colorado House of Representatives. She has served as the Denver Organizing Director for New Era, a non-profit dedicated to engaging youth in government and politics. She is a strong supporter of LGBT rights and a woman’s right to choose. Pettersen also believes that we should fight back against voter suppression and protect every citizen’s right to have their voice heard at the ballot box. Be sure to learn more about Brittany Pettersen on her website.

J. Craig Gordon (GA) J. Craig Gordon is running for reelection to the Georgia House of Representatives. He has represented the 162nd district since 2007 and during this past legislative session[] served on the Economic Development and Tourism, Health and Human Services, Retirement, and Special Rules committees. He strongly believes in re-evaluating the education system and revitalizing public education in Georgia and has a proven record fighting for the rights of every Georgian. Check out J. Craig’s website.

Nate Murphy (ID) Nate Murphy is running to represent the 29th district in Idaho’s state House. Murphy, who was elected to the District 25 School Board in Pocatello at the age of 21, is committed to improving the public education system in Idaho. For more information on Nate, click here.

PFAW

Why is Mitt Romney Outraged at Todd Akin and Not at Paul Ryan?

Mitt Romney is outraged! He's insulted! He's offended!

Why? A Republican Senate candidate dared to state a position on choice that is exactly the same as that of Romney's own running mate.

Missouri Rep. Todd Akin is attracting plenty of attention for his bizarre and idiotic justification for refusing to allow rape victims to have abortions. But the extreme policy position behind those comments - a policy that is the GOP standard -- should be getting just as much attention.

Akin explained this weekend how rape victims shouldn't be allowed reproductive choice because they already have access to some mysterious anti-pregnancy control system: "First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

Romney responded today in an interview with the National Review:

"Congressman's Akin comments on rape are insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong," Romney said. "Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive."

"I have an entirely different view," Romney said. "What he said is entirely without merit and he should correct it."

What is Romney's "entirely different view"? That Rep. Akin doesn't have a basic understanding of the female anatomy that he's so interested in legislating? That Akin feels the need to draw a distinction between "legitimate rape" and "illegitimate rape"? That Akin thinks rape victims shouldn't be able to choose whether to carry their rapists' children?

Romney should start by directing his outrage at his own running mate. Rep. Paul Ryan not only opposes abortion rights for rape victims, he was a cosponsor of a so-called "personhood" amendment that would have classified abortion as first degree murder and outlawed common types of birth control. Ryan has also bought into the "legitimate rape" nonsense, cosponsoring legislation with Akin that would have limited federal services to victims of "forcible rape" - a deliberate attempt to write out some victims of date rape and statutory rape.

Romney himself has flirted with the "personhood" idea, telling Mike Huckabee during the primary that he'd "absolutely" support such a measure. When he was later confronted about the comment at a town hall meeting, it became clear that Romney had no idea how the process he wanted to legislate actually worked.

And Romney hasn't always been keen to stand up for the victims of rape. In a Republican debate in February, he actually got in an argument with Newt Gingrich over who was least in favor of requiring hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape victims they were treating.

Now the Romney campaign is trying to distance itself from Akin by saying that "a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape." But Romney has also vowed to nominate Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, returning to states the power to outlaw or allow abortion as they choose. If Romney and anti-choice activists get their wish from the Supreme Court, a Romney-Ryan administration would have no power to stop states from imposing whichever abortion bans they decide to impose. The promise to carve out an exception for rape victims is not a promise they would be able to keep.

The real scandal of Rep. Akin's comments isn't the faulty sex-ed he's teaching. Instead, his comments expose the anti-choice movement's skewed and condescending view of women. Akin can't accept that a woman who fits his definition of virtue - the victim of a "legitimate rape" - would also need to seek an abortion, and he has made up false science to support that assumption. But with or without the weird right-wing science, that same false distinction underlies all anti-choice policies - including those embraced by Romney and Ryan.

Romney can feign all the outrage he wants at Rep. Akin's misogynistic pseudo-science. But until he can draw a clear distinction between Akin's policies and his own, his protests will ring hollow.

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

PFAW

Progress Texas Announces 13 More State Legislators Have Left ALEC

The mass exodus from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) continued today, as an additional 13 members of the state legislature cut ties with the corporate bill factory. Progress Texas reports:

As we have written many times before, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a corporate bill factory for model laws. The organization arranges for corporate lobbyists and conservative legislators to hold joint secret meetings to craft cookie-cutter bills that increase the profits of private companies at the public’s expense. Following public pressure from Progress Texas and its membership, 25 legislators have dropped - including every Democrat. A majority of the Texas Legislature – 96 of 181 members – is now no longer a part of ALEC.

32 corporations from across the country have also left ALEC. A complete list can be found here.

The PFAW Foundation has been key in exposing ALEC’s efforts at influencing governmental agendas at the local, state, and federal level.

PFAW

YEP Primary Winners

The results are in from Tuesday’s primaries, and People For the American Way is proud to commend seven Young Elected Progressives endorsees on their victories.

In Connecticut, PFAW applauds Assemblymen Matthew Lesser and James Albis, both running for reelection. Lesser, of Connecticut’s 100th district, has been a proven advocate for the middle class, education, and equal rights since he was first elected in 2010. Albis, a tireless voice for seniors and the middle class, was first elected in a 2011 special election. Both assemblymen face challengers in November, but are continuing their momentum into the fall’s general election.

PFAW also extends its congratulations to five YEP endorsees who emerged victorious in primary elections in Florida: Dwight Bullard, Andrew Gillum, John Alvarez, Leo Cruz, and Ricardo Rangel. While Bullard, winner of this year’s Barbara Jordan Leadership Award given by affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s YEO Network program, defeated four primary challengers in the state Senate’s 39th district, Gillum, YEO Network National Director, defeated three challengers to his Tallahassee city commission seat in a landslide victory. Elsewhere, openly gay state House candidate Alvarez continues to shatter ceilings, advancing onto the general election after an exciting 15 point victory. Cruz and Rangel, state Senate and House hopefuls, respectively, now also face challengers in November.

For more information on PFAW’s other Young Elected Progressives endorsees, click here, and be sure support these strong progressive voices!

PFAW

Two Powerhouse 501(c)(4) ‘Social Welfare Groups’ Buy Election Anonymously

In this years presidential election cycle 501(c)(4)s Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity have outspent all super PACs combined...
PFAW

Newest Young Elected Progressive Candidates

People For the American Way is excited to continue rolling out our Young Elected Progressive candidates. These are astounding candidates for local and state office who are the next generation of leadership in America. Each is a progressive voice in their communities and is 35 years of age or younger.

Crisanta Duran (CO)

Crisanta Duran is running for reelection to the Colorado House of Representatives in the 5th district. Duran became the youngest Latina legislator in the state’s history when she was first elected in 2010, earning a place in the Denver Post’s list of “Colorado Women Who Broke Political Barriers.” In the legislature, Duran serves on the Judiciary, Finance, State Veterans & Military Affairs and Joint Council committees. She has proven herself to be a progressive champion and has fought hard for the rights of all Coloradans. Learn more about Crisanta here.

Bryan Townsend (DE)

Bryan Townsend is running to represent the 11th district in Delaware’s Senate. Townsend, who currently works as an attorney in Wilmington, has been a volunteer with Special Olympics Delaware for the past thirteen years and is a Big Brother with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Delaware. He hopes to greatly improve the public education system in the Newark/Bear community and to create jobs through public works projects. He also vows to fight for those in the community whose voices are not often heard. Learn more about Bryan here.

Rashida Tlaib (MI)

Rashida Tlaib is running for reelection to the Michigan House of Representatives. Tlaib was first elected in 2008 to represent the 12th House district, in Southwest Detroit. In her first term she was appointed to the House Appropriations Committee and was also named the Minority Vice Chair of Judiciary and Department of Community Health Subcommittees. She also made history by being named the first female Muslim elected to the Michigan legislature and the second ever in the country. Learn more about Rashida here.

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