Florida

Registration drives to resume in Florida

With the worst of the “Voter Suppression Act” blocked, pending litigation, community groups are set to get back to registering voters.
PFAW Foundation

Florida Poised for Another Voter-Purge Disaster

 Shortly before the 2000 election, the state of Florida undertook a massive purge of its voter rolls, eliminating the names of 12,000 residents who the state believed ineligible to vote because of felony convictions. The problem? The sloppy purge eliminated the names not just of felons who had lost their right to vote under Florida law, but also of people who had just committed misdemeanors; felons who had regained their voting rights; and even of people who simply shared the name of an ineligble voter. The result was a mess which left countless eligible Floridians, disproportionately African American, stripped of their right to vote in a state that ultimately decided the presidential election by 537 votes.

Now Florida, under the leadership of Gov. Rick Scott, is poised to start another disastrous voter purge. Think Progress reports that a purge of “non-citizens” from Florida’s voting rolls has already struck hundreds of eligible citizens. Many more have not replied to a letter that informs them they will lose their right to vote if they don’t reply with proof of citizenship. Despite the clear inaccuracy of the purge, the burden is on registered voters to prove that they are eligible, not on the state to prove that they are not.

Rep. Ted Deutsch is now calling on Gov. Scott to suspend the flawed purge, saying it will “create chaotic results and further undermine Floridians’ confidence in the integrity of our elections.”

As we investigated in our report “The Right to Vote Under Attack,” right-wing politicians have been using the specter of “voter fraud” to carry out a number of programs meant to suppress the vote of progressive-leaning groups. The flawed voter purge in one of the closest of swing states is just the most recent blatant example.

PFAW

ALEC: The Hidden Player Behind ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws

The tragic death of Trayvon Martin – the 17 year old African American who was slain while walking down the sidewalk of a gated community – has shocked the nation, and has drawn international attention to the role of race relations in America.

The tragedy has also shed light on Florida’s "Stand Your Ground" law, which expands the legal justifications for "justifiable homicide" – and which is key to the "self-defense" claims of Trayvon’s alleged shooter, George Zimmerman. This "Stand Your Ground" law, signed into Florida statutes in 2005, became a model for legislation pushed by the corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and with ALEC’s help has since been replicated in states across the country.

On April 26th, 2005, Florida became the first state in the nation to pass "Stand Your Ground" legislation, which expanded the circumstances under which the use of deadly force for self-defense is considered justifiable. Under the so-called "Castle Doctrine," a person’s right to defend themselves from attack in their own home has traditionally been recognized and typically in such circumstances the burden falls on the individual to prove that the use of force is reasonable. Under the expanded “Stand Your Ground” laws, the permissible use of deadly force for self-defense expands beyond the home, into spaces including personal vehicles and even public places, and the burden of showing that the use of force was unreasonable falls on the prosecution. It is such provisions which are apparently complicating the current investigations in the Martin shooting.

"Stand Your Ground" laws have been popping up around the country in recent years (24 states currently have them on the books) – and that’s no coincidence. Just as we have seen with the proliferation of Voter-ID laws, the force behind the trend is ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the corporate-funded front group that has helped advance the most extreme laws adopted by state legislatures, from SB 1070 in Arizona to SB 5 in Ohio.

Again and again, we’ve seen corporations use ALEC to push laws that put profits above the wellbeing of ordinary people. In the case of “Stand Your Ground” legislation, the weapons industry and ALEC have advocated for a law that encourages more people to carry weapons, thereby increasing industry profits.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is a prominent member of ALEC, and has used its influence within the organization to push pro-gun policies across the country. In 2008, ALEC employee Michael Hough appeared on NRA News to talk about ALEC’s amicus brief in support of the NRA’s position in District of Columbia v. Heller. Hough described ALEC as a “very pro-Second Amendment organization,” and also stated, “Some of the things we were pushing in states was the Castle Doctrine [the name for ALEC’s model bill], we worked with the NRA with that, that’s one of our model bills that we have states introduce, and another one was the emergency powers legislation which was enacted in a couple states.”

Despite their grassroots image, the NRA is far from being simply a grassroots organization. An extensive report by the Violence Policy Center documents how gun companies bankroll the NRA through their many opportunities to sponsor NRA programs and make direct contributions to the organization:

Since 2005, corporations—gun related and other—have contributed between $19.8 million and $52.6 million to the NRA as detailed in its Ring of Freedom corporate giving program.1 In a promotional brochure for the program, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre promises that the “National Rifle Association’s newly expanded Corporate Partners Program is an opportunity for corporations to partner with the NRA....This program is geared toward your company’s corporate interests.” The vast majority of funds—74 percent—contributed to the NRA from “corporate partners” are members of the firearms industry: companies involved in the manufacture or sale of firearms or shooting-related products. Contributions to the NRA from the firearms industry since 2005 total between $14.7 million and $38.9 million.

That corporate funding helps to explain why the NRA has the means to donate, for example, $25,000 to ALEC in 2011 to achieve "Vice-Chairman" level sponsorship for ALEC’s annual conference. It also explains why NRA lobbying efforts are so important to their mission, since the laws they lobby for enrich the financial funders of the organization.

Unfortunately, until we change it, the ALEC model is working – for the corporations that fund the network. Florida’s "Stand Your Ground" legislation and ALEC’s model bill contain identical language, which has now been introduced in states across the country.

Those who aren’t served by this system are the American people. When politicians enact ALEC legislation that benefits corporations, real people suffer the consequences. The results are tragic:

 

(Source:  Data issued by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement)

 

PFAW Foundation

What You Talkin' Bout, Willard?! YOU Attacking Harvard?

Willard Mitt Romney absolutely refuses to let the words that come out of his mouth be dictated by reality. He recently insisted that "corporations are people." Now, in an attempt to portray himself as some sort of "everyman" instead of the millionaire tycoon that he is, he's attacking President Obama for his ties to Harvard faculty. But judging by his associations and resume, Romney himself might as well keep a residence in Cambridge and have his own reserved parking space on Harvard's campus.

We say it again: What you talkin' bout, Willard?!

From Talking Points Memo:

Mitt Romney once again criticized President Obama for taking his advice from the "Harvard faculty lounge" in a speech in Florida on Thursday. He's repeated the line on the campaign trail despite being a Harvard alum himself and counting Harvard faculty among his own top advisers.

In a major address on foreign policy last month, Romney used the school as a punchline to decry Obama as overly weak in dealing with dictators. "That may be what they think in that Harvard faculty lounge," he said, "but it's not what they know on the battlefield!"

Romney has never served on the battlefield, but he does hold degrees from Harvard in business and law. That's one more than Obama, who has a law degree from the school and headed the Harvard Law Review. And it's not just Romney who has Crimson ties: The Boston Globe notes that three of his children have attended Harvard Business School.

But, hey, at least he's not taking his advice from the faculty lounge, right? Actually Romney relies on their expertise plenty. Meghan O'Sullivan, a former Bush aide, teaches international affairs at Harvard and reportedly advises him on foreign policy. His economic adviser for 2008 and 2012, Greg Mankiw, is a star professor there whose textbook is used at colleges around the country.

 

PFAW

Mitt Romney Still Thinks Corporations are People. They Still Aren’t.

Campaigning in Florida today, Mitt Romney doubled down on his recent claim that “corporations are people”:


Speaking to a town hall-style gathering at a Miami airport hotel, the former Massachusetts governor repeated the line he first said last month at the Iowa State Fair.


“I’ll communicate to the private sector, by the way, that we like you,” Romney said in response to a question about how to encourage banks to lend more money. “We like enterprise. I was in Iowa the other day, and people suggested that we just raise taxes on corporations.”


He went on: “I told them, corporations are people. … Raising taxes on corporations is raising taxes on people.”


While it’s true that corporations are owned by people, Romney intentionally ignores the basic purpose of corporations: to be a legal entities separate from human beings that own them, with different rights and responsibilities under the law. He also ignores the fact that many large corporations pay much less in taxes than actual human beings – GE, for instance, paid no federal income taxes in 2010.

Even if corporations were people, they’d be doing fairly well in today’s economy. Corporate profits have soared in the past year, even as more and more human beings are out of jobs and facing poverty.

When Romney made his first “corporations are people” remark, we responded with a petition and a TV ad in New Hampshire. Sounds like it’s time to dust that ad off:

 

 

PFAW

PFAW Foundation Honors Young, Progressive Elected Officials

Saint Paul City Councilman Melvin Carter and Wisconsin State Senator Chris Larson

Last weekend, about 200 young, progressive elected officials gathered in Washington at the sixth annual convening of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network. The Network, which includes over 600 state and local elected officials from across the country, honored five of its own who have done exceptional work in their communities over the past year.

City Councilman Melvin Carter of St. Paul, Minnesota was awarded the YEO Network’s Barbara Jordan Leadership Award. The award, named after PFAW Foundation co-founder Barbara Jordan, honors “a young elected official who has shown dedication and support to the YEO Network and has a distinguished record of public service to their community and the progressive movement at large.”

Carter, who is now the YEO Network’s Minnesota state director, became involved in politics after his brother was turned away from a Florida polling place in the 2000 elections. As an elected official, he has continued to work for voting rights and for equal rights and opportunity in his community. In 2009, Carter founded the Frogtown/Summit-University Community Investment Campus, a partnership between city, county, school, and community leaders to support high quality education outcomes for all children. Another priority of his is transit equity: he’s working to create opportunities for local businesses and affordable housing along a planned light rail line in St. Paul.

PFAW Foundation’s president, Michael Keegan, presented the Presidential Award of Distinction to Wisconsin State Senator Chris Larson, one of the state senators who left the state this winter to try to prevent a union-busting law from being passed. Larson has been a strong voice for working people in Wisconsin and around the country.

South Dakota State Senator Angie Buhl was awarded the YEO Network Leadership Award for her deep commitment to the YEO Network and People For the American Way Foundation. Sen. Buhl, who is the youngest member of South Dakota’s legislature, is a graduate of both of PFAW Foundation’s youth leadership programs, Young People For and the Front Line Leaders Academy.

Florida State Representative Dwight Bullard was awarded the YEO Progressive Leadership Award for his commitment to fighting for justice and opportunity in the Florida legislature. Representative Bullard is a fierce advocate for both education and immigration reform.

Massachusetts State Representative Sean Garballey was awarded the YEO Community Service Award for his commitment to servant leadership. In 2009, Rep. Garballey donated his share of a pay increase to state legislators to charity, because he did not believe it was fair for his pay to increase while the staff that works tirelessly to support him was being forced to take furloughs. He has also been active in supporting recovery efforts in Haiti after last year’s devastating earthquake.

PFAW

The Problem with School Vouchers: FL Private “High School” Offers $400 Diploma

The quality of education is a serious problem facing our nation, and it’s clear that the best solution is high quality public schools, not unaccountable voucher schemes that drain money away from our public education system. Next time  someone assures you that private schools are so much better than public schools, you might want to point them towards the InterAmerican Christian Academy, which allowed a Florida man to “earn” a high-school diploma in just 8 days and for only $400.

 

It began with a poster on a streetlight in downtown Miami: “High School Diploma. (305) 716-0909.” I dialed, and a chipper female voice answered, “Hello. High school.” Eight days and $399 in cash later, at the school’s Doral “campus” — a cramped third-floor office next door to US Lubricant LLC and across the hall from a hair extensions company — I was grinning widely, accepting a framed diploma and an official transcript sporting a 3.41 GPA.

 

This is the same state in which the Governor, Rick Scott, is looking to substantially expand “school choice” programs. Sounds like a great use of taxpayer dollars…

Read the full story at Thinkprogress.org

PFAW

Republicans Across the Country Work to Disenfranchise Voters

In the buildup to the 2012 election, Republican legislatures across the nation are implementing a tactic many hoped would die with the signing of the Voting Right Act of 1965 -- silencing the voices of those who disagree with them by simply not allowing them to vote. GOP legislators in at least 20 states are working hard to push through restrictive voter-ID laws that all but disenfranchise large, traditionally Democratic segments of the electorate. These laws would require voters to show a government issued photo ID at the polling place, something 11% of US citizens currently lack.

The facts are firmly against such laws. Voters are more likely to be struck by lightening than to commit fraud, and the Bush Justice Department’s five-year “War on Voter Fraud” resulted in only 86 convictions out of nearly 200 million votes cast (a rate of .0000004%). Furthermore, these laws are expensive to implement, wasting millions of dollars in a time when most states are under severe budgetary restraints. So why would Republicans advocate for such an obviously unnecessary law?

Politics, of course.

While 11% of the general population lack government issued photo ID, the number jumps dramatically when looking at traditionally Democratic segments of the population. A study by the Brennan Center for Justice notes that 15% of low-income citizens, 18% of young eligible voters, and 25% of black voters lack identification that would allow them to vote under these new laws. In addition, such ID is more difficult to obtain for these parties, many of whom can’t drive to the DMV to get an ID or lack the supporting documents, such as a birth certificate, necessary to receive an ID.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker just signed a bill that will require voters to show photo identification at the polls. This bill has provoked outrage amongst Wisconsin Democrats, with Stephanie Findley, chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party Black Caucus, declaring:

Our proud tradition of open elections and high voter turnout will suffer. And with a stroke of the pen, thousands of African-American citizens will no longer be able to vote, solely because of their lack of identification. We now return to the days before the Voting Rights Act, where literacy tests and poll taxes were the rule.

This is backed up by the numbers. Fewer than half of African Americans in Milwaukee County hold ID that would be accepted at the polls, as compared to 83% of whites.

Florida already had a photo identification law in place, but Gov. Rick Scott recently signed a bill that goes even further, making it more difficult for third-party voter registration organizations to operate. Some such organizations, such as the non-partisan League of Women Voters, are pulling out of Florida all together, claiming the law will make it impossible to operate within the state.

In addition to making life difficult for voter-registration organizations, the new law also stops voters from making out-of-county address changes at the polls, making it more difficult for college students to vote, and shortens the early voting window from 14 days to eight. Five counties in Florida governed by the 1965 Voting Rights Act are declining to implement the new law, waiting for Justice Department approval before making any changes.

Early voting in also being targeted by Republican officials in North Carolina, who are studying how it helped Barack Obama win that state in 2008.

PFAW

Future of Public Education at Risk in Florida

Even though Florida’s initial experiment with school vouchers was ridden with cases of fraud and profiteering, Governor-Elect Rick Scott plans to drastically expand the voucher program and put the state’s public schools in his crosshairs. While a recent state-commissioned study found that “students using vouchers to attend private schools in Florida are doing no better and no worse than similar students in public schools,” the new Governor wants to expand the voucher program to include all Florida students.

Scott called for the diversion of funds from the public education system to “education savings accounts,” which families can use to pay for public, charter, private, or virtual schools. While such a plan appears innocuous on its face, the devil is in the details.

Valerie Strauss who writes on education issues for the Washington Post suggested that by encouraging students to leave public schools for private institutions, Scott’s plan would badly undercut efforts to make schools more accountable since most private schools are not subject to the same measures of public accountability, like tests and grading. Strauss maintains that “the notion that private schools would inherently be any better than a system of public schools overlooks all the key factors -- poverty being the first but not the only one -- that affect our most troubled public schools right now.”

Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones adds that “Scott’s education ‘reform’ plan seems be less about actually making Florida’s schools better and more about paying private companies to run bad ones.” Under Scott’s proposal, oversight would be seriously weakened, while private and virtual schools stand to profit immensely and at the expense of the public education system. Mencimer profiles cases of fraud and underperformance among the programs that would be given the greatest advantages under Scott’s plan, which she described as “a formula for disaster.”

The St. Petersburg Times questions how Scott would clear basic Constitutional and financial requirements. Firstly, Florida’s Supreme Court has found similar voucher programs unconstitutional before for violating the state constitution’s provision for a “uniform system of free public schools.”

Moreover, the numbers just don’t add up. Scott wants to severely reduce school property taxes and abolish corporate taxes, cutting significant revenue sources. The Times adds that since his plan entails “taking a portion of the per student funding for public schools and allowing families to spend that amount as they wish,” Scott “would not leave enough money for public education. And presumably, the hundreds of thousands of students already in private schools would receive public money as well.”

Rick Scott’s radical experiment with the Florida education system is the latest example of attacks on public schools that are taking place throughout the country. Just as Florida’s vouchers have so far proven largely ineffective, studies about voucher programs in Wisconsin and Washington D.C. also found that the programs did not come close to producing the promised benefits. In essence, Scott’s voucher plan drains money away from public schools in favor of an untested, unaccountable, and financially-questionable voucher program without any evidence that it will improve results.

PFAW

New Attacks on Public Schools

When Republicans take over the House next month, we can expect a flurry of bills seeking to impose school vouchers. But around the country, state and local officials are already escalating their assault against public education.

In Florida, voucher supports had already gotten their foot in the door with voucher programs for low-income students and those with disabilities. Last week, they took the predictable next step:

Florida Gov.-elect Rick Scott on Thursday blew the door wide open to the idea of a voucherlike program for all students, saying he's working with lawmakers to allow state education dollars to follow a student to the school his or her parents choose.

He did not use the term vouchers. Others called it an "education savings account."

But whatever it's called, the incoming governor, key lawmakers and a foundation tied to former Gov. Jeb Bush are setting the stage for Florida to consider one of the most radical education ideas that it - or arguably any state - has ever considered.

In Indiana:

Gov. Mitch Daniels said Wednesday he will ask lawmakers to approve an education voucher system that would let low-income students use state money to help pay for private school tuition.

Daniels provided few details about his proposal - including income levels at which families would qualify or the amount they could receive - but said it will be part of his larger education agenda for the 2011 session.

And in Denver:

The Douglas County school board Tuesday night took another step toward a voucher program, with the board president saying he would like a pilot program for the 2011-12 school year. ...

[T]he board agreed to have Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen analyze whether vouchers would be good for the school district. After that analysis, the board will receive additional public input and make a final decision. ...

Some at the packed school-board meeting room were not in favor of using public money for a private education, especially for religious schools. Thirteen of the 14 private schools in the district are religious.

They carried signs that read "Keep Public Money in Public Schools" and "Do Not Bankrupt Our Schools."

"I think this would help destroy the public school system," said former teacher Sue Carter.

Indeed, the diversion of funds from public to private schools threatens the integrity of our public education system. By providing public funds to religious schools, voucher programs undermine the separation of church and state. To make things worse, studies show that vouchers don't even lead to significant academic improvements. For instance, earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education's final report on the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP, the name of the voucher program) found that there "is no conclusive evidence that the OSP affected student achievement."

The problems that are faced by America's public schools will not be solved by taking kids out of the system.

PFAW

Empowered GOP Seeks to Sink Immigrant Rights

The Republican Party’s virulently anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies are far from mere political tactics, as GOP members of Congress usher in a radical agenda to rollback the rights of immigrants and their families. Iowa Rep. Steve King, who has appeared with violent vigilante groups and has referred to undocumented immigration as both a “slow-motion Holocaust” and a “slow-motion terrorist attack,” is set to chair the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on immigration. Members of the House Republican Freshman Class, including Pennsylvania’s Tom Marino and Florida’s Allen West, frequently used immigrant-bashing in their campaigns, and Louisiana Senator David Vitter made demonizing immigrants the cornerstone of his reelection campaign.

Two new reports today demonstrate how extreme the Republican Party is moving to not only oppose immigration reform but also to undermine one of the most important protections guaranteed by the US Constitution:

GOP Rep. Steve King of Iowa, the incoming chairman of the subcommittee that oversees immigration, is expected to push a bill that would deny "birthright citizenship" to such children.

The measure, assailed by critics as unconstitutional, is an indication of how the new majority intends to flex its muscles on the volatile issue of illegal immigration.

The idea has a growing list of supporters, including Republican Reps. Tom McClintock of Elk Grove and Dan Lungren of Gold River, but it has aroused intense opposition, as well.

"I don't like it," said Chad Silva, statewide policy analyst for the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California. "It's been something that's been a part of America for a very long time. … For us, it sort of flies in the face of what America is about."

Republicans are also gearing up to defeat the DREAM Act, which would allow students and military servicemembers who came into the country illegally as children and have a clean criminal record to gain a pathway to citizenship. Even though the DREAM Act has historically garnered bipartisan support, Politico reports that Republicans on the Hill are trying to deceptively tar the bill as amnesty for criminals:

Already, GOP staffers have begun circulating to senators and conservative groups a white paper outlining what they see as the social and financial costs of passing the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act.

“In addition to immediately putting an estimated 2.1 million illegal immigrants (including certain criminal aliens) on a path to citizenship, the DREAM Act would give them access to in-state tuition rates at public universities, federal student loans and federal work-study programs,” said the research paper, being distributed by Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.



The bill’s backers, though, say it outlines a “rigorous and lengthy process” for legalization, hardly the amnesty plan that opponents have depicted.

Eligible immigrants must have entered the U.S. before age 16, have been in the country for at least five consecutive years before the bill’s enactment and been at least under age 35 at the time of enactment; been admitted to a college or earned a high-school diploma or GED certificate; and have no serious criminal record.

A recent Rasmussen poll found that a majority of Americans believe that “children brought to the U.S. illegally should get a chance at citizenship if they complete two years of college or participate in the military,” and military leaders have called on Congress to pass the DREAM Act as a way to strengthen the country’s armed forces. A study by UCLA’s North American Integration and Development Center states that the DREAM Act both “offers a moral solution to the trap of being a young, motivated, undocumented immigrant in the U.S.” and is “an economically sensible piece of legislation that advances the interests of U.S. society as a whole.”

However, the extreme anti-immigrant sentiment that is pervasive within the GOP stands in the way of reasonable efforts at reform, and even leads to radical legislation that challenges the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution.

PFAW