In the wake of the recent uproar about an expansive “right to discriminate” bill that was vetoed in Arizona, on Thursday Mississippi governor Phil Bryant quietly signed similar legislation, the so-called Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, into law.
Mississippi State Senator Derrick Simmons, a member of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, has been a vocal opponent of the distressing law. On the floor of the state Senate last week, Sen. Simmons, who is African American, said:
If you have never been discriminated against, you don't know how that feels…. I urge you to vote against this bill because it legalizes discrimination.
On Friday he spoke out again in a powerful op-ed outlining some of the negative repercussions his state may see now that, in Simmons’ words, “the worst outcome has occurred”:
Businesses wishing to discriminate against any person under state law could use “religious exercise” as a defense to justify their actions.
Federal and state laws do not let business owners with religious objections to “mixing the races” refuse service on religious grounds. We do not let business owners with traditional views of sex roles refuse to sell certain products to women or not hire married women for full-time jobs on religious grounds. Yet the way this bill is written could open the doors to many other types of discrimination.
…The Jim Crow laws ended in 1965. I was born 11 years later. I never witnessed those horrible years. I don’t want to see any shadow of the Jim Crow era, but this bill could turn back the clock. Arizona stopped it from happening when Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a similar bill in her state. I was praying for the same here; however, Mississippi just doesn't have the will to do what is right. Mississippi is burning again.
The worst outcome has occurred - Governor Bryant has signed the discriminatory bill into law. Yes, we can hope the Mississippi court system will recognize the importance of enforcing protection from discrimination, but we can act locally. We must ask our counties and cities to pass non-discrimination ordinances so our friends of all races, colors, creeds and orientations can find oases from prejudice in the great state of Mississippi.
The following is a guest blog from Zane Ballard, a Fellow in affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For program.
In spite of the nationwide outcry over Arizona’s SB 1062, the “Turn Away the Gays” bill vetoed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer last month, some far-right legislators across the country have continued to claim that gay rights present a threat to their religious freedom. In my state of Mississippi, conservative legislators have pushed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (SB 2681), which is similar to the vetoed Arizona law. When the Mississippi State Senate passed SB 2681 on January 31, some senators said they did not even realize its implications. Mississippi Sen. David Blount, for example, said he “was not aware…of this intention or possible result” when he voted – that is, the result of legalizing discrimination.
The version of the bill passed by the Senate would have allowed businesses to deny service to individuals based upon the belief that “state action or an action by any person based on state action shall not burden a person's right to exercise of religion.” It would have allowed broad, almost unchecked discrimination by any business that claimed its “exercise of religion has been burdened or is likely to be burdened” by serving a customer. This could have included refusal to serve LGBT persons, people of color, or those of non-Christian or no faith, all on the basis of an individual exercising their religion.
Yesterday the discriminatory bill faced a major setback when the House voted to replace most of the text of the bill with language establishing a committee to study the issue. The study committee will be examining the bill closely in search of any possible way that the language could be usable without promoting discrimination. But according to the Mississippi ACLU, “Senate Bill 2681 remains a looming threat. The results of the study committee that was established by the amendment that passed the House today may go to conference. If the conference committee reaches an agreement, its report must be approved by both houses by April 2nd.”
In the meantime, advocates on the ground in Mississippi will continue to watch closely as the process unfolds. Last week, I joined students from Mississippi State University and Millsaps College, representatives from Equality Mississippi, and other concerned Mississippians on the steps of the state capitol to demonstrate against the bill. Protestors had also planned to be present during a House Judiciary Committee meeting that day, in hopes that they would be duly represented by those they had elected. However, these concerned Mississippians were unable to sit in on the committee meeting, which ended seven minutes before it was even scheduled to even begin.
Even though the bill has been stalled, the work to keep this discriminatory law off the books continues. The Gulf Coast Lesbian & Gay Community Center in Mississippi has organized an action on the steps of the state capitol for March 26 at 12 pm, to once again draw attention to the bill and to highlight the general lack of protections for LGBT people in our state. In the wake of momentum generated in response to SB 2681, it would not be surprising to see the pro-equality energy of those in the state carrying over into other channels. This could include support for non-discrimination ordinances in cities across Mississippi, or even a statewide piece of legislation preventing discrimination and preserving the real ideal of southern hospitality.
Just who is Jon Huntsman? At this stage, he is whatever anyone hopes that he will be. As he prepares to officially join the gaggle of GOP presidential candidates, his campaign strategists seem to have adopted an "all-things-to-all-people" approach: play up his conservative credentials for Republican primary voters while courting general election voters by promoting his media image as the only moderate in the race. A CNN commentator, for example, calls him "the lone standard-bearer of the center-right in a crowded GOP field." Katrina Trinko, a reporter at the conservative National Review Online, sees this all-things-to-all-people approach as a potentially winning strategy:
It remains to be seen whether Jon Huntsman can successfully be all things to all men. But if, by stressing different parts of his record, he can successfully sell himself as a moderate to centrists and a conservative to hard-liners, he could be difficult to beat.
An analysis of Huntsman's record shows that, faced with the reality that he must appeal to the increasingly far right Republican base, he is quickly trying to jettison formerly held "moderate" positions. We agree with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who has publicly rejected the notion that Huntsman is a RINO (Republican in Name Only), saying "there's no question he's a conservative."
It's worth noting that many Americans first met Huntsman when he introduced "my friend Sarah" Palin at the 2008 Republican National Convention, exulting that "history will be made tonight!" He praised her strength, tenacity, authenticity and originality, calling her a rebel and a renegade who is "not afraid to kick a few fannies and raise a little hell." Said Huntsman, "We are looking for a beacon of light to show us the way. We are looking for Sarah!"
Huntsman and the Religious Right: Ralph Reed's 'Great Friend'
There are plenty of reasons that former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed recently introduced Huntsman to a group of right-wing activists as "a good conservative and a great friend."
In 2009, Huntsman told a reporter that he has little patience for traditional "culture war" issues, saying "I'm not good at playing those games." That sounds like a promising and refreshing break from the norm of Republican presidential candidates, but in reality he has played those "games" devastatingly well. He made his efforts to make abortion completely unavailable to women a centerpiece of his address to Reed's "Faith and Freedom Coalition" summit:
"As governor of Utah, I supported and signed every pro-life bill that came to my desk," he said. "I signed the bill that made second-trimester abortions illegal and increased the penalty for doing so. I signed the bill to allow women to know about the pain an abortion causes an unborn child. I signed the bill requiring parental permission for an abortion. I signed the bill that would trigger a ban on abortions in Utah if Roe v. Wade were overturned."
Huntsman has also appealed to the public school-hating wing of the Religious Right. In 2007, he signed a statewide school voucher bill that provided up to $3,000 in taxpayer funds for students attending private schools. That was too much even for voters in conservative Republican Utah, who rejected the attack on public education and overturned the plan through a referendum.
At Reed's recent confab, Huntsman also joined the chorus of speakers warning Tea Party conservatives not to abandon social conservatives. The Republican Party, he said, should not focus on economics to the detriment of the fight to make abortion unavailable, saying that would lead to "a deficit of the heart and soul."
Huntsman and the Economic Right: A Full Embrace of the Ryan Budget
Huntsman, who is making his tax-cutting record as governor of Utah a major campaign theme, has praised Rep. Paul Ryan's radical budget proposal as a "very, very good one." Even though Republicans have been abandoning the Ryan plan in droves, Huntsman has said that he would have voted for the Ryan budget if he were a member of Congress. He has specifically embraced the Ryan budget's plan to essentially abolish Medicare, saying the size of the national debt required drastic policy changes. However, unlike some other Republican governors, Huntsman's concerns about the debt did not prevent him from welcoming federal stimulus funds.
He embraces the Tea Party's warnings about the economy and the suggestion that the nation is being destroyed by internal enemies. He says that America is "buying serfdom" with its deficit spending. Invoking Ronald Reagan's 1964 "A Time for Choosing" speech on behalf of Barry Goldwater, Huntsman says America is at a crossroads, with voters needing to choose "whether we are to become a declining power in the world, eaten from within, or a nation that regains its economic health and maintains its long-loved liberties."
As governor, Huntsman proposed abolishing corporate taxes altogether; campaigning in New Hampshire recently, he suggested that he would cut federal corporate taxes. The 2012 campaign, he says, will determine whether the nation will endure an economic "lost decade" or "unleash the economic magic."
Moving Right on Climate Change
This month the Salt Lake Tribune examined Huntsman's shift on climate issues. Four years ago, he supported a regional cap-and-trade program, saying, "If we do this right, our citizens are going to have a better quality of life, we're going to spawn new technologies and industries, and we're going to leave our most important belongings in better shape for the next generation." That was then, as the paper noted:
But now, in a political environment rocked by recession and a rowdy tea party, and with Huntsman's eyes on a possible presidential run in 2012, his position has evolved. He's still defending the science of climate change, but he has ditched his support for cap-and-trade.
Given that most of the GOP field is in full denial on climate change, Huntsman has gotten some credit for simply acknowledging reality. "All I know is 90 percent of the scientists say climate change is occurring," he told TIME magazine. "If 90 percent of the oncological community said something was causing cancer, we'd listen to them." But, he says, now "isn't the moment" to deal with climate change.
That led the Washington Monthly's Steve Benen to comment:
This is, in general, the worst of all possible positions. Much of the right believes climate change is a "hoax" and an elaborate conspiracy cooked up by communists to destroy America's way of life. These deniers have a simple solution to the problem: ignore it and pretend there is no problem. Much of the left takes the evidence seriously, is eager to address the crisis, and has a variety of possible solutions to the problem, including but not limited to cap-and-trade plans.
Huntsman apparently wants to split the difference -- he accepts the evidence and believes the problem is real; Huntsman just doesn't want to do anything about it.
To borrow his analogy, Huntsman has heard the collective judgment of 90% of the world's oncologists, but believes it'd be inconvenient to deal with the cancer or what's causing the cancer anytime soon.
Moderate Image, Conservative Reality
Huntsman's moderate image is based in large part on his 2009 endorsement of civil unions for gay couples. Five years earlier, when campaigning for governor, he had supported a state constitutional amendment that bans marriage and "other domestic unions" for same-sex couples. Huntsman's rhetorical shift did not find its way into any policy that offers legal protection for gay couples in Utah; he still opposes marriage equality, calling himself "a firm believer in the traditional construct of marriage, a man and a woman."
Huntsman has taken some heat from far-right activists who cannot tolerate the slightest sign of heresy against right-wing dogma. But former George W. Bush official Michael Gerson thinks Huntsman's moderate media image could actually help him by setting initial expectations low among GOP activists:
The media have often covered Huntsman as a liberal Republican -- a Rockefeller reincarnation. After all, he supports civil unions. He made it easier to get a drink at a bar in Utah. This easy press narrative gives Huntsman an odd advantage in a Republican primary: He is more conservative than his image. For many Republicans, he will improve upon closer inspection.
Huntsman's campaign is just getting under way, but his positioning is already clear. Tell Religious Right activists you're one of them by emphasizing your support for the most draconian anti-choice measures. Tell the Tea Partiers you're one of them by backing Paul Ryan's radically anti-government and anti-middle-class budget. And encourage more moderate Republicans to believe you're one of them by calling for civil discourse and offering rhetorical support for short-of-equality measures for same-sex couples. It's a calculated strategy that might make some sense politically, but it seems unlikely that trying to be all things to all people provides a path to victory through the restrictive gauntlet of the Republican primaries.
Cross posted on The Huffington Post
Yesterday, hundreds of people turned out to protest a DC fundraiser held to reward Wisconsin Republicans who voted for anti-union legislation. Activists brought the demonstration to the front door of the BGR Group, a lobbyist firm founded by Mississippi Governor and potential 2012 candidate Haley Barbour, which hosted the lavish fundraiser. The BGR Group’s clients include several Chamber of Commerce affiliates, DuPont, and WE Energies, a major donor to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.
Mississippi governor and potential presidential candidate Haley Barbour is now trying to backtrack his previous support for the racist White Citizens Councils that existed in the state when he was young.
In a recent interview with the Weekly Standard, he made his feelings quite clear:
You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up north they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders. In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you'd lose it. If you had a store, they'd see nobody shopped there. We didn't have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City.
Since not everyone in America is wholly ignorant of recent history, Barbour is being forced to backpedal, according to Talking Points Memo. Among other things, he now says:
My point was my town rejected the Ku Klux Klan, but nobody should construe that to mean I think the town leadership were saints, either.
Perhaps we are meant to think that the formation of the White Citizens Councils in the 1950s represented a principled rejection of the Klan. However, neither the timing nor the motivation rings true. As People For the American Way said in a 2003 report:
[I]t is worth noting that by 1967, "even the white establishment of Mississippi had begun to decide that Klan violence was bad for business." Clarence Page, "Fight Over Judges Replays Our Bitter History," Chicago Tribune (Feb. 13, 2002) (citing William Taylor, who at the time was Staff Director for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission).
Barbour’s desperate and unconvincing backtracking should not be the end of the story, because it is simply not credible that he was unaware of what the White Citizens Councils really were ... as if their name wasn’t already a giveaway.
While Barbour today likens them to just another "organization of town leaders," the Mississippi White Citizens Councils show up in contemporaneous federal court cases as anything but a Rotary Club.
For instance, in 1964, a federal district court noted the then-recent formation of the Mississippi White Citizens Councils, including its first priority, in United States v. Mississippi:
In 1954, after the Supreme Court had declared state operation of racially segregated schools unconstitutional, white citizens councils -- not parties to this action -- were formed in Mississippi. The purpose of these organizations was the maintenance of racial segregation and white supremacy in Mississippi. The first statewide project undertaken by these organizations was the attempt to induce the white voters of Mississippi to adopt the proposed amendment to Section 244 of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890.
They succeeded, thereby introducing the literacy and civics tests that government officials subsequently used to keep African Americans disenfranchised.
Four years later, in 1968, their racist mission and funding were said to be common knowledge by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co:
It appears to be common knowledge that, in addition to its own activities promoting segregation, the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, an agency created in 1956 and financed by state tax revenues, used a part of its funds to finance some of the activities of various groups, including the White Citizens Council, which promote adherence to the ancient custom of proscribing the mixing of the races in places of public assembly; and that these groups, especially the White Citizens Council, use economic and social power to pressure those who might attempt to disregard custom into adhering to custom. See, generally, J. Silver, Mississippi: The Closed Society, 8, 32, 39-40, 42, 43, 65, 79, 94, 97, 110, 133, 151, 217 (1964).
People For the American Way discussed this key funder of the White Citizens Councils in a 2002 report:
The Sovereignty Commission, a state-funded agency, was created not long after the decision in Brown v. Board of Education in order to resist desegregation, and was empowered to act as necessary to protect the "sovereignty" of the state of Mississippi from the federal government. The Commission infiltrated and spied on civil rights and labor organizations and reported on their activities. It compiled dossiers on civil rights activists and used the information to obstruct their activities. The Commission existed until 1977, when the state legislature voted to abolish it and to seal its records for 50 years.
The White Citizens Councils were a dark stain on the history of our nation. No responsible officeholder - or office seeker - can think otherwise. Had Governor Barbour stated that he did not recognize that at the time because he was a product of the environment he grew up in, it might be believable. But his defense of the White Citizens Council coupled with his unconvincing backpedaling suggests that he still doesn’t understand how repugnant the South’s Jim Crow system really was.
Yesterday’s vote does not mean the end for the many Super PACs and shadowy political organizations that have emerged this election season. By raising hundreds of millions of dollars from individuals and corporations, often without having to disclose their sources of funding, these groups are able to maintain their political apparatus and prepare for the 2012 election. American Crossroads, the Karl Rove-linked Super PAC, is already crafting its role for the next election. Mike Duncan, the former head of the Republican National Committee and Chair of American Crossroads, told the New York Times, “We’ve planted the flag for permanence, and we believe that we will play a major role for 2012.”
Back in September, Time magazine discussed how pro-GOP groups such as American Crossroads and the American Action Network were working with Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, the former RNC chief and current head of the Republican Governors Association. Republican notables and fundraisers “first convened at Karl Rove’s home,” and became nicknamed “the Weaver Terrace group, named for the Washington street on which Rove lives.” American Crossroads and its sister group Crossroads GPS, which does not disclose its donors, spent over $38 million combined to attack Democrats, and the American Action Network spent close to $20 million this year.
Now with the election over, Politico reveals that pro-GOP groups, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the National Republican Congressional Committee (an official Republican Party wing) were intensely coordinating their political efforts. Other Weaver Terrace group members, such as the 60 Plus Association and the American Future Fund, spent tens of millions of dollars against Democrats, but the US Chamber of Commerce and the NRCC made even bigger expenditures, spending $31.7 million and $44.5 million, respectively. As Jeanne Cummings of Politico described how “coordinated attacks” by Weaver Terrace group members “turned political campaigns largely into contests between business-backed, GOP outside groups and the Democratic incumbents.” Pro-GOP outside groups spent $187 million in 2010, more than double their pro-Democratic counterparts, and Cummings reveals how the organizations collaborated in order to maximize their impact:
The groups – including familiar names like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and American Crossroads – shared their target lists and TV-time data to ensure vulnerable Democrats got the full brunt of GOP spending.
Republican groups had never coordinated like this before, participants said, and backed by millions in corporate cash and contributions by secret donors, they were able to wield outsized influence on the results Tuesday night. The joint efforts were designed to spread the damage to as many of the majority Democrats as possible, without wasting money by doubling-up in races where others were already playing.
The National Republican Congressional Committee, which could not legally coordinate with the outside groups, even took the extraordinary step of publicly revealing its own ad buy strategy.
The Chamber, which set aside $75 million in undisclosed corporate donations for the political season, is listed by Center for Responsive Politics as the biggest of independent players, investing nearly $33 million in radio, television and direct mail advertising alone.
Directly behind the Chamber on the Center’s outside group ranking is the coalition of groups formed by Rove and Gillespie. They are: American Action Network, which spent $26 million; American Crossroads, which invested $21 million, and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, which sank $17 million into ads and turnout communications in a plan to obliterate the Democrats’ Senate and House majorities.
Although donors to the Crossroads affiliates are largely unknown, the founders made no secret of the fact that they intended to take advantage of the Supreme Court ruling and tap into the vast resources of corporate America to raise more than $50 million help Republicans retake the Congress.
While that sum alone was enough to make Democrats’ nervous, the Crossroads founders also set out a more ambitious goal: To bring together the disparate new and old GOP political players so they could coordinate their efforts and maximize the damage on the political battlefield.
Cummings also shows how this plan worked out over the airways in competitive congressional districts:
In Pennsylvania, the Republican groups called in multiple players to bombard a half-dozen House Democrats, including some facing significantly underfunded Republican opponents. In the quest to oust Democrat Chris Carney, 60 Plus and the Chamber combined to spend about $1 million. The 60 Plus Association teamed up with the Center for Individual Freedom, another group that doesn’t disclose donors, to shell incumbent Democrat Rep. Paul Kanjorski with more than $600,000 worth of ads.
The close collaboration of pro-corporate groups only increases the need for greater transparency in the political process. Americans this election have seen dozens if not hundreds of ads and received substantial amounts of direct mail and phone calls from groups who reveal little information about themselves and do not have to disclose their sources of funding. Voters deserve the right to know who is working towards the election or defeat certain candidates for office, and overwhelmingly support disclosure laws. As such organizations creating new partnerships and intensifying their coordination, Congress needs to pass the DISCLOSE Act to allow the public to know who is behind these outside groups.
Although there has always been an extremely thin line between news journalism and Republican Party activism at the Fox News Channel, network's parent company -- Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. just became not just a propaganda arm of the GOP, but also the party's financier. According to a Bloomberg report, the Republican Governors Association received a $1 million donation from News Corporation, the parent company of Fox Broadcasting and the Fox News Channel, and conservative newspapers such as the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal. In fact, News Corp. was the RGA's "biggest corporate donor." The RGA, whose "primary mission is to help elect Republicans to governorships throughout the nation," is headed by Republican Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi, who was formerly the Chairman of the Republican National Committee.
News Corp is not the only media company directly funding political advocacy groups. Hubbard Broadcasting Inc., which operates multiple television and radio outlets in Minnesota, New York, and New Mexico, contributed $100,000 to MN Forward, a conservative organization backed by other corporations such as Target and BestBuy. MN Forward's main goal is to support far-right Republican Tom Emmer's campaign for Governor of Minnesota.
Now that media companies such as News Corp and Hubbard Broadcasting are specifically siding with Republicans candidates in the upcoming election, it's only fair that news anchors inform their viewers of their parent company's direct support for certain candidates. While Republican favoritism has always been obvious on Fox News, the Citizens United ruling allows Fox's support for the GOP to go even further potentially by making enormous direct financial contributions to Republican campaign committees. Fox is no longer just a mouthpiece for the Republican Party, as it is now its unambiguous sponsor and patron.
Last week’s appointment of James E. Graves Jr. to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals didn’t get a lot of attention. But his nomination represents a remarkable milestone. Graves is currently the only African American justice on the Supreme Court of Mississippi and, if confirmed, he will become the first African American Mississippi has ever sent to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Mississippi, keep in mind, has the largest percentage of African American residents of any state in the country—37% at the time of the last census.
It’s a remarkable milestone…and it’s even more remarkable that it’s just now being reached.
Thanks to your (very expeditious) support of our Save the Debates petition, People For the American Way joined with allies to drop off more than 170,000 signatures calling for the debate schedule to remain intact.
And guess what? It worked!
Americans everywhere saw through John McCain’s flimsy excuse for skipping the debates, and today he announced that he will participate tonight in
And we’ll be participating too!! Yes, we’ll be liveblogging the whole thing right here – and you’ll be able to participate. So stop by tonight – before, during, and after the debate – to join in the conversation. See you then!
(Thanks to DemandTheDebate2008.com, MoveOn, Campaign For America’s Future, and CREDO for joining us in this effort!)