Ohio Extremists Looking to End Government Transparency and Sell Elections to the Highest Bidder

Anonymous extremists in the Ohio legislature are attempting to change the laws to increase the influence of independent groups in government and make it harder for average Ohioans to know what their government is doing or have any influence on that government.

According to Tim Burga, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO, an anonymous amendment was submitted to a bill currently before the legislature that would eliminate an administrative rule governing campaign finance.  This would mean that contractors working for or attempting to work for the state can spend money trying to influence the outcome of elections of the very people who would potentially give them state contracts.  Furthermore, Burga said the repeal of the administrative rule would make groups that make independent election expenditures no longer required to disclose who made contributions to them.

Burga condemned the amendment:

This amendment will further tilt the field toward the rich and powerful and their de facto control in running state government.  The average Ohioan stands to lose in this arrangement as candidates and elected officials will increasingly turn to independent groups, as opposed to their constituents, for guidance on how to govern our state.  We need a state government that is more responsive to the needs of Ohio at large, not less.  Therefore, we need to move toward a system of campaign finance that increases the scrutiny of the dark money that is flowing into our state to influence our politics.

The irony should not be lost on any of us that this anonymous amendment was likely written by some of the very independent groups it seeks to empower, and it is doubtful any legislators have heard from their constituents clamoring for such changes to our election laws.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Most Wisconsin Republican Senators Who Support Limiting Early Voting Rights Have Voted Early Themselves

In a stunning display of hypocrisy, 15 of the 17 Wisconsin state senators who voted to restrict early voting hours in Wisconsin have themselves voted early.  Senate Bill 324 would prohibit voters from casting their ballots early before 8 a.m. or after 7 p.m. on weekdays or at any time on weekends. The total number of hours that early voting ballots, which are submitted as absentee ballots, can be accepted under the legislation cannot exceed 45 hours a week.

Scott Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now, condemned the hypocrisy:

That these senators would vote to make it harder for their fellow citizens to cast an early ballot in elections, just as almost every single one of them has, is an almost unbelievable act of hypocrisy….Elections are the one time everyone—regardless of age, race or income—is equal. Our government ought to be making it as convenient as possible for legal voters to participate in our democracy. But apparently these Republican senators believe they deserve to be more equal than others.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Ohio Republicans and Gov. Kasich Greatly Weaken the Right to Vote

Last week, the Ohio House of Representatives pushed through two voter suppression bills, previously passed by the state Senate, that would reduce early voting and restrict absentee ballot access. Gov. John Kasich (R) signed the bills into law Friday night. Supporters claim the bills were necessary to prevent voter fraud and to save public resources. Reality says otherwise.

As has been found in other states, claims of voter fraud are largely baseless and almost certainly not widespread enough to affect the outcome of elections or warrant such restrictive bills that would prevent eligible voters from casting their ballot. AFL-CIO’s Michael Gillis describes the situation in Ohio: “Voter fraud in Ohio has been found to be practically non-existent. Cases of voter fraud investigated represented less than five one-thousandths of 1 percent of the 5.6 million ballots cast in Ohio in the 2012 election. Even then, most of those cases were dismissed.”

Gillis notes that the legislation will make it more difficult for students, seniors, people of color and other constituencies to vote. The Toledo Blade agreed with this assessment when it opposed the bills late last year:

But the bill is a solution in search of a problem, because the “evidence” advocates cite of voting irregularities is more anecdotal than systemic. Eliminating the dual activity will simply make it more cumbersome for new voters to exercise their franchise.

The “saving money” argument also fails to pass a basic logic test. Gillis continues:

And as for the “limited public resources” argument, can we no longer afford the most basic democratic functions of our government? The answer to this question should be obvious, if not to the Ohio GOP. One Republican legislator went as far as to say that opposition to these vote suppression bills is “intellectually lazy and highly offensive.” They pretend to be guardians of the ballot when indeed they are undermining the democratic process and are trampling on the most basic civil right we have as citizens.

The Ohio Voter Rights Coalition goes into greater detail with the flaws of these two bills in a letter that asked Kasich to veto the bills.

For many decades, women and [people of color] fought for the right to equally participate in the franchise. Ohio had been on the right path to continuing to provide access to fair elections. These bills are taking us in the wrong direction, yet you, Governor, can stand up for voters and for democracy by vetoing S.B. 205 and S.B. 238 to prevent the erection of barriers to the ballot box and more importantly the establishment of procedures that undoubtedly will cost qualified voters the right to have their votes counted. We hope we can count on your support to expand, rather than reduce, voter rights.

It’s hard to imagine what Kasich’s real motivations might be in preventing Democratic-leaning voters from casting their ballot. Gillis lays it out:

The irony that the first election that these laws will impact is the Governor’s re-election bid is not lost on Ohioans. A Quinnipiac poll this week showed Governor Kasich polling at just 43 percent and has been losing ground to his challenger, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald. Given his shriveling popularity in the state, will the governor have the political courage to stand up for the voting rights of those he intends to govern or will he cynically narrow voting rights in his own political interest? Ohioans are watching and so should all who are interested in a functional and unfettered democracy.

The new laws will be in effect before ballots begin being cast in the 2014 governor’s race.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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100,000 Reasons the Extremists Who Run North Carolina Should Be Very Afraid

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When a group equal to one-fifth the population of the state capital shows up to protest your policies, you’re in trouble. Between 80,000 and 100,000 people showed up Saturday at the Moral March on Raleigh, the state capital with some 420,000 residents. The marchers included working families and their allies from around the state and more than 30 other states. A related rally a year ago attracted 15,000 participants. It’s clear that more North Carolinians are becoming upset with the extreme agenda of Gov. Pat McCrory (R) and his allies in the legislature.

The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and a driving force behind the state’s Moral Monday movement, which spawned the march, said: “The governor and the legislature are trying to say we’re in the middle of a Carolina comeback. We got a team of experts, economists, professors, etc., together, and they said we’re in the middle of a Carolina setback. No way you can spin what’s happening to us.”

MaryBe McMillan, the elected secretary-treasurer of the North Carolina State AFL-CIO, wrote a poem on the march. Below is an excerpt:

Why are union members and workers here, today?
We’re here because:

There’s too much corporate greed
And we have families to feed.
There are so few jobs, no decent wages.
Inequality tops the news pages.

CEOs earn more and more
While the rest of us grow poor.
The bosses want their workers cheap,
Meek and docile like sheep.

They move their companies South,
Hoping we won’t give them any mouth.
Well, imagine their surprise
As they watch the South arise.

The reaction to the right-wing policies pursued by McCrory are opposed by much of the state’s public as well. A poll last week gave him a 37% approval rating.  The General Assembly fared even worse, at 32%. Only 23% of the state’s residents think North Carolina is headed in the right direction.

Barber and the other organizers behind the march and the Moral Monday protests have focused on five goals:

  • Secure pro-labor, anti-poverty policies that ensure economic sustainability.
  • Provide well-funded, quality public education for all.
  • Stand up for the health of every North Carolinian by promoting health care access and environmental justice across all the state’s communities.
  • Address the continuing inequalities in the criminal justice system and ensure equality under the law for every person, regardless of race, class, creed, documentation or sexual preference.
  • Protect and expand voting rights for people of color, women, immigrants, the elderly and students to safeguard fair democratic representation.

Learn more about the march and the Moral Monday activities.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Pennsylvania Judge Rules Against ALEC Voter Suppression Bill, But the Fight Goes On

Last week, those of us who think voting should have equal access to the ballot received a bit of good news.

The voter suppression law passed in Pennsylvania in March 2012, one of the most restricting voting rights policies in the country, was ruled unconstitutional by a Commonwealth Court judge:

The Supreme Court worked quickly when it addressed voter ID in the run-up to the 2012 election, so it remains unknown whether voters will be required to show photo identification in the May primary.

For now, however, the law is invalid after Judge Bernard McGinley of Commonwealth Court found that it “unreasonably burdens the right to vote” and threatens a fundamental right of hundreds of thousands of qualified voters.

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

The decision confirmed what Working America’s 500,000 Pennsylvania members already understood: The law threatened the constitutional right of Pennsylvanians to vote, and it disproportionately targeted the elderly, students and communities of color.

If that sounds awfully similar to other voting rights restrictions passed in other states, like Wisconsin and North Carolina, that’s no accident. The Pennsylvania voting rights law is based on an ALEC model bill, and State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, who shepherded the bill through the legislature, is an active ALEC member.

Republican legislators dismissed concerns that the law had been designed to depress Democratic turnout ahead of the 2012 election. However, Rep. Mike Turzai let it slip at a recorded meeting that “voter ID” would “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

“[The] decision is a victory for working families in Pennsylvania,” said Catherine Balsamo, Senior Member Coordinator with Working America. “Folks deserve the right to advocate for themselves and their communities, and the right to vote provides that essential voice.”

In 2012, after the law’s passage, Working America members raised community awareness about the law to help everyday Americans know what they’d need to do to keep their right to vote.  Between our media presence, conversations with community members, online actions and more, Catherine, Benita and the Working America team reached an estimated 642,000 people with information about what they’d need to vote.

Our member Benita Campbell was active in that campaign. “It’s another feather in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s hat, because it’s a continuation of our collective struggle,” she said of the decision. “It’s a wonderful way to honor him…If this ruling is upheld, we all win.”

So what’s next? Some Republican legislators are considering an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, or even passing an entirely new bill that could pass constitutional muster. Hopefully, though, Gov. Corbett and his legislative allies will move on from political attacks on voters to the issues that our members actually consider: creating jobs, expanding Medicaid, and adequately funding Pennsylvania public schools.

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Moral Mondays Expanded in North Carolina with Feb. 8 ‘Moral March on Raleigh’

On Feb. 8, the Moral Monday movement, which showed massive momentum in 2013, will return with its biggest event yet, the Moral March on Raleigh. While the state of North Carolina has been moving in a more Democratic direction in recent years in presidential elections, with Barack Obama winning the state in 2008 and coming just two percentage points of winning it again in 2012, extremist Republicans have taken control of the governor’s mansion and the state Assembly.

The Moral March on Raleigh will call out North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) and state Senate Leader Phil Berger (R) and their extreme policies, which have included attacks on voting rights, education, the environment, health care and women’s rights. Organizers expect tens of thousands of North Carolinians to stand up for their rights and fight back against these extreme policies on Feb. 8.

The Moral Monday movement was organized by the Rev. William Barber II, head of the North Carolina NAACP, which staged protests in Raleigh and throughout the state last year. The events were launched in conjunction with another organization headed by Barber, the Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) People’s Assembly Coalition, and have been supported by more than 150 other organizations. The 13 Moral Monday events in Raleigh in 2013 led to nearly 1,000 arrests for civil disobedience, while events in dozens of other cities around the state helped raise awareness about the strange games afoot in the state capital.

For more details about the March, visit the HKonJ website.

The Moral Monday movement has put forth the People’s Moral Agenda, which includes the following principles and policy goals:

  • Economic sustainability, alleviating poverty and expanding labor rights.
  • Fully funded constitutional education.
  • Health care for all—protecting Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, women’s health and the Affordable Health Care Act.
  • Addressing disparities in the criminal justice system.
  • Protecting/expanding voting rights and civil rights.
  • Environmental justice.
  • Fair and just immigration reform.
  • Equal protection under the law regardless of race, income, gender or sexual orientation.

The Moral Monday movement also has a goal of raising awareness about Art Pope, the extreme financier behind much of the pro-corporate, anti-working family policies that have passed recently in North Carolina. Pope is often referred to as the state’s version of the Koch brothers.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial: No Loyalty to ALEC

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new editorial from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch highlights the recent revelations about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its influence on state legislators. In particular, the editorial takes umbrage at a proposed loyalty oath for ALEC members that would have required them to place the extremist pro-corporate organization above the needs of constituents and the state and national constitutions:

Last week, British newspaper the Guardian published a series of stories based on secret ALEC documents obtained by reporters. Among the most insidious items was a loyalty oath the organization has proposed for the state chairs of its legislative members.

It reads: “I will act with care and loyalty and put the interests of the organization first.”

Imagine that, a Republican like state Sen. Ed Emery of Lamar, a man who claims to be a constitutional conservative, putting ALEC first, over his voters, over his oath to the state, over the very constitution he claims to value.

Mr. Emery, the current ALEC chair in Missouri, is already demonstrating his loyalty, filing an ALEC-inspired bill to erase teacher tenure in the state.

The former ALEC-chairman for Missouri, current Speaker of the House Tim Jones, R-Eureka, is doing his part, as well, supporting anti-union right-to-work legislation for 2014 even while pushing through special session legislation intending to lure thousands of union Boeing jobs to the state.

The editorial takes a strong stance against the influence of ALEC on the state:

Missouri voters should consider such front organizations as offensive to democracy.

Mr. Emery and his ilk can believe what they want, but they should play no part in allowing corporations to hide their agendas, and their lobbying expenses, by pretending to be something they are not. The proof is in ALEC’s actions, which, as Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank outlined, hid itself behind closed doors in a meeting last week in the nation’s capital, pushing reporters away while claiming they had nothing to hide.

No, ALEC exists solely to hide. To hide money. To hide agendas. To hide its hijacking of democracy.

Read the full editorial.

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10 Ways Working Families Are ‘Kicking Ass’ for the Middle Class

Sure, working families have been under attack for years, but people across the country are rolling up their sleeves and fighting back to protect workers’ rights and raise living standards for everyone. Here are 10 ways they’re doing it:

1. Increasing the Minimum Wage

Four states (California, Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island) have increased their state minimum wage in 2013, and on Nov. 5, New Jersey voters will vote on a ballot measure to increase their minimum wage.

2. Passing “Buy America” Laws

Three states (Colorado, Maryland and Texas) passed laws in 2013 to ensure that the goods procured with public funding are made in the United States.

3. Ensuring Paid Sick Days

Portland, Ore., Jersey City, N.J., and New York City became the latest three cities to adopt standards for paid sick days in 2013.

4. Protecting Immigrant Workers

In 2013, six states (California, Colorado, Indiana, Maryland, Oregon and Vermont) have enacted protections for immigrant workers, including access to driver’s licenses and education.

5. Cracking Down on Businesses That Cheat Workers

Texas passed legislation in 2013 to crack down on businesses that cheat employees by treating them as “independent contractors” who lack worker protections (such as minimum wage and overtime protection, and eligibility for unemployment benefits and workers’ compensation).

6. Giving Workers the Right to a Voice on the Job

In 2013, some 15,000 home care workers in Minnesota won collective bargaining rights through state legislation, as did 10,000 in Illinois and 7,000 in Vermont. Thousands of other workers around the country have enjoyed organizing wins, too: 7,000 electrical workers, more than 5,000 Texas public school teachers, taxi drivers in New York and other cities, telecom workers, college and university faculty, EMS drivers, hotel and casino workers and domestic workers, to name a few.

7. Protecting Your Privacy on Social Media

Nine states (Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington) have passed legislation in 2013 to prohibit employers from requiring access to your social media passwords or information as a condition of employment.

8. Fighting for LGBTQ Equality

Five states (Colorado, Delaware, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Vermont) have passed legislation banning workplace discrimination or recognizing marriage equality.

9. Protecting the Rights of Domestic Workers

Two states (California and Hawaii) have passed legislation in 2013 to protect the rights of domestic workers. California’s Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights will benefit about 200,000 domestic workers, and Hawaii’s will benefit some 20,000 domestic workers.

10. Protecting Voting Rights

Twelve states (California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia and West Virginia) have passed legislation protecting voting rights in 2013, while voting rights legislation was vetoed by the governors of Nevada and New Jersey.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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12-Year-Old Takes On North Carolina’s Heinous New Voting Restrictions

Madison Kimrey of Burlington, North Carolina won’t be able to vote for another six years. But North Carolina’s new sweeping voter suppression laws, some of the most stringent restrictions on voting rights our country has seen since the Voting Rights Act of 1965, has drawn her ire all the same.

The new voting restrictions passed in July don’t just require specific photo identification to cast a ballot (no student ID, no public employee ID) that potentially disenfranchise 318,000 registered North Carolina voters. They also end the non-controversial practice of “pre-registering” 16- and 17-year-olds to vote at DMVs and high school civics classes. The policy officially kicked in on September 1.

The 12-year-old spoke at the first Moral Monday event held in Alamance County, about 60 miles west of where massive protests rocked the Raleigh this spring. Kimrey first spoke up in July, when Gov. McCrory dismissively gave out cookies and cake to protesters. She started an online petition asking Gov. McCrory to sit down and eat the baked goods with her so they could discuss his voter suppression bill and other policies. It attracted nearly 13,000 signatures.

Gov. McCrory called the request “ridiculous” and said Kimrey was a “prop for liberal groups.” Understandably, this surprised and insulted Ms. Kimrey.

“I am not a prop,” she told the crowd at the Alamance Country Moral Monday event, “I am part of the new generation of suffragettes and I will not stand silent while laws are passed to reduce the amount of voter turnout by young people in my home state.”

Kimrey also started NC Youth Rock to encourage young North Carolinians to vote and lobby representatives on behalf of young people.

“I’m going to do everything I can to get the opportunity for North Carolina teenagers to pre-register back by the time I turn 16 in four years,” Kimrey said, “but I can’t do this alone.”

Madison Kimrey is just one of the thousands of North Carolinians who are sick and tired of the attacks on voting rights, women’s rights, and workers’ rights in their state. If you’re in North Carolina and want to get involved with Working America, contact Catherine Medlock-Walton at cmedlock-walton@workingamerica.org or (336) 292-4179.

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Winning for Texas Workers

If Texas working families and their unions are going to turn red, right-wing, “right to work” for less Texas blue and replace the corporate-beholden, anti-union politicians with lawmakers who will respect the rights of workers, “We’ll have to do it one [state] House district at a time,” Richard Shaw, secretary-treasurer of the Harris County (Texas) AFL-CIO Council, told participants at the Winning for Texas Workers action session at the AFL-CIO 2013 Convention this afternoon.

Shaw explained how Working America’s pilot program in one Harris County district, with just 970 union members, was able to canvass and talk with nonunion residents about the issues they care about and sign up 9,600 new members to the AFL-CIO’s community affiliate. Focusing on those new Working America households with voter registration and get-out-the-vote effort, “we ended up winning.”

A second campaign in Houston, focusing on wage theft, is building similar results and finding out that nonunion families’ concerns—good jobs, education, health care and more—mirror those of the union movement, he said, and are building blocks to growing political strength.

Texas AFT President Linda Bridges and Marvin Ragsdale of the Ironworkers described how their unions’ associate member programs are helping build not just political power, but organizing strength also.

Bridges said Texas AFT is in the second year of a 10-year plan with the goal of winning a legislative majority that will support and pass collective bargaining for public employees. Not quite two years in, nearly 8,000 teachers and other school employees in 800 school districts have joined the associate members program that is growing new locals and building on existing ones.

The Ironworkers in Houston have just begun an Ironworkers associate member program that Ragsdale described as a ”gateway to full Ironworkers membership” for the nonunion construction workers and their employment with union signatory employers. He said:

We are communicating with workers we have not in the past and find that their issues are the same.

Cristina Tzintzun, executive director of the Workers Defense Project, is working with immigrant construction workers in Austin. She said some 50% of the state’s workers are undocumented, making them vulnerable to exploitation. But in Austin and in partnership with the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Council, they have been able to win regulations requiring rest breaks, safety training and other worksite rule that state law doesn’t require. In addition, the partnership has helped win new wage theft laws and laws against misclassifying workers as independent contractors.

Texas AFL-CIO President Becky Moeller explained how, even with a deep red legislature, a united group of Texas unions and progressive organizations have been able to defeat some egregious anti-worker efforts.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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