Iowa has a chance for a total Blue Wave

There’s a lot of insane things happening in America right now. Attacks on abortion rights. Voting rights at risk. Trade wars. Nazi sympathizers in office. And Iowa, the quiet heartland right smack in the middle of the country, is dealing with all of it.

What happens in Iowa this November will have an outsized impact on the rest of us. So let’s start with good news: While the last few years have seen Republicans play every angle and pull every nasty trick in their Jim Crow 2.0 playbook to disenfranchise voters, a judge delivered some good news for democracy (and Democrats) in Iowa on Thursday. In a crucial ruling, an injunction was placed on the state’s controversial Voter ID law, suspending the discriminatory practice and restoring the 11 days of early voting that the legislature eliminated last fall.

It was a major setback for Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, an old-school, corrupt creature of whatever would you’d call the cornfield-equivalent of the swamp in Des Moines. A few hours after the ruling, I hopped on the phone with Deidre DeJear, a former Obama campaign coordinator who is now the Democratic nominee challenging Pate this November.

“He commissioned this bill, then turned it over to a senator and they put it through committee and ended up passing it,” DeJear said, putting the onus directly on the man she is trying to unseat. “This is his baby and this is what he’s been working on for a while in our state. He hasn’t been promoting voting.”

CLICK HERE to donate to Deidre DeJear via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page

Encouraging the electorate is engrained in her, as DeJear has been working to turn out votes since childhood. That’s not hyperbole — as a kid, she was drafted to help on her grandmother’s campaign for election commissioner of Yazoo County in Mississippi.

It should be noted that, when she was a kid knocking on doors for her grandma, Pate was being called a “big league sleaze” by political columnists in Des Moines. He’s made a habit of corruption and lying — just this spring he called an AP investigation into oversights in his financial disclosures “fake news,” before later adjusting those documents to account for millions of dollars in undisclosed property.

DeJear, meanwhile, has made a career out of helping small businesses. She was just out of college, working in the marketing department of a small local bank when the 2008 recession hit and wiped out the livelihoods of millions of Americans. People were laid off en masse and many felt forced to start their own businesses, and came to the bank looking for guidance.

So DeJear ultimately left to start her own company, which helps to launch and market new small businesses. The Secretary of State in Iowa also has a heavy hand in small business administration, another reason she wants to win the job.

“We have over 260,000 small businesses in our state and they provide jobs for about 50 percent of the workforce, so I want to make sure that whatever economic trials and tribulations come through the path of Iowa that our small business owners are going to weather that storm,” she said. “I remember in 2008 to 2010, there were just so many dilapidated buildings and empty storefronts. Now that they’re filled back up, I don’t want to fall by the wayside again. We’re also trying to further develop and redevelop rural Iowa, and rural Iowa isn’t too good right now, especially in light of all Trump’s trade war stuff, so we need to make sure that they’re getting resources.”

Her adult political career started around the same time as her formative business experience. While attending Drake University, DeJear helped organize students for then-Senator Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. She took on a bigger role with his re-election campaign four years later.

“When 2012 came along, I walked into the office to volunteer and a couple of weeks later it became a full-time job,” DeJear, who now works as a small business consultant, remembered. “I traveled throughout the state. I was African-American vote director that year and my job was to get African-Americans engaged in the process because we knew by and large the African-American supported the President, but that didn’t necessarily translate into a vote.”

Her plan, a combination of canvassing and active citizen-to-citizen lobbying, helped increase the minority share of the vote in lily-white Iowa from 3% in 2008 to 7% in 2012 — crucial to a smaller margin of victory for Obama in his second go-round.

Five years later, as Pate pushed the law in the legislature, he promised that it would not make voting more difficult for Iowans. That was, as everyone knew at the time, a blatant lie. Beyond the fact that voter fraud is almost non-existent, which negates the cynical rationale for the measure, national statistics make clear just how much these laws deter eligible voters from casting ballots — even when they do show up to the polls with all their proper paperwork. And in Iowa, it quickly became clear during local and primary elections that the Voter ID law was the equivalent of scattering roadblocks and car wrecks across a highway and suggesting that people were still free to drive.

Clearing the path to voting isn’t enough. To exhaust the metaphor, DeJear is focused on getting more people actively on the road to the polls.

“We also have 2.3 million people eligible to vote, but only 1.9 million registered,” she said. “So we’ve got about 400,000 folks that are just kinda out there in limbo and he’s not really doing much to engage them either. So there’s a lot of work that can be done in that office to increase voter turnout.”

CLICK HERE to donate to Deidre DeJear via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page

Pate promises to fight to make voting harder all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court, while DeJear’s plan to handle voter rights and election administration is fundamentally different. It comes down to a very simple philosophical difference: Unlike Pate, DeJear actually wants more people to vote and participate in the system. Headlining her agenda is automatic voter registration, a progressive policy that’s grown more popular over the last few years as Democrats have woken up to the importance of voting rights and expanding the electorate.

“Right now, when you go to the DMV, if you’re getting your driver’s license renewed or getting your ID renewed, you have to ask about applying to register to vote,” she said. “The situation that I would prefer is that people, if they’re eligible to vote, they’re automatically registered, and if they want to opt out, they can.”

In states that have implemented automatic voter registration, the rate at which citizens registered to vote increased dramatically. Anything that gets people out of the DMV faster is a public service — adding voting rights to the equation is nearly saintly.

CLICK HERE to donate to Deidre DeJear via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page

So, why should you care?

Iowa is traditionally a swing state, but in recent years has tacked to the right, like many states in which Democrats largely abandoned their political infrastructure after 2012. And thanks to both that rightward shift and Democrats’ grassroots resurgence, the state has suddenly become a microcosm of the national political environment. For a landlocked, largely rural state, it’s got an astonishing number of issues at play.

The ballot will be crowded in the state this year. Along with the Secretary of State race, Iowa plays host to a gubernatorial election and what should be a number of very tight races in a GOP-controlled state legislature that is close enough that it could tip back to Democrats in a wave election. Wresting some control of the state will be critical to stopping a return of the medieval anti-abortion law that the GOP passed there this spring; it was quickly blocked by a judge, but as of now, GOP leadership plans on taking it all the way to a Supreme Court that may be far more conservative in just a few months.

Iowa is also home to Steve King, one of the most racist congressmen in the country (we profiled his challenger several weeks ago), and is being hit particularly hard by Trump’s trade war, which could begin to loosen rural voters’ entrenched support of the GOP. Maximizing voter turnout this year and going forward is absolutely crucial — and having a Secretary of State that actually cares about voter rights is an essential part of that.

With the legislature up for grabs, DeJear also recommended two other candidates running in the state this November.

Lindsay James is a first-time candidate who is running in Iowa House District 99, which is currently held by Abby Finkenauer, who is running for Congress (her name may sound familiar, as Progressives Everywhere endorsed her months ago). James is a college chaplain whose faith inspires her progressive beliefs and community service. Her resume is incredibly impressive and frankly makes me feel lazy; James serves as the Director of the Loras College Peace Institute, chair of the Community Development Advisory Board, elected county official and a board member for the NAACP and the Children of Abraham. She has endorsed Medicare for All.

Jackie Smith is a retired speech pathologist who is running for State Senate after over 30 years of serving her Sioux City community in the classroom. She now owns a small store in Sioux City and served eight years on the County Board of Supervisors, and is very focused on both education and job training. Smith is running in District 7, which was already considered a top pickup opportunity before its Republican incumbent retired.

Progressives Everywhere has already endorsed Iowa’s Democratic candidate for governor, Fred Hubbell, whose election should help squelch the battle over that awful abortion law.

CLICK HERE to donate to Lindsay James, Jackie Smith, Deidre DeJear, and Fred Hubbell via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page

EXCLUSIVE: Iowa Judge Strikes Down Voter ID Law; Dem Nominee Reacts

We’ve seen the GOP work assiduously to dismantle the American voting system, through purges and strict ID laws that disproportionately target minorities and Democratic-leaning voters. Today in Iowa, a judge struck down the state’s pernicious and racist Voter ID law.

From the Cedar Rapids Gazette:

An Iowa judge Wednesday issued a temporary injunction barring the state from implementing some provisions of Iowa’s new voter ID law.

The ruling, for now, restores the absentee early voting period from 29 days to 40 days and blocks certain ID requirements of the law, passed by the GOP-led Legislature and signed into law by former Gov. Terry Branstad in May 2017.

Polk County District Judge Karen Romano ruled that elements of the state’s new system requiring state-issued voter identification numbers on absentee ballots could harm the rights of voters to participate in elections, “in contravention” of Iowa’s Constitution.

The law was initiated by Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, who worked to get the legislature to adopt and pass it. The ruling is a direct rebuke and could hurt the GOP’s chances in November. Pate himself is up for re-election, and is being challenged by former Obama campaign coordinator and small business owner Deidre DeJear.

I was actually just on the phone with DeJear as part of an already scheduled interview for Progressives Everywhere, and she was ecstatic about the ruling.

CLICK HERE to donate to Deidre DeJear via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue Page.

“The judge ruled that they could not prove the law was necessary. So 40 days of early voting is back, the ID requirement is no longer there, and there were some strange requirements for the absentee ballot system that have been annihilated,” she explained. “Paul Pate commissioned this bill. This is his baby, this is what he’s been working on for a while in our state. He hasn’t been promoting voting. We have about 2.3 million voters who are eligible to vote in our state but only 1.9 million are active. He’s not doing anything to engage them and there’s a lot of work that can be done in that office to increase our voter turnout.”

In her role for the Obama re-election campaign, she helped activate the youth and African-American vote. In 2012, minorities accounted for 7% of the vote in Iowa, up from 3% in 2008.

She’s in favor of automatic voter registration and actively promoting voting, instead of discouraging it like Pate has done. And with Iowa as a crucial swing state, having as many active voters as possible is a good thing for Democrats — and most of all, for democracy.

CLICK HERE to donate to Deidre DeJear via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue Page.

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Protecting elections from Russia and Republicans

America right now is a circus in which the clowns are armed to the teeth and the tent is collapsing all around us. It’s been a wild two weeks, packed with disturbing — if not unexpected — revelations about the forces conspiring against American voters. Democracy is under attack and the President of the United States not only doesn’t care, he’s actively helping to facilitate the assault.

On Monday, in what would be a stunning event if the last two years hadn’t been filled with ludicrously stunning events, Donald Trump stood up on stage next to a smirking Vladimir Putin and blamed the US for Russia’s undeniable hijacking of the 2016 elections. And then after giving the lamest excuse ever for his treason, he went and invited Putin to Washington, presumably so he could hand-deliver him some juicy national secrets.

And the scariest part of it all? Trump also said that he doesn’t think Russia is working to hack the 2018 elections, directly contradicting both the Director of National Intelligence and all logic.

CLICK HERE to donate to progressive Democratic candidates who will protect our elections 

There are mountains of evidence that Russian hackers targeted our decentralized, borderline disastrous electoral system in 2016. It wasn’t a fair fight — imagine a KGB agent taking aim at senior citizens whose email passwords are just the names of their grandchildren. We know that at minimum one state’s voter database was hacked, resulting in the theft of half a million voters’ sensitive personal information. That’s one state too many, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg — there were at least 21 states targeted in 2016.

Russians also hacked local elections and, despite what Trump says, have already targeted three congressional candidates. Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, was incredibly blunt when talking about this last month, warning that “the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack.”

The Senate is trying to get states to upgrade their election security, and in March authorized a $380 million outlay for them to do so, but so far, few states have agreed to use that money to fortify their systems before the November election.

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Meanwhile, the House Republicans’ budget strips away that funding to secure election systems protection money next year, and they refuse to allow a vote to reinstate that crucial funding. On top of that, the GOP is actively working to suppress votes in other ways, including gerrymandering to create non-competitive districts, enacting voter ID laws, shutting down voting locations and just straight up taking people (especially minorities) off the voting rolls (thank the Supreme Court for that one).

Ideally, progressive Democrats will win back the House and state governments this fall, and then pass laws that fortify elections systems and expand the right to vote. And we are working hard on that, but there’s also a more direct way to stop the worst of the abuses and beef up voter database security. It varies from state to state, but in a plurality of cases, elected Secretaries of State control a state’s elections, wielding an inordinate amount of power over our democracy.

CLICK HERE to donate to progressive Democratic candidates who will protect our elections  

Republicans control 28 of those offices, while Democrats hold 17. Not a great ratio, but it’s looking like the most endangered seats this fall are currently held by Republicans, giving Democrats an excellent chance of turning the tide.

We’ve already spoken a good bit about Kathleen Clyde, the Democratic candidate for Ohio Secretary of State. That’s possibly the most crucial race, given the state’s impending voter purge — Clyde has promised to cancel it if elected. Her GOP opponent, Frank LaRose, meanwhile, openly embraces Donald Trump.

There are a number of other classic or emerging swing states that will have hotly contested Secretary of State races that Democrats have a great chance of winning. We’re supporting candidates in Iowa, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and Michigan… plus Georgia and Kansas, two GOP strongholds where circumstances put the race in play.

CLICK HERE to donate to progressive Democratic candidates who will protect our elections 

Michigan presents a classic swing state case. Its state government was hijacked by Republicans, who gerrymandered their way into total control of Lansing. But thanks to term limits and a lot of progressive energy, Democrats are poised to toss the GOP from office. Jocelyn Benson, the former dean of Wayne State University, is the Democratic candidate for Secretary of State, a role for which she is truly prepared — Benson wrote a whole book on the importance of the position. She’s currently working as the CEO of the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality, an organization that just so happens to be running a major voter education campaign right now.

Benson recently gave a great interview about the issues she’ll prioritize in office, and expanding the electorate, making it easier to vote, and protecting elections were at the top of the list.

As for Kansas and Georgia, Democrats will be trying to take advantage of voters’ exhaustion with corrupt, nasty Republicans Secretaries of State. Both Kris Kobach of Kansas and Brian Kemp are running for governor of their respective states, creating real openings for progressives to win in wave elections.

Kobach is both the most prominent and most reviled Secretary of State in the country. Not only did he create the fundamentally flawed interstate voter cross-checking database, he ran Trump’s all-too-brief “Voter Fraud” commission, which was such a spectacular failure that even the White House that embraces and promotes disasters decided to disband it. Kobach is running for governor (Republicans always fail up) and Democrats have nominated a solid outsider candidate in former tech exec Brian McClendon, giving them a better-than-usual chance to win.

CLICK HERE to donate to progressive Democratic candidates who will protect our elections 

Electoral news roundup: The future is female in Texas

Trump and Putin’s press conference yesterday was nothing short of pathetic. It deserves all the outrage we can throw at it — but it’s also not the only pressing news story happening right now. Here’s a look at some of the most important electoral stories happening right now:

  • In Texas, women are running for office in unprecedented numbers. Right now, there are only 29 women in the 150-seat State Legislature and eight women out of 31 state senators. But women make up nearly half of the Democratic Party’s nominees this year — including its nominee for governor.
  • Defying conventional wisdom, bold progressivism — and democratic socialism — is on the rise in western Pennsylvania and the suburbs of Pittsburgh. Lt. Governor candidate John Fetterman, the ultra-popular mayor of Braddock, is helping the surge. Bernie Sanders recently visited Pittsburgh to rally with Fetterman.
  • Maine voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to expand Medicaid last fall, but the state’s insane GOP governor, Paul LePage, refuses to carry out the will of the people. He’s now defying a court order to implement the Medicaid expansion, and just last week said he’d sooner go to jail than help working people go to the doctor. We’d like to see both happen.
  • Activists in Michigan delivered over 400,000 signatures to get a voter rights initiative on the ballot this fall. But a group of corporations is now suing to have the initiative removed from the ballot, a scary prospect given the fact that the State Supreme Court is made up entirely of Republicans. Citizens are fighting back, though, holding protests in Detroit to demand that the Chamber of Commerce, one of the lawsuits’ financiers, pulls out of the effort to thwart democracy.
  • The Koch Brothers are behind some incredibly misleading mailers to voters in Missouri, where Right to Work is on the ballot. Of course, they’re yet another attack on unions and workers.
  • New Hampshire is making it harder for people to vote, especially college students.

This is the only way to save Democracy

So, this week was a bummer, right? Exhausting, even. The outrages continue to hit us from all directions, stacking one crime against humanity on top of another, creating a tower of moral atrocities that threatens to block out whatever rays of light and hope remain. Innocent families being torn apart. Children — even babies! — being tossed into cages inside old Walmarts and desert huts. Proposals to cut billions from Medicare and strip health care from millions of kids. The obvious corruption. The racist tweets. The insensitive-to-insidious jackets. The lies denying that any of this is happening, followed by the lies that any of it is being fixed.

How is this parade of noxious absurdity happening? How are policies and moronic proclamations that feel like on-the-nose satire continue to flow like Trump vodka? How do these blunt bigots and monsters feel free to spout their bullshit? Why do they keep getting elected?

It all comes down to one thing: When you don’t let the people who disagree with you even vote, you feel pretty free to be your worst self. And the people who want to stop other people from voting tend to have pretty awful worst selves.

CLICK HERE to donate to candidates who will help restore voting rights in swing states across the country!

When the Republican Party began its (sadly, brilliant) effort to take over state governments across the country after 2008, they were playing for keeps. Conservatives (especially racists) have always been hostile to the idea that anyone but rich white people should be able to vote, and once they started seizing state houses, they promptly began working to disenfranchise working people and especially minorities in a number of ways.

There have been mass voter purges, which have taken people less likely to vote Republican off the voter rolls. Onerous Voter ID laws have made it harder for people still registered to vote. Gerrymandering has made the votes that do get through irrelevant by chopping up states into increasingly ridiculous districts, thus diluting the power of traditionally Democratic votes and guaranteeing more Republicans get elected. It’s dirty, undemocratic stuff, and it’ll only get worse if we don’t take care of it now.

Courts have rolled back some of the most flagrant violations, but the GOP can be very resilient when it’s trying to disenfranchise people. Just this past month, there have been a series of huge decisions and political maneuvers that could strip voting rights away from millions of people and allow the GOP to keep power this November. There are more than a handful of states dealing with these issues, but we’ll focus on the most recent struggles.

Ohio’s Republican leadership has thrown over two million people off the voting rolls since 2011 through their “use it or use it law.” Basically, the state can deregister people if they don’t respond to a mailer sent to their home and don’t vote for another four years. And wouldn’t you know it, the law has purged residents of predominantly African-American neighborhoods at twice the clip that it has residents of white neighborhoods.

The law is meant to combat “voter fraud,” which is basically an imaginary crime that conservatives have concocted to justify kicking minorities off the voter rolls. And unfortunately, because the Supreme Court was also stolen by conservatives, it issued a ridiculous decision earlier this month that strained and ultimately broke with all logic in order to side with the Ohio GOP and codify the racist voter purge.

CLICK HERE to donate to candidates who will help restore voting rights in swing states across the country!

Now, not only is the Ohio GOP free to stop Democratic voters from voting, lots of other GOP-controlled states are likely to adopt the same approach. That makes electing Democratic secretaries of state, the office that controls elections, absolutely essential. And as such, we’re supporting Kathleen Clyde, the Democratic nominee for Ohio secretary of state. She’s pledged to stop the voter purges, which would help restore fundamental freedoms in the state — a swing state that just so happens to be absolutely crucial to presidential elections.

In Pennsylvania, the issue has largely been gerrymandering. The state legislature has been unbalanced for years due to the GOP’s shenanigans, and up until a few months ago, the state’s congressional districts were equally preposterous. Activists took the issue to the State Supreme Court, which agreed that yes, the map was a terrible abuse of power, and ordered a fairer redistricting that will likely help Democrats this fall.

The PA legislature was supposed to submit a bill that drew new district lines, but at the last moment, Republicans slipped in a poison pill that attacked the very judiciary that ruled against their gerrymander. The gist is that it would create a voter initiative that’d entirely redesign the way judges are elected in Pennsylvania. Instead of statewide elections, appellate judges would be voted on by district, which, surprise surprise, would give the GOP an advantage in a state that has large rural swaths in between two metropolitan areas.

They have to pass this bill twice, which means that Democrats have to take back the PA state senate. As such, we are supporting several PA state senate candidates who have a great chance of unseating Republicans this fall, which would stop this major anti-democratic measure in its tracks. As of now, that includes Mark Pinsley and Maria Collett, who are running in PA-SD-16 and PA-SD-12, respectively.

CLICK HERE to donate to candidates who will help restore voting rights in swing states across the country!

Over in North Carolina, the GOP has been especially aggressive in its disenfranchising of likely Democratic voters. They’ve limited early voting and spent nearly a decade trying to establish permanent control of the legislature.

After the Supreme Court struck down their racist gerrymander, the GOP passed another version that was expressly meant to benefit Republicans. They didn’t even try to hide it. In 2016, state Rep. David Lewis said this on the floor of the legislature: “I propose that we draw the maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and three Democrats, because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.”

The Supreme Court struck down some elements of the gerrymander, but other districts were kept in place. And now the GOP is pushing new a state constitutional amendment to enshrine terrible Voter ID laws, which would help make its supermajority nearly impossible to topple.

That makes this fall’s election beyond important. North Carolina could become permanently Republican, making what was becoming a swing state into a GOP stronghold. And with that in mind, we’re supporting several Democratic candidates in the state, including Richard Chapman, who is taking on the aforementioned David Lewis.

CLICK HERE to donate to candidates who will help restore voting rights in swing states across the country!