Womp womp: Tony Evers says he was totally misunderstood and will follow Republican laws

There are two types of Democrats: Those that talk tough, and those that are actually willing to fight. There are far too many of the former already, and unfortunately, we know that at the very least, new Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers does not belong in the latter camp.

Yesterday, the newly elected governor drew cheers and many, many upvotes when he said that he would be ignoring at least some of the ridiculous, restrictive laws passed by Republicans during a dirty lame-duck session last month. He had won a lawsuit against the power-grab that Republicans had enacted against him when he was the state’s school superintendent, so this didn’t seem like that unusual a statement for him.

Turns out, when he said that he expected to be sued, he didn’t mean for non-compliance. Instead, he says he was suggesting that outside groups might sue the state (ie him) to lift the restrictions on his power (something he’d welcome, but won’t do himself). Via the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

“I have no intent of breaking the law,” Evers told reporters at a news conference Thursday.

The incoming Democratic governor said he believed he would be sued not by detractors trying to force him to follow the laws passed in a lame-duck session but by supporters who want to get him out from under the laws. Provisions of those laws will limit his ability to write state rules and oversee economic development.

“I personally have reviewed (the new laws) and reviewed them with attorneys and other legal staff,” Evers said. “We haven’t decided what to do personally. It’s just that in my experience that when this happens, it likely will happen from the outside.”

This comes after (expected) Republican backlash to his comments. Perhaps he’s trying to make peace before the legislative session, or maybe not show his hand (or,  pull it back, as it were). Either way, he will follow the laws, he says,  until a court strikes them down.

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New Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) plans to ignore lame-duck power grab, tells Republicans: Sue me

Tony Evers has seen this before. When he was Wisconsin’s state schools superintendent, the GOP-controlled legislature and Gov. Scott Walker tried to limit his powers. He sued them over it, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in his favor. So after deposing Walker in November’s gubernatorial election, he’s not surprised that the GOP came after him again, passing a sheaf of last-minute laws in a lame-duck session that would severely restrict his ability to do his job and fulfill the promises he made to voters.

So, once again, he plans to rely on the courts to protect his right to do the job to which he was democratically elected. Via Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

He suggested he wouldn’t go along with parts of those wide-ranging measures but wouldn’t specify which ones. The new laws limit his authority over state rules, require him to get permission from lawmakers to adjust public benefits programs and diminish his say over the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

“Having gone through this in my previous job as state superintendent, I think it’s more likely that I will be sued because I’m now the chief executive of the state,” Evers said of a potential legal fight over the lame-duck legislation “Same thing happened when I was state superintendent — I was sued. So that’s where I anticipate most of the action to be.”

Evers didn’t specify which restrictions he would ignore, but he did lay out an ambitious first budget and agenda which can give us a few clues. According to the Journal-Sentinel report, he is aiming to “expand health insurance coverage under the ACA; allow illegal immigrants to qualify for driver’s cards; give immigrants who came to the state illegally as children the chance to pay in-state tuition; and allow property taxes to rise by more than they have in the past.”

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Virginia State Senator Dick Black, an unrepentant bigot monster, won’t run for re-election

State Senator Dick Black, who met with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in 2016 and has been a monstrous enemy of women and LGBTQ people, has announced that he is retiring from the Virginia State Senate at the end of his term.

It’s hard to overemphasize how awful Black, who represents Virginia’s 13th State Senate district, has been while in office. He backs dictators, is an unhinged conspiracy theoristrampantly homophobic, and viciously anti-choice. (For his greatest hits, check out Blue Virginia’s post from last summer.) The fact that he’s leaving is in and of itself great news, even before you get to the political opportunity offered by his exit.

Black’s district has backed Democrats for state and national office of late, with Tim Kaine beating Black’s fellow alt-right bigot Corey Stewart by 19% and Ralph Northam winning the governor’s race by 11% there. Some argue that he’s a better target than a boring, moderate Republican, but he won his race in 2015 after saying some pretty awful stuff, so this time around, Democrats won’t have to worry about whatever blinding spell he cast over his constituents.

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The progressive group making a huge impact in red states

By mid-November, it was clear that the midterm elections went really well for Democrats — and even better for progressives.

Grassroots activists were able to enact a slew of progressive priorities via ballot initiatives, even in states where Democrats rarely win elections. In Idaho, Utah, and Nebraska, voters overwhelmingly chose to expand Medicaid. In Michigan, they supported nonpartisan redistricting reform, expanding voting rights, and legalizing marijuana. In Missouri and Arkansas, voters voted to raise the minimum wage. Floridians, meanwhile, gave the vote back to over a million rehabilitated ex-felons.

The list of victories goes on and on, marking triumphs for a number of grassroots groups and the ascendance of one national organization: The Fairness Project, a DC-based 501(c)(4) that works to support local activists at every step of the ballot initiative process. The organization was involved in each minimum wage and Medicaid expansion victory, a win for regulating payday loans in Colorado, and a number of other ballot wins last month.

“By actually putting progressive wins on the board there,” Jonathan Schleifer, the Executive Director of The Fairness Project, tells Progressives Everywhere, “we demonstrated that Americans are much less interested in the divisiveness of the current administration and much more interested — when given the opportunity — to look out for each other and actually make progressive policy.”

After a week filled with lame-duck Republican legislators making a mockery of democracy and thumbing their nose at voters, it’s clear that direct ballot initiatives are going to be even more essential tools in our activism. With that in mind, here is Progressives Everywhere’s conversation with Schleifer about how The Fairness Project goes about supporting grassroots groups and what’s coming next.

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Ballot initiatives: Secrets of the most successful progressive strategy in years

Election night 2016 was a nightmare for progressives (and really most Americans), but there was one somewhat surprising and very promising bright spot. Ballot measures pushed by progressive groups were approved by huge margins by voters across the country, resulting in increased minimum wages, expanded Medicaid, and other big policy victories in both blue and red states.

Amazing what happens when the issues are clear and voters are offered a direct chance to improve their lives.

This year, with Republicans dominating government on all level, progressive groups have doubled down on direct democracy to push or fix important policies that corrupt conservatives (and to be fair, many Democrats) have either ignored or openly and cravenly blocked from passing. And as we saw in the massive victory for repealing the toxic “right to work for less” law in Missouri, these are very popular and winnable campaigns.

We’ve covered the red state progressive activists that have gathered enough signatures to get Medicaid expansion on the ballot in Montana, Idaho, and Utah, and there are also a slate of people-powered initiatives that would end gerrymandering in states like Michigan, loosen marijuana laws in Missouri, and fix housing issues in California.  To learn more about the upcoming voter initiatives, Progressives Everywhere spoke with Donna De La Cruz, the communications director for the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, which helps progressives nationwide launch and strategize direct democracy.

How did a state like Missouri, which is becoming a very red state, vote so overwhelmingly for “right to work” repeal?

For some people just certain issues sort of transcend parties. I think minimum wage is one. With something like the measure in Missouri to repeal the “right to work” law, if it’s messaged right and the public is educated correctly, that makes all the difference.

CLICK HERE to donate to campaigns working hard to pass progressive ballot initiatives!

Why don’t Democrats start campaigning on obviously popular issues? If they see so many people voting to increase the minimum wage, why not champion that, use that language?

Some lawmakers definitely see how powerful ballot measures are. But I think mostly with candidates they don’t really don’t focus on the issues until they see enough polling to see where it’s going to throw their support behind it, which is, which is too bad. They just sort of wait to see how the winds are gonna blow. But I think there are just some initiatives that people just really feel that they want and need. I think the one thing about ballot initiatives is that they’re often not thought of as being partisan.

Definitely right to work was partisan, but things like minimum wage, a lot of people just see it as extra money in their paychecks and not having all the money go to big corporations.

So what does BISC do, as a centralized strategy operation for progressive ballot measures?

We track new track statewide initiatives all year long and we update the list every two weeks. We do a lot of trainings where one of our staffers will go and talk to a group, working them through how the process works. The ballot process works differently in every state.

Sometimes it has to be done through a constitutional amendment. Sometimes you can collect signatures. Sometimes it has to be referred by the legislature. So there are all these different methods and people have to know exactly what the process is. If it’s collecting signatures, they need to know just how many they’re going to need and how many they need from different counties, because you can’t get all the signatures from one area. It’s got to be statewide.

You need to know the cost, like how much manpower do you think you’re going to need? It’s making sure that they are aware that this is not something that can happen quickly in most cases. You have to try to figure out what kind of support you have for it. To see if you can win, but even before you can win, if you can even collect enough signatures to start really campaigning. So there’s a lot of those. We do a lot of those, you know, we do a lot of educational trainings along those lines.

CLICK HERE to donate to campaigns working hard to pass progressive ballot initiatives!

I know that there have been more lawsuits over ballot measures and lawmakers, especially in GOP states, often don’t comply — see Maine and Medicaid — or repeal the measures, right?

Some states are fighting back to keep measures off ballots. North Carolina [Republicans are trying to trick voters into curtailing voting rights] and Michigan’s minimum wage initiative is in court. In Massachusetts, there’s a ballot measure to overturn the state’s anti-discrimination law against transgender people. Even in DC, it’s an example of a pretty heavily Democratic City Council that is trying to overturn a ballot measure that was approved in June during the primary election that would raise the minimum wage for tipped workers. It passed pretty overwhelmingly, but the DC City Council has introduced legislation that would undo it.

Some of these measures are launched by citizens, but there are often big campaigns around them, like in Missouri. What kind of bigger groups have you seen organizing these measures?

There are a couple of climate groups out west that we’re really not a part of, like NextGen. The Restaurant Opportunities group is active in a couple of states to raise the minimum wage. Definitely some unions support paid sick leave and raising the minimum wage as well. It’s a huge variety of groups. There are some really small groups. There’s a group in Florida, we’re really helping them with restoring the right to vote for former felons. That’s Second Chances Florida. They were formed solely to get this amendment on the ballot and then get it passed in Florida.

What kind of legwork does it take to get something on the ballot? How long does it usually take?

I’ll just give you an example. In Washington state, there’s an initiative on the ballot to tax polluters who emit fossil fuels and then they would use that money for clean jobs. That has been discussed for at least at least a couple of years before they even tried to put it on the ballot. I know that it was still being discussed like two years ago, just trying to generate the support and trying to figure out the educational campaign for that. Because that’s a tough one because the average citizen probably never even thinks about a carbon tax.

And I know that with the Florida initiative, you take some polls just to see like what the sentiment is among the residents, whether or not people do agree that ex-felons should be given the right to vote. So it’s a lot of education and just research first.

CLICK HERE to donate to campaigns working hard to pass progressive ballot initiatives!

Florida has a fully Republican state government. Let’s say Democrats flip a lot of legislatures and governorships this year and win power in a lot more states. How do you see ballot measures playing a role in an environment that’s more friendly to the issues they are working to pass?

I would definitely hope that it would be seen as a good leverage tool for citizens. The teachers in Arizona that went on strike earlier this year to get a raise in pay have really banded together to get an education measure on the ballot that would tax the wealthiest people in Arizona and use that money to pay for education. I know that banding together to raise their own pay gave them this idea. But it has not been popular at all. It just survived a legal challenge this week.

So getting all those signatures to get on the ballot definitely doesn’t always mean it’s super-popular or is going to pass.

I think sometimes just because it’s on the ballot, there’s a lot of education that needs to be done. There’s a measure on the Ohio ballot that would affect nonviolent drug offenders and I think that they barely got the number of signatures that they needed to get to get on the ballot. So I think that there’s still a lot of work there.

And people think that ballot measures are just really poorly worded, which they are, and the groups don’t write the ballot language. It’s the secretary of state’s offices and sometimes lawmakers start chiming in. So sometimes it makes no sense, so even if it’s really popular and on the ballot, it can be confusing to people and it’s always the last item on a ballot. So people might have supported it had they known it or if it had a different title or was just easier to read.

CLICK HERE to donate to campaigns working hard to pass progressive ballot initiatives!

What are the kinds of ballot measures you’re seeing the most this year?

Over the last year or two, the minimum wage has still been up there, but this year, we’re seeing a lot of gerrymandering initiatives. In most instances, redistricting is only done every 10 years, so it’s really interesting to see the number of gerrymandering initiatives on there to take the power away from partisan groups and give them to an independent commission. I think that’s a really interesting one to watch.

There’s not as much paid sick leave on the ballot statewide as I think people would have hoped. And I think some people are surprised that there’s not very many gun control measures on the ballot, especially given the shooting at the high school in Florida. Our take is that it was just too quick, there wasn’t enough time for people for people to get the measures on the ballot this year.

People have been really pressuring legislators on guns — maybe they don’t realize that ballot measures can be used for even that issue.

I think more people are definitely seeing the usefulness of ballot measures. I just think sometimes it’s a daunting task, especially if we want to do it statewide. But I think it’s all about educating people and getting the word out.

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