Air Date 5/9/2022
JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left podcast, in which we shall take a look at the hyperpolarization of our era, and the anti-democratic instincts of the right taking hold in state legislatures. Building on a decade of gerrymandering and voter suppression within a structurally undemocratic American political system that has helped Republicans create minority rule in many places and unearned super majorities and others.
They have now turned to simply ejecting their elected political opponents from fully representing their constituents. Clips today are from The Intelligence, The Bradcast, The Last Word, The New Yorker Radio Hour, The Laura Flanders Show, Democracy Now, All In with Chris Hayes, and The Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs with an additional members-only clip from Not Another Politics Podcast.
Long division: America’s busy state legislatures - The Intelligence from The Economist - Air Date 2-9-23
JON FASMAN - HOST, THE INTELLIGENCE: This year, many states are flush with cash and plenty of governors are [00:01:00] legislating with one eye on a White House run. Usually state lawmakers and legislatures get just a fraction of the attention that Congress does, but in 2023 especially, they're worth keeping an eye on.
ALEXANDRA SUICH BASS: There are gonna be a few big themes to watch playing out in state legislatures this year. The first is the continuing rise of hyperpolarized policies. We're going to see blue and red states push farther apart.
A second will be lawmakers taking aim at companies that defy their agendas. And a third is the way that governors are going to use these legislative sessions as resumé building for their campaigns for higher office. While Congress is gridlocked, the state houses in America, they're very much not. And this year many of the nation's hottest issues are gonna play out in state capitals.
JON FASMAN - HOST, THE INTELLIGENCE: So let's start with the first theme you mentioned, the hyperpolarized policies. Tell us more about that.
ALEXANDRA SUICH BASS: You are going to see red and blue [00:02:00] states take on a whole range of issues, some of which they've already grappled with, some of which are going to be newer in 2023. We'll see them take on voting rights, abortion again, gay rights, education and taxation, and they're going to push apart. So we're going to see Democratic states push in one direction and red states pushing the other.
So one illustration of this is a recent proposal that came out in Wyoming to ban the sale of all new electric vehicles starting in the year 2035, purportedly in order to protect the state's oil and gas industry. But that was a direct swipe at California's regulations that are attempting to ban the sale of petrol-powered cars starting in 2035.
Of course, there will be others as well. Guns will be a battleground. In California, which already has very strict gun laws, there are new proposals after recent mass shootings to increase the taxes on firearms or lengthen sentences for gun-related crimes.
In Florida, they're pushing in the opposite [00:03:00] direction by embracing what is called "permitless carry," which allows people to carry around a gun in public without training or a permit.
These are all different issues, but they're united by one similar trend, which is one party control. There are 39 states in which a single political party controls all three branches of government, both chambers of legislature and the governor's office. They're known as "trifecta" states, and it's the lack of political competition in these states that allows for these proposals to pass into law without much debate or being slowed down by either gridlock or dissent.
JON FASMAN - HOST, THE INTELLIGENCE: And what about the second theme you mentioned, bills taking aim at corporations? Where are we seeing those?
ALEXANDRA SUICH BASS: This is an emerging trend, but one we saw very prominently last year when Governor Ron DeSantis in Florida took aim at Disney for coming out against a bill that the state legislature and the governor had supported on parental rights and education, otherwise known as the "Don't Say Gay" bill.
GOVERNOR RON DESANTIS: We saw a lot of this, but then for Disney to come [00:04:00] out and put a statement, and say that the bill should have never passed, and that they are going to actively work to repeal it, I think, one, was fundamentally dishonest, but two, I think that crossed the line. This state is governed ...
ALEXANDRA SUICH BASS: And we're likely to see this happen a lot in 2023. So one example is that some Republican states are proposing that they would revoke firms' tax incentives if those companies help their employees get abortions.
There are also examples of several states, including Arkansas and Missouri, that are trying to propose bills to prohibit or punish firms that use environmental, social, and governance principles in their investing. These are corporate concepts that are really dirty words in the Republican ethos.
And on the Democratic side, we're going to see states to game also at companies. One example to watch would be California lawmakers, which are mulling a cap on oil firm's profits.
JON FASMAN - HOST, THE INTELLIGENCE: And the third thing you mentioned, governors using the [00:05:00] legislative sessions to polish their resumés for higher office. Who are you thinking of and where are we seeing that?
ALEXANDRA SUICH BASS: This is going to play out across newspaper front pages in the months ahead. The most high profile example I think is Ron DeSantis, who is a leading contender for the Republican nomination for president, and he's using this legislative session as a way to show what he stands for in the public eye. That means taking on issues that are specific to Florida and also issues that don't really have to do with Florida or aren't state priorities, but he thinks will play out pretty prominently on the national stage. Meanwhile, Texas and other states are likely to copy some of Mr. DeSantis's signature policies that helped get him so much attention last year.
There are, of course, other governors too, that have aspirations for higher office. Those include Republican governors Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, and Christine Noem, South Dakota. But also Democrats [00:06:00] Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, and Gavin Newsom of California.
JON FASMAN - HOST, THE INTELLIGENCE: So we've talked about hot button culture war issues, and about resumé polishing. What about sort of substantive bread and butter issues like the economy? What are we gonna see there from state legislatures?
ALEXANDRA SUICH BASS: It's a really interesting moment for state legislatures because many have very large surpluses, but the economic outlook is looking uncertain, and so how those states are going to use their surpluses and how much they should save for more difficult times will be a very hot topic of debate across various states.
In Texas, it's playing out in an interesting way. The state has a record surplus of about $33 billion. The governor, Greg Abbott, has said he wants to use that to cut property taxes. Others, including Democrats, which are of course in the minority in Texas, are suggesting using the money to raise teacher pay. But there are going to be a lot of different suggestions [00:07:00] about how to use these surpluses in many states that are enjoying them. One of the exceptions is California, which is actually facing a deficit of around $20 billion this fiscal year.
JON FASMAN - HOST, THE INTELLIGENCE: How will all of this activity affect the national policy conversation?
ALEXANDRA SUICH BASS: I think that this legislative session really encapsulates the divisions that we're seeing in the country between red and blue states. So I would watch Texas and Florida to understand where the Republican agenda is going, and I would watch California and, to a certain extent, New York to understand where the Democratic agenda is going.
But there's also a really interesting category of states to watch, and those are the states that have actually flipped in the 2022 election to having one party control. So I think it will be worth watching both Michigan and Minnesota, which became Democratic trifectas in 2022, to see which sorts of policies they're likely to pursue.
Some are [00:08:00] expecting Michigan to repeal the anti-union right-to-work law. That will be a really interesting lens onto where the Democratic Party sees opportunity and what the party's priorities are likely to be.
JON FASMAN - HOST, THE INTELLIGENCE: You've really painted a picture of states moving in markedly different directions depending on their politics. We're seeing the emergence, it feels like, of two very different Americas. Do you think this trend will continue?
ALEXANDRA SUICH BASS: Yes. I think that today where you are born or where you choose to live, confers very different rights and opportunities. We're seeing states take up a whole range of policy issues, many of which will really change the lived experience of people depending on where they are, and I expect that to only continue this session and the months ahead, but then in the years ahead as well, as states face less political competition within their boundaries, there's less reason to [00:09:00] compromise or listen to alternative opinions. And so I think we're only going to see a further divergence in policy among states going forward.
GOP legislatures gaming elections, suppressing voting - The BradCast - Air Date 5-4-23
BRAD FRIEDMAN - HOST, THE BRADCAST: In Arkansas, even after voters there specifically, soundly rejected a constitutional amendment that was proposed by the legislature to stiffen the requirements to get measures on the ballot, voters rejected that. So what did the legislature do? They simply passed a new law, new requirements by themselves as new state laws. Republican governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders immediately signed that law because, you know, the hell to what voters actually want, right, Sarah?
Republicans were said to have been surprised by how forcefully voters turned out to reject anti-abortion laws last year, even in red states. In Kansas, the Republican-controlled legislature you recall put forward a ballot initiative that would have [00:10:00] reversed a 2019 state Supreme Court finding that there is a right to abortion in the state constitution. The measure was then placed on the ballot in the August primary last year when turnout is, again, typically low, but abortion rights groups mobilized, and they defeated it. In November, voters defeated a similar measure in Kentucky, along with an anti-abortion law in Montana.
At the same time, they approved measures to recognize constitutional right to abortion in Vermont, California, and Michigan. The decision to raise the threshold to 60% in Ohio was almost certainly not an arbitrary choice. What they have found in Michigan, Kentucky, and Kansas was that the vote for abortion rights was between 52 and 59%. So if you put it just out of reach at 60%, well, then you can make sure democracy does not happen.[00:11:00]
"When they're raising the passage threshold to 60 or 65%, it's often just a percent or a couple of points above what has been needed to pass initiatives in the past," that according to Chris Melody Fields Figueredo, the Executive Director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, who explained that to the New York Times, she told us the very same thing on this program way back in January when she joined us here, I'm glad the Times is catching up.
Anyway, " This is one of the core beliefs I was taught in being a Republican," said State Senator Brian King in Arkansas, "is that we should make it easier for citizens to get things on the ballot and challenge what the government does." He said the new law in that state in Arkansas simply crossed the line. "In my old home state of Missouri, sadly -- which used to be a battleground state until I moved out, I blame myself -- [00:12:00] the Republican legislature there, they're on the verge of putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot this November, raising the approval threshold for proposed amendments to 60% from 50% as well. Voters, however, would be unlikely to even know that that measure would do that. The proposal was passed by the House. It was sent to the state Senate. It specifies that it must be described on the ballot only as a measure to require voters to be properly registered US citizens and Missouri residents."
DESI DOYEN: So the ballot language itself that the Missouri Republican legislature is putting forth is deceptive.
BRAD FRIEDMAN - HOST, THE BRADCAST: Very. It's a lie. Calling it deceptive would be a very nice way to put it.
DESI DOYEN: Okay, we'll call it a lie. They're lying to the voters.
BRAD FRIEDMAN - HOST, THE BRADCAST: This is not about making sure that voters are properly registered US citizens and Missouri residents, this is specifically meant to take their [00:13:00] rights away.
I hope to let folks in Missouri know what is actually happening and how they are being lied to and screwed over by the Republicans who run the state at this point. By the way, the state constitution already requires the voters be properly registered US citizens and Missouri residents. So, they're so cowardly and so corrupt and so power hungry that not only are they gonna take power away from voters, they're going to trick them into doing it to themselves.
Some days I wish we were not on FCC radio, and this is one of those days.
Banned MT Dem Zooey Zephyr: Silencing me is 'using decorum as a tool of oppression' - The Last Word - Air Date 4-26-23
ALI VELSHI - HOST, THE LAST WORD: "In the battle for the soul of America, pay attention to the state legislatures. These are the front lines". That's how one Democrat put it today, when just two weeks after Republicans in Tennessee voted to expel two Black representatives, another Republican-led state legislature voted to kick out a Democrat [00:14:00] who dissented. This is Montana State Representative Zooey Zephyr. She's a Democrat the people of Montana House District 100, part of the City of Missoula, elected to represent them.
Today Republicans voted to bar her from the State House Chamber for the rest of the current legislative session. The Republican playbook here is very similar to what we all watched in Tennessee. Her transgression, according to the Montana House Republicans was breaking with decorum in the chamber. That's the thing these days. Zooey Zephyr is trans. She's Montana's first and only trans lawmaker, and last week she said this to her Republican colleagues as they pushed a bill to restrict gender-affirming care for minors.
REP. ZOOEY ZEPHYR: And then the only thing I will say is if I, if you vote yes on this bill and yes on these amendments, I hope the next time there's an invocation, when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands.
ALI VELSHI - HOST, THE LAST WORD: Republicans also accused Representative Zephyr of inciting demonstrators who'd assembled in the house [00:15:00] gallery to support her, again, very similar to what we saw in the Tennessee State House. And just a few hours ago, the Montana State House voted 68 to 32 along party lines to bar Representative Zephyr from entering the chamber for the rest of the legislative session. She can vote and attend sessions remotely.
Speaking before the vote this afternoon, representative Zephyr, who will join us in just a moment, defended her initial comments. She defended the right of her constituents to have their representative in the State House chamber, and she defended democracy itself.
REP. ZOOEY ZEPHYR: Last week I spoke on the governor's amendments to Senate Bill 99, which banned gender-affirming care. This was a bill that was one of many targeting the LGBTQ community in Montana. I have had friends who have taken their lives because of these bills. I have fielded calls from families in Montana, including one family whose trans teenager attempted to take her life while watching a hearing on one of the anti-trans bills. So when [00:16:00] I rose up and said, There is blood on your hands, I was not being hyperbolic. I was speaking to the real consequences of the votes that we as legislators take in this body. And when the speaker asks me to apologize, what he is, uh, on behalf of decorum, what he is really asking me to do is be silent when my community is facing bills that get us killed. He's asking me to be complicit in this legislature's eradication of our community. And I refuse to do so, and I will always refuse to do so.
I would also say that if you use decorum to silence people who hold you accountable, then in the name of... all you are doing is using decorum as a tool of oppression. Additionally, when the speaker disallowed me to speak, what he was [00:17:00] doing is taking away the voices of the 11,000 Montanans who elected me to speak on their behalf. What my constituents in my community did is came here and said, That is our voice in this body. Let her speak. Let her speak. And when the speaker gaveled down the people demanding that democracy work, demanding that their representative be heard, when he gaveled down what he was doing is driving a nail in the coffin of democracy. But you cannot kill democracy that easily.
ALI VELSHI - HOST, THE LAST WORD: "You cannot kill democracy that easily". We know Republicans are using these attacks to ignite their base. It's kind of a cynical political nihlism that isn't interested in making your life any better through policy. It's about othering people, making them scary. And as you heard, State Representative Zephyr say it's causing real harm. Today outside the Capitol, another prominent young Democrat, condemned Republicans.
REP. ALEXANDRA OCASIO-CORTEZ: For these folks, January 6th was just [00:18:00] a dress rehearsal. It was just a dress rehearsal, because legally - let's not lose the plot - they were trying to block a duly elected official, in this case, the President of the United States, from taking office. And legislatures across the country looked at that and say, You know what? Let's try to get Representative Jones out from office. Let's try to get representative Zooey Zephyr in Montana out of office. Let's try to kick out the people because we cannot beat them. This is what fascism does when it is on its hind heels. It is always darkest before dawn. We are winning this thing. We are winning this thing.
ALI VELSHI - HOST, THE LAST WORD: Pay attention to state legislatures. These are the front lines. Also joining Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at that rally, which coincidentally was called "On the Front Lines of Democracy: Young and Fed Up", two other young Democrats who will also be joining us in just a moment. The Tennessee State Representative [00:19:00] Justin Jones and the youngest member of the US House, Florida Democrat Maxwell Frost.
REP. JUSTIN JONES: As we saw in Tennessee, their action was to set a precedent. We saw what happened in Montana a couple hours ago, and if we do not stand together, it will continue to happen again and again and again, and grow more extreme. And so our message is quite simple. Is that if you come for one of us, you come for all of us. If you come for one of us, you come for all of us.
REP. MAXWELL FROST: We've seen the rise of this right-wing movement that is dangerous. That is dangerous, and targeting marginalized communities, because they don't have solutions to the affordable housing crisis, to the housing crisis, they don't have solutions to ending gun violence. They don't have solutions to the existential climate crisis. So what they wanna do instead is pick marginalized communities, LGBTQ+ folks, trans folks, Black people, Black history, books, immigrants, and target them instead. We are here to challenge power. We [00:20:00] are here to reclaim power, and we are here to build power, not just for communities, but with them.
Have State Legislatures Gone Rogue? - The New Yorker Radio Hour - Air Date 5-5-23
DAVID REMNICK - HOST, THE NEW YORKER HOUR: Last month we saw two lawmakers thrown out of their seats for joining a protest, which became a big national story. And in Montana this week, a state representative named Zooey Zephyr is suing in an attempt to regain access to the house floor after she gave a speech against restrictions on gender-affirming care. Why are Republicans escalating these seemingly minor confrontations in state legislatures to be national news stories? How does that possibly benefit them?
JACOB GRUMBACH: And one interesting puzzle is these happened in states that have super majorities of Republicans in the legislature. So it's not like eliminating one seat here or there is gonna shift a vote on state legislation in these cases. So, that's extra interesting. But really what we're seeing is the long culmination [00:21:00] of the increasing nationalization of American politics where state legislatures are at the front line of battling over the national tug of war over issues in the culture war especially, like transgender rights and issues of racial conflict.
DAVID REMNICK - HOST, THE NEW YORKER HOUR: Well, how did this happen and why? It must be a deliberate choice on somebody's, um, behalf.
JACOB GRUMBACH: It took sort of major investments by both political parties nationally, campaign donors nationally, and organized interest groups and activist groups over the long term with respect to issues like abortion and reproductive rights or issues of gun rights and gun control. Now we really have two national teams - the Republicans and the Democrats - battling over this tug of war nationally through the institutions of state government.
DAVID REMNICK - HOST, THE NEW YORKER HOUR: Is there anybody that's responsible for this strategy? How would you personalize this, in Washington on behalf of the, either the Republican National Committee or the greater Republican party?
JACOB GRUMBACH: So, we can point to, [00:22:00] you know, the Koch brothers. The Koch brothers have funded groups like Americans for Prosperity as well as been, you know, had an arms length distance but been sort of involved in the American Legislative Exchange Council. And ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, is an incredibly important organization that really organized three constituencies, that's major business and extractive industry, gun rights libertarians, and the religious right. And what they did is they really provided what we social scientists call legislative subsidies for state legislatures.
DAVID REMNICK - HOST, THE NEW YORKER HOUR: Okay. What is, what does that mean?
JACOB GRUMBACH: State legislatures, I don't mean this as an insult, are less professionalized and more amateurish than Congress. They don't have big staff to write bills, they don't have staff lawyers all the time. In some state legislatures, you know, people go into the legislature for maybe a couple months a year, and the rest of the time they're on the, you know, on their corporate board and the American Plastics Council and doing their, you know, earning money. They earn low salaries [00:23:00] in the legislature. So what that means is they need help from groups and experts and activists on what to bring onto the political agenda in their states and what bills to write and pass. 'Cause that takes serious professional work. And groups like ALEC provided model bills around issues like "stand your ground" laws, that then spread across states, especially Republican-controlled states.
But it's not just on the right. You know, you think about climate activist groups and things have really helped the coastal states, like California, pass fuel efficiency standards and other climate regulations and integrate Democratic state governments into the national sort of Democratic Party position on climate in the environment.
DAVID REMNICK - HOST, THE NEW YORKER HOUR: Now, Jake, I spoke recently with a lawmaker in Nebraska who's been fighting a ban, fighting a ban on transgender care in that state. She told me that her constituents don't really care that much about trans issues and the culture war is kind [00:24:00] of out of step with what they do care about: agriculture, property taxes, and so on. That really surprised me. Does it surprise you?
JACOB GRUMBACH: Uh, it doesn't surprise me. This is part of a larger pattern and really, a couple generations ago, for better or worse, you know, it's not always great, but states were much more focused on state-based issues and their regional issues. So, this could be a bad thing, like in the era of Jim Crow, where this was really about Southern segregationist states protecting the right at the state level to segregate. This was about local public goods and segregated institutions. Whereas now we have what is a national conflict between the parties. So an issue like, uh, you know, policies to go after transgender healthcare or rights or things like that, they're not responding to a local influx of transgender rights and trans people, right? This is not responding to a local concern, but rather...
DAVID REMNICK - HOST, THE NEW YORKER HOUR: Yeah, but they're responding to a hot button, culture war thing. That's gonna help them possibly [00:25:00] in a national election.
JACOB GRUMBACH: Exactly. So, if you are a politician and you're trying to rise in the ranks from the local or state level in your party, you have to think about where the donors are, where the organizations in your party network are, and where the national party is, so your best bet is to join the national culture war. So, Ron DeSantis is a great example of this in Florida, of really being entrepreneurial, saying, I wanna rise in the ranks in the national Republican Party, tap national Republican donors who care about these national issues. And same thing with, you know, Gavin Newsom, or, you know, other Democratic governors have responded in kind to tap the Democratic donor base and rise in the ranks and potentially run for President.
And this is a massive change from a couple of generations ago, and we also have to really emphasize that unfortunately voters are really responding to the national tug of war. And we've seen statistically in political science, the diminishment and decline of [00:26:00] economic voting and voting on the basis of how your area is doing economically or socially, and much more about your sort of national partisanship.
DAVID REMNICK - HOST, THE NEW YORKER HOUR: There was a time, not so long ago, when state level politics would've been thought of, certainly to, you know, reporters who were aching to go to Washington, as kind of boring. They're concerned with budgets and roads and that seems to have changed. What's been the effect on the actual day-to-day life of the states is, if you're spending all your time screaming and yelling at each other about issues that, you know, bear on very few people and are there to impress Fox News or whomever it's there to impress, what's getting lost?
JACOB GRUMBACH: So, there's a sort of feedback cycle in the nationalization of political media here, where the internet and the rise of Craigslist really destroyed classified revenue, classified ad revenue for local newspapers that were on the state legislative beat. So there's been a huge decline in state [00:27:00] politics journalism. So that makes it harder for voters to hold state level politicians accountable. And what that means is now voting is really detached from the performance of state legislators and governors on issues like expanding the economy and jobs and, you know, how Covid is doing in an area, and this makes it really hard to do, have a healthy political system where you bargain over policy when it's sort of national tug of war on these culture war issues where there's really no room to negotiate.
Special Report: Deciding the Fate of Democracy in North Carolina - The Laura Flanders Show - Air Date 5-7-23
LAURA FLANDERS - HOST, THE LAURA FLANDERS SHOW: North Carolinians vote roughly 50/50 Republican and Democrat, with African-Americans voting heavily Democratic and the Republican vote heavily White. Yet Republicans enjoy a veto-proof supermajority in both houses of the state government. How did that come about?
JOSH STEIN: Because they have abused the line drawing process, which happens every decade after a census, in order to manipulate it so that they get [00:28:00] more power. They favor certain voters, their vote voters, and they discriminate against other voters who may disagree with them. And in the process, they make some people's votes worth more than others. And that is antithetical to what democracy is supposed to be. This legislature has been elected time and time again under unconstitutional maps. And that is problematic. So it's not a surprise they have these powers because that's what they've done, is manipulated to their advantage.
LAURA FLANDERS - HOST, THE LAURA FLANDERS SHOW: A case in point: in 2016, Democrats won 46% of the vote in North Carolina's congressional races, but only managed to win three out of the State's 13 seats. The US Supreme Court eventually ruled that the maps used in those elections were racially gerrymandered and had to be rewritten.
JOSH STEIN: Under the new maps, our congressional delegation in Washington today is seven Democrats and seven Republicans in a 50/50 state. Now, they're not happy with that because they want to be able to make whatever decision they [00:29:00] want, ignoring the will of the people, and that's wrong.
LAURA FLANDERS - HOST, THE LAURA FLANDERS SHOW: While racial gerrymandering has been declared unconstitutional, the US Supreme Court has ruled that claims of unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering, writing maps to benefit one party over another, is a matter for the states to adjudicate. How they do that is the question at the heart of the case decided on April 28th. Hillary Harris Klein is senior counsel for voting rights for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. She helped argue the case at the North Carolina Supreme Court.
HILARY HARRIS KLEIN: In 2021, after the last US census was released, North Carolina's legislatures redrew all of our electoral maps. And when they did that, they intentionally drew extreme partisan gerrymanders. We know that because our client, Common Cause, along with other plaintiffs, sued in court, contending these were illegal, partisan gerrymanders. And that case [00:30:00] went to trial in January of 2022, and the trial court unanimously held that all of the maps were extreme partisan gerrymanders, intentional gerrymanders, that would be non-responsive, if there was an election, it would be non-responsive to the will of the voters.
LAURA FLANDERS - HOST, THE LAURA FLANDERS SHOW: In their April 28th decision, a newly elected Republican majority on the North Carolina Supreme Court not only reinstated maps that their Democratic predecessors on the same court had found to be gerrymandered, but argued that only the General Assembly, not the courts or the executive branch, had any authority over redistricting. They also reversed two other decisions: one voiding a discriminatory voter ID law, and another that restored the right to vote for those convicted of felonies after their release.
JOSH STEIN: We're all supposed to have the right to vote, but we have to have those votes mean something, for each vote to be equal, and they're not when there is [00:31:00] partisan gerrymandering. We can't underestimate how damaging that is to our long term health. So, there's a problem, there's a sickness, and that means we have to treat it and we have to address it, and we have to underscore the people that their vote does count and that it will be heard and that they can vote safely and securely, and that is our collective work.
LAURA FLANDERS - HOST, THE LAURA FLANDERS SHOW: This collective work is bolstered by a long history of activism in North Carolina, including the pioneering civil rights work of legal scholar Pauli Murray.
ANGELA M. THORPE: Pauli is what we might describe today, is gender non-conforming. But that same space did not exist for them in the 20th century. Pauli was legal scholar. They were thinking differently and futuristically about legal concepts in ways that their counterparts and even their mentors were unable to. That is what laid the [00:32:00] groundwork for their impact for civil rights.
HILARY HARRIS KLEIN: Pauli Murray is hugely influential to anybody doing civil rights in North Carolina, and I think actually across the whole country. Murray was the, you know, the intellectual architect of the Civil Rights Movement.
LAURA FLANDERS - HOST, THE LAURA FLANDERS SHOW: In the early 20th century, Murray, a queer black woman, whom many today would call non-binary or trans, challenged her contemporaries to apply the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause to cases of discrimination on the basis of gender or race. Laughed out at the time, her arguments were eventually used in the litigation that overturned segregation, with implications for education, transportation, employment, voting, and even on the drafting of the Equal Rights Amendment, or ERA. US Democracy, Murray argued, required applying the Constitution to real life in a way that considered not just the behaviors of individuals, but also the structures and rules of a society that effectively [00:33:00] discriminate. A right to vote, Murray might say, isn't worth much if, because of gerrymandering, that vote has no impact.
“Courage Is Contagious”: Zooey Zephyr & Justin Jones on the GOP’s Silencing of State Lawmakers - Democracy Now! - Air Date 4-28-23
AMY GOODMAN: Justin Jones, if you could address state legislator Zooey Zephyr, to talk about what this has meant for you, and your reaction to what happened to her. And is there any move for state legislators around the country to band together, the silenced who refuse to remain silent?
REP. JUSTIN JONES: Yeah, definitely. Well, Representative Zephyr knows, we talked on the phone the day of this horrible, immoral decision to censure her, and just knows that we stand together. And as I said that night and as I said that day, an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. And so we are united, from Tennessee to Montana to Nebraska to Florida, as I was just talking to some lawmakers there, against this trend toward authoritarianism that’s silencing voices who need to be [00:34:00] heard. And if you look — if you look at what we represented, it represents the future of our politics. People who are proximate to these issues should have a voice in challenging them, when it comes to the safety of our communities, when it comes to the well-being of our communities, when it comes to what democracy should be in our states.
And so, Representative Zephyr knows that I’m standing with you, that whatever I can do to show up in solidarity, to push back and let them know that we’re not going to be divided, that we see this as a united struggle, that we see this as a struggle in which solidarity, deep solidarity, matters and in which resisting together against these forces of authoritarianism is going to be something that we continue to do nationwide.
And so, thank you for your courage. And I’m just so grateful to see, when you walked out, you had that same feeling of dignity. You walked out with your head held high, because we know that we are on the right side of history. And so, it was just beautiful to see those photos that you were unbowed, that you were pushing forward and that you did not let them shame you, but you saw that the community stands with you, the people of this nation [00:35:00] stand with you. And we’ll continue to push forward, unafraid and unbowed, against these forces.
AMY GOODMAN: And state Representative Zooey Zephyr, if you could respond and talk about the effect it had on you — this is right before you were censured — seeing Justin Pearson and Justin Jones being expelled from the state Legislature? Did you at that point have any sense what was going to happen to you?
REP. ZOOEY ZEPHYR: I didn’t. But I think what people keep saying is courage is contagious. When you watch people stand up for what is right, to defend their community, when marginalized groups come together and say, as Representative Jones has said, an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us, when you see people stand up, it drives you to stand up similarly. And that’s also why one of the first groups to come out in support of me was Montana’s American Indian Caucus, who said, “This is [00:36:00] an inappropriate, undemocratic attack on Representative Zephyr.” And they know that firsthand, because they’ve experienced that. And the attacks on the Native American community in our state and across our country goes way back before the attacks on trans people that we’re seeing today.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Zooey Zephyr, what has been the response of the people who elected you? I mean, as I was saying around Tennessee, it’s not as if you’re fired from a store that you’re working at. You were elected. And so, you have these other representatives who were saying the city of Missoula cannot have their elected representative speak. What does it mean for them? And when does this banishment end?
REP. ZOOEY ZEPHYR: So, that has been — I’ve seen pride from my community. They have said, “Thank you so much, first and foremost. Thank you for standing up. Thank you for saying the things we elected you to say, to hold the powerful accountable to the [00:37:00] harm that they do.” And then I’ve also seen them express frustration when they copy me on their messages to Republican leadership, saying, “You’re taking our voice.” They’re sending that message in emails. They’ve shown up at the Capitol to send that message and say, “You’re taking away our representation, and that’s not democratic.”
And going forward, I showed up yesterday ready to do the work as best I can, and I am going to do everything in my power to make sure that the people who elected me, the 11,000 Montanans who elected me, have representation in the People’s House.
AMY GOODMAN: And let me ask you, Justin Jones, about the anti-trans laws being passed in the Tennessee Legislature. The Biden administration has filed suit against Tennessee’s ban on life-saving care for transgender youth. Can you talk about that and the position you took?
REP. JUSTIN JONES: Yeah. I mean, all session we’ve been challenging the [00:38:00] slate of hate. Tennessee has had 27 anti-LGBTQ laws this session, more than any other state, being pushed in our Legislature, laws to ban drag shows, to attack trans youth’s healthcare, to challenge equality in marriage. It’s just been this very hateful agenda that we saw. And we’ve resisted it at every step, even before we were expelled. Myself, Representative Pearson and Representative Johnson were some of the most vocal voices challenging this anti-LGBTQ agenda. And so, we’re glad that the federal government is intervening and is challenging that law that will harm our youth and which, we shared on the House floor, this is harmful to the youth of Tennessee, and it’s a very dangerous policy for these lawmakers to try and be doctors, as they often try and do. And so, we have challenged it, and we know that this challenge of attacking the LGBTQ community, of attacking people of color, of attacking immigrants is really an attack on democracy, is really an attack on our future and the futures that we represent.
And so, we are, again, once again, [00:39:00] fighting together, united in the struggle against those who would try and scapegoat members of our community, against those who would try and use members of our community as punching bags to distract from their failures, from the — to distract from their failures at the fact that in states like ours, one in five children live in poverty. The majority of people are struggling to get by, because they’re waging a culture war instead of waging a war on poverty, instead of waging a war to protect our communities from this wave of environmental injustice that is plaguing our communities and of corporate attacks that are really denigrating our people, who have to struggle between getting groceries or paying for their prescriptions. This is what we’re dealing with, is really an attempt to divide and conquer. And we will not bow — we will not cooperate with that. We will not accept that, because we know that — what are the real issues in our community. And that’s not — an issue that they’re making, manufacturing, to distract from their failures, is not the issues that we should be focused on.
North Carolina lawmaker Tricia Cotham switches to GOP, votes to ban abortion - All In with Chris Hayes - Air Date 5-4-23
CHRIS HAYES - HOST, ALL IN: Today in North Carolina, the Republican-controlled legislature approved a 12-week abortion ban that looks like [00:40:00] it's going to become law. Up until last month, Republicans held majorities in both the State House and the Senate, but anything they passed could be vetoed by the Democratic governor, Roy Cooper.
That is until a state representative named Tricia Cotham, who ran and won as a pro-choice Democrat in 2022 -- that's what she was elected as -- in a sudden, startling and at least partially unexplained move, flipped her party affiliation, seemingly out of nowhere to become a Republican. She has said she felt too controlled by the Democratic Party.
This is a woman who spoke movingly about her own abortion on the floor of the North Carolina State House in 2015 when she was arguing against abortion restrictions. She even co-sponsored a bill in January, four months ago, to codify abortion protections in her state. Yesterday, that same woman you see there cast the deciding vote in line with all of the Republicans to approve a 12-week abortion ban, [00:41:00] and ensured that even if Governor Cooper vetos the bill, which he has said he will, Republicans can override the veto and make the ban law.
Jessica Valenti's work has been essential in tracking the story of abortion rights in the post-Roe era. She's the author of the newsletter, Abortion Every Day, where today she published a story titled "Texas Is Fabricating Abortion Data." We'll talk about it in a second, and she joins me now.
Jess, I saw you also write about the North Carolina law saying it's even worse than you think. What's your rundown, the basic takeaway of this law?
JESSICA VALENTI: Sure. They are trying very, very hard in North Carolina to make this bill come across as if it's a moderate bill. They're calling it things like common sense, reasonable, one of the sponsors even said it's not an abortion ban, it's a pro-life plan. Because they know just how much Americans and voters in North Carolina don't want abortion to be restricted. So they're trying to make it seem like it's super moderate, super common sense, [00:42:00] when in fact, it's pretty old school. It's a very like old school punitive abortion ban. It has mandates that make women look at ultrasounds, listen to fetal heartbeats while the doctor explains the ultrasound, like really sort of old school Republican stuff that is not moderate, not reasonable in the slightest.
CHRIS HAYES - HOST, ALL IN: There's also this. This jumped out at me and I don't know if you were the person I think who pulled this out or someone else did, but the definition of a woman, " a female human, whether or not she is an adult," which of course just lets you know that some of the people who will be forced to carry pregnancies to term will be children under this law.
JESSICA VALENTI: Yeah, they are. There's a lot of language in the bill that makes it clear that they understand the kind of suffering that this bill is going to cause. They're talking about children that they're saying in a roundabout way, they're talking about fetal abnormalities, talking about providing women with palliative consultations for the newborns that they're gonna be forced to carry. [00:43:00] Really, really dark stuff, honestly.
CHRIS HAYES - HOST, ALL IN: They have to also explain in writing orally or provide to the women all the following information. These are women that are before the 12-week ban who do want to get an abortion. "While there exists a risk of stillbirth with life limiting anomalies, life-limiting anomalies have resulted in live births of infants with unpredictable and variable lengths of life." This is part of the sort of like state-sanctioned propaganda that has to be directed to every woman actually obtaining an abortion before the cutoff.
JESSICA VALENTI: Yeah, and they have different rules for medication abortion, which they're trying to sneak by too. They are saying it's a 12-week ban for medication abortion. It's a 10-week ban. And they have things in terms of the terrible things that doctors are being forced to tell patients. Doctors are forced to tell patients if you have a medication abortion, you may see the remains of your unborn child. That's their language. Again, really dark, really, really punitive. It's very, very cruel.
CHRIS HAYES - HOST, ALL IN: You had some reporting in your excellent [00:44:00] Substack today about Texas abortion data where essentially you uncovered just almost preposterously shoddy double counting and sort of outright fabrication of data around complications due to abortion. Explain the story.
JESSICA VALENTI: So essentially conservatives are super desperate right now to prove that abortion is unsafe, but we know that abortion is incredibly safe. And so because they don't have the science on their side, they've decided to make up statistics using this reporting law. So they are forcing doctors in Texas -- and the doctors that I've spoken to, by the way, are describing sobbing as they're filling out these forms -- they're forcing doctors to fill out forms on a state website with their patient's private data, connecting their medical conditions to abortion complications, even when there is no connection whatsoever. They are doing anything that they can. And any doctor that this patient speaks to while they're at the hospital or while they're at their doctor's office has to report [00:45:00] as well. And so one patient who may not even have a complication at all is all of a sudden responsible for three or four complication reports that they will then use in an annual abortion complication report to prove that abortion is dangerous.
CHRIS HAYES - HOST, ALL IN: Yeah. I'm just reading from your reporting. Sue, a pseudonym for emergency medicine physician and other Texas doctors, have been required to submit patients private medical information into state-run website without their knowledge or consent adhering to a mandate that forces them to report women to suffering from abortion complications even when they're not.
Rarely reported on a section of Texas law list 28 medical issues as abortion complications. Doctors are required to tell the state about any woman who developed one of these issues if she happens to have had an abortion at any point in her life, meaning they don't actually have to be connected to the abortion, they're used to pad these stats.
“Rising Tide of Fascism”: Tennessee Rep. Justin Jones Warns of GOP’s Embrace of Authoritarianism - Democracy Now! - Air Date 4-28-23
REP. JUSTIN JONES: We saw in Tennessee, Tennessee has set a very dangerous precedent for the nation, with what happened to my friend here, Representative Zephyr, in Montana, what’s going on in Nebraska, and what’s going to continue to happen as we see this rising tide of fascism and [00:46:00] authoritarianism that’s taken hold of our nation. And we see this weaponization of decorum to silence dissent, to silence voices that make people uncomfortable. And that’s really what they’re doing, is silencing any voice of divergence from their dominant narrative.
And so, to be here in D.C., we’re continuing to lift up this struggle, to nationalize what is going on, because it’s not just going to impact us in Tennessee and in Montana, but it’s really going to impact our nation, that an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. And so, we continue to push the White House. And I’ve been grateful to meet with many members here in the capital to let them know that from our statehouses to the U.S. Capitol, we are facing some very dangerous trends in our democracy, connecting what happened to us to January 6, which was an attempt to stop an election, to stop democracy. And so we have to stand together, and we must show that we are not going to be divided and conquered, that we’re united in our struggle for multiracial democracy and uplifting voices that [00:47:00] have been often pushed to the margins.
AMY GOODMAN: Justin Jones, you were elected to be state representative in November, but before that you were well known in Nashville, a Black Lives Matter activist. In fact, you had taken on the House speaker before. You’re now calling for Cameron Sexton’s resignation. But you had pushed, and successfully pushed, for the removal of the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest from the state Capitol Rotunda — Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, the Ku Klux Klan born in Tennessee. You ultimately won your battle, but Cameron Sexton voted against removing the founding grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan’s bust from the state Capitol. Is that right?
REP. JUSTIN JONES: What we’re seeing in Tennessee is this battle of us representing a new South, the South that does not worship symbols to white supremacy [00:48:00] and the Confederacy and racial terror. But we were trying to represent a new South that represents multiracial democracy and human rights, a South that affirms human dignity across race, across sexuality, across immigration status. We want to say that — the Southern segregationists had a saying that the South will rise again. We stand as a new generation to say that the South will rise anew and that the South is a frontline in this battle for democracy and in this battle against white supremacy and transphobia and homophobia and xenophobia and misogyny and economic exploitation. We represent this new voice.
And that’s really what they were trying to expel, Amy, was not just us as individual lawmakers but what we represent and this vision of the future that they’re so fearful of, because it means one in which all of our voices are heard and all of our people are treated with respect and protected, and not just the voices of a small white power structure, of men of a particular religion and particular economic status who have dominated our politics for so long.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about [00:49:00] the state legislature trying to give immunity to the gun manufacturers, this vote right after the mass shooting in Nashville — the city you represent — that killed three 9-year-olds and three adults?
REP. JUSTIN JONES: I mean, it is immoral that the only gun law that we passed in the light of a shooting that took the lives of three 9-year-olds and three adults — and was not the first mass shooting in Nashville, as well, we had the shooting five years ago last week at the Waffle House in Nashville. And so, what they decided to do was say, “Let’s not protect kids,” as we’ve been asking, “but let’s protect firearms manufacturers from lawsuits.” This is how immoral it is, that we’re dealing with people who care more about the profits of the gun industry than they do the lives of our children, than they do the safety of our community. And it’s immoral, and it shows where their allegiance is to, to these special interests. It shows the corruption of money in our political system, that that’s the first action they take in light of a mass shooting was to pass that law, and also to expel the two youngest [00:50:00] Black lawmakers. This is the way that they are moving.
And so, it’s not democracy. It is a mobocracy. It is terror for our communities. And it is insulting to the victims of this mass shooting and their families that that is the step forward that they’re taking, and also to arm teachers, as well. That was the other proposal they had. And it’s just — it is so hurtful for our people, who are grieving still and demanding that we pass commonsense gun laws. And the majority of Tennesseans across the political spectrum support red flag laws, a ban on assault weapons, universal background checks and safe storage. That’s what we should be passing.
Tyranny of the Minority: How American Democracy Came to the Breaking Point - Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs - Air Date 5-1-23
STEVEN LEVITSKY: Republicans won the presidency and the Senate in 2016 despite losing the popular vote. Trump and the Senate then cooperated to fill three Supreme Court seats, tilting that the court dramatically to the right.
The Supreme Court in turn enabled state level authoritarianism in several ways, but particularly by upholding egregious gerrymandering schemes that permitted minority rule in Wisconsin and other state legislatures. [00:51:00] Trump's allies hope to use those legislatures to steal a national election, and that could in fact happen if the Supreme Court embraces what's called the independent state legislature doctrine, which states that the Constitution endows state legislatures with exclusive authority over elections, trumping governors, trumping state supreme courts, trumping state constitutions.
Under that doctrine, gerrymandered state legislatures could set aside the popular vote in a presidential election and send their own electors to the electoral college, legally overturning a national election and effectively ending democracy as we know it. That is unlikely to happen. But just the fact that it is theoretically possible, just the fact that we are talking about it, shows us how prone US democracy is to minority rule.
I want to suggest this is a uniquely American problem. In [00:52:00] no other established democracy can partisan minorities thwart electoral majorities as consistently or as consequentially as in the United States. Why is that the case? Excessive counter-majoritarianism used to be widespread in the world. In 19th century Europe, states had all sorts of undemocratic institutions. They had monarchic vetoes, they had indirect elections. They had unelected or badly malapportioned legislative chambers. And all of them had a bunch of filibuster-like mechanisms through which parliamentary minorities were able to thwart majorities.
But other established democracies across the world gradually shed their countermajoritarian institutions, their pre-democratic countermajoritarian institutions.
So Britain weakened the House of Lords, stripping it of its veto power. Denmark, Sweden, New Zealand, Portugal got rid of their undemocratic upper houses. Germany, Belgium, Austria democratized their [00:53:00] senates by making them more proportional to the population. Britain, Canada, France, Australia, and other countries established cloture rules, allowing simple legislative majorities to end debate. Germany, Switzerland, France imposed term limits on Supreme Court Justices. The UK, Canada, Sweden, and other democracies imposed a retirement age for Supreme Court justices. And every other presidential democracy in the world got rid of its electoral college. Argentina was the last one in 1994.
So other democracies across the world have become more democratic over the last centuries. They have eliminated 18th and 19th century institutions that allowed minorities to systematically thwart majorities. Only the United States has maintained a good number of its predemocratic institutions intact.
So the United States today is the world's only presidential democracy with an electoral college. We have the most malapportioned Senate in the world except for Argentina and Brazil. No other democracy [00:54:00] allows a congressional minority to routinely veto regular legislation backed by a majority. The United States is the only established democracy with truly lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court; every other democracy in the world has either term limits or retirement age. And our Constitution is the hardest among democratic constitutions, the hardest in the world to amend, to change.
So the United States is an outlier. It is a uniquely countermajoritarian system. This explains, at least in part, why US democracy seems to be uniquely threatened among the world's rich democracies. The rise of multiracial democracy triggered an authoritarian reaction among a partisan minority and countermajoritarian institutions protected and empowered that majority, they amplified the authoritarian reaction.
All right. So what can we do? In the near term, we continue [00:55:00] to face an imminent authoritarian threat. It is therefore imperative in my view that politicians build broad coalitions in defense of democracy. Coalitions that are capable, that are broad enough, to isolate and defeat the MAGA movement.
Those coalitions have to include everybody from Bernie Sanders and AOC to Liz Cheney, George Bush, and conservative religious and business figures. That is not easy to do. Building a broad coalition like that, a multi-party coalition like that requires concessions. It requires sacrifice. People like Mit Romney and Liz Cheney have to work hard to elect Democrats, and progressives have to swallow hard and make the concessions necessary to bring conservatives on board.
That's a big ask. But these are not ordinary times. If we behave as if they're ordinary times, if our politicians behave as if they're ordinary times, we could lose our democracy.
In the [00:56:00] longer run, though, it is imperative that America democratize its democracy, that we become more democratic.
To ensure the consolidation of our multiracial democracy, we need to create a political system that allows electoral majorities to win and to govern. That means entrenching voting rights and ensuring equal access to the ballot. It means replacing the electoral college with direct presidential elections. It means democratizing the Senate by eliminating the filibuster and giving more populous states greater representation. And it means, I think, establishing term limits for Supreme Court justices.
These are not radical reforms. They already exist in most established democracies. Making it easier to vote, eliminating the electoral college, eliminating the filibuster, making the Senate more proportional, ending lifetime tenure on the Supreme Court -- each of those measures would bring the United States more in line with other established democracies. That's what it would do. [00:57:00]
The problem is that constitutional change in this country is nearly impossible. The United States Constitution is the world's most difficult to amend, to reform. So for the moment, we are trapped by our institutions. But it is critical, I think, that we begin to have a serious public conversation about constitutional reform.
We stand at a crossroads. America will either be a multiracial democracy in the 21st century, or it will not be a democracy. There's no other road. Both of those roads lie before us today, and there's no going back.
The Polarization Of State Legislatures - Not Another Politics Podcast - Air Date 3-1-23
NOLAN MCCARTY: In our previous work, we were really focused on how much polarization there was internal to the state. Now we're looking at how far apart are the states. So we're in a situation where the median legislator in a Republican state is much farther away from the median legislator in the Democratic state. There's reasonable parody between the number of Democratic and Republican states. Fewer states [00:58:00] have divided government, so the governors and legislatures align. So we just have much more political polarization across states than we did before. I think that has a lot of implications for some of the stuff we're seeing in policymaking at the states. Not so much policymaking getting gridlocked, we worry about that at the national level, but policy making being un-gridlocked so that it moves in a rightward direction in Republican states and a leftward direction in Democratic states.
WILL HOWELL - HOST, NOT ANOTHER POLITICS PODCAST: In ways that doesn't reflect the interests of voters. That the Democrats in a democratic state — the Democrats who are in the state legislator are more liberal than the typical Democrats in the state. So you see a pull to the extremes on the left and vice versa on the right.
NOLAN MCCARTY: There's going to be some debate about that now. Jake Grumbach has a book arguing that these changes can't be explained by changes in voter [00:59:00] preferences, that naturally this is an accountability failure. Doing some crude data analysis on my own, I have some sympathy for the Grumbach view. On the other hand, Devin Cohen and Chris Warshaw have a book which argues that the links between voter preferences and legislative outputs in the states are still pretty closely linked to each other.
WILL HOWELL - HOST, NOT ANOTHER POLITICS PODCAST: One other descriptive fact about the findings on offer is; we're accustomed to talking about rising levels of polarization at the federal level being disproportionately a function of more extreme shifts on the right. Republicans have become considerably more conservatives than Democrats have become liberals, but you're not seeing that at the state level. If anything, you see an asymmetry that implicates Democrats.
NOLAN MCCARTY: I think there's a few things that are probably going on there. [01:00:00] One of the things that people start to pay attention to is the extent to which politics is nationalized. Voting and state elections are being driven by national level political issues. People's partisanship are stronger indications of how they'll vote in state and local elections independently of how they vote in national elections. So if you take that idea seriously, what it suggests is that; as things nationalize, states will move toward the national profile of their parties.
It depends on how far apart they were from their national parties when this process started. Clearest example, Southern Democrats are very far from their national party in the 70s, 80s, really far. Our data mostly start in the 90s, still kind of far in the 1990s. So they have to go-
WILL HOWELL - HOST, NOT ANOTHER POLITICS PODCAST: They all go to catch up.
NOLAN MCCARTY: They have a long way to go.
It could be a compositional effect that mostly what we're seeing are those states that are — we'll just call [01:01:00] them — out of equilibrium doing faster catch up than the states that were more closely aligned with the national party. My guess is that part of what we see is that Republican party politics nationalized a little bit earlier. So Republican parties have been moving with the national party and the Democratic Party we've seen some catch up. I think that's part of it. I don't think it's all of it. I think there are some areas where state legislators, democratic state legislators, are demonstrably to the left of the national party on some environmental issues, issues related to LGBTQ rights, marijuana.
WILL HOWELL - HOST, NOT ANOTHER POLITICS PODCAST: So let's think, or reflect a little bit on the implications of these findings. A place maybe to start is with governance at the state level. I'm really interested to hear your thoughts about what you think is at stake given these rising levels of polarization.
NOLAN MCCARTY: Well, I [01:02:00] think to me the most important and first order effect is that the policy that a voter faces will be increasingly dependent on what state they live in. Polarization at the national level is led Congress to tackle fewer and fewer big problems, creating new spaces for policy making at the state level. Then this polarization across states, which I talked about, are going to lead states to adopt differential policies in different states. Now that could be good, there's a lot of old arguments about the value of federalism that says, "this is why we want federalism." We want people to have more local control of the policies — policy outcomes they face.
The flip side of course is that one, we have to address whether or not these policies that we're seeing are increasingly congruent. Not just responsive, but congruent. That's hard to evaluate. Then the second is that there's some things in the realm of [01:03:00] rights that one obtains through national citizenship that should not have unequal application depending on where you live. Are these policy changes really what the voters want? Even if they are, then it's presumably what the majority of voters want and how we protect minorities and minority rights in a world in which majorities are increasingly tailoring local policy outcomes.
WILL HOWELL - HOST, NOT ANOTHER POLITICS PODCAST: Say something, if you would, about parties. Both as contributors to these dynamics and as organizations that have to respond to changes in their composition.
NOLAN MCCARTY: I think the polarization dynamics we see today, they're largely a reflection of the weaknesses of political parties as organizations. If you think about the most polarizing figures within the Republican party, there are a set of individuals who refuse to vote for their party's [01:04:00] candidate Speaker of the house. You can't say that they're good partisans. I mean they are exploiting the weakness of the Republican party to try to pull the Republican party to the right. They're able to do that because there's a media environment that they can insert themselves into without the intermediation of their party leaders. Kevin McCarthy cannot keep Matt Gaetz and Lauren Bobert off Fox News, even if he wanted to. There's a social media environment which allows them to obtain attention and generate resources in a way that's completely un-intermediated by party leadership. I could flip things around and talk about Ocasio-Cortez, and the kind of left wing members of the party who have the same dynamics. I think we're in a position where the increases in polarization we've seen, especially in recent years, have to be [01:05:00] attributed to a weakness of political parties.
JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today starting with The Intelligence describing why gridlock at the federal level has shifted focus to the states. The Bradcast looked at how Republicans are attempting to trick voters into opposing democracy. The Last Word discussed the banning of representative Zooey Zephyr in Montana. The New Yorker Radio Hour looked at the nationalization of local politics. The Laura Flanders Show explained the impacts of gerrymandering. Democracy Now! spoke with Justin Jones and Zooey Zephyr about pushing back against authoritarianism. All In with Chris Hayes looked at the strange case of the pro-choice Democrat in North Carolina who flipped to the Republican party and helped pass abortion restriction legislation. Democracy Now! spoke with Justin Jones, who explained how the idea of decorum is being used to silence the opposition. And The Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs explained the singularly anti-democratic nature of the US [01:06:00] political system compared to our international peers. That's what everybody heard, but members also heard a bonus clip from Not Another Politics Podcast, which did a deeper dive on the mechanics of polarization in state politics.
To hear that and have all of our bonus content delivered seamlessly to the new members-only podcast feed that you'll receive, sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support, or shoot me an email requesting a financial hardship membership, because we don't let a lack of funds stand in the way of hearing more information.
And now, we'll hear from you, or more specifically Dave from Olympia who's referring to a members clip in which there was an idea proposed to allow wealth inheritance, but to put a time limit of 120 years on when it had to be fully spent as a way of encouraging the circulation of wealth rather than the hoarding of it.
Thoughts on big ideas to redistribute wealth - Dave from Olympia, WA
VOICEMAILER DAVE FROM OLYMPIA, WA: Hey, Best of the Left, it's Dave from Olympia, Washington. I was [01:07:00] just finishing up, oh, episode 1556: Wealth and Oligarchy. The last clip, the member's clip from Gary's Economics was, it was very interesting and full credit, it really explains the idea that for an economy to function, wealth needs to circulate, it needs to move around. It can't just sit in one place and stagnate and coagulate and whatever things do when they don't flow around.
And so we used to have a system like that, that we called estate taxes. But those are basically not a thing anymore in the United States. Which brings up two problems with implementation. One being shenanigans: people are gonna find ways -- foreign bank accounts, weird loophole investments -- to save that money without getting it out. What is the actual [01:08:00] enforcement mechanism? You can't just make up a rule and assume that everybody's gonna follow it. There has to be some consequences. If the wealthy families don't spend that money, what happens to it? Does it just, I don't know, get distributed evenly to all the population? Some mechanism happens there. And then third, what I really think this is gonna do -- and this is how cynical I've become -- it sets a 120-year time clock on the wealthy organizing a political movement to overturn that rule, which that seems to be how the wealthy are defending their wealth right now.
So any great idea, even if it has great political groundswell and is adopted early, or through some mystical process where you just get to wave a wand and create this new universe for this new economic rule, it won't stay there unless it maintains, unless it stays in the popular will. And unfortunately popular will's so easily manipulated by wealth and power.[01:09:00] Ah, damn. I'm sorry.
Anyhow, I enjoyed the clip. It was interesting to listen to. As always, thank you for everything you do. Stay awesome.
Final comments on an analogy that explains the dangers of poorly framed arguments
JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: If you'd like to leave a comment or question of your own to be played on the show, you can record or text a message at 2 0 2 9 9 9 3 9 9 1, or send an email to [email protected]. I agree with Dave that it was a thought-provoking idea, but I also had a few critical thoughts on the implementation, the most glaring of which is the contradiction between the idea being proposed as a zero tax solution.
The obvious answer to what happens to any money left over after 120 years is that it has to get taxed away. I suppose there could be another solution, but that's probably what people would gravitate towards. So it's not exactly a zero tax, but a like threatened tax or a delayed tax, or something like that.
I think Dave is right. [01:10:00] Shenanigans and the logistical complications of simply tracking finances over 120 years is probably the biggest hurdle. I think I'd start the negotiation with bringing back the guillotine, and then just go from there. I'm not unreasonable. I'm open to good faith suggestions on wealth redistribution, so I'll take the guillotine policy and the Heritage Foundation will stake out the all wealth taxation is bad policy, and then we can see where we might meet in the middle.
By the way, there's an analogy I've been bouncing around in my head for like years now, and I don't think I've ever bothered to talk about it on the show, but I'm gonna give it a go now. I've always thought of it as an analogy to explain the results of capitalism in a way that takes some of the arguments of capitalism's promoters into account.
Now I'm realizing that it's more of an analogy to explain the dangers of using shorthand arguments instead of much [01:11:00] more specific arguments. I think it'll make sense. So it goes like this. You're trying to come up with the fastest way to get across town. So someone argues that the fastest way to get across town is to get the fastest possible car, and for anything that would slow you down to be removed.
So you get one of those rocket cars that they use to set land speed records and usually only drive on enormous salt flats. And you lobby the government to remove all stop signs, traffic lights and speed limits, and then you begin your commute in your rocket car because that's the fastest way to get across town.
Now I'm sure everyone can imagine the carnage that would ensue from that plan. So the problem here is that the question of, "what's the fastest way to get across town?" sounds like a reasonable question, but only if you include a lot of unspoken assumptions that would actually make the question sound more, "what's the fastest, safe way to [01:12:00] get across town in a society where the roads are shared by thousands of other people whose needs also need to be considered?" or something like that.
That's what I think of when I hear arguments made completely out of context like Dave just relayed from the Heritage Foundation. The idea that wealth taxation leads to less total wealth. Even if I take you at your word on that, there's a lot that's being left out. Like; how is that wealth distributed in your hypothetical? If not taxing wealth allows there to be more wealth? Just taking your word for it, but that wealth is accumulated vastly into the top 0.1%. Then you're leaving out a really important detail there because a smaller amount of total wealth spread more evenly across a greater number of people will create a happier society [01:13:00] than a greater amount of wealth accumulated mostly at the top .
This is the kind of misdirection that happens when you substitute one imperfect concept as a substitute for another. Wealth isn't a stand in for human flourishing any more than speed is the only factor related to getting across town. The same goes for the classic argument about lifting people out of poverty.
Even if you take the argument that capitalism has proven to be the fastest way to lift people out of poverty, that doesn't also mean that it's also the best way to maximize human happiness in a sustainable way that can last indefinitely into the future. Instead, it's more reasonable to assume the opposite.
If you found a system that is the fastest at one task, it's almost certainly going to come at the cost of sustainability, or safety, or something else. Sprinting is the fastest way to run, but it's not [01:14:00] sustainable. Rocket cars might be the fastest way to drive across town, but they're not safe.
So keep that in mind the next time you hear an argument in favor of something that's only close to, but not exactly the same as the actual end goal that we should be aiming for. As always, keep the comments coming in. You can leave a voicemail as always, or you can now send us a text through SMS, WhatsApp, or Signal all at 2 0 2 9 9 9 3 9 9 1, or keep it old school by emailing me to [email protected]
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