Two Pennsylvania state representatives are bringing back an ill-conceived 2011 plan to divvy up its electoral college votes by congressional district. Gov. Tom Corbett (R) originally proposed the idea, which would give one electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district. Had the plan succeeded, Pennsylvania Republicans would have delivered 13 of the state’s 20 electoral votes to former GOP candidate Mitt Romney.
After President Obama decisively won the state, Reps. Robert Godshall (R) and Seth Grove (R) are reintroducing the proposal. In a memo released Wednesday, they admit that Republicans are no longer competitive in Pennsylvania:
Under this legislation, one elector will be awarded to the winner of the plurality in each congressional district and the remaining two electors will be granted to the winner of the statewide popular vote.
I believe that the Congressional District Method will increase voter turnout and encourage candidates to campaign in all states rather than just those that are competitive. Most importantly, this method of selecting presidential electors will give a stronger voice to voters in all regions of our great Commonwealth.
Thanks to Republican efforts to redistrict the state’s congressional map, the Congressional District Method is not as equitable as it sounds. Republicans have packed high concentrations of Democratic voters into just five districts. Under the proposed electoral college scheme, their votes would count less than votes cast in Republican districts.
Ohio also considered rigging their own electoral college votes, but bad publicity led the Secretary of State to abandon the idea.
By Amanda Peterson Beadle on Dec 20, 2012 at 4:35 pm
Following the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, President Obama has named a White House task force to find “concrete solutions” to address gun violence in the U.S. “If there is even one thing we can do to prevent any of these events, we have a deep obligation — all of us — to try,” Obama said.
But a few Texas Republicans would not support adding to existing gun regulations. “I do not feel that additional gun control legislation will have an effect at all,” said state Rep. John Raney (R). And state Rep. Kyle Kacal said he would not even support a proposed measure that would instruct Texas on how to secure their assault weapons. Ping-Pong and falling TVs are bigger problems than guns, he told a local newspaper:
“People know what they need to do to be safe. We don’t need to legislate that — it’s common sense,” he said. “Once everyone’s gun is locked up, then the bad guys know everyone’s gun is locked up.”
Kacal echoed a common nationwide argument that guns don’t kill people, people kill people.
“I’ve heard of people being killed playing ping-pong — ping-pongs are more dangerous than guns,” he said. “Flat-screen TVs are injuring more kids today than anything.”
The tragic massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, CT on Friday reignited the debate over the solution to America’s gun problem. President Obama announced that Vice President Joe Biden would lead a task force to examine the available evidence and make recommendations for new policies to prevent the next shooting. But thanks to a concerted, 20-year effort by the National Rifle Association, the available evidence is severely lacking.
While pushing a radical agenda to arm as many people in as many places as possible, the NRA has also maintained a side campaign to quash research into the effects of gun laws. The group successfully lobbied to cut off almost all funding for such studies. The Center for Disease Control, once the main patron of gun violence research, was stripped of funds for firearms research. The agency has not conducted any studies on the matter since 1996. As a result, the debate that arises after each shooting has very little evidence to consider.
Scientists and researchers who want to study why American gun homicides are so much higher than all other developed nations are now dependent on just a few private foundations still willing to brave the wrath of the gun lobby. The NRA has continued its intimidation campaign even as gun violence research becomes virtually nonexistent:
The amount of money available today for studying the impact of firearms is a fraction of what it was in the mid-1990s, and the number of scientists toiling in the field has dwindled to just a handful as a result, researchers say.
The conversation could benefit from improved data on gun possession, acquisition, according to one such researcher, Garen Wintemute. Wintemute was part of a 2011 panel that called for more studies of experimental gun control programs on the local and state levels, as well as more studies on how and where criminals acquire their guns.
Gun control advocates have wasted no time since the elementary school shooting to push for reform, such as bans on assault weapons and on high-capacity clips. The National Rifle Association has preferred to stay silent until their conference on Friday. Still, the group is already trying to stifle the conversation, calling the assault weapons ban “a failed experiment.” But as more NRA-backed lawmakers break from the official line to support gun safety measures, the group may have a hard time keeping others silent.
In the first ruling by a federal appeals court on the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held Tuesday that a challenge by two universities should not have been dismissed.
Out of the some 43 lawsuits filed by non-church entities to challenge the requirement that employers who provide health insurance include full contraception coverage, most trial courts have dismissed the claims as being premature, including the D.C. Circuit trial court in this case. This is because while religious organizations such as churches are entirely exempt from the mandate under an interim rule, other nonprofit institutions that claim a religious affiliation, such as the two universities suing here, are protected by a “safe harbor” provision that temporarily prevents enforcement and clears the way for these institutions to deny free contraception for the time being. The schools expressed concern that if they do so, they may still be subject to lawsuits by employees.
In its ruling, the court cited statements by the administration during oral argument that it would both stand by the safe harbor provision and issue a new permanent rule by August 2013 as evidence of a “binding commitment” to the court. The three-judge panel therefore said it would not dismiss the case, and instead “hold the government to its word” and hold the case in abeyance pending the development of a new rule. If the administration didn’t feel bound before to develop a new rule on exemption for non-church nonprofits, it now faces what amounts to a court order to do so.
At least one other appeals court preliminarily blocked the mandate, has not issued a final decision. Lawsuits by private employers, which are definitively not covered by the exemption, have had mixed success, with one prominent case noting the dearth of any precedent “concluding that secular, for-profit corporations … have a constitutional right to the free exercise of religion.”
The National Rifle Association has remained stone-cold silent in the aftermath of the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary. While gun control advocates have called for the banning of extended magazine clips and stricter safety laws on assault weapons, the NRA has been biding its time, promising only to make a public statement at the end of the week.
But today, leaks emerged in the NRA information dam. In an apparent effort to gain some credibility before tomorrow’s press conference, one ‘source’ revealed to Fox News that the organization has seen a rise in membership following the shooting:
#NEWTOWN: An NRA source tells Fox News its membership has surged by an average of roughly 8,000 new registrations a day since the massacre.
The NRA may think it can up its credibility by showing off enrollment numbers, but the organization is ignoring a key fact about NRA members: They don’t always agree with the organization’s policy positions. NRA members support sensible laws about reporting stolen guns, prohibiting certain people from acquiring a firearm, requiring background checks, and issuing restrictions on concealed carry permits. Like Americans overall, NRA members support the second amendment, but they also believe in stricter gun safety laws than the NRA proposes.
It’s possible that the NRA will in fact come up with “meaningful contributions” that it’s promised in response to the horrific tragedies that took place this year — from Oak Creek to Sandy Hook, Aurora to the streets of Chicago — but if history is any indication, the NRA’s move might be an empty gesture before it continues on its warpath toward absolute deregulation of guns.
Bills Passed By The Senate Hit Fifty-Year Low |
A report from the Brennan Center for Justice last month on the pressing need for filibuster reform found the number of bills passed by the Senate has hit a half-century low: 2.8 percent of all bills introduced were actually passed in the current session. The report also found that floor activity devoted to cloture votes has been 50 percent greater than at any time since World War II, illuminating how the filibuster chews up time that could be devoted to substantive policymaking. As of October 2012, Congress as a whole had enacted 196 laws, which is its lowest output since, again, World War II. Nor can the drop in output be attributed purely to a divided legislature, as party control of the House and Senate was also split from 1981 to 1987, and from 2001 to 2003.
Sen. Robert Casey Jr. (D-PA) has received an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association and campaigned in his 2012 re-election race on his “record of supporting the Second Amendment and the interests of Pennsylvania sportsmen.” But after Friday’s tragedy in Connecticut, Casey has switched positions and now supports banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.
On Monday, Casey indicated that he would be open to considering new gun laws. In his initial statement, he said, “These senseless acts of violence are unacceptable. Addressing them will require a comprehensive strategy that acknowledges all of the factors that contributed to this tragedy and takes every appropriate step to protect our citizens, especially our kids. Everything should be on the table.”
Wednesday, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, Pennsylvania’s senior senator said he was “haunted” by the Newtown shootings and ready to back two major gun control proposals:
Furrowing his brow and casting his eyes downward, Casey expressed regret that he had not reconsidered his views as starkly after earlier massacres at Virginia Tech and in Aurora, Colo.
“The power of the weapon, the number of bullets that hit each child, that was so, to me, just so chilling, it haunts me. It should haunt every public official,” said Casey, who won a second term six weeks ago while touting his opposition to gun control.
In the days since the shooting that killed 20 children and eight adults, the debate around gun laws has shifted. Democrats have called for reinstating the assault-weapons ban and barring magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
“If those two bills come before the Senate, I’ll vote for both,” Casey said. He said his decision amounted to being “summoned by your conscience.”
During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday on voting rights in the wake of the 2012 election, Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz said a “lack of confidence in our elections is one of the reasons people don’t vote,” before citing voter fraud as the primary source of that lack of confidence and touting voter ID laws. “Anyone who says that voter fraud does not exist should look at the numbers that have been produced in a few short months,” he said. Responding to similar testimony from Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) probed senators on what exactly those numbers are:
DURBIN: If you believe, and we all do, that voter fraud is a serious, if not a crime … I would like for both of you to give me the evidence in Iowa and Arizona of convictions for voter fraud that have led to your changes in the law.
SCHULTZ: I think that’s a great question and I think it’s a very difficult question in some ways because not until now have we had resources to even go after this.
DURBIN: I beg your pardon.
SCHULTZ: Not until recently have we as a Secretary of State’s office had resources dedicated towards an investigator to go and do investigations into these crimes.
DURBIN: So excuse me sir. You’re saying that the law was changed in Iowa even before the investigation began?
SCHULTZ: Well let me back up. The law hasn’t been changed in Iowa. Let me address some of your concerns that you say in your opening statement. Iowa has 40 days of early voting. Our polls are open from 7-9 on Election Day. We do everything we can to encourage people to go vote. The question is then, when you have noncitizens who are registered to vote and voting, you have potential people double voting, you have absentee ballot fraud.
DURBIN: Do you have evidence of noncitizens voting in Iowa?
SCHULTZ: Yes, since August 2012, six people have been arrested.
DURBIN: Six. How many have voted since 2012?
SCHULTZ: Well it’s a difficult question because we had identified 3,582 noncitizens who were registered to vote but we weren’t sure if they were still noncitizens.
DURBIN: I’m guessing that millions have voted?
SCHULTZ: 1.6 million.
DURBIN: 1.6 million and there are six cases.
Durbin then followed a similar of questioning with Bennett, who said Arizona had prosecuted 15 cases in the last 18 months out of an estimated 2.3 million voters. Although Durbin asked for numbers of those convicted, the secretaries instead provided the numbers arrested and prosecuted. These miniscule numbers are consistent with figures nationwide. As the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund’s Nina Perales explained during the hearing, most states have reported prosecutions of less than 20 individuals, eclipsing the numbers of people deterred from voting by purge letters informing legitimately registered citizens that they are not eligible to vote.
Schultz was right when he said that Iowa hasn’t yet passed a law. A voter ID bill that passed the House in 2011 never became law. But the state did institute an aggressive purge effort by comparing the voter rolls to driver’s license data — an effort Perales pointed out is grossly misleading:
Secretary Schultz … said he had identified 3,500 noncitizens using the driver’s license rolls. He did not. He identified 3,500 people who were noncitizens at the time that they obtained their driver’s licenses. And we know that since that time and before they registered to vote, the overwhelming majority and perhaps all of them have become naturalized citizens. So at this point, anyone who undertakes to accuse people of non-citizenship based on driver’s licenses should be on notice that this is not correct and should not be done. It’s fundamentally unfair.
Voter fraud efforts like this one nonetheless fueled voter suppression laws and purges around the country this election season, though many of the worst attempts were blocked by courts. The real challenge will come when the U.S. Supreme Court reviews the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act in February.
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In an unexpected move, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has turned down the opportunity to lead the the Senate’s powerful Appropriations Committee, a seat left vacant following the death of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI). Leahy, who has been a strong advocate for confirming federal judges as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said by staying on as chair of that committee while maintaining seniority on Appropriations, he would be able to “protect both the Constitution and Vermont.”
A federal judge has spared prison time for a former law partner found to have “used his position to launder over $18 million” for investment advisor Kenneth Starr and his Ponzi scheme. Southern District Judge Deborah Batts found that “hero worship clouded his judgment.”
A whopping 39 percent of eligible people have now taken advantage of President Obama’s deferred action program to allow young undocumented immigrants to apply for temporary protection from deportation, and some 103,000 people, or 11 percent, have been approved.