Hans von Spakovsky may be America’s top expert on voter disenfranchisement. How to foster voter disenfranchisement, that is. As an official in the Bush Justice Department, Spakovsky pushed through gerrymandered maps benefiting Republicans, and was a driving force behind the effort to approve voter ID laws — a common voter suppression law targeting student, minority and low-income voters. Since leaving the Bush Administration, Spakovsky’s remained a leading advocate of voter suppression, often making odd claims such as arguing that a common method of disenfranchising voters actually does those voters a favor, or claiming that Attorney General Eric Holder sides with big scary black men who tamper with elections.
For the rest of this month, Spakovsky is also an elections official in Fairfax County, Virginia. In Virginia political parties control individual seats on county election boards. Both the Democratic and Republican party get to nominate three people to each of their controlled seats, but the judges in charge of selecting from among these nominees almost always take each party’s first choice. In Fairfax, the top choice of each party was selected every time a seat needed to be filled for the last 50 years.
That changed late last week, however, when judges in Fairfax Country refused to reappoint Spakovsky to the county election board he currently serves on. Although the judges who effectively removed Spakovsky did not comment on their motivation, their decision likely was informed by a letter from the Fairfax County Democratic Committee arguing that Spakovsky used his seat on the board to continue his crusade against voting rights, such as refusing to allow voter materials to be distributed in languages other than English. Spakovsky’s term expires at the end of this month.
Allowing sequestration to occur on March 1 will have a devastating impact on states, the White House warned Sunday, when it released state-specific reports detailing the effects of the automatic budget cuts. States will lose funding for education, job training, health care, and a plethora of other services, jeopardizing assistance for low-income and middle class families alike and threatening the economic recovery.
ThinkProgress examined the implications of the budget cuts on the five states represented by Republican leadership in the House and Senate. Those five states would lose a collective $206 million in education funding, jeopardizing nearly 3,000 teaching jobs and allowing them to serve 428,000 fewer students. While the impacts are particularly large for California and Texas, they would be felt across all five states, according to the White House fact sheets:
OHIO: House Speaker John Boehner’s state will lose $25.1 million in education funding, putting 350 teaching jobs at risk and allowing it to serve 34,000 fewer students and 100 fewer schools. 2,500 children will lose Head Start funding, 3,320 will lose assistance to help pay for college, and as many as 800 will lose access to child care. The loss of $1.7 million in job training and assistance funds will mean 57,000 fewer Ohioans get help from those programs. Ohio will also lose $823,000 in funding to help provide meals to seniors.
KENTUCKY: Sequestration will cost Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home state $11.8 million in education funding, meaning it could lose 160 teaching jobs and serve 21,000 fewer students. More than 1,700 low-income students will lose assistance to help pay for college, and 1,100 will lose access to Head Start. More than 16,000 Kentuckians will lose job training and placement assistance when the state loses $478,000 in funding for those programs, and it will also receive $677,000 less to help provide meals to seniors.
VIRGINIA: Virginia, the home of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, would lose $14 million in education funding, jeopardizing 190 teaching jobs and cutting funding for 40 schools and 14,000 students. 1,000 students would lose access to Head Start and 2,120 low-income students would lose funding to help finance college. Another 400 low-income children could lose access to child care assistance. The state will lose $348,000 in job search and placement assistance, allowing it to serve 18,390 fewer people. It will also lose $1.2 million in funding to help provide meals to seniors.
TEXAS: The home of Senate GOP Whip John Cornyn would lose $67.8 million in education funding, putting 930 teaching jobs at risk and cutting funding for 280 schools and 172,000 students. Another 4,800 students would lose access to Head Start and 2,300 would lose access to child care assistance. Texas would lose more than $2 million in funds for job search and placement assistance, meaning more than 83,000 people would lose assistance. Texas will also lose $3.5 million in funding to help provide meals to seniors.
CALIFORNIA: House GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy’s home state would lose $87.6 million in education funding, jeopardizing 1,210 teaching jobs and affecting funding for 320 schools and 187,000 students. More than 8,000 students would lose funding for Head Start, and 9,600 low-income students would lose funding to help pay for college. Another 2,000 families will lose child care assistance, while the loss of $3.3 million in funding for job search and placement assistance, affecting nearly 130,000 people. The state will also lose $5.4 million in funding to help provide meals to seniors.
After President Obama won the state in November, Virginia Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli (R) called for stricter photo ID requirements because Obama “can’t win a state where photo ID is required.” On Wednesday, Virginia lawmakers proved they were listening to Cuccinelli, voting to adopt a photo ID requirement among the strictest in the country.
During the 2012 election cycle, voter ID laws were a huge hit with Republican-controlled state legislatures — but somewhat less popular with the courts. Judges struck down a number of voter ID laws due to the disproportionate impact they would have for minorities, seniors, and low-income voters. Virginia’s voter ID law was one of the few that survived review by the Justice Department, as its list of acceptable ID was flexible enough that it would not harm minority voting rights.
If Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA) signs these new requirements into law, voters will have to present a government-issued card bearing their photo, such as a drivers license or a passport. If they do not have a photo ID, they will have to fill out a provisional ballot that will be discarded if they cannot produce the required ID by the Friday after an election:
On a 65-34 vote, the House completed legislative action on a strict photo identification bill that would require all voters to present identification such as a drivers license or passport bearing a photo of the holder to cast a regular ballot. Those without it would have to vote a provisional ballot that would count only if the voter could provide local election officials with the required identification by noon on the Friday after the election. Only one Democrat supported the measure.
An almost identical measure was blocked in Texas under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires certain regions with a history of discrimination to “pre-clear” any election law changes with the DOJ. An appeals court determined Texas’ law would clearly hurt minority and low-income communities, who are much less likely to have the requisite identification. Under Section 5, Virginia’s new requirements would almost certainly be blocked by the DOJ. However, the US Supreme Court will hear arguments next week on the validity of this section of the VRA. If the court strikes down Section 5, minority voters will be left vulnerable in Virginia, Texas, and other states that targeted minority voting power during the Jim Crow era.
Earlier this month, Virginians endured colossal lines on Election Day, with some voters still waiting hours after polls officially closed. Still, lawmakers seem convinced that voting is too easy in Virginia. On Wednesday, the House also passed a bill to purge any non-citizens on Virginia’s voter rolls by accessing a federal immigration database. Florida and Colorado fought costly legal battles for access to this same database, but failed to find almost any confirmed non-citizen voters.
A top conservative in the House of Representatives told NPR Thursday morning that he opposes bipartisan proposals to allow undocumented immigrants to earn a path to citizenship, but would support expanding “a guest-worker program for immigrant-labor-dependent U.S. agriculture” to ensure that farms have a steady stream of foreign labor to fulfill the “dirtiest jobs.”
The Senate’s bipartisan framework for immigration reform includes a separate track for agricultural workers, allowing them to “earn a path to citizenship through a different process under our new agricultural worker program” and lawmakers had previously considered proposals “that would provide agricultural employers with a stable, legal labor force while protecting farmworkers from exploitative working conditions.”
In light of current proposals for earned citizenship, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) is concerned that legalized agricultural workers will take opportunity of their legal status to abandon back-breaking agricultural work and find jobs elsewhere, leaving farmers without a stable stream of labor.
“You’re going to have to have a program that assures those farms and those processing plants that there will be workers,” he says. “Because if you give them legal status, they can work anywhere in the United States — they’re not going to necessarily work at the hardest, toughest, dirtiest jobs.”
Immigration reform, then, could include a compromise that requires agricultural workers to remain in the industry for a pre-determined period of time and a new temporary worker program that ensures a constant supply of farm workers.
At one Virginia pizza shop, customers who bring in a gun or show a gun permit get 15 percent off their order. The pro-gun owner of All Around Pizzas and Deli claimed that 80 percent of his customers have walked in carrying a gun since he offered the discount last week, including one carrying an AK-47. “It’s been awesome,” the owner, Jay Laze, said.
All Around Pizzas isn’t the only business encouraging customers to tote guns two months after the Newtown shooting. Earlier this month, a Utah ice cream business offered concealed carry permit-holders $1 off of their ice cream.
Thanks to Virginia’s open carry laws, customers can not only enjoy their pizza next to a gun, but they can also go to the bank, hospital, store, and a bar with firearms.
Virginia Delegate C. Todd Gilbert (R) successfully moved to kill a bipartisan proposal to protect LGBT state government employees from discrimination on Tuesday. His reasoning? Proponents did not show any proof that such discrimination exists in Virginia — a standard a major bill he sponsored this year did not meet.
The non-discrimination bill passed the Virginia Senate by a strong 24-16 majority. Every Democrat and four Republicans voted in favor of the measure. But on Gilbert’s motion, the House of Delegates General Laws Committee’s subcommittee on Professions/Occupations and Administrative Process tabled the bill for the year on a voice vote.
Gilbert told his colleagues on the subcommittee:
Among all the people who spoke, there was not a single example of one that was discriminated against in public employment. I challenge those in the room to bring forth an example. I was told the following year that there would be a line out the door of people with examples of having been discriminated against in public employment. There was not a single example anyone that felt that except that abstract fear that we’ve heard testified here today. I heard the gentlewoman today say that Virginia Commonwealth – VCU is this oppressive and intolerant environment. I dare say that’s probably not true. The examples we’ve heard from today have actually reaffirmed that people are interested in coming to Virginia and engaging in careers here and are thriving in the process of engaging in those careers. I think the many people that testify in their roles in higher education demonstrate that there is no problem this bill solves and once again, we’ve heard from many people about this specter of oppression that really doesn’t exist because, again we have not a single example of anyone who has been discriminated against for this reason.
Watch the video, courtesy of ProgressVA:
Under Virginia law, it is perfectly legal for businesses to fire an employee just for being — or even seeming to be — gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. It is even legal for state employees to be fired for the same reason. Former Governors Mark Warner (D) and Tim Kaine (D) banned anti-gay discrimination by executive order and current Governor Bob McDonnell (R) instead issued an executive directive ordering his administration not to discriminate based on sexual orientation. Assuming these orders are being followed, it is no wonder that public employees cannot show specific employment discrimination they have faced. But these protections are at the will of the current governor and the apparent Republican nominee Ken Cuccinelli has made it clear that he believes such orders are unconstitutional. Thanks to Gilbert and the Republican majority on the committee, even McDonnell’s largely toothless protections could disappear in January.
A major reason for legal protections is so that LGBT people who may not be “out” can be open about who they are without fear of retribution. Knowing their sexual orientation could lead to termination, many LGBT people simply determine it is not worth the risk — despite Delegate Gilbert’s assurances that they have nothing to fear. Notably, Gilbert has consistently refused to even agree that he will not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in his own legislative hirings.
Ironically, Gilbert is chief sponsor of a bill that passed in the House and Senate this year that purportedly would ban discrimination against religious and political groups at Virginia’s public colleges and universities who choose to restrict membership based on their beliefs. The bill essentially gives clubs license to discriminate against LGBT and other students. But when Gilbert presented the bill as a protection against discrimination, he too failed to show any examples of discrimination against college groups in Virginia.
American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, who attended the hearings on Gilbert’s bill and spoke in opposition, told ThinkProgress that bill’s proponents claimed the bill was necessary because of a case at Vanderbilt University. According to its website, Vanderbilt is a private institution and is located in Tennessee. Gilbert’s Senate counterpart attempted to spin the bill as protecting a vegan group from omnivore members.
As part of his state’s new budget, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and his administration are trying to force potentially tens of thousands of public sector employees in the state to work fewer hours so that the government can avoid providing them health care.
Under Obamacare, employers are required to offer health insurance options for any employee working 30 hours or more per week. So McDonnell and his team have slipped language into the state’s budget bill requiring that any hourly waged workers employed by the state put in no more than 29 hours a week.
The 29-hour limit is on its way to becoming state law, thanks to language inserted into the state budget at the request of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s administration. The language appears in both versions of the budget adopted Thursday by the Senate and House of Delegates.[...]
Anticipating legislative approval of the policy, the state Department of Human Resource Management has advised all state agencies to implement it now.
The state has more than 37,000 wage employees. More than 7,000 of them have been working at least 30 hours a week, according to a recent survey taken by the department.
Other public universities have made the same shift to lower hours for employees to avoid providing them with basic health benefits. But the anti-labor practice is more prevalent in the private sector, where a huge number of businesses in the restaurant industry — including Applebee’s, Olive Garden, and Denny’s — seek to pass the cost of health care onto their low-wage employees by limiting their hours. Workers who don’t receive employer-based coverage will be able to find insurance through the public exchanges.
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R), the apparent GOP candidate for Virginia Governor this November, told students at the University of Virginia this week that he had no problem with states experimenting with marijuana legalization.
The campus newspaper, the Cavalier Daily, reported that a student asked Cuccinelli about marijuana legalization as the Attorney General guest lectured in Professor Larry Sabato’s Introduction to Politics Class. “I’m not sure about Virginia’s future,” he responded, “but I and a lot of people are watching Colorado and Washington to see how it plays out.”
Sabato told the the Virginian Pilot that “Cuccinelli stressed he wouldn’t be recommending changes anytime soon. But he praised states such as Colorado for experimenting with marihuana legalization, saying this was federalism in action. He said twice his views were ‘evolving” on the subject.”
Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Bill Howell (R)
Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William Howell (R) killed the Inauguration Day sneak attack by Senate Republicans who hoped to pass a massive mid-decade gerrymander. Howell ruled that the Senate’s amendment to a House bill making minor technical corrections to the House legislative maps were not germane, as it was a “vast rewrite” and would “stray dramatically” from the legislation’s original purpose.
When a Republican colleague requested a ruling on the amendment’s germaneness, Howell told his colleagues:
[Germaneness] prevents the presentation to the House of propositions that may not be reasonably anticipated, and for which they may not be properly prepared. A proposition of a narrow or limited scope may not be amended by a proposition of a more general nature… even though they might be related… I am going to rule that Senate amendments are not germane and out of order.
The Senate passed the controversial maps on January 21 on a party-lines vote. The measure passed 20-19 because Senator Henry Marsh (D), a legendary civil rights leader, was absent attending President Obama’s inauguration.
Virginia Senate Republican Leader Tommy Norment blasted Howell’s ruling Wednesday, saying: “The entire Senate Republican Caucus is deeply disappointed by Speaker Howell’s unilateral ruling today.” Norment added: “The Virginia Senate Republican Caucus remains committed to correcting the egregious hyperpartisan  gerrymander that has resulted in the current tortuously drawn Senate districts.” The “hyperpartisan” maps passed on a 32-5 bipartisan vote in 2011, with Norment voting for the maps.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Virginia House and Senate passed two bills to make the state’s voter ID law even stricter. The measures, sponsored by Sen. Dick Black (R-VA) and Rep. Mark Cole (R-VA), would ban voters from presenting a utility bill, pay stub, government or Social Security card as proof of identity — all forms of ID allowed under the current law. They could still use a voter ID card, concealed handgun permit, drivers license, or student ID. But the Senate is also considering a bill that would even further restrict acceptable voting ID to photo IDs only.
Though Virginians endured marathon voting lines on November 6, with voters still waiting hours after polls officially closed, Republicans still claim that voting in the state is too easy. Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli (R-VA) recently called for stricter photo ID requirements because Obama “can’t win a state where photo ID is required.”
Virginia’s current voter ID law was one of the few approved by the Department of Justice, as it did not disproportionately impact minority voting rights. But if these new measures are signed into law, Virginia’s voter ID law will resemble the one in Texas that was struck down in court because it clearly disenfranchised minority voters. The DOJ estimated at least 600,000 voters would have been affected by Texas’ law — hitting minority and low-income communities hardest. If the U.S. Supreme Court decides to strike down the section of the Voting Rights Act that protects minorities’ voting rights, Virginia, Texas, and other states would be allowed to disenfranchise these voters.
Since Obama won the state in 2012, the Republican-dominated Virginia legislature has been accelerating their push to disenfranchise certain voters. While Democrats were distracted by the inauguration, Virginia Republicans quietly passed a gerrymandering plan to erase at least one Democratic seat. The state also considered a scheme to rig their electoral college votes and dilute minority voting power.