Legendary national journalist: Three hopeful developments in combating political extremism

Hedrick Smith

[Editor’s note: The following essay was written by former New York Times Washington, DC bureau chief, frequent NC Policy Watch contributor and all-around legendary journalist, Hedrick Smith. It originally appeared on Smith’s own website, Reclaim the American Dream.]

WASHINGTON– With the election just days away, are you getting tired of the scaremongering and mud-slinging in the presidential campaign?   How about some good news for a change?

Good news about political reforms to make American elections fairer, more transparent, and more inclusive, and to help rebuild the political middle, so desperately missing in today’s bitterly polarized politics.

From the mainstream media, you’d never know anything was happening, but from Florida to Alaska, and in states like Missouri, Massachusetts, and Virginia, grassroots citizen movements are pushing for adoption of political reforms on Nov. 3, and were it not for the coronavirus, there would  be a lot more.

What made it onto the ballot are different reforms in different states. But they share some very important common threads – more voice and choice for average voters and more ways to combat political extremism and rebuild the political middle.

Independent voters want more voice

One strategy is to give more voice and clout to political independents – the fastest growing group on our political landscape, the mass of Americans in the middle who have become disenchanted with political parties and partisan warfare.

Back in 2004, only 27% of Americans identified themselves as political independents to the Gallup Poll. This fall that number has shot up to 42% and it’s even higher (44%) among younger voters under 40. And of course, that boom means that our two big parties have been shrinking –  Republicans down from 38% to 28%, Democrats down from 35% to 27%.

Florida Capitol Building – The state has 3.6 million independent voters.

But there’s a fly in the ointment. That burgeoning mass of independents is shut out of party primaries that are often the decisive elections for congress, the state legislature, and other offices. And independents want in on the action.

Take Florida, which now has more than 3.6 million independents – NPA’s, they call them, No Partisan Affiliation. In the Sunshine State this year, a broad grassroots movement called All Voters Vote is campaigning for the adoption of a non-partisan primary for all statewide offices and the legislature to open the door to independent voters and to reduce the “partisan extremism” that is fostered by political party primaries.

What the Florida reformers propose is one big, wide-open primary election where Republicans, Democrats, Greens, Libertarians, all candidates compete and all voters vote, including independents. The top two vote-getters for each office in the primary qualify for the general election. No party gets a lock on any office.

Alaska – attacking dark money and party primaries

Five thousand miles away in Alaska, they’ve got an even more ambitious reform plan. With more than 54% of Alaskan voters declaring no party affiliation, a trans-partisan citizens coalition, Alaskan for Better Elections, is also calling for a non-partisan primary election, open to all six of Alaska’s political parties, to be followed by a so-called “instant runoff ” using rank choice voting in the general election. Read more

Veteran national journalist: Trump is angling to deny the 2020 vote count

WASHINGTON – The ominous danger lurking behind Donald Trump’s mindless, factless fear-mongering about by-mail voting is that his real aim is not to banish this method of voting in 2020, but to legitimize in advance his rationale for rejecting the results of the 2020 presidential election if he loses, a prospect that now seems to panic him.

Trump is about winning, above all. He has shown little respect for constitutional norms. He uses them or abuses them to suit his personal advantage. When it suits him, he equates mail voting with vote fraud, without evidence and even when Republican governors and secretaries of state reject his false accusations. And when mail voting works to his benefit, he pockets the gains and applauds.

Last month, Trump had several tweet tantrums about plans for mail voting in California, Michigan, and Nevada, three states he fears losing. But he had nothing negative to say about the heavy mail-in vote that helped Republican candidates win special congressional elections in California and Wisconsin.

Photo credit: Voter Protection Project

Imagine for a moment what Trump will say or do next fall if we have a repeat of the cliffhanger election of 2000, with Florida’s hanging chads, or an electoral vote, as in 2016, where the margin of victory was less than 80,000 votes spread across three pivotal states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

In those scenarios, Trump’s current rants against voting-from-home-to-avoid-COVID-19 are a political insurance policy. They are a tool for his real objective: seeding public mistrust of mail voting so that in the crunch of November, he can mobilize mass support for challenging the legitimacy of a Joe Biden victory in any battleground state. That would allow Trump to declare a rigged election that leaves him  in possession of the White House.

Trump’s tweets are a rehearsal for November 

In his tweets, Trump is rehearsing his lines for November: “The United States cannot have all Mail In Ballots. It will be the greatest Rigged Election in history. People grab them from mailboxes, print thousands of forgeries and “force” people to sign. Also, forge names. Some absentee OK, when necessary. Trying to use Covid for this Scam!”

If that sounds too far-fetched to be taken seriously, do the impossible for a moment and put yourself in Donald Trump’s shoes. The latest major polls, even those from Fox News, show Trump running 7-11 points behind Joe Biden among registered voters nationwide and even lagging Biden in such must-win states as Michigan and Florida.

Savvy political analysts know it’s a mistake to take poll numbers literally, five months ahead of the election. But if you are Donald Trump, with a hyper-fragile ego and manic obsession for constant public adulation, those numbers are menacing enough to set you off into reckless rants.

You’re driven to fake imaginings of an anti-Trump conspiracy by former president Barack Obama or gratuitously fabricating a murder fantasy about former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough in an aide’s death 20 years ago, or making dictatorial threats to use the U.S. military against civilian protesters as the Chinese communist leaders did against student demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in 1989. In short, Trump’s toxic tantrums over mail voting, like these other wag-the-dog distractions, signal the desperation of a president who senses he’s lost his grip.

Even in GOP States, vote-by-mail is trending

In their rational moments, Trump’s advisers and Republican strategists must know that his frenzy over mail voting stands little chance of reversing the major shift toward mail balloting in the Year of Corona, let alone ripping mail voting out of the 2020 elections, root and branch. Read more

Veteran journalist: Can we fix the Electoral College?

Hedrick Smith

(Cross-posted from the website Reclaim the American Dream.org)

WASHINGTON– The populist revolt against the Electoral College burst into action after Al Gore won the nationwide popular vote for president in 2000 but George W. Bush won the Presidency. It gained new momentum after Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 3 million votes in 2016, but Trump won the White House in the Electoral College.

Frustrated by a two-century-old mechanism that has twice foiled the popular majority in just 16 years, legislatures in 14 states and the District of Columbia, have joined forces to try to assure that in the future the popular vote winner will gain the Presidency.

These states have formed the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, pledging to cast their electoral votes for the nationwide popular vote winner rather for the highest vote-getter in their own state – if enough other states agree to do the same.

In other words, rather than seeking to abolish the Electoral College, which would require a constitutional amendment with little chance for passage, the popular vote reform movement has devised what the digital world calls “a work-around.

Progress Report – 70% of the Goal

To work, this strategy requires firm legal commitments from states with the power to cast at least 270 of the nation’s 538 electoral votes. With legislative action this past month by Colorado, Delaware and New Mexico to join the compact, the popular vote movement has amassed a total of 189 electoral votes – 81 short of the total needed to award the White House to the national popular vote winner.

Two more states are on the verge of approval – Oregon and Nevada. One house in each state’s legislature has voted to adopt the popular vote compact. Their governors say they are in favor. Adding their 13 electoral votes would bring the overall total to 202.

Another dozen states – more than enough to hit the goal – have started to take action on the popular vote compact. Nine have legislatures controlled by Republicans, once in favor of the popular vote reform but now, instead of moving ahead, they are hesitating.

Trump Flip-Flops on the Electoral College

What’s the hold-up?

Donald Trump.

Historically, Donald Trump was no fan of the Electoral College. At 12:45 am on Nov 7, 2012, just after Democrat Barack Obama was declared the winner over Republican Mitt Romney, Trump attacked the Electoral College in a raging tweet:  “The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy.” Trump cranked up a tweet storm rampage,  slamming the 2012 election as “a total sham and a travesty” and deriding the “phoney (sic) electoral college.”

Four years later, Trump flip-flopped. One week after the Electoral College rescued him after he had lost the popular vote, Trump no longer thought it a “disaster” but extolled it as a miraculous mechanism. “The Electoral College,” he glowed, “is actually genius in that it brings all states, including the smaller ones, into play.”

Awkward for Republicans

That’s not what some important Republicans had been saying. In 2014, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich warmly endorsed the popular vote compact. With a Democrat in the White House, Gingrich complained that the Electoral College was pushing presidential campaigns to concentrate on a few states and ignoring all the others – bad for democracy. Read more

Veteran journalist: What NC’s gerrymandering case means

Hedrick Smith

NC gerrymandering under siege
(Cross-posted from ReclaimtheAmericanDream.org)

The moment of truth has come for North Carolina, which epitomizes the nation’s mounting struggle over the partisan rigging of elections by Republican or Democratic majorities in state legislatures gerrymandering election districts to maintain their party’s lock on power.

Fifteen states have adopted some kind of reform to make the drawing of election maps fairer or more bipartisan, most recently Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Utah. But North Carolina, like Illinois, Maryland, Texas and Virginia, has steadfastly clung to the old game of politicians manipulating election maps to keep their party and themselves in power.

In North Carolina, reformers have challenged the Republican legislative leadership in no fewer than seven different lawsuits. In response, federal courts have ordered two congressional districts and 28 legislative districts redrawn to correct for what the courts decided were illegal, racially discriminatory maps imposed by the Republican-led legislature in 2011.

The big issue now is partisan gerrymandering – whether the maps for North Carolina’s 13 congressional districts have been unconstitutionally stacked to favor the Republican slate statewide. A three-judge federal court has already condemned the legislature for drawing maps ”with invidious partisan intent” and thrown out those maps. Now the case, brought by the public interest group Common Cause, goes before the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Whether it is Democrats or Republicans manipulating election maps, gerrymanders cheat voters out of true representation,” asserts Karen Hobert Flynn, national president of Common Cause. “The Supreme Court has the opportunity to set a clear standard that will restore a meaningful vote to millions of Americans disenfranchised by gerrymanders in North Carolina, Maryland and across the country.

Reform or tactical ploy?

A parallel suit is working its way through the North Carolina state courts. Filed by Common Cause and the North Carolina Democratic Party, it also accuses the Republican-dominated legislature of illegally drawing the boundaries of state legislative districts to favor Republicans.

Equally striking, broad bipartisan coalitions have just recently sponsored bills into the General Assembly to reform how North Carolina will draw its election districts in the future. The most far-reaching calls for establishing a tripartite commission – Republicans, Democrats and independents – to take over drawing election maps in 2021. It would bar any plan designed “for the purpose of favoring a political party, incumbent legislator or Congress member” or based on the use of political or election data in drafting the plan – key ingredients for rigging election maps.

Such bills have surfaced in years past and gone nowhere. What makes this year different is that already, more than half of the 120 members of the lower house have signed on as co-sponsors of the two reform bills, Republicans as well as Democrats. So if a vote were taken, presumably one of those reform bills would pass.

What is impossible to tell, reform advocates say, is whether Republican lawmakers are co-sponsoring reform bills because they fear eventual defeat in the courts and in elections and want to have a hand in drafting new reform laws, or whether the reform bills are simply a tactical ploy that will be buried in committee by the GOP leadership if the Supreme Court allows the current GOP-gerrymandered system to stand.

One potential cloud is the outspoken opposition to reforms from long-time Senate GOP leader Phil Berger who has castigated the state lawsuit against gerrymandering of legislative districts. “This isn’t about good government – it’s about power,” declared Berger’s spokesman Pat Ryan. “This suit is a corrupt attempt at judicial gerrymandering, hoping the liberal state (supreme) court will rewrite the constitution and draw maps favorable to Democrats.”

GOP admits it did partisan gerrymandering

What is indisputable, however, is the frank admission of partisan gerrymandering by Republican leaders like Rep. David Lewis, chairman of the legislature’s redistricting committee. Read more

Veteran journalist: The economic ground is shifting under Trump (even on Fox news)

Hedrick Smith

[Cross-posted from the website Reclaim the American Dream.]

Behind the hollow sparring over the border wall and government shutdowns, the ground is shifting under President Trump and the political pendulum is swinging toward a new economic agenda. Even conservative Fox News reports that American voters, by a huge margin, now want to reverse the Trump tax cut of 2017 and increase taxes on the super-rich.

The media ballyhoo of the moment trumpets the tax-the-rich proposals from Democratic presidential hopefuls, Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and first-term House Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

But an even more stunning political harbinger is the cry of anguish for the middle class by Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson. Last month, Carlson issued a stinging warning to America’s “ruling class” that creating “a country where a shrinking percentage of the population is taking home an ever-expanding proportion of the money is not a recipe for a stable society.”

In a passionate rant that sent shock waves through right-wing think tanks and talk radio, Carlson challenged the pro-business orthodoxy of free market capitalism, pointing as evidence of its failure to “stunning out-of-wedlock birthrates, high male unemployment, a terrifying drug epidemic.”

We are ruled by mercenaries

“Our leaders don’t care,” Carlson declared. “We are ruled by mercenaries who feel no long-term obligation to the people they rule….They don’t even bother to understand our problems. The idea that families are being crushed by market forces seems never to occur to them.”

Tucker Carlson

His peroration: “If you care about America, you ought to oppose the exploitation of Americans, whether it is happening in the inner city or on Wall Street….Any economic system that weakens and destroys families is not worth having. “

What so alarmed Carlson is the spreading cancer of economic inequality that has been metastasizing for nearly four decades, since the captains of Corporate America abandoned the share-the-wealth stakeholder capitalism that lifted the middle class in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s and replaced it with rampant shareholder capitalism that showers 80% to 90% of the nation’s economic gains to Wall Street hedge funds, the top 1% of investors, CEOs and their corporate minions. Read more