For anyone who doubts that Americans are fighting a war today over the future of democracy, take a look at what’s happening in the U.S. Congress and Arizona Legislature.
On March 8, the House of Representatives voted for the Democrats’ major reform bill, 234-193 — an important blow against the incessant erosions of our political process. All 5 of Arizona’s Democratic Congress members voted for it; none of the 4 Republicans did.
And in the Republican-controlled Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell won’t even bring the measure, H.R.1, up for debate. Instead, he and his allies are attacking the “terrible bill.”
Meanwhile, Republicans in the Arizona legislature are pushing bills to make voter registration, early voting, and voting by mail more difficult.
What makes H.R.1 so bad in Republicans’ view? It seeks to lessen the influence of super-rich donors. To tighten ethics rules for Congress and force presidential candidates to reveal their tax returns. Most important, it would ban the most common forms of voter suppression (like those being pushed in our legislature) and greatly expand voter participation.
McConnell reads all this as threat. He calls the bill a “power grab.”
Think about that. The Kentucky Republican is practically shouting for all the world to hear: “If more people vote, they’ll vote against our party. And that’s not fair!”
Basically, McConnell is admitting that Republicans’ efforts to tamp down the votes of blacks, Hispanics, young people and the poor — nationally and in Arizona — have nothing to do with their standard rationale that they are fighting “voter fraud.” No. He’s saying that democracy is bad for the Republican Party. He’s right, the majority in this country sees through the Republicans’ motives and supports Democratic values.
McConnell’s stonewalling of H.R. 1 — the same move he made with Merrick Garland — flies in the face of public opinion. Recent polling from the PAC End Citizens United found that 82 percent of all voters and 84 percent of independents said they support a bill of reforms to tackle corruption.
When it comes to issues like gerrymandering, Democrats have historically been just as guilty as Republicans of trying to game the system to their advantage. But with H.R. 1, the For the People Act, they are acknowledging the public demand for change — which, really, should be a bipartisan enterprise. In 700 pages, the bill tackles all the major problems which are poison to our politics.
GERRYMANDERING. H.R.1 would mandate all the states to set up independent, nonpartisan commissions to draw congressional district boundaries that don’t favor one party or the other. The voters of Arizona put this into our Constitution nearly 20 years ago — it’s time the rest of the country caught up. But our Republican legislature continuously tries to undermine the power of our Independent Redistricting Commission, even spending taxpayer dollars on frivolous lawsuits.
VOTER PARTICIPATION AND SUPPRESSION. H.R. 1 would make voter registration automatic via an opt-out system, as it is in Oregon. It would reinstate the protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, stripped away in 2013 when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the key requirement that states with histories of discrimination receive “preclearance” from the U.S. Justice Department before changing voting systems.
As a result of that sorry decision, states led by GOP governors and legislatures have time and again clamped down on voting access: purging voting rolls, limiting early-voting days, rejecting ballots after questioning a signature.
H.R. 1 would also make Election Day a national holiday, enabling more working people to vote. And as Floridians decisively voted last November, the bill would restore voting rights nationally to certain felons upon completion of their sentences.
CAMPAIGN FINANCE. H.R. 1 calls for a constitutional amendment to end Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that opened the door to unlimited campaign spending by corporations and unions. It would replace the current campaign finance system that empowers the super-rich and big corporations with one that relies on small donors and public matching funds.
ETHICS. H.R. 1 would require candidates for president and vice-president to disclose their individual and business tax returns — an obvious nod toward you-know-who. It would prevent members of Congress from sitting on corporate boards.
McConnell and other GOP leaders in Congress are fighting H.R. 1 with vehemence — and wild accusations. It’s an assault on the First Amendment, they say, because the government would be taking away your right not to register to vote (not true; you could opt out) or to donate unlimited money to a candidate (this shouldn’t be a First Amendment issue, and won’t be if the Constitution is amended).
They’re hurling that old defense of the slaveholding and Jim Crow states: It’s an attack on states’ rights to manage elections (no, it’s an attack on the unequal and discriminatory treatment of U.S. citizens to take part in national elections).
These are desperate defenses, and they scarcely hide the real motivations.
Thanks to the Palm Beach Post Editorial Board