Political ‘Infrastructure’ and the future of West Virginia Politics

With all the discussion of physical infrastructure in the last six months, the possibility exist that we have forgotten about a more important type of infrastructure in society.  The political institutions which comprise key aspects of a democracy arguably constitute a more important ‘political’ infrastructure in our society.  In the last decade, the West Virginia Republican Party has significantly altered these institutions, which tilt elections in their favor for the immediate future.

Democrats once held great sway in West Virginia, but since 2000, the state dramatically turned red.  Some of the reasons relate to the focus on political issues.  The Bush administration started a trend of focusing on political issues leaning more towards the social policies rather than economic policies.  Most residents in West Virginia hold anti-abortion views and the GOP capitalizes on this in every single election.  And that’s part of the game, so to speak.  Candidates and their parties have the responsibility of framing the issues in a way which appeals to voters and then help turn out those voters.  However, the systems and means by which we elect our representatives are changing in ways which unfairly help Republicans.

So what are examples of these changes in political infrastructure?

1. Most people overlook the elected position in West Virginia of Secretary of State.  This individual bears the primary responsibility of ensuring free and fair elections for the entire state.  The Secretary of State possesses wide latitude in determining how counties conduct elections and tabulate votes.

While we often overlook the this position, the entire nation should understand the importance of the position after the mess with Georgia’s Secretary of State in the 2020 Election, where he refused to overturn the results of the state’s presidential returns.  In West Virginia, current Secretary of State Mac Warner raised eyebrows after his election in 2016 by firing 16 employees in the Office of Secretary of State almost immediately.  As it happened, most of the 16 employees were Democrats.  Warner hired 23 individuals, and almost all were Republicans.  Regardless of the level of employees’ competency, the optics were bad.  

Firing a group of people and then replacing them with members of one political party provides the Republican Party with their people on the inside of key government positions on how to handle election policy.  Moreover, those 16 people who lost their jobs?  They filed lawsuits for wrongful termination and settled with the state.  The payouts totaled over $3.2 million of your tax dollars.  Small price to pay for controlling the gears of elections.

2. The state legislature also contributes to the development of Republican political infrastructure.  One of their more recent changes involves the creation of an intermediate court system.  Prior to this change, any civil or criminal complaint would originate in the appropriate circuit court and any potential appeal moved directly to the West Virginia State Supreme Court.  The intermediate court of three judges adds another layer to the legal system, which benefits those who fall into the Republican camp.  Adding another court to West Virginia makes it more difficult for individuals with less financial resources to pursue a claim or an appeal in courts.  This, in sheer percentages, would likely benefit Republicans more than Democrats.  The new law, which maintains that these judges on the court will be elected in the future, allows for the governor to appoint the first round of judges on staggered terms.  Governor Jim Justice, of course, is a Republican.  

3. Last year, the State Senate passed SB 565, which would have altered elections in some concerning ways.  Current election law in West Virginia allows for early voting in person to occur from the 13th day prior to the election to the 3rd day prior to the election.  This law would have changed that early voting period to the 17th day prior to the election to the 7th.  What’s the rationale for this type of change? 

More concerning about SB 565 was the provision which would have allowed for purging voter registration rolls if a voter did not vote in the previous election.  This would allow the Secretary of State more control over elections and the right to vote.  If a voter sat out a single election, the Secretary of State could remove their name from the voting pool.  The Republican Party would control a significant piece of the infrastructure in elections.  

Ultimately, SB 565 did not pass through the House of Delegates before the 2021 session ended.  Yet, as with most legislation, it stands to reason that the bill’s sponsors will pick this up again in the 2022 session.  

4. Republicans currently hold a supermajority in both houses of the legislature, and this means they can pass virtually any piece of legislation they deem necessary.  Democrats can do little to push back.  One of the perks of having a majority at this particular moment is that the GOP controlled the redistricting process for the senate and the House of Delegates.  Republicans instituted some rather significant changes in this area which create more favorable circumstances for their candidates.

The most noteworthy change to the system stemmed from the decision to move from multi-member districts to single member districts in the House of Delegates.  Previously, the multi-member districts played an important role in helping to maintain representation of an area proportional to the community at large.  For instance, in the old system, I lived in House District 16, which had three seats.  A voter could choose up to three people to represent the district, allowing for a range of representation.  In the Election of 2020, House 16 had two Republicans and one Democrat.  Two of the three are white and the third is black.   

Multi-member districts also have a natural immunity to gerrymandering (redrawing district lines to help or hurt a candidate or group).  It becomes more difficult to fudge with the districts if less of them exist.  The old system had 67 districts, and the new one will have 100.  That’s 50% more districts to draw in a way that would benefit particular people, groups, or parties.

Questions quickly popped up over a change to a district affecting incumbent Caleb Hanna (R-44), whose new district would have included part of Pocahontas County.  Delegates requested the change because of a white supremacist group which lives isolated in Pocahontas County (Delegate Hanna is African-American).  The white supremacist group in said county is largely defunct and would likely have no impact on any election.  Critics also pointed out that the Republicans only wished to protect racial minorities if they were of the same party.

Republicans also redrew the districts into a fashion whereby many Democratic incumbents would face one another in an election, whereas few Republicans would face such primary contests.  

If you look at the new districts, some of the shapes appear bizarre enough to suggest gerrymandering.  The accompanying demographic data also presents some curious numbers on race.  Not one of the 100 districts contains less than a 74% white grouping.  Ironically, one of the districts which has the largest non-white percentage is home to Delegate Sean Hornbuckle (D-16), a candidate so widely popular in the Huntington area, he would probably win regardless of the racial makeup. 

There are only a few of the major areas in the state where I have a deep level of familiarity, and two of those are Huntington and Charleston.  If Republicans had a commitment to protecting racial minorities, I can assure you that the committee on redistricting could have drawn a better map for the Huntington and Charleston areas.

Why does this stuff matter?  

The most significant right any citizen has in a democracy is the right to vote.  Without that unobstructed right, the people are at the mercy of those in power.  The political infrastructure which is being altered in West Virginia is worth examining:

  • The Secretary of State’s mismanagement of a system which includes his stacking his office with political allies.
  • Creating an additional layer of courts which can only benefit those with financial resources, imbued with Republican appointed judges for the foreseeable future 
  • Attempting to alter voting rights legislation 
  • Abandoning multi-member districts 
  • Gerrymandering districts to benefit one party and certain people 

This leads to a state dominated by a single party and no true representation of the people.  The move from blue to red in the last two decades finally saw Republicans surpass Democrats in number of registered voters, with 36.8% and 36.5% respectively.  Surprisingly, 22.6% of voters in West Virginia hold no party affiliation.  These percentages definitely aren’t indicative of the government the state has.

The state has also witnessed a few politicians make a flip in party affiliation.  We are all aware of Jim Justice’s transition from Democrat to Republican, but others have seen the light, as it were.  

In 2014, Daniel Hall flipped to the Republican Party when the State Senate held a 17-17 balance, giving the GOP a majority.  At the time, he noted, “Political climates change, and I made a decision today to keep Raleigh, Wyoming and Mcdowell [sic] counties at the table in the West Virginia Senate. I have always picked our people over party…and did today as well. This decision will upset some, but had to be made for our district to be relevant.”  

This past summer, Delegate Mick Bates switched to the majority party, giving the Republicans a 78-22 advantage in the House.  Bates wrote in a statement explaining his move, “At a national level, the controlling interests and leadership of the Democratic party continue to pursue positions that alienate and anger voters in rural parts of the country and don’t reflect the priorities, values or beliefs of the people in West Virginia.”  That’s a coded message explaining that his district voted heavily for Donald Trump, and he sees the proverbial writing on the wall. 

Last week, another relevant switch occurred when former Delegate Doug Reynolds announced he was leaving the Democratic Party for the GOP.  The news seems relevant because it has to precede some type of announcement for another run at office.  Reynolds is not at all someone who could be described as conservative, but after losing the 2016 Election for Attorney General to Patrick Morrissey, he, too, must have seen which way the winds are blowing.

Reynolds’ party switch is more concerning than others because he founded and runs HD Media, which owns a number of newspapers in Southern West Virginia, including the Huntington Herald-Dispatch, and the state’s largest newspaper, the Charleston Gazette-Mail.  These important institutional mechanisms for conveying key information, endorsements, and other political news have largely been fairly liberal in the past.  Does that change in the future?

One thing is for certain.  The Republican Party has effectively laid the groundwork for political domination of state politics for some time to come.  A one-party state benefits no one.

No, Biden isn’t a tyrant, and yes, the mandate is legal

President Joe Biden took a significant step in combatting the COVID-19 virus this week by utilizing the significant amount of executive power his office permits.  However, is it a wise policy?  Does it violate constitutional rights?  Is Biden acting like a king or dictator?  These are a few of the questions worth exploring.

What exactly is the Biden administration doing?

President Biden delivering his message about vaccine mandates

The president’s role as chief executive requires him or her to carry out the laws passed by Congress.  When our legislative body creates a law, they sometimes purposely leave portions of it vague to allow the executive branch flexibility in how to best carry out the law.  For instance, with regard to the Social Security program, the law does not dictate in what way payments are made to recipients.  This allows executive branch officials to determine if they should send checks, use direct deposit, or even consider other digital programs.  The flexibility allows for efficient functioning of government.  This much is clear — when the law does not specify how a law should be enforced, it is the prerogative of the executive branch on how to enforce that law (provided they do not violate the Constitution in the process).  Presidents cannot simply give random orders unless they are based on an already existing law.  They cannot enforce what does not exist.

In this instance, President Biden is utilizing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to implement policies based on the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.  This law established OSHA and empowered the Secretary of Labor and the Director of OSHA to create policies under the law to ensure the safety of the workplace in the United States.  Since the Secretary of Labor works at the pleasure of the president, this person has a responsibility to develop policies which the president wants.  

In this case, the Secretary and OSHA will be writing new regulations which

  • Require all private employers with 100 or more employees to ensure those employees have received vaccination for COVID-19 or those unvaccinated employees must produce a negative COVID test one each week.  This new rule is expected to affect nearly 100 million workers in the country.  The penalty for non-compliance will be $14,000 per offense.
  • All healthcare facilities which receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement from the federal government must have its employees vaccinated.
  • Employees of federal education programs such as Head Start or Department of Defense schools must receive a vaccine.

Additionally, President Biden ordered the Transit Security Administration (TSA) to increase fines for individuals who failed to wear masks and for those abusive towards flight attendants.  The federal government is also planning on allocating $2 billion for testing (rapid test and PCR).

Outside of the requirements, President Biden also asked for governors of individual states to establish mask and vaccine mandates for their public education systems.

Is there any precedent for a vaccine mandate?

The United States has faced a few similar situations in the past.  In the early 20th century, Massachusetts enacted legislation which required vaccination for smallpox for all adult citizens and fined those who refused.  Henning Jacobson, a Swedish immigrant, refused and appealed the matter to courts, claiming the Massachusetts law violated his 14th Amendment rights under the Due Process Clause.  Jacobson’s argument contended the state’s action in mandating a vaccine deprived him of his ‘liberty.’  In the Due Process Clause, the state must demonstrate some rational basis for why they would take deprive someone of a freedom.  In this instance, Massachusetts claimed that eradicating smallpox and creating a better public health environment constituted a legitimate government interest in mandating a vaccine.

In Jacobson v. Massachusetts (1905), the United States Supreme Court ruled that the state legitimately held policing powers, which included, “… such reasonable regulations established directly by legislative enactment as will protect the public health and the public safety.”  The Court stated that issues such as a public health crisis, particularly the increasing cases of smallpox at the time, override the liberties of Jacobson.  

Justice John Marshall Harlan also articulated a key principle which many Americans forget about the freedoms granted to us.  Harlan wrote,

… the liberty secured by the Constitution of the United States to every person within its jurisdiction does not import an absolute right in each person to be, at all times and in all circumstances, wholly freed from restraint. There are manifold restraints to which every person is necessarily subject for the common good. On any other basis organized society could not exist with safety to its members.

Despite what people might want to believe, there is no absolute freedom in our society

In 1922, the Supreme Court also upheld the constitutionality of mandatory vaccines for public and private school students.  While states are under no obligation to create such vaccine mandates, the Court noted that such mandates did not violate the Constitution (see: Zucht v. King).  Society has long accepted vaccinations as a key aspect in public health and the fight against serious disease, and this is one of the reasons we haven’t seen a significant challenge to this concept in nearly a century.

Every state requires vaccinations for school, and West Virginia provides no exemptions for personal or religious belief. Required vaccinations are not new

Federal courts at all levels do not appear in any mood to overturn precedent.  Students at Indiana University filed suit after the school required a COVID-19 vaccine for all students and staff (with a few exceptions carved out).  A federal district court and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Indiana held the authority to require the vaccines.  The Supreme Court turned down an appeal for an emergency injunction (which could have temporarily halted the mandate until the matter was resolved in its entirety).

The Biden administration’s new rules seem solidly grounded in legislation, and the president seems confident that any legal challenges would fail.  When asked about those potential legal challenges, Biden responded to critics, “Have at it.”  

Why is this happening now?

For the Biden administration, this seems to be a move that makes sense for a number of reasons.  First, the vaccination rates of Americans have plateaued over the last few months.  Despite financial incentives and massive public relations campaigns, states have struggled to increase vaccination rates. 

The unvaccinated Americans also have taken the position that they have seen what COVID-19 does and they don’t seem to mind the risk.  While doctors and other health care professionals recommend taking the vaccine, a substantial number of Americans don’t feel comfortable taking it.  The stagnation in vaccination rates has led to the rise of the rise of the ‘delta’ variant of COVID.  The mutation of COVID makes it more difficult to defeat in the long term.  

Infections, hospitalizations, and deaths related to the virus are increasing, and this is a public health problem, obviously.  However, there is undoubtedly political calculus behind the vaccine mandates.  

President Biden and his administration have a razor thin majority in both houses of Congress right now, meaning their ability to pass legislation is limited.  Democrats are delicately trying to pass a bipartisan infrastructure deal while simultaneously threading a budget bill through Congress.  The Biden administration must deal decisively with problems which can be solved with executive action only.  They can solve this problem without Congress, so they must.  There’s no time to waste, particularly considering that the 2022 mid-term elections will be coming soon.

Democrats want to head into the 2022 mid-terms with legislative victories in their pocket and light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to solving the pandemic.  President Biden’s approval numbers have taken a hit with the American withdrawal from Afghanistan and COVID problems.  His average approval rating is trending in the high 40s, but that’s down significantly from the beginning of summer.  

The vaccine mandate is a calculated gamble to solve an important problem for the nation.  Is it a ‘make or break’ moment for Biden’s presidency?  No, but the political benefits outweigh the risks of not acting.  Within West Virginia, Governor Jim Justice is lamenting the rise in infections but he refuses to take any action as our state’s chief executive.  He has continually passed the buck to county and local administrations, causing significant confusion with absolutely no positive results. 

If the increase in vaccinations with these federal mandates can stymie the COVID problem, Biden will look incredibly good in the eyes of voters for taking decisive action at a key moment in the pandemic.  The people most likely to claim that Biden is a ‘tyrant’ who has overstepped his authority were never going to vote for him anyway.

Biden is not a tyrant, dictator, king, or any other authoritarian trope 

Americans have a strange way of viewing presidents, particularly ones who take strong executive actions.  The use of executive orders or government agency regulations to shape policy always tend to cause selective outrage.  Presidents from both parties utilize these as means of achieving their goals.  They are far more common than what people realize.  Yet, Americans only complain about them when it’s a political foe in the White House.  

Legislative bodies benefit from debate in lawmaking, and a slowed process.  However, situations exist in government where quick, decisive action is warranted.  Our chief executive needs that flexibility in responding to situations in such a manner.

The American presidency does more in permitting one single person to exercise power than any other democracy.  It fuses the role of head of state and head of government where most nations divide those roles.  In his famous Federalist #70, Alexander Hamilton wrote that our republic needed an ‘energetic’ president for effective administration of the laws.  The energy included several characteristics, including unity (a single person acting as executive) and competent powers

Powers exhibited by the president, whether Biden or Trump or anyone else, must still obey the Constitution and comply with other existing federal laws.  Their actions are subject to review by the courts, and they are ultimately responsible to the people.

Hamilton’s work also contained wisdom which explains why Republicans are currently frustrated with Biden’s unilateral action. He wrote, “Men often oppose a thing, merely because they have had no agency in planning it, or because it may have been planned by those whom they dislike.”  

Republicans will attempt to seize upon any opportunity to gain seats in Congress and the majority in either house.  And I suppose that’s part of what the minority party does, particularly when the difference in the number of seats in both houses is so small.  A person can question the wisdom of President Biden’s policy.  But to suggest the president is somehow crowning himself king over the nation or a tyrant?  This is an attempt to play on the fears of Americans.  Don’t fall for it.  

I find it equally frustrating that Republicans have taken their hypocrisy to new levels when they have suggested for the entirety of President Biden’s term that he is confused, senile, or incompetent, but now they want Americans to believe that same crazy old codger is somehow launching a secret Marxist takeover of the nation. Could that senile old man have plotted all of this in his fragile mental state? I am convinced that both major political parties in the United States have serious flaws, but Republican leadership continually embarrasses itself in their quest to gain power.

The COVID-19 virus killed 4.6 million people worldwide in the 18 months. The deaths show no signs of relenting unless we take drastic action. In 2020 alone, nearly 378,000 Americans died from this virus, making it the third leading cause of death (behind cancer and heart disease). This nation created a vaccine to tamp down a deadly plague and the refusal to take it is harming society as a whole. We have the ability to end this and return to life as normal.

Critics would argue that government doesn’t dictate what people eat or ingest, which often cause heart disease and cancer, the two leading causes of death for Americans. This is true, but those diseases do not easily spread to other human beings.

President Biden was correct when he stated, “We’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us.” It’s time to end this. If you’re eligible for a vaccine, take the vaccine. It’s safe, it’s effective, and it saves lives.

Cabell County leadership … yikes!

Government officials have a difficult job, particularly in the era of COVID-19.  Even matters which are only tangentially related to public health need consideration before decisions are made.  In their best decisions, most public officials will still upset at least a third of their constituents.  That’s the nature of politics in most places, let alone a nation with such a variety of views and opinions.  With that stated, some of the decision making in Cabell County lately has been frustrating.  

The Huntington City Council Drama 

Let’s start with the July 22nd meeting of the Huntington City Council to fill a vacancy on the council.  Some really fantastic local reporting by McKenna Horsley at the Herald-Dispatch details a strange incident where members of the council were actively being lobbied on which person they should select to replace outgoing Jennifer Wheeler.   

House of Delegates member Daniel Linville (R-16) and Marshall University Board of Governors member Chris Miller both texted Huntington City Council Chairman Mike Shockley to inform him that Brad Smith (former Intuit CEO and major Marshall University benefactor) liked Jim Rorrer for that open seat on the council.  Linville and Miller worked the texting lines to other members on the council, actively pushing for Rorrer.  

Perhaps the most concerning text came from political strategist Michael Dillon (who apparently worked for Rorrer) to Shockley, stating, “Dude. Rorrer is the key for you to have your own slate of votes. What are you doing? … And backing of Miller and Brad smith for your future endeavors.”  It doesn’t amount to anything illegal or a quid pro quo of some kind, but an implication is there that Shockley should pick Rorrer if to benefit his own political career.

Also intriguing is that Dale Anderson, another council member, stated he didn’t do much texting, but did communicate with Miller via Signal App, which allows users to send encrypted messages which permanently delete after a set time.  He did not remember specifically what he and Miller discussed.

For his part, Brad Smith stated he had not supported anyone for the City Council’s vacancy, nor was he aware there was a vacancy.  He also expressed disappointment that his name was being used to make any such implications.

Miller defended his lobbying of the members of the City Council, claiming he was tired of ‘sitting on the sidelines.’  While I can appreciate the notion of wanting to become engaged in politics and push for your preferred candidate to fill a vacancy, I think lobbying members of City Council during a meeting goes beyond jumping in the game.  Moreover, name-dropping Brad Smith (who seems to want no part of this matter) to add pressure on multiple council members doesn’t seem very like a civic duty.  It’s more along the lines of putting your finger in the scales.  I also don’t understand Miller’s sentiment about ‘sitting on the sidelines,’ as if he has been doing that.  To say he’s politically active is more than fair.  He sits on Marshall University’s Board of Governors, which is a political appointment from the governor.  He donates to numerous political candidates for many different races (including $1,500 to Linville and more than $30,000 in total to different candidates).  His mother is a member of the United States House of Representatives.  His Facebook post explaining his actions reads like a man who’s running for office himself.  

Delegate Linville attempted to explain away his texts, noting, “Anytime that you’re making a … decision that you want to have the best information, you know, possible and available.”  So, what’s the best information in this situation?  Telling council members that Brad Smith wanted a particular person?  Smith doesn’t seem to care.  Linville further leaned into that explanation, stating, “… if Mr. [Brad] Smith, you know, made a recommendation to me of someone for something … I would take that quite seriously and do my own due diligence, but I would take that quite seriously because, you know, he clearly has an eye for talent.”   

Why do these council members care about Brad Smith’s not real recommendation?  Why are Linville, Miller, and Dillon pushing the issue?  It’s pretty clear Dillon, as a political strategist, believed it could help his client.  Linville and Miller?  I don’t know.  Did they think Smith would somehow be pleased with them?  Would he donate to their future political endeavors?  Would he donate to the city?  More money to Marshall University?   Did they simply want to influence who sat on the City Council?  

Cabell County Schools and masks

Let’s fast forward to an August 19th meeting of the Cabell County Board of Education.  The administration for the Board started the year with a policy of masks being recommended, but not required.  Initially, this policy was well received and seen as somewhat of a relief.  However, the increasing number of positive COVID cases in Cabell County and appeals from medical professionals prompted an emergency meeting of the Board to reconsider the matter.  

During the meeting, dozens of local citizens and health care professionals spoke about their feelings regarding a potential change to the mask-optional policy.  The five members of the Board had a difficult decision to make.  Health care professionals implored the Board to mandate masks for students and all employees.  The parents at the meeting mostly advocated for the mask only policy.  I don’t think I would have faulted the Board for their decision either way, but my complaint is more about the process of the decision making.

Interestingly, Delegate John Mandt (R-16) showed up as one of the ‘delegations to be heard.’  Why was he at the meeting?  I suppose he took on the mantra of a politician never letting a crisis go to waste.  He took a few moments to speak his mind how he believed mask mandates were unconstitutional, pandering to a swath of his voting base.  

If you were not aware, Mandt is leaving the House of Delegates and running for Cabell County Commissioner.  (My theory on this move is that Mandt might have some insider information on redistricting in the Cabell County area and realize he might end up in a district against some very popular candidates.  Maybe time for him to try to make a move to a more winnable election.) Most of the people attending the August 19th meeting were part of Mandt’s tribe.  Not a bad way to score some votes.

After an hour of listening to the various delegations, the five Board members had to consider if they would change their decision.  Before they cast a vote, each Board member had an opportunity to make a statement.  This was the moment where the meeting went off the rails.  

When Board member Alyssa Bond spoke, she read a prepared statement, coming down on the side of mask-optional policy.  But, regardless of what side she landed on, a prepared statement says she already made up her mind coming into this meeting and the entire delegation of parents, health care professionals, and other speakers was pro forma, window dressing for the public. 

She was followed up by Skip Parsons, who also voted for the mask-optional policy.  This came to thunderous applause from the audience, particularly as he yelled “Freedom!  I am for freedom!”  Again, I’m not faulting the vote, but I look at this type of action and I see someone influenced by the audience.  

Bond and Parsons were joined by Board President Mary Neely, who constituted the three person majority necessary to continue a mask-optional policy for the school year.  Perhaps I’m wrong about the Board and the decision making process, but as fate would have it, we’re going to have an opportunity to see how that decision making process will play out this week.

Due to the increased COVID-19 infections in Cabell County Schools, along with the number of students who must quarantine as a result of being in proximity to students who tested positive.  As a result, the Cabell County Board of Education’s agenda for this Thursday (September 2nd) includes a piece about reconsideration of the mask policy.  

Rhonda Smalley and the Reverend Chris Shaw were the two votes for a mask mandate and they are unlikely to change that position.  It will be more than interesting to see if any of the three in the majority cracks under the pressure from the health care community.  What might also be interesting to Cabell County citizens is the fact that the school system has a doctor on staff as the chief medical officer, who recommended a mask mandate.  Why are we even paying a six figure salary to a doctor if we don’t have any real intention of listening to this person?  

I truly don’t know if any of the three members in the majority will have it in them to swallow their pride and change their vote on a mask mandate just two weeks into the school year.  A change this quickly would definitely inflame the opinions of a number of citizens, and these folks are likely to turn out again for the meeting Thursday night.  That would be an exercise in leadership, without question.

The Huntington divide continues …

A few months ago, I wrote about the strange shakeup of administrators at Marshall University and the odd timing of it all.  Part of my contention then was that there’s a clash of ideologies between the outgoing Dr. Jerry Gilbert and the Marshall Board of Governors.  But I want to tweak that thought.

I believe that Huntington, and Cabell County as a whole is in the midst of an identity crisis.  Who are we and what do we believe?  Historically, this is a county like many others in West Virginia.  The older generations of this area are white, conservative, and want to preserve the status quo.  But, Huntington is a college town, and it has a younger vibe, a more liberal persona that wants to influence what the city and county are like in the future.  If you live in Huntington, you can feel the influence of the university already.  The real question now is if the liberal vibe will extend to the rest of the county.  It would appear that the conservative camp is equally determined to make its presence felt.  We are seeing this war for Cabell County transpire in some poor leadership decisions from our most important public institutions and it’s not healthy for any of us.  

Regardless of a person’s political leanings, or their feelings on masks, we should all strive for leadership at every level who makes good choices based on what is the right thing to do for the community. We don’t want individuals on Huntington City Council or the Board of Education who are thinking about their political future or not considering the needs and wants of their constituents. Public officials have a difficult task in front of them and the people entrusted them to do a job. Please do that job and not be swayed by big names or the fear of losing a future election because you made an unpopular choice.

Political Pejoratives: Name-calling in America

Maybe it seems like petty politics, or junior high-ish.  You accept it because it has become the norm.  But it’s a problem that erodes the politics in the United States and it is pervasive, to say the least.  Name calling and labeling now constitutes a major problem in the political landscape that serves only to further divide an already fragmented population.

In the American political system, two major parties dominate elections and government at federal, state, and local levels.  Both Democrats and Republicans have a desire to implement the policies they believe to be best for the nation.  To achieve that end, these parties must first win elections, and that’s tricky.  In that pursuit of electoral victories, our parties have engaged in name calling campaigns that would make a sailor blush (okay, not that bad, but you get the idea).

So let’s take a look at some of the more popular pejoratives in American politics!

The liberal names

Marxist / socialist / communist — The go-to insult for conservatives.  They have used this label for nearly 150 years as a means of terrifying Americans that capitalism is on the way out and government will soon seize the means of production.  It’s also a misnomer because the three terms are not interchangeable.  If a person believes the government should control key aspects of society, that does not make them a communist.  It also ignores the fact that American society has a number of socialist programs which benefit people and provide common goods.

Elitist — When conservatives use this, they are referencing men and women who are highly educated.  The idea behind this pejorative is to mock academics as far removed from most of society.  The irony is that conservatives themselves are often just as ‘elite’ in terms of their income and education level.  

I mean, the cartoon is funny …

Snowflake — The term comes from the fact that scientists estimate that no two snowflakes are alike, signaling a uniqueness in the world.  Conservatives critique the approach of telling young people they are special and unique.  The world can sometimes be harsh and there are some individuals who are not prepared for adulthood, and conservatives mock this shattering of the ideal.  When young people object to the harsh realities of society or express their difficulty in dealing with the world, conservatives mock them for it.

“Fake news” — This phrase isn’t necessarily directed at a person, but it can be.  Former President Donald Trump used this term frequently to describe a news report he didn’t like or portrayed him in a negative light.  He later ascribed it to media outlets he didn’t view favorably.  

The conservative names 

Fascists or Nazis — The liberal answer to being called a Marxist is to refer to conservatives as fascists or Nazis.  Any time government officials undertake a more conservative approach to aa policy, this is the label it receives.  It conjures up images of Hitler and his black-shirted henchman marching through the streets of America or maybe a dystopian television show, a la The Handmaid’s Tale.  (Check out Godwin’s Law for entertaining reading.)

Religious nut / fundamentalist / zealot — The use of these names take aim at conservative religious groups (Baptists and Mormons, of note) who often align themselves with conservatives in political matters.  The liberal segment of society would have the nation believe we are somehow on the edge of a theocracy that would make Iran look kind.  Someone should tell the liberal crowd that most churches aren’t like Westboro Baptist.

Bigot / homophobe / racist / misogynist — I lumped these terms in the same category because they are all aimed at conservative perspectives on society.  Liberals know these terms are strongly charged because they point to the hatred of an entire group of people.  It attempts to establish a binary of us versus them, and unfairly characterizes a large swath of Americans as bitter, hateful people.  Does anyone truly think Republicans have a meeting of party officials and ponder, “how can we discriminate against women this year?”  The irony is that liberals often want to avoid such stereotypes.  

“The wrong side of history” — In many instances, liberal operators want citizens to believe that failure to enact their policies will cause future generations to ridicule them and view them unfavorably.  This presumes that liberals are on the correct side of history, and ignores the fact that our perspectives on history change over time. 

Why do the two sides engage in this behavior?

It wins elections.  We appeal to the fears of human beings because it’s effective.  Fear is a powerful motivator, especially when one side frames the other as an existential threat to a way of life.  In the sense that both major ideologies want to win elections, this tactic helps.  Anyone who examines the 2016 Trump Presidential Campaign will see the effectiveness of labeling opponents:  Lyin’ Ted, Crooked Hillary, Low Energy Jeb, etc.  Thought it’s disgusting, this rallies people behind someone they believe represents them.

Trump mocking his fellow members of the GOP helped his 2016 campaign

We like binaries.  It’s us against them.  When we characterize complex problems with a simple choice of good guys versus bad guys, we typically will pick a side.  Most people find it difficult to research a topic, learn the nuances of stakeholders, and consider the ramifications of various policies.  Not only can it be difficult to understand, but it requires time to process information and genuinely eliminate biases.  When we only have two choices placed before us, the situation becomes less complex and humans love the path of least resistance.

We like justification for our preconceived thoughts.  No one wants to accept that they might be wrong about a belief, and this is even more true when the belief is a long held idea.  If we establish the opposing perspective as somehow mean spirited, evil, or anti-American, it becomes that much easier to call them names and ignore their views.  It’s a form of dehumanization.

Social media makes it easy.  When so much of our discourse takes place online instead of in front of another human being, you don’t really feel bad for calling them a name.  It’s a faceless window you’re criticizing and not a human being with feelings, problems, or a unique life which led them to their beliefs.  On social media platforms, you zing someone and people react to your witty one-liner, but they rarely take time to respond.  You didn’t win the argument, you didn’t ‘own’ anyone.  Our words do more to alienate others rather than win them to our cause.  Also, people use words online that wouldn’t hold up in a face to face conversation. 

Problems which result from the name-calling 

Applying labels is the quick and easy path, and while it can prove effective in winning elections or manipulating the public, it negatively affects us. 

Name-calling affects how we view our political opposites, and it bleeds into life beyond the political.  This is consequence of the fact that social media has multiplied the problem.  Everyone now possessed a megaphone to the world.  People from nearly anywhere on the planet can tune in and read what you believe about any topic.  We treat people as less than human when we ridicule them.  

We pigeonhole the other side.  When you categorize human beings into a broad based category, you make a blanket presumption about the entirety of a person, predicated upon a brief statement.  Everyone else is neatly framed as simplistic, placed in their box, and easily dismissed as not being ‘in the know.’  Simultaneously, we see ourselves as complex people, applying so much nuance to our views, and if people just could see inside our heads, they would understand. We have a tendency to judge entire groups of people on their worst representatives.

Political discourse grinds to a halt.  No one likes being called names or shouted down, so they stop engaging.  When people do not discuss their ideas or perspectives, how can the possibly create solutions to the problems of the nation?  How can a person claim to understand the opposition when they have not listened to perspective?  

The constant use of labels desensitizes us towards genuine dangers to our democracy.  The townspeople ignored boy who cried ‘wolf’ when real danger finally arrived.  So, too, do we ignore certain terms because they have become so ubiquitous.  They have lost their meaning.  The snap reaction of calling someone a fascist or a communist has occurred so often, no one takes it seriously anymore.  

The divide between the left and the right continues to grow each decade

Polarization of our parties and ideologies naturally follows from name-calling and lack of discussion.  The disregard shown to a person for expressing any different idea pushes them further into the other ‘tribe.’ 

We vote for morons.  The polarization, lack of discourse, and the refusal to consider others as human beings means we vote for people based on the party they represent rather than their ability to represent the people.  People elect shills for their party rather than good men and women.  This is how the likes of Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton, and Marjorie Taylor Greene hold office in the United States.

Gridlock becomes normal.  Governments at all levels become unable to effectively create and implement policies because they often need to control the executive and legislative branches to pass legislation.  When governments do not pass legislation, the people suffer. 

So, what do we do about it?

We cannot sit idly, that’s for certain.  While one person may wonder what they can do, they have the ability to affect change.  That’s the subject of the next post. 

End the filibuster

The United States Congress is undoubtedly one of the most peculiar legislative bodies in the world.  Writers of the Constitution established two unique houses within its legislative branch, each with its own modes of election, representations, differing qualifications, and purposes.  

Though both houses must pass any bill for it to become a law, the Senate was always intended to be (and has been) the de facto upper house.  Yet, the upper house and one of its bizarre procedures continually prevents legislation which would otherwise advance the interests of the majority of American citizens.  Yes, we’re talking about the filibuster.  

A brief background 

In the House of Representatives, time for debate of any given bill on the floor is limited, and for good reason.  With 435 voting members, allowing all members of the House to engage in debate is counterproductive.  Limited debate also means House members must come to the debate with a general understanding of the bill, committee recommendations, and the ability to discuss in a pointed manner.  

Filibusters continue to trend upward

The Senate always maintains a lower number of members, and as such, permitting longer debate is not such a bad idea.  A senator can attempt to persuade fellow members of the body to his or her side of an issue by drawing out the merits or flaws of a bill.  The Senate’s great failure, however, is that ending debate on any given bill requires a supermajority of 60 of its 100 members.  The Constitution does not call for this supermajority to end debate, but the measure is part of the Senate’s rules.  Somewhat paradoxically, Senate rules can be changed with a simple majority vote.

Because the balance of power between Democrats and Republicans vacillates by a only few senators each term, the likelihood of either party obtaining a supermajority is small.  In the last 40 years, it only happened during President Barack Obama’s first two years in office.  Democrats had 60 seats, allowing them to pass The Affordable Care Act without a Republican filibuster.

The time is long overdue for the Senate to change its rules and eliminate the filibuster, permanently. 

An anti-democratic concept 

The filibuster works against one of the central concepts of a representative democracy — a plurality vote.  In most American political institutions, the system is based on a plurality vote, meaning the side with the most votes carries the issue.  The filibuster is anti-democratic, allowing the minority party to block legislation supported by a majority of senators.

Yes, there are other instances where a supermajority is needed to act on a given change, such as amending the Constitution or overriding a presidential veto.  However, those mechanisms attempt to make changes that have more finality than merely advancing legislation out of one house of Congress.  

Legislation is stalled 

How many beneficial pieces of legislation never happened because of the Senate filibuster?  On more than one occasion, Southerners filibustered various civil rights bills.  In 1957, Senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC) set the record for a filibuster, speaking for more than 24 consecutive hours.  

“Each presidential administration and new Congress should receive a fair chance to implement policies, particularly at the beginning of a term, when the American people have spoken in recent elections.”

Since the end of the Civil Rights Movement, the use of the filibuster expanded to nearly every topic of legislation — campaign finance, lobbying reform, health care, gun reform, economic stimulus, immigration, etc.  In fairness, the perspective of whether a bill is good or bad often depends on a person’s ideological beliefs.  

However, allowing Congress to engage in its primary task of legislating means taking the risk that they will make mistakes.  This is part of how policy formation works.  If a law establishes a policy which works well for the American people, those elected officials will have earned the right to reap the success.  If the policy turns out poorly, voters can hold them accountable and elect new officials who will vote to reverse a poor policy decision.  As the situation currently stands, the filibuster allows senators to not make difficult decisions on legislation that has widespread support among voters.

Two key pieces of President Joe Biden’s agenda have widespread support in the public, but face an uphill battle due to the filibuster.  HR 1, or the For the People Act, currently has 68% of voters backing its changes to election laws.  The American Jobs Plan, or the Biden infrastructure plan, has a similar amount of support from the public.

Each presidential administration and new Congress should receive a fair chance to implement policies, particularly at the beginning of a term, when the American people have spoken in recent elections.  

Inactivity is activity 

Any party in the Senate minority counts on legislative inertia.  When a minority party can block policy changes, it means nothing happens.  In these instances, nothing is something.  When the people elect officials to improve the conditions of the nation, they do so with the expectation of positive change.  If the minority party can prevent change from occurring, they see it as a victory, and as an added bonus, it allows them to campaign that the opposition didn’t fulfill their promises.  A majority party cannot be expected to deliver on promises when need more than a majority of voters.

Disproportionate power

Each state receives two senators regardless of its population, and this is an important means of protecting smaller states from the legislative whims of larger states.  Yet, that senatorial advantage of small states is exacerbated by the filibuster,  allowing certain individuals to wield a disproportionate amount of power.

The 21 least populous states in the Union are home to approximately 35 million people, which is still significantly less than California’s approximately 40 million people.  These smaller states, by themselves, could stage legislation gridlock with their senators despite only representing slightly less than 10% of the nation’s overall population. 

When any senator filibusters, his or her fellow party members have shown reluctance to vote for an end to debate.  As such, a senator from Wyoming, the least populous state (with a scant 576,000 people), can prevent legislation from coming to a vote that would benefit the nation.

Moreover, crafty senators such as Joe Manchin (D-WV) have learned how to leverage their position as a ‘moderate’ party member to provide them with extraordinary amount of influence. 

Senator Manchin is the key vote for Democrats, and he knows it

After the 2020 Elections, Democrats miraculously pulled off a tied Senate.  Since Vice President Kamala Harris’ one Constitutional responsibility is to break tie votes in the Senate, Democrats have an opportunity to legislate.  However, no Democrat can break ranks in voting if they hope to achieve their legislative aims.  

Manchin has already exhibited a willingness to defy the party and the president and don’t expect him to change.  In West Virginia, Manchin perpetually performs a balancing act in maintaining his Democratic chops while pleasing an increasingly more conservative constituency.  West Virginia’s senior senator claims he does not wish to abandon bipartisanship, and that’s not a bad goal.  

While we can take Manchin at his word for wanting to bring Americans together and applaud the effort, I would hope even he could see that the circumstances of his calls for bipartisanship seem to indicate he’s also concerned about the ‘Trump effect’ in West Virginia.  His current position as the lynchpin of the Senate allows him to keep walking a tightrope to win another term in 2024.  

Manchin’s efforts earned him an invitation to the White House last week and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden made a trip to Charleston with the senator (and West Virginia’s unofficially official ambassador Jennifer Garner).  Also, Manchin’s wife, Gayle, was recently nominated by President Biden and confirmed as a co-chair to the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Meanwhile, important legislation vital to the nation and supported by large swaths of the nation remains in limbo because … well … Joe Manchin.  

The bipartisanship Manchin seeks comes at a high price, and it’s a price he doesn’t have to pay. Manchin is 73 years old with financial assets above and beyond most Americans, let alone West Virginians.  For those outside of the Mountain State, the Manchin name is almost as politically connected as a family can be.  Legislation held up in the name of bipartisanship will neither affect Manchin nor his family.  It does, however, affect most of his constituents.  

The filibuster has already been eroded by both parties

Filibusters do not extend to judicial nominees and other executive appointees, though they once did.  In years past, the minority party could filibuster a nominee to any federal court, including the Supreme Court.  Federal courts already faced a backlog of cases without the filibustering of appointed judges.  

In 2013, then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) led the effort to change rules to allow judicial nominees (other than Supreme Court nominees) and other executive appointments to proceed without the option of a filibuster.  

“The time is long overdue for the Senate to change its rules and end the filibuster, permanently.”

Subsequently, Republicans acted in accordance in 2017, when then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) ended the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, paving the way for President Trump to appoint three justices to the nation’s highest court (none of whom tallied more than 54 votes in confirmation).

Congress also passed the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, which permits the Senate to waive the 60 vote supermajority on bills associated with the budget and spending.  For nearly 50 years, the Senate moves forward with legislation dealing primarily with the nation’s fiscal policies because it is necessary to the functioning of the federal government.  The time has come to extend this process, known as ‘reconciliation.’  

Federal law will still remain consistent 

Despite what Manchin and other elected officials might have us believe, the end of the filibuster will not usher in an era of back and forth legislation, undoing the actions of a previous Congress.  To effectively legislate, either major party will still need to secure the trifecta of controlling the presidency, a majority in the House, and a majority in the Senate.  Even if they achieve this end, they must still produce results or face the prospect of being voted out of office.  

Punched in the mouth: No scripted presidency for Biden

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” 

— Mike Tyson, former heavyweight boxing champion 

Mike Tyson was asked about an upcoming fight with Evander Holyfield, another great heavyweight champion, specifically as to how Tyson would try to disrupt Holyfield’s fight plan.  This is when Tyson uttered his now famous maxim about taking a punch to the mouth.  That was part of Tyson’s fight strategy all the time.  He hit them with such power and ferocity that most fighters would freeze in the moment and their plans would crumble under the weight of a devastating uppercut.  

President Joe Biden’s administration now faces its first real punches in the mouth.  Through the president’s first 100 days, few major challenges presented themselves.  Members of the Republican Party threw a few jabs, just feeling out the new chief executive.  Now into a steady rhythm, the administration is absorbing a few power shots that will try to throw Biden and his team off balance.  

The jab 

The latest and perhaps most devastating setback for Team Biden is the latest jobs report.  In April, the United States added 266,000 jobs, according to the Department of Labor.  That doesn’t sound too bad until you consider that analysts predicted a significantly higher number, about four times that number to be more precise.  Unemployment rose slightly from 6.0% to 6.1% and the jobs numbers from March were revised (to 770,000 jobs added and down from the original estimate of 916,000).  This is definitely not the news the administration hoped to see.

Though the president cannot single-handedly control the economy (for good reason), he or she takes credit when the country prospers (re:  Bill Clinton) and also bears the blame when the economy spirals out of control (poor Herbert Hoover).  This is part of the game, so to speak.  

So what’s the play for the administration?  The jobs report obviously gives the GOP ammunition, but the president and his people should spin this as simply one month’s worth of data, and the long term predictions for economic growth still show a positive trend.  Moreover, this is an opportunity for Biden to stress the need for his infrastructure bill, which could establish millions of jobs.  

The right cross 

The problem of the jobs report will dissolve with the next news cycle, though it stings.  A greater problem has been brewing at the southern border of the United States, and thus far, it’s the serious threat to The White House’s agenda.  So far, the administration has not used the term ‘crisis,’ but it’s a crisis.  Previous presidential administrations have consistently passed down this problem to their successors, and that’s unfortunate, but the problem belongs to Biden and he must own it.

Migrants came across the border in record number in April 2021

In March, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection tallied over 170,000 encounters and apprehensions of migrants illegally entering the country.  This staggering figure represents the most in a 20 year time frame, and stretches manpower thin.  The numbers for each of the first four months of Biden’s presidency compared to President Donald Trump’s show significant increases in illegal border traffic.

What’s causing the increase in the number of migrants crossing the border?  Men and women have been coming from South America, Central America, and Mexico for decades, and that’s not new at all.  However, the surge of migrants has increased under the inability of many of those nations to adequately provide care and vaccinations for COVID-19.  The recovery from the pandemic also limits economic opportunities in nations already short on jobs.  During the pandemic last year, Central America endured a series of brutal hurricanes which inflicted significant damage.  It’s also likely that many poor migrants saw a Biden administration as far more permissive on its immigration policies than former President Trump.

The Biden administration is currently transferring unaccompanied children who crossed the border from the custody of Customs and Border Protection to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  This is not an insignificant action, considering Customs and Border Protection are responsible for detention whereas HHS provides care and shelter.  President Biden also increased the number of refugees the United States would take from 15,000 to 62,500 — a salve upon the wound, at best.  

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also has a role to play in this situation, as they have been tasked with reuniting families who had previously been separated in crossing the border or during processing by Border Patrol agents. 

President Biden has personally made an appeal via the media for migrants to not come to the United States and to definitely not sent their children.  However, to stop the humanitarian crisis at the border, broader policy changes need to happen on immigration.  Any president’s authority to take unilateral action has limits.  Congress must establish legislation for any long lasting change to occur, and that might be a problem … 

The body blow 

About that need for legislation?  It shouldn’t be this much of an issue for President Biden to guide legislation through Congress during this early portion of his term.  Not only does the president enjoy a 54% approval rating, but Democrats currently control the House of Representatives (218-212 with five vacancies) and the Senate (50-50 with the Vice President casting tie votes).

Unfortunately, the nature of the Senate’s rules on debate make it possible for the minority party to stifle any legislation which they might find too objectionable.  Under Senate rules, debate on a bill cannot end unless 60 senators agree.  Since it is rare that either party ever has this many senators, it’s often difficult for legislation to pass even if a party has a majority of senators.  Thus, any senator who wishes to continue ‘debating’ a bill can stall the process under what is known as a filibuster (it comes from the Dutch word for ‘piracy,’ so draw your own conclusions).  

Members of the Senate can vote to change the rules of the body, with only a majority needed to eliminate the filibuster.  Okay, so Democrats can do that, right?  Not exactly.

Senator Joe Manchin, a very moderate Democrat from a very red state (my beloved West Virginia), believes he can somehow restore a sense of bipartisanship to American politics.  As such, he wrote in an op-ed piece for The Washington Post, “There is no circumstance in which I will vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster.”  

To be fair, Manchin’s argument pertaining to why he won’t vote to end the filibuster has some merit.  He rightfully pointed out that without the minority party’s ability to potentially halt legislation, there could be drastic swings in federal policy.  This is true when we consider the pendulum-like nature of party control in Congress.  Popular or successful policies could be eliminated simply because the majority party disagreed with them.  

Manchin might be correct about swings in policy making at the federal level, but while he stands firm, legislation important to the nation sits idly in committee rooms of the Senate.  Two of these pieces of legislation (already passed by the House), are significant in the future of this nation, and both would genuinely benefit his home state.  Of course, any vote for a Biden initiative appears to many West Virginians as some kind of betrayal (it’s a wonderful, yet strange place to live).

Is it possible that President Biden’s agenda hinges entirely on Joe Manchin?

The For the People Act (also known as HR1) would prevent partisan gerrymandering, mitigate the influence of big money in elections, and require states take significant actions to make voting easier.  Additionally, The American Jobs Plan would make a significant investment into the infrastructure of this nation (long overdue) and provide millions of jobs for Americans (mostly blue-collar jobs according to The White House).

While I think some moderate Republicans are open to negotiations about these pieces of legislation, the current leadership structure of the GOP does not want either of these bills to pass the Senate.  If either of these bills passes, President Biden will have two signature pieces of legislation passed in less than a year.  The implementation of these policies would win elections in 2022 for Democrats and Republicans want to prevent this.  The GOP treats these bills as a zero-sum game, where a victory for Democrats means a defeat for them.  While they cause more gridlock in lawmaking, the American people miss out on opportunities. 

If anyone thinks the GOP cares about bipartisanship, look no further than the recent infighting in House leadership where Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) caved to the right wing of his party in moving to hold a vote to remove Liz Cheney (R-WY) from a leadership position, due to her vote to impeach former President Donald Trump and her refusal to perpetuate the lie that Trump was cheated out of the 2020 Presidential Election.   The GOP seems to be sending a clear message to anyone in the party that stepping out of line will come at a price.

The GOP also didn’t seem to care much about bipartisanship in the Trump administration, when they passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Acts of 2017.  This law passed both the House and the Senate with zero votes from Democrats.  (Note:  The 51-48 margin in the Senate was achieved through the reconciliation process.)

I understand what Joe Manchin is hoping to do for the country, but the Republican Party has not, and will not play by the same rules.  This is why his insistence is such a blow to the Biden administration.  In past years, presidents from either party were given an honest chance to implement their agenda without the opposing party becoming the party of ‘no.’  

This is where the Biden administration seems to find itself at the moment, hit with some serious punches to the mouth.  Yet, the Manchin situation is the most devastating shot.  How does President Biden counter?  What does he do about one rogue senator?

Oh, about that Mike Tyson fight against Evander Holyfield?  Tyson was right, to an extent.  We do see what happens to a plan when someone gets punched in the mouth.  Holyfield, known as one of the great counterpunchers in boxing history, took Tyson’s best shots and stuck with his plan.  He TKO’d Tyson in the 11th round.  Here’s to hoping Biden can channel his inner-Holyfield.

For the people, for the win

Traditionally, individual American states are left to establish their own election and voting laws.  However, a number of states have created policies which placed unconstitutional and unnecessary obstacles to voting.  Southern states notoriously discriminated against people of color for decades before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 ended many of these practices.  This legislation also required states with a history of discriminatory practices to seek preclearance from the federal government before changing election laws.

In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in Shelby County v. Holder that the ‘preclearance’ requirement was no longer valid considering the Voting Rights Act was based on racial data several decades old.  The decision allowed states latitude in creating election laws again.  Numerous states have passed laws requiring photo identification to vote, which could be construed as a form of poll tax and an unnecessary obstacle for voting.  States have revised legal codes to make it much easier to purge voter registrations if citizens do not vote often enough.  In the last few months, several state legislatures have tightened restrictions on early and absentee voting for no discernible reason.

To address accessibility to voting and other election related issues, Democrats in the US House of Representatives created HR1, known as theFor The People Act.  This bill is an all-encompassing reform of a large number of policies which have made the United States less democratic in terms of elections.

Voting

In terms of voting, the bill requires automatic voter registration in each state, and citizens can still opt out if they desire.  The bill will also permit registration via internet, require states to allow same-day registration (on Election Day), and provide funds to states to promote additional registration drives and the importance of voting.  

HR1 will also maintain that states provide more accessibility features in terms of voting for citizens with physical disabilities.  States must also restore voting rights to felons who have served their criminal sentences.  On Election Day, the ballots would be standardized for federal elections and provide more consistency nationwide.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) promotes the For the People Act

Mail-in voting and absentee ballots would become easier to obtain and use and states would be required to establish contingency plans for voting in the event of natural disasters or a health related issue (you know … like a pandemic).

Representation issues in Congress

One of the more important features of this bill encourages and supports (but not require) that Washington, D.C. become a state, thereby guaranteeing them representation in the House and Senate.  The bill points out that D.C. already has more population than a few other states and promotes the idea that citizens within the capital city deserve this.  

Similarly, the bill also encourages and supports federal voting rights (but not statehood) for Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the US Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands.  For those keeping score at home, these are all American territories, but they do not receive the same rights and privileges as states within the union. 

In what may be the most important aspect of this bill, states would be obligated to establish an independent commission which would draw borders for Congressional districts within a state after the census numbers determine population gains or losses.  This would take authority away from state legislatures to gerrymander districts to help or hurt parties, races, or particular candidates.  

How gerrymandering can affect election outcomes

This section of the bill also would end the practice of ‘voter purges’ where states often delete citizens from the registration database if they have not recently participated in an election.

Campaign Finance Restrictions 

Non-citizens would be prohibited from participating in any type fo electioneering activities, expanding a current ban on foreigners not being permitted to donate to campaigns.  Additionally, the new law would ban the practice of creating corporations for the purpose of funneling foreign money through those corporations for use in election related activities.

Online ads would become more transparent in who funded them, including requirements for disclosure of top donors to a particular group.  “Deepfake” videos would be banned from political ads, and publicly traded corporations would have to disclose financial information (including donor lists) to shareholders.

Campaign Finance Empowerment

The federal government would launch a pilot program in three states which would provide every eligible voter with a $25 voucher for a donation to a candidate.  These citizens could then take the voucher and give it to the candidate of their choosing.  The idea behind this program would be to allow for more Americans to express their voice through donating funds to a candidate that they might not otherwise donate due to a lack of finances.

Candidates for federal office would be eligible for ‘matching funds’ when they receive smaller contributions (under $200).  Those contributions would be matched up to six times the value to amplify the voice of small donors.  (To receive the matching funds, federal candidates would have to meet certain eligibility requirements. )

Small contributions would also benefit political action committees (PACs).  Under HR1, any contribution under $200 to a PAC could be placed in a special account where a contribution of up to $10,000 could be made to any one candidate (as opposed to the usual limit of $5,000).

Strengthening the Federal Election Commission 

Currently, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) has a six person team to make decisions about campaign finance enforcement and the even number sometimes inhibits the ability to act.  This bill would reduce the size to five members, chosen by the president on staggered terms, to enforce campaign finance law.  

The FEC would have the ability to more effectively monitor Super PACs by an expanded definition about what types of coordination these entities could have with candidates or their campaigns.  

Congressional and Presidential Ethics Requirements 

Some other requirements which affect those running for and holding federal office:

  • The president would have the option of either divesting any stocks or financial holdings which might cause a conflict of interest or place his accounts into a blind trust.  The president would also be prevented from having any government contracts through any of his or her business holdings.
  • Presidential appointees would be required to disclose political donations.
  • Congressional members and their staff cannot advance any legislation that financially benefits themselves or members of their immediate family.
  • House members would be banned from serving on the board of any for-profit companies. (Apparently, the Senate already has rules in place for this.)
  • Staff members of a Congressional office must disclose outside compensation and reports will be available about this information.
  • Presidential and vice presidential candidates must disclose income tax returns and any returns on personally owned businesses for the previous 10 years.

What are the pros of HR1?  

I believe democracy deserves free and fair elections where voting should be as easy as humanly possible.  I cannot understand why automatic voter registration hasn’t been part of the American way.  Other democracies have been doing this for years.  Standardized ballots, early voting, mail-in voting, no more ‘purges’ of legitimate voters — these all make sense.  Having a more uniform system of voting is one aspect of a democracy where a nationwide policy is better than 50 different entities have a wide variety of rules and regulations.  When we have allowed this, marginalized groups, particularly racial groups, have been the victims of discrimination.  

Changes from HR1 mitigate some of the effects from the Citizens United v. FEC decision, which gave rises to Super PACs and more ‘dark money.’  Requiring more disclosure of funding sources and how campaign finances are spent lets citizens know who funds the candidates and to what extent.  This can only help democracy, not hinder it. 

The impact of Citizens United on campaign spending is undeniable

The experimental voucher program and matching funds program could considerably alter elections for the foreseeable future.  Candidates who have widespread appeal among citizens who do not have monetary resources would now possess the ability to financially express support for candidates.  Currently, most Americans do not contribute money to campaigns or candidates. This would be an entry point for many Americans to consider donating to a candidate.

HR1 might effectively end the ridiculous practice of gerrymandering, where state legislatures have the ability to draw congressional district lines to the benefit of their preferred candidates or political party.  This practice, by both Democrats and Republicans, establishes districts where no real competition exists.  As a result, members of the House of Representatives often do not fear losing their seat because they never have to make difficult decisions on legislation.  

And the cons … ?

The most significant problem with this bill might be the same problem most bills present:  the cost.  Added expenses to the federal government for the necessary standardization of voting equipment, ballots, and other devices would only increase an ever expanding budget.  Neither Democrats nor Republicans seem to possess any motivation to reduce government spending, and this issue already existed prior to the COVID pandemic.  

HR1 also adds more layers to an extremely large federal bureaucracy.  Who will monitor the expanded regulations?  The FEC will most likely need more employees and states will need additional resources to comply with a number of the requirements this law would demand.

The bill is a monster of nearly 800 pages and it would change quite a bit of policy in one fell swoop.  Congress might be more pliable in changing election laws in a more piecemeal approach, where one bad provision doesn’t sink a bill full of good changes.

Statehood for Washington D.C. and federal voting rights for territories  would not be required by HR1, but the bill would create a commission to study changes for federal territories and encourages statehood for D.C.   This is most likely to be construed as a power grab by Democrats.  If territories were granted electoral votes in the presidential elections (similar to D.C. in the 23rd Amendment), these areas would likely vote in a more liberal fashion, handing any Democrat an easier path to the presidency.  The possibility of statehood for D.C. or any of the territories would also receive a healthy dose of skepticism because it would likely mean more Democrats serving in Congress.  The United States has an obligation to do more for its territories, but we should be asking why Democrats appear so concerned about this now?  

This bill would weaken state sovereignty.  In our federalist system, the line of demarcation between the national government and state governments will become more blurred.  States generally make their own policies about elections and this bill will take one more power and place it under the vast umbrella of the federal government.  

A compelling argument exists for the uniformity of elections nationwide.  Southern states, in particular, have repeatedly demonstrated their willingness to enact discriminatory practices in elections which either prevent voting or establish unnecessary obstacles to participate in the most important form of political participation.  Moreover, the federal government does maintain an obligation to promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of Liberty for the American people.  

Will this bill pass?

HR1 has already passed through the House of Representatives by a 220-210 vote, almost entirely along party lines (one Democrat voted against, two Republicans did not vote, and two other seats were vacant at the time of the vote).  The Senate will advance the bill since Democrats are in the majority, but the road will be long for the bill to become law.  Why do Republicans not like the bill?

The simplest explanation is that the passage of this bill translates to a strategic loss for Republicans.  If this bill passes, they will lose more elections.  The makeup of Americans in terms of Democrats and Republicans in modern history has leaned towards Democrats.  To offset a numerical disadvantage, Republicans have utilized vast financial resources and gerrymandering to win elections.  (Both parties gerrymander districts when they think they can get away with it, but the Republicans just happen to be better at it.)

Passing this bill would mean independent commissions with members of both major parties would work together in creating fair boundary lines.  If they cannot agree on a redistricting plan, a panel of federal circuit court judges in that state would take over the task.  This would diminish the ability of Republican controlled state legislatures to establish districts that maximize their representation in the House.

Republicans would also lose ground in the financial arms race of elections.  Money does not guarantee a win in an election, but candidates don’t win without it.  Allowing matching funds for small donations helps individuals who do not have access to significant wealth.  These contributions and the experimental voucher programs would benefit people more likely to identify as Democrats rather than Republicans.  Furthermore, the requirements of disclosures of top donor lists from Super PACs would demonstrate who funds the groups with some of the most ridiculous and dishonest attack ads.  These individuals who fund and operate Super PACs would also face more limitations in terms of what types of interactions they can have with those candidates.  

Republicans do not want this bill to pass and they currently have 50 votes in the Senate.  Since HR1 is not a budget related bill, debate is not limited and the GOP members would filibuster this bill if necessary.  Breaking a filibuster and ending debate would require 60 votes and obviously, it’s a difficult hurdle to overcome.  But, Democrats can pass this bill based on what transpires in the next few months.

President Joe Biden and his team can move this bill across the finish line, but it will depend on a few factors:

  • Can this administration deliver on its promises of vaccination availability for Americans?  Biden promises 100 million shots in his first 100 days in office and the administration says it is on track to meet that goal.  The more this administration delivers on promises and meets objectives like this, Senate Republicans will face more pressure to vote for legislation supported by Biden. 

  • What will happen with the Biden team’s infrastructure bill in Congress?  The success or failure of this legislation will help to determine the fate of other legislation in the future.  The more momentum Democrats build now in not only passing legislation, but efficiently carrying out those policies will make it increasingly difficult for Senate Republicans to vote no on HR1 (or any other legislation).
  • Can the administration tamp down distractions?  In any given moment in the United States, issues manifest themselves and government must response.  Gun violence has already returned and the pandemic is still an ongoing reality.  Jobs reports, GDP, market activity, and international crises will also take attention away from other legislative priorities.  

I want to see this bill pass, but the odds are against it at this point.  Democrats need all the stars to align to sufficiently pressure Senate Republicans into passing this bill.  The odds seem to be against these things coming to pass, particularly since the Biden team prioritizes the infrastructure above election law.  I put the odds of it passing as low, but it would be instrumental in making the United States a more democratic nation.

The Biden Agenda and Infrastructure

We know politics is returning to normal.  How do we know this?  Shootings, scandals, and actual policy fights in government.  It’s not as if these are necessarily the ordeals are entirely desirable, but they do signal that life in the post-COVID era is not only happening, but eerily reminiscent of life before the pandemic.

The policy battles of Washington, D.C. are a welcomed sight.  After four years of an administration with no actual domestic agenda (other than potentially subverting democracy), it’s  encouraging to see real debate and legislation taking shape at the federal level.  

President Joe Biden’s first policy win stemmed from the passage of The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, more colloquially known as the third stimulus bill.  This piece of legislation authorized $1.9 trillion of spending for relief due to the COVID pandemic.  

President Biden signs the American Rescue Plan into law, but hopes for more legislation soon

The key pieces of the legislation include direct payments of $1,400 to most Americans, extending unemployment benefits (including an additional $300 supplement per payment), expanded tax credits, grants to small businesses, funds to fight COVID-19, and increased educational program spending.

The bill passed both houses of Congress by narrow margins with few members crossing party lines.  Republican opposition protested not the intent of the bill, but the amount spent on relief and recovery in a year in which the federal government has already spent an unprecedented amount of money.  

Most Americans support the passage of the relief bill, and now the Biden team must build on this success, but they face a difficult path.  The administration has two other bills forthcoming, but their agenda may be unavoidably sidetracked.

The next big thing for Team Biden

Repairing a weakened infrastructure has long been a mentioned priority for both major parties in the United States and the Biden administration looks to deliver.  The skeletal system our nation needs to operate as a modern society has steadily deteriorated.  America’s roads, bridges, electric grids, waterways, and internet delivery currently rank 13th in the world.  This is inexcusable and leadership in both parties seems to actually agree on this point.  Just remember the crisis in Flint, Michigan over the course of the last decade and you can see why infrastructure matters.  

In West Virginia, we understand the dire need for solid infrastructure because it seems we always have terrible problems.  Weather related issues cause damage to power lines, overburden storm drains, and deteriorate the existing structures.  Of our 7,000+ bridges, 21% are structurally deficient, while 31% of the roads are rated in poor condition.   West Virginia needs the investment.

The White House recently released a fact sheet about the uses of the $2 trillion planned investment (over a period of several years) in what is being labeled The American Jobs Plan.  Aside from the typical infrastructure, the Biden team wants to add other projects, including a commitment to more electric automobiles and charging stations, broadband internet access in rural areas and low-income urban locations, make existing homes more energy efficient, and investing more of the nation’s finances into research and development of solving these problems for a more sustainable infrastructure system.  It has a number of great ideas.  The real sticking point is how we pay for these projects.

President Biden has proposed changing the corporate tax rates from a flat 21% to 28%.  This is likely to draw the ire of many Republicans, who will claim this would stifle economic growth, particularly in small businesses.  This change in corporate tax rate would also serve as a strong rebuke of President Donald Trump, whose signature policy achievement was an overall tax reduction.  

The White House has been quick to point out that while corporate taxes would increase, they would still remain below their pre-2017 levels and would be lower than corporate rates in the 1980s, a decade dominated by Republican leadership, including the GOP standard bearer in tax policy, President Ronald Reagan.  

Changes to corporate tax policy would also close various loopholes many companies utilize to avoid paying federal taxes, including allowing their headquarters being located in a tax haven.  

One aspect of the proposed legislation which is a shining light is that the bill, in its current format, would not increase income taxes on any tax bracket.

A large scale investment into development of infrastructure will add jobs to the American economy in a time where they are sorely needed.  An analysis of the economic impact from Moody’s estimates that The American Jobs Plan would yield millions of jobs and produce a ripple effect that would benefit businesses and communities well into the future.  

The development of infrastructure would also provide blue-collar work (electricians, pipe fitters, construction workers, etc.) with a significant portion of the jobs associated with this legislation.  The services and output of these workers means white-collar work benefits also.  After all, offices need electricity, water, internet, and reliable transportation routes.

Can this bill pass?

Short answer — maybe.  The President must find a way to focus the American public and Congress on the need for this bill rather than other issues.  What other issues exist?  Well, the return to ‘normalcy’ in America has meant the return to mass shootings (any act of gun violence with four or more victims).   

In the last two weeks, several mass shootings have occurred in the United States.  Four people died in Orange, California (including a nine year old boy) on March 31st.  Just nine days earlier, a man killed 10 people at a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado.  On March 16th, a gunman shot and killed 8 at massage parlors in Atlanta, Georgia.    In fact, Americans witnessed 20 serious acts of gun violence in the last two weeks where multiple people were killed or wounded.  

The recent acts of gun violence have many Americans asking for something to change.  President Biden cannot ignore the requests from citizens and members of Congress for him to lead the charge at changing something.  Biden has publicly commented that he would like to see a return to the 1994 ban on semiautomatic assault weapons, gun buyback programs, and universal background checks.  

Right now, Biden has some political capital to work with.  He could strong arm some individuals (particularly within the Senate) to go along with some of these policy recommendations, but that would mean Biden would miss out on making any other serious policy changes until at least after the 2022 Elections.

Additionally, the president must contend with the immigration crisis happening at the southern border.  Migrants from Mexico, and Central America have been crossing the US border for a long time.  This is nothing new.  However, the current surge of undocumented or illegal immigrants (choose your own term, I don’t object to either) is the largest of the last two decades, according to the U.S. News & World Report

Border agents reported more than 100,000 apprehensions or expulsions in the month of February.  That is an absurd total, and the crisis becomes more critical when we consider the record number of unaccompanied children coming to the United States.  A recent report estimated that in March alone, more than 18,500 unaccompanied children entered the nation, creating a massive humanitarian problem which the federal government is currently not equipped to handle. 

The Biden administration did not create the problem, but it is now their issue to solve.  Though critics point to Biden’s policies at the border as a reason for the surge, it’s more likely the pandemic’s effects on poorer nations in Central America are the culprit in sending record numbers of people to the United States.  Biden hasn’t been in office long enough for his policies to have caused such an effect, but it’s clear that he must own it now.  

Immigration policy seems more focused right now on stopping the influx and providing basic services for the people detained, especially the children.  This issue cannot be ignored and, like the infrastructure problem, Americans want a solution to a longstanding problem.  It reminds the Biden team that you can plan and script anything, but the reality never lets you govern like you would want.

President Biden’s infrastructure bill will hinge on how he handles gun violence and immigration issues.  He needs friends on the other side of the aisle and I can’t see him sacrificing the infrastructure plans over these two issues.  

The problem is that he doesn’t have many friends on the other side of the aisle.  The American Rescue Plan passed through the House by a 219-212 margin while the Senate was evenly divided 50-50.  Vice President Kamala Harris, per the Constitution, cast the tie-breaking vote.  If Democrats struggled to pass a piece of legislation most Americans believed necessary, then it’s highly unlikely they will receive any assistance for infrastructure, gun policy, or anything else, for that matter.  

Would implementing the ban on assault weapons, buyback programs, and background checks be helpful?  I believe it could move the needle in preventing dangerous people from acquiring weapons.  However, the amount of political capital it would take to change gun policy would not be worth the limited effect those measures would have.  The same could be said about changes to immigration policy.

What’s next for President Biden and Democrats?

This administration will focus on the infrastructure bill and shepherding it through Congress.  Other issues of immigration reform and gun policy will rely on President Biden utilizing executive orders and the help of cabinet departments and other agencies within the executive branch.  This allows President Biden to make some changes within already existing law, but these issues must wait.

Moreover, another important piece of legislation looms large for the administration and Democrats in Congress.  A large progressive contingent is determined to pass the For The People Act, which would radically change elections and voting in the United States.  It’s an important policy piece that the House has already passed (220-210), but Democrats face a more difficult challenge in the Senate.  I’ll tackle that piece of legislation next week.

Empire State of Mind: Nursing Homes and Sexual Harassment

“Success is a lousy teacher.  It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” 

— Bill Gates 

It is nothing short of astonishing how quickly a popular public figure can fall in American society.  Popularity, particularly among public officials, is precarious.  And neither major party has cornered the market on stupidity.  

We find the latest instance of a precipitous decline in New York, with three term Governor Andrew Cuomo.  Ten months ago, Cuomo’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis appeared to be crafting a playbook for other governors.  However, the successes in Cuomo’s career perhaps made him believe his penchant for making the right calls would allow him to get away with nearly anything.  

To briefly summarize, Cuomo is blue blood status in New York.  His father, Mario Cuomo was a popular three term governor of New York with an extensive array of written works.  The elder Cuomo also donated significant amounts of money to charitable organizations.  To say that Andrew Cuomo was groomed for the job might be an understatement.  

Cuomo served on his father’s campaign for governor, worked as a private lawyer and assistant district attorney for New York.  In 1993, he received a position as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Clinton administration.

In 2006, Cuomo ran a successful campaign for Attorney General of New York, a significant building block for his later campaign for governor.  His tenure as Attorney General received high marks from most corners of the state, as Cuomo’s office was involved in a significant number of high profile investigations.  Four years later, Cuomo made the move to the governor’s office.  

Though a Democratic stronghold, Cuomo did win elections with a significant crossover appeal.  He has backed a number of more conservative stances, including tax breaks for companies who wished to move to the Empire State.  

Fast forward to March 2020, when COVID-19 arrived in the United States.  Under Cuomo’s direction, the state secured tests, encouraged masks and distancing, put non-essential businesses on lockdown, and the governor appeared on media frequently urging the public to take the virus seriously.  He also openly criticized the federal government’s response as too weak, and the nation heaped praises on Cuomo as the right kind of leader.

Governor Andrew Cuomo is coming under fire for claims of misleading the public and sexual harassment

Though Cuomo did have a failed run at governor in 2002, he succeeded in almost all of his endeavors in his career.  But with this much success in his life, Cuomo reminds me of a gambler on a hot streak who never believes he might lose.  That level of success only teaches you that more wins lie ahead.

Last fall, Cuomo took another peculiar step by publishing a book on leadership, American Crisis. All the signs seemed to point towards a future presidential run. 

In the last month, two major bombs crushed Cuomo’s popularity and his future as a presidential hopeful.  

During the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cuomo ordered that data about the number of deaths due to the virus from nursing homes be withheld.  The governor later admitted that he feared the high number of deaths would be used by the Trump administration as a major critique against Cuomo and Democrats.  

A count of approximately 8,500 deaths in nursing homes turned out to be closer to 15,000.  Cuomo’s administration attempted to explain the underreporting of the deaths as a ‘pause’ on data collection to prevent any deaths from being reported twice.  Was this genuinely the case?  Of course, the possibility exists, but Cuomo and his team are no amateurs.  If the data collection was taking more time to correctly assess the death toll, the governor’s office should have said as much. 

Cuomo also blamed the media for their portrayal of the underreporting of deaths, claiming that news outlets misled or outright lied about the story.  At least one New York lawmaker claimed the governor low-key threatened him over his comments on the matter.  Assemblyman Ron Kim claims Cuomo called him at home and threatened to destroy Kim’s career if the assemblyman did not back off his dogged criticisms of the governor’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis.  Kim’s allegations are not the first from lawmakers who state the governor attempted to strong-arm them.

Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-40)

The pandemic’s effects on nursing homes received more scrutiny when media outlets reported that early in the crisis, the Cuomo administration directed that nursing homes admit recovering COVID-19 patients before they completely recovered from the virus.  The Associated Press conducted its own search and found over 4,500 patients who had been released by hospitals into the care of nursing homes.  

Dr. Michael Wasserman, president of the California Association of Long Term Care Medicine, was quoted as reporting, “There has never been any question in my mind that sending COVID-19 patients into completely unprepared, understaffed and underresourced nursing homes both increased transmission and led to a greater number of deaths.”  This type of mistake by the Cuomo Administration and the state of New York is difficult to process.  Though Cuomo later reversed this directive, the damage was done.  Currently, federal prosecutors and the FBI are looking into the situation to assess any potential illegal actions.

If Cuomo had any hope of rebounding from this mistake, he suffered another major blow when a former aide accused the him of sexual harassment.  This week, Lindsay Boylan published an article on medium.com,  detailing claims of inappropriate conduct from Cuomo.  

Boylan, a Wellsley and Columbia graduate, established herself as a valued employee in the economic and financial fields.  Her success enabled her to land a job as a Deputy Secretary for Economic Development and Special Advisor to the Governor of New York.

Lindsay Boylan, former aide to Cuomo, alleged the governor sexually harassed her

The allegations in Boylan’s account should shock the conscience.  Yet, they feel too normal in the world today and that’s a sad state of affairs.  Boylan contends the people around Cuomo — including women — created a culture where the governor’s gross behavior was normalized.  She also wrote that when she began to speak up to others in the administration about Cuomo’s unwanted attention, she received reprimands.

Among the allegations levied by Boylan include being summoned by the governor for no apparent job related purpose, a request to play ‘strip poker,’ references to looking like the governor’s former girlfriend (but ‘hotter’), unwanted touching on the lower back, arms and legs.  She also purported that Cuomo showed her a cigar from former President Clinton (a reference to the Clinton affair with Monica Lewinsky).  Boylan was also repeatedly informed by staffers and former employers that the governor had a ‘crush’ on her.  

Why on earth did Cuomo do these things?

Success has an ill effect on people.  When politicians or celebrities experience sustained success, it generally has some basis in good decision making and the proper application of intellect and skills.  At some point, the good decisions of any politician become less about the fact that the decisions are themselves good.  These individuals sometimes come to believe the decisions are good because they are the ones who made the decisions.  They promote their ideas as inherently right because it was their idea.  That’s a dangerous place for any person to be.  In a very real sense, Cuomo and others like him are victims of their own success. 

Accolades and accomplishments also change the attitude of many successful people.  They begin to believe they are more deserving than other individuals.  They forget how many people contributed to their education and career.  They believe they did it all on their own and as such, they deserve praise and treatment above the rest of society.  Politicians seem particularly vulnerable to developing a sense of entitlement because their successes tend to benefit large swaths of society or monied interests who will be appreciative.  An entitled person looks at his or her self and thinks, “They owe me.”  It doesn’t help Cuomo’s case that he grew up in a world of privilege.

Also, there’s the possibility that Cuomo is attempting to distinguish himself from his father’s legacy and prove to the world that he not only equaled his father’s achievements, but eclipsed them.  Ambition can be the best of friends, and simultaneously the worst of enemies.

The effect 

During the pandemic, Cuomo’s polling numbers shot upward, with an approval rating of over 63%  and only 33% disapproved.  With the revelations from the last week, his approval rating has already dropped to 57% in some polls, and the damage may not be done.  During Cuomo’s tenure as governor, his approval rating has waxed and waned, but it’s mostly been high.  He loses political capital here and his ability to affect policy has to be diminished.

It’s important to recognize also that Assemblyman Ron Kim and other critics of Cuomo have already proposed legislation that would limit the governor’s authority.  While it’s still unclear how much momentum this effort will gain, it’s a significant change to government structure for who creates policy in the state of New York.

Cuomo spent the last four years criticizing former President Donald Trump, but the governor might genuinely benefit from Trump’s shenanigans.  Scandals tarnish any administration, but Trump’s time in the White House diminished the impact of these situations.  Trump supporters  made so many excuses for the former president’s insane behavior, that most things, by comparison, almost seem trivial.  

I’m not trivializing the behavior of Governor Cuomo, but the state of New York seems to have no problem doing so.  While his approval rating experienced a hit, Cuomo still has more than half of the state supporting him.  In light of the allegations against him, how can New Yorkers still approve of their chief executive?  Perhaps they have fallen under the spell of tribalism, where poor behavior only matters when politicians of the opposing party err.  

Though New Yorkers still appear content with Cuomo’s leadership, any possibility for a presidential run seems out of the question.  At the age of 63, Cuomo’s best chance at a run wouldn’t come until at least 2028, when he would be over 70.  Though not out of the question, his timing doesn’t work well when we consider Vice President Kamala Harris would be the odds-on favorite to be the Democratic standard bearer whenever President Joe Biden finishes his administration.  Of course, this does not mean Cuomo could not take on a role in the United States Senate, make another run at governor, or pursue some cabinet level position in the future.

Cuomo’s recent errors bring us to an even more concerning trend in politics and society.  Democrats, thus far, have failed to truly acknowledge the mistakes made by Cuomo and the depth of his failures.  I undoubtedly believe President Trump deserved every ounce of scrutiny for his abhorrent and unrepentant behavior.  Democrats spent four years pushing that same line.  Now is the time for Democrats to put the spotlight on one of their own and let the nation know that his behavior was both reprehensible and unacceptable.  To treat women with such low regard and to mislead the public (merely because of the optics of the data) cannot occur without repercussions.  

Yes, I am well aware of the fact that Republicans failed to call out Trump for his misdeeds towards women.  But the hypocrisy is ugly.  The Democrats have a chance to do what Republicans would not and they are not acting.  

Critics, media outlets, and other political mainstays are turning to United States Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) and she is holding the party line for the moment.  Gillibrand has long advocated for believing women who make claims of sexual harassment, and was quoted in 2019 as saying, “… when allegations are made in the workplace, we must believe women so that serious investigations can actually take place, we can learn the facts, and there can be appropriate accountability.”  This statement came on the heels of an investigation into sexual harassment claims against one of her former aides. 

Moreover, since Lindsay Boylan’s accusations became public, other women have come forward with allegations against Governor Cuomo.  Officials should investigate to determine the veracity of these claims, but Democrats are missing the chance to practice what they’ve preached for years.

In fairness to local politicians in New York, some Democrats have been critical of the nursing home underreporting, but I’m skeptical of the party’s overall position on the matter.  Why?  Cuomo is a moderate Democrat who somewhat alienated the far left of the party, and the Democrats in the state are taking stances as individuals … individuals who have something to gain if Cuomo isn’t around anymore.  

Politics in New York has always been brutal, but every time something like this happens without someone stepping up to challenge the status quo, the entire nation suffers.