Author Archives: Steve Zemke

Time for Automatic Voter Registration in Washington State

Washington State is now the laggard in automatic voter registration on the west coast. Oregon took the first step setting up automatic voter registration when voters apply for a driver’s license. And now California has followed suit.  Two east coast states have also passed automatic voter registration in 2016 – Vermont and West Virginia.

Just over a year ago on March 17, 2015 Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed HB 2177 making Oregon the first state in the nation to automatically register Oregon residents to also be voters when they either renew or first apply for an Oregon driver’s license or state identification card.

As the LA Times noted:

“Those who are registered through the new process will be notified by mail and will be given three weeks to take themselves off the voting rolls. If they do not opt out, the secretary of state’s office will mail them a ballot automatically 20 days before any election.”

NPR reported that Governor Gerry Brown in October 2015 signed their “New  Motor Voter Act” joining Oregon to register voters automatically when they either renew or get a new driver’s license or California state identification card.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla in a press release stated that:

“In a free society, the right to vote is fundamental. …

“Citizens should not be required to opt-in to their fundamental right to vote,” Padilla added. “We do not have to opt-in to other rights, such as free speech or due process. The right to vote should be no different,” Padilla added.

“The New Motor Voter Act will make voter registration a seamless process and result in the largest sustained voter registration drive in our nation’s history. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the federal Voting Rights Act, Governor Brown has affirmed California’s commitment to strengthening voting rights. It is not lost on me that many states are restricting voting rights with the clear goal of preventing citizens from voting. I am proud that California is again demonstrating leadership and providing a shining example of how our nation can and should expand access to the polls,” Padilla added.”

Two legislative bills were introduced in Washington State in 2016.  As reported by the HeraldNet:

Two measures, SB 6379 and HB 2682, would automatically register people who aren’t on the voter rolls but already have or apply for an enhanced driver’s license or commercial driver’s licenses. Those who receive social services that verify citizenship or get health insurance through the state health exchange also would be automatically registered. The measure would take effect Jan. 1, 2017, and be retroactive so that unregistered voters who already have the specialized driver licenses or benefits would have their information sent to the Secretary of State’s Office, which would notify them that they can opt out. If the potential voter doesn’t respond, he or she will be automatically registered within 60 days.

Unfortunately the Washington State Legislature did not enact this legislation. HB 2682  passed in the House but died in the Senate Rules Committee. The Senate is controlled by the Republicans who do not support legislation to make it easier for people to vote. SB 6379 did not get voted out of the Senate Committee it originated in.
Inaction on bills like this is a reason for people to vote Democratic. Republicans are not interested in increasing voter participation but have a nationwide track record of voter suppression making it difficult for many people to vote. It is unfortunately no different in Washington State.

Surprise – US Court Rules Kids Have a Constitutional Stake in the Future

A Federal Judge in Eugene, Oregon has confirmed the right of a group of plaintiffs representing young people to sue the Federal Government over its climate change policy.

As noted in a press release from Our Children’s Trust   entitled “Federal Court Affirms Constitutional Rights of Kids in Landmark Climate Case” that was posted on the website Common Dreams:

On April 8, 2016, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin of the federal District Court in Eugene, OR, decided in favor of 21 young Plaintiffs, and Dr. James Hansen on behalf of future generations, in their landmark constitutional climate change case brought against the federal government and the fossil fuel industry. The Court’s ruling is a major victory for the 21 youth Plaintiffs, ages 8-19, from across the U.S. in what Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein call the “most important lawsuit on the planet right now.” These plaintiffs sued the federal government for violating their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property, and their right to essential public trust resources, by permitting, encouraging, and otherwise enabling continued exploitation, production, and combustion of fossil fuels.”

The case is significant in that the judge ruled that the young plaintiffs had standing to sue and that the outcome of the case would involve climate science. The central question will be a presentation of climate changes impacts  on the future of the young people and the responsibility of the Federal Government to act on behalf the public trust doctrine.

As Our Children’s Future noted:

 “In denying the motions of the federal government and the fossil fuel industry, the Court’s decision framed the issue as follows: “Plaintiffs are suing the United States … because the government has known for decades that carbon dioxide (C02) pollution has been causing catastrophic climate change and has failed to take necessary action to curtail fossil fuel emissions. Moreover, plaintiffs allege that the government and its agencies have taken action or failed to take action that has resulted in increased carbon pollution through fossil fuel extraction, production, consumption, transportation, and exportation. Plaintiffs allege the current actions and omissions of defendants make it extremely difficult for plaintiffs to protect their vital natural systems and a livable world. Plaintiffs assert the actions and omissions of defendants that increased C02 emissions ‘shock the conscience,’ and are infringing the plaintiffs’ right to life and liberty in violation of their substantive due process rights.”  The Court’s decision also upheld the youth Plaintiffs’ claims in the Fifth and Ninth Amendments “by denying them protections afforded to previous generations and by favoring short term economic interests of certain citizens.” Finally, Judge Coffin upheld Plaintiffs’ assertion of violations under the public trust doctrine, ruling that there is a federal public trust and plaintiffs’ claim can proceed.”

You can click on this link to read Judge Thomas Coffins’ “ORDER and FINDINGS & RECOMMENDATION “

See also:

“Sorry, Feds: Kids Can Sue Over Climate Negligence, Judge Says”  Nation of Change

Judge greenlights Oregon climate change lawsuit against Federal government”  – Oregonlive.com

 

 

Federal Elections Commission dysfunctional and not doing its job

The Federal Elections Commission is clearly dysfunctional and not able to do its job. It is helping to foster public cynicism and disgust with the current political process. Comprised of two Republicans and two Democrats it is gridlocked in partisan politics and seems like a deer caught in the headlights – unable to move or respond. It’s decisions are repeated tie votes or no action.

One of the recent glaring examples is their continued non response to what are called “ghost corporations” funneling money into political campaigns and skirting public disclosure of donors and public accountability. The Washington Post in several recent articles has focused light on the issue arising out of the 2011 US Supreme Court corporate “Citizens United” decision which opened the floodgates on money in elections.

A March 11, 2016 Washington Post article entitled “How ‘ghost corporations’ are funding the 2016 election” by Matea Gold and Anu Narayanswany  outlines the situation:

“The 2016 campaign has already seen the highest rate of corporate donations since the Supreme Court unleashed such spending with its 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision.
One out of every eight dollars collected by super PACs this election cycle have come from corporate coffers, including millions flowing from opaque and hard-to-trace entities, according to a Washington Post analysis of federal campaign finance filings.
So far, 680 companies have given at least $10,000 to a super PAC this cycle, together contributing nearly $68 million through Jan. 31, The Post found. Their donations made up 12 percent of the $549 million raised by such groups, which can accept unlimited donations.

The main problem is that many of these PAC donations are untraceable and allow donors to be anonymous while making multi-million dollar donations. The ghost corporations in question making the donations  only list a corporate name and an agent, leaving the public with no idea who is trying to influence the election.

This is a reason why the US Supreme Court’s corporate Citizens United decision needs to be overturned. Sixteen states so far have urged Congress to amend the US Constitution to say that money is not free speech, corporations do not have the sames rights as people and all campaign money must be regulated and disclosed.

Washington State this November is voting on Initiative 735 to become the 17th state to urge Congress to amend the US Constitution to overturn the corporate Citizens United and othed decisions which have opened the anonymous floodgate of corporate and other dark money in elections.

Two recent cases provide clear evidence that the Federal Elections Commission is broken

Two recent decisions by the Federal Elections Commission provide clear evidence that the Commission is broken and nonfunctional just like Congress. On split partisan votes it took no action on two separate cases.

As the Washington Post reported in an article entitled, “FEC deadlocked on allegations that Gingrich used 2012 campaign to sell books“:

“Former House speaker Newt Gingrich will not face a Federal Election Commission investigation into allegations that he broke federal law by using his 2012 presidential campaign to promote books that he and his wife wrote, documents released Friday show.

…The FEC’s top attorney recommended in 2013 that the agency investigate Gingrich, but the case languished and the six-member commission eventually deadlocked along partisan lines in June, with the three Republican commissioners voting against an inquiry.

The general counsel’s initial review found evidence of seven violations of campaign finance laws, the FEC documents show. Among the findings: Gingrich’s campaign staff and the employees of his production company at times swapped duties as the then-candidate was holding concurrent campaign rallies and book-signing events….

The general counsel also found evidence that the campaign’s resources benefited Gingrich personally, noting that his campaign website included more than 80 links to the Gingrich Productions website, along with blog entries promoting book signings and movie screenings. Many of the links went to pages urging supporters to buy books written by Newt and Callista Gingrich.”

The second case also was decided on a split partisan vote, meaning no action was taken on what clearly appeared to be political action and avoidance of reporting of campaign donations. As the Washington Post reported “How a film about Obama’s communist ‘real father’ won at the FEC “ was also won because of a partisan split. It is a revisit of the Hillary Clinton case that was decided in the so called “Citizens United” decision by the US Supreme Court which opened the floodgates on money in elections since then. The film in that case mailed also right before the election was  “Hillary:  the movie”

As the Washington Post post reported:

“Four years ago, voters in Ohio and a few other swing states opened their mailboxes to discover a documentary they’d never ordered. “Dreams From My Real Father” posited that the president of the United States was not the son of Barack Obama Sr., but of Frank Marshall Davis, a Communist activist and poet who moved to Hawaii late in life ….

In 2014, a progressive activist named Loren Collins filed a Federal Election Commission complaint against Gilbert, arguing that the filmmaker had a responsibility to disclose his donors. The FEC finally weighed in last month, and in a typical 3-3 split decision — by law, the FEC is perpetually split between Democratic and Republican commissioners — Gilbert’s DVD mailing was considered “press,” not subject to donor disclosure, comparable to any political documentary.

“With the right framing, even the most dishonest, smear-mongering attacks can skirt FEC regulations under our current regulations,” said Collins. “His mailing cost at least $1 million, and that could’ve been paid for by Mitt Romney or Donald Trump, and there’s no way to know. Taken together with [the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision], this could have very serious negative ramifications. The general counsel’s report might as well be an instruction manual on how to avoid the transparency that comes with public disclosure of financiers.”

Asking a Commission composed of partisan politicians divided evenly between Republicans and Democrats in a clearly highly charged partisan Washington DC atmosphere is a sure way to have more gridlock. If anything the decisions need to be made by those without a direct stake in a partisan outcome. Time to restructure the FEC to  enable it to make decisions. The simplest  solution is to add a fifth member chosen by the other four members. Another alternative is to remove partisan politicians  and to have the issues decided by a panel of judges. Clearly the current  system is broken.

 

Naomi Klein – “On why young people see radical action as practical”

Author and activist Naomi Klein has some perceptive comments in an interview in the Tyee – the independent British Columbia journal on why young people are more ready for drastic change to address continuing problems like climate change where progress has been slow or not much at all.

The full article is entitled, “We Faces a Series of Radical OptionsContinue reading

Comparing Signature Gathering Costs on Initiatives 732 and 735

In Washington State in 2015, two different initiative campaigns are gathering signatures for initiatives to the legislature in 2016. The two campaigns are Initiative 732 by Carbon Washington for a carbon tax and Initiative 735 by WAmend to amend the US Constitution to overturn the corporate “Citizens United” decision by the US Supreme Court. Both campaigns started in 2015 collecting signatures in April and May.  The final deadline to file all signatures is December 31, 2015. This report details initial costs for getting signatures through Sept 30, 2015 and an update comparison as of Dec 1 for both campaigns. A final analysis will be done in Jan 2016. Continue reading

Press Release – Initiative 735 Passes 254,000 Signatures, Moves Closer to Qualifying

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

Contact Gabe Meyer                                                                                              Campaign Director, WAmend
gabemeyer@wamend.org                                                                                                   or Steve Zemke
Field Director, WAmend
stevezemke@wamend.org

SEATTLE — WAmend, the sponsor of Initiative 735, announced today that supporters have now collected over 254,000 signatures to get on the 2016 ballot in Washington State. A minimum of 246,273 signatures are required by December 31st to file with the Secretary of State. WAmend is aiming to submit 320,000 signatures to cover duplicate and invalid signatures and assure success in qualifying. Continue reading

Press Release – Initiative 735 Passes 239,000 Signatures 12/1/2015

For immediate release:
For more information:
Gabe Meyer – Campaign Director
GabeMeyer@WAmend.org
Steve Zemke – State Field Director
 SteveZemke@WAmend.org
Campaign phone – 206-547-9961
Initiative 735 Passes 239,000 Signatures

 Supporters of Initiative 735 in Washington State have now collected over 239,000 signatures on Initiative 735. A minimum of 246,273 valid signatures is required to file with the Secretary of State by December 31, 2015. WAmend (Washington Coalition to Amend the Constitution), the sponsor of Initiative 735, is targeting to get 320,000 signatures to cover duplicate and invalid signatures.

Continue reading

Initiative 735 to Amend the Constitution to Overturn the Corporate “Citizens United” Decision Builds Momentum

Supporters of Washington State  Initiative 735 have now gathered over 179,000 signatures as of October 20, 2015. The minimum number of valid signatures needed to be filed with the Washington Secretary of State by December 31st, 2015 is 246,372.

The campaign target goal is to gather 320,000 signatures to cover duplicate and invalid signatures, including those who signed who are not registered voters. Two measures which made it onto the Nov 2015 ballot had invalid rates of 10% (I-1366) and 14% (I-1401). There have been other initiatives that have had as high as 20% which is why I-735 is targeting getting a minimum of 320,000 signatures.

The official ballot title and summary of I-735 as written by the Washington State Attorney General is below:

Ballot Title
Initiative Measure No. 735 concerns a proposed amendment to the federal constitution.

This measure would urge the Washington state congressional delegation to propose a federal constitutional amendment that constitutional rights belong only to individuals, not corporations, and constitutionally-protected free speech excludes the spending of money.

Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes [ ] No [ ]

Ballot Measure Summary
The measure would urge the Washington state congressional delegation to propose a federal constitutional amendment clarifying that constitutional rights belong only to individuals, not corporations; that spending money is not free speech under the First Amendment; that governments are fully empowered to regulate political contributions and expenditures to prevent undue influence; and that political contributions and expenditures must be promptly disclosed to the public. The measure would urge the legislature to ratify such an amendment.

View Complete Text PDF

Initiative 735 is an initiative to the Washington State Legislature. The Legislature according to the Secretary of State has 3 options:

“Initiatives to the Legislature, if certified, are submitted to the Legislature at its next regular session in January. Once submitted, the Legislature must take one of the following three actions:

    1. The Legislature can adopt the initiative as proposed, in which case it becomes law without a vote of the people;
    2. The Legislature can reject or refuse to act on the proposed initiative, in which case the initiative must be placed on the ballot at the next state general election; or
    3. The Legislature can approve an alternative to the proposed initiative, in which case both the original proposal and the Legislature’s alternative must be placed on the ballot at the next state general election.”

Supporters of I-735 expect that I-735 will not be passed by the Legislature but will go onto the November 2016  ballot. The states of Montana and Colorado have both had similar measures on the ballot which passed by 74% of the voters. Fourteen other states have passed measures by their Legislatures.

Washington is trying to be the 17th State to urge Congress to put a constitutional amendment back to the states to vote on that would overturn the corporate Citizens United decision. It takes a 2/3 vote of Congress and a 3/4 vote by the states to pass a US Constitutional amendment. It is not  easy to pass a constitutional amendment but so far there have been 27 added to the Constitution.

You can read more about the campaign and volunteer to help get signatures or make a contribution to support I-735 by going to www.WAmend.org. The initiative is using volunteer signatures gatherers and needs more help. If you want to help overturn the corporate Citizens United decision this is how you can help.

 

Should 12% of our State Legislator’s Have Veto Power over the State Budget?

On July 2, 2015 Libertarian anti-tax advocate Tim Eyman snuck quietly into the Washington Secretary of State’s Election Office and filed petitions for Initiative 1366 that he claimed had some 334,000 signatures collected by paid signature gatherers. If validated I-1366 will be on the Nov 2015 ballot.

Eyman’s Initiative 1366 is a Senator Ted Cruz Style Extortion Measure to prevent any new revenue being adopted by the Washington State Legislature. It would cut $1 billion a year from the Washington State Budget unless Legislator’s do Eyman’s bidding.

 Eyman’s I-1366 wants Legislators to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to allow a super minority of only 12 % of our elected State Legislators ( 17 Senators out of 147 Legislators) to have the power to prevent any new revenue being raised for any reason. It would also allow those same 12% of elected State Legislators to prevent any tax reform, even if revenue neutral if it raised revenue from a new source, like a capital gains tax, a pollution tax on carbon or closed any tax loopholes.

Signature gatherers were paid with funds collected by Eyman from a few wealthy taxpayers that like their current low taxes while the rest of our state taxpayers pay a much higher proportion of their income in taxes.

Washington State has been ranked as the most regressive tax system in the country for many years now.  As Jon Talton noted this year in the Seattle Times:

“In the latest Who Pays? report by the non-partisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, Washington state has “by far” the most regressive tax system in the nation. Poor residents here pay 16.8 percent of family income in state and local taxes while the wealthiest 1 percent pay only 2.4 percent.”

Tim Eyman’s latest initiative I-1366 is a quagmire of problems for Washington State.

I-1366 Problems:

  1. Is this proposal constitutional? Voters are not empowered to pass a Constitutional amendment unless first Legislators by a 2//3 vote place it on the ballot. Voters cannot force Legislators by initiative to vote a certain way.
  2. Are extortion tactics legal? Removing $1 billion/year from the state budget unless the Legislature votes a certain way is not the normal way representative government work. Extortion and bullying should be rejected. Essential state services like educating our kids would be directly impacted next year and  into the future as the Legislature resists Eyman’s Ted Cruz shut down the government tactics  to try to get his way..

The problems with passing a 2/3 Constitutional amendment.

  1. A 2/3 vote requirement in both Houses would  empower a super minority of 12% of  our State Legislators to overrule a majority of legislators. It would only take 17 Senators out of 147 Legislators to prevent any revenue increase or repeal any tax loophole. That means that 12% of all the Legislators could over rule a majority up to 65% of all the  legislators in both the House and Senate and prevent action. This is not what the founders of our State and our Constitution envisioned and should be rejected. It would give special powers to a minority of Legislators by allowing them to trump any action by a majority of legislators voting in both Houses.
  2. It would require a 2/3 vote of both Houses of the Legislature to repeal tax exemptions and loopholes even if they are no longer working or no longer a priority of state government. Only a majority vote is required to pass a tax exemption. Currently according to the Washington State Department of Revenue in their latest 2012 Tax Exemption Study, Washington state exempts as much in tax revenue as it collects. For example In that report it noted that in the previous biennium the state  collected some $6.5 billion in B&O taxes but exempted some $7.6 billion from collection.
  3. It would lock in our existing regressive tax system from any reform by the Legislature. A 2/3 vote in both Houses would be required to pass any new revenue source, even if the overall result was revenue neutral.

Vote NO on I-1366. Extortion style tactics that will take critical funding away from schools and educating our children have no place in our state. Pushing an absurd constitutional amendment through extortion tactics to give 12% of our state legislators veto power over majority votes for raising revenue for needed public services, repealing tax exemptions that are not working and preventing reform of our regressive tax system needs a resounding NO vote.

see also www.No1366.org