USPS

Do you wonder why Louis DeJoy, a major Trump donor, is still Postmaster General of the United States Postal Service (USPS) under the Biden administration? DeJoy’s actions under the Trump administration certainly looked like an attempt to undermine mail-in voting, a storyline entirely in keeping with Trump’s Big Lie that his election loss was a fraud. One might imagine DeJoy remains at his post just because the Biden administration has dozens of bigger fish to fry at the moment, like dealing with the pandemic and its economic fallout. The real story is more complicated. Trump didn’t have the direct power to appoint his major donor as Postmaster General, nor does Biden have the direct power to fire him. 

The story of the USPS is itself more complicated than is widely appreciated. I once chatted with my mail carrier about my efforts to tell advertisers to quit wasting paper and energy sending me circulars that I immediately pitch into the recycling bin. Her response took me aback. “Don’t do that!” she said, “If we didn’t have advertisements to deliver I wouldn’t have a job!” It was a vivid reminder for me of how things have changed.

I came upon the following article in the March 16, 2021 Washington Post. I reproduce it here partly as an advertisement for the clarity articles in the Post often bring, and partly because, amid all the other things one might read, this might easily have been missed. (Note: if you have a WaPo subscription or haven’t yet read your free monthly article limit, click on the title below to read. There are some useful illustrations that did not copy well. Better yet, sign up for a subscription.)

Keep to the high ground,
Jerry

What you should know about USPS — and how it descended into crisis

By Jacob Bogage

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is expected to roll out his plan to reshape the nation’s mail service, making a deeper imprint on a government agency that has weathered a pandemic, a historic election and a crushing holiday season during his brief tenure.

The blueprint is sure to cause further delivery slowdowns — DeJoy said as much during a recent hearing on Capitol Hill — at a time when the U.S. Postal Service already is recording some of its worst performance metrics in generations. Cost-cutting measures the postal chief implemented over the summer have been blamed for much of those declines.

But the agency — along with DeJoy’s role — is widely misunderstood. Here’s eight common misconceptions:

FALSE: DeJoy was appointed by Trump

One of DeJoy’s habits in congressional testimony is to remind lawmakers that he was appointed not by then-president Donald Trump, but by the Postal Service’s bipartisan governing board. That’s true, but it’s more complicated than that.First, DeJoy was appointed by the board of governors, whose members are nominated by the president, confirmed by the Senate and are supposed to run the Postal Service as an independent agency. But the Trump administration had an outsize, unprecedented — and as numerous experts claim, improper — role in shaping postal leadership.

Trump has falsely claimed that the Postal Service undercharged express package carriers, namely Amazon, whose founder, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post. Trump assigned his treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, to look at overhauling the Postal Service. Mnuchin then used its deteriorating financial condition to edge out then-Postmaster General Megan Brennan and compel the board of governors to select a Trump loyalist to replace her, The Post has reported.

The board chose DeJoy, a former supply chain logistics executive and major Trump donor. He had not been identified for the role by either of the two executive search firms the governors hired to find candidates. Then-Board Chairman Robert M. Duncan, a former Republican National Committee chair, submitted DeJoy’s name for vetting, Duncan told a House panel in August. DeJoy took office in June.Second, the board is indeed bipartisan, but to some, in name only. The board was empty when Trump took office, and he appointed every sitting governor: four Republicans and three Democrats. When DeJoy was hired, only three Republicans and two Democrats held seats. Before the governors could vote to hire DeJoy, Democratic Vice Chair David C. Williams resigned, upset, according to people familiar with his thinking, over the Trump administration’s meddling and the board’s obsequiousness. The board held the vote and DeJoy was hired.

TRUE: Biden can’t fire DeJoy

Democrats have been howling for DeJoy’s ouster since he started, and those calls have only intensified since President Biden’s inauguration. Many have appealed to Biden to remove DeJoy on his own. But it doesn’t work like that. Just as DeJoy was hired by the governors, he can only be fired by the governors.

Biden inherited a USPS crisis. Here’s how Democrats want to fix it.

Biden can, however, fire governors, but he has to show “cause,” a concept whose meaning in this context is nebulous. Does “cause” mean the governors have to do something wrong? Or does it mean that they have ideological disagreements with Biden about the mail? Regardless, Biden has signaled he’s not likely to go that route. He announced plans last month to nominate two Democrats and a voting rights advocate to fill the remaining three open seats on the board, giving Democrats and Biden appointees a majority with enough votes to remove DeJoy, if desired.

FALSE: The Postal Service bungled the election

Actually, the Postal Service did its job during the November general election and the Georgia Senate runoff in January. The agency delivered 135 million ballots to or from voters in the Novembercontest, according to its post-election report, and 97.9 percent of ballots were delivered on time, or within three days. On average, the Postal Service reported, it took 2.1 days to deliver ballots from election officials to voters, and 1.6 days for completed ballots to reach vote counters.So why, folks often ask, did it take days and days to get the election results in states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona?

Two main reasons:

In Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, state election officials raised alarms with legislators months ahead of the November vote about potential problems. Ballot acceptance deadlines in those states didn’t necessarily line up with mail service. In some cases, vote counters were not allowed to start counting ballots until the day of the election, even if mail ballots came in days or weeks ahead of time. Officials asked all three GOP-controlled state houses to pass laws to make things easier. All three state legislatures declined. So theprocess took longer.

In Georgia and Arizona, the answer is more simple: It was a close race! Biden won Arizona by fewer than 10,000 votes, and Georgia by fewer than 12,000 votes. In races that tight, it takes a while to make sure all the counts are accurate.

FALSE: DeJoy removed sorting machines and mailboxes to make it harder to vote

The root of this claim, which took hold over the summer, is linked to Trump’s constant attacks on mail-in voting and DeJoy’s connections to Trump and Republican causes, to which DeJoy has given more than $2 million since 2016, according to the Federal Election Commission. DeJoy has not made any donations reported to the FEC since taking office.So when the agency started dismantling high-speed sorting machines and removing public mail collection boxes shortly after DeJoy took office, many Democrats accused DeJoy of tinkering with postal infrastructure they saw as vital to the election.

Here’s why the Postal Service wanted to remove hundreds of mail-sorting machines

The truth is that the Postal Service had long planned to remove collection boxes and sorting machines, though that program accelerated under DeJoy, according to an inspector general report. Commercial mailers had for years complained about overcapacity in the Postal Service’s network — that the agency had too many machines to maintain, which were jacking up costs. Public mailboxes, according to industry experts, are getting far less use. So the Postal Service removed a bunch of both, causing an uproar from liberal activists.

DeJoy suspended the machine and mailbox removals in August, days before he was grilled about them before House and Senate committees, but he also said the Postal Service would not reconnect any sorting machines or replace any mailboxes.

FALSE: Republicans used a 2006 law to tank the Postal Service

One of the most controversial provisions in postal policy is the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA), which is broadly misunderstood. The statute did two main things: It created a system for postage rate setting, and it changed the way the Postal Service funds its retirees’ health benefits.It’s the health benefit fund that all these years later gets most of the attention. It’s a hefty burden on the Postal Service, and undoubtedly, the agency’s balance sheet would look a lot better without it. Without the pre-funding mandate, which costs around $5 billion annually, the Postal Service would have more money to invest in vital services.

Even more, left-leaning activists like to accuse Republicans — especially Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who sponsored the bill — of purposefully creating this expensive program to bankrupt the Postal Service and drive it to privatization.

Not true.

The Postal Service needs a bailout. Congress is partly to blame.

PAEA (it’s pronounced “paella,” like the Spanish rice dish, in postal circles) had bipartisan sponsors in both chambers of Congress. It passed on voice votes, meaning there was almost zero dissent among lawmakers.“This bill is critically important to the long-term fiscal health of our Postal Service. It is equally important to the well-being of all our postal workers as well as the needs of all citizens and businesses, large and small, which use our Postal Service,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said on the Senate floor before the bill was passed.

The pre-funding mandate was a compromise between the George W. Bush White House and Democratic bill sponsors. Bush wanted to take those retiree health-care costs off the federal government’s books. Democrats wanted to make sure money for workers who retired from a physical and taxing profession was socked away. They arrived at this deal: The Postal Service, which was making plenty of money at the time, would set aside the cash to take care of retirees.

Then, the agency stopped making money. The iPhone came out in 2007. The Internet matured. The Great Recession hit. As a result, residential and commercial customers sent far less mail, and it cost the Postal Service billions of dollars. By 2011, the agency wasn’t even paying into the retiree health-care fund. And yes, the obligations from that fund look really ugly on the agency’s balance sheet. But that doesn’t have anything to do with privatizing the Postal Service.

FALSE: Eliminating the pre-funding mandate would fix USPS’s problems

Sure, wiping the pre-funding obligation off the books would make the Postal Service’s finances look better, but it wouldn’t solve its biggest monetary crunch. Here’s why:The Postal Service lost $9.2 billion in 2020, it reported to Congress. Of that, $4.6 billion was supposed to go into the pre-funding account. In 2019, it lost $8.8 billion, and $4.5 billion should have gone into the account.

But the Postal Service hasn’t paid into the retiree health-care fund since 2011, without any ramifications. Lawmakers in both the House and Senate, and officials within the Treasury Department, according to numerous current and former aides involved with the mail agency’s finances, say policymakers have largely given up on making the Postal Service pay off its debts to the federal government.

The Postal Service has realized this, too. “The Postal Service has not incurred any penalties or negative financial consequences as a result of not making these payments,” it wrote in its most recently quarterly report.In other words: We know that you know that we’re not good for the money. And we know that you know that this debt isn’t our biggest problem.

The Postal Service’s biggest problem is the mail. Americans are not sending enough of it to keep up with the agency’s growing expenses. We sent nearly 40 billion fewer pieces of first-class mail, the Postal Service’s top profit generator, in 2020 than we did in 2008. The numbers are nearly as bad for marketing mail, coupons from your local tire shop or big-box store and another big profit engine: Thirty-five billion fewer items flowed through the system in 2020 than in 2008.

In fact, 2020 was the first year in which the Postal Service earned more from packages than it did from first-class mail, which says something about the agency’s dire circumstances. By law, each package shipped has to cover its own costs and contribute a percentage to agency overhead. But packages are harder and costlier to transport than small paper envelopes. Ergo, they generate less profit than first-class mail.

Turning around the Postal Service’s finances, experts say, requires reining in costs, creating new or more efficient revenue streams and stabilizing declining first-class mail volumes. Offloading the retiree health-care pre-funding requirement makes sense, they say, because the Postal Service doesn’t make enough money anymore to support that kind of annual expense. But it’s not enough to solve the Postal Service’s deep financial troubles.

TRUE: Democrats want you to bank at the post office

The Postal Service needs new revenue streams, and some Democrats are outspoken about one big idea: postal banking.

Liberals, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), want post offices to offer financial services as a way to serve the roughly 66 million Americans who are unbanked or underbanked, and help raise more money for the agency. The idea would have the post offices provide simple banking features, like check cashing and small savings and checking accounts, so customers wouldn’t have to use risky or high-interest financial vendors, like payday lenders.

Biden appears to support the proposal, including it among recommendations from a “unity task force” between his and the Sanders campaign.

FALSE: Republicans want to privatize USPS

To be clear, most Republicans don’t want to privatize the Postal Service, but some do. The Trump administration in 2018 recommended transitioning the Postal Service “from a government agency into a privately-held corporation.” And the Heritage Foundation, a right-leaning think tank where former vice president Mike Pence now serves as a distinguished visiting fellow, has pushed postal privatization for years.

But the public Postal Service is still the dominant policy position in the GOP, and there are a bunch of complex policy reasons why. You really only need to know two simple ones:

First, Republican-leaning areas need the Postal Service more than Democratic-leaning areas. Conservatives tend to reside in more rural or suburban parts of the country. Because those places are more far-flung and are less populousthan cities, delivery costs more. Think about it: It takes longer to deliver fewer items to people who don’t live near one another.

No private shipping company delivers to every American address, and many enter into “negotiated service agreements,” volume-discount contracts, with the Postal Service for last-mile delivery from a post office to a consumer’s home or business. They give those items to the Postal Service to deliver instead, because the agency must deliver to those addresses under its universal service obligation (which means just what it sounds like: You live in America, so we have to deliver your mail). If the Postal Service privatized and had to turn a profit, it would also avoid going to less profitable rural and suburban areas, and folks — many of whom vote Republican — wouldn’t get their mail.

Second, private companies do not want to compete with the Postal Service on mail delivery. For all of its warts, the Postal Service is actually really good at delivering the mail, and private express carriers do not want to try to crack that market. The carriers also need the Postal Service, through its vast network and skilled workers, to handle less lucrative deliveries. Carriers also would need to retrain their workforces, buy new machinery, reconfigure their logistics and transportation operations and so much more. Could you really expect a UPS driver to go to every home and business on your street six days a week? Of course not, and neither could the Postal Service’s private-sector contemporaries.

END OF QUOTED ARTICLE

There may be fuel in this last paragraph for a subsequent post on private enterprise v. government.

Revelation(s)

The Anti-Christ, 666, The Beast, Armageddon, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are all terms and concepts woven into the western imagination. They all arise from one source, the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Christian Holy Bible. Deciphering the meaning of the terms and images of the Book of Revelation has occupied religious thinkers for untold hours over nearly two millennia. (Check out the wikipedia entry for “666” as an example. The roots of conspiracy theories around The New World Order and vaccine implanted nano chips lie in fevered, modern-day interpretations of Revelation that have spread in secular society well beyond the the religious communities in which these originated.) 

In my early teenage years in the 1960s as member of the United Methodist Church I was fascinated by the idea that the Book of Revelation offered a prediction of the future. I felt powerless on my own to decipher the meaning the intriguing text of the book, which, to the modern reader, presents images akin to a nightmare or a drug trip gone bad. I turned to my parents, my greatest influencers at that age, with my puzzlement. They weren’t much help, They offered various interpretations they had absorbed over the years that only increased my curiosity and embedded confused references to 666, The Beast, The Anti-Christ and related terms in the back of my mind. (There is nothing like the mysterious to captivate a teenager.) When I approached the youth minister at church with my questions he offered me some relief. His understanding of the Book of Revelation was that it was written in code (understood among Christians at the time it was written) referring to their persecution by the Roman Empire. Still, the shadowy, unsettling, vivid imagery of Revelation stuck with me, renewed periodically by cultural references. 

In the 1960s, the United States was pushing hard for science and math education in an effort to catch up with the lead the Russians had demonstrated with the launch of Sputnik in 1957. My parents did what good Americans were supposed to do: they fostered my interest in math and science, buying subscriptions to the “All About” books, a simple chemistry set, a basic microscope and telescope. I devoured age-appropriate material on geology, cave paintings, and Neanderthals. I wrapped my head around the concept of geologic time. I reveled in the original Star Trek TV series (1966). I thought the world was struggling towards peace. To me the United Nations was a major force for good. Meanwhile, as I read the Bible, I tried to reconcile the Bible’s literal words with everything else I was learning. I was fascinated by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (late 1940s onward) and tried to understand how they might fit into an historical understanding the Bible. My patient mother, fond of quoting from the Bible, explained that parts of the Bible should be understood as allegory and not literally. Further proof to me that society was moving toward a common understanding of the world and mankind’s place in it came in 1968 when the Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren congregations merged to form the United Methodist Church.  

I tucked away Revelation’s Beast, the Anti-Christ, and 666 as literary references of historical import only. I did not understand that efforts to popularize the eschatological (End Times) interpretation of the Book of Revelation were alive and well. They were nurtured by at least a century’s worth of Fundamentalist backlash against two perceived threats: Darwinian evolution and academic efforts to understand the Bible in the context of history rather than as literal truth to be deciphered. The Fundamentals, a series of ninety essays published in the early 1910s by Lyman Stewart, an oil magnate, crystallized Fundamentalist pushback against scientific understanding while it lauded dispensationalism, an elaborate End Times construct based largely on an obscure interpretation of Biblical text by John Nelson Darby, an Anglo-Irish clergyman writing and preaching in the early 1800s. Darby’s End Times story was further popularized with the publication of the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909. The Scofield Bible supported dispensationalism in Fundamentalist congregations but also lent some credence to Darby’s dispensationalist interpretation of Revelation among a wider, more mainstream Christian audience. That audience included my mother’s family, who tended to read Scofield’s annotations of the King James version of the Bible as authoritative. (After all, trying to understand the plain words of the Bible in its multiple translations without help from trusted clergy is a daunting task.)

Predicting the future of humanity based on the Book of Revelation and other Biblical clues burst into mainstream American culture during the decade following my period of fascination with the Book. 

Then, in 1970, Hal Lindsey, an American evangelistChristian Zionist and dispensationalist author and television host wrote The Late, Great Planet Earth. It was the most popular of fifteen books Lindsey wrote on his apocalyptic End Times predictions. The Late, Great Planet Earth was declared the best-selling work of “non-fiction”of the 1970s by the New York Times (selling 28 million copies by 1990). In 1976 the book was made into a movie of the same name narrated by Orson Welles. In both works Lindsey fancifully links his Biblical interpretations to current events and personalities as “fulfilled prophecy” and predicts these events might culminate with End Times in the 1980s. Lindsey’s work stands as a major contributor to the dis-ease of still current End Times thinking.

Just as some of the hype from the The Late, Great Planet Earth was starting to quiet down, End Times theology got a huge boost from the Left Behind book series and the films, video games, and other spin-offs that started in 1995 and echo to the present day. The Left Behindseries popularized the rapture, an event in which all righteous Christians suddenly rise into heaven, a concept based on John Nelson Darby‘s early 1800s out-of-context interpretation of a single Bible verse. The Rev. Jerry Falwell told Time Magazine in 2005 that the influence of Left Behind was “probably greater than that of any other book in modern times, outside the Bible.” He is almost certainly correct. The Left Behind franchise injected Darby’s End Times narrative into the minds of a far wider audience than tent revival preaching and guided Bible study had achieved over nearly two centuries. 

Church concepts in both Protestant denominations and non-denominational Christian churches evolve organically, buffeted in some measure by the ideas current in the minds of their congregants. The prevalence and focus on End Times thinking among many today, particularly many Evangelicals, can be traced to the popularization of these ideas injected into the mainstream by The Late, Great Planet Earth, Left Behind, and all their spin-offs. The clergy have to reckon with ideas current in the minds of their parishioners. Part of the pickle in which we find ourselves in this country is traceable to relatively recent fanciful interpretation of Revelation.

I grew up in a church that was reconciling itself with scientific understanding, a church which had concentrated on bringing God’s kingdom to earth in anticipation of Christ’s Second Coming, an event that would unfold on earth and could happen at any moment. The emphasis was on making the world a better place, with aspirations of peace, tolerance, equality, ecumenism and uniting humanity to a common purpose. It was a church that pushed for all citizens’ right to vote, racial equity, workers rights and civil rights. It was a church focused on improving the lot of humanity on earth both now and into the future guided by Christ’s teachings. 

The fanciful interpretation of the Book of Revelation, popularized by modern authors, is the antithesis of the Christianity in which I was brought up. Under this version of Revelation, the United Nations becomes an instrument of the New World Order, the evil “globalists”, uniting under the banner of Revelation’s Anti-Christ. Revelation becomes a road map for Christian nationalism, and, beyond that, it fosters suspicion of the motives of all levels of government. (Based on End Times theology it should be no surprise that Christian imagery and prayer were part of the January 6th insurrection.) Worse, for those captured by the paranoia of Revelation-based eschatology, all of geopolitics is viewed as a means to reach the End Times supposedly predicted by the Book. Rather than working to reduce conflict, attention is turned to encouraging strife that might lead to the glorious End. 

The eschatological interpretation of the Book of Revelation is certainly not at the center of consciousness of every Christian. After all, Christianity, like all religions and human endeavors, is a slow, ever-changing mosaic of belief interwoven with popular culture. 

Stimulus for this post came from my own boyhood fascination with the Book of Revelation and an excellent article, “Revelation Decoded: The Secrets Behind the Most Misunderstood Book in the Bible” posted February 23rd by Joe Forrest, a Christian blogger. It is richly referenced and well worth the time to read. You will come away with a clearer understanding of words and concepts you have seen before and glossed over. They permeate our culture.

Keep to the high ground,
Jerry

P.S. I first grasped the growing strength of the eschatological interpretation of Revelation among Christians and its seepage into popular culture thanks to a glossy brochure my Evangelical former neighbor sent to me that laid out in great detail the stages of the End Times, starting with the rapture. I wrote of it in “CMR’s Worldview“. 

What Happened to RCV?

Ranked Choice Voting has gained traction around the country. Maine has adopted Ranked Choice Voting as its election method of choice and Alaska plans to use it in 2022. The election methods by which we select people to represent us in government are fundamental–and current methods are neither perfect nor are they set in stone. Ranked Choice Voting offers several advantages over our current “first past the post” system, including a diminished likelihood of extremist candidates gaining a foothold and decreased motivation for nasty, negative campaigning. I, and most of us, I suspect, tend to think of whatever voting method being used where we vote as “just the way it is,” but, in fact, voting methods are malleable and contentious. For example, just in my lifetime, Washington State’s primary election system (now known as the “Top Two” primary, a primary in which the voter does not declare a party affiliation and can vote for the person they deem the best candidate for each position regardless of the candidate’s party) has evolved through a complex series of court cases, laws, and initiatives to arrive at its current form. You can read that history here. I see that history as a struggle between voters’ desire to vote for whomever they choose and the two main political parties’ wish to require party fealty. 

So what does it take for Ranked Choice Voting to gain a foothold in the State of Washington? It started with an idea, a recognition that there might be a better way to elect our representatives. Some people take an interest in the subject, study it, and talk up the idea with other people. People who come to feel strongly about the idea associate with each other, form groups, and make efforts to inform other citizens how such the idea might improve our voting methods. At some point a formal group might be formed, solicit donations, and hire staff to push the idea with fellow citizens and with potential legislative sponsors. 

I don’t remember exactly when or how I first became interested in Ranked Choice Voting. Like so many ideas, it feels like it gradually seeped into my consciousness, the same way, looking back, that Iabsorbed the “one person, one vote” credo in the Voting Rights movement of the 1960s–a credo that I now realize was quite new at the time–and far more contentious at the time than I knew. Similarly, I do not remember when or how I first encountered local people who spend a consider amount of their volunteer time talking with voters and with representatives at various levels levels of government about Ranked Choice Voting. 

I used to imagine (without really thinking much about it at all) that representatives to government come up with ideas like Ranked Choice Voting on their own. Now I realize that is mostly wrong. Promoters of Ranked Choice voting capture the attention of legislators, cajole them into offering support for the idea, and then demonstrate that the idea presented has broad support. Even that isn’t enough unless the idea captures the strong support of a legislator who knows their way around the law-making process, from crafting a bill to cajoling other legislators, to making use of the all the technical roadblocks to moving a bill forward.

So how does this apply to Ranked Choice Voting (RCV)? Existing Washington state law (the Revised Code of Washington, RCW) requires a bunch of fussy adjustments in order to allow RCV even to be considered for use by local jurisdictions, I do not know exactly who crafted of the legal language of HB1056, but a quick look at that link will convince you that it was someone with considerable understanding of the details of election law in Washington State. Well over 30 sections of the RCW require modification to enable the possible use of RCW within the State. 

This year RCV has a very knowledgeable and energetic legislative sponsor, Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley, a  state representative from District 37 (part of Seattle) first elected in 2020. She clearly knows her way around the legislative process to a degree that belies her newness to the job. 

A major obstacle to the passage of any bill in the Washington State state house is the fiscal impact attached to it. Initially, HB 1156, the RCV Bill, was saddled with an estimated cost of around 3 million dollars. Rep. Harris-Talley, as an energetic prime sponsor of the bill, was able to demonstrate the likely fiscal impact is far lower, around $600K, by presenting cost data from other states that have implements Ranked Choice Voting. (State governments have to balance their budgets, so a high cost can sink a bill in a hurry.)

A dramatically lower fiscal impact and strong community support (including many who read this blog and registered support for the bill) gave HB 1156 the momentum to pass through several House committees with a “do pass” recommendation. The bill reached the Rules Committee, the last step before a floor vote, the furthest an RCV enablement bill had ever gotten. Unfortunately, on March 10, the day after the March 9 cutoff date for bills to pass out of their chamber of origin, HB 1156 was referred back to the Rules Committee without a House floor vote. 

What happened? I am told that in order for a bill to come to a vote on the House floor the majority party caucus (in this case, the House Democratic Caucus) won’t bring the bill to the floor unless they have among them enough assured votes (50, one more than half) within their caucus to pass the bill–regardless of whether members of the other caucus have pledged to vote for the bill. I suspect, but I cannot say that I actually know, that this rule is to avoid the embarrassment of the majority party of having a bill voted down on the floor by pledged members of the other party voting no when they said they would vote yea. In any case, at the critical moment the House majority caucus didn’t have the assured 50 votes within it to pass the bill. Many suspect that what happened was this: the Secretary of State and some county auditors (the folks who administer elections) were taken by surprise by the groundswell of support for HB 1156. Jerked to attention by the bill’s near arrival on the House floor they put on the brakes by contacting Democratic legislators and expressing their concerns. Change is hard and time-consuming. Passage of HB 1156, they suddenly realized, might put them in a position of having to change procedures–and they, caught a little off guard, didn’t feel prepared.

What happens now? New concept for me: HB 1156 is not dead, it just goes dormant until the House meets in 2022. HB 1156 is still in the Rules Committee and poised to go to the House floor in the 2022 session. (The legislature proceeds in the two-year intervals between the elections, elections that will likely make some changes in its composition. With the convening of the new legislature in 2023 [following the November 2022 elections], all bills that did not become law in the previous two years go back to square one and need to be re-filed.)

Before the legislature re-convenes for the other half of its biennium in 2022 the job for supporters of HB 1156 is to talk with their county auditors and legislators and make it clear to them the level of support for the change in state law that would allow jurisdictions within the state to adopt RCV. With sufficient demonstration of support HB 1156 might pass in 2022.

Following a bill this closely is a new and highly educational experience for me. Among the lessons:

1) Community engagement over a long time is hugely important. 
2) Nothing worthwhile is made law without long term commitment of volunteers (or, I suppose, fewer volunteers and lots and lots of money).
3) A smart, committed prime sponsor for a bill, a person who understands the levers and rules of government, is essential to getting a bill passed.
4) The laws that govern us (the RCW, the Revised Code of Washington) are complex. They require people with considerable legal understanding to craft legislation that works.
5) It pays to understand the rules under which legislation happens. Otherwise, the occasional news article mentioning things like “legislative cutoff dates” are opaque and leave the impression that government just might be evil and underhanded. 

Dive in, get involved, pay attention. This should be our government, the people’s government. That won’t happen without the people learning how it all works. Become acquainted with Ranked Choice Voting. Register support with your County Auditor and your legislators. 

Keep to the high ground,
Jerry

P.S. One tidbit I picked up in researching this post I find particularly instructive. In the course of Washington State’s legislative and legal convulsions over its open system for voting in primary elections the people of Washington spoke clearly. Initiative 872, passed in 2004, passed with 60 percent of the vote. With it the people chose the top two primary we use today. (Since 1935 Washington had a “blanket primary,” a system to which both the Republican and Democratic Parties legally objected and tried to change through the courts.) The top two primary system we now use was the Washington State people’s answer to Party attempts to gain the upper hand. I guess Washingtonians have been a pretty independent lot for a long time.

Dr. Seuss, the Epoch Times, and Fear

Earlier this week I checked in with my former neighbor, the same woman who startled me by some years ago by stating that Mr. Trump was a great president because “He moved the embassy to Jerusalem.” After we shared the news about children and grandchildren and engaged in the typical “organ recital” of old people, I asked her what her thoughts were about January 6. I was wondering if her perception of Donald Trump had been altered by the events of that day. I appreciate that she is not the least bit guarded about her views. She did not disappoint. Without even acknowledging my question about January 6th, she declared, “Biden is ruining the country!” A bit addled by the shift, I asked for specifics, to which she responded, “I read the Epoch Times,” and launched into praise of the paper version of the ET–to which she now has a paid subscription ($16.90 per month). She actively promotes the Epoch Times to her relatives and friends. She was unaware that the Epoch Times is a world-wide digital and paper “news” outlet controlled and funded by the Falun Gong. The Falun Gong, founded by Li Hongzhi [his wikipedia entry is worth reading] in China in the early 1990s, is a rapidly spreading, extremely conservative, non-Christian religious movement that operates The Epoch Media Group. The underlying mandate of this propaganda Group is to spread conservative religious philosophy and vilify the Chinese government. Li Hongzhi moved permanently to the United States in 1998 under increasing pressure and persecution from the Chinese government. The Falun Gong and The Epoch Media Group are now based in New York City, from which they have world-wide reach. As a former Epoch Times editor told NBC News, the group’s leaders “believe that Trump was sent by heaven to destroy the communist party.” As a small example, Covid-19 is always designated in the ET as the “CCP virus” (Chinese Communist Party virus). My staunchly Evangelical Christian former neighbor is now an avid reader of a propaganda newspaper published by a Chinese religious cult claiming roots in Taoism and Buddhism and preaching racial purity. Her interest in my gentle efforts to suggest she might want to learn more about The Epoch Times before accepting it as God’s truth was demonstrated by her silence and the subtle glaze that fell over of her eyes as I spoke.

Right after reaction to my comments about the Epoch Times, my former neighbor brightened up with, “Liberals are trying to cancel Dr. Seuss!” a concept I had read about only that morning. I knew from prior conversations with her that even before the subscription to the Epoch Times her main sources of news and information were local Christian radio and her Evangelical Church. She does not watch Fox News or Tucker Carlson, suggesting that the supposed cancelation of Dr. Seuss is a story that has permeated right wing media far beyond Fox.

Apparently the idea that liberal authoritarians are about to invade your home and relieve you of your copy of “The Cat in the Hat” is the latest manufactured outrage percolating on Fox News and other right wing media. Barely noticed otherwise, the controversy deserves analysis because of its profound silliness, silliness in an attempt to fan outrage. I have copied below last Monday’s (March 8, 2021) article by Doug Muder in his Weekly Sift (subscription highly recommended) presenting the underlying facts that Tucker Carlson and others have tried to expand and distort into a full-blown scandal.

Keep to the high ground,
Jerry

Silly Season in the Culture Wars  (Click on this title to read the article with its illustrations and graphs embedded.)

by weeklysift
https://www.gocomics.com/johndeering/2021/03/05

If the only message you have is to stoke your base’s grievances, occasionally you have to make some up.


This week contained a lot of important news, so you might imagine that conservative news networks would have a lot to talk about. You might even say they had work cut out for them.

  • President Biden’s $1.9 trillion (with a T) spending bill was being debated in Congress, and the opposition message wasn’t getting through to the American people. In one poll, the proposal won support from 68% of Americans, including 37% of Republicans.
  • The battle against the Covid pandemic had major developments: Biden announced that enough vaccine for all adult Americans would be available by the end of May, two months earlier than previously thought. Meanwhile, Republican governors in Texas and Mississippi were removing mask mandates and other pandemic-related restrictions from their economies, and others were thinking of following suit — despite the fact that daily case-numbers and death-totals are either worse or not much different than when those restrictions were announced. 
  • The Senate has been holding hearings on the January 6 insurrection, including testimony from the FBI director.
  • Police reform and voting rights bills passed the House. 
  • Refugees are returning to our southern border. 
  • A big-state Democratic governor is battling scandal.
  • The Senate still has Biden nominees to confirm. Surely one or more of them has done something worth getting upset about.
  • Biden is planning another trillion-with-a-T infrastructure bill to rebuild America in ways that Trump promised but never delivered on. 

Serious stuff. Worth calling viewers’ attention to. Some of it even invites a conservative spin.

But instead, right-wing hosts like Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity filled entire segments of their shows with Mr. Potato Head and Dr. Seuss, two purported examples of “cancel culture” that (1) are trivial by comparison to several of the issues I just listed, and (2) don’t stand up to even a small amount of scrutiny.

Let’s examine the reality at the root of these controversies.

Mr. Potato Head. Not quite two weeks ago, Hasbro announced that it was changing how it markets its Mr. Potato Head toys:

Hasbro is officially renaming the MR. POTATO HEAD brand to POTATO HEAD to better reflect the full line. 

In other words, Hasbro is de-centering masculinity: Instead of being an “accessory” to her husband, Mrs. Potato Head is now an equal member of the family. Horrors! Your daughter might get the idea that she can find her own place in the world, and doesn’t need a man to define her. And then the Hasbro announcement got even more sinister:

Launching this Fall, the CREATE YOUR POTATO HEAD FAMILY is a celebration of the many faces of families allowing kids to imagine and create their own Potato Head family with 2 large potato bodies, 1 small potato body, and 42 accessories. The possibilities to create your own families are endless with mixing and mashing all the parts and pieces.

So the toy is no longer hetero-normative. If they want, children can build a family with two Mommies or two Daddies. The branding no longer fights that. (Like that matters. I mean, you never cross-dressed Barbie and G. I. Joe, right? Sure. Me neither.) Of course, if you want a Potato Head Family with a Mommy, a Daddy, and a Tater Tot of your own gender, that still works too. (And you can still remove Daddy’s mouth, so he can’t yell at the Tot.) As best I can see, there are no losers here. https://tribunecontentagency.com/article/20210303edshe-b-tif/

Dr. Seuss. The Dr. Seuss situation is similar: A private enterprise is managing its brand in a way that hurts no one. 

When Theodore Seuss Geisel died in 1991, the copyrights on his works passed to his widow, Audrey Geisel, who lived until 2018

In 1993 she founded Dr. Seuss Enterprises, whose stated mission was to “protect the integrity of the Dr. Seuss books while expanding beyond books into ancillary areas.” 

Since then, DSE has done a pretty good job keeping Geisel’s flame burning. 

Dr. Seuss — who died in 1991 — was one of the top-earning dead celebrities of 2020, with $33 million in total earnings, according to Forbes. That’s up from $9.5 million in 2015. His estate actually earned more than any late celebrity except for Michael Jackson, whose estate earned $48 million.

So maybe they know their business, and their judgement deserves the benefit of the doubt. Tuesday, Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced that six of its more obscure titles would no longer be published.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises, working with a panel of experts, including educators, reviewed our catalog of titles and made the decision last year to cease publication and licensing of the following titles: And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry StreetIf I Ran the Zoo,McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super!, and The Cat’s Quizzer. These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.

None of these six was particularly popular.

“And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” one of the six books pulled by the estate, sold about 5,000 copies last year, according to BookScan. “McElligot’s Pool” and “The Cat’s Quizzer” haven’t sold in years through the retailers BookScan tracks.

For comparison, DSE sold over half a million of Oh, the Places You’ll Go!.

So what about these particular six books is “hurtful and wrong”? Unless you have copies lying around — and most people don’t, that’s what it means to be unpopular — it’s hard to judge for yourself. In situations like this, mainstream publications don’t want to call your attention to something just to demonstrate how hurtful it is. (And nether do I, so I’ll provide links you can chase if you’re curious rather than post the images themselves.)

The problem isn’t with the text of the books so much as the illustrations. None of them that I have seen is aggressively racist, like Nazi caricatures of Jews often were, but they contain demeaning stereotypes of Africans and Asians. (The anti-Japanese cartoonsGeisel drew after Pearl Harbor, though, are aggressively racist, as many cartoons of the era were. None of them are currently being published by DSE.) You’re not supposed to hate these books’ non-white characters so much as find them different and strange. (The theme of Mulberry Street is that you don’t have to go far to see bizarre things, like “a Chinaman who eats with sticks“.) And a lack of diversity doesn’t help: The monkey-like African natives in If I Ran the Zoo would be less problematic (though still far from acceptable) if they weren’t the book’s only black characters. 

(For what it’s worth, I’ll tell a story on myself: When I was three, I had pneumonia and my parents took me to the hospital. In the waiting room, I saw a Black family, maybe the first real-life Black people I had ever noticed. Dark skin was something I only knew from cartoons, when characters fell into mud puddles or got blown up with dynamite. “Mommy!” I announced (or so I’ve been told). “Those people are dirty.”)

If you’ve watched many old Disney or Warner Brothers cartoons — a lot of which have quietly been taken out of circulation — you know that none of this is unusual for the era. Explicitly non-white characters were rare, and the ones that do show up represent something “other”; you’re supposed to react to them, not identify with them. So the problem isn’t that Dr. Seuss was a bad man in the context of his time — in many ways his books were more progressive than their competitors — but that some of his work has aged badly.

What should be done about that depends on what you want Dr. Seuss to be in 2021. If he’s to be a historical figure — a leading children’s-book author of the mid-to-late 20th century — then his work should speak for itself. Leave it alone, and organize a conversation around it, as HBO Max did when it briefly withdrew and then re-launchedGone With the Wind. (GWTW is a spectacular example of 1930s movie-making, as well as a valuable artifact in the history of America’s attitudes towards race. So I encourage you to watch it. Just don’t imagine that its Lost Cause mythology is an accurate depiction of the Old South or the Reconstruction Era.)

But if Theodore Geisel’s legacy is supposed to be timeless — Audrey’s vision — if his work is supposed to live through our era and beyond, then it needs to be curated. Parents and grandparents should be able to trust the Dr. Seuss brand. When you sit down to read to your four-year-old, you should be able to pick up a Dr. Seuss book without worrying that you might put something bad into a developing mind.

That curation is precisely what Dr. Seuss Enterprises was doing when it removed these six books from its catalog. By taking this action, DSE is making it more likely that kids will still be reading The Cat in the Hat or How the Grinch Stole Christmas in 2050. 

The conservative policy vacuum. To understand the overblown response to the Potato Head and Dr. Seuss news, think back for a moment to Reagan Era conservatism. Whether you loved it or hated it — and even if you believed some ulterior motive was hiding in its background — you knew its defining principles:

  • Bold foreign policy that maintains America’s military strength and isn’t afraid to use it.
  • Free trade.
  • Less regulation, lower federal spending, and lower taxes.
  • Local self-determination with less central control from Washington.

That all went out the window with Trump. He liked to spend a lot of money on weapons, brag about American military strength, and occasionally threaten other nations with “fire and fury”. But he also pulled back from wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria; distanced the US from allies like NATO, Japan, and South Korea; and let Vladimir Putin do whatever he wanted wherever he wanted to do it. Mao was probably wrong when he referred to the US of his era as a “paper tiger“, but Trump’s America really was one.

Free trade was replaced by tariffs and trade wars. Some regulations went away — particularly those protecting the environment — but others he stretched to interfere more aggressively in the decisions of US and foreign corporations. Big spending (and big deficits) weren’t worth mentioning any more. And no president in my lifetime did quite so much to impose federal policy on cities and states that didn’t want it. (Last summer, only resistance from the Pentagon kept him from invoking the Insurrection Act and sending active-duty troops into American cities.)

As a result of this reversal, and the absence of any new guiding principles to explain it, today’s Republican Party no longer has a policy agenda. The 2020 Republican platform was to support Trump — period. When the GOP controlled the White House and both houses of Congress, it couldn’t decide what to do with that power, other than pass one big tax cut for rich people. It couldn’t even fulfill its promise to repeal ObamaCare, because that would leave a void that it had no idea how to fill. “Complain all you want that the covid-19 relief bill has been packed with all sorts of unrelated stuff from the Democratic wish list,” Megan McArdle wrote yesterday. “At least the Democrats have a wish list. What’s the Republican equivalent?”

Conservatism today is defined not by principles or programs, but by a Leader, an identity, and (most of all) an attitude: Conservatives are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it any more. Mad at “Them” — the libs, the Deep State, Big Tech, the blood-drinking pedophiles — who keep threatening and insulting them.

But the Biden administration is policy-centered, so to the extent that Biden is driving the national conversation, Republicans have little to say. If they wanted to oppose Biden on substance, they’d need to have a Covid relief proposal of their own. (Ten GOP senatorsdid make a laughably low-ball offer that they knew Biden couldn’t accept, but even they only represented themselves. The Republican leadership offered no proposal at all.) Or a coherent response to January 6 and the larger problem of domestic terrorism. Or an infrastructure plan. Or an immigration plan. Or something.

With no ideas to offer, they can only keep their base riled by promoting a never-ending string of “outrages”. Otherwise they’ve got nothing.

The cancel-culture freak-out. The essence of Trump’s message to his base (a message no other Republican is in a position to compete with) is grievance: Somebody is trying to take something from you, so you need a strong authoritarian leader to fight for you.

Some of these threats may be exaggerated, but they have at least a foothold in reality. Many Democrats really would like to take away assault rifles and other military-grade weaponry, or at least stop Americans from buying more. But the number proposing to “disarm” the country entirely is vanishingly small. Many Americans do compete for jobs with foreigners abroad and immigrants at home, though trade and immigration also create jobs and the balance is debatable. 

But other “threats” are almost entirely imaginary: Non-white races are trying to “replace” youGays and lesbians are conspiring to destroy marriage and the familyLiberals want to criminalize ChristianityBig Tech is trying to steal your voiceCovid is a conpsiracy to take away your freedom. It has become a formula: When the Right needs to energize its base, they invent some nebulous force — “Them!” — that is trying to take away something that should be yours. 

This week’s Seuss/Potato story has made this technique really obvious, because the frame fits so badly. Nothing is being taken away from anybody. Whatever you had hoped to do with Mr. Potato Head, you can still do. No one is coming for your Dr. Seuss books. And if you want more, you can buy more, except for a few books you probably had forgotten even existed. What’s more, the rights to those books never belonged to you anyway; if Dr. Seuss Enterprises thinks its brand is healthier without them, that’s up to them.

Conservative rabble-rousers did their best to pretend something else was happening. “They are banning Dr. Seuss books,” said Glenn BeckThey. Not the legal owners of the copyrights, or the organization created by Seuss’ widow to protect his legacy, but a nebulous “panel of ‘educators’ and ‘experts’.” 

How much more do you need to see before all of America wakes up and goes “This is fascism!”? This is fascism. You don’t destroy books. What is wrong with us, America? Go out and buy those books today. Find out if you can get them. Buy Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, because it’s the end of an era. It is the end of freedom in America.

Beck is so strongly attached to these six books — none of which are being destroyed — that he gets some of their names wrong. 

He wasn’t alone. On Fox & Friends, Donald Trump Jr. also warned about the sinister “they”, and seemed to imply The Cat in the Hat had been canceled.

There’s no place that they won’t go. This week alone, they canceled Mr. Potato Head, they canceled the Muppets. They’re canceling Dr. Seuss from reading programs. … I literally know The Cat in the Hat by heart without the book there because I read it so many times to my children.

(I almost forgot about the Muppets. Last month, Disney Plus began streaming all five seasons of The Muppet Show, making it more easily available than it has ever been. But Disney committed the unforgivable sin of putting content warnings on some episodes, like the one where Johnny Cash sings in front of a Confederate flag. But you can still watch it. No one has had the Muppets taken away from them.) 

Kevin McCarthy similarly implied that the most beloved Dr. Seuss books were being canceled — not by the organization charged with maintaining his brand, but by people who don’t like Dr. Seuss. He tweeted “I still like Dr. Seuss” and then read Green Eggs and Ham on Twitter. Why didn’t he read If I Ran the Zoo and show us the primitive African natives?

Tuesday morning, as Christopher Wray verified that white supremacist groups were involved in the Capitol insurrection and Antifa wasn’t, Ted Johnson noticed a subtle difference in what news networks were covering. 

The Washington Post provided the numbers:

Over the course of the past week, Fox News has spent 4 hours and 38 minutes on Dr. Seuss, Mr. Potato Head and Biden’s comments about Neanderthals, according to a tally by the liberal watchdog Media Matters for America. That compared to 42 minutes from CNN and 39 minutes from MSNBC on those topics.

Fox News on Tuesday alone devoted an hour and nine minutes to Dr. Seuss — more than the combined amount it spent on the coronavirus vaccine and FBI testimony about the Jan. 6 insurrection.

https://www.mediamatters.org/fox-news/fox-news-dr-seuss-obsession-numbers

So this is what conservative media has come to: If you have nothing to say to America, and yet you need to keep your base riled up, then you need to rile them up about nothing. 


weeklysift | March 8, 2021 at 8:56 am | Tags: framingpropaganda | Categories: Articles | URL: https://wp.me/p1F9Ho-7qs

Redistricting, Part II, Focus In

As detailed in Monday’s post, the U.S. Constitution mandates that Enumeration of Persons (the Census) every ten years is to be used to apportion (or “reapportion”) among the States the 435 seats in the House of Representatives. (The number of seats was capped by federal law in 1911 [interesting link] and set in stone by a 1929 law that arose out of urban/rural tension reminiscent of current divides.) Reapportionment of House seats is quite formulaic, but, of course, its fairness depends on the accuracy of the Census. Every decadal Census I have experienced was posed as a civic duty, everyone pulling together to get it right. At least that was true until last year, when Mr. Trump and his administration tried, contrary to the plain words of the Constitution, to count only verifiable citizens and further meddle with the accuracy of the Census by shortening the data collection period, sensing a Republican electoral advantage in these maneuvers. 

I have heard, but cannot now reference, that the reapportionment of seats in the U.S. House will be officially set by the end of July, 2021. Most states will have it relatively easy; they will retain the same number of seats in the House. For those states redistricting will involve adjustment of existing Congressional District lines to allow for population shifts. States that have to add or subtract a whole District on account of population shifts and resulting reapportionment will face a more complex task. Within the federal guidelines laid out in the 1960s that were discussed in Monday’s post, the re-drawing of the Congressional and legislative district lines (the redistricting) is left, by the U.S. Constitution, to state-level decision-making . In most of the states the majority party in the state legislature retains the power to redistrict both the State’s legislative districts (LDs) from which those state legislators are elected and the Congressional Districts (CDs) from which U.S. Representatives are elected. Six states, including Washington and Idaho, have, by law, established some form of non-legislative redistricting commission.  Such commissions should better balance the interests of the two major Parties and reduce the temptation for a majority party in a legislature to grossly gerrymander in pursuit of power. (This wikipedia article offers a nice overview of states’ redistricting methods.)

Residents of Spokane County this year are subject to redistricting by two similarly structured, but entirely distinct redistricting committees. One committee at the State level is responsible for redistricting of Congressional Districts and State legislative districts (see map) and another, at the County level, is responsible for establishing the five new county commissioner districts where there have been only three, a change mandated by State law. The newly mandated and formed Spokane country redistricting commission is closely modeled on the Washington State redistricting commission. 

Washington State passed a state constitutional amendment establishing a balanced bi-partisan redistricting commission in 1983 with 61% of the people’s vote. Article II, Section 43 of the State Constitution specifies the composition and function of the commission. The commission is composed of four voting members appointed by the majority and minority leaders of both the State House and the State Senate. The four voting members nominate a fifth member to serve as a non-voting chairperson. None of the redistricting commissioners may have served as a state or county elected official or a state political party officer within two years of appointment to the commission. The commission has a staff of 20-30 people, including an executive director. The legislature appropriates the funds for the running of the commission. The WA State redistricting commission has its own website. I encourage a quick visit. To approve a redistricting scheme requires concurrence of three of the four voting members of the commission. If the four voting commissioners deadlock 2 to 2 the drawing of the CD and LD lines goes to the state supreme court. (In the first two cycles, 1991 and 2001, the commission avoided deadlock.)

There is much to recommend this system. It avoids lopsided gerrymandered redistricting by the majority party in power in the state legislature in the year redistricting occurs (“in years ending in ‘1’”), like the Republican legislative takeover in Wisconsin using REDMAP in 2010-2011. It requires that the two major partys’ representatives on the redistricting commission come to some sort of compromise–or else they abdicate their decision-making to the state supreme court. But make no mistake, this is a balanced bi-partisan and definitely NOT a non-partisan process. Both Republican redistricting commissioners and one Democratic commissioner on the 2021 commission are recent former state legislators, people who undoubtedly retain connections in the current legislature (Fain, Graves, and Walkinshaw). The fourth voting commissioner, April Sims, the second Democratic appointee, is the Secretary Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council. Redistricting is fundamentally a partisan political process. The Washington commission helps balance the power between the two major political parties of the time–but it does not remove politics from the equation. Consider that the commissioners receive only a small per diem for their time and effort, including many hours of listening to citizen testimony. I pose that there exists no completely disinterested, non-partisan, Solomonic mortal willing to serve in such a position. 

The Spokane County Redistricting Commission is modeled after the WA State Commission. The details are specified in the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) by law passed by the WA State legislature in 2018 (which subsequently withstood a legal challenge in the WA State supreme court). RCW 36.32.053 details the qualifications to serve as a county redistricting commissioner and RCW 36.32.054 specifies the function of the commission. One key difference between the State and County commissions: If the County Redistricting Commission deadlocks 2 to 2 the decision falls (or rises, I suppose) to the WA State Redistricting Commission, NOT to the State supreme court. The members of the Spokane County Redistricting Commission have been chosen, but the choosing received little media attention. Democrats have chosen Spokane attorney and community advocate Natasha Hill, and Brian McClatchey, Director of Policy and Government Relations for the Spokane City Council. The Senate Republican appointee is Robin Ball and the Republican House of Representatives appointee is James McDevitt. Mr. McDevitt is a former U.S. Attorney for Eastern Washington (2000s). Earlier, he spent two and half years on Slade Gorton’s staff (late 1970s) when Gorton was Washington State Attorney General. After his retirement as U.S. Attorney in 2010, McDevitt interrupted his retirement with a four month stint as interim chief of the Spokane Police. Robin Ball is the owner and active manager of Sharp Shooting Indoor Range and Gun Shop on North Freya just north of Trent. Ms. Ball a business woman, a former chairwoman of the Spokane County Republican Party, and an ardent promoter of the Second Amendment. It is hard to think of a more partisan local Republican than Ms. Ball. As of this writing the four appointees have yet to appoint their fifth (nonvoting) member and chair person.

In the coming weeks and months, especially as the data from the 2020 census becomes available, these two redistricting commissions will gear up. They need input and observation. For residents of Spokane County the county redistricting commission may bear the most watching as it is charged with the total re-drawing of county voting districts that will affect the governance of the County for years to come. Stay tuned.

Keep to the high ground,
Jerry

P.S. For background on the proposal and passage of the state law mandating five district-based county commissioners for non-charter Washington counties with a population over 400,000 I recommend Daniel Walters’ December 10, 2020, article in the Inlander entitled “State Rep. Marcus Riccelli keeps remaking Spokane County’s governing bodies — and raising the ire of Commissioner Al French.” 

P.P.S. Redistricting of municipalities, school districts, and fire districts in the State of Washington is not covered under either of the commissions discussed above. Redistricting of these entities proceeds under another set of rules, probably within guardrails set by the the Revised Code of Washington. 

Redistricting, Part I

Last year there was a lot of talk about the Census and who gets counted. Trump and members of his administration (think Stephen Miller) tried to pretend it was proper to count only citizens and limit the time spent on making an accurate count. Now the counting is over and the States (and governmental subdivisions of States) have begun the process of redistricting, a process to which we should pay attention. This year’s process of redistricting is the foundation of our representation at all levels of government for the next ten years. 

The U.S. Constitution, in Article I, Section 2, specifies the process of “Enumeration” (Census) of “Persons” living in each State and apportionment (or re-apportionment) of Representatives to those States based on the Enumeration done every ten years. (Infamously, Article I, Section 2 also specifies slaves to be counted as 3/5 of a person for the purpose of this Enumeration and that “Indians not taxed” are not counted at all. Both clauses were superseded by subsequent Amendments and legislation, but the clauses remain.) The decadal Enumeration of Persons (Census) is used to determine the apportionment of the 435 voting U.S. Representatives among the states. How these Representatives are elected and whom they represent was originally left almost entirely to the States: “…the Electors [those eligible to vote] in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.” Until long after the Civil War that sentence left to each State how it wanted to 1) establish the qualifications for voters and 2) decide whether to elect Representatives at large from within its boundaries or divide itself into Congressional Districts. For example, until 1959 Washington State periodically elected some or all the Representatives apportioned to it using a statewide, “at-large” electionrather than assigning a specific geographical Congressional District. An Act of the U.S. Congress in 1967, 2 U.S.C. § 2c, required that States establish geographic, single Representative Congressional Districts (except for States having only one Representative, currently 7 States). Other details of Congressional Districts, for example, the principle of an approximately equal population per District, were established by Supreme Court cases in the 1950s and 1960s (for example, Wesberry v. Sanders, 1964). These cases were largely based on the Warren Court’s interpretation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, adopted in 1868, one of the three (13th, 14th, and 15th) Amendments adopted in the wake of the Civil War.

In Wisconsin where I grew up in the 1950s and 60s, “Impeach Earl Warren” signs were not unusual, nor were loud denunciations of the Warren Court’s “judicial activism”. It is embarrassing to me to realize that it has taken me fifty years to understand exactly what these signs and denunciations were railing against. The 14th Amendment and its Equal Protection Clause had essentially lain dormant between 1868 and 1954. That span of time included the Jim Crowe era, essentially an extension of slavery under a new set of rules. In 1954, the first full year of the Warren Court all nine justices agreed in Brown v. Board of Education that the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment made racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional. That was the opening salvo in asserting the rights guaranteed under the the 14th Amendment and essentially ignored for 80 years. The U.S. Supreme Court under Earl Warren (between 1953 and 1969) first established the Equal Protection Clause as a basis for judicial review of redistricting (Baker v. Carr, 1962). The Court went on under the same reasoning to establish the principle of “one person, one vote” and applied it the size of Congressional Districts (Wesberry v. Sanders) and the size of state legislative districts (Reynolds v. Sims). Meanwhile, enlivened by the Warren Court, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by wide bipartisan voting margins in both chambers.

Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, like the 14th, are meant to have the same force as the original document. The whole clamor against the Warren Court was, at its base, about interpretation and enforcement of the 14th Amendment, an Amendment originally adopted to ensure that Americans enjoyed Equal Protection (including equivalent levels of representation in government) under the law. Little did I realize until just now that the Warren Court’s decisions and the Voting Rights Act shaped my perception of the America in which I grew up, an America whose first principle (I naively thought) was that all people are created equal and entitled to the same rights, including the right to equal representation. 

Those who cry “States’ Rights” argue in part for the supposed autonomy of a State legislature under Article I, Section 2 and the Tenth Amendment to determine Congressional Districts and state legislative districts as the state legislature sees fit, for example, regardless of the size of the included population and intentional disenfranchisement of voters by gerrymandering. States’ Rights enthusiasts rail against federal oversight mandated by the Voting Rights Act and the 14th Amendment that supports it. (Redistricting oversight was gutted by the Supreme Court decision Shelby v. Holder in 2013, a negation that could be reversed with passage of H.R. 1, the For the People Act–but, since all Republicans are adamantly opposed, still clinging to baseless claims of election fraud, H.R. 1 passing the Senate would first require doing away with the obstructionist Senate filibuster.) Modern States’ Rights advocates would never openly say so, but their argument around state autonomy in redistricting is a direct descendant of our legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, the “right” of States to subjugate certain classes of people. 

All redistricting is and always has been about political power, mostly the retention of political power. Riding on rhetoric about States’ Rights, Republicans approached the 2010 state elections as an opportunity to take over state houses and control redistricting in select States. With REDMAP (worth a read) and newly available mapping software the selected States (ones that retain legislative control over the redistricting process) were able to ensure preservation of a state house Republican legislative majority despite garnering far less than a majority of the total votes cast in the state.  Republicans’ REDMAP proved that computerized gerrymandering can be so successful in the right circumstances that the result draws unwanted attention. Best of all from the Republican perspective, the computer drawn districts were just subtle enough so the U.S. Supreme Court in Gill v. Whitford (2018) said they couldn’t decide whether the partisan gerrymandering of Wisconsin was extreme enough to be judged unconstitutional. The Supremes sent it back to the lower courts.

Bottom line: Redistricting is a battle between fairness to voters and politicians’ desires to gain and maintain power. Redistricting deserves our close attention, lest we find ourselves playing by a new set of disadvantageous district lines. 

I plan to follow this post with a deeper dive into apportionment and redistricting among the States and then focus on some of the specifics of redistricting in Washington State. Narrowing to one State is necessary because each State redistricts by its own set of rules. Until then, 

Keep to the high ground,
Jerry

CMR Changing the Subject

This is an odd title for a news article: “McMorris Rodgers: Effort to block disinformation really tries to silence conservatives.” Written by Jim Camden, it appeared electronically in the Spokesman as “updated” on February 26, 2021. (I was unable to locate the article in the print version.)

McMorris Rodgers is the “ranking member” (gov-speak for “the most senior member from the minority party serving on a committee”) of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. The full House Committee on Energy and Commerce has 31 Democratic and 24 Republican members. Energy and Commerce has six Subcommittees, among them the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. On February 24th the Communications and Technology Subcommittee held a hearing entitled “Hearing on ‘Fanning the Flames: Disinformation and Extremism in the Media.” The hearing was held and recorded on Webex (an electronic meeting platform similar to Zoom). You can watch the whole meeting on youtube.  As the ranking member of the parent Energy and Commerce Committee, CMR is also an “ex-officio” member of all of the subcommittees, that is, she is entitled to attend and speak at subcommittee meetings of her choosing. It is in this capacity as an “ex-officio” member of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee that she attended the “Fanning the Flames…” hearing. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), the chairman of Energy and Commerce also attended the hearing in his ex-officio capacity, suggesting that both felt this was an important meeting at which to be seen and heard.

The topic of the Subcommittee hearing was “Disinformation and Extremism in the Media,” essentially an inquiry into the origin of the demonstrably false stolen election narrative amplified by some media outlets, a narrative partly responsible for the Capitol insurrection on January 6th. The opening statement by Chairman Pallone (D-NJ) is clear: “Let me start by saying we’re all staunch defenders of the First Amendment and its mandate that ‘Congress make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.'” but, “Months of disinformation about the Presidential election results helped fan the flames for the attack on the Capitol on January 6 – an abhorrent, attempt to overturn a free and fair election.”

So does McMorris Rodgers want to engage in a discussion of media disinformation (a polite word for lies) about the integrity of our elections? No. No. No. She would find it inconvenient to consider the role of some media outlets in spreading lies about the election or the pandemic. She can’t discuss that. Instead, she leaps to change the subject, saying she is “deeply troubled” by the hearing’s “obvious attack on the 1st Amendment.” (27:30-33:00 in the Webex) She assails two Democratic committee members for a letter that requested information from certain media carriers about the carriers’ criteria for carrying media that pushed a demonstrably false narrative. You can read the letters here. The First Amendment is a prohibition against Congress making a law “…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” No one is making a law with these letters, these letters are requests for information. 

McMorris Rodgers is making a point to work straight out of the Republican election narrative. Don’t discuss the integrity of the elections based on the facts. Don’t allow even a hint that the January 6th insurrection was inspired by Trump’s ongoing Big Lie about election fraud, his claimed win, and the media outlets that continue to blare his falsehoods. No. No. No. Instead, change the subject to an imagined First Amendment freedom to spread whatever lie one wishes regardless of the consequences (but, shhhh, don’t ever admit it was a lie). Then go on a la Roger Stone and “attack, attack, attack” the very premise of having a discussion of the original topic. [1]

The most telling comment in McMorris Rodgers’ polemic opening speech at the subcommittee hearing (starting at 32:00) comes directly from her background as a devoted Evangelical schooled in Fundamentalist institutions: “We does it end? We’ve already seen the liberal ideology pushed in our schools, where we work, the books we read, who we communicate with, how we practice our faith. It’s frightening. And you know what the worst part is? People afraid of a woke and authoritarian system that is getting them fired, cancelled, and shamed. So they’re being silent. They have no voice. They can’t trust the broken institutions to protect them. This culture of fear is unjust. This committee should not be using fear to force everyone to be the same or be destroyed. It’s the abuse of power. And it’s the force of a state religion of liberal ideology. I embrace all of us to embrace our fundamental rights…” [2]

Wow, Cathy! With this grievance-based polemic you could have had a speaker’s spot on the Odal rune stage at CPAC last weekend. After four years of Trump’s denigrations, attacks, and threats of violence on anyone and everyone he disliked, your whiney, snowflakey claims of persecution ring hollow. Instead of changing the topic, how about discussing the actual issue of the hearing, the spread of disinformation and outright lies by some media? Or does that strike too close to home?

Keep to the high ground,
Jerry

[1] Roger Stone “…has described his political modus operandi as “Attack, attack, attack – never defend” and “Admit nothing, deny everything, launch counterattack.” (wikipedia)

[2] I find it fascinating that CMR characterizes modern thought and norms on inclusion and tolerance not only as a terrible threat to her belief system, but as a “state religion”. Her brand of Evangelical theology has diverged from the Christianity in which I was brought up.