April 18, 2014

Dictionary: Shutdown

After watching this video of a Republican belitting a Parks official for turning people away …

… what could I possibly say that hasn’t already been written about this past week? Too many angles, all covered, lies included, so as inspired by this biting comment on that video, I bring back another dictionary (last time, it was about healthcare):

what extremist conservatives do what extremist Christians do
ignores any reason, debate, reconciliation to advance the goal ignores any reason, debate, reconciliation to advance the goal
take everything personally add personal attacks
burn the earth to get what you need burn the earth because God’s all that counts
use hate, meanness, anger to get what you need never denounce haters who wave the flag of Jesus
ignore criticism, stick to your guns ignore criticism, stick to your Bible
rest of the world doesn’t matter, only one’s own agenda rest of the world doesn’t matter, only those one can convert
absolutely non-negotiable and proud of it
greed & selfishness self-justified by one’s chosen party greed & selfishness self-justified by one’s chosen Christian sect

Get it?

Anyone wonder what’s so wrong about the system? An uninvolved electorate that’s so fragmented that it can only parrot one’s self-selected media intake? You elect idiots, you get parody of it could suffice anymore and even that will be still closer to the truth.

Slaughter in Egypt

Q: How do you make people more sympathetic to religious fundamentalists?

A: Make martyrs of the religious fundamentalists by slaughtering them in broad daylight.

Rep Duckworth Shames Faux Veteran For Receiving Benefits

Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), the former Assistant Secretary of the federal VA and head of the Illinois VA, has a lot of experience with serving in our nation’s military, and in taking care of the soldiers who return. It’s no small wonder that she ripped into Braulio Castillo, a federal contractor, for his egregious abuse of the veterans’ preference system – he claimed a veterans’ injury that he sustained while playing football at a military high school. His company claimed $500 million of government contracts, and his application lists his “sacrifices to this country.”

Duckworth, on the other hand, lost both her legs and part of her right arm as a helicopter pilot in Iraq.

“Does your foot hurt,” Duckworth asked Castillo. “My feet hurt too. In fact, the balls of my feet burn continuously, and I feel like there’s a nail being hammered into my heel right now. So I can understand pain and suffering, and how service connection can actually cause long-term, unremitting, unyielding, unstoppable pain.”

“So I’m sorry that twisting your ankle in high school has now come back to hurt you in such a painful, if also opportune, way for you to gain this status for your business as you were trying to compete for contracts.”

Duckworth’s public shaming of Castillo is one of the most thorough and justified takedowns that I have seen during Congressional testimony.


(Full disclosure: AAA Fund and AAA Fund Greater Chicago endorsed Rep. Duckworth in her first Congressional campaign and in 2012.)

Question of the Week

In Los Angeles, the newly elected City Council might not have any women.  Why don’t more women (including Asian American women) run for political office?

– Gautam Dutta

Federal Court Sets Hearing for California’s Top Two Primary

On Feb. 13, 2013, an influential federal appeals court will hold a hearing on whether a core part of the Top Two Primary law is unconstitutional.

In Chamness v. Bowen, a number of candidates and voters have asked the U.S. Court of Appeals (Ninth Circuit) to decide whether the Top Two Primary’s implementing law is unconstitutional. In short, does the State have the power to force candidates to lie on the ballot, or to disenfranchise people who vote for write-in candidates?

The Ninth Circuit appeals court will devote a full 40 minutes of oral argument for Chamness — a large amount of time it reserves for only a small fraction of cases.

The Top Two Primary’s implementing law (Senate Bill 6) has violated the rights of Californians in two troubling ways.  First, it violated the rights of minor-party candidates, by forcing them to falsely state on the ballot that they have “No Party Preference”.  For example, Michael Chamness, who ran for U.S. Congress as a Coffee Party candidate, was forced to lie to voters that he had “No Party Preference”.

Second, Senate Bill 6 disenfranchised all voters who cast write-in votes in the general election.  Earlier, Rich Wilson and Julius Galacki cast write-in votes that were not counted.

The hearing will be held at 9 am, Feb. 13, 2013, in Courtroom 3 of the Richard H. Chambers Courthouse, 125 South Grand Avenue, Pasadena, California.

The hearing is open to all members of the public.  Parking is available in the lot opposite the courthouse.

Click here for more background on Chamness v. Bowen.

Question of the Week: Egypt

True or False:  Holding an election is undemocratic.

True — according to critics of controversial Egyptian President Morsi.

– Gautam Dutta

Just Vote

Election 2012 is here, and now it all comes down to you.

No matter which state you live in, your vote will make a huge difference:  whether for the White House, for Congress, or for your state or local area.

Will President Obama get a second term to finish all the good work that he has started?  Should California get rid of the death penalty (Proposition 34)?  Should a leader (Tim Kaine) who has reached out to Americans of all backgrounds be elected to the U.S. Senate?  Or should a politician (George Allen) who openly attacked Asian Americans be elected instead?

These are only some of the choices on the ballot tomorrow.

Make sure others don’t speak for you.  If you haven’t already done so, please vote.

– Gautam Dutta

Profile in Courage: Richard Winger

Ed. Note:  Hear this important story of public interest activist Richard Winger (as told by Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times):

Here’s a question about Charles Munger Jr. that’s been buried by coverage of his $35 million in campaign spending to pass an anti-union initiative and torpedo Gov. Jerry Brown‘s tax initiative in next week’s election: Has he been maneuvering to bankrupt a public interest activist who had the temerity to mount a court challenge to one of his previous initiatives?

That’s the picture of the multimillionaire being painted by the activist, Richard Winger, 69, who has run San Francisco-based Ballot Access News since 1985. To say Winger’s efforts to track voter-rights litigation nationwide operate on a shoestring is to insult shoestrings; he says his income in each of the last two years came to $6,000.

Now he’s been hit with a $243,000 bill for legal fees incurred by Munger, Winger’s adversary in his unsuccessful lawsuit to overturn Proposition 14. That’s the Munger-backed 2010 “open primary” initiative that turned the general election into a runoff between the top two vote-getters in the primary, regardless of their party.


Experts in public interest law say the fee award, if it stands, will have a chilling effect on public advocates and community activists who use the courts to challenge government decisions and even private business deals. “If citizens who dare to challenge these corporate-funded propositions then have to pay these corporate lawyers, nobody’s going to do it,” Rosenfield observes.

The fee award astonishes even experts who disagree with Winger’s legal position, such as Richard Hasen, an election law expert at UC Irvine. In his authoritative Election Law Blog thus summer, Hasen called the award “absolutely outrageous,” arguing that such assessments against losing litigants are justified only when an action is frivolous or in bad faith. “This lawsuit was neither,” he wrote.

Read the rest of Richard’s compelling story here.

Back to the Future?

Will Obama lose the election but keep the White House?

The way things are looking, that’s not a rhetorical question.  Right now, Obama is holding onto slender leads in most of the battleground states, while Romney is leading the national polls.

What does that mean?  Obama could lose the popular vote, but win the Electoral College — just like George W. Bush did in 2000 (thanks to his 537-vote “victory” in Florida).

While some might see such an Obama victory as poetic justice, it tells me that we must get rid of the Electoral College pronto.  In this time and age, it simply defies reason — and the core principle of democracy — that anyone can win by losing.

While this election is far from over, it’s not too early to think about ways to improve how we elect our President — especially the National Popular Vote plan, which AAA-Fund strongly supports.

The rules of an election matter.  Let’s see how they’ll affect Election 2012.

– Gautam Dutta


Top Two Backers: Crushing Dissent?

Editor’s Note: This below is a re-posting of “Are Top Two Backers Seeking to Crush Dissent in California?” from our friends at FairVote.

Are Top Two Backers Seeking to Crush Dissent in California?

by Drew SpencerRob Richie // Published September 15, 2012


Latest News: The Field case interveners have asked for an emergency hearing to kick out the plaintiffs’ motion for reconsideration of the ruling on paying interveners’ legal fees. The judge scheduled to hear the case is Curtis Karnow, the same judge who made the initial ruling in favor of the interveners. The hearing will take place at 11 am on Monday September 17th in Department 302 of San Francisco Superior Court in downtown San Francisco (400 McAllister Street, San Francisco, CA 94102). Despite the short notice, plaintiffs hope supporters can join them in the courtroom.

In 2010, two remarkable allies of electoral reform and independent politics– Richard Winger, a longtime editor of Ballot Access News, and Steven Chessin, president of the all-volunteer group Californians for Electoral Reform – joined four other plaintiffs in challenging California’s new “Two Two” election system. They brought the case as individuals, but represented the views of many advocates of the rights of minor parties who believed that two key aspects of the Top Two law (how it handled write-in votes and association rights) were unconstitutional. Their lawsuit, Field v. Bowen, ultimately lost in court, but led to improvements in the law that better ensure that voters and candidates can adequately assert their electoral rights.

That’s why it was a shock – not only to us, but to Top Two backes like UC-Irvine law professor Richard Hasen (who called  the ruling “absolutely outrageous” and “nonsense”) and columnist Thomas Elias  – when Judge Curtis Karnow hit Winger, Chessin and their fellow plaintiffs with a bill for their opponents’ attorney fees to the tune of $243,279.

Those opponents weren’t the state of California, which did not seek fees. Rather they were interveners in the case (meaning parties whom the plaintiffs did not sue) associated with multi-millionaire proponents of the Top Two system. They include former Lieutenant Governor and current congressional candidate Abel Maldonado, the California Independent Voters Network, and Californians to Defend the Open Primary. These latter two organizations are closely enmeshed with the politically well-connected law firm Nielsen, Merksamer; Nielsen, Merksamer’s senior partner Vigo “Chip” Nielsen maintains the books for both groups and sits on the board of Californians to Defend the Open Primary.

Nielsen is joined on that board by Charles Munger Jr.. Munger is one of California’s biggest political donors and in 2010 gave more than $12 million to the successful ballot measure establishing a more independent redistricting process in California — a donation far more than our organization FairVote’s entire budget over our 20 year history.

Both organizations pay substantial amounts of money to Chip Nielsen’s law firm. Recent Form 990 reports reveal that Californians to Defend the Open Primary doled out $379,637 to Nielsen, Merksamer in 2011, and $699,102 in 2010. The California Independent Voters Network paid $141,610 to Nielson, Merksamer in 2010. (CIVN also had the funds to sponsor “a lavish Hawaii junket for California lawmakers ,” as highlighted by Common Cause.)

Now they seem to want their money back, taking it from plaintiffs like the selfless Winger who earned all of $6,000 in 2011 as the nation’s unquestioned expert on issues relating to ballot access, with a monthly newsletter and website that has a steady stream of timely information about elections and election reform. Given Winger’s outspoken opposition to Top Two, the interveners’ drive for fees comes across as showing more interest in crushing dissent than simply defending their proposals.

Here’s more of the back story. Californians adopted the Top Two system by initiative in June 2010. Top Two ends partisan primaries and replaces them with a two-step election process: a “preliminary” election in June open to all candidates followed by a general election between only the two candidates who received the most votes in the first round, irrespective of party labels and what percentage of the vote they received in the first round.

Although many of our close reform allies oppose all forms of Top Two, FairVote applauds Top Two supporters’ recognition that many issues of political dysfunction can be traced to unfair election systems. But our August 2010 analysis shows that California’s  version of Top Two is flawed, although in ways that we believe can be addressed without going back to the state’s previous rules.

Our analysis of the June 2012 primary confirmed the legitimacy of our concerns. California had its lowest presidential year primary turnout in history, with an unrepresentative balance of participation, a near decimation of third party presence on the November ballot and several disturbing outcomes that included a congressional race where two Republicans advanced in a majority-minority, Democratic-learning district because of low turnout among racial minorities and several Democratic candidates splitting the Democratic vote.

Some of our concerns were among the motivations for the Field plaintiffs to go to court. As one example, the law implementing Top Two included a ballot line for write-ins in the final election in November, but stated that any actual write-in votes would not be counted. The plaintiffs argued that aspect of the law conflicted with constitutional principles. Although the California Court of Appeals rejected their arguments, California legislature ultimately amended the law, effectively (if still incompletely) remedying that problem

Nevertheless, the Field interveners asked for legal fees against the plaintiffs — and Judge Karnow agreed. There’s a special irony for FairVote in the role of Nielsen Merksamer as the firm representing the interveners. Nielsen, Merksamer represented the plaintiffs in the meritless – and ultimately unsuccessful  – Dudum v. Arntz lawsuit to block the instant runoff voting form of ranked choice voting in San Francisco. Among those defending RCV in the Dudum case was the New America Foundation, which filed an amicus brief written by Gautam Dutta; Dutta is same civil rights lawyer who represents the plaintiffs in Field.

The Dudum lawsuit lost in district court and in a unanimous ruling of the Ninth Circuit. Unlike Field, however, the lawsuit did not lead to any policy changes. Despite that fact and despite the case being flimsy and costly to San Francisco taxpayers, the city did not seek fees.

Unfortunately, the Field interveners and their wealthy backers see it differently. Once their case was back in district court on remand, they demanded that the court force Winger, Chessin and the other plaintiffs to pay more than $200,000 for their attorneys and fees. They made this demand, despite the fact that Winger and the other plaintiffs did not pursue attorney fees against them.

What makes the judge’s ruling so troubling is that in the United States, each party in a legal case is generally expected to pay their own legal costs. To do otherwise is to punish one side in litigation for asserting or defending their rights and interests in court. There are exceptions, to be sure. For example, plaintiffs who bring frivolous or bad faith lawsuits might have to pay the legal fees of their opponents. Similarly, a defendant who is being sued for violating important public rights or an important public policy might have to pay the fees for the individual who sues attempting to stop them.

But that was clearly not the case here. The plaintiffs brought a non-frivolous lawsuit in good faith to protect the rights of voters as they saw them. The interveners decided to join the case ensure its position was well-represented. Nonetheless, the district judge ordered the plaintiffs to pay those interveners, effectively punishing them for asserting their rights and the rights of California voters.

The court order at least has spurred a quick response. The plaintiffs promptly filed a motion to reconsider – asking the court to reverse its prior decision – and four separate parties have filed amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” briefs in their support. In FairVote’s brief, we note the devastating effect on public interest groups that this award of fees could have and detail the order’s patent unfairness.

Americans have many options for how to conduct our elections – some good and some bad. The Top Two system is a credible reform idea that, properly constructed, could uphold majority rule without undercutting First Amendment rights of association and limiting voter choice in November elections. But no one should be punished for opposing it, whether before a legislative body,  the public, or our legal system.

As more jurisdictions consider Top Two – better forms of it, we hope — and other reform ideas. we must take a vigorous look at each proposal and be ready to determine whether any of it may violate our constitutional commitments. Seeking to take revenge on reform advocates or reform opponents when raising legitimate concerns is a dangerous precedent. We hope the interveners stand down from their position and show greater willingness to consider ways to improve their proposal. Regardless, we hope that Judge Karnow reverses his initial ruling.

– Drew Spencer and Rob Richie