The poll-watchingTea Partygroup known as True the Vote opens another national summit today, with top elections officials from two states among the listed speakers. Announced by email yesterday from True the Vote, one of them is the Republican Secretary of State from Kansas, Kris Kobach, last seen considering taking Barack Obama off the ballot in this state. The other is the Republican Secretary of State from Colorado, Scott Gessler, last seen trying to purge voters from the rolls two weeks before the November election.
Back home in Colorado, Gessler has sounded a little frustrated lately. Colorado's legislature has flipped from Republican to Democratic control, and the new majority wants to make voting easier. Colorado's county clerks, while not unanimously in favor of the changes, generally like them. From the Cortez Journal:
La Plata County Clerk Tiffany Lee Parker, a Republican, supports the bill and says it’s not a partisan issue.
"To me, this is really bipartisan. This makes sense. This is not Republican versus Democrat," Parker said.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Gessler is having a fit over the changes. He says the Democrats are "crazy" and guilty of "piss-poor thinking." And he says they're "trying to change the rules of the game in a very one-sided direction." That might be because making it harder to vote has generally helped Republicans, and making it easier has generally helped Democrats.
Democrats want to encourage mail-in voting by sending every voter a ballot, and they want to allow for same-day registration. The legislation, House Bill 1303 (pdf), comes up for its first hearing on Monday.
Legislative leaders in Connecticut yesterday announced that they had reached a bipartisan agreement on gun reform. The package includes universal background checks for buying guns and a ban on using high-capacity magazines outside of your home or a licensed shooting range. Connecticut State Senate President Donald Williams told us last night that even though his Democratic majority could push through legislation on party lines, they wanted to work with Republicans to get consensus. "If we can do it in Connecticut, this ought to move across the country, and they ought to hear that loud and clear in Washington, D.C.," Williams said.
Now comes the question of whether Connecticut's approach will engender the same level of backlash now happening inColorado and New York, the first states to put new restrictions on guns after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School -- and the follow-up question of whether any backlash carries real political consequences.
In New York the uproar has taken the form of Upstate counties, far more rural than the counties in and around New York City, passing symbolic resolutions that call for repealing or amending the gun reform law. Those votes continue, with Tompkins County, in blue on the map below, possibly taking one tonight. Tompkins County has a population of 101,564, the size of a single Brooklyn neighborhood. Lacking in numbers, opponents of the law are making as much racket about it as they can. The Republican minority in the New York State Assembly, for example, posted this clip of Representative Bill Nojay pledging last week that Upstaters will not enforce the law:
Notice that Nojay defines the issues in clear geographic terms, and not in terms of party:
Let me state what the reaction has been to this act once the people north of the Bronx, and with the exception of the People's Republic and certain other little hotspots of Upstate, the rest of us have demanded that our elected county clerks will not administer this law. Our sheriffs, elected by the people, will not enforce this law. Our juries, who are the people, will not convict under this law. And our citizens, being free citizens and not subjects, will not obey this law.
New York's legislation may have moved through in a hurry -- that's how power moves here, at all once -- and it may have come up for revision, but it moved with support from several Senate Republicans, many of them from Downstate.
The New York law has remained broadly popular: A poll last month found 61 percent of New York residents say they support it, but that includes just 43 percent of New Yorkers who live Upstate. The map below, by a website opposing the law, gives you a good sense of where counties have come out against the New York measure.
I've been thinking a lot about the phenomenon of what you folks first started calling Blue Dots, progressives living in conservative states. The other day, Rachel pointed out that Red Dots in blue states are generally more like Red Swathes, since progressives tend to clump together in cities, while conservatives tend to dominate wide tracts with far fewer people. That is what we see now in New York, a blue state with a lot of angry rural counties. (In the map below, red is where more people are.)
Census Bureau map by way of the Albany Times-Union
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, today signed the nation's second package of gun reform legislation since the December mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Democrats in the legislature started with seven bills. The three* signed by Hickenlooper require universal background checks, payment of the $10 cost by the person being checked instead of by the state, and a limit of 15 rounds on ammunition magazines.
The limit on magazines might carry the greatest political risk for Hickenlooper. An ammunitions manufacturer, Magpul, says it is now making plans to leave the state. Hickenlooper seems ready to bear that cost, whatever it is. From the Denver Post:
"Large magazines have the potential to turn killers into killing machines," said Hickenlooper spokesman Eric Brown.
"This law won't stop bad people from doing bad things. But it does open the possibility that a person determined to kill people might be slowed down even for an instant. That instant might mean the difference between life and death for some people."
Governor Hickenlooper also expressed sorrow today for the state's director of corrections, Tom Clements, who was killed on Tuesday night at his home. Someone knocked on the door and shot Clements when he answered. Police are still searching for the suspect.
Meanwhile, Colorado Republicans marked the occasion of Hickenlooper signing the gun bills by hanging in the Senate minority office a modified New York state flag bearing an image of Michael Bloomberg's face and Hickenlooper's, and the words "New Flag of Colorado." Their contention is that Mayor Bloomberg's campaigning for gun reform has skewed the politics in Colorado.
As we have seen in New York, the first state to pass gun reform, some folks are already saying they will neither obey nor enforce the law. Republican State Senator Greg Brophy announced during debate that he intends to break the limit on magazines. Weld County Sheriff John Cooke says he won't enforce the new laws, except in the instance that someone violates the 15-round limit while committing a crime. As the local press explains, under Colorado law, sheriffs have the right to decide which statutes they will enforce. Again from the Post:
"Chiefs and sheriffs all took an oath to uphold the laws of the state," said Carolyn Tyler, spokeswoman for Colorado Attorney General John Suthers. "However, since Colorado is a local-control state, chiefs and sheriffs should work with local communities and supervisors to determine which laws to prioritize for enforcement."
The recourse for Colorado citizens is to ask the courts to compel a sheriff to enforce the laws, or to vote the sheriff out of office.
*Of the seven bills introduced by Democrats in Colorado, two were pulled by their sponsors. One of the spiked bills would have made it possible to sue gun manufacturers in certain cases. The other would have banned the carrying of concealed weapons on campus. That leaves two more bills, both of which have passed the Senate and are now stuck in the House judiciary committee. One would have required anyone with a domestic violence conviction or order of protection against them to surrender their weapons. The other would end the practice of allowing gun owners to get certified for concealed carry permits online.
The Colorado state legislature yesterday completed passage of one of the seven bills it has been working on for greater gun safety. That completed bill, requiring gun buyers to pay the $10 for their background checks instead of having the state pick up the tab, is now on its way to Governor John Hickenlooper. He has said he will sign it.
With two bills dropped, the Senate sent four of the remaining five back to the House for more action. The stack now includes a measure that would limit high-capacity magazines, which allow for the firing of dozens of bullets without having to reload. A review by Mother Jones magazine found that high-capacity magazines have been used in half our nation's mass shootings. For supporters of new gun laws, limiting magazines seems like a logical place to start. But in the Colorado state Capitol yesterday, the bill to set a limit of 15 bullets before reloading drew this from one state senator:
"I'm telling you right now: I will not obey this law," declared Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, of the bill limiting magazine sizes. "I will willfully and purposefully and civilly disobey this law."
Governor Hickenlooper now says he'll sign the magazines bill, too, if it reaches him. As it happens, the shooter in the Aurora, Colorado, theater -- who entered the cinema with high-capacity magazines -- is to be arraigned this morning. (The local Denver Post says he is expected to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. UPDATE: After the shooter's lawyers said he won't be ready to enter a plea until May or June, the judge entered a plea of not guilty for him.)
Back in January, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the nation's first major gun reform since the mass shooting at Newtown, Connecticut, the month before. Cuomo's popularity has fallen a titch since then, but his favorable rating of 64 percent in the latest Siena College poll (pdf) is still in the first tier.
Support for the sweeping gun bill Cuomo signed also remains strong, at 61 percent overall. In the poll (see questions 17 and 18), 48 percent say the gun bill was rushed through without adequate debate or consideration of the consequences; 49 percent say it was rushed through but that was the right thing to do. The bill is especially popular in populous parts of the state, with 67 percent approval in the Downstate suburbs and 76 percent in New York City.
Upstate, 57 percent say they oppose the bill (pdf). You can see that reflected in the many resolutions passed by upstate counties calling for repeal of the SAFE Act. The backlash has led to scenes like this one at the legislature in St. Lawrence County, far upstate:
Many in the audience voiced unhappiness with a committee decision last week to recommend a watered-down resolution that did not call for outright repeal.
"If you let us down, we can certainly vote you out of office," said Al Scheuplein, Parishville.
I've been putting together a spreadsheet of the 50 or so counties involved, and I'll post the full results when I'm done. For now, I'll point out that St. Lawrence's last Census count showed a population of 111,944. That's on the big side for an upstate county in New York, and yet a relative speck among the 19,378,102 people who call the state home. While Cuomo appears to be in no difficulty, the question is what happens when state lawmakers go home to defend their votes.
The new poll numbers about elected officials in New York arrived on the same day that the Colorado legislature continues moving a series of bills to deal with gun violence. Below, Rachel's opening block on Colorado last week, featuring the president of the Colorado State Senate.
Pretty much every day that state legislatures are in session, there is movement of some kind, somewhere in the country on legislation affecting women's health rights. We talk about what's going on every day here at TRMS world headquarters, but these stories don't always make it into the show. So we thought we'd experiment with listing the last 24 hours' worth of happenings here, Morning Maddow/Mini-Reports style.
[State Rep. Diane] Russell said her proposal would generate new sales tax revenue for higher education, law enforcement and other needs. She also said she believes regulating the sale of marijuana at licensed locations would make it easier for law enforcement to hold suppliers accountable and keep the drug out of the hands of children.
"The only way we can do that is to regulate it," Russell said Wednesday in a telephone interview.
Maine state Rep. Russell, a Democrat, offered a legalization bill last year, too. It lost in the state legislature, 107-39. Democrats won control of both chambers last week, but her party leaders sound like they're not eager to run this one far up the flag pole. On the other hand, Maine is a state with a long history of successful of citizen referendums, and I wouldn't rule it out here.
When Maine extended marriage rights to same-sex couples last week, that was the result of a citizen referendum -- activists collected signatures, put the question on the ballot, and then won the campaign. The issues of marriage equality and legalizing pot have been twinned, both in terms of political strategy by supporters and in terms of voters who back one also backing another. Mainers approved medical marijuana three years, by citizens referendum. Keep an eye for voters trying to do what their legislators consider too risky.
Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler has announced the results of his second round of voter purges. Gessler says he found more than 300 suspected noncitizens, to go along with the suspected 141 he found earlier, from an original pool of almost 4,000. Those 300 people are now getting a letter from the state, two weeks before the election.
"Though the timing is not ideal," Gessler said in a written statement, "I felt it was important to alert these voters that the federal government says they're not citizens."
Gessler has also sent their names to county clerks, in case of possible challenges at the polls.
Of the 141 suspected noncitizens Gessler picked out in the first round, Denver Westword reports that 14 were removed from the rolls. None of them appear to have voted.
"We regret that we have experienced intermittent technical difficulties..."
On Tuesday, the last day of voter registration in Colorado, the state elections website got four times its normal traffic, enough to swamp the servers and crash the page. Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler says the site got 162,713 visits that day, with 36,206 people either registering to vote or updating their registrations.
What could have motivated so many Coloradans to become voters at the last minute? Gessler credits a campaign by the state to get more people to sign up. By why so many in the last few days, and especially on October 9? Consider this report, from the advocates of legalizing marijuana at NORML, dated October 9, the last day of registration:
The University of Denver has just released a new poll of likely Colorado voters and the results are encouraging for marijuana law reform advocates. With just under a month until election day, Colorado’s Amendment 64, which aims to regulate marijuana like alcohol, is still enjoying a ten point lead in the polls.
For the record, the new poll (pdf) shows Colorado's current referendum to legalize pot is up 50 percent to 40 percent, with 10 percent undecided. It was released on Sunday, which is about when folks in Colorado say the system for online voter registration started going fritzy from heavy traffic.
On Monday the county clerks of Colorado sent the Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler a letter, detailing the ways he has voting and running the election harder. Gessler has spent the past year trying to get clerks in Denver, Pueblo and Boulder not to mail ballots to every voter who typically gets one. Then he tried to purge non-citizen voters from the rolls before giving that up when he didn't find many actual non-citizens. The Colorado clerks' list of problems with Gessler's management include several administrative missteps in handling voter registration.
What happened yesterday cannot have improved the clerks' opinion. In the wee hours of the last day to register to vote in Colorado, we started getting mail from people who were worried about Colorado's online registration system. The site posted a warning: "We regret that we have experienced intermittent technical difficulties with online voter registration."
Gessler's office says the site got slammed with traffic -- 85,000 visits, twice the usual -- and that several thousand people had made it through to sign up. The Secretary of State's office told us they were adding servers to handle the rush. They advised would-be voters to fill out the form and either scan it in or take a picture of it and e-mail that.
An op-ed in the Washington Post today asks whether Colorado could become a debacle on the level of Florida in 2000. It's worth asking. It's also worth noting that Gessler has been hanging out with the Tea Party vote-challengers True the Vote, who, so far as I can tell, have not yet weighed in on the barriers to legitimate voters in Colorado.
We discussed a side issue last week in the 2012 presidential campaign, which may have an impact in some key battleground states: wind power.
While the wind production tax credit obviously won't carry the kind of weight as jobs, economic growth, or health care, it's become an interesting point of contention between President Obama and Mitt Romney in states like Iowa and Colorado, where even Republican policymakers believe the GOP presidential hopeful is being short-sighted.
Obama was in Colorado yesterday, speaking not far from a wind turbine manufacturing plant, driving the point home.
For those who can't watch clips online, Obama said:
"At a moment when homegrown energy, renewable energy is creating new jobs in states like Colorado and Iowa, my opponent wants to end tax credits for wind energy producers. Think about what that would mean for a community like Pueblo. The wind industry supports about 5,000 jobs across this state. Without those tax credits, 37,000 American jobs, including potentially hundreds of jobs right here, would be at risk.
"Colorado, it's time to stop spending billions in taxpayer subsidies on an oil industry that's already making a lot of profit and let's keep investing in new energy sources that have never been more promising. That's the choice in this election."
The issue is every bit as relevant, if not more so, in Iowa. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) said this week he felt like "it was just like a knife in my back" when he learned Romney opposes the wind energy tax credit Grassley has helped champion.
This issue isn't going away, nor should it.
The estimable Michael Grunwald had a great item on this earlier today.
Before President Obama took office, the U.S. had 25 gigawatts of wind power, and the government’s “base case” energy forecast expected 40 GW by 2030. Well, it’s not quite 2030 yet, but we’ve already got 50 GW of wind. We’ve also got about 5 GW of solar, which isn’t much, but is over six times more than we had before Obama. Mitt Romney has suggested that wind and solar are “imaginary” sources of energy, but they can now power 15 million homes, and their industries employ more than 300,000 Americans. That’s real.
On Thursday, Obama was in Colorado, a big wind state, talking about wind. On Wednesday, Romney was in Iowa, another big wind state, not talking about wind. But the media, for a change, were talking about wind, because Republicans in Iowa have criticized Romney’s opposition to tax credits for the wind industry. I would also point out, and not only because The New New Deal is coming out next week, that Romney and his party opposed the Obama stimulus bill that revived the wind industry and the rest of the clean-tech sector from a near-death experience. As I’ve written before, wind turbines the size of 747’s were rusting in the fields after the financial collapse of 2008; after Obama signed the stimulus, wind companies began pouring billions of dollars back into the U.S.
Grunwald added that recent advances in American clean energy have been "remarkable," due in large part to the president's investments.
Incidentally, why would tax credits that have enjoyed bipartisan support for years suddenly find themselves under attack by Romney, especially given that two critical swing states want the policy to continue? It may have something to do with the fact they're now "a real threat to the fossil-fuel status quo."
President Obama's re-election campaign has been heavily invested in women's rights and reproductive health in recent weeks, but it's worth noting that the focus is not limited to campaign advertising. The president was in Denver yesterday, speaking to a largely-female audience, and vowing not to let the country slip backwards.
"[W]hen it comes to the economy," Obama said, "it's bad enough that our opponents want to take us back to the same policies of the last decade, the same policies that got us into this mess in the first place, the same policies that saw jobs going overseas and ended up seeing people's wages and incomes going down even as the costs of everything from health care to college were going up -- policies that culminated in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and that we've spent, now, three and a half years trying to recover from. That's bad enough. But when it comes to a woman's right to make her own health care choices, they want to take us back to the policies more suited to the 1950s than the 21st century."
There's obviously an electoral significance to remarks like these. Obama is not only counting on Colorado to win a second term, but he'll need to take full advantage of the gender gap, urging women to turn out in force in November. (Note, the president was introduced in Denver by Sandra Fluke, whom you might recall was the target of a repulsive Rush Limbaugh attack.)
But let's also note that Colorado isn't just a 2012 swing state. Irin Carmon reported yesterday that in the Centennial State, a far-right group called Personhood Colorado is still fighting to force a measure onto this year's ballot that would classify a fertilized egg as a person in the state constitution.
Though proponents deny it, Carmon noted the language of the proposal would make effective in-vitro fertilization nearly impossible and prohibit the use of many forms of birth control. There's a reason these ballot measures keep failing, even in states like Mississippi -- even many on the right consider them far too extreme.
But in Colorado, home to the Personhood movement, conservatives are pushing forward anyway. It's a fight worth watching.