Something Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, and Eric Holder Can All Agree on
Sen. Rand Paul brought his national crusade against the war on drugs back to his home state, giving testimony before the Kentucky state senate in favor of an amendment to restore voting rights to felons after they get out of prison.
The amendment, which state Republicans have forestalled for years, looks like it may finally pass. Today, only Kentucky and Virginia permanently strip felons' of their voting rights. Most states require a probationary period before felons can vote again, but states like Iowa and Florida have such punitive laws that they may as well be permanent. Only Maine and Vermont have no restrictions on felons voting, including when they are still in prison.
The original version of the Kentucky amendment would immediately restore voting rights to felons after they get out of prison. But once the amendment was introduced into the Republican-controlled state Senate, a substitute amendment was tacked on. The new version would delay vote restoration for felons by five years, provided the ex-convict did not commit any more crimes (felonies or misdemeanors) during that time.
State Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, who sponsored the original version, refused to present the substitute version of his own amendment. "You want to show the person that they are being welcomed back into society," Crenshaw told the committee. "The committee substitute does the exact opposite."
In his testimony, Paul gave a fact-based and level-headed critique of mandatory minimums, the war on drugs, and the American justice system writ large—it could have doubled as a David Simon blog post. A few samples:
- "When you look at those who are being deprived of voting, I think it is disproportionately people of color."
- "Kids do make mistakes: white kids, black kids, brown kids. But when you look at the prison population, three-quarters are black or brown." [at this point, one woman sitting in the audience walked out of the hearing.]
- "Not only is the incarceration unfair...but then they get out and their voting rights are impaired."
- "We have a cycle here of crime and poverty and drugs that we need to try to get out of."
Paul is right: people serving jail time for felonies are, disproportionately, people of color. In Kentucky, black prisoners outnumber white prisoners 5-to-1, while Hispanics outnumber whites 1.3-to-1. An estimated 22 percent of Kentucky's black population is not allowed to vote because of their felony status, compared to 7.4 percent of the state population on the whole.
And unlike voter ID laws, which still benefit from conservative support, restoring felons' voting rights has gained succor from people like Paul and Rick Santorum to Barack Obama and Eric Holder. Paul made the same case that religious liberals have been making for years: giving people second chances benefits everyone. "Most of us are Christians in this room ... most of us believe in redemption," Paul said. "You want to keep people from committing crimes? Let them work again."
Will This Young, Happily Married Olympian Start a New Culture War?
Mollie Hemingway, the conservative media-watcher and journalist, has a funny, aggrieved take on an NBC piece about halfpipe gold medalist David Wise. Its headline: "David Wise's alternative lifestyle leads to Olympic gold." The actual lifestyle: "At only twenty-three years old, he has a wife, Alexander [sic], who was waiting patiently in the crowd, and together they have a two-year-old daughter."
"Isn't it fascinating," asks Hemingway, "that NBC views a man taking care of his wife and daughter as an alternative lifestyle?"
I like to catch media outrages before the wave crests, so it's worth asking what NBC's sin was. The headline is either ironic or ridiculous, true, but if it's irony, it's contextual. Reporter Skyler Wilder* is suggesting that Wise breaks a stereotype, because "the rest of his competitors are hanging with their friends, traveling the world searching for endless winter, hitting the party scenes accustom to their action sports lifestyles."
The biggest American downhill skiing star of the games is Bode Miller, who's known by non-skiing fans as that guy who partied too much at the 2006 games. Every Olympics news cycle ends (this is not an original point) with reports of condom shortages at the athlete villages. Wise is the alternative star. Get it?
Get this, too: Wise got married and had a kid at a far younger age than most people. According to data published by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, the median age of the American first marriage is 26 and a half. The average age for an American bringing the first child into his/her homes: About 25 and a half. So, yes, David Wise is very good at skiing, and he figured out, as the Internet might refer to it, that whole adulthood thing much faster than the median American or median famous Olympian. Good for him! Let's not have a culture war about it.
*This is a fantastic sportswriter name.
Unions Tell Democrats to Run on Minimum Wage Hike, Ignore CBO Report
HOUSTON—This week's meeting of the AFL-CIO, the leadership of the unions that make up labor's monolith, was supposed to happen in the wake of a big victory in Chattanooga. There was no victory in Chattanooga. The tone when labor leaders left their meetings and talked to reporters was occasionally bitter (more on that later), and eventually forward-looking. Hey, what about those upcoming 2014 elections?
This morning the unions released a poll taken from Feb. 8 to 11, which is supposed to prove the resiliance of labor's campaign message. Hart Research Associates went into the field in Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, 200-odd voters per, a total of 1,012. Republican governors are up for re-election in each state; by a 58–40 margin, voters said they were dissatisfied with the local economies. How to take advantage of that? Campaign on raising the minimum wage. By a 61–23 margin across the states, voters were "more likely" to support candidates if they raised the minimum wage to at least $10 an hour. (The AFL-CIO didn't provide state-to-state breakdowns, offering that the sample size was too small.)
Until this week, Democratic candidates were completely comfortable with that script. Mary Burke, the likely Democratic nominee against Scott Walker in Wisconsin, just came out for a $10.10 minimum wage, which led Republicans to accuse her of being led by the polls—an admission that this was popular.
Then came yesterday's CBO report. Republicans had been warning that raising the minimum wage would kill jobs. Here was the CBO, crediting the possible hike with the possible loss of 500,000 jobs. "The report confirms what we've long known," said a spokesman for John Boehner, triumphantly.
The AFL-CIO's response? Ignore this. "Being consistently wrong and not caring about workers are the only two things conservative economists can be counted on for," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a Tuesday statement. "This is more of the same noise." At a press conference today, it took a surprisingly long time for a reporter to bring up the CBO number, but no time for Trumka to dismiss it again.
"I can't say this emphatically enough," he said. "Every single time we've raised the minimum wage, 38 times, people have said this is gonna cost jobs." But it hadn't.
How John Cornyn Sells Himself to Conservatives
HOUSTON—As my piece about John Cornyn's ride to re-election gets edited, here's a typical flier of the type I saw at every campaign event or fundraiser.
Cornyn talks a lot about conservatives needing candidates who are there with them on "eighty percent" of the issues. Here's a good list of stuff that falls under that rubric—guns, Obama investigations, guns again, the Supreme Court.
John Cornyn Says His Opponent's Win-by-Not-Campaigning Strategy Is “Unique”
HOUSTON—Early voting in Texas' party primaries commenced today and ends on March 4. Sen. John Cornyn, who is facing seven challengers (none of whom he's debated at voter forums), started the day with an endorsement from the National Federation of Independent Business, a roundtable, and a short press conference.* His debt limit vote, litigated in newspaper interviews last week, did not come up. But he was asked about the attacks from two rivals, Rep. Steve Stockman and businessman Dwayne Stovall, on Cornyn's weekend rally with Karl Rove.
"The truth is, you know, Karl’s not involved in my campaign apart from appearing as a guest at one event in Longview," said Cornyn. "He’s been a friend of mine a long time. But I’d say those are strawmen [issues]. I’d say the most important thing is my record, and my record, I’m very proud of. I’d say my values and my record reflect the sentiments of the people I work for, which is 26 million Texans. By any objective measure, I’m a conservative."
Some more verbiage about conservatism followed, and Cornyn was asked what he made of Stockman's campaign. The congressman filed to run at the last minute; he had not, since then, gone on the air or held many public appearances.
"You know, I haven’t seen him since he filed for office," said Cornyn. "He hasn’t appeared at any public events. I’ve been going to a number of those, including the Galveston Lincoln Day dinner on Saturday. I’ll be [in] Brazoria County on Saturday. I’m doing a number of events in Lubbock, Abilene. I’ve been in Longview, all around the state, and I just haven’t run into any of my primary opponents."
Why was Stockman doing it? "It does strike me as a unique strategy," said Cornyn, raising his eyebrow a few millimeters, "but we’ll find out here in just a few days, on March 4, what kind of impact it has."
*I've been following around Cornyn and other candidates for a piece that will run early tomorrow. Just keep refreshing the main page and clicking on ads.
A User's Guide to the Donald Trump Meltdown
A normal politician, or a politician with a reasonably developed sense of decorum, might have shrugged off a story like McKay Coppins' "36 Hours on the Fake Campaign Trail With Donald Trump." Sure, Coppins' piece makes Trump look like a buffoon who yearns to be taken seriously by people he doesn't have on the payroll. It also humanizes the guy, quoting his jokes, quoting his compliments and asides. In a pair of touching scenes, Trump sees a photo of Coppins' wife and calls her a "good-looking woman," then tells the reporter there's nothing better than children.
In one of the many angry tweets this grown man has written since the piece went up, Trump says:
A dishonest slob of a reporter, who doesn't understand my sarcasm when talking about him or his wife, wrote a foolish & boring Trump "hit"-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2014
So Trump, a wealthy person who's covered himself in ignorance and humiliation every time he's ventured into politics, is clearly unhappy about Coppins' article. Because he has no tact, he's shown this by firing an aide, Sam Nunberg, who encouraged Trump to sit for the profile, and by retweeting Coppins' critics. It's all quite pathetic, but increasingly hilarious—Trump, as usual, is running to sycophants in the hopes that they'll lie for him. And in the past day, it's become an unnecessary lesson in the problems of conservative journalism.
Exhibit A: Nunberg's apology tour. The fired aide has been telling (mostly) New York media that Coppins' piece was innacurate—a "pejorative hit piece"—without specifying what was wrong. But as Dylan Byers first reported, Nunberg's initial response to the piece was an email, to Coppins, calling it "fantastic." Coppins has passed me another email written by Nunberg after 1 a.m. on Friday. Its text is mostly just a forwarded tweet.
2014 version of Primary Colors. So good - 36 Hours On The Fake Campaign Trail With Donald #Trump buzzfeed.com/mckaycoppins/3… via @BuzzReads
Did Nunberg, an opposition researcher before he worked for Trump, tell Coppins one thing, then change the story when he got in trouble? "No comment," he told me in an email.
Exhibit B: On Twitter, Trump pointed his followers to a piece by Jeffrey Lord in the American Spectator. Lord defines "real journalism" by contrasting Coppins' observation that he was "the only reporter from a national outlet" to trek to New Hampshire for the speech with a local news station's bland lede: "Real estate mogul Donald Trump paid a visit to the Granite State on Tuesday as the featured speaker at a Politics and Eggs event at St. Anselm College."
This, says Lord, is real journalism—not the Coppins piece, which takes readers behind the scenes of a press room that's bored by the speech, and points out that (in my words, not his) it got less national in-person coverage than a comparable speech by Ted Cruz or Rand Paul. CNN followed Paul on the trail in Texas recently; CNN did not dispatch a reporter to cover Trump. Not to belabor the point, but Lord was angry at Coppins for providing context instead of stenography.
Exhibit C: Well, this is the reason for my post—Matt Boyle's piece for Breitbart puts total faith in Trump sources and portrays Coppins as an awkward, ogling double-crosser. One except, though it's hard to choose just one:
An infuriated Trump and his team contend that basically everything in Coppins’ article is wrong – and that Coppins was a boor at Trump's Florida resort to boot.
“I don’t know how to say it — he was looking at me like I was yummy,” recalled Bianka Pop, a hostess at Trump's Florida resort, almost a month later. She was one of a number of people, including Trump, who said Coppins behaved unprofessionally there.
Trump himself said Coppins is a “scumbag,” recalling that at his Florida resort, Coppins said he wished his wife looked like two beautiful women who had just walked by.
Coppins is a married Mormon who doesn't drink—shouldn't matter, but worth pointing out given how pregnant the phrase "behaved unprofessionally" is. Coppins denies the charges, and Boyle's sources include Trump, Nunberg, and a Trump employee. This is a joke, but not as funny as the kicker interview with Nunberg.
If you are a Republican, if you are a Democrat, if your are from the green party, an independent, the tree-hugger party, or any other party, you should never ever grant BuzzFeed access to anything in light of this piece. Anyone shouldn’t. And, if fact, I have friend who works at [an official Democratic Party campaign committee] who called me up and said "he [Coppins] looks like an idiot for what he did for this. This could burn his career."
Brackets! [An official Democratic Party campaign committee]! The alleged campaign group isn't even named! This is a dispatch from fantasyland. Here on Earth, plenty of conservatives and Republicans see Trump as a vain imbecile who makes Republicans look bad. That, they say, is why the media covers him.
That's surely not the only reason. The media loves a good fight, be it between celebrities in a hot tub or aging congressmen in a closed-door conference meeting. Trump is fighting, because there's no other way to convince the press that he matters.
Arkansas May Become First State to Kick People Off Obamacare
If you're a conservative, Arkansas' legislature flipped from Democratic to Republican at the perfect time. The party rode Mitt Romney's coattails and a magic carpet of donations to take over in 2012, setting up two years of confrontations with Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe. But the governor (who does not have veto power) figured out a way to keep the state involved in the Affordable Care Act rollout. Instead of expanding Medicaid, the state would seek a waiver for a "private option"—dollars spent on private insurance plans for the poor. It would need to be approved in 2013 and 2014.
Guess what just happened. The state House took up the bill, which required 75 (of 100) votes to advance. The bill had already been amended with language that blocked the state from advertising the private option, because in the words of the amendment sponsor, "We're trying to create a barrier to enrollment." But the bill only got 70 votes.
Reporting from Arkansas this week has focused on the apparent success Democrats had in securing Senate votes for passage, and the defeat in the House isn't yet seen as the end of the program. But if it is, it's a watershed: a state expanding coverage under the ACA, then rolling it back.
How Democrats Are Assuring Voters That They Also Hate Parts of Obamacare
Ashley Parker does a very nice job previewing nine months of campaign ad dialogue. "Among more than 1,000 health care-focused commercials airing for House races," writes Parker, citing ad trackers, "only seven did not contain negative messages about the law."
Here are a couple of examples of what gets defined as negative. In Florida, the House Majority PAC is trying to smother opposition to Rep. Joe Garcia (who beat a deeply flawed opponent in 2012, aided by Obama coattails) by telling voters how much he hated the ACA rollout.
Same deal in Iowa: Here's the Senate Majority PAC defending Rep. Bruce Braley, the Democrats' frontrunning Senate candidate, because he, too, hated the rollout.
That ran for two weeks at the cost of a quarter-million dollars. Those ads are instructive: The primaries and elections in both states are half a year away, and Braley's drawn unexpectedly weak opposition.
Newspaper Drops Brent Bozell Column Because Bozell Wasn't Writing It
Jim Romanesko and Ben Jacobs ran some scoops last week about a story that seemed very inside Washington. Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center, scourge of the FCC, had not been writing the columns syndicated under his name. Those columns hadn't often raised hackles in the capital -- Bozell showed up in Media Matters from time to time, but not with the frequency of, say, Michelle Malkin.
But the key word in this story was "syndicated." For years, Bozell had appeared in newspapers, filling a conservative-shaped hole in editorial pages that often skewed left. Belatedly, I see that the Quad City Times has dropped Bozell.
The column we’ve run for a decade under Bozell’s byline skewered reporters and media firms he condemned as “liberal,” regularly slamming them for being dishonest.
We disagreed with many of the columns Bozell presented as his own. We’d wince every time he damned the “mainstream” media. Our newspaper and many others in the so-called mainstream media send him a check every month. But we stuck with him in the interest of presenting diverse views on our Opinion page.
Bozell may have been comfortable representing others’ work as his own. We’re not.
Yeah, journalists don't enjoy being told that they're lazy America-ruiners by someone using a ghost writer.
I'm Ted Cruz, and I (Sort of) Approve This Candidate
HOUSTON—My Republican friends in Texas are greatly amused by the 2014 cycle's dominating trend. Here is the splash page when you load the website of Katrina Pierson, who's running in a primary against Rep. Pete Sessions.
Here's the splash page for Ken Paxton, a state senator running for attorney general.
If you flip on the TV and you see an ad for Paxton, odds are it's going to be this one—just 30 seconds of Cruz praising Paxton as a man who "stands and fights."
And now the M. Night Shylamalan twist**—Cruz has endorsed neither candidate. He has stayed neutral in almost every Texas primary election this year, outside of some court races. Pierson and Paxton are re-upping what Cruz said about them in other contexts, because the man is so damn popular with their bases.
The Paxton ad was new to me until last night, when I was talking over burgers with a Tea Party opponent to John Cornyn, Dwayne Stovall. He, too, was a Cruz fan. He was a friend of Rafael Cruz, the senator's father—they'd shared the bills at Tea Party events. But getting a picture with the Cruzes for his own campaign? He considered that a bit gauche.
*Correction, Feb, 18, 2014: This post originally misstated that a 30-second campaign commercial was 20 minutes.
**I didn't say it was a good twist. More like the twist in The Village.