It was my intention to find the least scrupulous, most mean spirited, most un-American state legislator in the country this week. Maybe I’d even award him a prize for most despicable politician. The Crabby Appleton Rotten to the Core Award? The Worm Slime Cup? I’ll work on that.
I had originally thought I’d find one multi-faceted evil-doer. Instead I found one of each: one least scrupulous, one most mean-spirited, one most un-American. I am going to let you decide which of the three is the most despicable. Or perhaps you have your own favorite contender to share with the group?
It was Thom Tillis who was the prime mover of the unpopular right-wing agenda in North Carolina last session. Under Tillis, Republicans gave business a tax cut paid for by eliminating the earned income credit for the working poor. They calculatingly targeted liberal voting blocs with a new voter suppression law. They tacked abortion restrictions onto a motorcycle safety bill. They turned down the federal Medicaid expansion money that would have meant healthcare for thousands, and ticked off teachers by passing a law to end teacher tenure that just last week was found unconstitutional.
Rep. Tillis’ relentless prosecution of his right-wing agenda spawned the ongoing Moral Mondays Movement – the largest protests in the South since the Civil Rights era. (Photo above) Each and every Monday, crowds of people converge on the capitol with signs and banners, expressing their displeasure or advocating for their cause. Rather than peter out after a few weeks, Moral Monday protests have grown in size and spread to other southern cities. They are scheduled to resume in Raleigh tomorrow, as the legislature returns for their new session.
But just in time, Speaker Tillis has found a way to thwart the protesters’ ability to gather. He ordered the eight Republicans and two Democrats on the House Legislative Services Committee, which had not met since 1999, to revisit the rules and penalties for protesters – and boy did they!
The First Amendment is very clear:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The new rules that the committee approved – on a voice vote so members would not have to answer for it at the ballot box – completely disregard both the letter and the spirit of that most cherished amendment.
Visitors may now be asked to leave the building if they are found to be “disturbing the General Assembly, one of its houses, or its committees, members, or staff in the performance of their duties.” “Disturbances” include “singing, clapping, shouting, playing instruments or using sound amplification equipment.” That’s right, you can protest in North Carolina, as long as you don’t make any noise doing it.
The new rules also allow police to eject protesters if they consider them an “imminent disturbance”. In other words, if they look like they might sing, shout, clap, or break out a guitar.
The legislature has also placed new limits on the number of people who can assemble in front of the main entrance to the General Assembly. If your group is larger than 200 people, you can’t meet there.
Aw, too bad your so large Moral Mondays. Anti-choice groups? Anti-gay Christians? How convenient. You’re just the right size.
But this is the provision that really gets me. I admit I am amazed they would even suggest such a thing in an election year. Any sign with a message that disturbs any member of the legislature can be confiscated. That’s right, if an elected official doesn’t approve of your message, he can have it taken from you.
Why do I have the feeling the confiscated signs won’t be those disgusting anti-choice signs with the bloody babies, or anything in the President Obama as Hitler genre?
How do those Constitution-carrying Tea Party scholars square that new power they have awarded themselves with the First Amendment? They are the government and they are directly censoring speech. My own belief is the legislators know their law won’t pass constitutional scrutiny. So what? By the time it is appealed, it’s too late.
The Battle Creek Enquirer went as far as accusing Senator Richardville of “subverting democracy” over the minimum wage battle in Michigan.
The state Republican Party has been determined not to raise the minimum wage, which in Michigan is $7.40 an hour. In desperation, a grass roots effort to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 cropped up, collecting enough signatures to put the proposal on the ballot in November. There are thousands of former auto workers in Michigan trying to make ends meet on a minimum wage job. The referendum was expected to pass overwhelmingly.
Leader Richardville is determined not to let that happen. He cooked up a plan to repeal Michigan’s minimum wage law and replace it with a law that would raise it to $8.15. Because of the petition language, this would invalidate the proposed November referendum that the activists collected all those signatures for. Workers would get a raise, but only a measly seventy-five cents an hour, hardly enough to make a dent in their situation, much less bring them out of poverty.
And while we are on the subject of the minimum wage, please allow me to make one observation no one in the main stream media seems willing to speak aloud. Republicans do not really believe that most minimum wage workers are students and entry level workers on their way up. Republicans believe minimum wage workers are people deserving economic punishment.
Think about the people at the low end of the pay scale. High school drop outs. Girls who got pregnant out of wedlock. LGBT kids who ran away from home. Parolees. Illegal immigrants. To Republicans, these are people whose behavior kept them from being able to get a better paying job. In conservative world, they deserve to be punished. They deserve their poverty.
The Democrats kicked up such a fuss over Leader Richardville’s seventy-five-cent raise, that they worked out a compromise that will bring the minimum wage to $9.20 an hour by 2017. Everyone, even Mark Schauer, the Democratic candidate for governor, is hailing the compromise as a some kind of bipartisan victory. It might be a victory for the lawmakers, but it wasn’t a victory for the workers. They could have had $10.10 in November if Leader Richadville hadn’t stepped in to take away the people’s voice.
Ironic that the Michigan attorney general recently argued that same-sex marriage should remain illegal in Michigan because the people had voted on it – and the people’s voice is sacrosanct.
Bill Howell is a shill for ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, bringing the Koch Brothers legislative agenda to a Republican legislature near you. He is a former national chairman of that group and the Virginia legislature has considered more than fifty ALEC-model bills in the last few years. But what is truly aggravating is that Virginia taxpayers have spent more than $230,000 sending their legislators to ALEC conferences.
Democratic state senator Donald McEachin sponsored a bill, Senate Bill 500, that would have outlawed “compensation to legislators for attending conferences for which the agenda and materials are not available to the public.” In other words, legislators would no longer have their junkets to secret ALEC conventions comped. Let the Kochs pick up the tab!
It passed the Senate 40 to 0, with 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans voting for the ban.
Speaker Howell sent Senate Bill 500 to the House Rules Committee, which he conveniently chairs. It died on a voice vote, which is how you kill a bill yet leave no fingerprints on the murder weapon. Thanks to Speaker Howell, Virginia will continue to send its legislators to worship at the feet of the Kochs on the taxpayer’s dime.
I’ve got it! The Despicable Thee Award!
The sorriest part of this tale is that there was such stiff competition among award nominees it was hard to choose a first place. Hell, it was difficult to choose just three. So take your pick. The most un-American? The most mean-spirited? The least scrupulous? Decisions. Decisions. Decisions.
All photos via Facebook
Jean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.