Welcome to Becoming a Citizen Activist BlogAfter writing Urban Politics on Seattle politics for over 19 years, I will now also be covering urban issues in other cities that could have importance to metropolitan areas in general. Seattle issues will still be covered in Urban Politics – Seattle, but will not come out as frequently as in the past. In a couple of weeks a searchable archive of all former Urban Politics will be available on a newly redesigned www.becomingacitizenactivist.org. If you do not wish to receive Urban Politics – US reply with “Unsubscribe UP-US” in the Subject Line.

Trumpian Tactics Shape Progressive Seattle’s Local Elections

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

Written by: Nick Licata


President Donald Trump attacks four women in congress as a wild socialist “squad” intent on destroying America if they stay in office. One would be surprised to see similar tactics pop up in the progressive enclave of Seattle, but they have. And, they are being pursued by a group that describes themselves as “progressive, pragmatists”.

The People for Seattle, formed by former City Councilmember Tim Burgess, considers city council candidates a serious threat to Seattle’s peace and safety because they support policies like safe drug consumption sites, traffic congestion pricing, restrictions on rent increases, higher taxes on the largest corporations and are not eliminating homelessness.

Who are these People for Seattle? They are “decent” people. They are not in the streets waving hatred slogans. Many have been civic leaders, promoting new downtown development and safer single-family neighborhoods. But they apparently fear five candidates, one male, and four women. Zachary DeWolf is the male, he’s gay, on the Seattle school board, and a tenant rights advocate. Two of the women are of color and all have been very supportive of organized labor. I believe their critics fear that change will happen, too fast and too substantive to their liking.

It is the kind of change that recognizes that more public and private financing is necessary to deal with our current health crises stemming from a growing homeless population as a result of ever-increasing rents. Better oversight is needed of our police force to assure that force is applied fairly across all races. A better economic climate must be pursued, for starting new businesses and to also allow employees to earn a decent living.

People for Seattle’s mailed campaign flyers are out-right indecent. Despite claiming that they oppose these candidates because they “seek to deepen divisions instead of seeking common ground” in fact this is exactly what this group is doing. Veteran Seattle P.I. columnist Joel Connelly wrote “lots of folks are surprised at getting nasty, negative, consultant-crafted direct-mail hit pieces from People for Seattle. The group is not boosting candidates of promise so much as slinging mud.”

A flyer against candidate Emily Myers ran a photo of a homeless encampment with the heading of “More of the Same”  and the caption “if you like extremist (councilmember ) Kshama Sawant, then you’ll love Emily Myers.” Kshama is an avowed and proud socialist, Emily is not a socialist. She was a delegate to the King County Labor Council from her union of graduate students. Burgess’s group would seem to consider organized labor a socialist conspiracy.

Alex Pederson, whom Myers is running against, received the endorsement of People for Seattle but has disavowed the mailer, posting “negative mail or negative ads from independent expenditures (I.E.s) are unnecessary and unwelcome. I believe all the candidates can and should simply speak for themselves.”

Another attack flyer on candidate Tammy Morales, accused her of supporting a “job-killing head tax”, even though only the top 3% of the largest businesses would have paid into it for building more affordable housing. A company’s cost would have amounted to an increase of one penny per hour in paid wages.

Their attacks have taken on a fever pitch against incumbent Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who was my past staff lead on many of the most progressive city policies passed while I was on the council. According to the last filing posted on the city’s website, about half of the Burgess group’s attack money is going to defeat Herbold, with less than 1% of their money raised from within her District 1. Isn’t that undermining the district election initiative to make council members more accountable to geographic districts?

An attack flyer accused her of being another Sawant and also for having “dreamed up the job-killing head tax.” Erica Barnett who blogs as C is for Crank, posted a photo of giant spray-painted tags on the viaduct’s remaining pillars saying, “Lisa Herbold Policies Kill!” Erica noted that “It’s ironic that an ex-council member who frequently bemoans the lack of “civility” in Seattle politics may be largely responsible for one of the nastiest local campaign seasons in memory.”  Their inflammatory use of  “killing” in today’s toxic political environment, which Trump initiated, leads to this type of chilling and threatening graffiti. Are Seattle’s moderate liberals and conservatives, now adopting Trumpian hyper-vitriolic and mean-spirited messaging for campaigns?

The final irony buried in this group’s effort to stop the supposed socialist drift of the city council because it is accused of taxing businesses too much. The critics ignore that the council passed the original employee hours tax, which has seen been branded by the opposition as a  “head tax”, back in 2006. Councilmember Jan Drago sponsored the legislation, with Richard Conlin, Richard McIver, Jean Godden, and me voting in favor. Tim Burgess had not been elected to the council yet. Its proceeds had to be used ”strictly for transportation purposes.” It was repealed in 2010, largely because businesses complained of the convoluted paperwork involved, not its financial burden. At that time, neither Drago nor any councilmember who voted to adopt that tax was labeled as a socialist!

Providing Links to all the Major Presidential Candidate Websites

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

While the televised debate among the Democrat Presidential Candidates has dominated the public’s attention, what has been missing is a detailed comparison of what they are actually presenting to the public in more than 2 minutes or fewer sound bites. I set off to compare their messages as presented in their campaign websites. I was in for a surprise.

I could not find a website that listed each of the Presidential Candidate’s 2020 Websites. Not the Library of Congress, the National Democratic Committee, Ballotpedia, or Wikipedia were hosting this information, although the last two sites do list the candidates and provide very good information on them. However, having a third-party present information about a candidate is not the same as evaluating what the candidate’s campaign presentation to the public. For this reason, my website http://www.becomingacitizenactivist.org/blog/ is presenting that information and it is also presented in this edition of Urban Politics.

Besides listing the links to their websites, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages, I also include a quick snapshot of what each candidate has within their “issues” section. I have limited the list of candidates who have scored at or above .4 percent of support according to the amalgamation of polls that RealClear Politics collected as of July 8th, which is shown below

[Image from RealClearPolitics]


While there may be additional polls taken after that date, this poll most likely will represent the relative position of the candidates up to their next group debate, to be on July 30 and 31 on CNN. I also made an exception by including the newest candidate, billionaire Tom Steyer. Despite not being part of the debates, I expect that with the money he is currently pouring into TV ads he will pull up to the .4% of support in a short period of time.

I have the candidates listed alphabetically rather than how they poll since their relative positions will most likely move about as they and their campaigns grow stronger or weaker. Under each of them, I have included a clip from their introductory statement on their “issues” page and the number of separate issues that they list and address. I also noted if they used two words: “middle class” and “workers”. Although just using those words does not fairly represent the depth and breadth with which they address issues affecting those groups,  their use may have provided a glimpse of how the candidate wanted to overtly recognize some targeted voters.

I would have liked to list all of the issues each candidate addresses, but that would be too overwhelming to digest for most of us. I did note which candidates did not mention two words that have come to capture the bulk of the media’s attention: climate change and migration. Again, not including those specific words is not an indication that those issues were not addressed, but it may signal a more nuanced approach that the candidate is pursuing.

Because I’m concerned with the shape that our democracy is in, I also noted if each candidate directly addressed that topic. And given that the Latino vote is a growing influence, I noted which candidates provided a Spanish translation for their website; all did with the exception of Democrats Yang and Steyer, and Republican William Weld. I included Republicans Donald Trump and William Weld’s websites because I believe one must listen to and learn from your opponent. What are they saying about the issues and who are they addressing? So, I hope both Democrats and Republicans find this issue of UP educational.


The website data briefly summarized after each candidate’s entry was taken between the dates of July 12 and 14, 2019. The candidates will likely update their websites as their campaign progress, but my summaries will not be updated unless specifically noted. Best to visit a candidate’s website for the most up to date information.

Bennet, Michael – United States Senator from Colorado

[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

Campaign Contact Form

Bennet’s Candidate’s Issues Page is titled “Vision”.  Lists his issues into 3 categories: Drive Economic Opportunity, Restore American Values, and Fix Our Broken Politics.
Lead-in statement: “America calls itself the land of opportunity. It doesn’t feel that way today. Wages are stagnant, costs are rising, and economic inequality in our country is only growing worse.”
On Middle Class & Workers: “Michael’s plan to overhaul and expand the Child Tax Credit, called the American Family Act, will help middle-class families. make it easier for workers to  bargain for better pay”
On Democracy: “Democracy cannot function with a lack of economic mobility for a majority of people.”
Use of Spanish – The site has been translated into Spanish

Biden, Joe – Former U.S. Vice President

[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

Greg Shultz – Campaign Manager

Biden’s Candidate Issues Page is titled “Joe’s Vision” – 8 issues listed; Climate change & immigration identified as major issues.
Lead-in statement: “America is an idea” Ironically this was what Senator Lindsey Graham was reported to have said to President Trump during an all-Republican meeting in the White House when Trump started going down the white nationalist road.
On Middle Class & Workers: “We need to rebuild the middle class, and this time makes sure everybody—regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or disability—gets a fair shot.” Biden headlines “middle class” several times in his material.“Restoring the basic bargain for American workers.”
On Democracy: Make sure our democracy includes everyone. He refers to democracy several times.
Use of Spanish – The site has been translated into Spanish

Booker, Cory – U.S. Senator from New Jersey 2013-Present

[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

Addisu Demissie – Campaign Manager

Booker’s Candidate Issues Page is titled – “Issues” – He lists 15 issues under 3 general areas: Justice, Opportunity and American Leadership, which includes immigration and climate change within them.
Lead-in statement: “Right now, people fear that the lines that divide us are stronger than the ties that bind us—but Cory is running for president to change that. The answer to our common pain is to reignite our sense of common purpose to build a more fair and just nation for everyone.”
On Middle Class & Workers: Make it easier for workers to join a union and strengthen the rights of workers. No mention of middle class  but he does use the term “hard-working Americans.”
On Democracy: “Cory will fight to protect and expand every American’s right to take part in our democracy.”
Use of Spanish – The site has been translated into Spanish

Bullock, Steve – 24th Governor of Montana

[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

Campaign Contact Form
Bullock Candidate’s Issues Page – Doesn’t have one, but he does have a page titled ‘ “One Big Plan”, which is “taking on the toxic influence of money in politics a national priority.” Climate Change is mentioned but nothing noticeable about migration.
Lead-in statement: Our nation is founded on the basic idea that every American’s voice matters.”
On Middle Class & Workers:  “We can… protect worker rights and retirement security.” The term “middle class” was not found.
On Democracy: The word “democracy” did not appear in any noticeable way.
Use of Spanish – The site has been translated into Spanish

Buttigieg, Pete – Mayor of South Bend, Indiana 2011-Present

[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

Mike Schmuhl – Campaign Manager

Buttigieg Candidate’s Issues Page is titled – “Issues”  He lists 27 issues under these three categories Freedom, Security, and Democracy. Some issues support very specific legislation. Immigration and climate change are mentioned.
Lead statement: “This moment demands that our policies reflect a deep understanding of Americans’ everyday lives and embody our country’s highest values — values like Freedom, Security, and Democracy.”
On Middle Class & Workers: Pass a new Wagner Act to support the role of organized labor and defend the right of workers to organize. No mention of “middle class”
On Democracy: Pete believes in our democratic republic, but knows that our government has not been nearly democratic or accountable enough.
Use of Spanish – The site has been translated into Spanish

Castro, Julian  –  16th United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

Contact email
Candidate’s Issues Page is titled “issues” – 5 proposals listed
Lead statement: “there is nothing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” Both immigration and climate change are mentioned.
On Middle Class & Workers: He worked to lift people from poverty into middle-class. Did not find the term “workers”, although he talks of low-income families.
On Democracy: The word “democracy” did not appear in any noticeable way.
Use of Spanish – The site has been translated into Spanish

Gabbard, Tulsi – U.S. House Rep from Hawaii 2013-Present

[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

No Campaign Manager is known at this time.

Candidate’s Issues Page is titled – “Vision” – No listing of issues, rather she has several paragraphs that describe her vision of America. “Join me in ushering in a new century free from the fear of nuclear war. A world where there is real peace, where our people have time to pursue happiness rather than being forced to work constantly just to survive, where parents have time to spend with their children, and we build strong communities that care for each other and the planet.”
On Middle Class & Workers: Did not find mention of “middle class” or “workers”
On Democracy: The word “democracy” did not appear in any noticeable way.
Use of Spanish – The site has been translated into Spanish

Gillibrand, Kirsten – United States Senator from New York

[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

No Campaign Manager or contact form is known at this time
Candidate’s Issues Page is – “Issues”  all information placed in 6 categories
Lead statement: “Taking on big fights takes bravery.”
On Middle Class & Workers: our economy has been a tilted playing field in favor of the wealthiest Americans and corporate special interests, while middle- and working-class families struggle to make ends meet.
On Democracy: The word “democracy” did not appear in any noticeable way.
Use of Spanish – The site has been translated into Spanish

Harris, Kamala – U.S. Senator from California 2017-Present

[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

Juan Rodriguez – Campaign Manager

Candidate’s Issues Page is – “Our America” – : 13 issues listed
Lead statement: “Kamala has been a fearless advocate for the voiceless and vulnerable throughout her career. As president, she will fight to restore truth and justice in America and build an economy that works for everyone.
On Middle Class & Workers: mentioned under Economic Justice, “Kamala’s first priority as president will be to give working and middle-class families an overdue income boost.”
On Democracy: The word “democracy” did not appear in any noticeable way.
Use of Spanish – The site has been translated into Spanish

Inslee, Jay – Governor of Washington

[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

Aisling Kerins – Campaign Manager

Candidate’s Issues Page is  – Issues presented in 7 categories, five of which have to do with climate change
Lead statement: “As Americans, this is our moment to act on climate change and to invest in a clean energy economy that will grow millions of jobs in communities across the country.”
On Middle Class & Workers: Did not find the words “middle class” or  “workers” did not appear in any noticeable way.
On Democracy: The word “democracy” did not appear in any noticeable way.
Use of Spanish – The site has been translated into Spanish

Klobuchar, Amy – U.S. Senator from Minnesota 2007-Present

[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

Justin Buoen – Campaign Manager

Candidate’s Issues Page is –  “Issues”
Lead statement: No lead in a statement, just five issues listed: Health Care, Safer World, Shared Prosperity & Economic Justice, Strong Democracy, Climate,  for a total of 18 issues, the most under Shared Prosperity & Economic Justice. She mentions both immigration and climate change.
On Middle Class & Workers: She would make “it easier — and not harder — for workers to join unions.” No mention of the middle class but she does support small business owners and entrepreneurs.
On Democracy: “The right to vote is the bedrock of our democracy,”
Use of Spanish – The site has been translated into Spanish

O’Rourke, Beto – Former member of U.S. House 2013-2019

[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

Jen O’Malley Dillon – Campaign Manager

Candidate’s Issues Page is  – “Issues”  Lists 13 issues including immigration & climate change
Lead statement: “The challenges we face are the greatest in living memory. We can only meet them if we build a movement that includes all of us.”
On Middle Class & Workers: Did not find mention of middle class or workers
On Democracy: Your contribution …ensures that our democracy is once again powered by people, and only people.
Use of Spanish – The site has been translated into Spanish

Sanders, Bernard – U.S. Senator from Vermont 2007-Present

[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

Faiz Shakir – Campaign Manager

Candidate’s Issues Page – “Issues” – 24 issues listed; Climate change & immigration identified as major issues.
Lead statement: I’m running for president so that, when we are in the White House, the movement we build together can achieve economic, racial, social and environmental justice for all.
On Middle Class & Workers:
No noticeable use of the phrase “middle class”
“Fight for Fair Trade and Workers”
On Democracy: No noticeable use of the word democracy
Use of Spanish – The site has been translated into Spanish

Steyer, Tom – American Philanthropist

  • No campaign manager or contact form to report at this time.
Candidate’s Issues Page – None Provided
Lead statement:  On the main page “There’s nothing more powerful than the unified voice of the American people.”
On Middle Class & Workers: Did not find mention of either term.
On Democracy: Did not find mention of democracy.
Use of Spanish – No translations available in Spanish

Warren, Elizabeth – U.S. Senator from Massachusetts 2013-Present

[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

Roger Lau – Campaign Manager

Candidate’s Issues Page – 5 Issues (Immigration and Climate Change do not receive their own section, but are mentioned within others)

Lead statement: “This is the fight of our lives. The fight to build an America that works for everyone, not just the wealthy and the well-connected. It’s time for big, structural changes to put economic power back in the hands of the American people. That means putting power back in the hands of workers and unions.”
On Middle Class & Workers: Rebuild the Middle Class / putting power back in the hands of workers
On Democracy: “Strengthen our Democracy”
Use of Spanish – The site has been translated into Spanish

Yang, Andrew – Entrepreneur

[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

Zach Graumann – Campaign Manager

Candidate’s Issues Page is  – “Policy” 106 issues listed
The lead statement is: “Mr. Yang has the most detailed and comprehensive set of policy proposals we have ever seen at this stage in the campaign.” Democratic Party Leadership in Iowa
On Middle Class & Workers: No mention of “middle class” or workers
On Democracy:  He supports Democracy Dollars –“It has been used in Seattle to great effect, and we can take their program national to move towards publicly funded elections.”
Use of Spanish – No translations available in SpanishTHE REPUBLICAN CANDIDATES

Trump, Donald – Current U.S. President
[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

Brad Parscale – Campaign Manager

Candidate’s Issues Page – “Promises Kept” – 14 issues listed;
immigration identified as a major issue “President Trump enforced immigration laws to protect American communities and American jobs.”
No direct mention of climate change, but under his sidebar listing recent accomplishments it says: “President Trump Withdraws the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord
Lead statement: “Making America Great Again – President Donald J. Trump Accomplishments”
On Middle Class & Workers: 
“More than 4.8 million workers received increased wages or bonuses (3.7% of all private workers).”
No notifiable use of the word “middle class”.
On Democracy: No notifiable use of the word “democracy.”
Use of Spanish – The site has been translated in Spanish
Pushing signing up for SMS and Email notices.Weld, William – Former Governor of Massachusetts
[Website] [Twitter] [Facebook]

Jennifer Horn – Campaign Manager

Candidate’s Issues Page – No Issues Page; No mention of immigration or climate change, or for that matter any issue.
Lead statement: “American Has a Choice” lead statement for his website
On Middle Class & Workers: No mention
On Democracy: from his press release on Mueller report: “Confidence in our leaders and in our institutions is at the heart of our democracy.
Use of Spanish – No translations available in SpanishMy take away from reviewing the websites.

The following comments are focused on the “Issues Page” for each candidate.

William Weld and Tom Steyer do not have an issues page, which is surprising in that Weld could have an open field in the Republican primary to tap into any party members who are dissatisfied with Trump. And, Steyer could afford a very robust website identifying the various issues that he has or could talk about on his info-commercials which have been running for months. This lack of an issues page on their websites could indicate a poorly organized campaign, a hesitancy to detail any solutions or just not pursuing a serious campaign effort.

Two other candidates, Steve Bullock, and Tulsi Gabbard have avoided listing issues and have chosen to present a broader statement on their beliefs. Bullock presents One Big Plan and Gabbard writes about her Vision for America.

If there was enough time available and a broadly accessible platform, the breadth and depth of issues covered by the Democratic candidates could really contribute to a greater national dialogue on various solutions that our country faces. Unfortunately, these efforts are pushed aside by all the mainline media’s focus on a candidate’s image and their highlighted talking points. However, there are a number of some interesting proposals buried in the various issue pages.

Andrew Yang gets the prize for the largest number of suggested innovative solutions, which includes providing Free Marriage Counseling for All, the use of Democracy Dollars and his most known proposal to provide a Universal Basic Income, a proposal first brought up in a presidential campaign by Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964.

William Weld, the Republican primary challenger to Donald Trump, gets the prize on the opposite end of the scale for not even having an issues page. Any issues he brings up must be picked up through his various TV interviews which he has posted on his website. Does he consider himself to even be a serious challenge to Trump?

Pete Buttigieg, to his credit, identifies some issues that the other candidates have either ignored or not directly addressed. He was the only candidate to mention domestic terrorism and link it to white supremacist violence and the need to increase federal resources for countering domestic terrorism. He also proposes passing a new Wagner Act to defend the right of workers to organize.

There are other candidates who also have identified unique or overlooked issues, too many to cover here. At this point in time, probably Warren and Sanders are seen by the public and democrats as addressing the most issues, partly because of how much media attention they have received and how long they have been covered by the media in the pre-campaign season talking about their differences from Trump.

Evaluating Candidates Websites’ Front-Page Message

In taking a glance at the democrat’s websites opening page and comparing it to Trump’s, I believe a subtle difference appears. Keep in mind that a statistically significant portion of viewers never gets beyond that first page.

Of the five leading Democrats in the polls, two of them ( Biden and Harris) just ask for money. There is no mention of joining them on any mission by submitting your email address.

Both Sanders and Warren, have a highlighted donation button but also ask for emails. Sanders message is that there is only one way to win against Trump “and the billionaire class” and that is being together, “tell Bernie you’re in.”
Presumably, that person will be part of something bigger.

Warren has a less motivational message, “Stay In Touch – Get the latest from the team straight to your inbox.” She will provide you with information.

Buttigieg has a modest donation button, but his page is dominated by the slogan: A fresh start for America” Solicitation for the email is “Join Team Pete”. You would be joining Pete to do something, but it’s not clear exactly what.

Trump is unique from all of the Democratic challengers. Although there is a highlighted contribution button, the only message on the first page is publicizing his campaign rallies and to register folks for free tickets (two per email address).  As president, he can travel to places on the public dollar. The question that needs to be asked and investigated is whether he is using public dollars to pay for his campaign events through covering travel costs if nothing else.

The Democratic candidates do not have the funds to fly around the country holding rallies and as individuals, with perhaps 3 exceptions, they are not likely to attract crowds that are consistently larger than Trumps. If they did try to hold a rally as an individual candidate and the crowd size was smaller than Trumps, he or she would be identified as a weaker figure than Trump.

The Democrats Need a Leader Who Places the Need for Unity Above Their Own Desire to Win

The way around this dilemma would be to have the democratic candidates working as a team, to hold rallies around national issues that they all agree on, such as overturning voter suppression legislation or gerrymandering. It would present a united democratic show of force and it is most likely that the crowds would be larger than any single candidate could attract. This strategy could succeed if the candidates work as a group and not as individuals.

The democratic party needs a leader to emerge from the pack of candidates who could say that they must unite now around some issues and use that cooperation to turn out people to rallies to both support and learn about how these issues are affecting their lives. Without such leadership, the democrats will continue to focus too narrowly on how each can win the primary, which will result in an ever-greater emphasis on the core body of democrat supporters and not on building a broader national movement!

How States Can Disregard SCOTUS’s Pro-Gerrymandering Decision

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

Written by: Nick Licata and Roger Scott


The Supreme Court gave the green light to 30 states (with 46% of the Congressional seats) to gerrymander Congressional and state legislative districts in 2021 as they draw district maps after the 2020 census  (Rucho Et Al. V. Common Cause).  Citizens in the other 20 states will receive some or full protection from partisan gerrymandering by either commissions or an independent demographer, in the case for Missouri. Citizens are deprived of their voting rights by gerrymandering because it locks domination of one party in a state for decades. In essence, politicians choose their voters instead of voters choosing their representatives.

In Maryland, Democrats in 2001 gerrymandered one district to increase their representation in Congress by one district.  In 2018, they won seven out of the eight seats.  Republicans in North Carolina instructed map makers to draw districts so that Republicans would win 10 out of 13 seats in spite of how many votes Republicans receive.  In 2018 Democrats received 48% and Republicans 50% of the total votes for Congress but won only three out 13 seats in Congress.  The table below lists the states in which the number of seats elected by one party was disproportionate to the total votes for Democrat candidates secured in that state, excluding independents.

  2018 House of Representatives Election results
Total # districts Total % Democratic vote in State # Democratic districts won Democratic districts won representing % of total D vote. % Difference in Democratic representation mostly due to gerrymandering
North Carolina 13 49% 3 23% negative 26%
Maryland 8 67% 7 88% positive 21%
Wisconsin 8 54% 3 38% negative 16%
Texas 36 48% 13 36% negative 12%
Kentucky 6 40% 1 17% negative 23%
Ohio 18 48% 4 22% negative 26%
Total House Districts 89 31 35%

Data compiled from various sources by the authors.

From a review of the table, it is evident that the Republicans have used modern technology to finely tune gerrymandering by concentrating the voters of the party out of power in the fewest districts.  The result is convoluted district boundaries and supermajority state legislatures that can overturn governor vetoes and maintaining one-party power after each census by gerrymandered districts. The president of the Brennan Center for Justice Michael Waldman noted that highly precise gerrymanders dilute the voting strength of an emerging nonwhite majority.

Citizens can trump the SCOTUS gerrymandering decision by organizing in the states. Former Attorney General Eric Holder, through his organization the Nation­al Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), is pursuing such a strategy. He described his reason to a Mother Jones reporter this summer, “This is a recognition on the part of the Democratic Party, on the part of progressives, that we need to focus on state and local elections to a much greater degree than we have in the past.”

Specifically, there are two distinct paths to fight gerrymandering at the state level.

First, they can use the initiative process to amend the state constitution and second make appeals to their state supreme court.  In 2018 the voters passed state constitutional amendments to establish independent redistricting commissions in Colorado, Michigan, and Ohio; an advisory commission in Utah; and an independent demographer in Missouri.  In 2019 another three states, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Arkansas will likely authorize constitutional amendments to establish independent commissions.  A citizen group in Oklahoma is working on an independent commission and plans on implementation in 2021.

These commissions can draw new state legislative and congressional boundaries from the 2020 census, since the census data is scheduled to be released to the states by March 31, 2021, and by that time the commissions should have been established.

Most independent commissions consist of a set proportion of Democrats, Republicans, and independents that draw district lines under a transparent process involving all parts of the state.  Lines must be drawn with criteria such as compactness, contiguity, respect of political boundaries and preservation of communities of interest.

In 2018, except for Utah, voters approved independent commissions with large majorities. By including a robust number of independents on proposed commissions, frustrated independents form coalitions with members of the out party to pass initiatives with large majorities. The record shows that states with an initiative process can create an independent commission in state constitutions regardless if they are red, blue or purple states.

These ten states have initiative power but currently have no protection against gerrymandering: Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. Reformers could organize initiatives in these states to accomplish Virginia and New Hampshire’s successful effort to get their state legislatures to authorize commissions.

Citizen efforts in these states could use the support of presidential candidates, national public interest organizations and party national committees to help them launch initiatives to create independent commissions. And for the 21 states (39% of members of the US House of Representatives) that do not have initiatives, citizens there could use those allies to elect new representatives who would vote for a constitutional amendment that would allow citizen introduced initiatives.

The second path is for citizens to bypass their state legislature if it is hostile to the two above approaches for establishing a redistricting commission. In these instances, they need to challenge gerrymandered districts up to their state supreme court on the grounds that they violate their state constitution.

Most states include language that is similar to that found in the Pennsylvania constitution which says, that “elections shall be free and equal” and no one shall “interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.” The Pennsylvania Supreme Court based its anti-gerrymandering decision on this language League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania v. Pennsylvania and the US Supreme Court’s majority agreed with them. But Pennsylvania’s court decision was possible because new justices were elected to their state supreme court, demonstrating that elections to state court positions are too critical to ignore.

The following states (Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Texas, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio), which have been heavily gerrymandered, all have crucial state Supreme Court elections up in 2020. Even though some of them have created commissions it is necessary to protect their existence and performance by electing justices who will deflect challenges to those commission’s proper functions.

Also, only Kentucky has a state supreme court justice position up for election this November 2019. It is a nonpartisan race between Court of Appeals Judge Christopher Shea Nickell and Republican State Senator Whitney Westerfield. However, being a Republican running as an impartial judge may be difficult for voters to believe and could provide an opening for the public to choose a justice that would oppose gerrymandering. This is particularly true in Kentucky, where the latest poll from Morning Consult, shows that their strongly partisan Senator Mitch McConnell received a whopping 50 percent unfavorable rating.

The bottom line is that State Supreme Courts, if they wish, can redraw their congressional and state district maps in adherence to their state constitution, despite the SCOTUS decision.

The above strategies can achieve a win for public accountability.  Now we need to demand all presidential candidates support these efforts, for the good of all citizens not those of any particular party.  This is an urgent matter since the states will redraw districts in 2021 or early 2022 and most of those will stick for a decade. The Supreme Court’s decision to allow states to continue gerrymandering, can and must be rebuffed at the state level.

Public Golf Courses can benefit the public without being eliminated

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

Written by: Nick Licata


A recent released city study and comments from Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan have stirred up a conversation about whether our public golf courses should be eliminated. 

The City of Seattle Parks Department commissioned Lund Consulting to prepare a strategic business plan to guide the future of Seattle’s public golf courses. Justifying the report, Mayor Durkan said, “It would be a breach of our duty to the people of Seattle not to be really looking at what is the best use of those golf courses, from everything to continuing as golf courses, to finding a way to use part of them as parks, to use part of them for affordable housing.”

What followed was an intense debate between those who believe that parkland devoted to golf courses should be used for other purposes to benefit the public and those who believe the golf courses already serve a public purpose.

The first group is generally referred to as urbanists. The second group doesn’t have as clean a handle to describe their vision. While urbanists argue for greater urban density to address critical issues like climate change and traffic congestion, the second group argues for preserving a sense of neighborhood communities; their critics call them NIMBYs, their supporters refer to them as park and community advocates. Let’s just refer to the two sides as urbanists versus park advocates, albeit those titles do not capture the full extent of their concerns.

One urbanist approach is presented by Nolan Gray in City Lab in an article  Dead Golf Courses Are the New NIMBY Battlefield.  Since golf’s popularity is waning, he asks why can’t their vast amounts of underutilized land be developed? He notes that “In a Kansas City suburb, one golf course is set to be converted into an industrial park. On another golf course in suburban Jacksonville, plans are underway for mixed-use retail, office, and hotel development.” But he also suggests even other park users would be possible.

Another writer Mike Eliason in his article Unlike Seattle, Golf Really Is Dying, which appears in the Urbanist, focuses specifically on how golf is dying in Seattle. He notes that “golf green fees are falling like a rock, 16% in just two years” from 2015 to2017. But making statistical projections from just a couple of years is fool’s gold. Looking at those same 2 years, Seattle Times columnist Gene Balk writes in his piece, Bike Commuting is Down in Seattle, that the number of bike commuters who live in Seattle fell 26%, 16,000 to 12,000. Both downward trends were due to an excessive rainy 2017.

The park advocates’ position was probably best represented by a letter to the mayor by three former park superintendents, Kenneth Bounds, Holly Miller, and David Towne. As supporters of the mayor and of housing affordability, they made two suggestions. First, the city should support municipal golf courses’ non-operating costs from general tax support if the golfing fees fall short. Second, the mayor should not propose converting parkland to non-park uses since it would be inconsistent with Seattle’s livability goals, which would discourage businesses and people to locate, live and work in Seattle.

Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat in a column on Golf Courses vs Housing regarding I-42 pointed out, with the help of citizen activists like Joyce Moty, that the city has a law that does not allow taking parkland and using it for other purposes unless it is replaced with the parkland of similar quality and size. In other words, as attractive as building affordable housing would be on golf courses, the cost of obtaining the land, since it would have to be replaced by purchasing land elsewhere, would make it non-affordable. And the city does not currently own large parcels of land to give to the Parks Department without having to pay market value, as it would have to do with the utility-owned property.

I’m familiar with Initiative 42, which the council unanimously adopted as Ordinance 118477, the year before I got on the city council. As the parks committee chair during my first term, citizens often reminded me of how it applied to attempts to sell parkland.

Although the council could overturn the initiative by a vote, that is not likely. The council unanimously adopted the initiative before it got on the ballot because they knew voters would pass it overwhelmingly. You could bet that if the council voted now to overturn I-42, the voters would release those councilmembers from their duties.

What caught my attention was that the Lund report only mentioned I-42 twice, and in a very inconsequential fashion: as part of park history and as a condition to take into account with regards to future changes. Neither citation was more than a line or two. I asked Kjris Lund, who wrote the report why that was. She told me that the city directed the report’s focus to be on the economics of the golf courses. She would have gladly dived into how I-42 could be addressed, but that was never intended by the city to be the focus.

The Parks Department also did not raise I-42 as a significant issue after the report came out.  Lund did meet with city department staff when her final draft came out and discussed the report’s major recommendations and findings. But I-42 did not play any significant role. And, neither the Mayor nor her office staff met with her after the report was released, although that could still happen.

So how come affordable housing has been mentioned when it appears that it was not studied as a replacement for the golf courses? My guess is that the mayor suggested providing affordable housing within parks as an idea rather than as a serious proposal.
The media then picked it up and amplified the concern of residents and park users. This approach does not lead to systemic changes. Rather, it makes a good point and stirs the pot, but doesn’t deliver a meal.

There is another report that is to be released analyzing the golf courses, but its scope is similar to the first one, in that it focuses on revenue, not on public services that could be better provided. This is a blind spot that results from city leaders so focused on balancing a budget, that they forget that their other mission is to provide good public services. That is part of the problem with the urbanists’ perspective.

For many of the urbanists, the golf courses 528 acres could be put to better use. The combined space of Seattle’s four golf courses is nearly as big as Seattle’s Discovery Park, or nearly 8 times the size of Seattle Center. But those comparisons are misleading. Discovery Park is designed to preserve a natural setting for passive use, not for active sports use. The Seattle Center is not park property, its function is to entertain and to produce revenue.

However, it’s not too late to explore how to best use the golf courses. While the national nonprofit First Tee youth program at Jefferson and Jackson teach children of low income and minority families how to golf, more needs to be done to open up the golf courses to the public. The Lund report’s Chapter 5 addresses this issue by describing a study of how seven Nordic and one Dutch golf course have accommodated multifunctional activities.

The services provided included conserving nature while still making the courses available to the public and creating areas for recreation and outdoor activities for a number of groups other than golf players. The study also showed that cooperation with the surrounding communities is a critical factor for achieving multifunctionality. Most importantly it found that “a multifunctional approach can be profitable for golf clubs while also strengthening their place and benefit in society through work on the environment and sustainable development.”

A key understanding of applying a multifunctional activity approach is that these activities do not need to occur simultaneously; they may be limited to seasons or occur at different times of the day. These practices are not limited to Scandinavia. The Old Course at St Andrews Scotland is an example of a revered course being made available to non-golfers.

What is missing from the public discussion right now, is how to begin exploring how golf courses are being used in other places that address the concerns that have been raised by Seattle’s users and residents. That needs to happen, and it was not directly asked of the consultants who are producing the golf studies. The mayor and the council could follow up on the last recommendation made in the Lund Report to conduct a risk analysis to allow non-golfers to use the golf courses at certain days and times.

The first step in that process is to recognize that parks, all parks, including golf courses, are there to provide a public benefit first and a revenue stream second. That may mean no longer expecting our municipal golf courses to carry an additional burden of contributing to the Park Fund to recover capital costs, one that our other park programs are not required to do so. This was the first of the 35 recommendations that were made in the Lund Report, delete the policy obligating golf to return 3% or 5% of their budget to this fund.

The approaching budget process, which will begin with the Mayor presenting the budget to the council in September is the perfect opportunity to devote funds to begin a new approach to using our golf courses, one that retains them and expands their use. It must happen in an atmosphere of cooperation in finding a way to meet the first recommendation of the Lund Report, which was to commit to golf as a recreational program offered by the City on par with other recreational offerings.

A New Democrat Attorney General drops charges against Republicans who poisoned Flint Michigan’s water. Why does that make sense?

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

Written by: Nick Licata


Did a Coverup of Who Caused Flint Michigan’s Contaminated Water Continue During its Investigation? 

For the first time in 16 years, Michigan elected a Democrat as their Attorney General and Dana Nessel’s first major decision was to dismiss all pending criminal charges against the state and city officials responsible for Flint Michigan’s polluted drinking water this past weekend. Mainstream media commentators were critical of her decision as well as Flint residents, who saw this move as further evidence that no justice would be pursued for the toxic water conditions which exposed up to 42,000 children under 2 years of age to lead poisoning. Nayyirah Shariff, a Flint resident who is the director of the grassroots group Flint Rising, told the Detroit Free Press reporter Paul Egan. that the announcement came as “a slap in the face to Flint residents” and “it doesn’t seem like justice is coming.”

But in reading through Egan’s article, additional pieces of this puzzling decision hinted that the coverup, by the accused officials, may actually have continued to the extent of endangering the investigation. In other words, there may be a legitimate reason for redoing the criminal charges. Although new cases will cost additional public money, Nessel says she made this decision precisely to save tax payer’s money from being wasted on faulty work by the former Republican State Attorney General, Bill Schuette. She said, his cases “have gone on for years and have cost the taxpayers of this state millions of dollars. It’s time for resolution and justice for the people of Flint.”

Schuette was overseeing the investigation and he has not been sympathetic to Flint residents in the past.  In 2017, he had been admonished by an Eastern District of United States of Michigan Judge for opposing the State of Michigan supplying bottled water to Flint residents who lack tap filters to protect them from the toxic drinking water. The judge suggested he had engaged in “superficial posturing” in being concerned about Flint’s water contamination.

That opinion of Schuette was mild in comparison to the findings of Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud, who is currently handling the criminal cases and is the first Muslim Solicitor General in the US. She found that not all evidence was pursued by Schutte and his special prosecutor Todd Flood, who was a prominent donor to then-Republican Governor Rick Snyder. In addition, Schuette and Flood wrongly allowed private law firms representing Snyder and other defendants to have “a role in deciding what information would be turned over to law enforcement.”

This scenario closely follows the prior coverups that officials, who were being charged, carried out in order to keep Flint residents ignorant of their unhealthy drinking water. This episode is covered in detail by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha’s book What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance and Hope American City. I reviewed it here.

As a pediatrician working at Flint’s Hurley Hospital, she intimately understood how public officials ignored the concerns of Flints residents, where 57 percent are black and only 37 percent white, and where a kid born in Flint will live 15 years less than one born in the neighboring communities.

The water problem began when Flint had to switch its water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River to lower its costs and government agencies were not properly checking for lead in the water supply. Marc Edwards, a self-described conservative Republican and civil-engineering professor from Virginia Tech, saw that even though the federal law required proper inspections, “The EPA and the states work hand in hand to bury problems.” And those EPA employees who did try to protect the public were punished. An EPA manager, who issued a report to his supervisors that he found high levels of lead in Flint’s water supply, was reprimanded and labeled “a rogue employee.”

The local county’s health-department representative was no better than the EPA, telling Dr. Hanna-Attisha that lead in the water was not a concern of theirs, only lead from paint chips and dust. However, something was obviously wrong. Just six months after the water switch, General Motors got a government waiver to go back to using Lake Huron water. The company noticed that its engine parts were being corroded after the switch.

The highest public official, Michigan’s Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, was at the heart of the problem by supporting a law that allowed him to appoint powerful emergency managers (EM) of cities whose budgets were deeply in debt. The EMs were accountable to the governor, not local governments, to pursue strong austerity measures. Because it was too costly, Flint’s EM rejected the city-council vote to go back to Detroit’s water supply due to consumer-health complaints.

Given Gov. Snyder’s role in allowing the Flint water crises to unfold without intervening, Solicitor General Hammoud was rightfully concerned how prior Attorney General Schuette’s special prosecutor Todd Flood let Snyder decide what information would be turned over to law enforcement. Just as Schuette had been accused by a federal judge as “superficial posturing” to appear to support Flint residents, the same deceptive practice may have been carried out again by him in cooperation with Gov. Snyder, by presenting a weak prosecution of those accused of propagating the Flint water crises.

As a Democratic Candidate for State Attorney General, Dana Nessel said she would “take a second look at the investigation, make certain that all of the people who have charges pending have been charged properly and look to see if there’s anyone who should have been charged, but who hasn’t been.” Upon dismissing the current charges, she repeated that sentiment by stating that she did not preclude recharging the original defendants or adding new ones.

The next step in pursuing a new set of charges against those responsible for Flint’s water contamination and health hazard will take place on June 28 in a Flint “community conversation” with Solicitor General Hammoud. She will explain Nessel’s decision and answer questions. Community activists are the ones who uncovered this travesty and demanded prosecution of those responsible. They will be present at the meeting and will hold Hammoud and Nessel to their promise to seek justice and not abandon it.

SDS’s Imploded 50 Years Ago – A Triumph of Extremism

By | Uncategorized | No Comments


Written by: Nick Licata


Fifty years ago, this June, the Students for a Democratic Society held its last United National Convention. It was torn apart by ideologically driven factions, each claiming to have the only correct approach for saving America. Ironically, SDS was initiated by the anti-authoritarian, but socialist-oriented, League for Industrial Democracy. Al Haber, SDS’s first president, encouraged it to work with any group that was seeking social change.

It may be unpopular to say, but extremism from within SDS destroyed it, not the government or the rightwing. Sure, they would have liked to see that happen, but in the end, the leftist SDS leadership was demanding their supporters to conform to a party line as they  embraced rightwing Senator Barry Goldwater’s advice from 1964, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”

The potential to drift toward extremism is as possible today as it was in the 1960s. It may seem odd to look back fifty years at a student organization’s collapse as having any relevance to our major political parties today. But it is relevant to how the Democrats and Republicans craft their message and policies in the upcoming 2020 presidential and congressional elections. Candidates in each party are trying to rally their party’s core supporters in order to win primary elections. That is a necessary and important activity, however, it is a false assumption that it is okay to ignore those outside those targeted groups unless they accept a core party doctrine. Because then they will likely reject both the candidate and their party.

The following perspective is based on my experience from being in SDS and from being involved in today’s politics as an activist. Recommending that extremism be avoided is not heard often from the left or the right. But a little history shows how it can undermine a great cause or organization.

By the time of its implosion in 1969, SDS had become the broadest and largest US student movement organization following WWII. It excelled in promoting the free exchange of ideas and solutions. Kirkpatrick Sale wrote in his book SDS, that their “literature list had ninety-two papers and pamphlets (forty-nine by SDSers). These were distributed widely to SDS chapters. They probably produced more than any other student group had ever before.”

The organization was non-hierarchical, rotating elected leadership annually, with chapters independent of any central control and membership open to all.  Having five members paying a $5 membership was all that was needed to form a chapter, which did not have to adhere to a national political line or report its independent stands to a national office. You didn’t even have to be a paid member, like me, to be an SDS campus leader. By the summer National Convention of 1969, seven years after their 1962 National Convention, where only 35 members were present, convention attendance had swelled to well over a thousand. Despite such success, it was torn apart internally by its national leaders vying for control of SDS based on who had the most valid beliefs for determining its future.

In its last year, SDS leaders spurned a broader outreach to the extent that even members, including past presidents, were cast out if they failed to follow a particular political line.  As a result, SDS lost membership and leadership of the student protest movement. There is a cautionary tale here for both the Democrat and Republican Parties. The intensity and certainty in one’s beliefs is not a substitute for presenting programs based on rational decision-making that preserve our liberties. My experience in SDS provided me an insight into what went wrong and how their errors need not be repeated.

I was a campus SDS leader with a role far below the radar of the SDS national leaders but still visible enough to be land on the Congressional House on Un-American Activities Committee’s (HUAC) organizational chart, exhibit number 257, listing the most prominent SDS subversives. The SDS leadership had a far more accurate assessment of my importance.

I attended Bowling Green State University during the late ’60s. Like many state colleges in Ohio, at that time, it had a conservative student body. During the 1968 presidential election, a poll showed that BGSU students supported Richard Nixon over Hubert Humphrey 64 percent to 18 percent; even though Nixon only beat Humphrey by 1%. When George Lincoln Rockwell, the leader of the American Nazi party, visited our campus in March 1967, he attracted an audience of close to three thousand who attentively listened to his message that he was fighting for the “White majority” in this country. On a campus that was a pretty big majority, only 1% of our student body were Black students.

Within this socially and politically conservative student culture, there still was a sense of rebellion among students like me who resented the student leaders. We felt ignored because we did not belong to the student organizations that influenced campus politics. Perhaps, this was similar to how conservative blue-collar workers felt in 2016;
being ignored by what some called “the elites” who were accused of controlling the federal government

I came across a document called the Port Huron Statement that was spreading among college campuses. Over 100,000 copies were printed and distributed by Students for a Democratic Society. It described a concept of “participatory democracy”, how citizens, including students, should have some meaningful say about how their government or work environment operated. I liked that idea. Why not have some control over your life?

I joined a handful of students in the fall of 1966 to start an SDS chapter in the hope of influencing campus and national policies. We barely knew each other and for the most part, we came from working-class families. The SDS national meeting that previous summer had focused on supporting local chapters’ efforts around issues, such as fighting for more relevant student “governments” and obtaining greater social freedoms on campus, while also opposing on-campus military recruiting and being drafted to fight in the Vietnam War.

I was surprised to find out that we were immediately accused by the College Administration and student government leaders of being unpatriotic, and possibly under the influence of the communists. Now, I had grown up reading about communists from John Birch pamphlets that were left at my dad’s barbershop by his customers. I always wanted to see what one looked like. Turns out they looked like me. Anyone could be a communist sympathizer if they didn’t watch out what they were asking for.

After being elected our SDS chapter’s president, our chapter worked with other campus groups to promote policies that the average student wanted but thought they could not get. As a result, an SDS member was elected Student Body President and a number of other SDS members were also elected to student government. Along with allies, we were able to get the student council, which still had a majority of conservative students, to establish a draft counseling service, dismantle campus restrictions on female students’ social behavior, pass a student bill of rights which overturned other university rules, and finally approved adding a black student as a voting representative on the council to give them a position of power to address racist policies on campus.

In the fall of 1968, I hitchhiked to other campuses in Ohio and on the east coast to see what other SDS chapters were up to. It was an eye-opening experience. The real difference I found from our chapter’s incremental approach of talking with other students on campus about our common problems became apparent when I visited the ivy league SDS campus chapters. Their members were from much wealthier parents than mine. The students I met were intellectually sophisticated, talking endlessly about the nature of class conflict and Marxism. Being a political science major, I had read my share of Karl’s works and was familiar with Marx’s analysis of capitalism and the inevitable working-class revolution. His ideas were worthy of exploring but I found that a number of chapters had approached Marxism almost as a religious dogma.  When I attended one of the last SDS National Council meetings held, during the Christmas break of 1968 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I encountered that orientation again.

Membership in SDS had exploded, which always had far fewer paid members than non-paying ones. One of the three top SDS elected national leaders, Robert Pardun, wrote in his bookPrairie Radical, that by December of 1967, “On most campuses there were often ten or more active SDS members who had not paid their dues for every member who had, and we estimated about 30,000 de facto members in some 250 chapters.” Others estimated that their numbers had reached 100,000 members and close to 400 chapters by the spring of 1969.

Despite having a constitution that said SDS “Membership is open to all who share the commitment of the organization to democracy as a means and a social goal” there was one particular group, the Progressive Labor Party, that set about to undermine that orientation. In 1965 they were just a small a tight-knit group; you had to be approved for membership by their leaders before being admitted. They advocated a Maoist type of communism, first supporting China but ultimately deciding that Albania was the best role model for America. Their immediate goal, however, was to take over SDS. They succeeded in doing that at the last legitimate SDS Convention, six months following the national SDS meeting I attended, where I encountered them for the first time.

How could such a small group, with such extremely anti-democratic views, take over a national organization that had advocated participatory democracy? The answer was that they won over converts through preaching that only they had the correct answers to creating a new political order. Over the three days of the SDS gathering, I saw how a strong, crystal clear belief system based on some simple and seemingly logical premises had the power to enlist those desperately wanting to overthrow a corrupted political and social system.

I had expected to find something more akin to the atmosphere that greeted me when I walked through the main hall of the college building hosting the SDS meeting. Upon entering I was met by a chaotic circus of competing ideas and slogans. Colorful posters hung on the brick walls with a cacophony of barkers, wearing buttons with every conceivable anti-war, pro-worker, anti-establishment, and pro-revolution slogan imaginable. They were hawking their displays of slim pamphlets and thick books, stacked on flimsy card tables. It was the movement’s version of a county fair to display competing ideas and promoting different approaches to create a new America and for some a new world.

This diversity reflected the grassroots non-voting membership which comprised easily two-thirds of the roughly 1,500 members attending that gathering. The three National Councils, which met before the National Convention in June 1969, were meant to discuss and vote on positions that would direct SDS’s national officers. I estimated that this direction would be coming from only a small percentage of the SDS members present since only the paid-up members could vote.

The council’s general assemblies were dominated by the two largest factions clashing, the PLP and RYM (Revolutionary Youth Movement), as they prepared for their ultimate match later in June at the National Convention. At this time, many SDS members were searching for a more comprehensive political philosophy and theory than what the Port Huron Statement had provided. Its bottom-up decision-making approach and encouragement of pursuing differing innovative solutions was found to be inadequate by PLP and RYM, who replaced it with a top-down authority structure requiring adherence to their own straitjacket beliefs.

More importantly, their basic pitch for SDS’s future was to reject liberalism, which was apparent when I  saw the front page of the SDS’s newspaper, the New Left Notes, that was issued for the National Council meeting. It featured a Picture of Chairman Mao with the headline “Combat Liberalism,” followed by an article declaring that liberalism “stands for unprincipled peace, thus giving rise to a decadent, philistine attitude and bring about political degeneration…” It could have been written by the right-wing Young Americans for Freedom campus group, as they also hated liberalism.

The council meeting’s final session came to a crashing end, with the main hall literally divided down the center aisle separating RYM and PLP followers chanting competing slogans: “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh” versus “Mao Mao Mao Tse-tung.”  It was the theater of the absurd; so distant from the real concerns of the tens of thousands of students who had sustained SDS as a movement leader.

The following SDS National Convention ended when PLP won a critical vote and RYM led a walkout of the convention, declaring that they were the legitimate SDS. Within months, the organization collapsed with no functioning SDS national office in touch with its hundreds of chapters.

The surge of campus organizing to fight the war and promote civil rights was immense before SDS’s demise. An Urban Research Corporation survey of student protestors at over two hundred universities and colleges during the first six months of 1969 found that over 200,000 students had participated in campus protests, many associated with local SDS chapters. But as the national organization began to apply class theory to every conflict, and after the national office split between RYM (which became the Weathermen) and PLP, fewer students joined, while many older members drifted away.

Without any national student organization to sustain such a wide and diverse protest movement, right-wing political organizations began to chip away at the progressive measures on campuses that SDS helped initiate. The Reagan era followed waving the banner of individual independence and liberty, which has since led to concentrating wealth into the hands of ever fewer people, and a steady attack on programs that protect personal rights.

The extremist beliefs that brought down SDS, occurred from within. They were not imposed on it by the government or right-wing groups. SDS’s demise occurred because its leadership embraced absolute truths; demanding that there was only one true path moving forward, and labeling those not adopting their vision as enemies. Compromises and reason were their poisons; they blurred that vision by challenging the officially pronounced premises and offering alternative ones.

This history may warm the hearts of conservatives who will gleefully see SDS’s destruction as the result of flying to close to a socialist sun, which blinded their logic and melted their wings. That perspective feeds upon the same diet of hubris that undermined SDS’s democratic foundation; the belief that your world view is the only correct one, such as considering that anything socialistic is bad.

For example, the repeated statements made by President Trump, his followers and a good portion of Republicans, would have the public believe that adopting democratic socialist programs would curtail our personal freedoms. By an imaginary leap in logic, they point to Venezuela’s dictatorial President Nicolas Maduro as the inevitable result. Rather they should look to their own libertarian Cato Institute to realize how ridiculous that assumption is. Cato Institute’s Human Freedom Index, which presents the state of human freedom in the world based on a broad measure that encompasses personal, civil, and economic freedom, gives the US a ranking of 17. There are a dozen countries with socialistic programs who score higher than us.

In fact, SDS’s implosion is more of a cautionary tale for the Republican Party than the Democratic Party. Because at this time the Republicans’ party is practicing the most extremist beliefs. This is most evident in the treatment of women, as the Republicans have allowed religious doctrines to abrogate personal freedoms. The founders of this nation, being very aware of the religious wars that had torn apart their homeland of England, incorporated the separation of church and state into our constitution.

The Republican Party’s base now consists of those who have no tolerance for a democracy that allows citizens to control their own bodies. Instead, they insist that their religious beliefs must dictate the most intimate personal decisions for everyone. So that now President Trump, who leads a democracy based on individual liberties, is accusing women of killing children because he needs the votes of religious fundamentalists, who refuse to acknowledge that the freedom from being controlled by religious doctrine is the basis of our democracy.

How is it that the Republican Party, which was born out of the desire to free black citizens from slavery, now is leading the charge to require all women to adhere to a dogma that many do not choose to follow? While both Democrats and Republicans could learn from SDS’s experience, that lesson is most immediately applicable to the practices being pursued by Republicans toward women. Their traditional conservative values are now being undermined by those within the party who are exhibiting the same behavior of promoting absolute truths that destroyed SDS in the 60s.

To quote Barry Goldwater again, he predicted this threat to the Republican Party over fifty years ago when he said. “Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, … it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise.”

When religious dogma trumps democratic values, America’s liberties are far more threatened than any bread and butter socialized services that the radical right so loudly accuses of endangering our freedom.

Parts of this essay were taken from my unpublished manuscript The Student Power Movement  – its rise, fall, and legacy. 

Trump is not a Tyrant – he just admires them

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

Written by: Nick Licata


President Trump is not a tyrant, but he doesn’t shy away from admiring them. And, that should give one pause in feeling secure that our nation’s leader is committed to sustaining the world’s longest running democratic republic. For those who don’t see his lack of understanding how a democracy functions, they should consider his statements flattering those leaders who have corrupted or demolished their own democratic institutions, by denying open and unfettered public elections or not allowing media to distribute uncensored information.

For instance, Trump suggested that our country should form with Russia a “Cyber Security unit to guard against election hacking,” even though our intelligence services at that time said Russia, most likely on Putin’s orders, had been hacking of our elections in order to swing the election to someone whom they preferred. This accusation was later confirmed in Special Investigator Mueller’s report. Meanwhile, Putin has, in practice, ended free elections in Russia.

Trump flat out congratulated Chinese President Xi Jinping on his National Congress, which only meets for a week every year, allowing him to serve as president for life. He told the National Republican Congressional Committee at a spring dinner that he referred to Xi as “king” not president because of that change. “He liked that. I get along with him great.” Trump’s largess in bestowing admiration on anti-democratic leaders extends to even countries that are not world powers.

The New York Times (Feb 2, 2018) quoted Trump as saying Egyptian Pres Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is a “fantastic guy”, although El-Sisi got elected by jailing or threatening them with the prosecution, leaving only an obscure ardent supporter of his as an opponent. According to the NYT, “most other Western leaders have been largely silent.”

That same NYT edition showed Trump’s support for another national leader who has destroyed democracy in his country “Cambodia PM Hun Sen, who has ruled the country for 33 years has led a sweeping crackdown on opponents before elections this summer. Trump flashed a big thumbs-up as he posed for a photo with Mr. Hun Sen, who later praised the American president for what he called his lack of interest in human rights.”

Trump’s statements appear to spring from his belief that he shared with Fox News in an Interview when he said, “when it comes to foreign policy, I’m the only one that counts.” That does not sound like a Republican or a Democrat, but someone who thinks of himself as being above the process of reaching government decisions within a democratic republic. Trump’s off-hand comments are a warning sign that professors of government at Harvard University, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, have identified as what happened in Europe and Latin America when their democracies broke down.

They see the clearest warning sign of this downward spiral beginning with the ascent of anti-democratic politicians into mainstream politics. They refer to political scientist Juan J. Linz’s work in identifying the behavior of politicians who pushed Europe’s democracies into collapsing just before WWII, as consisting of three traits: “a failure to reject violence unambiguously, a readiness to curtail rivals’ civil liberties, and the denial of the legitimacy of elected governments.”

Levitsky and Ziblatt concluded that Trump exhibited all three. In his electoral campaign, he encouraged violence among supporters; pledged to prosecute Hillary Clinton and had his rallies chant “lock her up”; and threatened legal action against unfriendly media. What I find most disturbing, is when he questioned the legitimacy of our country’s election results, because he didn’t like them.

On the 2012 presidential election night, Trump tweeted minutes after the polls had closed on the West Coast, “This election is a total sham and a travesty. We are not a democracy!” He did so because he mistakenly assumed that Obama had won the election without the majority popular vote. Ironically, Trump won his presidential election without winning the popular vote, but he made no mention of that fact. Instead, he fabricated an unsubstantiated accusation that there were millions of illegal votes cast for Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton, something that even Trump’s foremost media ally, Fox Network, has not even attempted to prove. He reverted to this visceral response when the polls indicated that he might lose the 2016 election to Hilary, claiming that it would have been rigged if she had won.

He ran his billion-dollar business as a family operation and continues to have that close-knit family orientation in running the White House. That may be fine for a business or maybe even for the inner workings of an administration’s office staff, but to carry that mentality to how the nation’s government should operate, reveals either ignorance or outright hostility to our basic democratic institutions.

That attitude emerged early in his first term. After the first 100 days in office, he blamed the constitutional checks and balances built into US governance for his legislation stalling. “It’s a very rough system,” he said. “It’s an archaic system … It’s really a bad thing for the country.”
Timothy Snyder, author of On Tyranny – Twenty Lessons of the Twentieth Century, lists one of the lessons to learn and practice to avoid the collapse of a democratic society is to defend the institutions which keep it alive, like a critical media and an independent judicial system. He concludes that  “Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.” Those who may hold the title of president or control a country called democratic, are in fact tyrants or dictators if they work to undermine and ultimately extinguish those institutions. We should not admire or flatter them.

The Green New Deal Died in Congress – Because the Dems did not have 2 Key Allies

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

Written by: Nick Licata


Without the support of farmers and unions, the GND will remain a list of talking points for politicians. The Democrats made a serious error releasing their 14-page non-binding House Resolution 109 without those groups taking a lead in its rollout.
One of the more comprehensive and balanced reviews of the GND’ broad and worthy goals, is from John de Graaf in his The Promise of the Green New Deal published in the Front Porch Republic ( frontporchrepublic.com/2019/03/the-promise-of-the-green-new-deal/ ). Among the many points, he makes is the critical need to bring aboard farmers, who are one of the Republican Party’s core constituencies.
Like de Graaf, Raj Patel and Jim Goodman in their piece A Green New Deal for Agriculture in the Jacobin Magazine, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2019/04/green-new-deal-agriculture-farm-workers, see President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal serving as a model of how a coalition including farmers and rural voters is needed to move progressive legislation forward. In particular, it can break the power of the current conservative cultural block that defines the climate debate.
Unions are the other main ally that would be in pushing for the GND since they have the most to gain or lose from government policies impacting their work environment. Union members have been a core Democratic constituency, but one that the Republicans have slowly been siphoning away. Trump’s wins in the industrial states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin reflect that continued encroachment.
These writers are following the first rule of defeating an entrenched opposition, you must crack their forces before attempting a frontal assault. As Raj Patel and Jim Goodman put it, GND advocates must “unpick the alliances that the current bloc works to maintain, to find the fault lines that can pry that bloc apart.” Unfortunately, congressional Democrats failed to follow that rule and it seems that Democratic presidential candidates are doing so as well. Washington State Governor Inslee, running as the climate change presidential candidate, missed an opportunity to reach out to rural voters when he launched his first campaign video and did not have either farmers or labor spokespeople talking about the importance of climate change.

Political allies need to be at the table when designing and announcing new programs or visionary statements. If they are not sitting at the table, they could be tossing tomatoes at these efforts or just remain silent. This was evident from the main organizations representing these two constituents in responding to the launch of the GND; at best it was muted and at times hostile.
Leaders of the American Farm Bureau criticized the proposal as misguided and uninformed when the GND was released and soon afterward, the National Farmers Union, a more liberal group representing large farm organizations, said the Green New Deal did not recognize “the essential contribution of rural America.”

Meanwhile, the conservative-leaning Laborers’ International Union of North America, or LIUNA, denounced the Green New Deal the day it was introduced; there has been only one major union, the large east coast based 32BJ SEIU, that has strongly backed the Green New Deal. Meanwhile, most labor organizations have stayed quiet or been skeptically critical.
Initiating this grand new venture with two key groups sitting by the wayside at best is not a way to build a successful movement for change. What is most discouraging, is that it did not have to be this way. The gap between the perception of GND’s potentially negative impact and the resolution’s wording supporting both farmer and union objectives could have been bridged if these groups had participated in some fashion with writing the resolution.

The GND’s language recognizes the needs of both rural and urban workers and assures them that the transition to a sustainable economy that does not destroy our physical environment has their best interests in mind.

For farmers, it states, that the government will work collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible, by supporting family farming and investing in sustainable farming and land use practices that increase soil health.

For labor in general, the government would back “create millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States.” and create “high-quality union jobs that pay prevailing wages, hires local workers, offers training and advancement opportunities, and guarantees wage and benefit parity for workers affected by the transition.” Who could disagree with such lofty goals, unless you don’t support sustainable farming or providing union jobs?

So how could such a positive program be so rejected or ignored? The answer is not so much as to what was in the GND resolution, so much as a lack of strategy in reaching out to a broader slice of the public through enlisting the active involvement of those constituencies who are targeted by the Republicans to oppose it: rural voters and blue-collar workers.

The Congressional Democrats cannot wait for another vote to pass a newer version of the GND. One will not pass with the current makeup of Congress. Any legislative victories will have to come after the elections in 2020 which will determine the future of the Senate and the Presidency. Until then, the Democrats must focus more on organizing public sentiment than even getting green candidates elected because without strong grassroots support for the principles outlined in the GND, those green candidates will not be winning in swing districts and the Republicans will retain control of the Senate.

The way forward is for Congressional Democrats to hold a series of coordinated public forums in each region of the nation to discuss and to even debate GND’s message. Without creating an opportunity for an open discussion in all parts of the nation, rural and urban areas, those critiquing the GND as a fantasy or as irresponsible will continue to make headway.
When the vast majority of Democratic Senators voted Present, with even a few voting No, rather than Yes to the GND resolution, it was clear that they did so because of a fear of voter backlash.

They legitimately accused the Republicans of not holding open committee meetings with experts brought in, but that is an insider’s complaint. The public doesn’t care about such procedures. Farmers and urban workers want to know how their lives are going to be affected.

It is incumbent that Democrats recognize that need, not through just giving speeches or posting position papers on the internet, but through going into communities, along with allies from the farming and labor communities to directly address the concerns of those who voted for Trump out of a fear that their livelihood would be negatively impacted if we did something to improve our environment. Those who believe that climate change is a real threat to the welfare of our nation’s health and economy must present a simple message: we cannot turn back the clock, but we can take charge of our future.

Low-Income Motor Home Park Residents Evicted but keeping together

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

Written By: Nick Licata


A year ago, in March 2018, three young female filmmakers (ages 13 – 15) made a short film to call attention to how their largely Hispanic low-income community in the Firs Motor-Home Park in SeaTac was being threatened with demolition.


The owner planned on building a hotel and apartments on the park and evict the 170-some residents, including 90 children. Most of them attend the Madrona Elementary school across the street, which has over 50% of Latino students, and all who attend are eligible for the low-income 100% free lunch program. It’s a school that will help open the doors for more opportunities to them since it provides a dual language program and assists their children with special needs.

To keep the community together and their children attending this school, State Representative Mia Gregerson and Tenants Union organizers, helped the community raise money from the film and from many other activities to force the owner to either change his plans or provide sufficient funds for the residents to find a new location for the entire community. In particular, they wanted to create a nonprofit or community-ownership model for the park that promotes community control and self-determination while preserving affordable housing for all of SeaTac residents.

After the community concluded an 18-hour negotiating session last week, the Firs Home Owners Association agreed to each of the 42 households in the park receiving $10,000 to help their transition to a new home. They also can remain in the park free of rent for at least a year, while the new development begins to take shape on paper.

While the settlement was the best they could achieve, the community released a statement saying, “It is an injustice that our landlord is allowed to close our park and profit from destroying our homes without giving a fair compensation. The same injustice has befallen countless communities and will happen again to families just like ours.” The number of mobile home communities is being reduced as land values go up and the land that these communities occupy is being developed for greater profits. Motor-home parks Bow Lake (457 spaces) and Angle Lake (64 spaces) currently face that risk.

The Firs HOA says it wishes to keep South King County as a place where low-income families can live with dignity. They state, “We are not asking for charity or for a gift of public funds. Instead, we are working together to create conditions of possibility so that low-income, working, and immigrant families can enjoy the stability and dignity of homeownership.”

Unfortunately, this is not an easy task. Representative Gregerson recognizes that “The policies in government are not set up to help large communities who are identified in the system as being low income or very low income.”  From her own experience, she has found that these communities have different needs from working with older white adults. “They make decisions differently and the amount of “spare” time is different.” Complicating the process is that financial institutions and nonprofits don’t know how to “pre-qualify” people these communities in the traditional way, despite their collective value being worth millions of dollars when pooled together.

Rep. Gregerson perceptively notes that there is an underlying structural condition in our country that has resulted in the scales of justice being distorted by the influence of money as manifested in the growing power of corporations. One of the major principles, but not the only one, governing our democracy is the protection of wealth, i.e. property. But the growth of money’s influence as Rep. Gregerson reasons is why the argument that Corporations are NOT people is a good fight and worth fighting.

There is also a countervailing principle of our democracy is to protect the common welfare of all within our country. It was that principle that was smothered in the treatment of the Firs Motor-Home Park when one person’s financial interests outweighed the living conditions of 42 low-income households. Those involved in the negotiations said that the Firs owners, Mr. Park, rarely showed his face to come to a meeting; he just paid the lawyers’ fees and waited it out. Mr. Park is not a bad person. His relationship with the residents of the park was apparently non-controversial but when he was charged with being insensitive to the loss of their homes, he replied “I feel badly but cannot give charity,” he said in an interview. “I’m a businessman.”

That statement gets to the crux of not only the Firs crises but the crises that affect mobile-home park residents, or tenants in apartment buildings. Neither group owns the land they live on; like so many fallen leaves they are tossed about by the winds of the market place which determines the highest value that land can bring.

The Firs community now plans on using the time and money they received in the settlement to seed a housing project for all of them. But they cannot do it alone. They need public support to find a location and create a residential model, such as a land trust, to keep their community together. For these reasons, they have asked that the $2.5 million allocations in the Housing Trust Fund that had been set aside last year to assist them, be extended for another year; and that it be expanded to allow for the purchase of a new property and the development of affordable housing there.

If you wish to support their effort, please call your state legislators 1-800-562.6000 and the Senate Ways and Means Committee (360) 786-7644. Ask them to re-appropriate the $2.5 million Housing Trust Fund allocation in its proposed Capital Budget for the Firs Mobile Home Park community. That will allow them to rebuild at a new location, which will help address South King County’s vanishing affordable housing.

Mississippians are Organizing to Get Government Accountability

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

Written By: Nick Licata

Not all deep red southern states are alike.

    Virginia over the past several years has become more purple while Mississippi has remained deep red. Democrats won more legislative and congressional seats in Virginia. As I pointed out in my last piece, that trend was kicked off by a successful constitutional based lawsuit against the racially based gerrymandering that the Virginia legislature had created. Court cases are one of the three primary tools available to make government’s more accountable.
Unlike Virginia, there is no court ruling pending nor cases filed challenging Mississippi’s gerrymandered state or federal district boundaries. A seasoned research and legal staff are required to file effective lawsuits against a state legislature’s gerrymandering. In Virginia’s case the fair redistricting advocacy groupThe Princeton Gerrymandering Project provided relevant data analysis, which specializes election and political law, and Kevin Hamilton, a litigator from the law firm Perkins Coie, brought the case representing the interests of African-American voters.
They are not involved with Mississippi’s situation. And the other the most likely institution in Mississippi to have available legal staff would be the ACLU. However, Mississippi’s ACLU has focused on directly stopping excessive force abuses against the black community; they filed a federal class-action lawsuit against county deputies who used unconstitutional tactics to target black people. As a result, the courts are not currently looking at any cases that would overturn Mississippi’s racially biased gerrymandered districts.
Mississippi allows citizen-initiated constitutional amendments, but none is currently being planned around redistricting or expanding voter access. Past progressive initiative efforts have failed at the polls. In 2001, a vote to change the state flag by eliminating the Confederate emblem was rejected by nearly two-thirds of voters. Reflecting that same conservative culture, another amendment in 2011 requiring a strict Voter ID law passed. However, that year an amendment supporting an extreme anti-abortion failed. And although the last citizen-initiated promoting greater government accountability, in this case by increasing funding for public education, failed in 2015, it almost passed.
A recent survey indicates that these last two election results reflect a growing dissatisfaction by Mississippi’s citizens with their state legislature’s extreme conservative policies. In January of this year, a survey conducted by the Institute for Civic and Professional Engagement at Millsaps College and Chism Strategies found that the disapproval rating for the Mississippi Legislature’s work was nearly twice as high as its approval rating (46% to 24%). The public’s attitude appears to be swinging toward a rejection of a rigid ideology, as U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, who ran as a strong Trump supporter against the moderate Democrat Mike Espy, had a 50% disapproval rate of her work in the Senate but only 38% in support of it.
That survey also showed strong support for funding public services that the Republican-controlled state legislature has opposed. It reported that “A majority of Mississippi voters (65%) say that funding for the state’s public schools is too low, cutting across lines of party, race, gender, educational attainment, and age. Likewise, over 75% support providing for a 3% pay raise for Mississippi public school teachers.”
Brad Chism, the president of Chism Strategies released a statement saying, “This information is not filtered through special interests—it comes straight from a representative sample of voters across the state.” Unlike a number of other surveys that appear to have a particular political bent, this survey’s results, analysis, and crosstabs were publicly released.
The road to achieving greater government accountability now is dependent upon electing officials who recognize the need for better public services. Still, just presenting good candidates is not enough. This past November Mississippi saw two strong and articulate democratic candidates running for the U.S. Senate defeated.
Democratic U.S. Senate Candidate Mike Espy came within 8 points of beating Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith for an open seat, which was the closest U.S. Senate election in Mississippi in the last 30 years. Espy ran as a moderate and Hyde-Smith as a strong Trump supporter. Meanwhile, the Democratic leader in Mississippi’s statehouse, David Baria, lost to the incumbent Republican Sen. Roger Wicker by 20 points.
Baria’s race is typical of how well Democrats do against Republicans in Mississippi, which has been described by analysists as one of the least elastic states in the country, largely because of its demographics. Although at 37%, Mississippi has the highest percentage of black residents of any state and 75% are Democrats or lean that way, the white voters are almost as strongly Republican at 65%, but they make up 61% of the population, leaving relatively few swing voters.
Overall Mississippi is mostly Christian, largely rural and is among the least-educated states. President Trump does well with voters who fall into these categories, but he only got 1% higher of the white voter turn out than McCann did in 2016. Meanwhile, Obama got a 10% greater black turnout than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. So, Espy, a black liberal candidate, turned out more of the Democratic base and didn’t generate any measurable increase in conservative white voters. If a Democrat can keep his or her base while also appealing to independents and those that lean Republican, that person could win.
Baria, who is white, supporting gun control and reproductive rights, was more progressive than Espy. Baria’s Republican opponent Wicker was slightly more moderate than Espy’s opponent Hyde-Smith. The total turnout of Baria’s race was 17% lower than Espy’s, with Baria receiving 66,000 fewer votes than Espy. Nevertheless, Espy’s vote tally was short by that number of votes to win his election. The results would indicate that a moderate Democrat could come closer to beating a Trump Republican by appealing to more cross over voters, but that candidate still needs to get out more voters who support progressive positions if they expect to win. It is a delicate and difficult balance to achieve.
Democratic Rep. Jay Hughes, running for lieutenant governor, is walking that tight-rope. He announced his campaign as a “people-powered, grassroots campaign about inclusion, not exclusion.” His opponent is Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who enjoys a net approval rating of +30%, attracting both Democrats and black voters. His current popularity is higher than any other candidate running for one of Mississippi’s 7 executive offices. Hughes needs to hold onto his base and still attract Hosemann’s support. Hughes has done so by attracting many conservative white working-class families from smaller towns and rural areas as he emphasizes the need for funding for better education and roads, that surveys reveal voters want better funded.
The problem that Hughes faces, and one that other Democrats in Mississippi and other deeply red states confront, is how to keep the support of progressives who could sit out a race if a candidate does not support a woman’s right to have an abortion for instance. As a current state legislator, Hughes recently voted for an anti-abortion measure similar to the one that was defeated at the polls. He understandably explained his vote as one that was necessary to retain his seat and make him a competitive candidate for lieutenant governor, but it could also result in a lower turnout from his voter base.
Another strong democratic candidate, Jennifer Riley-Collins, is running for the vacant Attorney General position. As a retired decorated army colonel with 20 years of military service and an active in the religious community, she can also attract traditional republican leaning voters. However, she is the current Executive Director of Mississippi’s ACLU and has represented it in opposing state laws that violated an individual’s civil rights. As Attorney General, she would now have to defend those laws. She says that if elected she is committed to “represent the legal interest of the State of Mississippi.” And she strongly states, “My commitment to serve and protect all Mississippians fully qualifies me for the position.”  She has several popular Republican opponents and any of them are expected to outspend her in the general election.
The best chance that the Democrats have for capturing a state-wide office is with the current Attorney General Jim Hood, who is running for the vacant Governor’s seat. He has been the only statewide elected Democrat in Mississippi for some time. Like, Rep. Jay Hughes, he has support among white working-class families, particularly from rural areas, which is critical since Mississippi’s only urban center is the Greater Jackson area, and has a population of less than 600,000 in a state with a total population just shy of 3 million.
Hood’s opponent is Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who has big financial backers but polls only 47 percent with those leaning Republican while Hood scores an approval of 46 percent, and with independent voters Hood leads Reeves by 13 points. But like all of the other Democrat candidates, campaigning on some liberal social policies are constrained by the need to retain the support of those culturally conservative families.
Even with viable democratic candidates, the road to victory depends on getting out more voters and providing them good information on the issues. Espy’s campaign did that according to Beth Orlansky, the Advocacy Director for the Mississippi Center for Justice, saying “There was a groundswell of excitement to get registered and vote, Espy’s campaign energized people that hadn’t voted before. There still is an appetite for change.”
Mississippi Votes has a proven track record of turning out new voters, Izzy Bronstein, the Grassroots Organizer for Common Cause, said: “Mississippi Votes is one great organization getting out new voters.” Arekia Bennett, the Executive Director of Mississippi Votes, explains their strategy for particularly reaching young new voters: “Mississippi Votes is Millennial led and youth-centered — in an effort to stay true to that founding principle, we have campus ambassadors on 9 of the 17 colleges and universities throughout the state of Mississippi. It is our goal, by August, to have that same youth civic engagement programming in 5 high schools across the state.” Focusing on youth makes sense given the economic difficulty they are having. A recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found Millennials born in the ’80s have a net worth 34% below what was expected.
But just getting them to vote would not be enough. Bennett explains that “Mississippi Votes does political education, voter registration, and conducts research that informs our organizing strategies in and with communities that have historically been disenfranchised and/or have a below average voter turnout rate during non-presidential elections.”
While Mississippi Votes has supported online voter registration, which appeals to youth, Mississippi still does not have Election Day registration, automatic voter registration, mail ballot delivery or campus vote centers. Adopting any of these measures would greatly contribute to increasing voter turnout for all residents. Mississippi residents are strongly behind making voting easier for them. The January Millsaps / Chism survey found 71% of Mississippians favored allowing for early voting in their Circuit Clerk’s offices 14 days before an election, something that is allowed in 38 other states. However, these measures will only be adopted when the Republican supermajority in each chamber can be reduced to at least a simple majority and the Governor is a Democrat so that a Democratic Governor’s veto of restrictive voting measures could not be overridden.
It will be a challenge to reduce the number of Republicans to the level that drops their seats below 60% in either chamber. The Democrats would have to win either 10 seats in the House or 5 seats in the Senate for that to happen. Without redistricting, the current gerrymandered state districts will be used, but that does not eliminate the possibility of flipping the necessary number of seats to deny the Republicans a supermajority in either chamber. It was done in Virginia under the same conditions, it can happen in Mississippi.

Electoral wins take grassroots organizing and good candidates. If Mississippi Votes can turn out the youth voters and others who have not registered to vote but want more government accountability, those wins are very possible. As the Millsaps / Chism state-wide survey showed, the populace wants to change. They need to believe that there is a chance for that happening. Local organizations like Mississippi Votes, One Voice, People’s Advocacy Institute and Fair Vote, need assistance from national groups like the NAACP, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC) and Common Cause. These groups must provide assistance if Mississippi’s state government is to have a bi-partisan distribution of power and finally provide greater accountability to its residents.
John Chappell, a young student volunteer in Mississippi Votes, bluntly summarized Mississippi’s challenge, “Our institutions aren’t going to save themselves. We need to deliberately push for more inclusive, more democratic governance. Our institutions rely on citizen participation, which means that everyone has to do their part.”