Thursday, June 19, 2008

Obama Begins Process of Courting the Women's Community -- With Mixed Results

The Obama campaign sent someone from their Women for Obama operation to Washington, DC last week, and invited some leaders from the women's movement to the DNC for a pow wow. This was a smart thing to do -- and it was smart for them to do it so quickly after Sen. Clinton suspended her campaign. This good timing is the cup half full aspect of the meeting.

Despite NARAL's late-in-the-game endorsement and the dueling letters from various factions in the women's community throughout the primary, the Obama Campaign is well aware of the fact that most of the organized women's movement that can dabble in electoral politics -- without pissing off the IRS, that is -- was firmly in the Hillary camp. As I said, breaking bread with these groups quickly was a smart move. It should be noted that, despite all McCain's obvious and cynically calculated overtures to Clinton supporters, my sources say he has issued no such invitation for a similar meeting. Of course, it comes as no surprise to me that McCain's courtship of women voters is all insincere flash and rather thin on substance.

The cup half empty report from the Obama meeting begins with a sidebar rant that goes something like this: why do politicians always assume that anyone with the requisite "xx" chromosomes is automatically equipped to handle the responsibilities of a "women for [your candidate's name here]" operation? Wouldn't it be smart, given that women make up such a key block of voters, to actually chose people well versed in women's issues and also, perhaps, women who might even be known to folks in the women's community?? Call me crazy. But, well, this is politics, so typically such posts goes to a favorite hometown gal, regardless of her expertise or connections -- and no offense to those well-meaning, perfectly capable hometown gals, but it serves neither the campaign or women well.

The woman the Obama Campaign sent for the meeting was a Chicagoan -- no surprise -- but a completely unknown commodity to the leaders of the national women's community. In all fairness, it's my understanding she's done some state-level women's community work in the Land of Lincoln -- but this was a national level meeting, and the campaign should have sent their A Game. This is all the more puzzling because of who the campaign could have sent for this first, all important meeting.

The Obama Campaign chose to send this quite nice, very sincere, but-didn't-know-a-person-in-the-room, have no-idea-who-the-players-are woman instead of Betsy Myers, former COO of the campaign and national chair of Women for Obama and -- oh yeah -- the former director of the White House Office on Women's Initiatives in the Clinton Administration. Myers, someone the women's community knows, someone the community has an established record with, someone with whom trust could have immediately been established.

But, no. The Obama Campaign sent an unknown if competent second stringer, and as a result most of the women's groups didn't send their principles either -- and thus the peace talks have not really begun in earnest. Time's a wastin', folks. Apparently the women's community did ask for a face-to-face, sit down meeting with the man himself. And Obama should do it. He should look these women leaders in the eye and ask for their support, not just assume he has it. While the polls show most Clinton supporters -- including women -- have already made the transition to Obama supporters, despite the much-hyped but mythical collective hissy fit Clinton women were supposedly having over the suspension of her campaign, Obama should not take women voters for granted. And while all women voters aren't necessarily guided by the national women's community, their leadership and these organizations are nonetheless an influential group that deserves his respect.

Women are a key base Obama needs to win -- he needs our votes, our money, and our volunteer time. This is not news. So it's not too much to ask to have a dignified sit down between the Democratic Party's nominee and the women's movement's leaders, rather than simply taking that key constituency for granted. John Kerry made that mistake, and he paid dearly for it when the white women's vote -- along with the 2004 election -- went to George Bush.

Copyright 2008. The Zaftig Redhead. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Arizona Voter ID Law Nabs Grandma: Former Teacher has Voted in Every Presidential Election Since 1932

Anti-immigrant sentiment is so strong that many states have passed voter ID laws, requiring people to show picture IDs before they pull the lever, punch their card, mark their ballot, etc. Of course, these laws are nothing more than voter suppression laws in disguise -- that is their true intent and design.

Let's be clear. Illegal immigrants don't go anywhere near the polls -- are you kidding me? They don't want to be anyplace that has even a whiff of official government activity. No, what these Republican-sponsored laws tend to do is prevent the elderly, minorities, and the poor -- typically key Democratic voting blocks -- from voting. You see, if you don't drive -- so no driver's license -- or you don't have the funds to buy a state ID or to pay for a copy of your birth certificate --or no one can find your birth certificate -- too bad. No ballot for you!

Arizona's voter ID law has nabbed one such suspicious person -- and she is being punished accordingly. Shirley Preiss was born in Kentucky in 1910, before suffrage rights were even granted to American women. Shirley has actually been quite the conscientious voter, casting her ballot in every presidential election since 1932. But, all that's about to change. As Art Levine reported in the Huffington Post, Shirley effectively lost her right to vote when she moved to Arizona.

After living in Arizona for two years, she was eagerly looking forward to casting her ballot in the February primary for the first major woman candidate for President, Hillary Clinton. But lacking a birth certificate or even elementary school records to prove she’s a native-born American citizen, the state of Arizona’s bureaucrats determined that this former school-teacher who taught generations of Americans shouldn’t be allowed to vote.

Arizona's voter ID law requires voters to produce ID at the polling place and to provide proof of citizenship in order to register. But birth certificates weren’t provided in 1910 in Clinton, KY, where Shirley was born. To top it off, her elementary school no longer exists. And since no one who witnessed her birth is alive to attest to the fact that Shirley was, indeed, actually born -- a way to get a delayed birth certificate -- Shirley is shit outta luck. And there is absolutely no provision in the Arizona law to get a waiver. So Shirley, after being a good citizen for decades, sat out the spring primary and gets to sit home again on November 4th -- watching democracy pass her by.

The scary thing is that the US Supreme Court recently upheld a similar Indiana voter ID law, saying that it didn't seem to impose an undue burden on citizens. Levine further reported about a similar situation in Missouri, a state that is also rushing headlong into passing an ill-conceived, draconian voter ID law. When you hear what these nuns -- yes, nuns -- have to say, you see just how big of a burden these laws can be:

At a fair-election coalition press conference at the League of Women Voters' headquarters in Jefferson City, a few nuns came forward to express their concerns that the Catholic sisters in their convents lack the required ID. In fact, before the news conference, Sister Sandy Schwartz of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary in St. Louis reported the results of an informal survey of nuns in her order."Fifteen [of 35 voters] did not have state-issued photo IDs," she observed. "This may sound like a good idea at first, but once you stop to think about who would really be affected, this is going to keep a lot of our loved ones from being able to vote."

The strict documentary requirements can be hard for Missouri nuns and other senior citizens, even married women of all ages, in obtaining their birth certificates. A survey by NYU's Brennan Center for Justice found that 52 percent of married woman don't have a birth certificate in their current name, and 17 percent of citizens age 65 and over don't have access to any citizenship documents.

If you thought Florida in 2000 was bad, wait until you hear the stories of disenfranchisement that will come out of this election as a result of these ill-conceived voter ID laws. And it will be all the more ironic -- not to mention sad, disheartening and infuriating -- coming in a year that has seen record voter turn out this primary season.

Copyright 2008. The Zaftig Redhead. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Democrats Attempt to Put Lipstick on this Pig of a Process, and No One's Happy -- Least of All the Pig

Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) summed it up accurately if rather blandly, "We've got a totally irrational system of nominating our president." It happened to be one of the more family-friendly statements that came out of the DNC pow-wow held in Washington, DC the last Saturday in May.

The billing of this long-awaited come-to-Jesus was that it would decide the fate of the Michigan and Florida delegates, and in so doing, possibly the fates of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and thus the outcome the seemingly never-ending Democratic Primary, too. And the deciders in this case? The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee. And what did the deciders decide? Well, it seemed somewhat arbitrary, actually, given what was at stake, and both the Clinton and Obama camps have reason to be unhappy -- perhaps that's a sign they got it about right.

In fact, Harold Ickes, the longtime Clinton Campaign id and member of the Rules and Bylaws Committee, said during the meeting that he had already been empowered to let the gathering know that Clinton was prepared to take an unfavorable outcome all the way to the Credentials Committee at the convention. Oh, joy.

So anyway, here's the scoop: the deciders will give Florida and Michigan half of their voting rights -- in other words, each delegate from those states will have half a vote at the Democratic Convention in Denver.

For my part, I don't get treating Michigan and Florida the same. I mean, Michigan absolutely, positively flouted the party's rules. I'm not saying I liked said rules and that I don't agree with Michigan's fundamental premise that larger states should have more of a say in the primary process and -- most importantly -- that Iowa and New Hampshire should not continue to rule the world. I'm also not saying that the Democratic Party didn't mishandle the situation from the get-go, but nonetheless the fact is that Michigan did knowingly and willingly give the finger to the DNC.

Florida, however, was at the mercy of a Republican state legislature and a Republican governor who passed legislation changing the state's primary even though -- because? -- it would screw over the state Democrats and likely cause problems for the Democratic candidate in a swing state. Now, I'm not sure Florida Dems at the time raised the holy hell they could have, but nonetheless there was not a lot they could've done to change the date of their primary to satisfy the rules of the DNC. So, as I said, treating the two states the same seems off kilter to me -- but I bet the folks in Michigan wouldn't make that distinction.

The deciders also voted to award Obama 59 Michigan delegates, each with half a vote, even though his name wasn't on the ballot. This essentially takes away delegates Clinton would've had if they'd been passed out based out on the actual vote -- then again, the process in Michigan was undeniably flawed, so there was no easy answer. No one campaigned there, Clinton was on the ballot but Obama and Edwards followed party protocol and took their names off the ballot. So what to do? The deciders ended up using a complicated formula based on the vote itself, exit polls, and other data. Hey, Clinton can bitch if she wants, but the fact is she should've taken her name off the ballot, too.

"We are strong enough to struggle and disagree and to even be angry and disappointed and still come together at the end of the day and be united," Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean said, ever the optimist. But, we still have a few more primaries and the convention to get through -- in one piece. Truthfully, it's time for the donkeys to get a good swift kick in the ass and get their shit together -- it's long overdue, and the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are at stake.

It's not too late to salvage this thing, and come back together as a party when the dust has settled. But if the contenders and their camps keep up this circular firing squad, the damage might well be beyond repair -- although its certainly already done some damage. There are no choir boys -- or choir girls -- here. Everyone is slinging mud of questionable origins and validity. The problem is, mud sticks to everyone eventually -- and true or not, fair or not, at the end of the day the voters will see only the dirt. There's nothing the deciders can do about that.

Copyright 2008. The Zaftig Redhead. All Rights Reserved.