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Scott Walker Thinks $7.25 Is a Living Wage—He’s Wrong

Scott Walker

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

Reasonable people may differ on the precise definition of a living wage. But the consensus is that $7.25 an hour does not come close to the standard for assuring that someone who works full time can earn enough to live above the poverty line.

Unfortunately, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s administration has formally rejected that consensus view and is now arguing that $7.25 an hour is a living wage.

Walker disdain for the minimum wage is well established. When a Wisconsin reporter asked the governor this week to clarify his stance with regard to setting a base wage, he explained, "I don't think it serves a purpose."

Walker avows that he is not currently angling to repeal Wisconsin's $7.25 an hour wage rate. But raise it? No way. Indeed, it is now the policy of his administration to say that workers earning that wage are taking home a "sufficent" amount of money to get by.

As with so many economic issues, the virulently anti-labor governor—who is seeking re-election this year and preparing for a 2016 Republican presidential run—is wrong on the facts. He is also at odds with the long-held values of Wisconsin, a state that once led the nation is establishing protections for low-wage workers.

Let’s begin with the facts:

In his groundbreaking book, A Living Wage: American Workers and the Making of Consumer Society, the historian Lawrence Glickman explains a living wage as “a wage level that offers workers the ability to support families, to maintain self-respect, and to have both the means and the leisure to participate in the civic life of the nation.”

According to the “Harvard Living Wage Fact Sheet,” “Although living wage standards do, by definition, vary by region, they are all considerably higher than the federal minimum wage.” The fact sheet continues, “This is because the minimum wage does not begin to meet the needs of working people or families anywhere in the country: in fact, it puts a parent with one child below the federal poverty line. A living wage aims to correct this by establishing, at a local level, a more reasonable minimum wage.”

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s “Living Wage Calculator” allows Americans to calculate what that might mean in cities, villages and towns across the United States. In Milwaukee, for instance, the living wage for a single working adult is $9.48 an hour, while the family-friendly living wage—for a single working parent with a child—is $20.85 an hour. In Racine, it’s $8.75 an hour for a working adult and $19.97 an hour for a working parent with a child. In Madison, it’s 9.54 an hour for a working adult and $21.17 an hour for a working parent with a child.

The numbers may vary a bit, but the pattern is clear. And officials and voters in states across the country have begun to respond by hiking minimum-wage rates. Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota will vote this fall on proposals for significant wage increases, and Illinois will vote on an advisory measure on the issue. Additionally, Democratic and Republican candidates in this year’s mid-term elections are expressing support for legislative remedies.

But don’t count Scott Walker in their number.

As Wisconsin’s governor, Walker is uniquely positioned among all governors in the nation to address the concerns of low-wage workers. Unlike most other states, where governors have little or no authority to help low-wage workers, Wisconsin governors can act.

A century ago, when Wisconsin served as the nation’s “laboratory of democracy,” the state’s progressive leaders enacted legislation to address the issue. Wisconsin Statute Sec. 104.02 declares, “Every wage paid or agreed to be paid by any employer to any employee (except in narrowly-defined circumstances for student learners and workers in sheltered workshops) shall be not less than a living wage.”

According to the law, when a governor’s administration receives “a verified complaint of any person setting forth that the wages paid to any employee in any occupation are not sufficient to enable the employee to maintain himself or herself under conditions consistent with his or her welfare,” the complaint must be investigated within twenty days and a determination must be made on “whether there is reasonable cause to believe that the wage paid to any employee is not a living wage.”

If there is a finding “that there is reasonable cause to believe that the wages paid to any employee are not a living wage,” the governor can move to address the issue. A wage council selected to fairly represent employers, employees and the public can be charged with setting a living wage for all workers in the class of employees who are not being adequately compensated.

This is the law. It is also the standard that Wisconsin has lived by since 1913, a standard that recognizes fair compensation for workers is good for the state’s economy and for the state’s democracy. When workers earn a living wage, they are freer to participate more easily and more fully in society.

Support for a living wage was always understood by Wisconsin leaders as being about more than money. It was essential to creating a civil, fair and functional society. That’s why Republicans initiated the state’s living-wage law a century ago, and why Republican and Democratic governors have embraced the law practically and idealistically.

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Wisconsin’s living-wage law is not a historical relic. As state Representative Chris Taylor’s office notes, “Recent Democratic and Republican Governors, including Governor Jim Doyle and Tommy Thompson, used their authority under Wisconsin law to increase wages.” And groups such as the Raise Wisconsin coalition of community and labor groups and Wisconsin Jobs Now! have focused on the option as a vehicle to quickly and effectively begin responding to income inequality.

Yet now Scott Walker and his appointees are refusing to take the law seriously.

When a legitimate complaint was presented to Walker’s administration last month, it was quickly rejected—with scant review and an absurd assertion that Wisconsin’s living-wage standard is being met.

Worse yet, when the governor was asked about the issue in the first gubernatorial debate last Friday, he avoided responding to the issue. Pressed a second time by the panelist who had asked the initial question, Walker again refused to address the living-wage law or issues relating to it. He did not even acknowledge what his own administration had just done.

There are many matters on which Scott Walker has broken faith with Wisconsin. But few are so chilling, so deeply unsettling, as his disregard for the condition of the Wisconsinites who work full-time but live in poverty.

This is about much more than politics; Republicans and Democrats have historically respected Wisconsin’s living-wage standard, and it has served the state and its citizens well. Walker’s disregard for it marks him as a political careerist who is more interested in pleasing billionaire campaign donors from Kansas and New York than keeping his oath to “faithfully and impartially discharge the duties” of his position.

Read Next: John Nichols on why Scott Walker will never be president

How Can You Tell If US Hospitals Are Prepared for Ebola? Ask a Nurse.

Health workers in Liberia

Health workers remove the body of an Ebola victim in Liberia (Reuters/James Giahyue)

With Sunday’s confirmation that an ICU nurse at a Dallas hospital that cared for a dying Ebola patient has tested positive for the deadly virus, President Obama ordered federal authorities to “take immediate additional steps to ensure hospitals and healthcare providers nationwide are prepared to follow protocols should they encounter an Ebola patient.”

That’s appropriate, as is the growing sense of urgency with regard to the level of readiness not just for the potential spread of Ebola but for other disease outbreaks.

This is not a time to panic. It is a time to get things right.

“Ebola is dangerous, and our No. 1 responsibility is to keep our people safe,” says Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat who is a member of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. “But we want to be very careful that we are following the recommendations of the scientific community. We want to use best science here. That’s how we’ll keep ourselves safe. So for me, part of this is the reminder it is powerfully important to make long-term investments, particularly in medical research.”

Warren has not been shy about noting that “with all the spending cutbacks and all the pressure on the National Institute of Health, much of that research has been shelved.”

Warren is right; according to The Hill, “The sequester resulted in a $195 million cut that year to the National Centers for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, a CDC program that tries to prevent illness and death from infectious disease.”

Research is essential, but so too is basic preparedness.

The best way to determine if our hospitals are ready to respond is by asking a nurse. Or, to be more precise, nurses.

The answer, unfortunately, is that our hospitals are not up to speed.

“We are seeing that hospitals are not prepared,” warns Bonnie Castillo, a RN who directs the Registered Nurse Response Network of National Nurses United.

Describing training and preparations as “woefully insufficient,” Castillo says, “We have to continue to sound the alarm. There is the potential for many more Dallases if hospitals are not mandated and do not commit to more vigorous standards. We see potential gaping holes for this to spread.”

Those gaps need to be closed. Resources must be made available to do the address real concerns, and budgets cannot be nickle-and-dimed by austerity-obsessed officials.

“The time to act is long overdue,” says RoseAnn DeMoro, the executive director of NNU, the nation’s largest nurses union.

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NNU leaders have from the start of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa been outspoken regarding the need to provide immediate support for healthcare personnel in Liberia, Sierra Leone and other countries. The union has raised money and offered support for those initiatives.

At the same time, the union has focused attention on the need for greater preparation by US hospitals.

Weeks ago, NNU leaders and members began to sound the alarm—highlighting what Castillo described in September as “the critical need for planning, preparedness and protection at the highest level in hospitals throughout the nation.” And the union took action, launching a national survey of hospital preparedness.

So far, 2,000 registered nurses at more 750 facilities in forty-six states and the District of Columbia have weighed in, providing evidence of serious gaps in readiness.

To wit:

• “76 percent of those surveyed say their hospital has not communicated to them any policy regarding potential admission of patients infected by Ebola”

• “85 percent say their hospital has not provided education on Ebola with the ability for the nurses to interact and ask questions”

• “37 percent say their hospital has insufficient current supplies of eye protection (face shields or side shields with goggles) for daily use on their unit; 36 percent say there are insufficient supplies of fluid resistant/impermeable gowns in their hospital”

• “39 percent say their hospital does not have plans to equip isolation rooms with plastic covered mattresses and pillows and discard all linens after use; only 8 percent said they were aware their hospital does have such a plan in place.”

NNU leaders have also outlined a response agenda.

The “full emergency preparedness plan” they propose includes a call for:

• “Full training of hospital personnel, along with proper protocols and training materials for responding to outbreaks, with the ability for nurses to interact and ask questions.”

• “Adequate supplies of Hazmat suits and other personal protective equipment.”

• “Properly equipped isolation rooms to assure patient, visitor, and staff safety.”

• “Proper procedures for disposal of medical waste and linens after use.”

The emphasis on the need for rigorous training is echoed by other unions that have a major presence in the nation’s hospitals. Service Employees International Union occupational health and safety director Mark Catlin told Politico that even when medical facilities have protocols, “it’s not clear how well facilities implement them.”

This lack of clarity is the issue that must be addressed.

NNU’s DeMoro warns, “There is no standard short of optimal in protective equipment and hands-on-training that is acceptable.”

Read Next: How the World Let the Ebola Epidemic Spiral Out of Control.

This Year’s Nobel Peace Prize Winners Are Radicals—and That’s a Good Thing

Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai (Southbank Centre/CC 2.0)

It has been suggested that the recipients of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize are “safe choices” because they advocate for the rights of children and for the fair and respectful treatment of girls and women.

Fair enough.

Advocacy for an end to child labor, for universal education, for strong trade unions, for economic justice and social democracy, and for an end to war and violence should not be controversial.

But it should be noted that this year’s recipients of the world’s most prestigious prize—India’s Kailash Satyarthi and Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai—are not mild reformers. They are both bold, challenging and, yes, radical, in their language and their approaches. It is necessary to point this out, because all too frequently the citizen recipients of the Peace Prize are presented in soft focus, without a sense of the stances and actions that have gained them global recognition as peacemakers who address the root causes of violence.

Campaigns for the rights of children, for universal access to education, for an end to child slavery and exploitation are radical initiatives that challenge existing political and economic orders—as when Satyarthi, the founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement), rejected simplistic narratives about child labor.

“Children are employed not just because of parental poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, failure of development and education programmes, but quite essentially due to the fact that employers benefit immensely from child labour as children come across as the cheapest option sometimes even for free,” argues Satyarthi, whose organizing, mass marches and long-term work with the International Labour Organization, with the International Labor Rights Forum and trade union movements in India are credited with freeing tens of thousands of children from modern-day slavery. “When a child is bonded to a street restaurant, the employer is usually an ordinary person of some remote village or town,” he explains, in an analysis that invariably brings global trade and the supply chains of multinational corporations into the debate. “But when children are employed in carpet weaving, or the glass industry or the brassware industry, the employers are ‘big’ people. They generate a lot of foreign exchange through exports and are always considered favorably by the government.”

Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai are engaged activists who have not hesitated to challenge the most powerful political and economic elites in their own countries—and to challenge international leaders. Remember that, when a then–16-year-old Malala Yousafzai met with President Obama, she did not merely accept the “Bravest Girl in the World” accolade she has been accorded since she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman seeking to silence her campaigning for the education of girls in Pakistan. She told the president that the drone strikes he was authorizing were wrongheaded. And she made sure that everyone knew about it, releasing a statement that noted, “I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact.”

Later, in a much-less-noted session organized by the World Bank, she extended her remarks to say:

If I talk really from my heart and if I look at the United States of America, only to the government of the United States of America, you all know that people in suffering countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, are really angry with United States.

I think the best way to fight terrorism is not through guns. If you want to end a war through a war, it’s never going to end….

Much of the money is spent on making tanks, on making guns. Much of the money is spent on soldiers. We need to spend the same money on books, on pens, on teachers, and on schools. So, the governments must take an action. It’s the duty of the government. It’s their duty. We want them not to [simply] take a decision according to their views and according to their ideas. We want them to listen to us. We want them to listen to what we say, and we ask them now, that [they] work for education of every child. And do not fight through guns, fight through pens and through books. And take education serious.

So, I think that the governments must take an action.

In her autobiography, Malala Yousafzai recalls coming of age in an intellectually adventurous and politically active Pashtun family, with anticolonialist roots. Her grandfather “would rail against the class system, the continuing power of the khans and the gap between the haves and have-nots.” Her father was inspired by activists who “talked a lot of sense, particularly about wanting to end the feudal and capitalist systems in our country, where the same big families had controlled things for years while the poor got poorer.”

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She explains that her father entertained debates about “secularism and socialism on one side and militant Islam on the other.” In 2013, when Pakistani socialists gathered in Lahore for an annual conference, reports on the conference highlighted the moment when a Pakistani from Britain announced that he had a statement from a recovering Malala Yousafzai, which concluded, “I am convinced Socialism is the only answer and I urge all comrades to take this struggle to a victorious conclusion. Only this will free us from the chains of bigotry and exploitation.”

Those may not sound like “safe choice” words to everyone. But it is worth noting that other recipients of the Nobel Prize for Peace have made statements that were heard at the time—and even now—as radical.

The 1964 recipient of the prize avowed that “we must honestly face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society.”

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. continued in his historic “Where Do We Go From Here?” address:

There are forty million poor people here, and one day we must ask the question, “Why are there forty million poor people in America?” And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life’s marketplace. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. And you see, my friends, when you deal with this you begin to ask the question, “Who owns the oil?” You begin to ask the question, “Who owns the iron ore?” You begin to ask the question, “Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that’s two-thirds water?” These are words that must be said.

Ultimately, however, King’s most radical words were his calls for for peace, especially his anti–Vietnam War declarations. Influenced by the advocates of nonviolence Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai hail as their inspirations, King proclaimed:

I’m concerned about a better world. I’m concerned about justice; I’m concerned about brotherhood; I’m concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate through violence. (Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.

Malala Yousafzai echoed Dr. King when she appeared at the United Nations in 2013. Recalling the attack that nearly killed her, she said, “Even if there was a gun in my hand and he was standing in front of me, I would not shoot him. This is the compassion I have learned from Mohamed, the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha. This the legacy of change I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mohammed Ali Jinnah. This is the philosophy of nonviolence that I have learned from Gandhi, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa. And this is the forgiveness that I have learned from my father and from my mother. This is what my soul is telling me: be peaceful and love everyone.”


Read Next: The Malalas You Don’t See

Democracy Over Disenfranchisement: High Court Blocks Voter ID in Wisconsin

Wisconsin State Capitol

Wisconsin State Capitol (AP Photo/Barbara Rodriguez)

With a decision to block implementation of Wisconsin’s controversial voter ID law for the 2014 election, the United States Supreme Court has opted for common sense and democracy over chaos and disenfranchisement.

After a wild judicial ride that saw the Wisconsin law rejected by a federal judge, approved by an appeals court panel, wrangled over by the full appeals court and then finally moved toward an unexpected and rapid process of implementation in time for the state’s high-stakes November 4 election, the Supreme Court pulled the brakes. In an emergency ruling, the High Court’s 6-3 decision vacated the appeals court ruling, preventing the law from going into effect before it can be reviewed. (The only dissents came from rigidly conservative Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.)

Walker, who is seeking re-election this year (even as he prepares to campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination), has steadily defended the voter ID law, just as he has counted on its implementation in time for the November 4 election. For the governor, the High Court ruling is a serious political and policy setback.

For civil rights and voting rights activists, however, it a striking victory. They welcomed the Supreme Court’s ruling as recognition of a reality stated by League of Women Voters of Wisconsin executive director Andrea Kaminski: “Clearly there was not enough time for election officials to educate voters, prepare new materials and implement the law in the short time before the November 4 election.”

Legal and practical concerns about last-minute disruption of the voting process may explain what would otherwise seem to be a confusing pattern of decisions by the High Court, which on Wednesday voted to reinstate voting restrictions in North Carolina. (Another decision, on Thursday evening, by US District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, struck down the Texas Voter ID law, which the jurist dismissed as a “poll tax” that would create “an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote”—especially for Latino and African-American citizens.)

The United States has uneven voting rules and regulations from state to state, and even within states. This invites abuse and disenfranchisement, and the courts and Congress have a broad responsibility to address dysfunctional and discriminatory electoral practices. That responsibility becomes even greater when late-breaking rule changes upset the orderly conduct of elections.

Concerns about chaos in Wisconsin this fall were real—and widespread.

There are plenty of reasons to oppose the sort of voter ID laws that make the simple process of registering and voting more costly and complicated for students, the elderly and people of color. But the chaos factor provided a unique reason for opposing the implementation of Wisconsin’s requirement that voters show government-issued photo identification in order to vote: the chaos factor.

Against strenuous objections from the state’s civil rights, voting rights and good government groups, and from responsible legislators in both parties, Governor Scott Walker and his allies developed one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the nation. But it got tripped up in the courts and was finally struck down by US District Judge Lynn Adelman.

In a seventy-page decision that was broadly hailed by voting rights activists and legal scholars, the Milwaukee-based federal jurist ripped the law as not just unnecessary but damaging to democracy.

“There is no way to determine exactly how many people Act 23 [the voter ID law] will prevent or deter from voting without considering the individual circumstances of each of the 300,000 plus citizens who lack an ID,” wrote Adelman, a former Wisconsin state legislator with a deep knowledge of the state and its electoral rules and political values. “But no matter how imprecise my estimate may be, it is absolutely clear that Act 23 will prevent more legitimate votes from being cast than fraudulent votes.”

That should have been the end of voter ID in Wisconsin. But then a three-judge panel of conservative Seventh Circuit appeals court judges reinstated the law and declared, “The State of Wisconsin may, if it wishes…enforce the photo ID requirement in this November’s elections.”

The state so wished, and chaos ensured. Plans to mail absentee ballots were suspended. University officials scrambled to figure out which student identification cards were valid for voting, and which were not—and to figure out if additional paperwork was required for those seeking to cast ballots. State and county officials made emergency demands for resources to implement a radical change in voting procedures in a state that has traditionally erred on the side of making voting quick and easy. State agencies were inundated with questions about what sort of ID was needed. Officials in major cities made preparations for long lines and a confusing, chaotic and frustrating Election Day. Civil rights activists worried—even as they scrambled to address the mess—that state Representative JoCasta Zamarripa, D-Milwaukee, would be proven right in her assertion that “this ruling will disenfranchise Wisconsin voters and lower voter turnout in this fall’s election.”

At every community event or forum where I spoke in Wisconsin during the last weeks of September, I was asked questions about the voter ID law. What I said was that no matter how people felt about the law, they should be opposed to its last-minute implementation in so chaotic and dysfunctional a manner. While other states had time to prepare for the implementation of new voter ID requirements imposed by Republican legislators and governors, Wisconsin had not, since the assumption was that Judge Adelman’s highly  praised ruling would carry the day.

Congresswoman Gwen Moore, D-Wisconsin, implored the state’s Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections, to delay implementation of the new law until after the November 4 election—arguing that to rush implementation would “create widespread confusion for voters and election officials.”

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Walker and his allies rejected the common-sense proposal for a delay.

But the US Supreme Court accepted the logic of the appeals for a delay, with an emergency intervention that Lisa Subeck, the executive director of the activist group United Wisconsin, hailed for preventing voter suppression.

“In a blatantly desperate political move, Walker made last-minute administrative changes to the process of obtaining an ID and nearly succeeded in suppressing the votes of hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites who lack the required photo identification,” explained Subeck, a Madison city council member who is expected to be elected to the state legislature in November.

“Wisconsin’s law, considered one of the strictest in the nation, is the centerpiece of the Walker administration’s war on voting, and aims to stifle the voices of senior citizens, low-income and minority voters, and students at the ballot box,” added Subeck. “With less than four weeks until election day, the Supreme Court has put the rule of law ahead of the Scott Walker’s political gamesmanship. Tonight’s decision ensures that the right to vote in Wisconsin’s upcoming gubernatorial election will not be infringed upon by an unfair and unconstitutional voter ID law. And I fully expect that Wisconsin voters are now more galvanized than ever to put an end to Walker’s war on voting by making their voices heard in the voting booth on election day.”

Read Next: The Supreme Court Approves the Country's Worst Voting Restrictions in North Carolina.

Chris Christie Defends The ‘Great American’ Koch Brothers

Chris Christie

(REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz)

The Koch brothers like to meet in secret with their political minions. And, for the most part, the minions prefer to keep their interactions with the billionaire campaign donors on the down low.

But not Chris Christie.

The governor of New Jersey, who currently chairs that Koch-tied Republican Governors Association, and who well understands that a steady flow of dark money will be required to light up his 2016 presidential prospects, is elbowing everyone else aside in his mad rush to defend the billionaire brothers.

A Koch favorite who has appeared at secret summits organized in the past by the major donors to conservative causes and the RGA, Christie has been among their most vocal defenders in recent months. At the the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference, for instance, he hailed brothers Charles and David Koch as “great Americans who are creating great things in our country.”

Now, as the 2014 midterm elections approach, no one is championing the Kochs more aggressively than Christie—even if that means he has to grab the spotlight from candidates the embattled New Jerseyan is supposed to be assisting.

After The Nation revealed that Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Ducey had flown to California in June to attend what was supposed to be a secret summit with the Kochs and the circle of millionaires and billionaires they work with to shape the political discourse, Ducey took a lot of hits at home.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Fred DuVal demanded that Ducey to renounce the “dark money” support that has benefitted the Republican’s candidacy. DuVal campaign consultant Rodd McLeod offered a checklist of complaints: “Doug Ducey works for out-of-state billionaires, not for Arizona. He goes to meetings with them, gives a secret speech, says you’re known by the company you keep.”

Headlines in the state’s newspapers told the story:

Ducey took campaign pitch to Koch network

Ducey’s Secret Speech at Koch Getaway

Secretly kissing up to Kochs pays off for Doug Ducey

The “kissing up” piece, a column by The Arizona Republic’s Laurie Roberts, began

Well. I suppose it’s safe to say that Doug Ducey won’t be fighting the lords of darkness if he gets into the governor’s office.

Fresh off a primary in which dark-money attacks were launched against any Republican who stood in Ducey’s way, we now learn that Ducey has been cozying up to America’s premier princes of dark money.

As he traveled Arizona, Ducey was bombarded with questions from print and broadcast reporters about why he thought getting together with out-of-state oligarchs at an elite resort was—as the gubernatorial candidate told the Kochs—so “very inspirational.”

Those aren’t the sort of questions a candidate who is in a tight race wants to answer.

So Chris Christie did the answering for Ducey.

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Visiting Arizona in his capacity as the chairman of the RGA, Christie was with Ducey when the gubernatorial candidate was asked about his sojourns with those premier princes of dark money.

Yet, though the questions were clearly directed at Ducey, Christie jumped in with the answers.

Such as they were.

Brahm Resnik, one of Arizona’s most prominent political reporters and the host of KPNX-TV’s Sunday Square Off, set the scene, explaining to viewers, “You’ll hear Christie jump in before Ducey could answer my question about why he meets in secret with the Koch brothers. Now, those brothers, Charles and David, are billionaire industrialists who host these beauty pageants for candidates for the benefit of their wealthy donors. Ducey’s campaign has benefited from several hundred thousand dollars from Koch-connected organizations—all the money from anonymous donors. Ducey is also supported by Sean Noble, an Arizona operative who is one of the leading bundlers of Koch brothers’ cash. Now, watch Ducey begin to answer my question a few minutes ago, before Christie jumps in:


CHRIS CHRISTIE: Well, that’s your opinion. Your opinion is that are that these folks are folks with dark money. The facts on Fred DuVal are pretty clear…

BRAHM RESNIK: You’re saying the Koch brothers and these entities are not dark-money givers?

CHRIS CHRISTIE: Listen, what I’m saying very clearly is that everyone has a right to participate in the political process and let’s judge these people up or down based on what they do. But, no, I don’t believe the Koch brothers are that—nor any of these other folks.

Christie dismissed attempts to track the influence of the Koch brothers as “silliness” and “sophistry.”

Ducey’s critics were taking the issue seriously, however.

The DuVal campaign featured links to the tape from the Koch summit, along with media coverage of it, on social media. A tagline read: “Doug Ducey is quietly hanging with billionaires who seem intent, among other things, on privatizing education, killing unions and eliminating government regulations that protect the air we breathe.”

As for the Ducey campaign, it wasn’t highlighting the Koch tape or the tape in which Chris Christie elbows Ducey aside in order to defend billionaires who have the resources and the connections to make or break ambitious Republican politicians like, well, Chris Christie.


Read Next: How the Koch brothers are molding the next Scott Walkers

Hillary Clinton’s Midterm Schedule Makes It Clear: She’s Running

Hillary Clinton

(AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

Perhaps it is time to drop the pretenses and accept that Hillary Clinton is an all-in, touching every base, dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” candidate for president.

The formal announcement swing will have to be scheduled for some appropriate day—or week—next year. Before it comes, there will, of course, be the final round of “will she?” speculation in the media. But that’s just the dance that is done before the inevitable moment when Clinton makes her move.

The best confirmation of Clinton’s candidacy—short of an actual announcement—came with the detailing (via Politico, the gossip gazette of insider positioning) of the presumed Democratic front-runner’s exceptionally busy schedule for the month leading up to the November 4 midterm elections. Anyone who is serious about running for the presidency in 2016 has to hit the trail in 2014. It’s not just expected, it’s necessary—as it is on the midterm trail that presidential candidates rally the base, test-drive messages and collect commitments from appreciative governors and members of Congress.

Clinton plans to do all of that, and more—maintaining an intense schedule that will have her campaigning in every region of the country, jetting from fund-raising events in California and Florida to rallies in Iowa and New Hampshire.

As someone who has been around presidential politics since her high-school days as a self-described “active young Republican” and “Goldwater girl” and her college days as a New Hampshire volunteer for Eugene McCarthy’s antiwar bid, she well understands the art of midterm campaigning by an all-but-unannounced presidential contender.

By hitting the trail hard and grabbing the spotlight as the midterm voting approaches, even in what could be a tough year for the party, a prospective presidential candidate positions as the great partisan hope. If the party does better than expected, Clinton shares in the credit. If the party does worse than expected, Clinton offers a road back.

There are few risks and many potential rewards, as savvy presidential contenders have long recognized. Even as he was campaigning for re-election to his Massachusetts US Senate seat in 1958, John Kennedy showed up for for Democrats in Iowa, Oregon and even Alaska during the midterm elections preceding his 1960 presidential run. Richard Nixon used a hyperactive midterm campaign schedule in 1966—“Mr. Nixon specifically stumped for eighty-six republican candidates for governor, senator and representative.”—to renew his damaged reputation (after losses for president in 1960 and governor of California in 1962) and to position himself as the Republican front-runner for 1968. Ronald Reagan kept his profile high with campaigning in 1978 that put him at the head of the Republican pack for 1980.

Clinton knows all this history. Yet, for much of 2014, she seemed far less engaged with the midterms than other potential 2016 Democratic contenders, especially Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. The former secretary of state spent most of 2014 hawking a book (a subtler signal of presidential intentions), commenting on foreign affairs and talking about the arrival of her first grandchild.

Now, however, she is going all in. With this full October campaign schedule, she is pushing her profile and seeking to promote the sense of inevitability that has already been fostered by early polls and “Ready for Hillary” campaigning.

Clinton will face opposition as she bids for the 2016 Democratic nomination, very probably from O’Malley, very possibly from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and maybe from former Virginia Senator Jim Webb and others. There will continue to be plenty of speculation about a run by Massacusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, despite Warren’s denials of candidacy.

Clinton learned in 2008 that nothing is guaranteed in presidential politics. But the former senator’s 2014 moves are part of a deliberate and determined strategy to secure her front-runner status.

Clinton will be in Iowa to appear with US Senate candidate Bruce Braley. Yes, that would be the first caucus state of Iowa, where she has already delivered for retiring Senator Tom Harkin by appearing at the senior Democrat’s annual steak fry in September. Clinton will go deep in Iowa this month, campaigning not just for Braley but for Staci Appel, a US House candidate running in the critical contest to fill the seat representing Des Moines and southwest Iowa.

She will be in New Hampshire, campaigning with the state’s two most prominent Democrats, US Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Governor Maggie Hassan. Yes, that would be the first primary state of New Hampshire, where Clinton’s 2008 presidential run was briefly renewed with a primary win over upstart challenger Barack Obama, but where Clinton has no intention of stumbling again.

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Clinton will also tour the states with the highest-profile Senate contests, including Colorado with Democratic Senator Mark Udall, Georgia with Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn, Kentucky with Democrat candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes and North Carolina with Democratic Senator Kay Hagan.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, told Politico he “couldn’t be happier” to have Clinton, the former senator from New York, on the trail for his candidates—and his imperiled majority.

But Clinton is looking well beyond the Senate races. She will also be doing the gubernatorial circuit. That’s because she knows well, from her own 2008 campaign and from Bill Clinton’s 1992 and 1996 campaigns, that governors are critical allies in primary and general election campaigns for the presidency.

So look for Clinton in Pennsylvania, with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf, a likely winner. And in Illinois, with Democratic Governor Pat Quinn, who is in a critical “toss-up” race. And in Massachusetts, where Democratic nominee Martha Coakley is in another tight contest. And to Florida, where she will campaign with Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist, who campaigned against Bill Clinton’s presidential runs in the 1990s but who could be an essential ally for a Hillary Clinton presidential run in 2016.

The Clinton camp cannot have minded the headline in The Palm Beach Post over the weekend, which read: “Crist: Hillary Clinton would be ‘great president.’”

Throw in some appearances with congressional candidates and huge fundraising events in California for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and with House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, and you are looking at a fall schedule of an all-in presidential candidate.

To suggest differently would be to deny political history, political reality and the rapidly-evolving dynamics of a 2016 presidential race that has already begun and that will be fully engaged on the morning of November 5, 2014.


Read Next: Why Hillary Clinton needs competition.

The Supreme Court That Made It Easier to Buy Elections Just Made It Harder for People to Vote in Them

US Supreme Court

US Supreme Court Building (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

In case there was any remaining confusion with regard to the precise political intentions of the US Supreme Court’s activist majority, things were clarified Monday. The same majority that has made it easier for corporations to buy elections (with the Citizens United v. FEC decision) and for billionaires to become the dominant players in elections across the country (with the McCutcheon v. FEC decision) decided to make it harder for people in Ohio to vote.

Yes, this Court has messed with voting rights before, frequently and in damaging ways. It has barely been a year since the majority struck down key elements of the Voting Rights Act.

But Monday’s decision by the majority was especially blatant—and immediate. One day before early voting was set to begin in Ohio on Tuesday, the Supreme Court delayed the start of the process with a decision that will reduce the early voting period from thirty-five days to twenty-eight days.

Assaults on early voting are particularly troublesome, as the changes limit the time available for working people to cast ballots and increase the likelihood of long lines on Election Day. And changes of this kind are doubly troublesome when they come in close proximity to high-stakes elections, as they create confusion about when and how to vote.

American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Executive Director Freda Levenson decried the ruling, calling it “a real loss for Ohio voters, especially those who must use evenings, weekends and same-day voter registration to cast their ballot.”

The ACLU fought the legal battle for extended early voting on behalf of the National Association of Colored People and the League of Women Voters, among others.

“To make (the Supreme Court ruling) even worse,” Levenson told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “this last-minute decision will cause tremendous confusion among Ohioans about when and how they can vote.”

Ohio Republicans had no complaints. They have made no secret of their disdain for extended early voting, which has been allowed for a number of years and which has become a standard part of the political process in urban areas where voters seek to avoid the long lines that have plagued Ohio on past Election Days.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a top Republican, has taken the lead in efforts to restrict voting. In June, he established a restricted voting schedule. Husted’s scheme was upset by lower-court rulings. In particular, the courts sought to preserve early voting in the evening and on Sundays, which is especially important for working people.

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Fully aware of that reality, the Supreme Court scrambled to issue a 5-4 decision that “temporarily” allows the limits on early voting to be restored. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Anthony M. Kennedy voted to allow Husted to limit voting, while Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan opposed the ruling.

Monday’s ruling was not a final decision; the Court could revisit the matter. But that won’t happen in time to restore full early voting before his year’s November 4 election.

The Court is sending a single of at least tacit approval of controversial moves by officials in other states—such as Wisconsin and North Carolina– to curtail early voting and access to the polls. Legal wrangling also continues over the implementation of restrictive Voter ID rules in those states and others—with special concern regarding Wisconsin, where a September federal appeals court ruling has officials scrambling to implement a Voter ID law that had been blocked by a lower-court judge.

Expressing disappointment that a narrow majority on the Supreme Court has permitted “changes that could make it harder for tens of thousands of Ohioans to vote,” Wendy Weiser, the director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, said, “Courts should serve as a bulwark against rollbacks to voting rights and prevent politicians from disenfranchising voters for political reasons.”

Weiser is right.

Unfortunately, the High Court is focused on expanding the influence of billionaires, not voters.

Read Next: John Nichols on the dynamic movement to overturn Citizens United

Barbara Lee Was Right in 2001. She’s Still Right Now.

Barbara Lee

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (REUTERS/Jason Reed)

It has been thirteen years since Congresswoman Barbara Lee cast her lonely vote against authorizing President Bush to launch what she warned could be an ill-defined and endless war. Days after she cast that vote, the California Democrat appeared before hundreds of students at Mills College in Oakland and was greeted for the first time by the chant, “Barbara Lee speaks for me.”

At time when media and political elites said Lee had isolated herself politically, she was embraced by Americans who questioned why Congress was not living up to its constitutionally defined responsibility to check and balance the tendency of executives to “blank check” powers for continual warmaking.

So it was, once more, on Tuesday evening, as television screens were filled with reports of airstrikes by the United States and its allies against targets in Syria. Lee appeared at the 2014 convention of National Nurses United in Las Vegas, where she was honored for her championship of peace and justice during the course of her congressional career.

When Lee came to the stage, a thousand nurses spontaneously began to chant, “Barbara Lee speaks for me.”

Lee was moved by the recognition, yet during a conversation Tuesday evening she told me that she and other members of Congress should have been in session on Capitol Hill. Instead of debating and voting on issues of war and peace, as the the Constitution requires, Congress fled Washington for the 2014 campaign trail.

Lee is blunt in arguing that this is simply wrong.

As she has for more than a decade, with Republican presidents and Democratic presidents, the congresswoman argues that members of the House and Senate must debate and vote on whether to declare the wars that the United States wages. Along with a handful allies in Congress, some fellow Democratic members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and some “old-right” conservative Republicans such as North Carolina Congressman Walter Jones, Lee rejects the argument that resolutions from years ago and votes on amendments to funding measures meet the standard for congressional authorization of new military strikes.

A “gravely concerned” Lee said in a statement that with the news of the expansion of US airstrikes into Syria, in continuation of airstrikes in Iraq, “it is clear we are rapidly becoming more involved in another war in the Middle East.”

“I have called and will continue to call for a full congressional debate and vote on any military action, as required by the Constitution,” Lee continued. “The American people deserve a public debate on all the options to dismantle ISIS, including their costs and consequences to our national security and domestic priorities.”

Lee has done this again and again. But this time she had a powerful media ally. In an editorial headlined, “Wrong Turn on Syria: No Convincing Plan,” The New York Times writes:

Mr. Obama has failed to ask for or receive congressional authorization for such military action. The White House claims that Mr. Obama has all the authority he needs under the 2001 law approving the use of force in Afghanistan and the 2002 law permitting the use of force in Iraq, but he does not. He has given Congress notification of the military action in Iraq and Syria under the 1973 War Powers Resolution, but that is not a substitute for congressional authorization.

The administration also claims that the airstrikes are legal under international law because they were done in defense of Iraq. In a Sept. 20 letter to the United Nations, Iraq complained that the Islamic State was attacking its territory and said American assistance was needed to repel the threat. But the United Nations Security Council should vote on the issue.

Meanwhile, Congress has utterly failed in its constitutional responsibilities. It has left Washington and gone into campaign fund-raising mode, shamelessly ducking a vote on this critical issue. That has deprived the country of a full and comprehensive debate over the mission in Syria and has shielded administration officials and military commanders from tough questions about every aspect of this operation—from its costs to its very obvious risks—that should be asked and answered publicly.

This is the point that Barbara Lee has been making over all these years. The congresswoman explains that she is not a pacifist, that she grew up in a military family and that she understands that there are times when conflicts will turn violent. She recognizes the genuine concerns that have been raised regarding with the rise of Islamic State militancy. She compliments President Obama for seeking to establish “a strong international and regional coalition to address the ISIS threat.”

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But Lee says, “The rapid escalation of another war in the Middle East underscores the danger of the blank check for endless war passed by Congress in 2001. I could not support this blank check for endless war or the 2002 blank check for war in Iraq. I have introduced legislation to repeal the 2001 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force and continue to build bipartisan support for their repeal.”

The member of Congress whom President Obama appointed as a representative of the United States to the United Nations General Assembly, and who has established a record as one of the most internationally focused and engaged members of the House, said, “There is no military solution to the crisis in Iraq and Syria. In fact, continued US military action will result in unintended consequences. We must remember the roots of ISIS—President Bush’s ill-begotten war. Congress needs to debate the political, economic, diplomatic and regionally led solutions that will ultimately be the tools for US and regional security.”


Read Next: Obama’s plan for military action requires congressional checks and balances.

Did the UK Media Push Scotland’s ‘No’ Vote?

No campaign supporters

No campaign supporters in Edinburgh (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Edinburgh, ScotlandFive days before the Scottish independence referendum, one of the larger demonstrations of a long and intense campaign was held in Glasgow. It wasn’t a rally for a “yes” or a “no” vote. It was a protest outside the Scottish headquarters of the BBC.

Thousands of independence supporters showed up to object to the coverage of the campaign by the broadcaster in particular, and media in general.

At a point when polling suggested Scotland was closely divided on the issue of independence, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said, “I think there’s real public concern in terms of some of the nature and balance of the coverage.”

Well beyond the Scottish borders, there was recognition of the concern. English commentator George Monbiot ripped into media coverage that frequently referred to “the threat” rather than the prospect of independence, compared the democratically elected Salmond to a dictator and dismissed Scottish complaints about austerity as a demand for a “something for nothing society.“ Monbiot’s important essay was headlined, “How the media shafted the people of Scotland.”

Salmond’s “yes” side ultimately lost, as Scots decided Thursday by a convincing 400,000-vote margin to remain a part of the United Kingdom.

But the debate about media coverage carried forward after the count was finished, with Iain Macwhirter, a veteran Scottish political commentator and the author of the book Road to Referendum, asserting on a post-election television panel, “Anyone who reviews the press coverage of this campaign will not be able to come out with any other conclusion than that it was extremely one-sided.”

Political campaigns often produce complaints and concerns about media coverage. And in an age of radically transforming media landscapes, the debate itself is changing—as analysts seek to weigh the impact of social media as an alternative to traditional media. Yet author and activist Tariq Ali noted after speaking to a pro-independence rally Monday in Glasgow, “Yes, yes, people should be concerned about the media coverage. The newspapers have been appalling when it comes to covering the story of what’s been happening in Scotland.”

Major media outlets remain powerful forces in our democratic life. They are not always definitional—as any newspaper editorial writer will tell you—and it is important to recognize that in Scotland and beyond a great many factors influence election results.

Still, there are those moments that illustrate the extent to which major media outlets tend to echo one another rather than the range of popular debate.

That has been evident in the United States on a number of high-stakes issues in recent decades. When the US was weighing whether to approve the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993, polls suggested that the country was deeply divided, and the House split 234-200. Yet the chattering classes were overwhelmingly pro-NAFTA, and newspaper editorial pages were very nearly universal in their support for the controversial pact. It wasn’t just the editorial pages; an analysis by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting found that pro-NAFTA sources highlighted by major media outnumbered opponents by more than 3-to-1. When matters of war and peace are in play, as was the case before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, FAIR has found even more overwhelming patterns of media turning up the volume on pro-war voices while dismissing those urging caution.

In Scotland, on the morning after Thursday’s vote, discussions of the media coverage became an important part of the overall analysis of the result.

Macwhirter and others argued that the media fueled a sense that a “yes” vote would lead to economic disaster—despite the fact that Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and others had dismissed key elements of the “no” campaign as “a bluff.”

Referring to the “no” campaign, Stiglitz said before the vote, “I’ve been a little bit shocked how much of it is based on fear, trying to get anxiety levels up and how little of it has been based on vision.”

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The BBC rejected complaints that it hyped claims about economic challenges that might be faced by an independent Scotland. And, notably, the broadcaster covered what Stiglitz had to say.

Yet there was no debating the imbalance in the positions taken by the newspapers that circulate in Scotland.

Scottish-based daily newspapers, which are widely read and influential, were overwhelmingly opposed to independence—with just one major newspaper, the Sunday Herald, urging a “yes” vote. The British national dailies, which circulate widely in Scotland, were even more determined in their opposition—offering up intense criticism of the idea of independence and of independence campaigners.

That was especially true after a key poll published almost two weeks before the vote suggested that the “yes” side had moved into a narrow lead. Jim Sillars, a former deputy leader of the Scottish National Party and an outspoken independence campaigner, said the numbers “rattled the cages” of economic and political elites in London.

It was at that point that the papers turned up the “no” volume.

There will be books written on the overall character and the content of the coverage. But what was most striking was the stances taken by the newspaper editorial pages of the Scottish papers. No one expected them to be universal in their support for independence. But their opposition was exceptional.

“Perhaps the most arresting fact about the Scottish referendum is this: that there is no newspaper—local, regional or national, English or Scottish—that supports independence except the Sunday Herald. The Scots who will vote yes have been almost without representation in the media,” wrote Monbiot, one of the UK’s most prominent and media-savvy campaigners on environmental and democracy issues. “There is nothing unusual about this. Change in any direction, except further over the brink of market fundamentalism and planetary destruction, requires the defiance of almost the entire battery of salaried opinion. What distinguishes the independence campaign is that it has continued to prosper despite this assault.”

At the start of the referendum campaign, support for a “yes” vote was estimated at roughly 30 percent. In the end, 45 percent of Scots voted for independence. Much of the credit for the shift goes to effective use of social media and grassroots campaigning by “yes” supporters. Ultimately, however, as Monbiot reminds us, “Despite the rise of social media, the established media continue to define the scope of representative politics in Britain, to shape political demands and to punish and erase those who resist.”

Monbiot could have removed the words “in Britain” and been just as accurate in his observation.


Read Next: What the US Could Learn from Scotland’s Anti-Austerity Independence Vote

What the US Could Learn From Scotland’s Anti-Austerity Independence Vote

Glasgow independence rally

Independence rally in Glasgow (alf.melin, CC BY 2.0)

Edinburgh, ScotlandIf you want to know what democracy looks like, come to Scotland.

No matter how today’s independence referendum turns out—and the polls says it is likely to be a close result—there can be no doubt that Scotland’s venerable The Herald was right when the newspaper declared this week that “the atmosphere in Scotland is extraordinary.”

What makes it extraordinary is the extent to which the whole of Scotland is engaged with this referendum vote. Rallies and marches organized by “Yes” and “No” campaigners have drawn thousands, mass canvasses have gone to every doorstep and it has been virtually impossible to walk down the street in any community without encountering an earnest appeal to consider, or reconsider, how to vote.

Voter registration has soared since the referendum was announced, creating the largest electorate in Scottish history. A remarkable 97 percent of eligible Scots are registered, and polls suggest that well over 80 percent of the electorate will participate in the vote on whether to break away from the United Kingdom.

Jonathon Shafi, a co-founder of Scotland’s Radical Independence Campaign, which organized mass registration drives among young people and in low-income neighborhoods, calls the 97 percent figure a “testament to a movement which has been engaging with thousands of people over the past two years.” Shafi says Scots see the referendum vote as “a huge opportunity to restore democracy.”

In fact, the campaign leading up to today’s vote has already restored a good measure of democracy—by showing how to engage a mass electorate and inspire mass turnout.

Since the referendum vote was scheduled, more than 300,000 Scots have registered to vote, pushing the total electorate to 4,285,323. An equivalent increase in the United States would see a registration spike numbering in the many millions over the course of a relatively short campaign.

Take a moment to ponder what a turnout in excess of 80 percent—perhaps as high as 90 percent—would mean in the United States: instead of the 130,292,355 Americans who had ballots counted in 2012 (out of a voting-eligible population of 221,925,820, according to the United States Elections Project at George Mason University), the turnout total would be closer to 180,000,000.

That level of turnout, creating a voting class that is dramatically more reflective of the overall US population, would undoubtedly transform not just elections but also policy debates.

So is the lesson that the United States should start scheduling high-stakes national referendums on fundamental questions regarding the nation’s future? That’s not a novel notion; indeed, it was proposed by the progressive reformers of a century ago. Many states adopted initiative and referendum structures, which remain in place to this day. In the 1924 presidential election, the Republican, Democratic and Progressive party platforms all endorsed national referendum proposals. Ultimately, however, the United States did not go the way of much of the rest of the world when it comes to national referendums.

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At a time when American political campaigns are distinguished by nothing so much as their pettiness and when governing is so frequently ineffectual, however, the idea of using initiatives and referendums to settle major questions has appeal. A 2013 Gallup Poll found that 68 percent of Americans favor national referendums on vital issues that are raised by voter petitions for a popular vote.

Yet there is more to what Scotland has done than simply scheduling a referendum.

The process matters, as it always does when pursuing democracy.

And the Scots have done a lot of things right.

To wit:

1. An expanded electorate. Recognizing the high level of interest in the independence vote, and the fact that its result will shape the lives of generations to come, officials lowered the voting age to 16. That increased the size of the overall electorate, and it also shifted the tenor of the debate, placing a greater focus on issues of interest to young people. As a result, polls show close to 80 percent of potential voters in the 16–24 demographic intend to cast ballots—an astronomical figure compared to US elections.

2. Simple ballot, simple question. Clarity in ballot design and wording matters immensely, as was illustrated by the 2000 electoral meltdown in Florida, with all its butterfly ballots, hanging chads and “under-votes” and “over-votes.” With so contested an issue on independence in play, any attempt to game the process or cut corners would have come back to haunt. The Scottish vote will not include multiple contests and questions. There is one issue on the ballot and the wording of the actual question was reviewed, debated and reframed to remove bias and complexity. What resulted was simplicity itself, a chance to vote “yes” or “no” on the question: Should Scotland be an independent country?

3. Limited Spending, lots of grassroots campaigning. Scotland strictly limits campaign spending, and there are no thirty-second TV or radio spots. This reduces costs for the campaigners and keeps negative advertising from flooding the airwaves. It also changes the character of the campaign. Unlike in the United States, where voters often reach Election Day with a sense of exhaustion and deep disenchantment, Scots have remained remarkably enthusiastic about a process that is far more focused on grassroots campaigning.

4. Lots of debates. Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, the leading campaigner for a “yes” vote, and former Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling, a Scottish member of the British Parliament who has represented the “no” camp, have faced off in extended debates in the six weeks leading up to the election, taking questions from journalists and citizens. But that is just the start of it: Scottish television and radio programs, as well as the opinion pages of Scottish newspapers, feature daily debates. And even the smallest communities in Scotland have seen organized events where “yes’ and “no” campaigners go at it.

5. Easy voting. The Electoral Commission, which is charged with overseeing the election, has run its own “You Can’t Miss It” campaign to increase voter registration and participation, and to assure that voters know where and how to vote. Unlike in the United States, where different states—and even different jurisdictions within states—produce distinct sets of rules regarding who can vote, when and where voting takes place and how votes are counted, the Electoral Commission sets universal standards. And those standards encourage high turnout by making it easy to vote. Arrangements have been made for 789,024 postal voters: Scots who have difficulties making it to the polls. And those who vote September 18 will not have to go far. A total of 5,579 polling stations will be open from 7 am to 10 pm September 18.

6. Majority rule. Elections in the US are often complicated by rules that make it difficult to get a definitional result; for instance, there have been efforts in a number of US states to require so-called “super majorities” to decide referendums on critical issues. The additional requirements foster frustration with the process by telling voters that winning isn’t enough. Democracy works best when voters believe the process is fair and that their ballot could be decisive. That’s the standard Scotland has set for referendum voting, as 50 percent plus one—be the balance on the “yes” side or the “no” side—will determine if independence is to be.

US officials aren’t about to schedule national referendums on critical issues anytime soon. But they should take a serious look at the systematic approach Scotland has taken to boosting turnout and voter engagement. This is what democracy looks like.


Read Next: John Nichols on “Scotland’s Referendum on Austerity

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