Tag Archives: capitalism

‘The most dangerous US company you have never heard of”: Sinclair, a rightwing media giant!

2 Apr

 

Sinclair is the largest broadcast company in America. But its partisan politics – and connections to the White House – are raising concerns

 

Most Americans don’t know it exists. Primetime US news refers to it as an “under-the-radar company”. Unlike Fox News and Rupert Murdoch, virtually no one outside of business circles could name its CEO. And yet, Sinclair Media Group is the owner of the largest number of TV stations in America.

“Sinclair’s probably the most dangerous company most people have never heard of,” said Michael Copps, the George W Bush-appointed former chairman of Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the top US broadcast regulator.

John Oliver – host of HBO’s weekly satirical show Last Week Tonight – used a similar line when he introduced an 18-minute segment on Sinclair last month by referring to it as “maybe the most influential media company you never heard of”.

But that is beginning to change. Sinclair’s size, rightwing politics and close connections to Donald Trump’s White House are starting to attract attention. Democrats are wading in to the fray and demanding answers over Sinclair’s close ties to the Trump administration, which, they say, could mean the group is getting preferential treatment.

The New York Times refers to the group as a “conservative giant” that, since the Bush presidency, has used its 173 television stations “to advance a mostly right-leaning agenda”. The Washington Post describes it as a “company with a long history of favoring conservative causes and candidates on its stations’ newscasts”.

More recently, Sinclair has added a website, Circa, to its portfolio. But not any old website. Circa has been described as “the new Breitbart” and a favorite among White House aides who wish to platform news to a friendly source (a process otherwise known as “leaking”). As the US news site the Root put it: “What if Breitbart and Fox News had a couple of babies? What if they grew up to be a cool, slicker version of their parents and started becoming more powerful? Meet Sinclair and Circa –Donald Trump’s new besties.”

The growing anxiety in America over the rise of Sinclair stems from the belief the company’s close connections to Trump have allowed it to skirt market regulations. Already the biggest broadcaster in the country, Sinclair is poised to make its biggest move yet. If the FCC approves Sinclair’s $3.9bn purchase of an additional 42 stations, it would reach into the homes of almost three-quarters of Americans.

 

 

Another cause for concern, and increased scrutiny, is what’s seen as the company’s pronounced political agenda. Sinclair forces its local stations to run pro-Trump “news” segments. In April, they hired Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump campaign spokesman and member of the White House press office, as its chief political analyst. His “must-run” 10-minute political commentary segments unsurprisingly hewed closely to the Trump administration’s message. The news and analysis website Slate, referring to Epshteyn’s contributions, said: “As far as propaganda goes, this is pure, industrial-strength stuff.”

Some local stations have reportedly chafed at the idea of pro-Trump “must run” packages. Sinclair’s management says the packages are necessary to provide viewers with diverse viewpoints as a counterweight to progressive leanings they’re convinced are held by the media, including the staff of their own local stations. “Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the media is left of center,” David Smith, then Sinclair’s CEO, told Rolling Stone in 2005.

But Sinclair’s politics isn’t restricted to Epshteyn’s contributions. It has a long history of airing material which has often been controversial, and for which it has been sanctioned in the past – all the while purporting to simply report the “news”.

While it doesn’t have the cultural cachet of major conservative networks like Fox News, Sinclair’s influence is more subtle. Unlike Fox News, which brands itself clearly and proudly, most viewers of Sinclair’s local stations have no idea who owns them since they are not branded as part of the Sinclair network.

But it is their intended purchase of a collection of new stations owned by Tribune Media – the former owners of the illustrious Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times – that has thrust them into the national spotlight unlike ever before.

“It used to be a few years ago there were some mergers that were unthinkable,” Copps, now with the DC-based watchdog group Common Cause, told the Guardian. “We’re in a period now when everything’s so wild that nothing is unthinkable.”

 

 

For the Trump administration, Sinclair has obvious appeal

The figure that looms large behind Sinclair is David Smith, whose father founded the company in the Nixon era. Smith recently ended his 28-year reign as CEO, and along with his brothers maintains what an industry publication called “iron-clad control” of the billion-dollar media empire as well as the company’s majority financial interest.

The Smith family, based in and around Baltimore, likes to keep a low profile – they give few interviews and David Smith has no Wikipedia page. “We would tend to maintain as much anonymity as we can,” he told the Baltimore Sun in 1995, one of the rare times he’s spoken to the press.

Their political agenda is somewhat less mysterious. Campaign finance records show the Smith brothers have historically donated overwhelmingly to Republicans. And a Washington Post analysis of the company’s 2016 presidential election coverage found Sinclair stations were unusually favorable towards Trump and negative towards Hillary Clinton.

During last year’s presidential campaign, Sinclair conducted zero interviews with Clinton. But it touted 15 “exclusive” ones with Trump, which aired mostly in critical swing states in the final months of the election and without any commentary, despite the copious fact-checking Trump interviews tend to require. Sinclair has insisted it had no special arrangement with the Trump campaign and that Clinton simply did not make herself available to them. Clinton campaign officials say they spurned Sinclair for a reason, though her vice-presidential nominee, Tim Kaine, gave a handful interviews to Sinclair stations.

According to Politico, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner told a room full of Manhattan business executives that the campaign had struck a deal with Sinclair to secure better coverage in the states where they needed spots most.

 

Former FCC Commissioner Pai and Chairman Wheeler testify at House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the FCC’s 2016 budget.

 

The manner in which Sinclair looks set to expand – specifically, with Trump paving the way – is causing widespread anxiety throughout media and political circles. The focus of the concern is Ajit Pai, the man Trump appointed as head of the country’s top broadcasting regulator, the FCC.

Since he began work in January, Pai has been busy relaxing the protections for local broadcasting that had previously limited Sinclair’s expansion.

Trump’s new-look FCC has moved swiftly to clear the hurdles for Sinclair’s proposed takeover of Tribune. A day before Trump was inaugurated, Smith invited Pai to a meeting at the Washington-area headquarters of the company’s ABC affiliate. Within 10 days of taking over the FCC, a New York Times investigation found, Pai had already relaxed a restriction on TV stations’ sharing of resources, including ad revenue – precisely the topic Smith had met with Pai about.

Since January, the Times report found, “Pai has undertaken a deregulatory blitz enacting or proposing a wishlist of fundamental policy changes advocated by Mr Smith and his company.”

Tom Wheeler, Pai’s predecessor at the FCC, who is now at the Brookings Institution, said: “What’s surprising is how fast the Trump FCC moved and how they moved without any real opportunity for public comment and without any following of procedural due process … So you look at that kind of behavior and scratch your head.”

To better understand such behavior and where it’s leading, it helps to consider where Sinclair began.

David Smith’s father, Julian Sinclair Smith, described by the company’s official history as “patriarch to the Smith brothers”, founded the company in 1971, and kept a hand in the business until his death, following a battle with Parkinson’s, in 1993. But the company’s greatest evolutionary changes began around 1990, when the brothers bought up the remainder of their parents’ stock, kicking off an extended buying spree that would last decades.

As Sinclair grew, so did the scrutiny. And increasingly, the Smith brothers found themselves not just the broadcasters, but the subject of the news.

In 1996, David Smith was arrested on suspicion of soliciting a prostitute who performed what the police called “unnatural and perverted sex on him” in a Mercedes owned by Sinclair. More disturbing to critics than the misdemeanor sex offense, though, was the unusual way he got out of doing the court-ordered community service that resulted from his plea bargain in the case: by having his broadcasting company do what amounted to publicity hits for local drug counseling programs, packaged as news.

LuAnne Canipe, a former reporter for Sinclair, said the incident was also indicative of a broader culture of office sexism. “Let’s just say the arrest of the CEO was part of a sexual atmosphere that trickled down to different levels in the company,” said Canipe, who left Sinclair in 1998. “There was an improper work environment. I think that because of what he did, there was a feeling that everything was fair game.”

One person concerned by Sinclair’s growth: Rupert Murdoch

The growth of Sinclair may have passed below the radar, but not past another media mogul – Rupert Murdoch, chairman and acting CEO of Fox News.

Although Sinclair has insisted it has no interest in competing with national cable news platforms like Murdoch’s, industry observers say the mogul is already planning a strategy to combat the rise of a potential rival. After a failed attempt to outbid Sinclair for Tribune, Murdoch is threatening a switch of Fox’s broadcast affiliates from Sinclair-owned stations to those of a smaller independent broadcaster.

 

Donald Trump with media mogul Rupert Murdoch in July 2016.

 

But it isn’t just Sinclair’s business interests that are a cause of creeping concern – its political affiliations could be, too.

Take the case the former congressman Bob Ehrlich, a Maryland Republican who later become governor. After pressing the FCC to fast-track Sinclair’s request to acquire more stations, Ehrlich enjoyed company perks like the frequent use of a Sinclair executive’s luxury helicopter, as the Baltimore Sun reported in 2002. By the time full details of the report emerged, Ehrlich had already won his gubernatorial election.

In 2004, Sinclair leadership reportedly ordered its local affiliate stations to air a documentary critical of the Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry, based on allegations which later proved unfounded – that Kerry had exaggerated his record as a swift-boat officer in the Vietnam war.

A Washington DC bureau chief publicly resisted and was fired for the offense. The incident sent ripples through its stations, but Sinclair said media reports about the controversy exaggerated the issue.

Around the same time, as George W Bush faced criticism over the faltering war in Iraq, Sinclair ordered seven of its stations not to run an episode of Nightline in which host Ted Koppel read the names of every American soldier killed in the war, saying it “undermine[d] the efforts of the United States in Iraq”. The decision sparked a major backlash, including from the Republican senator John McCain, a Vietnam war veteran, who wrote a letter to David Smith calling the decision “unpatriotic” and “a gross disservice to the public, and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces”.

Other times, Sinclair’s influence has been more ambiguous. When the Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs was assaulted by the then US congressional candidate Greg Gianforte on the eve of his election in Montana, the local NBC affiliate, recently purchased by Sinclair, refused to air Jacobs’s audio recording of the incident, despite entreaties from NBC executives in New York. The local news director said she was not influenced by Sinclair, noting the purchase was not yet complete. Gianforte won the election, and, the day after the Montana Republican was charged with assault, Sinclair’s vice-president and director Fred Smith donated $1,000 to him.

Meanwhile, with its 2015 purchase of Circa, a mobile aggregated news app, Sinclair has control for the first time of a national text-based news outlet. Backed by a staff of 70, Sinclair transformed the app into conservative-leaning platform offering thinly sourced scoops – often written without any author byline other than “Circa staff” – that frequently seem to advance the Trump administration’s agenda du jour. Trump and his aides have returned the favor by linking to Circa’s content, and it’s become a favorite source of Sean Hannity, Fox News’s most obsequious Trump booster. (Sinclair denies Circa has any political orientation, noting that it does not carry op-eds.)

The rise of Sinclair has also recently stirred the Democrats in Washington, who have become increasingly vocal on the issue.

This summer, Senator Maria Cantwell led a group of colleagues in urging commerce and judiciary leaders to carefully examine the pending deal with Tribune, citing concern “about the level of media concentration this merger creates, and its impact on the public interest”, according to the lawmakers’ June letter.

And this week, House Democrats in top FCC oversight positions wrote directly to the FCC’s Pai expressing their dismay at what they perceive to be a “pattern” of preferential treatment toward Sinclair.

In addition to changes paving the way for Sinclair’s merger, Pai’s FCC has proposed eliminating one of its most fundamental rules, which requires local news stations to actually have a local studio where they broadcast the news.

Now, the agency seems poised to do away with local broadcast protections, which would allow Sinclair and other broadcasters to save money by cutting local staff and to impose more editorial input from corporate headquarters.

And that means many more Americans will be hearing from the most dangerous company most people have never heard of – whether they know it or not.

 

The “Rigged Capitalist System” holds no future for the “Working Class” a Revolution does – New – Used Left Wing & Progressive Books & Memorabilia 19% off Sale in Progress – Revolutionary Ideas included – http://stores.ebay.com/fahrenheit451bookstore

Source: ‘The most dangerous US company you have never heard of”: Sinclair, a rightwing media giant | Media | The Guardian

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Top DOJ Civil Rights Lawyer Resigns So She Can Battle DOJ’s Attack on Civil Rights

31 Mar

“You are seeing a brain drain out of the DOJ that is not normal, and it is a reflection of how aberrant this attorney general has been, with not only reversal of positions but targeting of communities.”

by Jessica Corbett, staff writer

 

Diana Flynn has worked for the Department of Justice since 1984. (Photo: Diana Flynn/BuzzFeed)

 

Diana Flynn has worked for the Department of Justice since 1984. (Photo: Diana Flynn/BuzzFeed)

A top civil rights attorney who has spent her entire law career at the Department of Justice is leaving to work for the nation’s largest LGBTQ litigation group, Lambda Legal, in a move that will likely mean fighting against Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ efforts to fortify the Trump administration’s attacks on LGBTQ rights.

“It appears to me—at this crucial time for LGBT rights—to make the arguments I want to make and take positions I want to take, I would be much better situated at Lambda Legal than I am at Justice,” Diana Flynn, who is a transgender woman, told BuzzFeed News.

“I see attempts to roll back specifically LGBT rights in the courts and society,” she said, “and I want to be in the position where I can aggressively resist that and make the arguments that I think will be most effective.”

Although Flynn declined to discuss her experience working in the Trump administration as it rolls back policies meant to protect LGBTQ Americans from discrimination—she said she sees “a danger to some of the principles that have been established in the civil rights arena generally”—others were quick to make the connection.

“From the first day Sessions came to the DOJ, he has been dismantling decades of work that Diana Flynn had been doing,” asserted Lambda Legal’s strategy director Sharon McGowan, who left the department in February 2017. “You are seeing a brain drain out of the DOJ that is not normal, and it is a reflection of how aberrant this attorney general has been, with not only reversal of positions but targeting of communities.”

Vanita Gupta, the former chief of the department’s civil rights division, said that with Sessions “at the helm, rolling back civil rights progress on so many fronts, it comes as no surprise that the federal government continues to lose incredibly talented attorneys like Diana. Jeff Sessions’ loss is the civil rights community’s gain.”

Flynn went to work for the department in 1984, after she graduated from Yale Law School. While turnover at all federal agencies is common between presidential administrations, Flynn has led the Civl Rights Division Appellate Section for more than two decades under six presidents—two Democrats and four Republicans.

“I never really expected to leave,” Flynn admitted. Faced with the prospect of fighting against her former DOJ colleagues in the courtroom, she said, “it would be strange, but it’s something we could deal with.”

“Lambda Legal has been at the forefront of every major legal advance for our community,” Flynn added in statement on Thursday. “I am excited for this incredible opportunity to bring my passion and skills to the effort to ensure the rights of queer and HIV+ people.”

Others who defend LGBTQ rights in court and beyond celebrated Flynn’s move to Lambda Legal, which is currently challenging the President Donald Trump’s attempt to bar transgender individuals from military service.

 

Source: Top DOJ Civil Rights Lawyer Resigns So She Can Battle DOJ’s Attack on Civil Rights

 

The “Rigged Capitalist System” holds no future for the Working Class – a Political Revolution does – 19% off Left Wing Books & Blogs – http://stores.ebay.com/fahrenheit451bookstore / fah451bks.wordpress.com

The Two-Party System Is Facing Its Biggest Challenge In 70 Years

24 Mar

 

From Maine to Missouri, states are bucking the establishment to push radical electoral reforms.

MARCH 19 | APRIL ISSUE – In These Times

WE ARE IN A MOMENT OF NERVOUS, SEMI-PANICKED REFLECTION ABOUT THE HEALTH AND PROSPECTS OF THE AMERICAN POLITICAL SYSTEM. Take The Atlantic’s March essay, “America Is Not a Democracy.” It begins with the story of how a private water company in Oxford, Mass., apparently derailed a public buyout pushed by locals who were angry about high rates and poor service. The plan was voted down at a town hall meeting mysteriously packed with people who had shown little previous interest. “Even in this bastion of deliberation and direct democracy,” writes Yascha Mounk, “a nasty suspicion had taken hold: that the levers of power are not controlled by the people.”

With good reason. Polling shows that Congress is profoundly out of tune with the will of the people on almost every issue, from gun control to single-payer healthcare to action on climate change. In a Gallup poll released this past fall, only a third of respondents said the two major parties “do an adequate job of representing the American people.” Sixty-one percent thought a third party was needed—the highest number in eight polls taken over 15 years.

One path forward is to engage each issue and press for change within the existing dysfunctional system. But if there is a game-changing and achievable solution that solves some of the most profound problems at once—ending the stranglehold of the two major parties, multiplying the representation of minority voters, decreasing polarization and boosting voter engagement—doesn’t it deserve serious attention from progressives?

Such a solution—proportional representation (PR)—is already used in 94 democracies around the world. In those countries, there are more parties to choose from. Elections focus more on issues and less on individual candidates. The power of money is diluted, because coalition building takes priority over personal attacks. And there are more women and minorities in office.

In the United States, a semi-hidden history attests to PR’s transformative power. Introduced into the New York City Council elections in 1936, PR unleashed a wave of democratic engagement and diverse representation. Communists and other minority parties claimed 50 percent of the seats and broke the Democratic machine’s monopoly. In Cincinnati in 1951, PR put an African-American attorney, Theodore Berry, on the cusp of becoming mayor, until the establishment closed ranks and shut him out. A total of 24 cities adopted PR in the early decades of the 20th century.

The Red Scare, coupled with racism, squashed those experiments. New York City abolished PR in 1947, largely because it empowered Communists. Cincinnati did so in 1957, to block the rise of African Americans on the city council.

Now, in response to growing the glaring failures of our democracy, PR is being advanced at the local level from Maine to Missouri to California.

 

 

HOW IT WORKS

The biggest barrier to PR today may be inertia. Polling shows that its appeal transcends ideology, but the two-party tug-of-war is so ingrained that it’s hard to imagine a different way.

PR also has a marketing problem. Its name seems designed to make eyes glaze. And there are endless variations on how it could be implemented.

But set aside the marketing problems and the mechanics, and briefly consider PR’s basic claims.

The case for PR holds that the maddening things about American democracy are built into our legislative maps and our voting procedures; dysfunction and disenchantment are features of our electoral system, not bugs.

The basic principles of reform are simple. The first is that a legislative district need not be the domain of a single representative, but should be represented by multiple people—a reform called multi-member districts. The second is that voting should be about ranking the candidates, not choosing the single best person—a reform called ranked-choice voting (RCV).

Multi-member districts can create space for racial and ideological minorities, who may have trouble winning more than half the vote but can attract a loyal bloc, enough to come in second, third or fourth and earn a seat. Multi-member districts also defy gerrymandering. In a single-member district that’s split 60-40 along party lines, the 40 percent minority gets no representative. A ruling party can game the system by creating many such slim-margin districts in its favor, disenfranchising a sizable portion of the opposing party’s voters. But in a multi-member district, the 40 percent gets a share of the seats.

RCV breaks the grip of the two-party system in another way, by solving the problem of spoiler candidates and boosting voter engagement. In RCV, a voter’s second-choice candidate receives her vote if her first choice is eliminated. The same is true for her third choice if the second choice is eliminated. And so on. If the 2016 presidential election had been non-partisan and ranked-choice, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton voters could have been at peace, knowing that by marking the other Democrat as their second choice, they would still be casting a vote against Donald Trump—even if their first choice didn’t win.

These two ideas can be applied independently, but they’re more powerful in combination. Alone, multi-member districting has some risks. For instance, under certain circumstances, it can actually suppress rather than increase minority representation (if “block” voting allows one party to win all the seats). Ranked-choice voting corrects that. Used together, multi-member districts and RCV dissolve the two-party monopoly and give outsider candidates a real chance.

 

 

A perfect storm of dysfunction, corruption and diminishing democracy is driving the recent revival of support for PR. The GOP’s radical gerrymandering of legislative districts, and the flood of corporate dark money since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, have spotlighted how our political system is rigged against democracy in favor of wealth and power. (That’s in addition to Donald Trump’s constant laments about the rigging of the system and his incessant efforts to rig it for himself.)

In that grim context, PR’s bold and hopeful vision for how our system can work better is gaining traction and winning converts. It’s a solution well suited to this moment of democratic dysfunction and a flowering of local experiments.

“We’re in a crisis whose depth is not fully understood yet,” says Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, a national advocacy organization working to promote PR. “People are hoping they can fix it with Band-Aids, and I don’t think they can. And as that sinks in, more and more people will see that PR bends things toward the changes that we need to make.”

 A CRUSADE IN MISSOURI

Several cities and states are now exploring one or both reforms. On June 5, Santa Clara, Calif., (pop. 126,000) votes on a measure that would establish both multi-member districts and RCV for city council elections. On June 12, Maine votes on a referendum that would establish RCV for state and federal offices.

The Santa Clara bill would mark the first time a city has adopted multi-member districting and RCV since the 1950s. Only Cambridge, Mass., currently elects its city council using RCV in multi-member districts.

The elections in Maine and Santa Clara are bellwethers that proportional representation is gaining momentum. A nascent effort in Missouri captures the kind of passion and faith it can inspire.

In late 2014, a retired high school economics teacher, Winston Apple, drafted a ballot petition that would create a PR system for Missouri’s state government. It didn’t get enough signatures the first time around, and he filed it again in late 2016. Since then, he’s been working to build support for it by coordinating with progressive groups around the state. They need about 160,000 signatures by May 6 to put it on the November ballot.

Apple is a member of Our Revolution and a self-described “political revolutionary.” He’s also a candidate for Congress in Missouri’s 6th District.

He originally wanted to put seven reform measures on the ballot this fall. When his coalition partners asked him, for the sake of simplicity, to choose one, he chose PR. “If we can get that on the ballot and passed this year, then in 2020 we will elect a genuinely democratic legislature that will pass all the rest of the ballot measures,” Apple says. “It’s a gateway to getting all the rest of the good stuff done.” His coalition partners include several chapters of Our Revolution and members of minor parties that would benefit from a PR system, including Greens and Libertarians.

 

 

Most reform initiatives, like the one in Maine, push for only ranked-choice voting rather than full PR, because RCV is more familiar and less disruptive. Apple’s petition does the opposite. It would create eight larger state legislative districts, each with 10 representatives, cutting the total number of House seats approximately in half.

Apple proposes a “list” system similar to the parliamentary democracy of many European countries. Voters cast their ballot for a party, not individual candidates. Parties fill their share of seats in the legislature according to the results of their primary elections. If a party wins three seats in a district, for example, the party’s top three primary vote winners are seated.

Apple, who’s from Independence and bears a bit of a resemblance to Harry Truman, says he designed it that way because it puts the focus on issues, not personalities. He has a Midwestern earnestness, and he approaches his role of political revolutionary with the energy of a convert. He’s written “a manifesto for the reform of public education,” Edutopia, and he’s working on a book about Keynesian economics that argues the federal government should become the employer of last resort.

For his mission to change Missouri’s electoral system, he’s created a website, GovernmentByThePeople.org, with two short videos that explain the basics of proportional representation, in addition to essays that describe it in painstaking detail. And he takes his cause on the road. In early February, he went to a three-day summit called “Unrig the System” at Tulane University in New Orleans. The summit’s goal was to “convene the brightest minds from the Right and Left to fix American politics.” The slate of speakers included both Nina Turner, president of Our Revolution, and Steve Hilton, a Fox News host.

People not formally scheduled to speak at the summit had a chance to pitch their ideas for a brief talk. Attendees voted on the pitches, and the winners got to speak at an event on the last day. Apple was among the winners.

“I think I convinced a whole lot more people that if we can only make one change, proportional representation is the one we should make,” he says. “It’s just a numbers game. The vast majority of people have no idea what it is or how it works. I’ve found that if you say, ‘This will break the two-party monopoly, and independent candidates will have a fair chance of getting elected,’ they say, ‘Where do I sign?’ ”

MAINE LEADS THE WAY

FairVote expects that the Missouri initiative will be a hard sell, especially the idea of voting for a party’s slate rather than individuals. “I tend to be skeptical that a list system will be successful in the U.S,” says Drew Spencer Penrose, FairVote’s law and policy director. “We’re used to voting for candidates, and we’re also used to big tent parties.”

Penrose and Rob Richie believe the path to victory for PR is a series of city and state-level reforms that evolve into a movement for federal PR over the next decade or so. A bill already in the House, the Fair Representation Act, would implement both multi-member districts and RCV. It currently has only four co-sponsors but serves to keep the item on the agenda for a future, more progressive Congress.

The referendum in Maine would establish ranked-choice voting for all state and federal elections, which is a more modest and less disruptive reform than combining it with multi-member districts. Think of RCV as the gateway to full PR.

 

 

RCV has strong appeal in Maine because of the spoiler problem that’s plagued its recent gubernatorial elections. In the most recent election in 2014, Democrats and Independents split their votes between two candidates who got 43 percent and 8 percent of the vote, respectively. The result was the re-election of the radical right-wing Republican governor, Paul LePage, with 48 percent of the vote. LePage, known for spouting racist paranoia about out-of-state drug dealers (“half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave”), comparing the IRS to the Gestapo and telling the NAACP to kiss his butt, earns consistently low approval ratings. He almost certainly would have lost under a ranked-choice voting system, since he likely wasn’t the second choice of people who voted for his challengers.

San Francisco adopted RCV in 2004, and three more California cities followed in 2010. A FairVote analysis found that the percentage of people of color winning office in those cities rose from about 41 percent prior to implementation of RCV to nearly 60 percent afterward. In all, 12 cities nationwide now use RCV in municipal elections. Santa Fe, N.M., used it for the first time in March.

The path to RCV in Maine shows how its establishment-busting power both threatens the two parties and galvanizes grassroots support. Maine voters first approved the system’s use in 2016. Republicans and some Democrats in the legislature joined forces (citing a complicated Maine Supreme Court ruling) to delay implementation until 2021. But in Maine, voters can repeal recently passed legislation through a “people’s veto.” Advocates for RCV used that provision to put it back on the ballot in June.

All the drama around RCV has likely helped its chances in Maine. As FairVote’s Penrose points out, “We’re not only seeing people who want ranked-choice voting, we’re seeing people outraged at the state legislature for trying to thwart the will of the people.”

A June win in Maine would take effect in November, making it the first instance of RCV’s use in Congressional elections, and establish a state-level model for how the United States can begin moving toward a better system.

“The first statewide use would be a sea change,” Penrose says. “You’d be able to point to a place that’s already using it. I could just say, ‘It’s the Maine system.’ I think we’d start seeing the impact right away.”

 

 

GERRYMANDER NO MORE

It’s curious bordering on bizarre that proportional representation doesn’t attract more interest and resources from progressives. It cuts the Gordian knot of entrenched problems in U.S. politics, achieving many of the movement’s most cherished goals, notably by increasing representation among minority populations and by making votes for third-party candidates more relevant. In an era that’s been defined by playing defense, it offers a realistic plan for democratic revitalization that flips the script on the GOP’s anti-democratic impulses.

Gerrymandering is a classic example. Progressives and Democrats have been doing triage and playing catch-up on this front since the electoral tidal wave of 2010, when Republicans won control of a majority of state legislatures and used that power to gerrymander districts and dominate every level of government.

Some hope is on the horizon: Courts have ruled recently that the GOP-drawn maps in several states—Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and North Carolina—are unconstitutional. And Barack Obama and his U.S. attorney general, Eric Holder, have turned gerrymandering reform into a high-profile issue.

But for supporters of proportional representation, the problem is deeper than the way districts are drawn. The problem is that single-member districts are inherently vulnerable to deck-stacking. And the solution isn’t simply to redraw them.

“There’s so much simplistic analysis of the problem, because people want it to be fixed easily,” FairVote’s Rob Richie says. The attitude is that “we just need to fix gerrymandering, and the two party system will be fine. And we don’t have to really change things. We can just kind of pretend. But that’s fake. We’re in a moment where this is an inescapable conversation. We just have to prepare for that, and show the path.”

The June votes in Santa Clara and Maine will indicate whether the push for proportional representation is gaining traction. Whatever happens with those votes, though, and even if Winston Apple’s effort to get his initiative on the ballot in Missouri falls short, PR is beginning to sink roots in America. That it will grow and flourish isn’t inevitable, but it may offer our best hope for tapping the kind of transformative democratic energies we’ve been searching for.

“I’d like to reform the government by tomorrow afternoon and be at 100 percent renewable energy by 4 o’clock,” Apple says. “But we’re going to have to be more patient than that. And I think proportional representation, honestly, is the biggest issue that we can deal with right now. In the states where we can get it passed, those states are going to have genuinely democratic elections. And be the envy of the rest of the country.”

THEO ANDERSON, a Chicago-based writer, has contributed to In These Timessince 2010, covering the progressive movement’s engagement with electoral politics and the history and development of the Right. His doctoral dissertation at Yale traced the early 20th-century origins of the progressive and conservative movements. 

Source: The Two-Party System Is Facing Its Biggest Challenge In 70 Years

 

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