March 15, 2017 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 173

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

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Topics: Republicans de-funding infectious disease prevention, why Democrats are very bad at taking credit for achievements, and Bill’s experience signing up for health insurance on the individual exchange in Massachusetts. People: Bill, Rachel, and Jonathan. Produced: March 13th, 2017.

Episode 173 (49 min):
AFD 173

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Music by friend of the show @StuntBirdArmy.

Not Seeing the Cleared Forest for the Largest Felled Tree: Democrats & the States

Most of the ink spilled about the election earlier this month has focused on the presidential race. With the amount of money spent on it and media attention it gained (especially with one candidate being a bigoted, reactionary carnival barker), that makes sense. There have been many post-mortems, and there will be more. And there is comfort in knowing that over two million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump, regardless of the Electoral College results.

But focusing on the top of the ticket alone obscures what was happening–and has been happening–down ballot.

Democrats hit a new low in state legislative seats. In 2017, Republicans will control 4,170 state legislative seats, with Democrats controlling only 3,129 in the 98 partisan legislative chambers. According to the AP as of last week, Republicans had a net gain of 46 seats, and Democrats a net loss of 46 seats. Some races in California and Washington, however, have yet to be called, but that will not change the overall picture.

Indeed, the losses since 2008 have been stunning. Some of this can be explained by the extreme gerrymandering of state legislatures by Republicans after the 2010 Census, but that cannot explain all of it.

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Fortunately, Massachusetts was largely immune to this trend in 2016. Republicans succeeded at picking up only one open Democratic-held seat: Brian Mannal’s Second Barnstable District in the House. Republicans will now have 35 seats in the MA House, to Democrats’ 125. (The Senate will remain 34-6).

Elections in Massachusetts are rarely competitive affairs, however. This year, in 77% of seats, one major party fielded no candidates, and 88.8% of incumbents ran unopposed in their primaries.

We haven’t been so lucky in the gubernatorial realm, though. Massachusetts is one of two states with Republican governors but Democratic legislative supermajorities (the other being Maryland). Democrats will start 2017 with two fewer gubernatorial offices than they held in 2016, having lost the offices in Missouri, New Hampshire, and Vermont–and—provided NC Governor Pat McCrory (R) doesn’t succeed in stealing the election away from AG Roy Cooper (D) with trumped-up voter fraud charges—gained an office in North Carolina. This leads to a total of only 16 gubernatorial offices. It’s quite jarring to think that the majority of New England states now have Republican governors.

During the next four years of the Trump presidency (let’s pray–and organize to make sure–it’s not eight), states and cities will take on extra importance in advancing a progressive agenda. That means passing bold, progressive legislation that advances equity, inclusion, and sustainability in the state and offers a model for other states and the nation as a whole (down the road), and organizing to take back gubernatorial seats and legislatures.

Here in Massachusetts, we need to do both. With legislative supermajorities, Democrats need to be pushing for a $15 minimum wage, paid family and medical leave, criminal justice reform, free tuition at public colleges, single payer health care, automatic voter registration, and the protection and expansion of the rights of women, people of color, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community. And we also need to be working to take back the gubernatorial office in 2018 so that we have a governor who wants to play a part, or even lead, in advancing that agenda.

Oct 19, 2016 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 156

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

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Topics: The Harvard strike and other campus organizing news. Plus, Bill goes viral. People: Bill, Persephone, Jonathan, and Greg. Produced: Oct 17th, 2016.

Episode 156 (56 min):
AFD 156

Discussion Points:

– Why are Harvard dining hall staff’s union on strike?
– What constitutes a living wage?
– What else is going on in campus organizing right now?

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Conditional cash

Last night I attended the Newton MA School Committee final hearing and vote on Massachusetts ballot question 2. The committee voted to endorse “No on 2” (my position as well). Question 2 would vastly expand (without additional revenues) charter schools in Massachusetts.

Pretty interesting that the New York & California money only rolls in to promote charter schools in Massachusetts – supposedly because public schools are failing to educate kids in low-income districts – and never to replace the huge annual funding cuts in the budgets of those districts when revenues run low. It’s almost as if the big donors actually have an agenda more concerned with diverting public dollars to private operators and breaking up unions than with any substantive assistance to struggling districts.

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Higher taxes (for some) have to be on the table

Bill Humphrey in The Boston Globe: Should higher taxes be off the table in state budget talks? No.
In early 2015 and again last month, Democratic Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo promised that the House of Representatives would not pass budgets that involved new revenues of any kind. This goes beyond Governor Charles D. Baker’s Republican standard of no-new-taxes.

Anti-tax conservatives in both parties have been dominant for a full generation now. The unchallenged politics of tax cuts — and spending cuts to offset them — has become self-sustaining. There has been comparatively little defense of what spending actually means: programs and policies that deliver vital public services.

Speaker DeLeo, explaining his position, cited pre-existing pressures on family budgets. It’s true, many Massachusetts families have been struggling to get by. Unfortunately, further cuts likely will worsen that pressure.

Nobody disputes the importance of fiscal efficiency, but after decades of cuts there is virtually no fat left to trim in the state budget. Even the rainy day fund has been exhausted to plug other budget gaps. Without new revenues, even deeper cuts will necessarily be made in vital arenas that intersect directly with family budgets.

Transportation infrastructure, public education, economic development, social safety nets, our courts, and more are funded in large part or wholly by government spending. “Consolidating” services often means reduced access for citizens, particularly the most vulnerable. Cutting back public investment in these areas hurts families, costs good-paying public employee jobs, and shrinks the economy.

How we raise revenues most effectively and fairly is a good question – and a political one.

Our current state tax system is regressive. It shouldn’t be. The proposed Fair Share constitutional amendment would fund transportation and education via an additional millionaire’s tax on those whose family budgets won’t be broken by an extra contribution to our society’s shared coffers. Increased tax compliance by large corporations likewise would ease the burden on small businesses without access to offshore tax shelters.

What is not debatable – given our fiscal situation and our public investment needs – is that we need more revenues from somewhere. Taking revenue increases off the table is fiscally irresponsible and ultimately harmful to the very people the speaker says he wants to help.

Accommodating less visible disabilities in our courtrooms

In today’s Governor’s Council hearing for a nominee to the Family Court, an important issue came up, which is one I’m always very mindful of: Courtroom approaches to handling mental differences, particularly for people on the autism spectrum. As I note on my campaign website, “We must also guarantee that our courts themselves are accessible and accommodating to all varieties of disabilities, including physical and mental challenges that may or may not be visible.”

There’s still a long way to go on accommodating physical disabilities that are plainly visible, but their visibility has also contributed to progress on that front. We haven’t had as much progress on less visible things. It’s critical that our judges exercise flexibility, restraint, and understanding in dealing with adults and children with autism in the courtroom. “Unusual” or “disruptive” behavior isn’t always disrespectful, and sometimes judges need to work around it, rather than trying to control it. Courtrooms are very stressful environments for everyone, but they can definitely be overwhelming to people who aren’t neurotypical (especially for children), and it’s important to make provisions for that.

Millennial Massachusetts: The 27 percent

Notes from the campaign trail

As of 2012 Census data, 27.4% of ‪‎Massachusetts‬ residents were born after 1980 and before 2001. No other generation held a bigger share of the population. Yet in 2016, there are zero ‪Millennials‬ on the Governor’s Council. There are just a handful in the legislature. If we win this campaign, we’ll take just one of the eight Council seats and bring a strong voice for the issues our generation cares about – because everyone will benefit from that. I would also become the highest-ranking Millennial in a Massachusetts constitutional office, and I would work to help other young progressives bring their long-term vision to government all over the state.