Have Dems finally resolved their internal social issues split?

“Turning Tables, Democrats Use Cultural Issues as a Cudgel,” blares the New York Times today. Amid all the gloomy news for Democrats across the country in 2014, this may be the single article that has brought the most joy to me, featuring one race after another where the Democrat is running strongly on — not away from — social issues, on the progressive side.

This is a clear sign to me that, although we’re still facing huge challenges on these issues, the tide has finally turned — not just among voters but among Democratic candidates. For example, in just a few years we’ve gone from Democratic senators being terrified to endorse repealing DOMA to them gleefully beating their opponents over the head with that. It’s a similar story for reproductive freedom issues. While the policy tide on the latter is still running hard in the wrong direction in dozens of states, the campaign trail story is encouraging. And best of all, there’s been no sudden uprising by Christian conservative voters in response.

When I flash back to the dark days of November 2009, as the anti-choice Stupak Amendment suddenly appeared on the U.S. House version of the health insurance reform bill and looked like it might be mirrored in the Senate bill, despite a Democratic majority in both chambers, and I recall my angst over whether socially progressive Democrats should be doing more to purge socially conservative Democrats like Bart Stupak from the party so they would stop hurting the Democratic base (women, gays, et al), I feel a lot better today.

In no small part, that’s probably because the 2010 midterm voters did most of the heavy lifting on purging many of those rotten Democrats out of office. In the short run, it meant that even more hardline socially conservative Republicans often took their seats, unfortunately. But the broader result was that those hardcore socially conservative Democrats were no longer in an authoritative place inside the party over the past three and a half years to shout down the lefty Democrats as they persuaded the moderates to switch positions or take stronger positions, in line with the rapidly shifting electoral landscape. Extremist Republicans in winnable districts will be easier to replace in the general elections of coming years (with socially progressive Democrats) than anti-gay, anti-choice Democratic incumbents would have been in primaries. Meanwhile, moderate Democrats in competitive districts will be better able to rally the Democratic base on progressive social values, to remain in office.

This internal transformation has allowed the Democratic Party to define itself much more clearly, which helps motivate activism and turnout among ordinary Democrats. As to the socially conservative voters who will vote exclusively or heavily on these issue, they’ve already become confirmed Republicans at this point and are now out of reach to even the most conservative Democratic candidates.

Charlie Crist: Future slashfic author

Dave Weigel recently reviewed the decisive ambivalence and non-ideology of former Florida Governor Charlie Crist, as seen in his new memoir. Crist, for those who may not remember, switched from Republican to independent during his failed 2010 US Senate bid against Marco Rubio. Since then, he has puttered around regaining much of his once very high popularity, and he has launched a bid for a second (non-consecutive) term as governor, this time running as a Democrat against incumbent Medicare fraudster and Voldemort lookalike, Gov. Rick Scott (R-Deeply Unpopular).

As Weigel observes, Crist seems to be running primarily on a rose-colored and self-idolizing platform of “Hey, remember how you guys liked me and I wasn’t too offensive or partisan most of the time?” — which may actually work out for Crist, given that he is pretty popular and most people want Rick Scott gone. Plus, it’s Florida, and a lot of people aren’t all that committed to party affiliation (relative to some other states), which makes Crist’s switching palatable and understandable to many voters.

Weigel also highlights how the book dwells heavily, even creepily, on the career-derailing hug Charlie Crist received from President Obama when the former was still a Republican:

In The Party’s Over, his unimaginatively titled memoir of a political life cut short by the Tea Party movement, Crist returns again and again to his February 2009 appearance with President Obama. “As he and I made our way through the crowd toward the stage,” Crist writes, “how could anyone not feel the power of this man?” When they reach the podium, Crist gave a short speech about budgets and infrastructure that was, he reminds us, interrupted frequently by applause.

Then came the moment. “The new president leaned forward,” Crist writes, “and gave me a hug. Reach. Pull. Release. As hugs go, it wasn’t anything special. It was over in a second—less than that. It was the kind of hug that says, ‘Hey, good to see you, man. Thanks for being here.’ It was the kind of hug I’d exchanged with thousands of thousands and Floridians over the years … reach, pull, release—just like that.”

After the shudder fades, the reader at least understands where Crist is coming from. In 2009, a few months after Obama had carried his state, Crist was one of the only Republican governors willing to take strings-attached stimulus money and denounce anyone who wouldn’t. One of the first rallies of the nascent Tea Party movement took place outside the Crist–Obama rally. Marco Rubio created a fundraising site consisting entirely of the “hug” photo. Conservatives heckled Crist, dared him to “hug Obama again.”

So if this governor campaign doesn’t work out, I’m thinking maybe Charlie should consider going into self-publishing weird romance e-novels. I hear (minute 28) there’s a growing market for dinosaur-based romances; maybe he could write slashfic between some Everglades gators and “Florida Man.”

Parker Griffith can lose

Once upon a time, in 2008, an Alabama Democrat named Parker Griffith ran for the U.S. House of Representatives. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), a national party organization tasked with electing more Democrats to the U.S. House, spent over $1 million to help him. He won in November 2008.

Less than a year into office, in December 2009, lured by D.C. Republican leaders making false promises and facing a stiff challenge from a Republican candidate, Congressman Griffith abruptly switched parties and joined the Republican primary. Almost his entire Congressional staff, all the way down to the Washington intern, quit in protest. Key members of his re-election team bailed too.

(The DCCC formally requested their money back, but I don’t think that happened. Incidentally, Parker Griffith’s party switching, followed immediately by the DCCC doubling down on the soon-to-be-failed candidacy of ultra-conservative and dubiously-Democratic Alabama Congressman Bobby Bright, is why I stopped donating to the DCCC. They demonstrated a lack of vetting and a poor assessment of dollar allocation, in my opinion.)

In June 2010, Madison County Commissioner Mo Brooks resoundingly won the Republican primary against the newly-Republican incumbent, Parker Griffith, because Republican activists in the district refused to back the D.C. leadership in rewarding the switch. Brooks is now a member of Congress.

Three and a half years later (today), on the last day to do so, Griffith qualified* to run for Governor of Alabama in the … wait for it … Democratic Primary in June.

Should voters trust him?

Look, a lot of southern Democrats switched to the Republican Party starting in the late 1960s. Many had terrible, racist reasons for doing so, but they were longtime incumbents switching parties so they could stand by their convictions, however objectionable. At least that meant voters clearly knew where they stood. But, at any rate, the last big wave of reasonably sincere party-switching by Democrats was in the mid-1990s and most of them were re-elected easily — or even switched after being re-elected.

Parker Griffith was a freshman Congressman who switched parties because he was afraid he would lose. He had no convictions of being a conservative Republican — or else he would have run as one the first time — and he clearly had no convictions of being a Democrat — or he wouldn’t have left. His switch back to the Democrats makes both of those points clearer than ever.

I don’t live in his district or state but I’m still mad at him for switching parties in 2009 and voting against Democratic bills. Alabama Democrats shouldn’t — and probably won’t — trust him in this upcoming primary. He stands for nothing but himself. And who knows who that really is.

Plus, is he even committed to anything — including running for office? As summarized in a tweet by Alabama state government news reporter Mike Cason, despite throwing his hat in the ring…

Parker Griffith says he still has not made up his mind about his election plans. Discussing it with his wife outside Democrats’ office.


*For clarification, qualifying is similar to filing to run except a bit more intensive in Alabama, because “To qualify for elected office in Alabama, candidates must file documents with several entities: the Alabama Democratic Party (or local County Chair), the Alabama Ethics Commission, the Alabama Secretary of State or Probate Judge, and the IRS.”

Colorado: The return of Ken Buck

Hey, will you look at that: Failed 2010 Republican Senate nominee for Colorado, Ken Buck, is back again to seek the state’s other seat in 2014. He’s off to a very strong start with a puzzling (yet, predictably offensive) comparison between a woman’s pregnancy and his experience battling cancer, as a way to express his opposition to a woman having a say in her personal health.

Yes, I am pro-life. While I understand a woman wants to be in control of her body — it’s certainly the feeling that I had when I was a cancer patient, I wanted to be in control of the decisions that were made concerning my body — there is another fundamental issue at stake. And that’s the life of the unborn child.

This dismissive attitude toward women’s decision-making abilities is absolutely in line with his past views from the 2010 cycle. It also reminds us of his “prosecutor’s discretion” decision not to charge a rapist on the horrid “grounds” that the survivor, who had been asleep, must have just made a bad call and regretted it, even though the rapist also admitted lack of consent. (More on that here.)

That all added up to Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund dropping over $800k in Colorado to run this ad in October 2010…

If Ken Buck wins the GOP nomination in Colorado, that’s probably for the best from a Democratic perspective, given that anti-woman comments like this latest cancer comparison were what helped him lose an easy race to an unelected no-name appointee. Here’s the text from my 11/3/10 post at Starboard Broadside:

Against the odds, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Col., appointed 2009) has pulled off an upset to win his bid for a six-year term against DA Ken Buck, the tea-party favorite who had led the former Denver Public Schools superintendent for months in the polling. The Associated Press has called the race for Bennet with 97.2% of the vote reported, as Bennet leads by 15,444 votes. Buck has not conceded yet.

Bennet began pulling even in recent weeks as more revelations about Buck’s views on rape, abortion, and women came to light. Bennet’s hard-hitting response combined with independent expenditures against Buck by women’s groups helped derail Buck’s campaign. This was a critical hold for Democrats, as in nearby Nevada, where Harry Reid also won a major upset to retain his seat. On a night where the Democrats lost Obama’s old seat in Illinois, it would have been yet another embarrassment for the President to lose Colorado, since Bennet only occupies the seat because President Obama appointed Sen. Ken Salazar (D) to serve as Interior Secretary in his administration.


This time, if nominated again, Buck would be up against an elected incumbent with very high name recognition — Senator Mark Udall.

Oh, and I haven’t even gotten into Ken Buck’s views on education. But I guess I have to end this post somewhere before it just becomes an exercise in telling someone about that nightmare you had last night.

American Indian law under siege by anti-Sharia movement

Remember that Oklahoma ballot proposition we covered after the election, which “thwarted” the “creeping” Islamic Sharia law in the state? Well, we knew it was ignorant and damaging before, but it appears it didn’t just take out the ten commandments as collateral damage, but was so broad and vague that it may have taken out Indian tribal law too, which is a serious problem in Oklahoma. Joan McCarter:

This law obviously makes Oklahoma feel like hostile territory for Muslim Americans. It also makes it potentially hostile territory for the very first nations to populate the land that is now Oklahoma.

Oklahoma has the second largest population of Native Americans in the U.S and law experts like Oklahoma University law professor Taiawagi Helton point out that language in the law banning courts from looking at “legal precepts of other nations or cultures” could pose a problem if applied to tribal legal cases, as the tribes are considered sovereign nations. In fact, the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission released an official memo on October 20 explaining how the “lack of specific tribal law language” could “damage the sovereignty of all Oklahoma tribes” and “starkly reminds [the Commission] that some Oklahoma lawmakers forgot that our nation and state were built on the principles, blood, and back of other nations and cultures, namely, ou[r] tribes”

A perfect example of the consequences of voting out of fear. […] A federal judge has granted a temporary order blocking the ban from taking effect. A hearing on the amendment will be held on November 22.

Oops. Good thing that “activist” judge thwarted the thwarting of Sharia, though.

It would be fascinating if this gets litigated up to the U.S. Supreme Court, since the whole controversy over the use of “legal precepts of other nations or cultures” stems from a couple Supreme Court rulings by Justice Anthony Kennedy, in which he referenced (but did not rule on the basis of) international laws and norms for comparison. In the intervening years since the controversy erupted, he has shifted dramatically back toward the right, under the divided and partisan Roberts court, and would probably be unlikely to rule against the proposition, although he could surprise.

This post originally appeared at Starboard Broadside.

Creeping Sharia: Thwarted!

Not that it was actually a problem or even a potentially impending problem, but Oklahoma’s voters decided Tuesday to be really proactive and ban Sharia law (or its application or legal citation of it) in the state. There are maybe 15,000 Muslims in the state right now, and as Saleem Quraishi, the President of the American Muslim Association of Oklahoma City, put it, “What’s Sharia law have to do with Oklahoma?”

Nevertheless, freaked-out right-wing Christian legislators wrote up a ballot question on it this year, asking voters to “amend a state constitution section dealing with the state courts, making them ‘rely on federal and state law when deciding cases, forbidding them ‘from considering or using international law’ and ‘from considering or using Sharia Law,'” according to CNN. International law being referenced in the courts has been a boogeyman of the past twenty years after a few Supreme Court cases made passing comparisons to European case law and statutes on issues such as the death penalty for minors, but with Islamophobia reach a fevered pitch in recent years, “Sharia law” as it is only vaguely understood has become the most well-known subcategory of laws from outside ‘MURICA.

Newt Gingrich and others have recently grandstanded about their opposition to attempted imposition of Sharia law in the United States, as if it were in the process of happening here already. It’s not. Former CIA Director James Woolsey of Oklahoma campaigned for the message saying in a radio ad:

“We must realize there is a major campaign in Europe to impose Sharia law and Sharia is beginning to be cited in a few U.S courts. It is completely incompatible with our Constitution.”

Again, basically made-up.

The other big problem is that voters have very little idea what Sharia law actually is. The ballot question just vaguely said it had to do with the Koran and Mohammed, but didn’t go into specifics. Many people think of the more extreme, medieval parts of Sharia law (e.g. stoning or flogging people), which tend only to be enforced in especially reactionary areas of the world, such as Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan under the Taliban. But there are other parts that are much more important such as special laws about business arrangements and financing — Sharia prevents making loans with interest, since the system was first developed in a zero-inflation economy that made interest automatically usurious, so there are complex workarounds for financing everything from car loans to Dubai skyscrapers — and these legal components must be followed for American businesses to operate in and partner with many predominantly Muslim countries today.

Legal experts say the ballot question, which was approved this week, thus banning Sharia in Oklahoma, is a disaster, between its business implications and its constitutional implications:

For months, legal experts had lambasted the initiative as biased toward a religion and potentially harmful to local businesses that engage in commerce with international companies. It also presents potential constitutional law problems, experts say. Is Oklahoma’s state constitution now in direct conflict with the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion … “?

There has never been a previous case in the state in which Sharia law was applied, said Rick Tepker, the first member of the University of Oklahoma School of Law faculty to try a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Tepker called the passage of the measure “a mess” with implications unknown until a case that challenges it arises.

“Many of us who understand the law are scratching our heads this morning, laughing so we don’t cry,” he said. “I would like to see Oklahoma politicians explain if this means that the courts can no longer consider the Ten Commandments. Isn’t that a precept of another culture and another nation? The result of this is that judges aren’t going to know when and how they can look at sources of American law that were international law in origin.”

Businesses that engage with international companies may also find the ban is a stumbling block, Tepker said.

The main sponsor of the bill admitted that there was actually no evidence to date that Sharia had many any inroads whatsoever in the state of Oklahoma. But it’s the Republican target du jour, so it had to be done, I guess.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

This is misogyny.

What’s the function of a district attorney? Because I’m really naive. I had some silly ideas about them enforcing the law and providing justice and representing the oppressed. And I know I’m an idealist, but THAT IS HOW IT SHOULD WORK.

In my crazy pipe-dream of a world, a rape survivor could go into the DA’s office, list the facts, say, “Let’s take this criminal down,” and get a “Heck yeah!” of agreement from the DA.

But prosecuting rape is absurd to Ken Buck, who is running for senator for Colorado (guess which party!).

In 2005, while serving as District Attorney for Weld County, Buck shot down a rape survivor’s request to prosecute her attacker. But it did not go undocumented; she taped the interaction. Even though the record showed that she was asleep when raped, and that her attacker admitted she’d said no, Buck claimed, “you never said the word yes, but the appearance is of consent.”

Later in the discussion, he declares:

There is contradictory evidence over consent. The act of inviting him, appear to be consensual acts, then there are statements that appear to be indicate that there wasn’t consent. That conflict is the conflict that doesn’t give us the proof beyond reasonable doubt.

Let’s make something clear. There’s no such thing as “contradictory evidence” over consent. If someone says no, it’s rape. It doesn’t matter if they were invited in. It doesn’t matter if the two people dated earlier. It doesn’t matter if they made out. No means no. And if it’s not an enthusiastic “Yes!” then you STILL might want to look over what the situation is.

And having sex with someone who’s unconscious is pretty unequivocal rape even by society’s ridiculous victim-blaming standards.

Yeah, um, Colorado… can you NOT elect this guy? Please?

This post was originally published on Starboard Broadside.