Republican Cruelty, Democratic Passivity, and What the Lack of Flint Funding Can Tell Us about the Trump Years

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In just two days, it will be December, and Flint still hasn’t gotten funding from the federal government to address its water crisis.

The water crisis dates back to April 2014, and it was back in January when the cases of Legionnaires’ disease got media attention. Flint still doesn’t have clean water, an indictment of our political system—both Republican cruelty and Democratic passivity.

No story about Flint should go without recognition of the role of Republican Governor Rick Snyder (someone who seems to reach an almost cartoon-villain level of callousness) and his administration, but I want to focus on Congressional politics here.

Back in February, Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters of Michigan attempted to secure $600 million for Flint, including $400 million to match state funds to repair and replace old pipes in the city (the rest going to a research and education center on lead poisoning), via the Energy Policy Modernization Act. Most of the Senate Democratic Caucus blocked the cloture votes on the bill in order to demand funding for Flint. Republicans did not oblige, and when the bill came back up two months later, Stabenow and Democrats dropped their opposition.

Flint funding came back into the spotlight in September. On September 15, the Senate passed the Water Resources Development Act, which authorized $270 million to help Flint and other cities ($220 million specifically for Flint). Republicans demanded that this expenditure be “paid for,” leading to a $300 million cut in Energy Department research on advanced vehicle technology. WRDA-authorized projects were subject to future appropriations, but the Flint funding was designed to go into effect immediately.

However, that $270 million was not in the House version of WRDA, and the Continuing Resolution that had to be passed by the end of the month in order to keep the government funded offered an immediate opportunity to secure funding for Flint.

Republicans, of course, had no problem attaching $500 million in flood relief money for Louisiana (with no offset). But Louisiana has two Republican senators, and the flood-stricken area was represented by Republicans as well. Michigan has two Democratic senators, and Flint is in a Democratic district. Funny how that works.

After initial demands that Flint funding be in the CR, Democrats agreed to concede, provided that House Republicans set up an amendment vote to the WRDA to include Flint funding–but now only $170 million.

On September 28, the Senate voted for the Flint-less CR 72-26. (Tim Kaine and Bernie Sanders were both not present because they were on the campaign trail for Clinton.)

Of the 26 NO votes, 12 were Democrats:

Cory Booker (D-NJ)
Al Franken (D-MN)
Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
Pat Leahy (D-VT)
Ed Markey (D-MA)
Bob Menendez (D-NJ)
Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Gary Peters (D-MI)
Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Ron Wyden (D-OR)

The Republicans who voted NO certainly didn’t do so out of concern for Flint. Did the Democrats? Five of them made this clear in their press releases on the vote.

Bob Menendez:

While I’m pleased that the final continuing resolution keeps our government running and provides much-needed funding to address the Zika public health crisis, I could not in good conscience vote for legislation that ignores the plight of 100,000 Americans living in Flint who were poisoned by their water supply, and also includes a measure that prohibits the government from lifting the veil on corporate political contributions.

 

Jeff Merkley:

While I’m encouraged that the House leadership has committed to providing aid to assist Flint with its lead contamination disaster, there is still no reason why that aid should not be funded immediately—just like the aid for Louisiana flood victims—rather than having to wait until after the election. Flint families have already been living with dangerously contaminated water for two years, and they should not have to wait a day longer for help. Geography, race, and partisan politics should never determine disaster assistance, and it’s wrong to help out the victims of one disaster while telling others that they must continue to wait at the back of the line.

 

Gary Peters:

“But these fully paid-for Flint resources were put on hold while disaster relief for flooding victims in Louisiana was included. I support helping people in Louisiana during their crisis, but we should not pick and choose to help some states and not others.

 

“I could not support a government spending bill that will – once again – force the citizens of Flint to wait on the help they so desperately need.

 

“It is unacceptable that the bipartisan, fully-offset Flint aid package was left out. There is no excuse for leaving the people of Flint behind.

 

“It has been a year since the first public health emergency declaration in Flint, and over eight months since a national emergency was declared. Yet almost 100,000 residents of Flint still do not have a reliable source of safe water. They are still using bottled to water to drink, to cook, and to bathe.

 

Debbie Stabenow:

Earlier this week, the House refused to take any action to help the people of Flint. After last night’s negotiations, we now have a path forward to finally pass the Water Resources Development Act with long-awaited assistance for Flint.  It is critical that the House echo the strong bipartisan support that we saw for WRDA in the Senate and that action happen as soon as possible for the people of Flint.  My position on the government funding bill remains the same: I will vote no on any CR that does not treat communities equally.  It is wrong to ask families in Flint to wait at the back of the line again.

 

Elizabeth Warren:

Is this what we have come to? Is this what politics has become? There are 100,000 people in Flint, a town where more than half the residents are African-American and nearly half live in poverty. They get nothing because voters sent two Democrats to the Senate?This is not a game. Flint is not a Democratic city or a Republican city; it is an American city. The children who have been poisoned are American children. The principle of standing up for those in need is an American principle.

 

I am a Democratic Senator from Massachusetts, but I will help the Republican Senators from Louisiana. I stand shoulder to shoulder with them in their hour of need, but I am sick and tired–I am past sick and tired–of Republican Senators who come here and demand Federal funding when their communities are hit by a crisis but block help when other States need it. Their philosophy screams, “I want mine, but the rest of you are on your own.” It is ugly, un-American, and just plain wrong.

 

We must stand with the Senators from Michigan. We must stand with the children of Flint, and we must put aside ugly partisanship that is literally poisoning a town full of American families. Any Member of the House or Senate who doesn’t stand with them lacks the moral courage to serve in this Congress.

 

Merkley, Menendez, and Warren also highlighted their opposition to a Republican rider that would block the SEC from developing, proposing, issuing, finalizing, or implementing a rule requiring public companies to disclose political spending to their own shareholders. Ron Wyden highlighted the rule as his grounds for opposition as well.

Later that day, the House passed its Flint funding amendment 284-141, the amended WRDA 399 to 25, and the Flint-less CR 342 to 85.

Only 10 Democrats voted against the CR:

Earl Blumenauer (OR-03)
John Conyers (MI-13)
Pete DeFazio (OR-04)
Debbie Dingell (MI-12)
Keith Ellison (MN-05)
Dan Kildee (MI-05)
Brenda Lawrence (MI-14)
Sandy Levin (MI-09)
Jim McDermott (WA-07)
Maxine Waters (CA-43)

The Michigan delegation voted against the CR because of the lack of Flint funding. DeFazio, Ellison, McDermott, and Waters did not issue press releases about their opposition. Blumenauer opposed it because Republicans had blocked a provision of his to make it easier for veterans to acquire medical marijuana across state lines.

The WRDA, along with the Flint funding promise, is now awaiting a conference, with just over a month left in the Congressional session. And Flint still doesn’t have clean water.

This history should prove concerning as we look ahead to the years of a Trump presidency and Republican-controlled House and Senate. Democrats give up their demands quite easily and are willing to vote for Continuing Resolutions to keep the government funded despite whatever riders Republicans put into them. Republican cruelty and Democratic passivity are a toxic mix. I’ll talk more about this dynamic in another post later this week.

Detroit Mayor retakes control of water department

Detroit’s unelected Emergency Manager Keyvn Orr has returned authority over the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and its board of commissioners to the Office of the Mayor, which immediately announced plans to drastically scale back the aggressive water shutoffs and approach missing payments more humanely. This is a crucial victory for activists fighting the UN-condemned shutoffs, after more than 14,000 homes lost their water access in the past several months.

Water officials began an aggressive shut off campaign in March, disconnecting 500 customers that month. More than 3,000 lost service in April and about 4,500 in May.

The shutoffs topped 7,200 in June and the water department collected $800,000 last month compared to about $150,000 in June 2013.
[…]
Mayor Mike Duggan has said water department officials could have been more sensitive in how they handled delinquent bills and the increased shutoffs. He promised Tuesday to have a “new plan shortly” on how to deal with the issue.

“I’ve heard complaints from many Detroiters who are trying to make payment arrangements, but who have faced long waits on the telephone or long lines at the DWSD offices,” Duggan said. “We’ve got to do a much better job of supporting those who are trying to do the right thing in making those payment arrangements.”

 
Previous Arsenal For Democracy coverage of this story can be found here.

Detroit still shutting off water to poor families

In a deeply wrong-headed and immoral approach to close a budget gap, the water authority for the City of Detroit is still shutting off thousands of households’ public water access, claiming they have not paid up. In many cases the landlords have not paid through the rent contribution to the water bill, but either way, it’s reprehensible to shut off water to low-income families who are already barely scraping by. Now they can’t cook full meals, wash dishes, bathe, or stay hydrated. There’s no drought or natural disaster. It’s just budgetary.

We covered this crisis in depth on Arsenal For Democracy Episode 90
Part 2 – Bill and Persephone on Detroit Water Shutoffs:
Part 2 – Detroit – AFD 90

As an update, activists are now engaging in civil disobedience to try to halt the public water shutoffs, which have been condemned by the United Nations office for Human Rights.

See also: “Detroit’s Water Cutoffs: Counterproductive and Coldhearted” by Detroit-area U.S. Rep. John Conyers, on why this strategy makes no sense in addition to its basic cruelty.

July 2, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 90

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Topics: Buffer zones, search and seizure, recess appointments, and Detroit water shutoffs, plus Jameis Winston and the flaws of college athletics. People: Bill, Sasha, Persephone, Greg, Nate. Produced: June 28-30, 2014.

Discussion Points:

– Detroit begins shutting off water for thousands of poor people
– The Supreme Court rules against abortion clinic buffer zones
– The Supreme Court rules that cell phone searches require warrants
– The Supreme Court blocks President Obama’s unconstitutional recess appointments
– Is Jameis Winston everything that’s wrong with college athletics in America — but not the way people think?

Part 1 – Supreme Court:
Part 1 – Supreme Court – AFD 90
Part 2 – Detroit Water Shutoffs:
Part 2 – Detroit – AFD 90
Part 3 – Jameis Winston:
Part 3 – Jameis Winston – AFD 90

To get one file for the whole episode, we recommend using one of the subscribe links at the bottom of the post.

Related links
Segment 1

– Reuters: U.S. high court curbs state limits on abortion clinic protests
– AFD: Supreme Court says cell searches require warrants
Flashback to Salinas v. Texas (2013) on “right to remain silent”
– NYT: High Court Finds Against Obama in Recess Case
– Previous coverage on AFD Radio – Recess appointments case: AFD Ep 36 (Jan 29 2013)

Segment 2

– Detroit News: Groups seek UN aid for Detroit water shut-offs
– Rep. John Conyers: Detroit’s Water Cutoffs: Counterproductive and Coldhearted
– Michigan Radio: Welfare rights group backs UN criticism over Detroit water shutoffs
– CityLab: Outraged Canadians Report the Detroit Water Authority to the UN for Human-Rights Violations
– Michigan Live: U.N. panel calls Detroit water disconnection ‘violation of international human rights’

Segment 3

– Deadspin: Who Does Jameis Winston Think He Is—Joe Namath?
– Deadspin: FSU Athlete Explains Why Jameis Winston Allegedly Stole Food

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State of the Governors’ Races in 2014 (with charts & maps!)

There are a huge number of races for governor up for election this year (which is true of any midterm year since most states adopted four-year terms aligned with the non-presidential cycle). 36 states — almost three-quarters of the states — will be electing or re-electing governors in November of this year, as you can see on the map below:

U.S. state governorships by party (red=R, blue=D). Asterisks mark 2014 races (not capitals!)

U.S. state governorships by party (red=R, blue=D). Asterisks mark 2014 races (not capitals!)

That’s a lot to take in. All of New England, most of the Mountain West and the Plains States, and so on. 36 states are on the board, and Republicans won a lot of them in the 2010 wave, which puts them in a good position overall, given the power of incumbency. But how do we analyze the state of the races more logically and clearly?

In the chart below, I’ve broken it down in an easy-to-read list form, with the states listed in either the Democratic or Republican column, based on current occupant (there are currently no independents in the state governorships). There are boxes around the retiring or term-limited current governors.
governor-states-list

In that graphic, I’ve also put in italics the states that are most likely to be within reach. It’s not exhaustive, of course, just the likeliest. I based that determination — since I confess to being unable to keep up with all 36 races closely — on a) incumbent favorability from a year ago in the last Fivethirtyeight analysis I could find on the governors, and b) whether the voters have a solid preference for one party or the other in the governorship of their state.

In other words:

  • a very popular incumbent is very likely to be re-elected (if running)
  • a reasonably popular incumbent is pretty likely to be re-elected, even in a swing state
  • a very unpopular incumbent is relatively likely to lose if running even in a solid state and could flip the office by negative association even if not running
  • a state with a strong preference for one party in the governorship will likely not flip it to the other party whether or not the incumbent is running, even if quite unpopular
  • but a state with a tendency to swing (or to elect a governor opposite to its overall preference) is somewhat more likely to flip an open seat to the other party

It’s a bit subjective and un-statistical, but it’s a good way to break down the problem when there are 36 races to analyze and too much data to crunch without being Fivethirtyeight or the like.

Using that assessment system, I concluded that there is a relatively narrow set of races that are fairly likely to be competitive come November.

Democrats’ biggest vulnerabilities — in my eyes — are Illinois, Massachusetts, and Arkansas. Let’s take those one at a time.

  • Illinois: Gov. Pat Quinn (D) was an accidental governor elevated during the Blagojevich scandal. He won a very hard-fought race in 2010 to hold onto the office for his own full term. Now he is even more unpopular than he was in 2010, when he survived the Republican wave, and I don’t think the race is going well. That said, there’s very little recent data, and he’s come back from the brink once before.
  • Massachusetts: Democrat Deval Patrick hung on in a 3-way race in 2010 but is retiring. Runner-up Charlie Baker (R) has generally been campaigning strongly in his repeat effort, while Democrats have fragmented between terrible, uninspiring, and unheard-of candidates. On top of this, Massachusetts has had a string of moderate Republicans between Dukakis and Patrick, with voters often seeming to prefer the office to counterbalance the single-party rule of the Democratic legislature. Dems may still hang on — indeed, leading contender Martha Coakley is currently polling well ahead of Charlie Baker (which means very little given her past track record and sketchy Bay State polling histories) — but the seat is very vulnerable.
  • Arkansas: The state has Republican supermajorities in the legislature, has a term-limited Democratic Governor, Mike Beebe, who recently often seemed like the last Democratic oak standing in a Southern desert. The other windswept tree in the state, Sen. Mark Pryor, is in the political fight of his life right now. (I don’t have a good sense of how the Senate race will affect the governor’s race, if at all.) Dems seem to have a recruited a solid candidate to try to save the governorship, but it will be difficult. The RCP average has a close race, but the PPP poll within that average shows an 8 point advantage for the Republican.

Republicans’ biggest vulnerabilities — in my eyes — are Florida, Maine, Michigan and Pennsylvania. And now let’s take those one at a time:

  • Florida: Rick Scott (R) is a terrible and very unpopular governor. Republican-turned-Democratic former Gov. Charlie Crist, his opponent, is far more popular and is polling relatively far ahead. Maybe Scott turns this around, but probably not.
  • Maine: Paul LePage (R) is also a terrible and very unpopular governor, who is also (ideologically) a crazy person. He was only elected in a 3-way race in 2010, where the sane people made the mistake of splitting their votes between the other two candidates. Maine isn’t planning to repeat that mistake this year. Haha, just kidding: It’ll be a 3-way race again and probably a nail-biter to the end, between LePage and Congressman Mike Michaud (D). LePage is doing better (somehow) in polls more recently than he was for most of last year.
  • Michigan: I am of the opinion that Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has been a horrendous governor for Michigan. He was, last year, almost as unpopular as LePage was in Maine. Democrats have coalesced behind a solid recruit, a U.S. Congressman, Mark Schauer. Nevertheless, Snyder seems to be a good campaigner with a lot of powerful friends (i.e. interest groups) and a ruthless agenda that the tea partiers love. He’s doing well in the polling, unfortunately.
  • Pennsylvania: 2010 was a great year for Pennsylvania Republicans. However, Gov. Tom Corbett has been such a bad governor (and was dragged down further by the Penn State scandal) that he will probably be the first governor since the state allowed multiple terms in 1970 to lose re-election to a second term. These “unbroken precedents” in U.S. politics — most of which date back only as far as the 1970s — always tend get broken right after they’re declared ironclad. While researching this post, I saw some posts arguing that he will actually win. (Good fundraiser, incumbency precedent, his past big victories, past popularity before it tanked, etc.) But he’s trailing by high single digits in most polls at minimum and by double digits against several candidates in a lot of polls.

So there are about seven seats to watch right now. It might expand to 10 or drop to 5 as we get closer to November. My guess is that Republicans will lose a few of these seats — which isn’t surprising given how many they are defending — but will retain an overall edge and even pick up at least a couple. That basically means it’s probably going to be roughly a wash overall, without changing much nationally. I think that may be echoed in many of the other contests this year: Republicans will end up in about the same position they were when they started, but still ahead by a bit.