Thursday, April 8, 2021

Lessons from Georgia's hot mess -- April 8, 2021 column


It’s fair to say Georgia’s rush to approve a restrictive new election law didn’t go the way Republican proponents hoped.

Predicated on the lie that the 2020 election in Georgia was riddled with fraud, the 98-page Election Integrity Act includes 16 key provisions a New York Times analysis found “will limit ballot access, potentially confuse voters and give more power to Republican lawmakers.”

Reactions were swift and harsh. President Joe Biden attacked the law as “Jim Crow in the 21st” century, and four lawsuits are challenging the law as discriminatory against people of color.

Major League Baseball pulled the All-Star Game from Atlanta, delivering an early verdict on lawmakers’ intentions and potentially costing the state $100 million in lost revenue.

Moving the game to Denver will hurt most the people in Atlanta who are already suffering in the pandemic economy -- small business owners and the workers who rely on low-paying jobs in the tourist industry.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s stubborn response that other states’ voting laws are as bad as, or worse than, Georgia’s is childish and embarrassing.

Ditto Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s ham-handed threat this week to corporations to shut up about policy issues.

“Stay out of politics,” he warned on Tuesday, only to reverse himself on Wednesday.

But if Georgia GOP lawmakers thought their hot mess of a law would befuddle and silence enough urban voters to make a difference in close elections, they weren’t taking into account Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

Bottoms showed strategic leadership Tuesday with an administrative order directing the city’s equity office to develop a plan to mitigate the new law’s effects.

“This administrative order is designed to do what those in the majority in the state legislature did not – expand our right to vote,” she said.

A mayor can’t undo what the legislature and governor have done, but she can take actions they should have: help voters prepare for future elections.

Her order includes measures to train city staff on voter registration and on early, absentee and in-person voting so they can communicate the changes to residents. It also directs the city to educate residents on how to obtain the forms of ID now required for absentee voting and to include QR codes and links regarding voter registration and absentee voting in water bills and other mailings.

Surely, we can all agree that when a state changes election rules, it has a responsibility to inform voters about those changes, so that eligible voters can indeed cast ballots.

Sadly, no. There’s no indication Georgia plans to educate voters or help them more easily comply with the law’s provisions. Meanwhile, the GOP disinformation campaign with unproven allegations about election fraud continues.

Six in 10 Republican voters believe the 2020 election was “stolen” from Donald Trump, and the same proportion say he should run again in 2024, a new Reuters/IPSOS poll reports. 

The former president continues to harp on “massive fraud” in the election, sowing distrust in the voting system. After multiple ballot recounts, investigations and court cases found no widespread voter fraud anywhere in 2020, this deliberate and willful ignoring of facts is appalling.

But lawmakers in more than 40 states, feeling pressure to do something, have introduced more than 361 bills to limit ballot access. About 55 bills are moving forward, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonprofit policy institute that tracks voting rights.

Texas and Arizona are poised to pass restrictive laws, although what effect the laws may have is uncertain.

Georgia’s new law could have been worse. It will suppress the vote by making it harder for people to vote absentee and offering fewer ballot drop boxes, but Sunday voting was preserved.

And the GOP effort could backfire if new laws motivate voters to go to the polls in even greater numbers for gubernatorial and congressional midterm elections in 2022.

A coalition of more than 200 companies, including such giants as Dow, Twitter, Paypal and Uber, recently spoke out in favor of voting rights. Their voices are welcome, but it’s time to act.

The companies should join with state and local groups to spread the word about what the new laws entail, so eligible voters can indeed

 prepare for casting their ballots. Our elections need all of us, and we all need fair elections.

©2021 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


Thursday, April 1, 2021

How Biden gets infrastructure plan on track -- April 1, 2021 column


When President Joe Biden unveiled Wednesday his roughly $2 trillion infrastructure plan, both the political right and the left came out swinging.

“It’s like a Trojan horse,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said, complaining of “more borrowing and massive tax increases on all the productive parts of our economy.”

“This is not nearly enough,” tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, adding Biden’s plan “needs to be way bigger.” She and other progressives floated the need for an infrastructure plan five times larger than Biden’s.

Biden finally found the sweet spot of bipartisanship – and it is against his sweeping American Jobs Plan.

That’s not all bad. Infrastructure should and perhaps still can be a bipartisan issue.

Nearly everyone agrees the nation’s roads, bridges, railways, airports and waterways need updating and expanding, but how to pay for improvements is the perennial sticking point.

Biden says his bigger, bolder plan pays for itself with – here’s the stick -- higher corporate taxes over 15 years.

The carrot is an array of proposals offering something for nearly every American.

“It’s not a plan that tinkers around the edges. It’s a once in a generation investment in America” that, Biden said, will create millions of jobs and put the United States on a secure environmental and competitive footing for the future.

The plan would remake the economy, revamp transportation and fight climate change and racial inequity. It would redo sewer systems, install a nationwide network of electrical charging stations, give tax incentives for purchases of electric cars, expand broadband access and at-home healthcare, and empower more workers with collective bargaining rights.

And that’s just part of what’s in part one.

Part two – the American Families Plan – is expected shortly. It likely will include paid family leave and other popular benefits.

But nothing happens unless Congress approves. Biden is betting he can capture the imagination of people beyond the Beltway and turn his vision into legislation in even the fiercely partisan Capitol.

“We just have to imagine again,” he said.

“Imagine what we can do, what’s within our reach if we modernize those highways. Your family could travel coast to coast without a single tank of gas, on board a high-speed train. We can connect high-speed, affordable, reliable internet wherever you live.

“Imagine knowing that you are handing your children and grandchildren a country that will lead the world in producing clean energy technology . . . That’s what we’ll do.”

It’s an appealing, hopeful vision at a time when Americans need something to believe in and look forward to. But Biden needs to do more than paint pretty pictures.

He needs convince people government can work again and enough members of both parties to come together for the greater good.

A tall order. Biden proposes to raise the top corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%. That’s still less than the 35% it was before the last administration and Republicans in Congress lowered the corporate rate to 21% in 2017. He also would raise other corporate taxes to keep companies from moving overseas.

To pay for the coming American Families Plan, he said he would raise taxes only on individuals making more than $400,000 a year, not the middle class.

Big business favors traditional infrastructure improvements but solidly opposes corporate tax increases. Some congressional Democrats insist they won’t support a package unless it eliminates the $10,000 cap imposed during the last administration on individual tax deductions for state and local taxes.

Biden says he will consider and should other ways of paying. The pricetag for his two infrastructure plans is likely to total an eye-popping $4 trillion.

The Capitol is already suffering from “spending fatigue” after the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, paid for wholly through borrowing, that Democrats passed and Biden signed in February.

In Biden’s favor are widespread public support for his policies, polls show, and his optimistic vision.

“We have to move now, because I’m convinced that if we act now, in 50 years, people are going to look back and say this was the moment that America won the future,” he said.

Biden’s legacy hinges on his negotiating skills. He needs to compromise on aspects of the plan and persuade congressional Republicans and Democrats it’s worthwhile to go along.

If he succeeds, this president will lead the country in a cleaner, greener direction. If he fails, his ambitious plan becomes a marker for 2022 and 2024, and it’s more politics as usual.

©2021 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.