Crawford For Congress Platform — Leveling The Electoral Playing Field — Part 2
In my first piece, I provided evidence that the rising trend of economic inequality is hurting working families and is the biggest challenge of our time. I outlined four progressive measures that would grow the middle class and ensure health care security for all Americans. However, it’s not enough to re-write the economic rules to prioritize the middle class — we must also change how we conduct our elections because the current electoral system is heavily weighted in favor of the top 1% and the special interests.
The origin of the rigging of the electoral rules goes all the way back to the Lewis Powell memo in 1971. At the time, the future Supreme Court Justice was a corporate attorney in private practice. Powell alleged that the “American economic system was under attack” and called upon big business to increase its political involvement. In reality, the top 1% and corporations were alarmed at the rising influence of the middle class and working families — and wanted a return to the pre-New Deal social and economic order.
Perhaps the top priority for the top 1% after the release of the Powell memo was to break up America’s labor unions. Beginning in the Reagan Administration, big business and the Republicans launched an all out assault on the unions. Due to these attacks, union membership has declined from a peak of 30% in 1960 to approximately 11% today.
The economic impact of this decline in union membership is disturbing. We have seen an economically stagnant middle class, a steady reduction of job-related health and retirement benefits and ever rising economic inequality. When labor was at its numerical peak around 1960, the wealthiest 10% earned 33% of the nation’s income. By 2007, with the labor movement greatly diminished, the wealthiest 10% grabbed 50% of the nation’s income.
What is little mentioned is that this decline in union membership has not only had an impact on the earning power of working families, it has also diminished their right to participate in the political process and act as a check and balance on big business. In the past, unions played a much bigger role in funding campaigns, educating the voters and turning out people at the polls. Due to this huge drop in membership, the political clout of the middle class has taken a big hit.
In order to level the electoral playing field, we need labor law reform to restore the lost influence of the middle class. We can achieve that by passing laws that make it easier for working people to form up unions in the first place. The present system is broken and greatly favors management. Corporations routinely use terminations and threats of termination to snuff out union organizing activities.
In order to strengthen the middle class, we must pass the Employee Free Choice Act. This common sense reform would allow the recognition of a union if a majority of employees sign cards indicating that they wish that the union represent them. Moreover, this proposal would stiffen the penalties on companies who threaten — or terminate — workers for engaging in union activities.
The political power of working families has also been diminished by the passage of voter identification laws in approximately 31 states. Nine of these states have what are regarded to be strict voter ID laws. These laws were passed to help Republicans win elections by making it harder for minorities, senior citizens and young people to vote.
Some Republican elected officials have candidly admitted that the laws were passed to help Republicans win elections. Federal courts have struck down voter ID laws in Texas and North Carolina on racial grounds. Legislators in those states illegally relied upon race to structure these laws to depress turnout among voters who aren’t Republicans.
The false rationale advanced by the GOP to justify these partisan and discriminatory laws is that there is an epidemic of voter fraud in the U.S. The reality is that voter fraud is virtually non-existent. The Bush Administration conducted a five year investigation of alleged voter fraud and found virtually no evidence of any efforts to influence elections. A 2014 study by Loyola Law School found only 31 incidents of in-person voter fraud since 2000 out of 1 billion ballots cast. In the 2016 election cycle, there were only four reported cases of in-person voter fraud out of 135 million ballots cast.
The five GOP appointees on the U.S. Supreme Court further opened the door to these voter ID laws when they voted to gut the Voting Rights Act in 2013. Since that decision, several states — including the battleground states of Wisconsin and North Carolina — passed strict voter ID laws. Several experts have said that those voter ID laws in Wisconsin and North Carolina enabled Trump to carry those states in 2016.
In order to reverse this tide of partisan discrimination at the polls and to level the playing field, the Congress must pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA.) This bill would reverse the 2013 Supreme Court decision and restore the right to vote guaranteed by the 15th Amendment. This bill has had bi-partisan support in previous Congresses. Unfortunately, Jeff Fortenberry wasn’t one of the co-sponsors. I would vigorously support the VRAA as a member of Congress.
The five member “conservative” majority also put their thumb on scale for the top 1% in their now infamous Citizens United decision in 2010. Since that decision, reactionary billionaires have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into elections up and down the ballot to elect Republicans who will enact their agenda.
The results of Citizens United have been profound. We now have an executive branch and a GOP majority in Congress who are beholden to the likes of the Koch brothers. The early legislative “achievements” and priorities of Trump and the GOP led Congress reflect the influence of these reactionary billionaires.
The Congress passed legislation to allow coal companies to dump waste in rivers and to allow internet service providers to sell our browsing history. In addition to that, the Trump Care bill would finance a $600 billion tax cut for the rich by taking away insurance from 24 million people. We are truly living in a new Gilded Age.
As a member of Congress, I would support a Constitutional Amendment to reverse the Citizens United decision. It’s time for us to get rid of unaccountable, dark money in politics. This would diminish the influence of the special interests and empower the middle class.
My Positive Progressive platform on electoral reform would level the playing field and put the middle class first. We will not be able to reduce this long standing trend of economic inequality unless we change the current rigged electoral system. The present rules are no accident. This was something that has been planned and carried out by the special interests for over 45 years.
If we are to enact these reforms, we must increase our activism. All of us must first commit to voting — but that isn’t enough. We must also be willing to make contributions, man phone banks and knock on doors. We will not have an era of Progressive reform in the absence of increased activism.
This is a fight for our state and country’s future. We can start by flipping the House in 2018 and creating a necessary check and balance on the radical right. We can do it! Let’s get it done!