By prioritizing the “For the People Act,” Democrats show they get that voting rights are even more popular than legal weed.
Mitch McConnell knows how he got away with it.
The Senate Majority Leader led GOP efforts to swipe a Supreme Court seat from Merrick Garland. He killed a bipartisan effort to call out Russian attacks on the 2016 elections. While Paul Ryan hemmed and hawed, McConnell did everything he could to help Donald Trump could win the White House while losing the popular vote by almost 3 million votes.
These invidious assaults on democracy were enabled by an imperfect storm of improper influence from rogues ranging from Jim Comey to Roger Stone to Konstantin Kilimnik. But McConnell knows that the election wouldn’t have been close enough to be decided in the margins if not for the GOP’s masterful efforts to make voting harder and buying elections easier.
Call it “The Long Game,” since that’s what McConnell called his 2016 memoir. And the effect of this game is to roll back the power of the rapid expansion of the vote that began in the Civil Rights Era and resulted in the election of Barack Obama.
In the last decade, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court has erased almost all restrictions on campaign finance, allowing corporations and individuals to anonymously spend unlimited, untraceable amounts of money to elect candidates. Meanwhile, red states and key purple states, including Wisconsin and North Carolina, have implemented “hundreds of harsh measures making it harder to vote,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice.”
With their new House majority, Democrats can finally fight back against this game.
Simply put: this is “the most important civil rights bill of the last half century,” as Larry Lessig wrote. (I’d add “besides the Americans with Disabilities Act.”)
It’s like an Avengers of heroic measures designed to reverse the corruption of the system by big money. It’s Mitch McConnell’s worst nightmare and forms a defining argument that unites the entire Democratic Party.
The bill’s first part is the greatest expansion of the right to vote since 1965. This includes a slew of national automatic registration, independent redistricting commissions to end gerrymandering abuses, and a national holiday on Election Day.
The next part of H.R. 1 is my favorite—and, I like to think, Mitch McConnell’s least favorite—reforms campaign finance and implements a simple reform that could transform our politics. It creates “a new small-donor matching system to encourage congressional candidates to rely on public financing instead of large donors, so that every $100 raised would trigger $600 in matching public funds,” according to Ari Berman.
Finally, the bill demands the bare minimums to avoid obvious conflicts in elected officials. It mandates the release of tax returns by presidential and vice-presidential candidates and bars members of Congress from serving on corporate boards.
While this bill has easily passed the House, it now hits a Mitch McConnell-sized roadblock.
Mitch McConnell has called H.R. 1’s common sense reforms a “power grab” because it is—for voters. He’ so scared of H.R. 1 that he won’t even put it up for a vote in the Senate, unlike the Green New Deal, which he seems to relishing the chance to give Republican Senators a chance to debate.
McConnell still claims to think voting for this bill is bad politics for Democrats. But, as Adam Smith noted in his excellent newsletter, “Because as we all know, if there’s one thing McConnell won’t do, it’s use the levers of power when he thinks it’ll hurt a political opponent.”
The stench of fear emanating from McConnell and big money pals is based in reality.
Last fall in Michigan, the state Donald Trump won by his slimmest margin in 2016, one proposal that expanded voting rights with automatic registration and another took on gerrymandering. Both passed with “Yes” getting 20% more votes than “No”—making both far more popular than marijuana legalization, which was also on the ballot and easily won.
Yes, voting rights are more popular than weed.
H.R. #1 build on what I call the Michigan Plan for Rebuilding Democracy, which helped Democrats sweep Republicans out statewide office in 2018:
- Expand the vote to make voting as accessible as possible.
- Reform the system so voters pick their representatives not other way around.
- Legalize weed and nominate a bunch of great women.
Reforms like these are sweeping state after state despite being opposed by the most powerful monied interests in the country.Democrats understand how popular and necessary these proposals are, which is why they’re adopting them nationally and building on them.
Democrats understand that a multi-year fight will be required for any hope of this bill becoming law, but they should relish that fight. Fixing our political system should be the defining issue for Democrats as we approach the 2020 House and Senate campaign not just because it unites party, but because fixing our broken political system is the only issue.
As big money has polluted our politics, inequality has skyrocketed and modest efforts to fight the destruction of our climates floundered to the point that clouds — clouds! — could disappear in your kids’ lifetime. Now as Democrats recognize that pushing Mitt Romney’s health care policy and John McCain’s climate policy only made the GOP less willing to compromise, they’re aiming for bold expansions of the safety net for health care, child care along with moonshot approaches to fight carbon pollution.
None of that is going to be possible without turning the small-dollar donation revolution that helped push Democrats to the largest House midterm win American history into an unprecedented explosion of voting engagement and political reform.
This means killing off the anti-majoritarian flaws of our democracy by ending the filibuster, offering statehood to Washington DC and Puerto Rico and then axing our most enduring monument to slaveholders—the Electoral College.
Because if our democracy were to start working the way it could, Mitch McConnell knows his game is over.
[Photo by Gage Skidmore | Flickr]