Local Democrats are counting on a planned statewide referendum on Senate Bill No. 5 to boost Democratic voter turnout this fall, and help restore the party's majority on Cincinnati City Council.
That was the message preached Thursday night by party leaders — along with Mayor Mark Mallory and three of the four Democratic incumbents — during a meeting of the Cincinnati Democratic Committee (CDC).
If his speeches and other comments are any indication, Martin Luther King Jr. would likely stand in sharp opposition to modern Ohio Republicans and many of their proposed policies.
In reviewing King’s work, speeches and quotes, it’s clear he was a progressive on a wide range of issues — from voting rights to collective bargaining rights to reproductive rights. In contrast, modern Republicans are doing their best to dilute such rights and scale back progressive causes on a host of other issues.
Given that it’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day, what better time to look back at some of King’s positions and analyze what they could mean in terms of today’s politics? Warning: The results might upset some Republicans.
On voting rights:
“So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote, I do not possess myself,” King said, according to PBS. “I cannot make up my mind — it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact — I can only submit to the edict of others.”
King and other civil rights activists saw the right
to vote as the most crucial stepping stone to equality. In fact, one of the defining accomplishments of the Civil Rights
Movement was the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which attempted to ban discrimination
in the voting booth.
“Give us the ballot and we will transform the salient misdeeds of blood-thirsty mobs into calculated good deeds of orderly citizens,” King said.
More specifically, the Voting Rights Act helped undo several voting restrictions taken up against minority voters in the South. The restrictions rarely outright banned black voters; instead, Southerners took up backhanded standards, such as literacy tests and poll taxes, that many black voters couldn’t meet.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because, by at least one top Ohio Republican’s admission, growing restrictions on early voting also help curtail black voters — who, by the way, happen to vote for Democrats in droves.
“I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine,” said Doug Preisse, chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party and close adviser to Gov. John Kasich, in an email to The Columbus Dispatch.
In other states, Republicans are taking similarly restrictive approaches and passing stringent voter ID laws, even though one study found it discriminates against young, minority voters.
Especially given Preisse’s comments, it’s clear King would not approve of Republican actions. King saw enough oppression in Southern voting booths to know better.
On labor unions and “right to work”:
“In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights. Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone,” King said, according to the Economic Policy Institute. “Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights. We do not intend to let them do this to us. We demand this fraud be stopped. Our weapon is our vote.”
In this statement, King unequivocally disavows restrictions on unions and collective bargaining rights.
Meanwhile, Gov. Kasich and top Ohio Republicans remain mum on whether they support anti-union laws like “right to work,” much to the chagrin of tea party groups that strongly support such efforts.
But it’s clear Kasich and Ohio Republicans support some restrictions on unions and collective bargaining. In 2011, the Republican-controlled legislature and governor approved Senate Bill 5, a bill that significantly curtailed public unions and their collective bargaining rights.Almost immediately, labor unions rallied in opposition to the effort and took the issue to referendum. Voters overwhelmingly rejected S.B. 5 the following November, dealing a major blow to Republicans and a huge political boost to unions and Democrats.
Despite the rejection, some conservatives continue pushing anti-union causes. The tea party-backed group Ohioans for Workplace Freedom aims to get an anti-union “right to work” initiative on the ballot in 2014.
Considering King’s strong pro-union statements, it’s clear he would stand against Ohio Republicans’ and the tea party’s anti-union efforts if he lived today.
On the death penalty:
“I do not think God approves the death penalty for any crime — rape and murder included,” King said, according to Stanford University. “Capital punishment is against the best judgment of modern criminology and, above all, against the highest expression of love in the nature of God.”
King’s comment clearly disavows the death penalty, even
for the gravest crimes, based on his religious perspective and
study of criminology.
Perhaps more than any other issue on this list, King’s stance on the death penalty could upset some Democrats as much as some Republicans. But even though support for the death penalty crosses partisan lines, it’s much more pronounced on the Republican side of the spectrum.
In recent days, the debate over the death penalty reignited in Ohio after Gov. Kasich’s administration took 26 minutes to execute a gasping, grunting convicted killer with a new cocktail of drugs that was never tried before in the United States.
The prolonged execution, the longest since Ohio resumed use of the death penalty in 1999, led some legislative Democrats to push new limits or even an outright ban on capital punishment. It’s expected the Republican majority will ignore the bills.
Based on his claims, King would oppose the state-sanctioned killing of a convicted killer, and he certainly would reject any defense that touts vengeance as a justification for killing another human being.
On health care:
“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhuman,” King said, according to Dr. Quentin Young, who attended King’s speech at the 1966 convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights.
Whether King’s quote indicates support for Democrat-backed legislation like Obamacare or other measures, such as a single-payer system, is completely unclear. But King’s rhetoric certainly comes closer to Democrats’ support for universal access to health care than Republicans’ opposition to governmental incursions into the U.S. health care system.
To Gov. Kasich’s credit, he helped alleviate the “inequality” and “injustice in health care” King referred to by aggressively pursuing the federally funded Medicaid expansion.
But Kasich was in the minority of the Ohio Republican Party in his pursuit. The state legislature’s Republican majority refused to approve the Medicaid expansion in the two-year state budget and later bills. When Kasich finally got the Medicaid expansion done through the seven-member Controlling Board, several legislative Republicans joined an unsuccessful lawsuit to reverse the decision.
Accordingly, King would probably praise Kasich for opening up access to health care, and it’s doubtful he would support Republicans in their attempts to block health care for the poor.
On reproductive rights:
“For the Negro, therefore, intelligent guides of family planning are a profoundly important ingredient in his quest for security and a decent life,” King said, according to Planned Parenthood. “There are mountainous obstacles still separating Negroes from a normal existence. Yet one element in stabilizing his life would be an understanding of and easy access to the means to develop a family related in size to his community environment and to the income potential he can command.”King’s comments on reproductive rights came as he accepted the first round of the Margaret Sanger Awards from Planned Parenthood, an organization now demonized by Republicans for its support for abortion and reproductive rights.
Now, nothing in King’s comments implies he supported abortion rights, even though some historians believe King, a strong Christian, accepted a more liberal interpretation of the Bible.But King’s comments — and even his mere acceptance of the Planned Parenthood award — show strong support for reproductive rights for low-income men and women. In that respect, King is clearly going against Ohio Republicans’ pursuits.
In the 2014-2015 state budget, a Republican majority passed new funding restrictions on Planned Parenthood and other comprehensive family planning centers. Some of the restrictions hit family planning clinics that don’t offer abortions.Even though King’s stance on abortion is unclear, his comments clearly contradict efforts to restrict access to family planning clinics and reproductive rights. Once again, he would not approve of the Republican agenda.
Tea party activists are working to gather the 380,000 signatures needed to get the Ohio Workplace Freedom Act on the ballot. They have until July 3.
The Michigan House of Representatives on Tuesday passed the first of two right-to-work bills, both of which were passed by the state Senate last week. Gov. Rick Snyder has told multiple media outlets that he could sign the bills as early as Wednesday.
Michigan would be the 24th right-to-work state in the nation and the second in the Midwest. Indiana passed a similar law earlier this year.
Members of the Ohio House Democratic Caucus wore red carnations — Ohio’s state flower and a symbol of the labor movement — at the Statehouse Tuesday to show support for Michigan workers.
“Put simply, so called ‘right to work’ is wrong. Statistics show states with this anti-working family legislation have lower wages and higher poverty rates,” Ohio state Rep. Connie Pillich, D-Montgomery, wrote in an emailed statement.
“We will continue to stand together and fight against these unfair attacks on workers in Ohio, Michigan and across the country.”
Despite the effort to put a right-to-work law on the ballot next year — a similar effort was unsuccessful in 2012 — it doesn’t seem like Ohio is in any rush to join Michigan and Indiana.
The Columbus Dispatch reports that Ohio Gov. John Kasich has higher priorities than passing a right-to-work law. The newspaper reports that Ohio added 127,000 jobs in the past two years and ranks fourth nationally and first in the Midwest in terms of job creation.
Kasich said the agenda for the last two years of his first term include tax cuts, an education overhaul and infrastructure improvement to keep the state competitive.
“I have an agenda that I think is going to benefit the state of Ohio,” Kasich told the newspaper. “We’re doing very well vis-a-vis the rest of the country now, and I think if we continue to pursue the agenda I have and the legislature has, I think we’ll continue to be successful.”
FUN FACT: Michigan's right-to-work bill will be signed into law in the Romney Building. George Romney, former Michigan governor and father of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, was an opponent of right-to-work laws.
The good news first: Most of HB 194 is being repealed. It’s good to see Republicans follow the advice of Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a moderate Republican who called or the repeal of HB 194 earlier this year.The bad news: Some new limits on voting rights are going to remain in place, and the entire repeal process, which involves the passing of SB 295, might be unconstitutional.
While it’s good to see HB 194 repealed, it’s not the only voting law Republicans enacted last year. The Ohio legislature also passed HB 224, which prohibited voting the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before election day.For Democrats, this poses a bit of a problem. Democrats are happy to see most of the restrictions on voting repealed, but they want to see all of the restrictions repealed. If SB 295 passes, Democrats worry that the rest of the restrictions won’t be repealed because Republicans will think they have done enough.
Even the Obama team spoke on this issue. In an email to Obama supporters Tuesday, Greg Schultz, the Ohio State Director on the Obama team, urged voters to speak up: “This bill could mean an end to our last three days of early voting this November — and would change the rules, right in the middle of an election year. It's an unambiguous attack on our voting rights.”The other problem is the repeal could be unconstitutional. After HB 194 passed, voters were quick to speak out against the new law and put it up for referendum in the November 2012 ballot. So Republicans are repealing a law that is already up for referendum. This is the first time that’s happened in the Ohio legislature, and Democrats claim it might be unconstitutional.
If GOP leaders thought they were going to get rid of Denise Driehaus with their new state legislature map, they can think again.
Driehaus made it official today, announcing she would move into the new 31st House District before next year's election. Several weeks ago, the Republican-controlled state apportionment board reconfigured state legislative district boundaries and radically altered the political makeup of the current 31st House District, which Driehaus represents in Columbus.
One of Ohio's two U.S. senators says Democrats need to get better organized so they can counteract private conservative groups that secretly draft legislation for Republican lawmakers.
The Porkopolis column in this week's CityBeat features excerpts from an interview with U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). As is often the case with print media, there was limited space available and segments of the wide-ranging interview with Brown weren't included in the column.
One of the unused segments included Brown's responses to questions about whether President Obama and Congressional Democrats are aggressive enough in pushing their agenda, and whether the Left needs a group to counteract organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
Asked if Democrats at the federal level are too reactive and need to do better at framing and guiding debate on issues, Brown said his party could use some improvement in that regard. He cited the theories of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the 19th Century essayist and abolitionist.
“I think the Democrats could do better at that, from the president on down,” Brown said. “It's always easier to say no. The one reason (Republicans) do well with message is, by definition almost, of conservative. Emerson talked about the innovators and the conservators. Progressives are the innovators and conservatives are the conservators. By definition, the conservators protect the status quo. Protecting the status quo means 'no,' 'repeal,' 'don't,' and 'not.' Those are simple concepts. Changing things is more complex.”
Also, Brown wishes the media would more clearly articulate what's happening in Washington. During the recent debate on raising the federal debt ceiling, for example, it was Obama and Democrats who were willing to compromise, a fact he believes didn't receive enough attention.
“When one party digs in and is extreme, both parties look bad,” he said. “When people say, 'they all look terrible in Washington,' a big reason for that is Republicans weren't willing to negotiate anything. They were willing to shut the government down if we didn't do things their way.
“We, in the end, want to be responsible,” Brown added. “A bunch of senators were in the White House months ago and Barack Obama said to us, 'I'm the adult and I have to be responsible. They know I'm not going to let the government default.' Well, as long as they know that, it changes things.”
Brown likes the suggestion of Democrats forming their own progressive version of ALEC — the private, corporate-backed group that writes model legislation for state lawmakers, which is funded by the Koch brothers, the National Rifle Association and others.
“That might be a good idea,” he said. “The elections last year were all about job loss. Spending a little bit, but mostly about job loss. Then you look at the three most salient things this state legislature has done, which is roll back collective bargaining rights, voting rights and women's rights.
“Not only is that not solving the problems we really have, which is jobs, it's also injecting divisions into our country and our state that we don't need,” Brown added. “It's made people so angry and hurt so many people's feelings in a really significant way and for what? So they can accomplish a political agenda. That's what is really outrageous.”
An ardent opponent of going to war in Iraq, Brown believes some progressives' fear that Obama will extend the wars there and in Afghanistan beyond the timetables for troop withdrawals is unfounded.
“I'm confident they will be respected and I'm hoping Afghanistan's will be accelerated,” he said. “I think (Obama) will stand on what he said.”
The senator is more ambivalent about U.S. intervention in the uprising in Libya. “I wish the president had been a bit more forthcoming with Congress about our involvement, but people I respect have also said it would've been a real genocide there if the Europeans and we hadn't done something,” Brown said. “It's an awfully difficult call.”
Brown believes extremist actions by the GOP — like restricting collective bargaining rights at the state level, and trying to defund Planned Parenthood and limit access to abortion at the federal level — are out of touch with the mainstream, and will benefit Democrats in next year's elections.
“Voters absolutely see these guys overreaching,” Brown said. “The voters aren't wild about Barack Obama and the Democrats, but they like the Republicans even less.
“They've overreached on Medicare, it's going after Head Start and Planned Parenthood and all the kinds of things there is general consensus about in this country,” he added. “We have general consensus in this country on many things, except the Far Right, on items like the environment, on Medicare, on food safety, on voting rights. These guys have exploded that.”
This week's Porkopolis column looks at the Internet critics questioning the military service of State Rep. Connie Pillich (D-Montgomery), a U.S. Air Force veteran.
Some conservative bloggers have wondered whether Pillich earned the ribbons and medals that she wears at some campaign appearances.