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Political Animal

Dirty Pool

If there’s a small bit of positivity in only having to write about politics once a month or so as opposed to every week, it’s that it now seems like an occasional refreshing dip in a sewer compared to swimming laps in a cesspool.

This past week saw the revelation of some particularly egregious stunts pulled by the GOP at the congressional level: Republicans began literally censoring (“censoring” in the classic sense, since they are part of the government) mail sent out by Democratic members of Congress to their constituents. If you’ve forgotten this little nugget of Civics 102, members of Congress get to send letters to their electorate for free—this is called the “franking privilege.” This usually comes in the form of newsletters, with rules governing how many times the representative’s name and picture can be included (so they don’t turn into de facto election materials).

After the Republican House vote on Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan that would gut Medicare and replace it with vouchers, the Republicans running the franking commission in the House began holding up any Democratic mailers claiming, well, that Republicans would end Medicare as we know it. Except that there was little difference between the mailers that went out before Democrat Kathy Hochul took away a Republican seat in a special election in New York’s conservative 26th District and the mailers that went out after the election was over. The only change was the political climate on Capitol Hill when Republicans realized how voting for Ryan’s plan meant they were firmly on the record as standing with both feet on the third rail of American politics: Medicare.

So the GOP officials in the franking commission started marking up the newsletters submitted by Democrats, crossing out words like “ends Medicare” and inserting language favorable to Republicans, calling Ryan’s plan “the proposed premium support system.” The web site has examples of the fliers from before and after the election, complete with Republican markups, along with Republican fliers that claim they “will not privatize Medicare or turn it into a ‘voucher’ system”—which is exactly what the Ryan plan does.

But that’s enough about Congress when we’ve got some good old-fashioned homegrown dirt to talk about: the indictments handed down in the case of the voter-suppression phone calls allegedly commissioned by the Ehrlich for Governor campaign last fall.

Right now Ehrlich campaign manager Paul Schurick stands charged with three counts of conspiracy to violate state election laws, one count of attempting to influence the decision of a voter, one count of failing to put an “authority of” line on campaign materials, and one count of obstruction of justice. Longtime Democratic political operative turned opportunist Julius Henson is charged with the same as Schurick, sans the obstruction count.

While their fate will of course be determined in a court of law, the indictment reveals some fascinating materials from the campaign, specifically a plan document called “The Schurick Doctrine.” Supposedly the idea behind the election-night calls was “to promote confusion, emotionalism, and frustration among African-American Democrats, focused in precincts where high concentrations of AA vote.” The strategy, allegedly prepared by Henson on orders from Schurick, said that “the first and most desired outcome of [the Schurick Doctrine strategy] is voter suppression.”

Well, there it is! Whether you want to call it “voter suppression” or “ballot security,” we’re back to the same old story once again: Republicans trying to keep the opposition, specifically black Americans, from going to the polls. Call it what you want—Jim Crow, Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” or “The Schurick Doctrine”—ever since Dixiecrats broke en masse away from the Democrats in 1948 and then moved firmly into the Republican camp after Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, as long as black voters have predominantly sided with Democrats, we’ve seen a concerted effort by the GOP to keep us away from the polls by hook or crook—and mostly by crook.

For the last six years, Republicans nationwide have been focusing their efforts on narrowing the ability of voters—especially those who are poor, minorities, or students—to access the ballot box. More than 22 states are considering stringent voter ID laws, ostensibly to combat supposed “voter fraud,” even though a report by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law has found that it’s more likely to find voters who have been struck by lightning than to find convictions on voter fraud.

The day before Barack Obama was elected president, the GOP filed suit to lift a then 26-year-old standing consent decree against them for their “ballot security” programs that historically discriminated against minority voters. One year later, a federal judge in New Jersey shot the motion down, but agreed to set an eight-year sunset clause—unless the Democratic National Committee can prove another violation before its expiration. Hmm. Wonder where it could find one?

If Republicans keep wondering why blacks still vote Democratic, maybe it’s because if the GOP isn’t trying to tell you what your representative can say to you, they’re trying to keep you from voting at all.

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