Update on US Elections and Voting Issues

Update on US Election and Voting Issues

By Amy Pearl

Democracy is a form of government in which all citizens can participate equally either directly or through their elected representatives. Two threats to democracy in the US today are the loosening of regulations on the involvement of corporations and money in elections and our elected representatives and the disenfranchisement of eligible voters. The rising growth of income inequality in the US fuels this threat. Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, "We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."

January 2014 brought two developments addressing the erosion of access to voting in America.

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A Reintroduction of Sandra Fluke - Emerge California Speaker and Progressive Champion

PDC_President_Amy_Pearl_and_Sandra_Fluke.jpgArguably, the incident that thrust Sandra Fluke into the limelight may have been the beginning of the Republicans intensifying the War on Women’s rights in advance of the 2012 elections. And California Republican congressman Darrell Issa had a starring role.

Issa was the Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee which held a hearing on the Obama administration’s rule to requiring all employers, including religiously affiliated organizations, to cover birth control free of cost. The Democrats were allowed to invite one witness to the panel and they invited Sandra Fluke to testify on the importance of requiring insurance plans to cover birth control during a discussion on whether medical insurance should have a contraception mandate. She was then a young law student at Georgetown University, a Catholic University. Issa refused to allow her to testify, as she was not an “expert on religious freedoms under federal law.” As a result, the panel of witnesses about access to contraception for women was all men, invited by the Republicans.

Ms. Fluke later spoke to an unofficial hearing held by and for only House Democratic members. Talk show host Rush Limbaugh started a controversy when he made remarks about her on his talk show, consisting of personal slurs including calling her a "slut" and "prostitute". Despite disapproval from major political figures, Limbaugh made numerous similar statements over the next two days, leading to the loss of several national sponsors and Limbaugh's apology on his show for some of his comments.

I heard Sandra speak several times at the 2012 Democratic National Convention including as a featured speaker, and I’ve heard her several times since – you won’t want to miss this great local opportunity to hear her! It will give you hope for the future of the Democratic Party and progressive movement. For more information about this event see our event listing here: http://www.peninsulademocrats.com/emerge


Back to Work!

Welcome back from summer, PDC’ers! I hope everyone had a happy, safe, and healthy summer. It was great to see so many of you at the August picnic. We had over 100 attendees and raised over $3,500 from the auction. Thank you for your generosity. Many of our PDC activities (voter registration, our lunches/speaker events, meetings) are self-supporting. But the money raised will help fund other PDC activities, such as funding the Peninsula Young Democrats, and our donations to candidates and causes. In the 2012 election season, the PDC was able to contribute over $10,000 to candidates and causes, due to your generosity.

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50th Anniversary of the March on Washington!

PDC Board Member Carol Kuiper found a couple great articles about the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington: here and here. We encourage everyone to read these articles and find some way to commemorate the amazing social change that happened 50 years ago at the March on Washington. We must continue to fight for Dr. King's Dream. There will be a wonderful celebration commemorating the 50th Anniversary in Palo Alto on 8/26/13 from 5:00-9:00. You can find more information about this event on the facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/50th-Anniversary-MLK-Jr-I-Have-a-Dream-8262013-Palo-Alto/1410160932530948


The Arc of History Bends Toward Equality

Emerge CA Executive Director Kimberly Ellis, Governor Howard Dean, and PDC President Amy Pearl, attended Netroots Nation.This has been an amazing month. Each week I thought, this is what I’ll write a President’s Letter about, and then that was eclipsed by something else. First it was the former NSA and CIA contractor Edward Snowden making the most significant NSA breach in history with details of top-secret American and British government mass surveillance programs. Then that was eclipsed by a week of Supreme Court rulings, some of the most important and historic rulings in history. Among them were: 

  • Shelby County vs. Holder struck down a key part of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965, sending the section that determines which states need extra attention about discrimination back to Congress to be re-written

  • In Arizona vs. ITCA, the court sided with the federal government, saying that Arizona’s evidence-of-citizenship requirement is pre-empted by the federal National Voter Registration Act

  • Windsor vs. US struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages

  • In Hollingsworth vs. Perry, the court ruled that the advocates for California’s anti-gay marriage Prop 8 had no standing to contest lower courts defeating it, effectively ending it.

In all, it seems that we are making more forward progress than not. But when you look at the issues being decided, we see that most of the issues arise at the state level. Even here in progressive California, our voters can end up passing a Prop 8. And we know that there is great variation across the states. For example, today 13 states recognize same-sex marriage. But 6 states prohibit it by statute and 29 prohibit it in their state constitutions. 1996’s DOMA allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages recognized in other states; this was not ruled on in the Windsor vs. US case. It’s widely anticipated that there will be challenges to this section of DOMA.
We have to remain vigilant. We must make our voices (and tweets) heard. But, just as there was a conservative backlash to the liberalism of the 1960s, we are seeing a backlash to the corporate, conservative ideology of the 1980s. When multinational corporations partner with conservative legislators to baldly, if legally, strip people of their sacred right to vote, remove our rights to control our bodies and lives, privatize things like education and journalism that should not be hostage to the forces of commercialization, they will ultimately go too far and the pendulum will swing back. 
How can I be sure?

Because I attended Netroots Nation 2013, in San Jose in June. Netroots is a conference that began in 2006. Like the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte that I attended last September, it looks more like America than the Republican convention. People of all backgrounds were there. But unlike the Democratic Convention, the average age was mid-to late 20s, and also unlike the Democratic Convention, people were generally very well dressed! The leadership of this political community came out of the 2004 and 2008 Presidential elections. They are smart, innovative, and media and technology savvy. They are politically involved, from electoral politics to progressive non-profits. They are using new technologies to create new organizational and institutional structures. You can see PDC Programming VP Kate Forrest’s article in the newsletter.

In August, I will focus on the importance of upcoming electoral races. I’ll be writing it before I take off for three weeks, so it won’t be quite as topical! I hope you are all enjoying your summer and hope to see you at the PDC picnic on August 17, if not before. 


PDC Well Represented at 2013 CA Democratic Convention

The PDC had terrific representation at the annual California Democratic convention in Sacramento April 12-14. In addition to many of our members attending as delegates to and on various committees of the California Democratic convention, we had three major notable contributions:

  • Member Greg Loew’s resolution for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) in California was adopted by the General Assembly
  • Members Cory Wolbach and Lucas Ramirez of our Peninsula Young Democrats’ resolution on improving the governance of the UC and CSU systems to be more fair, accountable and representative was adopted by the General Assembly
  • Member Jim Thurber received the Regional Director’s Volunteer of the Year award

You can find out more about the resolutions and the convention on the California Democratic Party web site. More pictures from the convention are on the PDC Facebook page and tweets are tagged #cadem13.


2013 a Year of Growth for the PDC

Last month, in my first president’s letter, I mentioned that this year I want the PDC to prepare for the 2014 election by continuing the PDC’s work while expanding our membership and encouraging new participation.

How can we do that?

Continuing our work means doing the things that the PDC has done for a long time with good success: providing opportunities for our members to spend time with like-minded people, to meet and interact with local elected officials, and work to pass Democratic legislation and elect Democratic candidates. We do this with semi-monthly luncheon speakers, producing our terrific monthly newsletter, our summer and winter social/fundraiser events, organizing voter registration and staffing campaign headquarters.

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CA DISCLOSE Act (SB 52) Event on March 9th a Great Success

On Saturday March 9th, over 220 California DISCLOSE Act supporters from the Bay Area gathered to hear Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, Senator Mark Leno, Senator Jerry Hill, Assembly Member Rich Gordon, former Palo Alto Mayor Peter Drekmeier (MC), and Trent Lange, President of California Clean Money Campaign. They all called attention to the non-partisan nature of SB 52 (Leno-Hill), the California DISCLOSE Act, and the importance in passing this legislation to save our democracy. DISCLOSE stands for Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections. The DISCLOSE Act will strike back at big money's influence in California politics. Speakers highlighted the enormous impact of hidden ballot measure spending on California government and the need for better disclosure requirements.

SB 52, authored by Senators Leno and Hill, will mandate clear and prominent disclosure of who is behind political TV, radio, print, and slate mailer ads, on the ads themselves, for both ballot measures and independent expenditures for and against 

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March President’s Column

We did it! Election Night was a resounding success for Democrats, all across the country and right here in California. President Obama was overwhelmingly re-elected, we passed Prop 30 to spare our education system from Draconian cuts and we beat back the Republican power grab Prop 32. And Democrats picked up super-majorities in both the state assembly and the state senate!

We, the members of the PDC, the largest and oldest Silicon Valley Democratic Club, helped make these victories possible. We volunteered for thousands of hours to ensure Democratic Party success all across the country. We worked tirelessly for almost a year to help turn the Democratic Volunteer Center (DVC) from idea to reality. What a success it was, with hundreds of volunteers working for everything from local initiatives to the President’s re-election. Some of us volunteered in Democratic Party offices up and down the Peninsula, while others traveled to battleground states to do everything from knocking on doors to voter protection efforts on Election Day. And your membership dues and additional contributions allowed our Club to make a record amount of donations to Democratic candidates and propositions in 2012. See the November-December 2012 Newsletter (at www.peninsulademocrats.org if you don’t have a copy) for some of the details and to remember all we did in glorious detail!


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PDC Annual Meeting and Election of Board and Officers

Guest speaker and new East Bay Congressman Eric Swalwell (CD 15) energized attendees at the Peninsula Democratic Coalition’s Annual Meeting February 23. As one of the youngest members of the House of Representatives, Swalwell is a fresh face on the national political scene. (See his website here: http://swalwell.house.gov) He recounted tales of his blue collar background and need to contribute to his financial support at an early age. He was the first member of his family to attend college. When an injury dashed his hopes for a career in professional sports, he turned to public service. After receiving a law degree from the University of Maryland, he joined the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office and also served on other community boards. His description of the quick orientation that is required of new Representatives made it clear how much he has had to absorb in a very short time. He expressed commitment to progressive causes and to moving the country forward.

In other business, members recognized outgoing board members and elected the 2013 board. Retiring board members Larry Aronson, Hayes Alexander, Laura Casas-Frier, Marie Chadderdon and Jon Kessler, were thanked for their years of service. A warm welcome was extended to first-term board members Sue Debowski, Judy Plaska, Pam Salvatierra, Tony Singh, Dave Walter, and Cory Wolbach. Attorney Marc Berman, who was elected to the Palo Alto City Council in December, stepped down from the PDC presidency, but remains on the Board as President Emeritus. The proposed new slate of officers was elected without contest. 

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