Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Power of the Latina Vote

By Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas

It is undeniable that the Latino vote had a tremendous impact on the election. Approximately 17.9 million Latinos are currently eligible to vote, 9.1 million of whom are women, and since 2004, the number of Latinos registered to vote has doubled.

Early exit polling suggests that Latinos overwhelmingly supported Obama, with 67 percent voting for Obama and 30 percent voting for McCain. According to the University of Massachusetts's Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy, Latinas have become increasingly engaged in politics, making up 5 percent of total voter turnout (Latino men made up 4 percent). Latino overall support for Obama became especially significant in the battleground states of Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico and Virginia; all of which have large and growing Latino populations, and all of which were carried by Obama. These statistics are just proof of the fact that the Latino vote matters more than ever before.

The Latino vote has led to the great strides for women and Latino candidates and increased their representation in the federal government. In 2008, Latinos ran in over 37 states across the country for both federal and state legislative seats. The 25 Latino members of Congress added another colleague to the list who will serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. The 111th Congress will include seven Latina Congresswomen from Florida, New York, and California. They’ll be joining the 64 re-elected incumbents in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The gains weren’t limited to the U.S. Congress either. State legislatures across the country had Latinos elected to seats in numbers never previously seen, particularly in Wyoming, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

Now that we have new leadership in place, we advocates, activists and organizers must rise to the occasion. We must take the momentum of this election to our everyday organizing and activism, placing women's ability to care and provide for their families at the center of our platform.

While the economy proved to be the top issue among the general electorate, Latinos also voted with immigration policy in mind. The Republicans’ divisive and xenophobic rhetoric about immigrants proved harmful for garnering support in the Latino community, which in the past has supported some Republican candidates. Senator McCain, who co-sponsored comprehensive immigration reform legislation in 2006, turned his back on the immigrant community during the campaign. He publicly stated that he would not vote for the same immigration bill that he once sponsored if it came to the floor for a vote in 2008. These harmful statements fuel the flames of hatred and blame towards immigrants and may have cost him the election.

Latinas can finally say ADELANTE, our time has come. Now the real questions face us. What does this new era mean? What do we want for our families and communities? What does a Latina agenda for reproductive justice and immigrant rights look like? To begin, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health has three top requests of the new administration:

1. Repeal the Hyde Amendment, which denies low-income women access to abortion services;
2. End the discriminatory, militaristic and inhumane immigration enforcement practices that are destroying our communities; and
3. Support an equitable and affordable plan for comprehensive health care for all.

As a community, we remember the spring of 2006 when Latino immigrants marched in droves with other immigrants and allies fighting harmful immigration policies put forth by the Republican Party. We held signs and chanted “Hoy Marchamos! Manana Votamos!” (“Today we March! Tomorrow We Vote!”). Well, “tomorrow” has arrived and Latinas and immigrant voters cast their ballot for hope, dignity and justice instead of fear.
Gonzalez-Rojas is director of Policy and Advocacy for National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health
Copyright (C) 2008 by the American Forum. 11/08

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Preventing Unintentional Racial Impacts


By Sen. Mattie Hunter and Rep. Arthur Turner

Suppose you're a white person who uses drugs. Now suppose you're a black person who uses drugs. Think you run the same risk of being arrested and incarcerated?

Think again: Recent reports highlight vast differences in the way blacks and whites are treated, despite similar rates of drug use. Fortunately, Illinois has just enacted a measure that lays the groundwork to help address this inequity.

Using new data from 34 states, Human Rights Watch found that black men are nearly 12 times as likely to be imprisoned for drug convictions as adult white men. Illinois had the highest black drug offender admission rate and the second highest black to white ratio of prison admission rates for drug offenses.

The Sentencing Project, which analyzed 43 of the nation's largest cities from 1980 to 2003, found that the rate of drug arrests for blacks increased by 225 percent, compared to 70 percent among whites, despite similar rates of drug use. In Chicago, the disparity between black and white arrest rates more than doubled since 1980. Yet at the same time, this racial gap in drug arrests declined in Los Angeles and New York.

The reports conclude that policies regarding the War on Drugs significantly contributed to these racial disparities. High rates of incarceration among people of color can indicate bias within the justice system, whether conscious or unintentional. For those incarcerated, the consequences for their families, communities and future job prospects can be devastating.

Problems of racial inequality are deep and complex, but solutions exist. A new proactive tool that states are adopting to inform policymaking is a “racial impact assessment.” These assessments are much like environmental impact statements and fiscal impact notes.

“Examining the racial impacts of public policies makes sense because many problems are predictable, and thus preventable,” says Terry Keleher, director of the Midwest Office of the Applied Research Center, a policy institute that focuses on race issues.

In neighboring Iowa, where a year ago, its prisons and jails had the nation's highest rate of racial disparity, state leaders have taken bold action. Earlier this year, they passed the Minority Impact Statement Bill, the first of its kind in the nation, which requires examination of the racial and ethnic impacts of all new sentencing laws prior to passage. This enables legislators to anticipate any unwarranted disparities and consider alternatives to accomplish goals without compromising public safety.

Upon signing the bill, which garnered broad bipartisan support, Iowa Governor Chet Culver said, "Minority Impact Statements will serve as an essential tool for those in government -- and the public -- as we propose, develop, and debate policies for the future." Connecticut has since enacted a similar law.

A related measure, recently approved by the Illinois General Assembly and signed into law in October by Gov. Rod Blagojevich, creates a Commission to Study Disproportionate Justice Impact.

The Commission will assess the nature and extent of the harm caused to minority communities through the application of Illinois drug and sentencing laws, then develop findings and offer recommendations for equitable policy change.

“This measure can help legislators enact smarter drug laws that can reduce crime, increase opportunities for individuals, restore families and save tax dollars” says Melody Heaps, president of Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities, which serves people across Illinois in need of drug treatment and other rehabilitative services.

For Illinois, explicitly exploring the racial impacts of public policies is an important step for eliminating institutional bias. For communities of color, it may prove to be a giant leap towards justice.
Hunter is a State Senator (D-District 3). Turner is a State Representative (D-District 9).
Copyright (C) 2008 by the Illinois Editorial Forum. Letters should be sent to the Forum, P.O. Box 82, Springfield, IL 62705-0082 11/08


By Adam Linker

For much of its history North Carolina was known as a state with bold leaders and progressive ideas. It built Research Triangle Park, one of the nation’s best community college systems and created pioneering early childhood education programs. The state was even a leader in expanding health care to its citizens.

In the 1940s a group of influential businessmen and politicians came up with a series of recommendations, dubbed the “Good Health Plan,” to boost the number of doctors in the state, create a teaching hospital at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and expand Blue Cross insurance. At the time, Gov. Gregg Cherry said, “Only less sacred than the right of a child to obtain an education is his right to get a fair chance of health in his youth.”

Despite the work of these early visionaries, there are still more than 250,000 uninsured children in North Carolina.

Our state can’t wait on Washington for reform. Instead, citizens must demand action to ensure that everyone has access to needed care.

The North Carolina Justice Center’s Health Access Coalition has assembled a plan that can serve as a roadmap for reform in the state. It does not rely on the government to provide for all of our care. Nor does it follow the “corporate care” model that strips away consumer protections and caters to insurance companies instead of ordinary families.

Central to the plan is the idea that everyone should have a guaranteed choice of affordable, comprehensive health care options. It is also important that all stakeholders -- hospitals, insurance companies, businesses and taxpayers -- share costs equally.

The first major proposal is to cover all children and parents. To do this, the state should create a sliding scale premium whereby a family of four making more than $63,300 could buy insurance at full cost while lower income households would get a partially subsidized premium. Members of the North Carolina General Assembly get a lifetime right to buy affordable health insurance through the state; shouldn’t families have the same option?

The second step is to create a partially subsidized, affordable health plan, sold on the private insurance market, so that small businesses can offer coverage to their employees. About 78 percent of the uninsured either work full-time or have a family member working full-time. But most people are employed by small businesses that can’t afford to offer insurance. This subsidized health plan would ensure that more working adults can get coverage through their employer.

North Carolina should also set a national example for controlling health care costs. Our state has world-class research universities with extraordinary scientists. We should draw on that expertise to establish an Institute for Health Care Quality, Cost and Research to investigate the effectiveness of new drugs and cutting-edge technologies.

What we often find when novel drugs or medical devices are tested against older, cheaper alternatives is that the existing technology works as well or better than the latest gadgets. Health care providers, public health officials and insurance companies could then make evidence-based decisions instead of relying on marketing hype.

The state should also put a new emphasis on preventive care. Many programs, including colorectal cancer screenings, flu vaccines and smoking cessation counseling, save money over time. But the benefits of prevention extend beyond cost. Prevention helps people to live healthier, fuller lives.

Any reform of the health care system will be complex and expensive. But that is not an excuse to do nothing; in fact, it is a reason to start as soon as possible. For the 1.5 million uninsured residents of the state, every day is critical.

Our state is lagging behind much of the nation in expanding health care coverage. Every citizen should demand reform. With committed leadership North Carolina can make great strides toward building a healthier state. We did it in the 1940s, and we can do it again.
Linker is a policy analyst at the North Carolina Health Access Coalition.
Copyright (C) 2008 by North Carolina Editorial Forum. 11/08

By Page S. Gardner

More than a week after an historic election, political analysts still are sifting through the results, trying to figure out how different segments of society voted, why they cast their ballots as they did, and what their political preferences and patterns of participation mean for the future.

But three lessons are inescapably clear: The electorate that changed America reflects a changing America -- younger, more racially and ethnically diverse, and less likely to be married. The largest demographic group within this new American electorate -- unmarried women -- played a pivotal role in electing Barack Obama as president, building a bigger margin for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and delivering the largest Democratic margins in national politics since 1964. And, for progressives from the White House to both houses of Congress, there is no more urgent challenge than addressing the needs of unmarried women -- especially for economic security -- and ensuring that they continue to participate in the political process.

While they usually tend to register and vote less than married people, unmarried women increased their participation this year. Indeed, 20 percent of unmarried women voters cast ballots in their first presidential election this year, compared to 11 percent of all voters. Similarly, unmarried women were more likely than other voters to have recently registered to vote, with 41 percent of these women having registered during the last four years.

In addition to voting in numbers reflecting their presence in the population -- 53 million in all and 26 percent of voting-age adults -- unmarried women delivered decisive margins for Obama for president and Democratic candidates for the U.S. House, Senate, and public offices at almost every level of government. These women favored Obama over John McCain by a stunning 70-to-29 percent margin, while preferring Democratic candidates for the U.S. House by 63-to-31 percent and for the Senate. In a dramatic indication of how heavily unmarried women supported progressive candidates, Obama’s overwhelming 70 percent share of unmarried women’s votes was even greater than his 66 percent showing among young voters and his 67 percent of Latino voters.

Unmarried women’s crucial role in electing Obama is underscored by the “marriage gap” between their political preferences and those of married women. While unmarried women supported Obama by 41 percentage points, married women favored McCain by 50-to-47 percent for a marriage gap of 44 points. By way of comparison, the gender gap between the preferences of women and men was surprisingly static at 12 percent.

Even more remarkably, in spite of the fact that they overwhelmingly believe that the nation has been “on the wrong track,” unmarried women cast their votes in a spirit of hope and purpose, not anger and despair. Seventy-five percent of unmarried women agreed that “this election made me believe average people can help change the country.” For these women, change means addressing the most important challenge in their lives -- pervasive economic insecurity.

In many ways, these single, separated, divorced and widowed women really are “women on their own.” In an unstable economy, more than 40 percent have household incomes of $30,000 or less. In a discriminatory workplace, these women earn 56 cents for every dollar that a married man makes. In the midst of the healthcare crisis, these women are less likely than married people to have health coverage. In a society where it’s difficult to balance work and family, more than 10 million are single moms with children at home. And, when they are too old to work, about 25 percent rely on Social Security as their only source of income.

Now, these women are on their own in a housing crisis, a financial crisis, and a deepening recession. They are more vulnerable than married people to foreclosures, layoffs and bankruptcies.

For President-elect Obama and the newly strengthened majorities in the House and Senate, the message of their mandate from unmarried women is clear: Address the issues of creating good-paying jobs, providing equal pay, expanding healthcare coverage, and securing retirement income that motivated these “women on their own” to register and vote in record numbers. For progressives generally, the lesson is even more emphatic: Our top priority must be to keep these women involved in the political process so that a changing electorate can continue to change America.
Gardner is president of Women’s Voices, Women Vote, a national nonpartisan organization that seeks to increase unmarried women’s participation in the political process.
Copyright (C) 2008 by the American Forum. 11/08

Thursday, November 20, 2008

It’s Time to Look at the Way We Vote


By Linda Brown

More than 112,000 voters in Maricopa County were forced to cast provisional ballots on Election Day. That is 16 percent of those that went to the polls, well more than the margin of victory for several races and ballot measures. We still don’t know how many of those were counted.

Was the turnout 72 percent, or was it higher? We have no way of knowing for sure. A good number of registered voters went to the polls and left without voting at all.

Arizona has been labeled by Mother Jones magazine as one of the worst places to vote in America. Polling places frequently move. It is estimated that nearly 40 percent of polling places in Maricopa County have shifted locations during each of the last two major election cycles.

We have also instituted an ID requirement that confuses poll workers and voters alike. We place tremendous demands on the temporary workers that run our polling places, asking them to be the linchpins in our democracy, but barely giving them what they need to succeed. They receive two hours of training on every aspect of running a polling place, including setting up complicated equipment and making sure it runs properly; understanding and complying with federal, state and local laws; understanding what ID is needed for a regular ballot, when voters must cast a regular provisional ballot, when voters should be given a conditional provisional ballot, and how to properly process each ballot type.

Arizona needs to take steps to make the voting process easier for everyone. It’s time to consider appropriating the best practices from other jurisdictions around the country to avert problems that continue to disenfranchise voters here in Arizona.

Take the ever-shifting polling places. Every two years Arizona’s elections officials scramble to find schools, churches, or other private facilities that are willing to serve as polling places. Many Arizonans moved here from states where polling places never change—they are always located at neighborhood schools. Arizona voters are expected to check elections department mailings before every election to confirm where they should vote. But it’s easy to miss the small type ink-jetted onto the one sample ballot that all voters in a household must share. It’s also easy to miss the polling place notification card, which doesn’t look all that different from junk mail. Even voter registration cards do not include the names and addresses of voters' polling places.

In Arizona, votes cast at the wrong polling places do not count. Other jurisdictions count ballots cast at the wrong precincts, taking care not to count votes for offices outside of the voters’ precincts.

If Arizona voters reach their correct polling places, poll workers sometimes have difficulty finding their names in the voter rolls. Or poll workers may mistakenly send voters to get more ID when they have sufficient ID to vote a regular ballot or a regular provisional ballot. One county in Washington doubled the length of poll worker training, increased poll worker pay, and required them to pass a certification test. They saw poll worker mistakes plummet.

Political parties, candidates and grassroots groups spend a considerable amount of time and money to get voters to the polls. They know well that every vote is precious. Together we should take a look at how we run elections in Arizona. With sensible changes and adequate funding we can ensure that every citizen that makes the effort to vote is successful.
Brown is executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network Foundation, a group that leads efforts for electoral justice and increased civic participation.
Copyright © 2008 by the Arizona Editorial Forum. The Forum is an educational organization that provides the media with the views of state experts on major public issues.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Remembering The War To End All Wars

By Mike Ferner

At the stroke of the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 the roaring guns fell silent. Our holiday that marks the end of “The Great War” is now called Veterans Day, yet it’s worth taking a moment to recollect when it was called Armistice Day and meant more than midnight madness sales at department stores.

Thirty million soldiers were killed or wounded and another 7 million were taken captive in that war. Never before had people witnessed such industrialized slaughter. Congress responded to a universal hope among Americans that such a war would never happen again by passing a resolution calling for “exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding…inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.” Later, Congress added that November 11 was to be “a day dedicated to the cause of world peace.”

While it is a good thing to honor the country’s military service veterans, the original intent of Armistice Day -- promoting peace -- has gotten lost over the years. One veterans’ organization is trying to recreate that original intent. Its name, appropriately enough, is Veterans For Peace.

Of the many veterans’ organizations in the U.S., Veterans For Peace (VFP) exists specifically to carry out the original purpose of Armistice Day. With 120 chapters across the country, the St. Louis-based organization has as its chief goal “to abolish war as an instrument of national policy.”

Founded in 1985 at the height of the Reagan administration’s support for the "contras" in Nicaragua and death squads elsewhere in Central America, VFP includes men and women veterans of all eras and wars -- cold or hot -- from World War II through the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One of the things of which the organization is most proud is helping form Iraq Veterans Against the War in the summer of 2004, but Elliott Adams, VFP’s president and a former paratrooper who served in Vietnam, will quickly tell you they are not interested in repeating that accomplishment. “I’ll be happy if this generation of veterans is the last,” he says.

Having seen the reality of war and understanding its true cost, VFP members will tell you that war is not the answer. However, coming to that conclusion is as much a spiritual journey as a political one, they acknowledge, because making peace in your heart can sometimes be as difficult as making peace in the world.

One of the simple truths on which Veterans For Peace is founded states, “Our collective experience tells us wars are easy to start and hard to stop.” With a weary nod of the head the doughboys of WWI, shivering in the soggy, rotten trenches of Europe in November 1918, would surely have agreed.
Ferner is a National Board Member of Veterans For Peace and author of Inside the Red Zone: A Veteran For Peace Reports from Iraq.
Copyright (C) 2008 by the American Forum. 11/08