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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Any way you look at it, it’s just sad for democracy

One person decided last week’s election. One man, that is.

He can have one of five names, but it was the one vote that created a majority for the US Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision on Citizens United (2010), which overruled regulations about election spending. All three women and the only Jewish man composed the losing side; all five on the winning side are Catholic men. These are facts; you may interpret them as you wish.

The greatest of many ironies in the case is that all five of these men proclaim their profound belief in states’ rights -- but apparently only when state laws conform to their plutocratic agenda. Most states had laws that limited spending, something that most voters repeatedly said they wanted. The 5-4 decision also overturned the 2002 McCain-Feingold Act, a bi-partisan federal law intended to cut spending that was sponsored by Republican John McCain of Arizona and Democrat Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.

The five Supremes arrogantly tossed out thoughtful legislation crafted by the 535 members of Congress, as well as other models created by thousands of state representatives. They said their decision preserved “free speech” – but only for those wealthy enough to clog our airwaves. No matter that it subverts the democratic process for candidates who don’t have enough money to answer the lies told about them.

* * *

And there’s more. After years of ladylike hesitation, I finally wrote about the full name of Citizens United – but in recent conversations with friends, I’ve had to accept that almost no one read or remembered it. Please do so now.

The PAC (political action committee) that sued the FEC (Federal Elections Commission) to overturn spending limits was formed early in the presidential election year of 2008. It was created to harm Hillary Clinton, and its full name was “Citizens United – Not Timid.” I asked myself why any group would give themselves such an awkward name, and then I saw the acronym. I didn’t spell it out when I wrote about this before, but I shall this time: CUNT.

And people believe that there is no Republican war on women. Perhaps not all Republicans nor all women, but the party’s leadership has used subconscious misogyny as a wedge since 1980, when it withdrew its previous support for the Equal Rights Amendment. These attitudes grew worse in the next decades, and the men who chose CUNT were loyal and well-paid Republicans. That can’t be justified in any way, especially by those who also say they believe in family values. It’s pure contempt from puerile boys who enjoyed their in-joke enough to laugh all the way to the Supreme Court. And we, especially journalists, let them get away with this juvenile behavior.

Full disclosure: My awareness on this was heightened by the fact that the PAC’s leader was Roger Stone, the ex-husband of Ann Stone, and I once served with her on the board of the National Women’s History Museum. They had made money running a Washington mail house for Republicans, but divorced after Ann remained true to her pro-choice convictions -- while Roger demonstrated his contempt for women’s freedom by exploiting the anti-choice sentiments of millions of true believers. More than an average snake, he is proud that his first dirty trick was in the first grade, when he told other kids that the presidential candidate he opposed wanted them to go to school on Saturdays.

You can see the government-as-a-lark mindset there, and he and Nixon buddies never outgrew that; they also named themselves CREEP, the Committee to Re-Elect the President. I believe Roger Stone must have been stoned most of the time, but other Republicans paid him handsomely for his advice. To me, the worst effect of such operatives is that they garner the votes of sincere believers in family values – and are paid to deceive by their genuine masters, the men who spend millions to buy elections. Their masters spend that money to manipulate Congress and legislatures into voting for narrowly defined (“benefit me!”) subsidies and tax cuts and anti-labor legislation. They also want their elected lackeys to make noise about immigration that will intimidate the workers they welcome and exploit, but not actually deport them. From the point of view of the rich, it’s only reasonable to spend millions to buy legislators who will increase their billion-dollar fortunes.

Any way you look at it, it’s just sad for democracy.

* * *

But there was one big winner here in Florida last week: the League of Women Voters had a 100% victory. The League took no position on Amendment Two to the Florida Constitution, the one on medical marijuana, but asked voters to accept Amendment One and to reject Amendment Three. We did exactly that.

Amendment One aims to preserve environmentally sensitive land, something that an overwhelming majority of voters said they want – but which our Republican-dominated legislature had refused to do. It will be interesting now to see if they implement the voters’ will, or if it will be ignored as the “Fair Districts” amendment that we approved last time has been ignored.

Amendment Three was put on the ballot by the legislature, not by a citizen initiative as was Amendment One. Amendment Three was narrowly crafted to allow Rick Scott to appoint a majority of the Florida Supreme Court on his way out of office, and I don’t see how even the Machiavellians who run Tallahassee these days can work their way around it. Nonetheless, we’ll have to be vigilant as 2018 approaches.

The League of Women Voters has been a great influence on government since it began in 1919, when women were winning the vote. In some ways – and I say this as a member – it has been too successful. Founders took their new right very seriously, and Leaguers emphasized the importance of studying the issues and not voting according to party lines. Because men from both parties had both supported and opposed the vote for women, the League was and remains bipartisan. It endorses only on issues, not candidates, and its leadership is restricted from working in candidates’ campaigns.

The too-frequent result is that the voters whom Leaguers hope to influence can’t make the transition between the issues and the candidates’ positions on those issues. Amendment One is a perfect example: Floridians approved it by something like 75%, but yet they voted against the legislative candidates who were most likely to implement their good intentions. This happens year after year, as voters seem to be unable to make the connections between causes and candidates.

To put this in context, here’s a chronological list from 1969 to 2005 of the women who have served as president of the local league and also have run for public office. They are Helen Gordon Davis, Betty Castor, Fran Davin, Noreen Follman, Irene Silver, Mary Figg, Mimi Kehoe Osiasin, Kathy Castor, and Annette Delisle. All have unblemished reputations, yet every one has lost an election at some point, when voters failed to translate what they wanted on issues to the candidates who agreed with them. This failure to connect is almost solely because of negative advertising, advertising that tears down the individual instead of proclaiming a positive agenda. Again and again, people vote against someone, not for someone. Negativity and fear trump reason and trust.

I visited former state Senator Helen Gordon Davis the day after the election. She is dying, and three times tears came to her eyes about ending her life with so little affirmation from younger women for the better world we created for them. I told her that I had lain awake the previous night and reevaluated my life. “Maybe I’ll stop putting so much effort into making democracy work,” I said. “I could travel and garden and read fiction and let government go to the highest bidder. Maybe those seniors who voted for candidates who would take away their Social Security deserve that. Maybe those women who can’t be bothered to vote for lawmakers who support access to health care and education and fair pay will realize their mistake when they lose those things.”

But she was adamant that I could not do this, so I guess I’ll keep on keeping on. Next time, I’ll write something about the 1914 congressional elections that will be news to you, something that demonstrates how complicated women’s political history can be. And let me know what you think about the full name of Citizens United.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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