As its number implies, HR 1 was the highest priority of the House when the new congressional session began in January. Six months later, this biggest voting-rights bill since 1965 is dead, killed by the loss of the similarly numbered Senate bill. We Democrats didn't have enough votes to overcome the obstruction led by Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell, so now the legislation is tossed. Yet it's not too late to retrieve the big bill from the bin and get the important things done by passing separate parts --- the ideas with which the public almost entirely agrees.
As a New York Times news analysis reminded us, "the bill's original driver was presidential ethics." Under the proposed law, presidential and vice presidential candidates would have to release their tax returns, and if elected, would be required to disentangle their businesses from profiting by their political office. Remember Trump's endless excuses and evasions on his taxes? Remember how the government paid millions of dollars to his many resorts every time the Secret Service had to stay at one? Under the rejected bill, whistleblowers within the federal government also would have been empowered. No one except a highly partisan person hiding his own corruption could object to any of this.
Another section of the bill would have reformed the financing of congressional elections, making candidates less dependent on PACs and freeing their time from endless fundraising. The bill also addressed gerrymandering of state legislatures, something I'll speak to more below. And it would have mandated early voting in every state, as well as overturning the restrictions on mail ballots that many legislatures – including ours – are adopting to make it harder to cast a ballot.
Other parts were more controversial, but my point now is to pass those that aren't. Polls show that the vast majority of voters approve of most of the bill, especially the anti-corruption sections. This is not a problem with Honest Joe in the White House – as his decades of scrutinized service demonstrate -- but we should not get lazy because of that. The future is unknown, so let's take HR 1 apart and adopt the best parts as law. Let senators explain to their constituents if they vote against openness and honesty.
THE WAY FORWARD
There was a time when Florida could have led the way in Washington with our Government in the Sunshine laws. Adopted in the 1970s, Sunshine requires candidates to release personal financial information upon filing for office. Even volunteers who serve in appointed positions without pay must reveal our sources of income, something that prevents conflicts of interest.
These laws were actively enforced under Democratic governors Reubin Askew, Bob Graham, and Lawton Chiles. I've given up on volunteerism, so I don't know how well Sunshine is being observed these days – but I don't expect Republican leaders Rick Scott, Marco Rubio, or Ron DeSantis to head a national parade for transparency and fairness.
Don't despair, though, as other states are showing us ways forward. Colorado was so conservative that Democrats were in the legislative minority for 28 years, but now progressives have held the majority for a decade. The turn-around numbers are dramatic: In last year's election, Biden won 23 of Colorado Senate seats compared to Trump's 12. Statewide, Biden defeated Trump by 55-42 percent – something that would have been unthinkable a few years ago.
The same trend is trending in Michigan. Even though it has crazies who laid plans to assassinate Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, the FBI intervened and the nuts are beginning to sober up. Smarter voters created an independent commission to draw new legislative districts instead of leaving these important decisions to self-interested legislators. In Florida, we still allow foxes to run the henhouse, but Michigan offers a new model. Its non-partisan commission is holding hearings across the state right now, and hundreds of people are turning up at meetings to offer their opinions. The strongest ones, not surprisingly, are those who want districts that reflect "communities of interest" -- geographical areas that share common history, cultures, and economics.
Creating "communities of interest" is a longtime goal of the League of Women Voters and other progressive groups. Instead, locally, we have gotten districts that stretch from Lutz to Wimauma and from Harbour Island to Valrico. The best example of this "divide and conquer" approach may be the tiny city of Temple Terrace, which has been split into three congressional districts. No one knows who represents them – and that is exactly what is intended by the powerful. This happens because we voters allow it with our lack of engagement.
Now is the time. New legislative and congressional districts are quietly being drawn by incumbents at this very moment, all to benefit insiders. No hearings are being held, and the deal will pass the legislature next winter as if it fell from the sky and was mandated by heaven. Voters in other states have shown much more spunk, while Florida has sunk from our previous position as a leader in governance. We may not be able to raise Lawton from the dead, but we can do something. The first step might be to join the League of Women Voters, and yes, men are welcome.
IN OTHER NEWS
I was not surprised, but nonetheless discouraged, by the revelation that the men who killed and dismembered Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi were Saudis trained in the US, under a contract approved by Trump's State Department. That these fascists had the nerve to take on the Washington Post shows how far the Saudi Arabian royal family thinks it can go. I've been asking for years and ask again: Why do we support one of the world's last absolute monarchies? Fifteen of the nineteen hijackers on September 11 were from Saudi Arabia, yet instead we attack Iran, Iraq, and other Muslim nations – but not Saudi Arabia, the home of Mecca and Medina and the heart of religious conservatism.
Neither was I surprised when a young Wyoming couple who made large donations to Democrats were revealed to actually be Republicans: they made these donations because they wanted to attend Democratic fundraisers to spy. Shades of Watergate once more! Over-the-top Republicans back then paid underlings to break into Democratic offices in Washington's Watergate complex just to see what they could find. They got nothing, as Democrats have very little to hide.
But the men were arrested for the burglary, and dozens of lives were ruined before Republican Richard Nixon resigned because of his role in the attempted cover-up. I think such people have too great a belief in original sin: because they are morally adrift, they assume everyone is, too. They think that because they have something to hide, others also do -- and they will break the law to find it.
Good news: in case you didn't see it, Buffalo elected its first woman as mayor. An African American, single mother, and registered nurse, she defeated the male incumbent, also an African American, who was seeking his fifth four-year term. He barely campaigned, mistakenly dissing his female foe.
Also nice: Southwest Airlines claims that it never has had a layoff in its 50-year history, and I can't disprove that. My Arkansas sister was an early fan of the Texas-based company, which used to have a genuine family feel. The FAA probably made them less fun, but I remember when Southwest had a trivia game with every flight. I once won a bag clip for knowing that Charlie Brown's father was a barber.
A mathematician and a social policy analysist recently punished a piece trying to correct the innumeracy that so bothered Hubby before his death. His undergraduate degree was in math and his graduate degrees in philosophy, and I so wish I could show this research to him. Although he was a pioneer of computerization, he worried that young people didn't really understand numbers, and that appears to be true. For example, the difference between a million and billion seems almost indifferent to many people these days, so this duo offered several ways to demonstrate that meaning. I thought the best is to use the passage of time as a measurement. A million seconds ticks by in about 12 days, while a billion seconds is 32 years. Ponder that.
Speaking of big numbers, columnist Nicholas Kristof has gotten increasingly liberal since his wife has made him aware of the importance of feminism in international affairs. Talking of ways to fund this need, he noted that while there have been some recent cuts, our "military budget is bigger than the military budgets of the next 10 countries combined." Combined. Including China and Russia.
Let's take some of that money and use it where it would do the most good: supporting mothers in Third World nations to rear sons who have enough emotional and economic security that they can make a living without resorting to violence. If the funds have to come from within the budget of the Defense Department, I'd put the Army and Navy Nurse Corps in charge. Both have existed for more than a century with nary a scandal.
Finally, the New York Times ran a full-page obituary for Kenneth Kaunda. I didn't remember him, but the headline called him "a patriarch of African Independence." He died at 97, having outlived Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and all the other champions of independence from colonial empires. I've noticed before that the easiest way to be forgotten to history is to live a long life.
The obituary is a quick lesson in sub-Saharan Africa, and I suggest you find it online and read it. A disciple of Gandhi's non-violent politics, Mr. Kaunda never was known to raise his voice – nor to back down from the principle of racial equality. When he met with South Africa's John Vorster and Rhodesia's Ian Smith for peace talks, it was on a railroad car perched high above Victoria Falls. The white men sat on the Rhodesian side of the border, while Kaunda remained in his Zambia.
No one reported vertigo, which would have afflicted me.