Stephanie Mencimer

Stephanie Mencimer

Reporter

Stephanie works in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. A Utah native and graduate of a crappy public university not worth mentioning, she has spent the last year hanging out with angry white people who occasionally don tricorne hats and come to lunch meetings heavily armed.

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Stephanie covers legal affairs and domestic policy in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. She is the author of Blocking the Courthouse Door: How the Republican Party and Its Corporate Allies Are Taking Away Your Right to Sue. A contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, a former investigative reporter at the Washington Post, and a senior writer at the Washington City Paper, she was nominated for a National Magazine Award in 2004 for a Washington Monthly article about myths surrounding the medical malpractice system. In 2000, she won the Harry Chapin Media award for reporting on poverty and hunger, and her 2010 story in Mother Jones of the collapse of the welfare system in Georgia and elsewhere won a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.

Florida Dems Snub Their Own Challenger To Rick Scott

| Tue Jun. 4, 2013 2:11 PM EDT
State Sen. Nan Rich (D), candidate for governor of Florida

Florida Governor Rick Scott is highly unpopular with voters, and polls show him losing his reelection race next year to any generic Democrat. But now that at least one Democratic challenger has emerged, it appears that the Democrats may already be shooting themselves in the foot. Case in point: The Florida Democratic Party denied Nan Rich, the only Democrat who's jumped into the race, a speaking slot at its annual Jefferson-Jackson fundraising dinner later this month.

"I think it’s inappropriate, given the amount of attention the governor’s race will draw," Rich told the Miami Herald. "I've been a candidate for a year. I've traveled the state and built a significant infrastructure and grassroots support. And I'm just asking for five minutes."

Party organizers claimed they didn't want big donors to get "bored by too many speeches" at the event, but the snub is largely viewed as an attempt to sideline Rich, a state senator, in favor of the party's preferred candidate, former Republican governor Charlie Crist. (Signs that Crist is seriously considering jumping into the Democratic primary: Most recently an independent, he officially switched party affiliation again in December after losing a Senate race to Sen. Marco Rubio. Then, in early May, he suddenly became a supporter of same-sex marriage, which he'd previously opposed.)

Florida Dems clearly see Crist as the stronger candidate, even if he is, well, a Republican. A recent poll showed Crist prevailing in a Democratic primary, with Rich receiving just 1 percent of the vote, and faring much better than Rich in a matchup with Scott. Still, polls suggest that Crist isn't exactly a shoe-in, with at least one showing him in a dead heat with Scott. And rank-and-file Democrats are understandably leery about jumping on the bandwagon with a candidate who has previously described himself as a "Jeb Bush Republican." 

But Rich, a stalwart liberal Democrat known for her work on child welfare issues and sharp criticism of Scott, has had trouble raising money and her profile. She could have used the platform at the dinner to help boost her visibility. Instead, the state Democratic party decided it's more important to hear from the mayor of San Antonio, Texas. Meanwhile, the head of the state GOP, Lenny Curry, has seized the opportunity to taunt Florida Democrats for dissing one of their own. He started the hashtag #FreeNanRich and tweeted, "Are big donors really more important than 5 min for @SenatorNanRich?" He also sent out a press release targeted at the state's Democrats to let Rich on the podium, writing:

While Senator Rich and I might not see eye to eye politically, she has a long history of leadership in public service and deserves five minutes of speaking time as the only announced gubernatorial candidate in your party.

Because Senator Rich is an experienced spokesperson for Democratic ideology in Florida, it must be disappointing to see your Chairwoman, Allison Tant, put the interests of big-dollar donors ahead of a mere five minutes for Florida's leading champion of liberal causes.

The Rich snub promises the beginning of a bitter primary battle for the right to challenge Scott, who will certainly benefit from the distraction from his own record. Whether the Democratic primary fight will be enough to keep one of the nation's most loathed governors in office, though, is still very much an open question. 

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Anti-Consumer Tea Partier Nominated For Consumer Protection Job

| Wed May 29, 2013 11:05 AM EDT
Former Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-NY)

Last week, President Barack Obama nominated a former member of the congressional tea party caucus with an anti-consumer legislative record to a seat on the Consumer Product Safety Commission. If confirmed, Ann Marie Buerkle, who served a single term as a Republican congresswoman from upstate New York, will join the five-member bipartisan commission for a seven-year appointment. 

In a way, this fox-in-a-chicken-house move is not truly Obama's fault. The commission has five members, and no more than three can be from the same party. So when it's time to pick a GOPer for such a position and there's a Democrat in the White House, it is the responsibility of Republican congressional leaders. Buerkle was the choice of Senate minority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has been stealthily placing conservative loyalists in the far reaches of the federal regulatory apparatus.

Buerkle spent her brief time in Congress battling measures that would help consumers file complaints about a defective product with the CPSC and supporting proposals that would make it more difficult to remove dangerous products from the market. She opposed a bill that would have prevented convicted fraudsters from advertising non-publicly traded securities; she fought measures that would have empowered the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to protect seniors from abusive practices. And, by the way, she's a climate-change denier.

Buerkle's nomination has many consumer activists scratching their heads, but not for the obvious reasons. That Republicans would pick someone hostile to the agency as a commissioner isn't surprising. McConnell has all but said his stealth nominees are basically there to gum up the works for a Democratic administration. But what's curious about Buerkle's selection for the job is that she has said she still hasn't given up on the idea of running for her old seat in upstate New York next year.

In 2010, Buerkle narrowly defeated incumbent Rep. Dan Maffei (D) in a wave of tea party activism, with heavy backing from the National Rifle Association, which has given her an A-rating for her pro-gun views. The district, though, leans Democrat, and in 2012, she lost to Maffei in a hotly-contested rematch. She hasn't ruled out another run against him, and there's no telling whether she's now truly committed to making mischief on the CPSC or intending to put in a short stint before returning to the electoral battlefield.

Buerkle also recently started hosting a new radio show on WSYR in Syracuse, and she notes that she will need private sponsors to stay on the air. That poses a potential conflict of interest for her commission post, which involves regulating private companies. Some of these firms might see sponsoring her radio show as a way of currying favor with the commissioner.

Obama has to nominate a Republican to the commission—which now has two Democratic members and one Republican—if he has any hope of getting a new Democrat to fill one of two current vacancies. Last year, he nominated Michigan trial lawyer Marietta Robinson to fill the Democratic vacancy, and the Senate held a hearing on the nomination. But the nomination went nowhere, as Republicans resisted. Now that Obama has put forward a GOP nominee, Robinson might have a shot at getting confirmed—though the price is putting a tea partier where she can cause some serious disruption.

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