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 several years 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.

Chart of the Day: God Is Dead—to Millennials, Anyway

Evangelical Christians have long been the foot soldiers of the Republican Party. In 2010, they made up about 36 percent of Republican voters.

But the GOP's reliance on religious voters isn't necessarily a formula for long-term success—especially since the next generation of Americans has serious reservations not just about organized religion, but about the very existence of God. For the past 25 years, the Pew Research Center has been asking voters whether they ever question the existence of God. The numbers have been pretty stable. Older voters are pretty set on God, with 86 percent of baby boomers saying they never question His existence.

But Millennials, defined as Americans born after 1981, are bending the curve. This year, only 68 percent of Millennials surveyed said they never questioned God's existence, the lowest number of any group in 25 years. That's down from 76 percent only five years ago. The numbers suggest Millennials are going to be a generation of skeptics. No other generation has seen such a dramatic crisis of faith in such a short time. 

Pew Research CenterPew Research Center

The trend lines join other bad polling news for evangelicals, namely that younger Christians are turned off by attacks on gays and lesbians. Such trends don't bode well for the Republican Party. By 2020, Millennials will make up the largest single voting bloc in the country, some 90 million strong, and they are already showing a distaste for GOP politics.

Evangelical political activists like Ralph Reed have contended that these sorts of numbers don't mean the movement is in a death spiral. Reed has scoffed at polling data showing younger people fleeing the religious right. "Young people may start out liberal, but once they start getting married, having babies, and paying taxes, we got 'em," he told me after the 2010 midterm election.

News Flash: Even Christians Hate Christian TV

Pastor David Wright is the CEO of DOersTV.com, an online Christian reality TV network. He's been using Facebook to do some research on his audience, and this week sent out a press release revealing his findings. No one who's ever watched Christian TV will be especially shocked, but Wright declared himself "flabbergasted" to learn that even the vast majority of Christians who responded to his network's Facebook fan page hate Christian TV. "I kind of expected there would be those Christians who thought Christian TV was too boring or not relevant for the times, but I never would have imagined the disdain thousands of Christians have for Christian TV," Wright said in his release.

Fortunately, Wright was able to get to the source of the frustration. He says that the vast majority of Christians think that Christian TV is boring and that it features "Too much begging for money and fundraising telethons." Another problem he identified is that Christians think Christian TV is full of ethically challenged "false prosperity teachers" manipulating people to give money. "Unfortunately, the greed for money has replaced the need for ministry among many of our ministers and Christian TV Networks. People are feed [sic] up with the lust for material things," said Wright, noting that the overabundance of greedy religious figures on Christian TV was a big turn off for viewers. "We can't have pastors indulging in sin and expect people not to be turned off." Wright promises to take the information to heart: he's declared a moratorium on telethons, so the devout can safely tune in to "Kingdom Building Today" or the oxymoronic "Christian Comedy Television" on his network without hearing that God thinks they should write the network a big check. Praise the lord! 

Walker Campaign Disavows Controversial Tea Party Group

It's no secret that embattled Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) has been relying heavily on tea party activists' labor and donations to bolster his prospects in Tuesday's recall election. But a recent email from TeaParty.org asking for donations to Walker's campaign claims that Walker is "one of" the controversial group's "sponsors"—a claim the Walker campaign vehemently denies.

Even other tea party groups are leery of associating with TeaParty.org. The group, which is also known as the 1776 Tea Party, was founded by Dale Robertson, who famously showed up at a Houston tea party rally in 2009 carrying a sign that said, "Congress = Slaveowner, Taxpayer = Niggar."

Rally organizers asked Robertson to leave, but someone snapped a photo that has dogged him—and the broader movement—ever since. After the photo of the sign became public, the Tea Party Patriots released a statement denouncing Robertson, emphasizing that it "has never had any association with Mr. Robertson" and stood "firmly" against racism and Robertson's sign. Robertson's reputation didn't improve much when in 2010, he sent out a fundraising appeal with a photoshopped image of President Obama as a pimp.

Like many of the media hounds claiming to represent the grassroots Tea Party movement, Robertson's main credential is opportunism. In early 2009, as the movement was taking root, he had the foresight to register a whole bunch of tea party domain names, including teaparty.org, Texas Tea Party, Houston Tea Party, HoustonTXTeaParty, and so on. Then he tried to sell the names back to the actual Texas tea party leaders, making veiled threats about lawsuits over their use of the Tea Party name. Most legitimate tea party organizations have put significant distance between Robertson’s organization and their own. In 2010, Adam Brandon, the spokesperson from the tea party group FreedomWorks, told me that Robertson's outfit was probably the only tea party organization FreedomWorks wouldn't work with. So Robertson has found some new supporters.

Most recently, Robertson has joined forces with people from the anti-immigrant Minuteman movement, which has fallen on hard times. According to Texas corporate records, TeaParty.org's executive director is Stephen Eichler and its media director is Tim Bueler, both of whom have extensive ties to the Minutemen movement. Bueler worked briefly with Jerome Corsi on the Swiftboat campaign against Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004.

Corsi and Bueler were deported from Kenya in 2008 for trying to hold a press conference in which they promised to expose close ties between then-candidate Obama and members of the Kenyan government. Corsi is featured prominently on the TeaParty.org site in a section asking people to donate to support a birther campaign against Obama.

Given this background, why would Walker agree to be a "sponsor" of such an organization? Well, as it turns out, he isn't. The email appears to be an enterprising bit of self-promotion by the tea party group, not the Walker campaign itself. Ciara Matthews, communications director for Friends of Scott Walker, says that TeaParty.org appears to have appropriated one of the campaign's fundraising emails and distributed it without the campaign’s knowledge. The donation link in the email goes to the Walker campaign, but Friends of Scott Walker "did not authorize the use of our fundraising letter in this way," Matthews says. "We've never spoken to them, we don't get money from them," she continued. "We did not provide this fundraising letter to them for the purpose." No one from Teaparty.org responded to a request for comment. 

Can Love Win An Election?

Jason Howell, independent candidate for Virginia's 8th Congressional District

"Love matters" is not the likeliest of campaign slogans in an acrimony-filled election season, but there it is in bold print on Jason Howell's website along with some areas—diplomacy, national security—that the 37-year-old congressional candidate feels could benefit from a bit more tenderness. At a time of hyper-partisanship and congressional deadlock, Howell, a political neophyte running as an independent against 11-term incumbent Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), is talking about linking arms—metaphorically, literally, maybe both—with politicians across the political divide and setting aside ideological differences for the good of the country. His chances of knocking off Moran? Not so good. Then again, love can do powerful things.

The son of Caribbean immigrants, Howell was literally born just as Richard Nixon was resigning. He says he learned that "discretionary income matters" at age 14, when he got his first job at Toys R Us, whose paychecks he split with his parents. After getting an accounting degree, he went to work doing the taxes and bookkeeping of local musicians, among other clients. But he says he was shocked by the debt crisis last summer, during which Standard & Poors downgraded the US debt rating based mostly on the broken political system, and eventually decided that he should do something about it, but not in the same way as the tea partiers who've jumped into politics in response to national debt issues. Howell, for instance, thinks the Bush tax cuts ought to expire, a position that would not endear him to many conservatives. But he's trying to defy traditional political labels. "I would be just as embarrassed to run as a Republican as I would as a Democrat," he told me when we met last week, at his request, at a DC coffee shop.

Americans for Prosperity vs. Metrorail

A Metrorail train arriving at the Naylor Road Station platform.

What is it with conservatives and trains? They hate Amtrak; they hate light rail; and now, apparently, they are even opposed to subways that are one of the few solutions to permanent traffic gridlock in the nation's most populated cities. The latest: Americans for Prosperity, the advocacy group that is partly funded by Koch brothers, is currently funding a campaign in Virginia to try to kill off an expansion of the Washington Metrorail system from Reston, Virginia, to the Dulles Airport and into Loudoun County, areas around DC that are choked with traffic.

AFP is sponsoring robo-calls to area residents urging them to contact their local officials and lobby them to fight off the subway project, which they oppose because of potential tax increases associated with the project. According to the Washington Post, the recorded calls tell voters:

Loudoun cannot afford this bail-out to rail-station developers. If the Loudoun County board opts out, the rail will still be built to Dulles Airport, and commuters will still be within five miles of Metro. Come tell the board of supervisors to opt out and save taxpayers billions of dollars.

If the Metrorail expansion doesn't take place, the wealthy Virginia county will be doomed to a long future of horrible traffic conditions, which are already bad—so bad that it helps keep the Washington metro area at the top of the charts in studies of the nation's worst commutes and creates miserable air quality. Studies show that Loudoun County would also miss out on a tremendous amount of economic development expected to accompany the new rail stations (lots of people have already paid a premium to buy houses within walking distance of the new stations). The county could reap nearly $400 million in new tax revenue from the project, too. It's basically a no-brainer. But conservative activists seem dead-set on ensuring that the county's traffic remains as gridlocked as Washington politics.

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