Political MoJo

This Texas Democrat Could Be the Future of Her Party—And Her Name Isn't Wendy Davis

| Wed Mar. 5, 2014 7:05 AM PST
Texas Sen. Leticia Van Putte, who is running for lieutenant governor.

Minutes before midnight last June 25, after state Sen. Wendy Davis concluded her 12-and-a-half-hour filibuster of a bill to severely limit abortion access in Texas, a colleague of Davis' took the mike. Angered that the Republican leadership seemed to be ignoring female senators like herself, state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte asked, "At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?" The Davis supporters who'd filled the gallery suddenly erupted in applause, a roar that only got louder as order turned to chaos, midnight came and went, and the infamous SB 5 legislation was, for the time being, defeated.

Today, 59-year-old Van de Putte once again finds herself alongside Davis, who's running for governor. She is the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor of Texas and will face either incumbent David Dewhurst or hard-right conservative state Sen. Dan Patrick in November. (Dewhurst and Patrick will compete in a May 27 runoff to pick the GOP nominee.) Right now, Davis is the talk of Texas politics, grabbing all the headlines and raising eye-popping sums of money. But Van de Putte may figure larger in the future of her state. Latina, progressive, and a sixth-generation Texan, she has a serious chance of winning, especially if a fire-breather like Patrick wins the runoff, and she is the type of candidate Democrats need as they try to capitalize on the state's growing Latino population and turn Texas blue.

Every schoolchild, the saying goes, learns that the most powerful politician in Texas is the lieutenant governor. If the governor of Texas dies, the lieutenant governor assumes the top spot. If the governor leaves the state even for a few days, the lieutenant governor becomes sitting governor. The lieutenant governor appoints the powerful committee chairmanships in the state Senate, picks which committee bills are sent to, and decides when a bill comes up for a vote and when someone is recognized on the floor of the state Senate.

In other words, if Van de Putte wins, instead of asking for permission to speak, as she did last June, she'd be giving it. While she may be an underdog—any Texas Democrat running for statewide office is—she's no long shot. A recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll showed her trailing Patrick by 9 percentage points—2 less than Davis' deficit against her Republican rival, Attorney General Greg Abbott—and Dewhurst by 12. If Van de Putte did pull off an upset—and Davis fell short—it would still be the biggest win for state Democrats since Ann Richards won the governorship in 1990.

Davis and Van de Putte share the top of the ballot, but in many ways they couldn't be more different. Davis is composed, lawyerly, and on-message; Van de Putte (whose maiden name is San Miguel) practically preaches from the dais, her speeches peppered with one-liners and zingers and folksy wisdom. At one event last year, a copy of her prepared remarks given to reporters included the disclaimer: "**Please note that the Senator frequently diverges from her prepared remarks**"

On a recent Sunday morning, Van de Putte didn't appear to have any prepared remarks as she addressed a Texas AFL-CIO convention at a downtown Austin hotel. "My journey here was not an easy one," she said. In the past year, her six-month-old grandson, 82-year-old father, a beloved employee of her husband's company, and her husband's mother had all died. Grief stricken, Van de Putte said she wouldn't have thought about running for lieutenant governor but for her friend Becky Moeller, the president of the Texas AFL-CIO. Moeller gently nagged her about running, and gave her polling data showing a narrow path to victory. Van de Putte and her family prayed on the decision. Ultimately, seeing the direction her state was headed, she couldn't say no. She told the convention attendees, "You know, Mama ain't happy. And if your family's like my family, Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.'" Pause. "And if Grandma's not happy, run! And so I am."

Van de Putte's 20-minute speech veered from the tragic (her family's recent losses) to the euphoric to the hard-hitting. She singled out Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) for "throwing a temper tantrum" that shut down the federal government. Yet as any politician worth her salt knows, Texans don't take kindly to criticism of their beloved state, and Van de Putte's speech deftly walked the line between touting the so-called Texas miracle ("It's because of Texas families that we're succeeding") and slamming her Republican counterparts for not investing in public schools and infrastructure.

Throughout her speech, Van de Putte hit on a populist theme: "I know who you are. I know where you've been. I know where you're going." She used that line to appeal to the teachers, tradesmen, communication workers, and others gathered in the ballroom, and she urged them to remember the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?" That populist message could play well should the GOP nominee be Dewhurst, a wealthy businessman who spent about $25 million of his own money on a losing US Senate bid in 2012 and other campaigns. Dewhurst has said this will be his last run for office; Dewhurst, who was worth at least $200 million heading into his Senate run, recently told the Associated Press he needs to "go back [to the private sector] and earn some money." Patrick, the other GOP hopeful, has come under fire for his overheated rhetoric, such as describing the flow of immigrants from Mexico to Texas as an "illegal invasion."

Of course, Van de Putte will need a lot more than her friends in the labor movement to win in November. But as local and national Democrats pour money, manpower, and technology into their quest of turning Texas blue, Leticia Van de Putte is a name you can expect to hear a lot more often.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

How Steve Stockman Pioneered the Uncampaign

| Tue Mar. 4, 2014 7:17 PM PST

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) easily topped the 50-percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff in Tuesday's Republican Senate primary. Two years after tea party activists helped send Ted Cruz to Washington, Cornyn escaped unscathed, and will almost certainly win another term in November. Heading into the primary, the only real drama was whether his opponent, Rep. Steve Stockman, would even vote for himself—Stockman hasn't voted in a GOP primary election since 2004, which includes both the preliminary and runoff elections in his victorious 2012 campaign.

The Stockman campaign defied convention, often spectacularly so. He made what the Dallas Morning News called a "rare public appearance" on January 14, and then he disappeared. He wasn't seen for days, during which time he missed 17 consecutive votes and his House office refused to say where he was. Then his staff switched gears, revealing that he had been in Russia, Egypt, and Israel and chiding American reporters for not paying attention to a press conference he'd held overseas. He came back in time for the State of the Union, only to theatrically storm out midway through.

His campaign office was literally condemned. His staff, such as it was, refused to alert reporters to upcoming public events, which may have been because there weren't any. Seriously—try to find any record that he held one in the last two months. The closest thing to a Stockman campaign effort was a fake newspaper, sent to conservative mail boxes, which quoted Stockman's campaign literature about Cornyn verbatim, but which the Stockman campaign claimed it had nothing to do with. He filed a libel lawsuit against a pro-Cornyn PAC for alleging he had been jail and charged with a felony for drug possession, despite admitting in 1995 to these allegations in an interview. And he just cold stopped filing campaign finance reports. He raised virtually no money, nor is it clear what, if anything, his campaign spent its cash on. He didn't run any TV ads. He claimed he had been endorsed by the Tea Party Patriots, when the group had done nothing of the sort.

But the amazing thing about Stockman isn't his total refusal to campaign—it's that this is the first time this strategy has failed him. Consider this Houston Chronicle story from 2012:

Steve Stockman, 55, who served one term in Congress in the 1990s, spurns most public events and candidate forums and rarely talks to news media. Instead, he has blanketed the East Texas district with fake tabloid newspapers emblazoned with such headlines as "[Republican rival] Stephen Takach drove family friend into bankruptcy," "Gunowners Furious as Takach sides with 'gun grabbers'" (Sheila Jackson Lee, Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi) and "Takach smears Stockman for taking care of his Alzheimer's-stricken father."

Sound familiar? Stockman beat Takach. And he went on to win the general election by 44 points, operating out of a garage. He used the same newspaper strategy when he was elected to the House in 1994, too—though he also denied involvement at the time, even though it was being printed at his home address.

Stockman will leave behind no political legacy, unless you were one of the lucky few to receive an "If Babies Had Guns They Wouldn't Be Aborted" bumper sticker. If you were one of a handful of Texans who donated to his campaign, you would have been better served lighting your money on fire. But he was, nonetheless, a trailblazer. We salute you, Steve Stockman, pioneer of the uncampaign.

Watch: Patrick Stewart Satirizes Fake Obamacare Horror Stories With Stephen Colbert

| Tue Mar. 4, 2014 11:18 AM PST

English actor Patrick Stewart appeared on The Colbert Report Monday to lampoon the ongoing series of fake Obamacare horror stories. Stewart plays "actual Louisiana resident" Chuck Duprey, an "average American Joe" and "supposed non-actor." When howling about his health insurance woes, he says that his problems are "ALL BECAUSE OF THE AFFORDABLE CARE…line?"

Watch:

The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Video Archive

(The Colbert segment ends with "Chuck" dying while shouting, "repeal…and…replace!")

On Monday night, Stewart tweeted this pic:

Stewart went on The Daily Show last year to talk about his famous lobster costume and how Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford are basically comedians with "bad script writers." Stewart has also worked with the Ring the Bell campaign (a movement that calls on men and boys to help end violence against women), and stars in several Amnesty International videos on violence against women, including this one in which he discusses growing up in a violent household:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 4, 2014

Tue Mar. 4, 2014 7:53 AM PST

A CH-53 from VMM-163 reinforced supports the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit's maritime raid force during visit, board, search and seizure training off the coast of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Feb. 26, 2014. Both units are training for the 11th MEU's upcoming deployment later this summer. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Capt. Joshua Diddams/Released)

Here Is A Truly Wonderful Video of the US Military's "First Drag Show"

| Mon Mar. 3, 2014 4:22 PM PST

Happy Monday! Here is something wonderful.

On Saturday, six US servicemen put on what may have been, according to Stars & Stripes, the first drag show ever on a US military base.

The event was held at the Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan to raise money for OutServe-SLDN, a non-profit that supports the military's LGBT community. Organizers initially only expected to sell 75 tickets, but according to Navy Lt Marissa Greene, ended up selling 400.

The video of US troops lip syncing in drag to "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" as the crowd goes wild is amazing.

Once upon a time, gay and lesbian Americans who wanted to serve their country had to live in the closet thanks to a stupid policy called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." In the more than two years since DADT's repeal, the US military has somehow not fallen into chaos and disrepair.

Tech. Sgt. Kristen Baker put it best to Stars & Stripes: "Everything is just accepted. It makes me really proud to watch it. We are all brothers and sisters no matter what."

Watch:

(via Jezebel)

Paul Ryan's Superficial Critique of Federal Poverty Programs

| Mon Mar. 3, 2014 3:46 PM PST
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) at the 2012 Republican National Convention

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), chairman of the House budget committee, has apparently decided that by pretending to volunteer in a soup kitchen during the 2012 presidential campaign he didn't do enough to prove he's serious about anti-poverty policy. So he and his aides spent about a year examining federal anti-poverty programs and the congressman issued a report on their findings. The study, heralded in the Washington Post as a document likely to inform the GOP budget proposal expected later this month, is hefty, weighing in at more than 200 pages. It seems designed to bolster Ryan, a possible contender for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, as his party's top dog on policy. But as any student who's padded a paper knows, length doesn't equal depth. And in this case, Ryan's report is essentially an overview of existing federal poverty policies, itemized with a few citations to some research indicating how well they may or may not work. It's a little like Federal Poverty Programs for Dummies, without any policy alternatives to be found. Instead, the report relies on cherry-picked data points to justify slashing entitlements. 

Take the report's description of the Child Care and Development Fund, a federal program that provides a miniscule amount of money to help low-income people afford child care so they can go to work. On the work part, Ryan seems to approve. He notes that data show that single mothers who get a childcare subsidy are—surprise!—more likely to go to work or go back to school. However, the data show that the childcare subsidy also encourages married women to go to work, and here, it's clear, the GOP does not approve. The report suggests that when poor, married women get jobs thanks to the childcare benefit, their kids get totally neglected. Not only that, it asserts that such programs can cause "lower-quality parental relationships." Of course, the the kids of single moms are also supposedly harmed by the subsidy, according to the report, which warns that childcare subsidies are related to increased health and behavioral problems in children, poor school performance—and it makes them fat.

It's hardly a sophisticated analysis of the impact of childcare subsidies on poor families that might come from a real investigation of a federal poverty program—there are no voices from actual program users—but given the source, that's no surprise. Ryan has been trying to convince the public for a while now that he really cares about the poor, and that, driven by his Catholic faith, he's genuinely interested in trying to tackle entrenched poverty. But the proposals he's offered up in the past—big budget cuts to poverty programs, block-granting Medicaid—have almost universally promised to make the suffering of the poor much worse, not better. His anti-poverty proposals have been so severe that he even earned the wrath of the conservative US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which found his ideas in direct conflict with the church's teachings on social justice.

In his latest offering on the subject of poverty, Ryan does champion a few federal programs, namely the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. That's the modern version of the old cash entitlement system for low-income single moms that was "reformed" in 1996 by turning federal assistance money over to the states to administer. The welfare reform bill made it much more difficult for low-income families to access the safety net by putting sharp limits on benefits and imposing stiff work requirements as a condition of receiving help. The Ryan report credits the 1996 welfare reform bill with bringing down child poverty rates and increasing workforce participation rates of single mothers, at least up until 2001, when poverty rates started to spike again. But again, he's writing in a vacuum: The report fails to mention that the main reason for the big drop in poverty and employment rates during that time was a major economic boom that by 2000 had brought the unemployment rate down to 4.0 percent, one of the lowest rates in recorded history, which made it a lot easier for welfare moms to find work.

In addition, even as Ryan champions welfare reform as a poverty killer, he fails to mention that though some measures of poverty went down after the welfare reform law was passed in 1996, the number of households living in deep poverty—on less than $2 per day—has more than doubled since then. So has welfare reform really alleviated poverty? It's complicated. One thing it did do, however, was slash the amount of federal money spent on the program. The welfare budget hasn't increased since 1996, meaning that the $16 billion program has lost a third of its value thanks to inflation.

Meanwhile, the report blames Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the federal disability program that's recently become a favorite target of GOP budget hawks, for preventing people from joining the workforce. It cites a decade-old report suggesting that the program reduces the labor supply—but only of people between the ages of 60 and 64. The Ryan report contends that the program is full of scammers, particularly the parents of disabled children who have an incentive to keep them out of the workforce to keep the disability checks flowing. It claims that SSI permanently prevents children who receive disability payments from joining the workforce after they hit 18, without considering the possibility that these people are on SSI because they're actually disabled and can't work, even if they want to. And critically, Ryan doesn't explain how anyone gets by on $535 a month, the average monthly SSI payment, or how that teeny bit of government money would be preferable to taking even a minimum-wage job.

These are fairly small oversights compared to the report's biggest and most obvious omission, namely any discussion of the current economy and its relationship to poverty. Even as it knocks various poverty programs for discouraging labor force participation, Ryan's study fails to mention the single biggest reason people don't work: not enough jobs. Today, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (which Ryan cites with some regularity in his report), if every last job available in this country were filled tomorrow with an unemployed worker, three out of every five unemployed people would still be out of work.

Without acknowledging this basic economic fact, Ryan's superficial review of federal poverty programs looks suspiciously like a move to help his party justify big cuts to social welfare programs. It doesn't offer any new ideas that might improve programs to help the poor. It's a cheat sheet for GOP budget cutters looking for easy targets.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Pregnant? Your Boss May Have It In For You

| Mon Mar. 3, 2014 8:05 AM PST

Employers who illegally fire workers for being pregnant often attempt to skirt discrimination laws by smearing the employees as tardy, poor performers, or by chalking up their termination to company restructuring—even in cases where worse-performing employees, who were not pregnant, were allowed to remain on staff, and "company restructuring" turned out to be code for replacing pregnant workers.

That's according to a new study by sociology professor Reginald Byron of Southwestern University in Texas and Vincent Roscigno, a professor at Ohio State University. Their research, which will be published in the June 2014 issue of Gender & Society, is a major investigation into the phony justifications that employers who discriminated against pregnant workers gave to employees before firing them.

Byron and Roscigno examined 85 confirmed cases of pregnancy discrimination processed by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission for most years from 1986 to 2011. They found that pregnancy accounted for 40 percent of gender-related terminations. In around 30 percent of those cases, employers told the pregnant women that they were being fired for performing poorly; another 15 percent were let go for tardiness.

But a closer look at their workplaces found that pregnant employees were placed under greater scrutiny than their non-pregnant coworkers. Many pregnant women in Byron's sample, he writes, "identified other non-pregnant workers in their workplaces who had, for instance, more absences, less seniority, lower job performance or more workplace infractions, but who were not sanctioned or pushed out at all." But even in those cases, he says, pregnant women who had been fired were typically unable to win back their employment.

Byron notes,

Pregnant women, in these employer accounts, are presented as undependable workers because of physical limitations or violations of attendance and tardiness policies. Such concerns may, at face-value, seem legitimate in a business sense. However, the same policies and rationales were not invoked in the case of non-pregnant employees (including those with worse records of performance, attendance, tardiness etc.). Employers also contend that their decisions really have little to do with the pregnant employee herself and, instead, mostly concern workplace restructuring, cost savings and/or the inability to bear financial cost relative to accommodating particular employee needs.

In another 10 percent of cases, pregnant women were told that they were let go for business reasons unrelated to their performance. That, too, often turned out to be demonstrably false. In one case Byron and Roscigno write about, employers fired a pregnant assistant restaurant manager, saying that the company needed to reduce its assistant managers from three to two for cost-cutting reasons. But the company quickly hired a man to fill her position after letting her go.

Stories like these lead Byron, who is conducting a similar study of four other states, to conclude that pregnancy-related firings can stem from stereotypes about the abilities of pregnant workers. "Without attending to such cultural and structural power imbalances and the relational processes that undergird them, pregnancy discrimination will remain a significant problem," he writes.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 3, 2014

Mon Mar. 3, 2014 7:52 AM PST

Paratroopers with Chaos Troop, 1st Squadron, 40th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, move to their assembly area after parachuting into Deadhorse, Alaska, Feb. 25, 2014, as part of the Spartan Brigade's training for rapid insertion into any environment in the Pacific. This is the first time the Spartan Brigade has conducted operations north of the Arctic Circle. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Eric-James Estrada)

A Giant Union Is Planning to Protest the Oscars

| Fri Feb. 28, 2014 6:00 PM PST
SEIU protests at the Academy's Nominees Lunch

The Oscars air Sunday, but this year, the stars of the silver screen will be faced with picket lines and protesters.

That's because the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents 2.1 million service workers around the world, plans to protest the Academy's decision to hire Security Industry Specialists (SIS)—a company the union accuses of sexual harassment, racial discrimination, and worker intimidation—to provide security for awards night. (The company denies the allegations.)

"We don't think [the Academy] should be using a company that has this kind of record," SEIU campaign director Sam Kehinde explains. "All we are trying to do is make sure the public knows about it and the client knows."

SEIU activists bearing banners and signs voiced their concerns at last week's Nominee Lunch in Beverly Hills, but they were unable to relay their concerns to Academy representatives. Now, Kehinde says, the union is back for round two.

Over 100 SEIU activists—including current and former SIS employees—will converge near the Dolby Theatre on Friday afternoon in the hope of attracting attention from the public and entertainment industry officials who will be on site preparing for Sunday's event, Kehinde says. The protesters plan to follow up with a smaller protest on Sunday, when it will be more difficult for a large group to gain access to the area.

Daivon Young, an SIS security specialist assigned to Amazon, is traveling all the way from Seattle to participate in the protest. He says he is scared about his job security and how he will be treated after speaking out against SIS, but "it is the right thing to do."

Young has been an SIS employee for a year and a half and works at the high-security buildings. Though he is considered a specialist, he makes $15.50 an hour and is given 36 hours a week. He says he thinks the wage is good but many employees are only offered part-time work.

As the sole breadwinner supporting his three-month-old son, Malachai and his wife, Lavicy, Young's concerned. "It is important for me to be able to provide for my family," he says. "Me, growing up, I didn't have a mom. I didn't have my dad. Putting a roof over my son's head—it means everything to me."

Young describes the pressure he feels at work and says the simplest mistake will result in termination. He is often fearful about being penalized and says he feels belittled by his employers. Provoked by these concerns, he turned to the internet. "I wanted to look up reports about SIS," he explains, "to see if the same things were going on somewhere else." He landed on their "Union Facts" page, meant to derail and disprove the accusations SEIU laid against SIS. "It started naming all these things and, in my head I am thinking, 'You do do that!" Young exclaims.  

Daivon Young (Left) with his wife, Lavicy, their son, Malachai, and former SIS worker Richell Banks Courtesy SEIU

He says he had never considered the union before then and had been told explicitly as an employee he should not become involved with SEIU. "I understand now why we need a union," he adds. This is why he hopes his participation in the protest will make a difference.

Tom Seltz, copresident and CFO of SIS, says the union's allegations are unsubstantiated. He sees the Oscar protests as a form of harassment—a ploy for union officials to collect more money.

"I think the union is looking for dues and I don't think there is much they can promise our employees that they aren't already getting," he says. "I don't think there's anything they can promise."

Seltz says unions are unnecessary and says he sees no need for his employees to join. He emphasizes that it is still up to workers to make up their minds and denies claims that his company has used intimidation tactics to deter union involvement.

SIS pays employees higher than the average hourly wage for the industry, but only half of SIS workers are full time and receiving benefits. Seltz says this has more to do with the nature of the work and client needs than company policy, and that many SIS employees are off-duty police officers who can only work part-time or are hired to work temporarily for specific events. 

But Steve Amitay, the executive director of the National Association of Security Companies, says the industry norm is to employ workers full time. "Currently the majority of security officers at most contract security companies are full-time employees," he explains via email. Though Amitay acknowledges that there are instances when part-time work is warranted, he says that "some companies believe that the offer of part-time employment may deter the best job candidates and work against creating a dedicated and experienced workforce." 

Daivon Young says he hopes his presence at this weekend's protest will help convince his company to be more supportive of unionization. "All I want done is for SIS to allow us to have a union," he says. "We aren't asking for extra mayonnaise and extra pickles. We just want to be treated right."

Media Adviser to Hillary Clinton in 1999: "Be Careful to Be Real"

| Fri Feb. 28, 2014 12:41 PM PST

In 1999, as former First Lady Hillary Clinton was preparing to run for US Senator in New York, she was coached by Mandy Grunwald, a public relations consultant who also served as media adviser for Clinton's subsequent presidential campaign, before a speech. Back then, Grunwald had some words of wisdom for Clinton, who is now considered front runner for the Democrat's 2016 presidential nomination: "Be careful to be real." This is one of eight pieces of advice included in a July 1999 letter released today as part of a trove of documents from the Bill Clinton Administration.

Some of these tips could still be applicable for Clinton in 2016, if she chooses to run: "Don't assume anyone knows anything about you...New Yorkers generally know about healthcare, your work for children, and then a lot of tabloid junk." Here are the other tips: