Political MoJo

Today's Biggest Showdown Over Guns Is in Washington State

| Tue Nov. 4, 2014 1:04 PM EST

The most closely watched battle over gun regulations this Election Day is in Washington state, where voters will weigh in on two opposing ballot measures: Initiative 594, which would expand background checks for gun buyers, including those purchasing firearms at a gun show or online; and Initiative 591, which would forbid any background checks beyond the limited regime required by federal law. An unprecedented amount of money has poured into the fight—from opponents of the National Rifle Association.

Proponents of stricter gun laws are billing the fight as "the only up-or-down vote on gun measures in the country this year." The Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, the committee behind the push for expanded background checks, has raked in some $10.4 million. Everytown for Gun Safety, an advocacy group launched in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, donated $2.3 million of that total. Everytown has also run its own ballot committee in the state, raising more than $900,000; the group says that it has spent roughly $3.6 million overall on the I-594 effort, including a robust staff on the ground that's been involved in strategy, media, and voter turnout operations.

Major philanthropists are in on the action as well: Fomer New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who funds Everytown, has also personally given the Washington Alliance almost $300,000. And Bill and Melinda Gates, the Microsoft co-founder and his wife, and Steve and Connie Ballmer, a former Microsoft executive and his wife, have backed I-594, with each couple donating at least $1 million. Seattle-based venture capitalist Nick Hanauer gave $500,000.

For its part, the NRA has spent about half a million dollars to defeat the expansion of background checks (not an insignificant sum, though the organization has spent much bigger in North Carolina, Colorado, and elsewhere). Meanwhile, Protect Our Gun Rights, a local group supporting the ballot measure to restrict new background checks, has raised about $1.3 million.

How this fight will play out remains anybody's guess, but it's shaping up to be the first major test of the new gun-reform movement's clout. An early October poll of the election by Elway Research, which is not involved with either campaign, found that 60 percent of voters planned to vote for the measure expanding background checks, and only 39 percent planned to support the rival measure limiting background checks. In mid-October, a poll commissioned by a local news channel found that 64 percent favored stricter background checks, with 45 percent favoring looser rules. (That poll didn't measure support for the individual measures.)

But the competing measure has also sown confusion: According to the Elway poll, 15 percent of voters intended to vote no on both ballot measures, and more than 20 percent of voters intended to vote yes on both ballot measures. If both measures were to pass, it could lead to legal chaos.

The fight has drawn attention for another reason: Washington state is still reeling from the latest deadly school shooting. On October 24, Jayden Fryberg, a freshman football player at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, walked into the school cafeteria during lunch and fired a gun, killing one student and wounding four others, before shooting himself to death. One of the four injured students, a 14-year-old girl, later died.

The .40 caliber handgun, according to police, was legally registered to a member of his family; Fryberg, a minor, would not have been able to purchase the gun on his own. The gun lobby and its supporters seized on this fact to declare gun control measures ineffective.

But other people who are paying close attention to this battle on Election Day disagreed: Nicole Hockley and Mark Barden, whose children died at Sandy Hook, traveled to Washington state to back Initiative 594. "We know that background checks can save lives," Hockley said. "Just because it won't stop one tragedy doesn't mean it won't stop other tragedies from happening."

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

Tue Nov. 4, 2014 10:16 AM EST

US Marines participate in firefighter training. (US Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Matthew Callahan)

Watch "Duck Dynasty" Stars Rally the Christian Right for Tomorrow's Election

| Mon Nov. 3, 2014 12:55 PM EST

Last week, we reported on a coalition of influential conservative Christian organizations that are drumming up outrage over the Hobby Lobby case and other recent culture war skirmishes. The goal of this campaign—which involves closed-door briefings for pastors and rallies simulcast to mega-churches around the country—is to mobilize Christian voters by persuading them that their religious liberties are at stake in tomorrow's election.

On Sunday, the coalition held another simulcast rally, at Grace Community Church in Houston. And this time Phil Robertson, the Duck Dynasty star who was briefly suspended last year after going on an anti-gay tirade, was among the speakers. (Watch the video above.)

The bearded patriarch strode onto the stage Sunday clutching a dog-eared Bible and told the cheering crowd America was founded as a Christian nation. "America, America, it cannot be said too strongly or too often that this great nation was not founded by religionists but by Christians," he declared. "Not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ." (Robertson attributed the quote to Patrick Henry; its origins are disputed). He then read a passage from Philippians about a Christian who was imprisoned for voicing his beliefs, and asserted that the same thing could happen in the United States. Robertson also likened the treatment of Christians today to the persecution Jesus faced: "They hated the son of God without reason, and now they hate us."

Watch Midterm Candidates Mention President Obama More Than 500 Times in Less Than 100 Seconds

| Mon Nov. 3, 2014 11:06 AM EST

The midterms! They're almost over—Dear God, sweet God, merciful God, let them be over soon—but not yet! Tomorrow, the House will be decided and the Senate will be decided and various gubernatorial races will be decided and the Presidency will be deci...what's that? The presidency won't be decided, you say? Not until 2016?

It's true, but it's hard to tell based on what the candidates actually running are saying. "Obama this! Obama that!" They do not like Obama on a train. They do not like him in the rain. The Huffington Post went through the debate transcripts of more than 125 races and found more than 500 references to the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. This makes a certain bit of sense, because it's obviously easier for both Democrats and Republicans alike to run against the president—who isn't terribly popular at the moment—than to run on whatever issues they would otherwise run on.

Here's the video, which reminds us that although elections certainly mater, the things politicians say in campaigns almost surely don't.

How to Find Your Polling Place

| Mon Nov. 3, 2014 10:49 AM EST

Tomorrow is Election Day!

Whether it's gun control, the prospect of a Republican-controlled Senate, or the mere fact these eight candidates are running in the first place, everyone has a reason to get out the vote. So while we can't tell you who to cast your ballot for, we can tell you how crucial it is for everyone to exercise their civic duties.

Below is an excellent tool developed by The Pew Charitable Trusts and Google to help you do exactly that. See you at the polls!

 

This Tea Partier Wants to Turn a 30-Acre Sinkhole Into a Campaign Issue

| Mon Nov. 3, 2014 10:14 AM EST
Rob Maness.

Tea party Senate candidate Rob Maness has found an issue he believes will resonate with Louisiana voters: a 30-acre, oil-burping sinkhole. During a debate with Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu on Tuesday, Maness was asked about a lawsuit over coastal erosion filed against 100 oil and gas companies last spring by a local flood protection board. For too long, the retired Air Force colonel warned, oil, gas, and chemical companies had had their way with Louisiana, with little government oversight and often at great cost to residents: "The families of Bayou Corne—it's been over 600 days since they've been under evacuation."

As I reported last summer, the town of Bayou Corne, in rural Assumption Parish, has been under a mandatory evacuation order since August 2012, when a sinkhole suddenly formed from an abandoned salt-mining cavern. The hole has grown to 30 acres, and the presence of potentially dangerous gases underneath the community—and bubbling on the bayou—has kept residents away. In August, Texas Brine, the company that had capped and abandoned the cavern, settled a class-action lawsuit with 269 residents for $48.1 million, but avoided any acknowledgment of wrongdoing.

Perhaps wary of upsetting Louisiana's powerful oil and gas interests, politicians have largely avoided the sinkhole. Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal dropped by for a press conference in 2013, but has never returned. But last month, Maness became the first candidate for statewide office to visit the sinkhole. He's even touting the endorsement of one of the main sources for my story, Bayou Corne resident Mike Schaff:

Maness for Senate

Maness lags behind his two main opponents in the polls, but he will probably fare well enough to ensure that neither Landrieu nor Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy will clear the 50-percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff. He has also picked up the endorsement of prominent conservative activists, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Red State founder Erick Erickson—which makes his choice of an environmental disaster as a campaign wedge issue all the more noteworthy.

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Happy Halloween From Mitch McConnell and Friends

| Fri Oct. 31, 2014 3:35 PM EDT

Republican lawmakers have been getting in the holiday spirit today by reminding people about their longstanding beef with Obamacare. Senate Republicans put out a list of articles on their website under the headlines "Spooked by higher costs" and "All tricks, no treats".

Oh, there's also a video floating around from the Republican-controlled House Financial Services committee. You can watch it below. It's really, really not scary:

Meet Another GOP Candidate Who's Pretending He's Pro-Choice

| Thu Oct. 30, 2014 9:37 AM EDT

Over the past few weeks, a number of Republican candidates have run deceptive advertisements or used sneaky language to paper over their hardline views on reproductive rights. Pols who've done this include Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Senate hopeful Scott Brown in New Hampshire, and Colorado gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez. Now you can add another name to the list of pro-life GOPers who are suddenly talking about choice: Oregon's Dennis Richardson.

Richardson, a Republican state representative running for governor, cut an ad (watch it above) featuring a self-described "pro-choice Democrat" named Michelle Horgan. Speaking directly into the camera, Horgan says: "I trust Dennis. He'll uphold Oregon's laws to protect my right to choose, and he'll work hard for Oregon families."

The language in Richardson's ad—"He'll uphold Oregon's laws to protect my right to choose"—hews closely to the rhetoric used by Walker, Brown, and Beauprez. All of those Republicans have previously sought to restrict women's reproductive rights (Walker supports eliminating all abortions). But during this election season, they have each tried to strike a moderate tone on the issue.

Richardson's ad is particularly brazen given his long record of opposing abortion rights. He wrote a letter to the Oregonian in 1990 saying that "a woman relinquishes her unfettered right to control her own body when her actions cause the conception of a baby." As a state legislator, he sponsored legislation to give unborn fetuses the rights of humans and to require parental notification for abortions. In 2007, he voted against mandating that hospitals offer emergency contraception to women who have been sexually assaulted.

What's more, Richardson has the endorsement and full-throated support of Oregon Right to Life, the state's main anti-abortion-rights group. Oregon Right to Life's PAC has donated $80,000 to Richardson's campaign. (Right to Life's $50,000 check in September remains the fourth-largest cash contribution of Richardson's entire campaign.) In an email blast to its list, the group touted Richardson as "an excellent gubernatorial candidate" who, if elected, would offer the "opportunity to reclaim political ground and hopefully start changing the way Oregon politics treat the abortion issue. We might actually be able to end our 'reign' as the only state in America lacking a single restriction on abortion."

No mistaking that message: In Richardson, the pro-life community sees an opportunity to finally start curbing abortion access in the state of Oregon. But you probably won't see that message in Richardson's campaign ads any time soon.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 30, 2014

Thu Oct. 30, 2014 9:28 AM EDT

The USS George HW Bush travels through the Gulf of Aden after supporting strike operations in Iraq and Syria. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Abe McNatt)

Attack Ad Accuses Democratic Governor of Wanting to Set a Mass Murderer Free

| Wed Oct. 29, 2014 4:11 PM EDT

A man's life literally hangs in the balance in this year's governor's race in Colorado. As I explained earlier this month, Republican candidate Bob Beauprez has singled out a death row inmate by name and promised to ensure that he will be killed. "When I'm governor, Nathan Dunlap will be executed," Beauprez has said.

Dunlap was convicted and sentenced to death in 1996 for murdering four of his Chuck E. Cheese coworkers. But when his execution date neared last year, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper issued a stay, though he refrained from offering permanent reprieve. Hickenlooper backed capital punishment in his 2010 campaign, but has since become an opponent, citing studies demonstrating the death penalty is not an effective deterrent, the cost of executions, and evidence showing it is inconsistently applied. The governor has also expressed qualms about Dunlap's mental illness and regrets jurors expressed about the case after sentencing.

The Republican Governors Association has joined Beauprez's cause in criticizing Hickenlooper for keeping Dunlap alive. The RGA recruited the father of one of Dunlap's victims to star in an ad and call Hickenlooper a "coward" who should be voted out of office. "There's not a day that goes by, I don't think about her," Dennis O’Connor says, looking right at the camera. "You thought you got your day in court and your justice, and I feel most of us were robbed of that."

Here's the ad, which the RGA has reportedly backed with $2 million worth of airtime:

Hickenlooper's campaign has called foul, saying the ad should be pulled for airing false information. At one point the ad suggests that Hickenlooper might "set him free." While Hickenlooper has said he would consider making the temporary reprieve permanent if he loses the race, that would just keep Dunlap off death row and reduce his sentence to life in prison. Hickenlooper isn't about to set Dunlap free to roam the streets of Denver.

The Denver Post, which is cited as the source for the RGA's disputed claim, published an editorial on Tuesday calling the ad's claims "preposterous" and misleading. As the editorial board wrote, "The article in question says no such thing about the possible release of Dunlap, no doubt because freedom for Dunlap is unthinkable."