Issue XCVI

21 OCT 2016



Wendy Davis takes attack ads to new low


CAMPAIGN 2014 | As the Texas candidate goes from negative to nasty, one politician says campaigns don’t have to be so mean

Just when you thought political campaigns couldn’t get any nastier, in comes the woman who fought bitterly for the right of Texas women to end any pregnancy up until the moment of birth. 

Wendy Davis became a darling of the left last year when she filibustered a bill creating safety regulations and a 20-week gestational limit on Texas abortions—a policy supported by the majority of Americans. Now she is running for Texas governor against Republican Greg Abbott, the state's attorney general. Abbott, whom WORLD profiled in May, is confined to a wheelchair. 

You probably know what's coming. In a sign of desperation, over the weekend Davis unveiled an ad accusing Abbott of essentially being the Uncle Tom of disabled Texans.

From The Washington Post to Mother Jones, even the most liberal commentators found the ad indefensible. The Davis campaign continues to run it, saying the ad is about Abbott's record as an insider, not his disability. 

Negative ads are not new, and members of both parties use them with reckless abandon because studies show they work. Some claim they’re important for democracy. 

But not every politician goes negative. I recently interviewed Rep. Daniel Webster, a Florida Republican who has steadfastly refused to run negative ads despite the most convincing reasons to do so. In 2010, Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson drew national attention when he ran an ad that compared Webster to the Taliban, distorting a speech Webster had given to fathers at a Christian conference. Fact-checkers rated the ad false, yet Webster still refused to criticize his opponent. 

“I believe that I should be able to get elected [based] on who I am, not get elected because I’m the default candidate for my opponent,” Webster told me. “I want to have a clear conscience when I’m done.”

Webster, who was outspent 4-1, beat Grayson by 18 percentage points in 2010, but that hasn’t stopped future opponents from recycling the false claim. “Florida Voters: Pick McKenna to Beat Taliban Dan Webster on Tuesday,” Democrat Michael McKenna tweeted Aug. 25. 

Webster, a distant relative of the famed American orator by the same name, declines even to say why people should not vote for his opponent. His strategy has not hurt his winning percentage: Webster won nine terms in the Florida House, three terms in the Florida Senate, and...

Everybody Hates the New Wendy Davis Ad. That Doesn't Mean It's a Failure.


Can a campaign ad work if it offends everyone? How can it not?

The ad is titled "Justice," and it marks a sort of break between Wendy Davis and the national progressives who've hyped her campaign for governor of Texas. It opens with the image of a wheelchair, its user unseen. "A tree fell on Greg Abbott," rumbles a narrator. "He sued and got millions. Since then, he's spent his career working against other victims."

The ad was swiftly condemned by a who's-who of "even the liberal..." magazines and pundits. "She's basically calling Abbott a cripple," opined Mother Jones. On MSNBC's "Up with Steve Kornacki," liberal panelists climbed over each other to condemn the Davis ad. "I would not have used that wheelchair," said Democratic pundit and one-time DNC chair Donna Brazile. People are reacting viscerally, and their viscera tells them that Davis made a desperate and sleazy kamikaze move.

How does the Davis campaign respond? Her pollster Joel Benenson talked to Jay Root over the weekend to insist that "the ad is effective and working." None of the pundits can prove otherwise; they have, at most, collected he-said/she-saids from the campaigns. All I know is that it represents the end of any caution the Davis campaign had about attacking Abbott personally, and that this caution was captured 10 months ago in undercover videos by James O'Keefe's Project Veritas.

They were filmed at a more optimistic time for Democrats. At the end of 2013, after Davis jumped into the race, polling had her down to Abbott by single digits. O'Keefe's video sting operators sat in meetings where activists worried about the difficulty of messaging against a man in a wheelchair. "I'm wondering how this is going to work out," worried one man, "because he's in a wheelchair, and most of the slogans are 'Stand With Wendy.'" The conservative blogs that got this video first insisted that Davis supporters were actually mocking Abbott, who had launched his campaign with a video about the accident that robbed him of the use of his legs.

On TV, Abbott has reminded voters of his handicap with a striking spot in which he rolls his chair through an empty parking garage, fighting fatigue in order to climb to the top.

Davis's campaign, which I covered a bit in South Texas for a story (coming soon), had no response to this. And now it has one. With maximum...


Courts block voter ID laws in Wisconsin and Texas, ahead of 2014 midterms


In a tough evening for voter ID laws, the Supreme Court blocked Wisconsin's from taking effect Thursday, while a federal judge in Texas ruled that state's law violated the Constitution.

The US Supreme Court blocked a politically contentious voter identification law in Wisconsin late Thursday – a setback for Republican efforts to require all voters to present a valid, photo ID before casting ballots in the Nov. 4 elections.

At nearly the same time Thursday evening, a federal judge in Texas ruled that a similar Republican voter ID measure violated the Constitution, saying the Texas law “creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose.”  

The judge, Nelva Gonzales Ramos, appointed by President Obama to the southern district of Texas, also said the measure “constitutes an unconstitutional poll tax.”

Voter ID laws have been a deeply partisan issue throughout the country the past few years. Thursday’s rulings come as Democrats in a number of Republican-controlled states bitterly contest recent measures that GOP lawmakers insist are necessary to combat voter fraud.

In 2010, only two states, Indiana and Georgia, had strict laws requiring photo IDs. But since then, a flurry of new strict photo ID laws have been enacted by eight more GOP-controlled states, including Texas and Wisconsin, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

And voters in at least 15 states will face newly tightened polling restrictions this November, as laws banning same-day registration and Sunday voting, as well as laws restricting early voting, also take effect. That's the most since Reconstruction following the Civil War, critics contend. Strict photo-ID laws also have been passed in New Hampshire and North Carolina, but will not go into effect until after 2014.

Democrats say there is scant evidence of voter impersonation, insisting such measures are merely attempts to suppress the votes of older and mostly low-income and minority citizens, many of whom do not have the required photo IDs. The majority of such voters tend to vote for Democrats, experts say.

A new report issued by the General Accounting Office Wednesday found that voter ID laws disproportionately impact minorities. After implementation of a voter identification requirement, Kansas saw a 3.7 percent greater drop among black voters than among whites.

Many state and federal...

Latina Judge Strikes Down TX Voter ID, Blasts History of 'Discrimination'


A Texas-born and raised Latina federal judge, Nelva Gonzalez Ramos, did not just block a Republican-sponsored state voter ID law, she equated it to laws enacted by states after slavery was abolished to ensure blacks could not vote.

"The Court holds that SB 14 creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose," Gonzalez Ramos stated in her lengthy ruling issued Thursday. "The Court further holds that SB 14 constitutes an unconstitutional poll tax."

After slaves were freed and black Americans began to win elected office, laws requiring black Americans to pay a fee to vote or to pass literacy tests began to be enacted. Similar tactics were used in the Southwest against Mexican Americans.

Texas' strict voter ID law, passed by the Republican-led Legislature in 2011, only accepts certain forms of photo ID and does not allow other commonly used ones. It does not allow college student photo IDs, for example, but allows gun permits as identification.

The law would have made it extremely difficult for Texas Latinos such as 18-year-old twins Nicole and Victoria Rodriguez to vote, as groups argued in 2013. The young women at the time did not have driver's licenses since their parents could not afford car insurance, yet they had valid Texas birth certificates, high school IDs and Social Security identification. Still, they would not have been allowed to vote unless they traveled to a state office to get a special photo ID issued by the Department of Public Safety. Voting experts have pointed out the long distances and restricted hours of these state offices, which make obtaining the ID difficult for lower-income residents without cars as well as older voters.

The Justice Department filed a suit against the law. Voting rights experts argued in court that Texas Latino voters were 195 percent less likely to have the required photo ID than white voters, for black voters it was 305 percent.

The state's Attorney General, Greg Abbott, vowed to fight against the Garcia Ramos' ruling. "The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that voter ID laws are constitutional so we are confident the Texas law will be upheld on appeal," said Abbott. But voter and civil rights groups swiftly praised Gonzalez' Ramos decision.

“This decision will...


Calls for Romney to run for President in 2016


Washington - Mitt Romney, day in and day out, hears it wherever he goes, whether at campaign events for Republican congressional candidates, restaurants, or private dinners, the message is the same, run for president in 2016.

Romney associates say he is flattered by the attention and believes he would have done a better job if he had defeated the Democratic incumbent President Barack Obama in 2012 when he was the Republican nominee.

But Romney typically insists in public that he is not going to run for a third time after losses in 2008 and 2012.

"I'm not running and I'm not planning on running. I've got nothing to add to that story", he told supporters during a stop this week at Atlanta's Varsity restaurant, where he had a hot dog and onion rings, according to the Marietta Daily Journal.

Still, friends and former aides say, he could seek the nomination if a series of events plays out in his favor, chiefly that no single powerhouse emerges from what is expected to be a crowded field of Republicans vying for the party's nod.

Some Republicans who know Romney well are advising him to tread carefully.

"I'm sure there are people who invested a lot in him last time who are urging him to consider it," said Republican Senator John McCain from Arizona, the party's 2008 nominee.

"I think it's fine if he considers it. But at the same time I think Mitt would have to feel that he has a real strong shot at winning because it is such a very, very tough ordeal not only on the candidate but also on the family", McCain told Reuters on Monday.

"One thing that he's got going for him is everybody in the Republican Party likes Mitt Romney. They may not think he ran the best campaign, but he's such a very decent human being, he certainly checks the box for likeability amongst the Republican Party", McCain added.


Karl Rove, the Republican strategist who was the architect of George W Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaigns, was similarly cautious.

"If he were to do this again, it would be the equivalent of running three back-to-back-to-back marathons", Rove told Reuters on Monday. "It would require basically a year's commitment to the primary and another year commitment to the general election. That's a hard thing to ask of anybody in politics."

Romney has stoked some of the 2016 speculation himself. He has gone from absolutely ruling it out in the months after he...

The sad dream of Romney ’16: Mitt could run! (if all the other candidates are terrible)


Mitt's aides envision him riding to GOP's rescue when no strong '16 candidate emerges. Here's why that won't happen

The speculation surrounding a potential third run for the White House by Willard Mitt “Mitt” Romney is starting to feel a bit desperate. The animus behind it seems to be the Republican establishment’s fear – and a thoroughly justified fear it is – that the party will end up nominating a Tea Party-type candidate who will excite the base and warm the hearts of conservative activists, but won’t be able to expand his appeal to people who may not want to abolish IRS. And so they’ve been talking up Romney not because he’s an especially good candidate (he’s not) and not because America is suddenly clamoring for Romneyism (it isn’t), but because he’s a known quantity, he’s rich, and he’s on board with the establishment agenda.

The pro-Romney forces, however, also seem to be coming to grips with the fact that Romney is, by most accounts, a broken man (politically) whose already lukewarm enthusiasm for the political life was chilled by his 2012 electoral pantsing. Mark Liebovich’s profile of Mitt for the New York Times paints a picture of a lonely, wistful man who seeks isolation but still craves relevance. And so the Recruit Romney effort is now dreaming up scenarios in which Mitt can run for president without really wanting to.

National Journal’s Rebecca Nelson is the latest journalist to dive into the strange world of Romney 2016 activism, and it turns out that Romney’s inner circle has a dream… a sad, sad dream.

Hindsight is 20/20, of course, and the chance to beat Obama won’t ever come again. But under a special set of circumstances, Romney’s closest advisers see a window—albeit a small one—for the onetime GOP nominee to get in the race.

“I think he wants to be in a position where if everyone else implodes, he’s the one that party leaders call to save the day,” one former Romney adviser told National Journal.

“Could he be drafted?” Nelson quotes former Romney adviser Ron Kaufman saying. “Could everyone from the party come and say, ‘You have to run because you’re the only person’? Is that possible? Sure.”


Here's Why a Vermont College Invited a Convicted Felon to Be Its Commencement Speaker


The news: Given all the hoopla that goes into selecting graduation speakers, you might find it odd that students at a small college in Vermont invited a convicted murderer to deliver their commencement address.

But the 23 graduating seniors at Goddard College chose as their graduation speaker the famous convicted journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, who received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the school in 1996 after completing his coursework via mail. An inmate at the Mahanoy State Correctional Institution in Frackville, Pa., Abu-Jamal prerecorded his address, which was played at the ceremony Sunday.

"As a reflection of Goddard's individualized and transformational educational model, our commencements are intimate affairs where each student serves as her or his own valedictorian, and each class chooses its own speaker," Goddard College interim President Bob Kenny said in a statement. "Choosing Mumia as their commencement speaker, to me, shows how this newest group of Goddard graduates expresses their freedom to engage and think radically and critically in a world that often sets up barriers to do just that."

It's certainly a controversial choice. The decision to invite Abu-Jamal as commencement speaker has been heavily criticized by police and corrections groups; after all, he was convicted in 1981 for killing a cop.

But for Abu-Jamal's supporters, who believe he is innocent, his story is one of racial injustice and discrimination in the U.S. justice system. Even for unbiased observers, there are troubling facts about his trial and conviction. As the Guardian notes, much evidence has emerged since the original trial that the police officers involved in the investigation were at best not thorough and at worst downright abusive and discriminatory:

Abu-Jamal's gun was never tested to see whether it had been fired; his hands were never swabbed to establish whether he had fired it; and his gun's bullets were never solidly linked to those that killed Faulkner. The crime scene was never secured.

Of the three witnesses, one has since admitted to lying under police pressure, another has disappeared amid evidence that she too was under duress, and the third initially told police that he had seen the killer run away, but changed his story. Evidence from others who said they saw a third man running away was played down.


Hippie Vermont college invites cop killer as commencement speaker


Some colleges invite dignitaries and heads of state to deliver their commencement address. Others want mainstream celebrities, or even star athletes the college counts among its alumni. If you’re Goddard College in Vermont, though, you go a different route:Mumia Abu-Jamal, currently serving a life sentence for the 1981 killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.

“It’s an absolute disgrace,” said Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police head John McNesby. “It’s a slap in the face to Philadelphia law enforcement and all police officers.”

If there were ever such a thing as a “celebrity” cop killer, it would be Abu-Jamal. He’s long maintained his innocence, and has filed appeal after appeal in attempts to overturn his conviction. Though they’ve all failed, his vocal proclamations of innocence haven’t stopped thousands of freedom fighters from taking up a “Free Mumia” campaign. T-shirts bearing his likeness are particularly popular with college students and Hollywood celebrities alike.

For their part, the small graduating class of 20 doesn’t appear to have invited Abu-Jamal for malicious reasons or to disrespect peace officers. It’s all about the spirit, man.

“They chose Mumia because to them, Mumia represents a struggle for freedom of the mind, body, and spirit,” said Goddard spokeswoman Samantha Kolber. “Those were values important to this graduating class.”

Goddard is a… very special kind of college. It’s small, with about 700 students, and its curriculum includes neither grades nor tests. It’s student body is anything but normal: Students advance through self-evaluation of their personal growth, work from home and only visit campus a few times per year, and have an average age of 35 – which would have put them at a more traditional college-age at the height of Mumia mania.

The Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police and widow Maureen Faulkner have battled to end Abdu-Jamal’s public speaking campaign (a big source for his continued support) with limited success. Mrs. Faulkner says that every speaking engagement of his is like re-opening a wound. Abdu-Jamal was originally sentenced to death, but caught a reprieve with the Philadelphia DA ceased pursuit of his execution in 2011.