Items filtered by date: Thursday, 30 November 2017

"Since 1995, more than $15 million in taxpayer dollars has been paid out to settle claims, including sexual harassment claims, on behalf of members of Congress and congressional staff. While the amount of money paid is public, everything else is secret. The public doesn’t know which members have been involved in taxpayer-financed settlements for alleged misconduct."

Those are the words of Florida Republican Representative Rob DeSantis, who is a cosponsor of a bill that would stop Congress’ secret, taxpayer-funded harassment settlements. While anyone else would be required to spend their personal funds to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit, politicians have been using tax dollars to do so for decades. Now that male politicians have been revealed as the pigs they are, now more than ever it’s important American taxpayers are refunded for bailing out the pigs.

While the bipartisan bill would require lawmakers who used the secret Treasury Department fund reimburse the government, with interest, that’s not enough. American taxpayers deserve to be reimbursed -- not the government. That’s our money -- not the government’s, and when our money is used to bail out politicians who are already rich, our money needs to be returned.

Since the Republican tax bill will force poor and middle class Americans to pay more in taxes to fund a massive tax cut for corporations and the rich (and raise the deficit to boot), the least Republicans could do is toss the average American a refund for settling sexual harassment suits. It might only result in a 13-cent refund for each American taxpayer ($15 million divided by 122 million taxpayers), that’s still more than most Americans are getting with the current legislation.

Contact your Senators and Representatives and demand any taxes used to bail out politicians accused of harassment, sexual or otherwise, be returned to you and every American taxpayer immediately. This should be something upon which both Democrats and Republicans can agree -- taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be used or collected to bail out political pigs.

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Published in News & Information

It’s getting close to redistricting time for legislators, both in Louisiana and throughout the country. By federal law, all election districts must be reapportioned every 10 years to reflect the latest census figures. But should legislators, who have a vested interest in how the redistricting lines are drawn, actually be the ones to do the drawing, anyway?

The problem is one of gerrymandering, where district lines are not drawn to reflect geographical or political balance, but to favor the incumbent or some other partisan choice. When legislators do the redistricting, the norm seems to be that the state ends up with meandering footprints meticulously designed, it would seem, to ensure that no incumbent will face serious opposition, regardless of how the political winds are blowing. As one local political observer said, “Think about it this way. In elections, people choose their legislators. In reapportionment, legislators choose their people.”

Gerrymandering, by the way, means to manipulate the electoral boundaries for political gain so as to give undue influence to an incumbent or other favored candidate. The name comes from Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry, who in 1812 created winding districts that looked like salamanders to favor incumbents. Thus the convoluted word – “gerrymandering.”

What most voters want to avoid is the self-dealing by legislators where voting districts slash across communities of interest and geography. A blatant example of winding, disjointed gerrymandering is the Louisiana third congressional district. It winds from the Mississippi border south of New Orleans though the southern part of Jefferson Parish and all the way through south Louisiana up to Lafayette, some 300 miles in length.

So the question for Louisiana voters is this: Are they that concerned that the legislature is, for all practical purposes, creating their own voters? Is this healthy in the Bayou State — or in any other state? Many think it’s not.

So what are the alternatives? What are other progressive states doing to transfer the power of redistricting to a system less driven by self-interest? Fourteen states have assigned the task to officials or panels outside the state legislature. And independent redistricting wears the cloak of good-government reform, as long as a consensus can be built on just who will serve on such panels.  How do you pick the members? How can such a system be put in place that assures voters the final result will be fair, non-partisan, and keep local interests balanced?

Louisiana has a number of bright people with solid business and educational backgrounds that are capable of taking on this controversial task. There are several respected demographers in the Bayou state, and a number of well-qualified professors at Louisiana universities. Retired judges fit the category as well as representatives of some of the state’s good government groups.

When I was first elected to the Louisiana legislature back in 1971, legislative redistricting had taken place just months before.  But the reapportionment plan did not pass federal court muster and was thrown out just weeks before the primary election date. Ed Steimel was head of the Public Affairs Research Council at the time and was appointed by federal judge Frank Polozola to serve as a “special master” to redraw the district lines. Based on Steimel’s rework, the old plan was thrown out and the new court-ordered plan was put in place. There was general agreement that the Steimel Plan was fair and kept the district more cohesive and less spread out. (It must have been good as I won my senate seat easily in the first primary.)

One idea would be to create a Louisiana Fair Reapportionment Practices Commission. Let nominations for serving on the Commission come from the legislature, the Supreme Court, the good government groups like PAR and CABL, the various college boards, and perhaps a key business group or two. Then put all the submissions in a hat and draw out eleven names to serve as members to begin their work right after the new census data is made available.

The goal for such a commission is simple – put the important issue of redistricting into the hands of those with non-partisan interests, instead of those who in the past have been allowed to define the terms of their own cartel. Simply put, it’s just wrong for legislators to draw these districts and then run in them. There needs to be a better way.

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

 

 

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Jim Brown is a guest contributor to GCN news. His views and opinions, if expressed, are his own. His column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show, Common Sense, each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Communication Network.



Published in News & Information