No man is good three times? Tell it to the Gipper

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Franklin Roosevelt was president from 1933 to 1945. Elected four times, he is the only president to have served more than two terms.

The worst constitutional amendment this side of Prohibition is the 22nd, which limits presidents to two terms and was ratified on this date 65 years ago.

Just as British voters sent Winston Churchill and his Conservative Party packing as soon as Hitler was defeated in World War II, Americans rejected the governing party in the first postwar congressional elections in 1946, sweeping Democrats from power. When the 80th Congress began in January 1947, the new Republican majority, setting a template for conservative legislative petulance that continues to this day, immediately lashed out against Franklin Roosevelt’s 12-year presidency, which had ended with FDR’s death two years earlier. In March 1947, after minimum debate, Congress sent the 22nd Amendment to the states for ratification.

Three-fourths of the states must ratify a proposed amendment before it can become part of the Constitution. On Feb. 27, 1951, Minnesota became the 36th state out of 48 — Alaska and Hawaii weren’t yet part of the union — to approve the 22nd Amendment.

Only two states — Oklahoma and Massachusetts — rejected the amendment. Good for you, Oklahoma and Massachusetts, for standing with democracy. Good for you.

The idea that presidents should limit themselves to two terms starts, as do several presidential precedents, useful and otherwise, with George Washington, and can be blamed on the man crushes the other Founders had on the nation’s first president. A third term was Washington’s for the taking in 1796, but he declined. He was feeling old and tired and he wanted to get home to Mount Vernon as quick as he could. As he wrote in his farewell address, “Every day the increasing weight of years admonishes me more and more, that the shade of retirement is as necessary to me as it will be welcome.”

If two terms were good enough for George Washington, then two terms were good enough for any president who followed him, the thinking went. A two-term tradition was born because of Washington’s constitution, not because it was written anywhere in the Constitution.

Washington died in December 1799, less than three years after leaving office. Had he stayed on for a third term, Washington would have achieved another presidential first — the first president to die in office. Now that would have set an interesting precedent!

Franklin Roosevelt ran for and won a third term in 1940 largely because of World War II and voters’ reluctance to change leaders at a time when Nazi Germany controlled most of Europe and Imperial Japan ruled in the Pacific. He won a fourth term in 1944 to see the war to its conclusion, but died on April 12, 1945, only 83 days into his fourth term.

Had Roosevelt not been president during an extraordinary time, would he have broken with the tradition set by Washington and sought more than two terms? Had he tried, would voters have given him a third and fourth term?

Doubtful on both counts. A few other presidents had tried for third terms previously, but failed. Ulysses Grant, president from 1869 to 1877, had sought a nonconsecutive third term in 1880 and couldn’t even win the Republican nomination. Teddy Roosevelt, in office from 1901 to 1909, ran for another term as an independent candidate in 1912*. He lost to Democrat Woodrow Wilson, who eight years later fruitlessly maneuvered to tie up the Democratic convention in the hope the party would break the deadlock by nominating him for a third term.

Voters might elect someone president three times: If the 22nd Amendment didn’t exist, I’m sure Bill Clinton would have run for a third term in 2000 and I have no doubt he easily would have beaten George W. Bush. And who’s to say we wouldn’t be better off for it?

Voters might even elect someone four times in unique circumstances, as they did with FDR, but five or six times? No. Presidents, no matter how great, eventually wear out their welcome. Voters eventually desire change. And presidents age. They get tired, like Washington did. They encounter a natural term limit.

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The 22nd Amendment turns presidents’ second terms into a tedious four-year march toward forced retirement. But the main argument against the amendment is it limits our choices as voters. It’s “an infringement on the democratic rights of the people … an invasion of their democratic rights to vote for whoever they want to vote for and for however long,” Ronald Reagan told NBC’s Tom Brokaw in 1989 as his time in office neared its end. Reagan had no interest in someday running for a third term himself, he told Brokaw, but he intended to use part of his time and influence as a former president to push for the 22nd Amendment’s repeal. An Alzheimer’s diagnosis five years later ended Reagan’s intentions. Alas.

A proposal to repeal the 22nd Amendment has popped up in almost every Congress since the mid-1980s, though no such proposal is on file with the current Congress. The effort, such as it is, crosses party lines: Democratic Sen. Harry Reid in 1989 and Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell in 1995 are among the various Democrats and Republicans who have sponsored resolutions to erase the amendment from the Constitution.

I know, I know. Given the current crop of presidential candidates before us, we might want to eliminate the office of president rather than allow someone to be elected president more than twice. But once in a rare while a president comes along whom we should keep for an extra term or two.

Supporters of the 22nd Amendment say it prevents tyranny — an argument that apparently never occurred to the Founders, since they set no term limits for the president, members of Congress or federal judges. It’s not tyranny to have additional choices. It’s democracy.

So, c’mon, people. Sixty-five years is enough time for this infringement on our rights to exist. Ronald Reagan was right. We repealed the disastrous 18th Amendment — Prohibition. Let’s do the same with the 22nd.

(This blog entry revises and expands a similar article I wrote in 2009 for an American-Statesman blog that no longer exists.)

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* Though Teddy Roosevelt was elected president only once, in 1904, the 22nd Amendment still would have applied to him had it existed. Roosevelt was William McKinley’s vice president and became president after McKinley’s assassination. McKinley was only six months into his second term when he died on Sept. 14, 1901.

Trump sealed the Latino vote? Not quite

LAS VEGAS, NV - FEBRUARY 23: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a caucus night watch party at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino on February 23, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The New York businessman won his third state victory in a row in the "first in the West" caucuses. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV – FEBRUARY 23: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a caucus night watch party at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino on February 23, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The New York businessman won his third state victory in a row in the “first in the West” caucuses. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Hold on, not so fast Mr. Trump. On Tuesday, during your victory speech after winning the Nevada caucuses you proudly proclaimed winning 46 percent of the Latino vote. However, that very impressive number does not tell the true and whole tale of the Nevada Latino vote — nor does it stand up to the rest of the U.S. Latino vote.

“Forty-six percent! Number one with Hispanics!” You said. I beg to differ.

Sure, there is no denying that entrance polls showed you won a significant percent of Latinos who were polled — while Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz only garnered 28 percent and 18 percent respectively of that vote.

Beating the two Latino candidates in the race is reason enough to gloat. But, a win would also mean you had proven wrong all those who said your hateful anti-immigrant, anti-Latino rhetoric would cost you the Latino vote. Revel you should…unless of course, your win was no win at all.

As a businessman, Mr. Trump, you know the truth is in the numbers. And in this case, 46 percent is but a very small portion of a much larger whole.

It is no secret that, like the majority of Latinos in the U.S., Nevada’s Latino voters mostly support Democrats. That’s not likely to change this presidential election. With that claim, I can almost hear you heckle: “That’s not what Tuesday’s exit poll say.” What do those numbers really say, exactly? Not much.

Here, David Damore, a Senior Analyst at Latino Decisions, explains the Nevada ‘win’ best:

“In a recent poll asking about party identification, 55 percent of Latinos said they were Democrats, 29 percent said Independents and just 16 percent said they were Republicans. Assuming the entrance poll is correct (a very big assumption) and Trump won 44 percent of Latino Republicans, that means he was supported by about 7 percent of Latinos in Nevada (44 percent of 16 = 7.04). What that means is that most likely, 93 percent of Latinos in Nevada did not vote for Trump,” David Damore wrote in a statement on Tuesday.

Ouch. That’s gotta hurt.

And, if the 2012 presidential race is any indicator, things won’t look much better in November. If you recall, President Obama won the Hispanic vote 70 percent to Mitt Romney’s 25 percent in Nevada, according to the Pew Research Center. Yes, it’s true, that year Obama votes were down from the 76 percent share he won in 2008, but experts don’t expect much to change in how Latinos in Nevada or other states vote in November.

Still, if you are to seal the Latino vote as you’ve said many times during your campaign, time is ticking.

Texas already predicts to be a loss for you. And while Republican governors Rick Perry and Greg Abbott were able to wrangle the Latino vote here in significant numbers – 38 percent in 2010 and 44 percent in 2014, respectively – Republican presidential candidates have not fared well in this state with Latinos. In 2012, much like in Nevada, Obama won 70 percent of the Latino vote to Romney’s 29 percent.

That’s not to say you can’t still win our vote. In fact, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette believes you can do it and is one of the few who see your Nevada win as real.

But to say you’ve already won us over… well, that’s not really the case at all. When, if ever, you’ve won real numbers —not just parts of parts —then let’s talk.

Any Supreme Court nominee of Obama’s is no nominee of theirs

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Texas Sen. John Cornyn, right, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speak with reporters on Tuesday. Senate Republicans say they will not consider anyone President Barack Obama nominates to the Supreme Court. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

So now Senate Republicans are saying they won’t even meet with President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter on Tuesday to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, assuring the Kentucky senator that they would not schedule any hearings to consider any Obama nominee, no matter whom he or she might be and no matter how qualified. Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, both committee members, signed the letter.

News that Scalia had died Feb. 13 in West Texas was less than 90 minutes old when McConnell vowed that Republicans would not consider an Obama nominee to the Supreme Court. Early last week, however, Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, indicated he might be willing to hold a confirmation hearing for Obama’s nominee. Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican leader in the Senate after McConnell, also did not rule out scheduling a confirmation hearing.

Well, that was last week. Hints of some leeway have been replaced by a doubling down on obstruction. At a news conference Tuesday announcing their intent to ignore Obama’s nominee, several Senate Republicans said they wouldn’t even meet with whomever Obama chooses. Forget a confirmation hearing; they wouldn’t even say hello. See no nominee. Hear no nominee. Speak no nominee’s name. “I don’t see the point of going through the motions if we know what the outcome is going to be,” Cornyn said.

Courtesy has now fallen victim to Washington’s political divide.

Word floated out Wednesday that the Obama administration was vetting Brian Sandoval, Nevada’s Hispanic Republican governor and a former federal district judge, as Scalia’s possible replacement. The Republican response in the Senate? Doesn’t matter who Obama nominates; he or she will be ignored.

Senate Republicans have turned to history to try to cloak their refusal. “Not since 1932 has the Senate confirmed in a presidential election year a Supreme Court nominee to a vacancy arising in that year,” the Judiciary Committee’s Republican letter says. “And it is necessary to go even further back — to 1888 — in order to find an election year nominee who was nominated and confirmed under divided government, as we have now.”

There’s a reason this part of the committee’s letter is so intricately constructed. Because the precedent it cites, such as it is, is largely meaningless.

Supreme Court justices rarely die in office, at least not any more. Only seven of the 46 justices who have served since 1900 died in office, and only one, William Rehnquist in 2005, has died since 1954. And justices even more rarely die during an election year.

But election-year vacancies do occur. Take 1956, when President Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican running for re-election, picked William Brennan to fill the seat of retiring Supreme Court Justice Sherman Minton. It seems amazing now, but only 39 days went by from Minton’s retirement announcement on Sept. 7 — two months before that year’s election on Nov. 6 — to Brennan taking his seat on the court on Oct. 16, three weeks before the election.

Oh, OK, technically Brennan was a recess appointment to the Supreme Court. Eisenhower and the Democratic-controlled Senate made Brennan’s membership on the court formal and permanent in early 1957 after Eisenhower officially began his second term. The point is, Eisenhower replaced Minton less than a month before the 1956 presidential election and no one screamed that he had no right to do so. Because he perfectly had the right to do so. He was the sitting president. But the Democrats of 1956 aren’t the Republicans of 2016, are they?

Never before have the members of an opposition party used an approaching election as a reason to turn their backs on a Supreme Court nominee, name unknown, sight unseen. And in choosing to ignore Obama’s nominee, Senate Republicans are choosing to deliberately leave the court short a member not only for the rest of this term, which can’t be helped, but effectively for the court’s next term, too.

In their letter, the members of the Judiciary Committee said their decision not to hold a confirmation hearing was “based on constitutional principle and born of a necessity to protect the will of the American people.” Baloney. Protecting the will of the American people has nothing to do with it. This obstruction is about diminishing a president they have never accepted as legitimate. It also is about protecting the Republican majority in the Senate by protecting vulnerable Republican senators running for re-election in blue states from having to cast a controversial vote on a Supreme Court nominee.

And it’s about gambling that the next president will be a Republican who not only will keep Scalia’s seat conservative, but also will swing the court further to the right should another vacancy occur before the next presidential election in 2020. The next president potentially could be picking replacements for Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who turns 83 on March 15; Anthony Kennedy, who is 79; and Stephen Breyer, 77. Scalia was 79 when he died.

The American people expressed their will when they re-elected Obama in 2012 and they did it again two years later when they elected a Republican majority in the Senate. Our government is designed to function based on what voters have done, not on what they might do. That’s why it is Obama’s constitutional duty to nominate Scalia’s replacement, and that is why Senate Republicans have the Constitution on their side if they want to reject Obama’s nominee.

But first they should play their part seriously and sincerely. There’s nothing constitutionally principled about a predetermined outcome.

 

Denying Rosewood historic zoning belittles its value in black history

Residents and others look on during a presentation at the Texas Historical Commission hearing on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014. The meeting was to discuss on the nomination of the Rosewood Courts which is the oldest black housing projects in the country according to the national registry of historic places (RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN- STATESMAN)
Residents and others look on during a presentation at the Texas Historical Commission hearing on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014. The meeting was to discuss on the nomination of the Rosewood Courts which is the oldest black housing projects in the country according to the national registry of historic places (RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN- STATESMAN)

Celebrating Black History Month is more than just participating in feel-good events, where people hold hands and sing, “We Shall Overcome.”

It’s about educating people about the contributions as well as the struggles of African Americans during times when people and their local governments relegated black people to second-class citizenship — if that. It’s a dreadful, but beautiful, history of a people who have overcome, but not yet arrived, it seems, considering the unequal treatment and decisions by city of Austin officials in too many matters.

Among the things at the top of that list is the city’s disparate treatment of Rosewood Courts in denying it historic landmark status. Rosewood Courts in East Austin clearly meets the city’s criteria for such, but was rejected by Austin’s Historic Landmark Commission based on a negative recommendation by the city’s Preservation Office. Those organizations have a long history of granting historic landmark status to properties of dubious historic value, but not to the Rosewood Courts housing project, which meets and exceeds city criteria for historic zoning.

Austin was a segregated city when Rosewood Courts opened in 1939 as the nation’s first federally funded housing project for African-Americans. Along with nearby Santa Rita Courts, initially for Hispanics, it is among the country’s oldest public housing projects constructed under the 1937 Housing Act, research shows.

City preservation officials have looked the other way to accommodate the local Housing Authority, which has its eye on Rosewood for redevelopment, which would increase gentrification in an area already suffering from massive displacement of black and Latino families. The housing authority is using its political influence in Austin and in Washington with the federal Housing and Urban Development Department to have its way, and in the process, run over many Austin elected officials, community leaders and clergy who represent African Americans.

The Austin City Council has an opportunity to right that wrong on Thursday by approving City Council Member Ora Houston’s resolution to initiate historic zoning for Rosewood Courts. It is co-sponsored by Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and Council Members Sabino “Pio” Renteria and Leslie Pool. This would be a fine time, during Black History Month, to finally acknowledge and affirm Rosewood Courts’ historical relevance.

I wrote about Rosewood’s rich history and the case for its historic preservation. You can read a counter view from my colleague Ken Herman.

Local Austin resident Bob Ozer, a leader in the fight to preserve the Lion’s Municipal Golf Course in West Austin, detailed equally important reasons to grant historic status to the Rosewood Courts in a letter to Mayor Steve Adler and the Council:

Dear Mayor Adler and Council Members Houston, Tovo, Pool, Renteria, Zimmerman, Kitchen, Troxclair, Garza, and Casar:

I am writing in support of Agenda Item 48, the resolution supporting the nomination of the Rosewood Courts housing site to the National Register.

For me, of particular interest in reading the nomination for the National Register listing was the role Rosewood Courts played in bringing modernist housing design for workers originating in the Bauhaus in Germany to the segregated black community of Austin in the late 1930s. The Bauhaus, of course, was closed in Germany under pressure from the Nazi regime shortly after Hitler came to power in 1933. The modernist style exemplified by Bauhaus was considered “degenerate” and many members of its faculty were exhibited in the “Degenerate Art Exhibit” held by the Nazis in Munich in 1937. In contrast, in this country the style was being adopted by an important New Deal agency of our federal government, the United States Housing Authority (USHA), to promote affordable housing for African Americans who had been displaced from West Austin largely through the power of local real estate interests as implemented in the 1928 Austin Master Plan. Aside from Lyndon Johnson, one of the principals in this process was Nathan Strauss (the son of a German Jewish immigrant and co-owner of Macy’s department store empire) who was the administrator of the USHA.

Hence, in Rosewood Courts you see in microcosm the marshaling of our national will to respond to the destitution of the depression and racism as a precursor to the national will and might we marshaled to defeat Hitler’s racism and fascism in Europe. This history represents a past we should be reluctant to forget and eager to embrace today: That of a nation resolved to forge a path of decency, fairness and equality for all our citizens now just as we tried to do over 75 years ago with Rosewood Courts.

Thank you for your consideration.

Respectfully,

Bob Ozer

True reason for Uber, Lyft election is power, not fingerprints

Caroline Joiner, left and Mark Nathan, right deliver petitions to Austin City Clerk's office Jannette Goodall on Tuesday, morning Jan, 17, 2016. The petition has forced a May election on a ride-hailing ordinance crafted by Uber and Lyft to replace one passed by the Austin City Council. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Caroline Joiner, left and Mark Nathan, right deliver petitions to Austin City Clerk’s office Jannette Goodall on Tuesday, morning Jan, 17, 2016. The petition has forced a May election on a ride-hailing ordinance crafted by Uber and Lyft to replace one passed by the Austin City Council. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Recent events in Kalamazoo, Michigan, regarding an Uber driver who reportedly killed six people are likely to reverberate in Austin, even though those events are not directly connected to the debate Austin is having over safety and security measures used by Uber and Lyft.

In Austin, the debate has focused on a city requirement for fingerprint-based background checks of Uber and Lyft drivers. The ride-hailing companies are fighting the rules with an ordinance they steered to the ballot to replace the current ordinance the Austin City Council passed last year. The election for the replacement ordinance is May 7. That ordinance is starkly different than the council-approved one.

The ordinance that Uber and Lyft are trying to replace requires drivers to pass fingerprint background checks, which would be phased in. It also mandates that drivers for ride-hailing companies display emblems of Uber, Lyft or GetMe on their vehicles so customers can identify them. The City Council ordinance also prohibits Uber, Lyft and drivers for other ride-hailing companies from loading or unloading customers in traffic lanes. Those are sensible safety and security regulations Austin needs and deserves, but the replacement ordinance backed by Uber and Lyft would eliminate all of those measures if voters approve it.

In Kalamazoo, questions are focused on whether Uber intervened swiftly enough to suspend its driver, Jason Dalton, once complaints about his hazardous driving were known.

No one can say whether that tragedy will influence the outcome of the referendum in Austin. But it certainly does bring into focus a broader concern about safety and security of transportation network companies serving the public, such as Uber and Lyft, whose business models rely on tens of thousands, if not millions, of independent contractors who drive their own vehicles, but use online platforms of Uber and Lyft. In such a huge, loosely regulated pool, there can be greater risks for passengers as well as drivers. Against that backdrop, it is fair to question whether Austin’s elected officials or Uber and Lyft should write the rules for how those corporations operate in the city.

The ordinance on the May ballot hands that power to Uber and Lyft.

It is that issue – and not fingerprint checks – that Austin residents should focus on when they go to the polls.

In orchestrating a referendum, Uber and Lyft masterfully manipulated public sentiment by threatening to bolt if the council required them to submit to a fingerprint-based background check system. That would leave many Austin people in the lurch in getting around the city, and as police say, increase the incidence of driving while intoxicated.

Their public influence was evident in the speed and ease with which signatures were gathered on their behalf to meet Austin’s threshold for forcing a May election. It put the ride-hailing companies in a win-win situation: At the very least, a petition drive could pressure the council to abandon fingerprint background checks. At best, it would put on the books an ordinance Uber and Lyft crafted.

In recent weeks, there have been cracks in support for Uber and Lyft as another petition drive got underway, centering on recalling well-respected City Council Member Ann Kitchen, who led efforts at City Hall to require fingerprint-based background checks. Uber and Lyft say they have no involvement in Kitchen’s recall attempt and there is no evidence to suggest they did. But they miss the point: The recall petition, still awaiting verification by the city clerk, was conceived from an environment Uber created by its attacks on Kitchen essentially for doing her job as chairwoman of the council’s mobility  committee.

Certainly deep-pocketed Uber and Lyft have weighed their costs in taking the issue to voters. They no doubt will have to mount a vigorous public relations campaign in a short window, which is likely to be expensive. Since the turnout for May elections in Austin historically is low, it will be tricky getting voters to the polls. In other words, the ballot ordinance is a gamble.

That might explain why Uber and Lyft engaged in eleventh-hour negotiations with Austin Mayor Steve Adler. Though Adler’s compromise greatly watered down the current ordinance, it would have spared the city $500,000 to $1 million for staging the May 7 election. But adopting Adler’s compromise also required the City Council to adopt the ordinance Uber and Lyft orchestrated – something a majority of council members weren’t willing to do. Instead they sent it to voters with an unmistakable message.

Here is what City Council Member Delia Garza, a former firefighter, said to the Austin Monitor about why she voted to send the matter to voters: “This is going to sound cheesy probably, but when you’ve walked into a burning building, there are very few things that intimidate you. And so, I think having that experience, I’m not afraid to stand by what I believe.”

In other words, game on.

 

 

 

Identity politics unlikely to work with young Austinites

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Mayor Steve Adler, center, flanked by Council members, from left, Greg Casar, Leslie Pool, Ora Houston, Pio Renteria, Kathie Tovo, Sheri Gallo and Delia Garza, announce their support for fellow council member Ann Kitchen, who has received criticism for her stance on fingerprint requirements for ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

So, Austin will have its ballot showdown between the City Council and the ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft in May. The exasperation coming from the dais is clear, however council members — especially Mayor Steve Adler and embattled Council Member Ann Kitchen — should take a page from the national political landscape.

However well-intentioned one’s policies may be, this next generation of voters are not likely to accept the notion that they should just trust that their elders know what is best for them. Delivery and transparency are everything these days, especially with millennials and members of Generation X. If you talk down to them, be prepared for them to tune you out, or worse — turn on you.

Exhibit No.1: Hillary Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders. Last year it was clear that Clinton assumed that the youthful energy amassed from President Obama’s campaign would automatically transfer to her. But the “youngsters” who propelled Obama to office aren’t so young anymore. They are in their mid-30s; they are parents and homeowners.

They have more skin in the game now, but they are still less likely to behave politically like baby boomers. You could sense Clinton struggling to speak to that demographic after her defeat in New Hampshire and as she campaigned in Nevada and South Carolina. Her quandary is how to use the familiar, time-tested tools of identity politics to rally traditional, older voters, while not irritating younger, newer voters. Her performance last weekend was strong, but only time will tell whether she can convince those under-45 to turn out for her and vote.

The turnout question is an important one. In the past four election cycles, millennials have proven to be fickle when it comes to casting ballots. So do millennials matter politically? Absolutely, voting age millennials outnumber baby boomers already. Even if they don’t show up at the polls at the same rate, their sheer numbers have the ability to swing elections, especially those that are issue-based, not personality- or party-based.

Which brings me back to Austin and the ride-hailing election slated for May.

The divide is generational in a way that is much broader than whether one is comfortable ordering a ride over the internet. While I support Kitchen and Delia Garza in insisting that the city should be responsible for public safety, their message is essentially patriarchal (or matriarchal in this case). You elected us; therefore you should trust us.

My unsolicited suggestion to the yet-to-be-formed PAC: Make this election less about council power being usurped (still true), and more about the right of every passenger to feel confident that they are reasonably safe in the rides they hail, whether it is 2 a.m. or 4 p.m. whether they are drunk or sober. In an era where millions are victimized by identity theft each year, it is vanity for Uber and Lyft to consider themselves immune and counter-intuitive for riders to give up the assurance that their driver is in fact who he or she claims to be.

As the board has said in the past, this push for an election is not driven by the ride-hailing companies’ deep passion for this community or for the contractors who drive for them, it’s being driven by their corporate bottom line. And while capitalism and public good is not mutually exclusive, it does put the onus on the ride-hailing companies to truly earn public trust rather than steamroll the process.

The city will get further with a dialog that respects the concerns of the service’s users than treating those who question their judgment like wayward teenagers.

 

 

 

 

 

A biblical alternative to ‘religious objection’ laws: submission

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The Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs held a hearing Feb. 17 in the Senate Chambers at the Capitol to examine measures to protect religious beliefs. (Ralph Barrera / American-Statesman)

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other leaders of the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature want to protect the religious liberties of Texans who oppose same-sex marriage. To that end, Patrick has charged the Texas Senate’s State Affairs Committee to study and recommend so-called religious objection measures for lawmakers to consider during next year’s legislative session. In essence, Patrick wants the Legislature to let those who feel their “sincerely held religious beliefs” are under assault to decide for themselves which laws and Supreme Court rulings to follow.

The State Affairs Committee met Wednesday, and it quickly became apparent, as the American-Statesman’s Chuck Lindell reported, that protecting one person’s religious beliefs risks opening discrimination’s door. (When is a religious belief “sincerely held” and when is it not, and how can you tell the difference, is anyone’s guess.) The American-Statesman’s editorial board urged caution in an editorial published Sunday. It will not be easy keeping religious freedom and faith-based discrimination separate.

I can’t speak for other religions, but allow me to indulge here in the common practice of cherry picking biblical verses to point out that the Bible offers a remedy for conservative Christians who feel the federal courts and other government entities have infringed on their religious liberties by upholding gay rights and passing various nondiscrimination laws. Submission.

Take the opening verses of Romans 13, for example:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

This call to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,” as it is written in 1 Peter, Chapter 2, is repeated elsewhere in the Bible, most famously when Jesus says in Matthew 22:20-21 to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Let’s ignore for the sake of this blog entry how the powerful throughout history have used these passages to justify the divine right of kings, slavery or genocide to say that if it’s true that “there is no authority except from God,” then submission to the authorities is submission to God. If you read the Bible literally, then who’s to say the Supreme Court isn’t “instituted by God” and it’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage wasn’t granted through God?

Perhaps conservative Christians should be content rather than press lawmakers to carve out exceptions for them. Perhaps they should, as Paul instructs in 2 Corinthians 12:10, delight in being insulted and persecuted. God gives strength in weakness.

Stephen Prothero, a religion professor at Boston University, wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times last week in which he observed how since the beginnings of the republic conservatives typically start cultural battles, but liberals almost always win them. Any religious objection law that the Texas Legislature might pass next year will be a rearguard action fought for a lost cause. But losing, not winning, makes a culture warrior righteous, Prothero wrote. “Each defeat proves that America is in fact going to hell and is desperately in need of a defender,” he continued.

The thing is, those who hold themselves up as defenders of lost causes often win elections. And electoral wins are the wins that matter. Those are the causes the defenders of lost causes verily serve.

City, County officials make right move by extending hours at 5 voting polls

Austin Mayor Steve Adler takes advantage of an early voting location Thursday morning at City Hall to cast his ballot for the March primary election. The Travis Commissioners Court will meet Sunday to vote on extending the voting hours at five other locations that weren’t open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m
Austin Mayor Steve Adler takes advantage of an early voting location Thursday morning at City Hall to cast his ballot in the March 1 primary election. The Travis Commissioners Court will meet Sunday to vote on extending the voting hours at five other locations that weren’t open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m

When early voting started on Tuesday, all but five voting locations in Travis County — including three locations in East Austin — were open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. On Sunday, Travis County commissioners are expected to extend voting hours at the five affected locations. It’s the right thing for county and city officials to do.

For all citizens to feel they are equal participants in an election, the system must be fair and equal. People of color in this country and in this state have a long history of being disenfranchised. A simple oversight can create a new level of distrust.

That’s what happened this week when residents of East Austin found — just as they had found last year — that several voting locations did not offer the same operational hours as most of the other 25 polling locations in the county.

City and county officials first pointed fingers and avoided taking responsibility for dropping the ball, but they did offer to correct the mistake by May’s primary runoff dates. This was not good enough, given that officials in September had vowed not to repeat the oversight.

While it may not be difficult for some folks to find and drive to a different polling place, many others don’t have that luxury.

Community members and political leaders voiced concerns about the unequal access minority voters would have to the ballot box. Rightly, officials listened.

On Sunday, Travis County commissioners will consider lengthening the hours at all five affected locations — the Parque Zaragoza Recreation Center in East Austin, the Carver branch library in East Austin, the Ruiz branch library in Southeast Austin, the Howson branch library in West Austin, and the Austin Area Urban League in Northeast Austin — so they are open until 7 p.m. on Wednesday and from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and again on March 1.

Given so much attention twice, let’s hope officials don’t repeat the oversight a third time. Lessons should be learned by now.

Speaking of the Constitution’s original intent …

Supreme+Court+Is+Eight+Enou
The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.

The first alert from The Associated Press confirming that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had died while in West Texas to hunt quail moved on the news wires Saturday at 4:30 p.m. Less than 90 minutes later, at 5:54 p.m., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s reaction to Scalia’s death also moved on the wires.

“Today our country lost an unwavering champion of a timeless document that unites each of us as Americans,” McConnell’s statement read. Additional praise for Scalia’s “fidelity to the Constitution” followed as did McConnell’s condolences to Scalia’s family.

Then this obstructionist conclusion: “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President.”

Senate Republicans quickly echoed McConnell, with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz saying he would filibuster any Supreme Court nominee made by President Barack Obama, sight unseen, qualifications ignored. But on Tuesday, some “modest backtracking,” as The New York Times described it. Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, indicated he would be willing to hold a confirmation hearing for whomever Obama nominates to replace Scalia. On Wednesday, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate and a member of the Judiciary Committee, also did not rule out holding a hearing for Obama’s nominee, though he said he agrees with McConnell that the next president should pick Scalia’s replacement and doesn’t think the Senate should confirm anyone Obama nominates.

Obama is president for another 338 days. He has, as he repeated during a news conference Tuesday, a constitutional obligation to nominate someone to take Scalia’s place. The Senate, likewise, has its own constitutional duty to consider Obama’s nominee and either accept or reject the president’s choice. With Republicans holding an 11-9 majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee — Cruz also sits on the committee, along with Cornyn — and with Republicans outnumbering Democrats in the Senate 54-46, the odds would appear to favor rejection.

The Supreme Court is about halfway through its current term, which ends in June. Four major cases out of Texas — on abortion, voting rights, affirmative action and presidential power — are currently before the court, their outcomes now potentially altered by Scalia’s death.

The court begins its 2016-17 term in October. The earliest the next president could nominate Scalia’s replacement is Jan. 20, 2017, when he or she assumes office. The Senate has never taken more than 125 days to vote on a Supreme Court nominee; on average, the Senate confirmed the last four justices to be appointed to the court — John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — 64 days after they were nominated.

Leaving Scalia’s vacancy to the next president to fill means leaving the court one member short for an unprecedented length of time. But who cares for precedent? Or that which was once considered routine? Since they retook control of the Senate in January 2015, Republicans have been negligently and unprecedentedly blocking Obama’s nominees to the federal courts of appeal. So threatening to block Obama on naming Scalia’s replacement continues an action already being done at a lower court level.

McConnell’s statement forms a bookend to the agreement reached by several Republican congressional leaders on the night of Obama’s inauguration to oppose the new president on everything he proposed, no matter what. That determination was reinforced by McConnell in October 2010 when he told the National Journal that Republicans were motivated to make Obama a one-term president.

Their failure to defeat Obama four years ago is why Scalia’s replacement is Obama’s to nominate. And Republicans’ success in the midterm elections two years ago is why Obama’s nomination is theirs to consider. That’s how it’s meant to work, election year or no. The Constitution — that “timeless document that unites each of us as Americans,” to quote one Mitch McConnell — says so.

Why Abbott is really skipping seeing Pope Francis

Mexico Pope
In this Feb. 16, 2016 photo, Pope Francis blesses a wooden cross during a meeting with Mexican youth at the Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon Stadium in Morelia, Mexico, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016. (L’Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP)

Pope Francis may not technically be coming to Texas, but for all practical purposes he might as well be. When he arrives in Juarez on Wednesday, Mexicans and Texans alike will be watching.

As many as 200,000 Catholics are expected to cross from El Paso to attend the papal mass in Juarez and thousands more are expected to watch from the American side of the border. Notably absent from the spectacle and celebration will be Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

Abbott, a practicing Catholic who often makes reference to his faith from the stump and the Capitol, was invited, but declined to attend due to a scheduling conflict.  He intends to swear in the state’s new education commissioner on Wednesday.

It’s no secret that the presence of the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, particularly this pope, poses a political problem for Abbott. Pragmatically speaking, the dilemma is  strategically easier for Abbott to navigate by being absent, rather than risk a public scolding by the pontiff.

Although Francis’ visit to the United States last fall was met with rock star enthusiasm by the public, his reception by Republican leaders was more muted. While Catholic theology and GOP ideology align on matters of abortion and gay marriage, the list of issues where they part ways is long: global warming, immigration, Syrian refugees, aid for the poor and the death penalty. (Texas executed Gustavo Garcia on Tuesday for for the shotgun slaying of a suburban Dallas liquor store clerk. The execution was the state’s third this year.)

Of all the Christian denominations, the Catholic church is one of the most publicly exacting on the intersection of politics and faith. In fact, that is why until recently Catholic lawmakers in the U.S. have tried to place political distance between their religion and their policies. They have let President (then candidate John F. Kennedy’s famous speech on the subject be their guide:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

It’s a strategy that Abbott has shrugged off on matters where he and the church agree, but may place him in difficult positions in the future as the number of Catholics and Latinos in the state continue to swell.

Francis has used his popularity and his pulpit to remind those in power of where the Church stands. Considering the fallout from Pope Francis’ visit last fall, maybe Abbott is wise to stay away.

Speaker of the House John Boehner met the Holy Father in private and quit his job the next day.

Correction: This blog has been updated to correct John Boehner’s title.