Your Tobacco Settlement Dollars at Work

Virginia Tobacco CommissionThe Virginia Way continues to tarnish the state’s image. In another example of activity that might not be illegal, but which is certainly dubious, the state’s tobacco commission has been handing out grants to its chairman’s kinfolk. That chairman would be Terry Kilgore, a state lawmaker and prominent Republican. It’s not unusual for some families to assume a disproportionate share of the leadership roles in certain rural communities, and there is no realistic way — nor perhaps even any real reason — to prevent that. But it certainly doesn’t look good when the normal course of business starts to look like familial self-dealing. At the very least, Terry Kilgore showed poor judgment by refusing to recuse himself from voting on grants that would be overseen by members of his family. There is also a broader question about whether the tobacco commission is receiving sufficient oversight.The ill-seeming votes, coupled with the Puckett brouhaha and a $4 million fraud case involving a former commissioner, suggest the commission is being run too loosely. Someone in Richmond needs to slip a leash on it — and give it a good yank.


The Art of the Gerrymander


If you’ve been following the 2014 midterm elections, you know there’s very little chance that the U.S. House of Representatives will go blue this year. One reason is gerrymandering, where congressional districts are redrawn to either pack opposing voters into one district or spread them out among districts in a less popular divide-and-conquer strategy. Both parties do it. But in the last midterm election, in 2010, the strategy proved a winner for Republicans, who dominate the state legislatures that control district boundaries in most states. In that contest, in the seven states where the district maps were drawn by Republicans, the actual votes cast for each party were fairly close: 16.4 million for Democrats, 16.7 million for Republicans. But those numbers resulted in a much starker 73 Republicans and 34 Democrats ultimately elected.

As technology has made it easier to draw boundaries with microscopic precision, and as the parties have sorted themselves geographically, gerrymandering has dramatically changed the American political landscape—so much so that its creators don’t go to any real efforts to conceal the conspicuously strange shapes they create.

There’s a reason no one is talking about the races in the House this November: These 10 maps, of the most gerrymandered districts in America according to a 2012 study by geospatial software firm Azavea, go a long way in explaining why.

Learn more…

Fact-Checking Perry’s Spin Machine

Texans for Public Justice

Spin 1: A partisan witch hunt produced Perry’s criminal charges. NOT TRUE.

Over 36 years the Travis Co. Public Integrity Unit prosecuted 21 officials: 6 Republicans and 15 Democrats. At the time of Perry’s $7.5 million veto, the vast majority of that unit’s case load targeted complex finance and insurance fraud cases—not politicians. Democratic Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg’s office recused itself from Perry’s case for obvious reasons. After an Austin Democratic judge recused herself, the case went to Republican Judge Billy Ray Stubblefield, a Perry appointee. Stubblefield assigned the case to San Antonio Republican Judge Bert Richardson, a George W. Bush appointee. Richardson appointed special prosecutor Michael McCrum, who served as a federal prosecutor under the first President Bush. Only Republican judges have touched this case.

Spin 2: The charges against Perry are frivolous. NOPE.

Prosecutors do not pursue every criminal complaint received. A Republican judge believed this one had sufficient merit to appoint a special prosecutor. The prosecutor and members of the grand jury  say there is compelling evidence. “These charges are very serious,” Prosecutor McCrum said. “There is evidence to support them, and there is nothing political about what happened in my investigation or the grand jury’s deliberations.”

Spin 3: The charges challenge Perry’s veto powers. HARDLY.

Texans for Public Justice (TPJ) filed its complaint before Perry vetoed state funding for the DA’s office. Nobody questions Perry’s veto powers. The charges allege that Perry broke the law by threatening an elected official to resign so he could appoint a replacement. “It’s perfectly legal to veto something,” Dallas Morning News reporter Wayne Slater wrote. “And it’s perfectly legal to demand that an elected official you don’t like should resign. But it might be illegal to link the two.”

Spin 4: Perry did not personally seek to oust DA Rosemary Lehmberg. A WHOPPER.

Perry said in May that he did not initiate any efforts to oust Lehmberg nor did he personally make any phone calls toward that end. A Perry attorney also claimed there’s no evidence that Perry threatened Lehmberg apart from the American-Statesman article that triggered TPJ’s complaint. In fact, many insiders have discussed their roles in the affair before and after the veto. The Statesman confirmed that Perry personally called attorney Mindy Montford to see if she would step in if Lehmberg resigned. So Perry personally sought to replace Lehmberg with Montford, whom Travis County’s Democratic voters rejected for that very same office in 2010.

Spin 5: Perry says the case is about drunken driving. WRONG AGAIN.

Two other district attorneys arrested for drunken driving failed to draw Perry’s wrath. Lehmberg pleaded guilty, served jail time, sought treatment and promised not to run for reelection. A legal case to drive her from office failed. Perry targeted Lehmberg because she controlled the Public Integrity Unit, one of few remaining Texas powers in Democratic hands. Texas Republicans have sought to strip that power from Travis County for at least 10 years. Perry is accused of breaking the law in zealous pursuit of this prize.

Voting rights trampled in Virginia

If you have problems at the polls on November 4, please call the election protection hotline at 1-866-687-8683 (OUR-VOTE) right away.

The recent, confusing development in Virginia’s photo identification requirements for voters carries even more serious implications than the bleak picture described in The Post’s Aug. 15 editorial “The GOP’s war on voters.”

The new regulation will unnecessarily burden some 200,000 Virginians by requiring them to obtain a photo ID before voting. Those holding an ID that expired more than a year before the election will need to replace it or obtain a free Virginia voter photo ID. Many election officials opposed efforts to narrow the range of valid IDs, and the League of Women Voters will be monitoring citizens’ experience with the regulation’s implementation.

The point is clear. At least 200,000 active voters in Virginia lack driver’s licenses, and many of them may also lack other photo IDs that the state now may consider valid for the purpose of voting. If the Republicans’ goal was to disenfranchise those voters, they have done a fine job.

The regulation tramples the rights of voters, particularly those from underrepresented groups and unnecessarily burdens our hardworking election officers. Instead of focusing on keeping the polls running smoothly, they will have to spend time scrutinizing IDs and expiration dates.

Anne Sterling
President, League of Women Voters of Virginia.

Voter Fraud Farce

Virginia Photo ID

About 300,000 Virginia voters lack an ID issued by the state Department of Motor Vehicles.  Voters can obtain a free photo ID from any local registrar’s office. More information can be obtained by visiting or by calling the election protection hotline at 1-866-687-8683 (OUR-VOTE).

Virginia is in week seven of its new voter photo ID law, and just last week state election officials narrowed the rule for what will count at the polls as valid ID. Voters may well be unsure if they have what they’ll need to cast a ballot.

We hope any confusion can be dispelled in time for this November’s general election. It is an important one that will decide who will represent Virginians in Congress.

What a bitter irony it would be if difficulty in meeting the new requirement, or just uncertainty about the new law, kept a significant number of voters away from the polls.

Both the new voter photo ID law and the newly restrictive rule for implementing it are children of a theory: That people can easily claim to be someone they are not and vote in their stead, and do so.

Not every theory is necessarily valid.

State lawmakers succeeded this year in passing a photo ID law to ensure fair elections — and a nobler purpose could hardly be put forward in a representative democracy. Free and fair elections give elected government its legitimacy.

And yet, there has been no evidence that voting fraud of any kind has influenced the outcome of a Virginia election, much less in-person voter fraud by someone claiming to be who he (or she) is not.

The new law does not solve an identified problem — but it can create one, especially for frail elderly or disabled people who have difficulty getting out and about.

If state lawmakers want to assure the integrity of the ballot box, they would do better to look elsewhere for fraud, because studies have shown that attempts at voter impersonation at the polls hardly ever happen. The likelihood of voter fraud is far higher with absentee ballots, which can gather in many more votes with far less trouble.

So says a Loyola University Law School professor whose recent guest contribution on The Washington Post’s Wonkblog is entitled: “A comprehensive investigation of voter impersonation finds 31 credible incidents out of one billion ballots cast.”

For years, Justin Levitt has been looking into “any specific, credible allegation that someone may have pretended to be someone else at the polls, in any way that an ID law could fix.”

Such laws, he points out, “aren’t designed to stop fraud with absentee ballots (indeed, laws requiring ID at the polls push more people into the absentee system, where there are plenty of real dangers).”

Yet that is precisely the fix that the sponsor of Virginia’s voter ID law, Sen. Mark Obenshain, suggested to Roanoke Times columnist Dan Casey when he spoke last month to Obenshain about the hassles the law creates for older voters who are not so mobile anymore.

Elections are, indeed, sacrosanct — or should be. Fraud should never be tolerated.

What purpose truly was served last week, though, when state election officials, at Obenshain’s behest, reversed a sensible accommodation to allow expired driver’s licenses and passports to serve as photo IDs? People’s driving privileges can expire, their ability to travel may become limited, but their identities do not change.

The board set an arbitrary limit on the credentials: If they expired more than 12 months before Election Day, they won’t get a registered voter into the voting booth.

Virginians eligible to vote should not be daunted by the hurdles. People can learn what other forms of photo ID are acceptable on the state elections board website or by calling their local registrar’s office. Mobile outreach also is scheduled in some localities over the next 60 days for people lacking any acceptable ID.

And like the man says, there’s always absentee voting by mail.

via the Roanoke Times