How Politicians Are Using Taxpayer Money To Fund Their Campaign and To Sell Off America’s Public Lands

— by Matt Lee-Ashley, Guest Contributor at ThinkProgress-Climate

west land
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/REED SAXON

The recent Cliven Bundy debacle in Nevada put a national spotlight on the long-running, and long-failing, effort by right-wing Western legislators to seize federal public lands and either turn them over to the states or sell them to the highest bidder.

While the renewal of this so-called “Sagebrush Rebellion” has thus far been carried out with limited resources by part-time legislators like State Rep. Ken Ivory (R-UT), new research shows that its leaders are now using taxpayer money from at least 42 counties in nine Western states to advance an aggressive and coordinated campaign to seize America’s public lands and national forests for drilling, mining, and logging.

According to a ThinkProgress analysis, the American Lands Council (ALC) — an organization created to help states to claim ownership of federal lands — has collected contributions of taxpayer money from government officials in 18 counties in Utah, 10 counties in Nevada, four counties in Washington, three counties in Arizona, two counties in Oregon, two counties in New Mexico, and one county in Colorado, Idaho, and Wyoming. In total, county-level elected officials have already paid the ALC more than $200,000 in taxpayer money. A list of these counties and their “membership levels” can be seen on the ALC website.

Since its inception in 2012, the ALC has been working with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative front group backed by the oil and gas industry and billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, to pass state-level legislation demanding that the federal government turn over federally owned national forests and public lands to Western states. So far, Utah is the only state to have signed a law calling for the seizure of federal lands, but Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana have passed bills to study the idea and further action is expected in statehouses during 2015 legislative sessions.

Legal experts report that Utah’s law, and similar bills being advanced by ALC and ALEC are in clear violation of Article IV of the Constitution, are in conflict with the laws that established Western states, and would be overturned if ever tested in federal court.

As the American Lands Council has grown in influence and resources, its activities have received new scrutiny. ALC President Ken Ivory, for example, reportedly earned more than $40,000 from the organization in 2012 (his salary for 2013 has not yet been disclosed). According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Ivory’s wife, Becky, also receives payments from the ALC.

A recent fundraising email obtained by ThinkProgress also shows that at least one ALC member, Washington County, Utah Commissioner Alan Gardner, is using his government title and government email account to raise money for ALC’s lobbying efforts and training of political candidates.

The fundraising solicitation that was sent from Gardner’s official government email address on June 13 asks county governments to contribute $1,000 to become a “Bronze” member, $5,000 to become a “Silver” member, or $25,000 to become a “Gold” member of the ALC.  Gardner confirmed to ThinkProgress that he was the author of the email.

The fundraising solicitation says that up to $100,000 will be spent by ALC on a “Campaign Project” aimed at equipping candidates for federal, state, and county office with “materials and resources to build broad based Knowledge and Courage to compel Congress to honor its promise to us and our children to transfer title to the public lands….” Gardner’s email also reports that the funds will be used for lobbyists, a legal team, polling, and engaging the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation.

ALC’s use of county funds adds to the growing cost to taxpayers of the right-wing land seizure movement. The state of Utah, for example, has already spent more than $500,000 to study a takeover of federal land and has set aside an additional $3 million for legal fees to fight the federal government in court. In Idaho, when the Attorney General’s office questioned the legality of seizing federal lands, legislators in the state spent more than$20,000 on private counsel. In Nevada, a federal land seizure study cost taxpayers more than $66,000, while a special task force to study the issue in Wyoming cost taxpayers$30,000.

In addition to using taxpayer funds to advance unconstitutional bills to seize federal lands, the ALC also relies on financial support from the mining industry and fossil fuel interest groups. Americans for Prosperity, for example — another group financed by the Koch brothers — is listed as a “Bronze Member” of ALC. Mesa Exploration, a mining company whose recent proposal to build a potash mine in an area that the Donner Party crossed in 1846 was recently nixed by federal land managers, is also listed as a “Bronze Member” on ALC’s website.

Matt Lee-Ashley is a senior fellow and director of the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. You can follow him on Twitter at @MLeeAshley.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

Oklahoma Will Charge Customers Who Install Their Own Solar Panels

The American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec) is promoting legislation with goals ranging from penalizing individual homeowners and weakening state clean energy regulations, to blocking the Environmental Protection Agency from fulfilling its currently legislated functions.  ALEC sponsored at least 77 energy bills in 34 states last year.  Those measures were aimed at opposing renewable energy standards, pushing through the Keystone XL pipeline project, and barring any oversight of fracking (hydraulic fracturing).  One such “ALEC” bill has recently come to fruition in Oklahoma, where they’ll now be charging homeowners who have Solar Panels or Wind Turbine generators to use the grid when they have excess generation.  (Those who don’t generate, will NOT be charged grid usage fees, just those who do generate … will.)  In other words, homeowners in Oklahoma with solar panels have to pay the Utilities to let their solar generation support the Utility’s peaking needs.  

I have a solar panel array on my rooftop.  Sometimes I manage to generate more than I use, but that doesn’t happen 24 hours a day.  Nevada Energy utilizes my less expensive generation to help supply its generation needs.  Thus, it’s a symbiotic relationship.  Why should I have to pay to provide them with generation they’ll turn around and sell for more than it cost me to generate it?  

If Nevada is so stupid as to pass the same ill-advised legislation, I’ll invest in batteries and go completely off the grid!  Nevada Energy will just have to figure out where it’s going to get the money to build more expensive generation capabilities to meet its customer’s peaking needs when enough of us have had enough and start dropping off the grid altogether. — Vickie Rock, editor

_____________

— by Kiley Kroh 

solar

CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

Oklahoma residents who produce their own energy through solar panels or small wind turbines on their property will now be charged an additional fee, the result of a new bill passed by the state legislature and expected to be signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin (R-OK).

On Monday, S.B. 1456 passed the state House 83-5 after no debate. The measure creates a new class of customers: those who install distributed power generation systems like solar panels or small wind turbines on their property and sell the excess energy back to the grid. While those with systems already installed won’t be affected, the new class of customers will now be charged a monthly fee — a shift that happened quickly and caught many in the state off guard.

“We knew nothing about it and all of a sudden it’s attached to some other bill,” Ctaci Gary, owner of Sun City Oklahoma, told ThinkProgress. “It just appeared out of nowhere.”

Because the surcharge amount has not been determined, Gary is cautious about predicting the impact it will have on her business. She has already received multiple calls from people asking questions about the bill and wanting to have solar systems installed before the new fee takes effect. “We’re going to use it as a marketing tool,” Gary said. “People deserve to have an opportunity [to install their own solar panels] and not be charged.”

“It is unfortunate that some utilities that enthusiastically support wind power for their own use are promoting a regressive policy that will make it harder for their customers to use wind power on their own,” said Mike Bergey, president & CEO of Bergey Windpower in Norman, Oklahoma, in a statement. “Oklahoma offers tax credits for large wind turbines which are built elsewhere, but wants to penalize small wind which we manufacture here in the state? That makes no sense to me.”

The bill was staunchly opposed by renewable energy advocates, environmental groups and the conservative group TUSK, but had the support of Oklahoma’s major utilities. “Representatives of Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. and Public Service Co. of Oklahoma said the surcharge is needed to recover some of the infrastructure costs to send excess electricity safely from distributed generation back to the grid,” the Oklahoman reported.

“We’re not anti-solar or anti-wind or trying to slow this down, we’re just trying to keep it fair,” Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. spokeswoman Kathleen O’Shea told the Oklahoman. “We’ve been studying this trend. We know it’s coming, and we want to get ahead of it.”

But distributed energy sources also provide a clear value to utility companies. Solar generates during peak hours, when a utility has to provide electricity to more people than at other times during the day and energy costs are at their highest. Solar panels actually feed excess energy back to the grid, helping to alleviate the pressure during peak demand. In addition, because less electricity is being transmitted to customers through transmission lines, it saves utilities on the wear and tear to the lines and cost of replacing them with new ones.

As the use of solar power skyrockets across the U.S., fights have sprung up in several states over how much customers should be compensated for excess power produced by their solar panels and sold back to the grid — a policy known as net metering. Net metering laws have come under fire from the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group backed by fossil fuel corporations, utility companies, and the ultra-conservative Koch brothers. Forty-three states and the District of Columbia currently have net metering policies in place and ALEC has set its sights on repealing them,referring to homeowners with their own solar panels as “freeriders on the system.” ALEC presented Gov. Fallin the Thomas Jefferson Freedom award last year for her “record of advancing the fundamental Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism and individual liberty as a nationally recognized leader.”

Oklahoma “could be the first complete defeat for solar advocates in their fight against utility efforts to recover costs lost to DG [distributed generation] use,”writes Utility Dive. Net metering survived attacks in Colorado  and Kansas  and Vermont recently increased its policy in a bipartisan effort. Last year, Arizona added what amounts to a $5 per month surcharge for solar customers, a move that was widely seen as a compromise, particularly after ALEC and other Koch-backed groups got involved.

While any extra charge placed on potential customers is a concern, Gary hopes that like Arizona, Oklahoma’s fee is modest enough to protect her business from serious damage.

Matt Kasper, energy research assistant at the Center for American Progress, contributed to this piece.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

State Efforts To ‘Reclaim’ Our Public Lands Traced To Koch-Fueled ALEC

By Public Lands Team on Mar 11, 2013 at 12:33 pm

By Jessica Goad and Tom Kenworthy via CAP and ThinkProgress

Despite the many problems that states and municipalities face today—from budget shortfalls to unemployment—seven western states have decided to embark on unconstitutional and quixotic battles attempting to force the federal government to turn millions of acres of public lands over to the states. Doing so, however, would result in the eventual exploitation for private profits of these beautiful parks, refuges, forests, and other lands because the leaders driving such efforts would prefer to see quick economic gains from resource extraction rather than prioritizing these areas’ more sustainable economic uses such as recreation.

Rather than being managed so that all Americans can enjoy them, turning our public lands over to states would result in their management on the whims of governors and state legislatures, who in the West are often quite conservative and tend to ideologically favor limited regulation and private profits. According to one state lands commissioner, these bills would be “catastrophic” to the public lands that Americans know and love.

Clashes between states and the federal government over their respective authorities have long been a regular feature of our politics, especially when it comes to issues regarding control over federal public lands in the West. More than 700 million acres of federal public lands, including national parks, national forests, and national monuments, belong to all Americans, and are tremendous economic generators—the Department of the Interior stimulated $385 billion in economic development and more than 2 million jobs in 2011 alone. At times, conflicts over ownership of the federally managed parks, forests, refuges, and other properties have grown into a regional cause in the West, as they did during the “Sagebrush Rebellion,” a political movement demanding the turnover of federal lands to the states that arose in the 1970s but eventually fizzled out in the late 1980s.

We are now seeing yet another iteration of that hardy but misguided western impulse. These state legislative efforts are nothing more than corporate-backed messaging tools that can be traced to conservative front groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, and Americans for Prosperity, as we discuss further below. The proposals run directly contrary to abundant evidence that Americans and westerners support federal management of their public lands and value the economic benefits those lands provide, especially when they are protected from mining and drilling and are used instead for recreation and other more sustainable purposes.

In the past year, legislatures in seven western states — Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Idaho — have passed, introduced, or explored legislation demanding that the federal government turn over millions of acres of federal public lands to the states. If successful, these bills could be disastrous: Rather than being managed for the benefit and use of the American public, these lands will instead be managed in whatever way each state wants to use them—which generally means maximizing private profits through mining, drilling, and other resource extraction.

These lawmakers are waging a losing battle that amounts to little more than political grandstanding to rally their extreme conservative base and feed an antigovernment narrative. Such bills contradict the majority of public opinion in these states, as well as economic realities and constitutional precedent dating back to the mid-19th century.

ALEC and Americans for Prosperity have been fanning the fire under these efforts to “reclaim” federal public lands. ALEC is a conservative corporate front group funded by fossil-fuel interests such as the Koch brothers and ExxonMobil that develops model legislation for state legislators to introduce in their legislatures, and it has endorsed many of the bills turning public lands over to the states. As the Associated Press reported, “Lawmakers in Utah and Arizona have said the legislation is endorsed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that advocates conservative ideals, and they expect it to eventually be introduced in other Western states.”

That should come as little surprise, considering that one of ALEC’s “model bills” — those that it drafts and develops to shop to various state legislators — is the “Sagebrush Rebellion Act,” which was “designed to establish a mechanism for the transfer of ownership of” non-state lands “from the federal government to the states.”

Further evidence that ALEC is the puppet master behind these performances: Utah State Rep. Ken Ivory (R), who is leading the charge for states to “take back” public lands through his “American Lands Council,” has been presenting the idea of turning federal land over to the states at ALEC conferences such as the one in Salt Lake City last summer. Additionally, Rep. Ivory has been promoting this idea to various state legislatures — he spoke, for example, with Wyoming’s Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Interim Committee in October 2012.

Proponents of these bills claim that the states do not receive tax revenue from federal lands and argue that the proceeds from turning the land over to the states to then be further developed can help fund essential state services such as education. They also argue that the federal government promised to turn public lands over to the states at the establishment of their statehoods more than 100 years ago.

This issue brief provides an overview of each state’s attempt to force the turnover of public lands, and then describes why this is not only bad policy that is not in accordance with what westerners actually believe, but is also unconstitutional based on numerous Supreme Court decisions.

State efforts to ‘reclaim’ public lands

In this section, we provide an overview of each of the bills in seven western states and detail where they are in the legislative process.

Utah

The Outdoor Industry Association, the trade organization for outdoor recreation companies, notes that the outdoor economy — in part based on protected public lands — stimulates $12 billion in consumer spending and more than 122,000 jobs for Utah every year. This extraordinary economic resource will be threatened if the state succeeds in its attempt to take over public lands and instead use them for resource extraction.

Despite this, Utah has been leading the charge when it comes to state attempts to reclaim public lands. Rep. Ivory sponsored the Transfer of Public Lands Act and Related Study, a bill that passed both the state House and Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert (R) in March 2012. The bill established a deadline of December 31, 2014, for the federal government to turn over Utah’s nearly 20 million acres of public lands to the state, or it will sue.

Utah’s Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel noted that the case law with regard to public lands going back to the 1870s gives the bill “a high probability of being declared unconstitutional.” And the Salt Lake Tribune has called Utah’s effort “tilting at windmills.”
Despite this, the Utah state legislature has already appropriated nearly $3 million to cover expected state legal expenses and has set up the Utah Land Commission to oversee the process of returning the lands to the state.

While the bill exempts Native American lands, national parks, and military installations, it still could have a major impact on some of Utah’s most special places. One Utah publication, for example, notes that “While [Ivory] doesn’t say this will happen, it is possible that the huge coal fields now off limits because of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in southern Utah could be developed by the new state land commission.”

Arizona

The outdoor recreation economy in Arizona creates $10.6 billion in consumer spending and supports nearly 104,000 jobs in the state. Yet State Sen. Al Melvin (R) introduced S.B. 1332 in the spring of 2012 requiring Congress to turn over 25 million acres of public lands to the state by the end of 2014, or it would sue. Similar to the legislation in Utah, the Arizona bill would have exempted Indian reservations, national parks, and military lands.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), however, vetoed the bill in May 2012, surprising many observers due to her conservative background. She justified her veto by saying she was “concerned about the lack of certainty this legislation could create for individuals holding existing leases on federal lands. Given the difficult economic times, I do not believe this is the time to add to that uncertainty.”

Arizona voters also took to the polls to fight against a ballot initiative that similarly would have turned public lands over to the state. Proposition 120, supported by state Republican legislators, would have amended the state’s constitution to “declare Arizona’s sovereignty and jurisdiction over the ‘air, water, public lands, minerals, wildlife and other natural resources within the state’s boundaries.’” This measure would have included turning the Grand Canyon over to the state, but the ballot measure was defeated 68 percent to 32 percent.

Wyoming

Although the Outdoor Industry Association released data noting that the outdoor economy creates $4.5 billion in consumer spending and 50,000 direct jobs in Wyoming, State Rep. David Miller (R) introduced a bill in early February 2013 demanding state ownership of public lands. The bill — H.B. 0228, known as the Transfer of Federal Lands Study — would require the state attorney general to study “possible legal recourses available to compel the federal government to relinquish ownership and management of specified federal lands in Wyoming,” and would establish a task force focused on the land transfer. The bill passed both houses of the state legislature earlier this year and now awaits the governor’s signature.

Rep. Miller is also the CEO of a uranium mining company and told WyoFile, a local news outlet, that he got the idea for his bill in Wyoming from Utah Rep. Ivory’s presentation at last summer’s ALEC conference in Salt Lake City.

Notably, however, the Wyoming attorney general’s office wrote an opinion stating that Utah’s federal land transfer laws relied on “a repeatedly rejected reading of the United States Constitution and a strained interpretation of Utah’s statehood act.”

New Mexico

The state of New Mexico sees $6.1 billion in consumer spending stimulated by the outdoor recreation industry, as well as more than 68,000 jobs every year. Nevertheless, New Mexico State Rep. Yvette Herrell (R) and State Sen. Richard Martinez (D) introduced the Transfer of Public Land Act in early 2013, calling on the federal government to turn 23 million acres of New Mexico’s public lands over to the state by the end of 2015. It also would create a public lands transfer task force to study the process of taking ownership of these federal lands.

Jumping into this fray is the Koch-backed conservative group Americans for Prosperity, which called the bill “an exciting change” and urged its members to call the state legislature to express support. On the other hand, the state’s lands commissioner stated that the bill would be “catastrophic,” and noted that a fiscal impact analysis shows that if public lands were transferred to the state, the office would “need 2,000 more employees and an additional $218 million to administer the land at the same level as the federal government.”

The bill is currently in the legislative process, and it is unclear what New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez’s (R) position is on it.

Colorado

Colorado is a hotspot for the outdoor recreation economy, which stimulates $13.2 billion in consumer spending and nearly 125,000 direct jobs to the state. But a handful of members in the Colorado state legislature are attempting to revive a failed attempt of last year’s legislative session by introducing a bill — known as S.B. 13-142 — which would require the federal government to turn over all “agricultural lands” to the state. The law’s broad definition of agricultural lands certainly includes the more than 14 million acres of national forests in the state and likely includes its Bureau of Land Management lands.

State Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R) and State Sen. Scott Renfroe (R) introduced the bill in late January 2013, requiring the federal government to turn these lands over to the state by December 31, 2014. The bill, however, failed in committee in early February.
A similar bill failed in last year’s legislative session after much criticism from public and statewide opinion leaders. As a Denver Post columnist put it at the time, “We are all hoping this goes away very quickly.”

Nevada

Nevada sees $14.9 billion created by the outdoor recreation industry every year, as well as 148,000 direct jobs. And yet Nevada Assemblyman John Ellison (R) and State Sen. Pete Goicoechea (R) are drafting a bill for the 2013 legislative session that would create a committee “to help broker the transfer of federal land to the state,” according to the Elko Daily Free Press. Legislation is still being drafted as of late February.

Specifically modeled after the Utah bill, the Nevada bill would create a Nevada Land Management Implementation Committee appointed by county commissioners, which would conduct a study anticipating the effects that a land transfer would have on the state “in contemplation of Congress turning over the management and control of those public lands to the State of Nevada on or before June 30, 2015.”

Idaho

The outdoor recreation economy creates $6.3 billion in consumer spending in Idaho per year, as well as 77,000 direct jobs. While the Idaho legislature has not yet officially considered a bill to turn some or all of the state’s 33 million acres of public lands over to the state, discussions and preparations to do so are in the works. State Rep. Lawerence Denney (R), chairman of the state’s Resources and Conservation Committee, has expressed interest in introducing such a bill. Utah Rep. Ivory addressed a joint meeting of the state’s House Resources and Conservation Committee and Senate Resources and Environment Committee in late January 2013, lauding the Utah bill and its merits.

The idea of selling off public lands has not, however, seen political success in Idaho. The Associated Press reports that in the state’s 2006 gubernatorial race, now-Gov. Butch Otter (R) was forced to withdraw his support for federal legislation that would sell off public lands in the West to offset costs of Hurricane Katrina — only after “getting bruised by his political challengers and voters irritated by the possibility of losing some of Idaho’s prized backcountry.”

State efforts are seriously misguided

This section outlines the three main reasons why state attempts to “take back” public lands are misguided: People in these states do not believe there is a problem; the economic arguments don’t pan out; and the efforts are unconstitutional.

People in these states don’t think there is a problem

Central to the intent behind and promotion of these bills is the notion that people living in these seven states are upset about the job that the federal government is doing when it comes to managing public lands, and that there is too much public land preventing resource development. But conservative ideologues are wrong in this regard, which is indicated in the data below.

A recent poll from Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project, for example, asked western voters whether they think having “too much public land” is a problem. Here are the answers—either that it is a “serious” problem or that it isn’t a problem—by state:

While this poll did not cover Idaho and Nevada, recent polls in those states show similar sentiments. A poll in Idaho, for instance, determined that 73 percent of Idahoans agree that “One of the things our federal government does well is protect and preserve our national heritage through the management of forests, national parks and other public lands.” And in Nevada, two-thirds of small-business owners believe that allowing private companies to develop public lands “would limit the public’s enjoyment of them.”

Despite what conservatives want to think, the western public understands that there is a role for the federal government in managing public lands and doesn’t want to see the land turned over to states or private interests.

Economic arguments don’t pan out

Another key argument that proponents of such bills make is that the federal government is “locking up” public lands that could be used for economic development such as mining and drilling. To make this argument more appealing, some of the bills transfer a portion of the funds from selling or developing lands to state public education funds and send the rest to relieve the national debt. As Utah Rep. Ivory put it, “If we unleash those resources in a responsible, sustainable manner, that’s a matter of national employment. That’s a matter of national economic GDP growth; that’s a matter of national deficit and debt reduction.”

But conservatives miss two key points in making these economic arguments. First, public lands already provide an extraordinary economic impact, both from traditional resource development currently allowed on the lands such as mining, drilling, and timber, and from outdoor recreation on protected lands. Second, they fail to note that adequately managing millions more acres of land will be very difficult for states facing budget constraints.

Public lands provide tremendous economic impacts. The Department of the Interior—the agency that manages most public lands — stimulated $385 billion in economic development and more than 2 million jobs in 2011 alone. This number includes the extraction of oil, gas, coal, and other minerals from public lands, in addition to timber, grazing, and recreation. Recreation-related activities alone created 403,000 jobs and nearly $49 billion in economic activity across the country. The U.S. Forest Service, which manages national forests, also has major economic impacts — visitor spending on recreation in and near national forests, for example, added $13 billion to gross domestic product and sustained 200,000 jobs across the country in fiscal year 2011.

The fact that public lands create jobs is echoed in public sentiment. In six western states, for example, 79 percent of voters believe that public lands support the economy, while only 15 percent believe they “take land off the tax rolls, cost government to maintain them, and prevent opportunities for logging and oil and gas production that could provide jobs.”

Regarding the second point about states likely not being prepared for the burden of managing an influx of public lands, Jodi Peterson of High Country News, a publication based in Paonia, Colorado, says it best:

If that transfer ever does occur, the old adage “Be careful what you wish for” might apply. Cash-strapped states would have trouble covering even minimal management of former federal land … [and] there aren’t ready buyers for these millions of acres.

The attempts are unconstitutional

Finally, it is important to keep in mind that these attempts are unconstitutional, according to case law dating back to the 1800s, and therefore will only serve to waste state taxpayers’ money. Each of the state attempts to force Congress to turn over public lands references the state’s enabling act—the language that made it a state to begin with. Proponents say the federal government has not kept its promise to give the public lands back to the states.

But in reality this is just not true. Each of these enabling acts that the states agreed to in order to become members of the union renounced their claims to federal public lands. Here are the relevant sections of each state constitution or enabling act:

  • Utah: “That the people inhabiting said proposed State do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries thereof”
  • Arizona: “That the people inhabiting said proposed State do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated and ungranted public lands lying within the boundaries thereof and to all lands lying within said boundaries”
  • Wyoming: “The people inhabiting this state do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries thereof”
  • New Mexico: “That the people inhabiting said proposed state do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated and ungranted public lands lying within the boundaries thereof”
  • Colorado: “That the people inhabiting said Territory do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said Territory”
  • Nevada: “That the people inhabiting said territory do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory, and that the same shall be and remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States”
  • Idaho: “And the people of the state of Idaho do agree and declare that we forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries thereof”

In even further proof that these are attempts are unconstitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken many times on this issue. Ironically, the case law in this regard was discussed by Utah’s own Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel in its opinion on the Utah bill, stating:

The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that “[w]ith respect to the public domain, the Constitution vests in Congress the power of disposition and of making all needful rules and regulations. That power is subject to no limitations. Congress has the absolute right to prescribe the times, the conditions, and the mode of transferring this property, or any part of it, and to designate the persons to whom the transfer shall be made. No State legislation can interfere with this right or embarrass its exercise; and to prevent the possibility of any attempted interference with it, a provision has been usually inserted in the compacts by which new States have been admitted to the Union, that such interference with the primary disposal of the soil of the United States shall never be made.” Gibson v. Chouteau, 80 U.S. 92 (1872).

Additionally, a Congressional Research Service report in 2007 on the history of federal land management and the Constitution noted that:

The U.S. Constitution addresses the relationship of the federal government to lands. Article IV, § 3, Clause 2—the Property Clause—gives Congress authority over federal property generally, and the Supreme Court has described Congress’s power to legislate under this Clause as “without limitation.” The equal footing doctrine (based on language within Article IV, § 3, Clause 1), and found in state enabling acts, provides new states with equality to the original states in terms of constitutional rights, but has not been used successfully to force the divestment of federal lands. The policy question of whether to acquire more, or to dispose of any or all, federal lands is left to Congress to decide.

Conclusion

Despite the fact that those living in these seven states do not fundamentally agree with the attempts to “take back” public lands, that the economic arguments for it are incomplete, and that the efforts are unconstitutional, conservatives in these state legislatures across the West have still introduced bills demanding the federal government turn federal public lands over to the states. Efforts in Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Idaho are misguided and merely serve to fan the fire of extreme and fruitless rhetoric at the taxpayers’ expense.

Jessica Goad is Manager of Research and Outreach for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. Tom Kenworthy is a Senior Fellow at the Center. This article was reprinted from CAP with permission.

Endnotes and citations are available in the PDF version of this issue brief.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

Articles I’ve Been Reading: 2013-03-04

THE BOEHNER-QUESTER
Sequester: The Finger on the TriggerRichard (RJ) Eskow, Op-Ed: Today is the day the package of budget cuts they call the “Sequester” takes effect. There will be endless postmortems and real-time analyses. But as its draconian effects, there’s one thing to remember above all: Congress did this. Let’s hold the guilty parties accountable, especially as the chaos they’ve created rains down around us. Let’s not forget that the Sequester is really a weapon—a weapon whose purpose is to harm government and those it serves. In the end, that includes all but the most powerful among us. Let’s respond in a measured, appropriate and high-minded way to this act, but let’s not forget who’s committing the act.

The Truth and Consequences of Sequestration

Terrance Heath, Op-Ed: What if someone told you that a disastrous event is just days away from happening; one that will play havoc with the economy and bring pain and hardship to millions? What if the same someone told you that our government set this disaster in motion, and could easily stop it, but appears unable or unwilling to do so? You’d call them crazy, right? Well, welcome to the insanity called “sequestration.” Here’s why and how it could trickle down into your life. Here’s the truth and consequences of sequestration.

Of Sequester, Squander, and How Congress Sold Out the People

Carl Gibson, Op-Ed: Back in the days when I used to be a legislative reporter for Mississippi’s NPR affiliate, I was covering a story where Gov. Haley Barbour refused to stop cuts to mental health programs and schools in Mississippi with money from the rainy day fund. My favorite Southern legislator, Rep. Steve Holland of Plantersville, had this to say: “There’s hay in the barn, but we’re not feeding the horses.”

Robert Reich | The Sequester and the Tea Party Plot

Robert Reich, Op-Ed: Imagine a plot to undermine the government of the United States, to destroy much of its capacity to do the public’s business, and to sow distrust among the population. Imagine further that the plotters infiltrate Congress and state governments, reshape their districts to give them disproportionate influence in Washington, and use the media to spread big lies about the government. Finally, imagine they not only paralyze the government but are on the verge of dismantling pieces of it.

Obama on Sequester Impact: No Exaggeration to Struggling Families Facing a Pay Cut

Isaiah J. Poole, Op-Ed: “So I want to be very clear here. It is absolutely true that this is not going to precipitate the kind of crisis we talked about with America defaulting and some of the problems around the debt ceiling. I don’t anticipate a huge financial crisis, but people are going to be hurt. The economy will not grow as quickly as it would have. Unemployment will not go down as quickly as it would have – and there are lives behind that. And that’s real. And it’s not necessary – that’s the problem.”

ECONOMY

How Inequality Is Killing the Dinosaurs

dinosaurSalvatore Babones, Truthout: What killed the dinosaurs the first time around? Meteor? Global warming? Smoking? The culprit for the loss and destruction of what little is left of the dinosaurs today is economic inequality. Collectors argue that as long as they break no laws they should be free to collect what they want, be it art, coins, fossils. But let’s be serious: Who really wants a 40-foot long tyrannosaurus for the living room? Even if you’re allowed to buy one, who would?
According to CBS News legal correspondent John Miller, the buyers are “wealthy people who want something really interesting for their friends to talk about put under their key light in their basement for their 70 dinner guests.”

After the Sequester: Can We Create Better Jobs for Military Employees?

James Trimarco, Op-Ed: The sequester, a set of massive budget cuts required by the ongoing debt ceiling deal, will slash billions from Medicare, education, and other programs that benefit our society’s neediest if it goes through. That’s bad news if you care about those people. But there’s also something to like about it: the largest share of the cuts would come from the military. Many of us have been calling for such cuts for decades, and we should celebrate the possibility of finally getting what we’ve been asking for—even if it comes as the result of Republican demands for austerity. But we should also stand with those who will lose their jobs as a result of defense-budget cuts.

Debt” Campaign Exposed

Amy Goodman, Video Report: With the Capitol Hill showdown over the $85 billion across-the-board budget cuts taking effect this Friday, The White House and analysts fear the so-called “sequester” could jeopardize hundreds of thousands of jobs. While Republicans and Democrats largely agree the cuts are ill-advised, they are far from reaching any sort of agreement. President Obama wants Republicans to end tax breaks, mostly for the wealthy; Republicans are insisting government spending be cut first.

While Republicans Warn Against ‘Greece,’ That is Exactly Where Austerity Budgeting Will Lead U.S.

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Joe Conason, Op-Ed: Indebted America is in danger of turning into destitute Greece, or so congressional Republicans and conservative commentators have been warning us for years now. For many reasons, this is an absurd comparison — but it may not always be quite so ridiculous if Washington’s advocates of austerity get their way.

HEALTH
4 Common Dangers Lurking in Your ‘Health’ SupplementsAnthony Gucciardi, News Report: In a world where health consciousness is increasingly more popular each day, major corporations have entered the health supplements marketplace under new ‘health’ brands in an attempt to soak up some of the profits. In doing this, these corporations that truly do not have any concern for the actual quality of their products tend to cut costs by using dangerous fillers and additives that pose a serious risk to your health. A risk that is particularly concerning when considering that these supplements are supposed to enhance your health.

Native American Women Demand Rightful Access to Emergency Contraception

imageBy Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project & Charon Asetoyer, CEO, Native American Community Board at 2:31pm

Imagine being denied emergency contraception after a sexual assault; to not even be informed about the steps you can take to prevent an unwanted pregnancy; and to later find yourself pregnant as a result of the rape.

For thousands of Native American women this is reality.  Read the full article here

Price-gouging in ‘Free Market’ Medicine

Froma Harrop, Op-Ed: When folks pan the Affordable Care Act for being nearly 3,000 pages long, here’s a sensible response: It could have been done in a page and a half if it simply declared that Medicare would cover everyone. The concept of Medicare for All was pushed by a few lonely liberals. And it would have been, ironically, the most conservative approach to bringing down health care costs while maintaining quality. Medicare bringing down health care costs? “Ha, ha, ha,” says the program’s foes, citing the spending projections for the government health plan serving older Americans.

CULTURE WAR / HUMAN RIGHTS / VOTING RIGHTS

“A Racial Entitlement” – The Right to Vote

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Written by  Benjamin Jealous; Joan Walsh | Portside

“It no longer surprises me when extremist state legislators try to restrict our voting rights. I don’t like it and we fight against it, but I’m no longer surprised by it.” “What surprises and outrages me is that yesterday a Supreme Court Justice said that the protection of the right to vote is a ‘perpetuation of racial entitlement.'” Benjamin Jealous, President and CEO, NAACP

Report: Campaign Law Changes Hasten Power Imbalance Between Rich, Poor

Dave Levinthal, News Report: The U.S. political system is increasingly gamed against Americans of modest means—a situation exacerbated in recent years by major changes in the nation’s campaign laws. That’s the overriding takeaway from a new report slated for release today by Demos, a left-leaning nonprofit public policy group “working for an America where we all have an equal say in our democracy and an equal chance in our economy.” The 39-page report, entitled “Stacked Deck,” paints a picture of corporate powerhouses and wealthy businesspeople dominating political discourse and exacting disproportionate influence over policy incomes.

Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act Headed for President’s signature

Kristen Lombardi, News Report: The House of Representatives passed federal legislation aimed at combating campus sexual violence on Thursday, including it in a bipartisan renewal of the Violence Against Women Act following months of congressional gridlock. The Senate has already approved the measure, which means passage is virtually assured; President Barack Obama could sign it into law as early as next week. In a vote of 286 to 138, House members approved a reauthorization of VAWA that incorporates, as Section 304, the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, known as Campus SaVE.

AGRICULTURE

Monsanto’s Patents on Life

Katherine Paul and Ronnie Cummins, News Analysis: Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments in a seed patent infringement case that pits a small farmer from Indiana, 75-year old Vernon Hugh Bowman, against biotech goliath Monsanto. Reporters from the New York Times to the Sacramento Bee dissected the legal arguments. They speculated on the odds. They opined on the impact a Monsanto loss might have, not only on genetically modified crops, but on medical research and software.

Maine Quietly Mounting Massive Support for Historic GMO Labeling Bill

imageFrits Kreiss, News Report: For many months legislators and community leaders in the State of Maine have been quietly building broad and unprecedented support for passing a historic first-in-the-nation Right-To-Know GMO Labeling law. This week the bill, LD 718, jointly sponsored by the bi-partisan team of Representative Lance Harvell (R-Farmington) and Senator Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln), was introduced to Maine citizens and legislators.

ENVIRONMENT / CLIMATE

Will ALEC Block EPA Coal Pollution Safeguards at Illinois’ Controversial Prairie State Energy Campus?

Connor Gibson, News Analysis: The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the Illinois-based Prairie State Energy Campus, a combined coal mine and power plant spearheaded by Peabody Energy, co-owned by eight public power companies based in the Midwest. Numerous cost overruns from construction delays and equipment problems at the Campus resulted in customers in several states having to pay for power well above market price. While Peabody defends Prairie State Energy Campus (PSEC) from SEC scrutiny, a corporate front group has developed copycat legislation that could exempt dirty projects like PSEC from national clean air and water laws.

U.S. Security Establishment Increasingly Worried about Climate Change

Joe Hitchon, News Report: More than three dozen national security officials, members of Congress and military leaders are warning of the threat climate change poses to U.S. national security, the latest in an indicator that U.S. intelligence and national security circles are increasingly worried about a warming planet. In a new bipartisan open letter, they stress the need for urgent action and call on both public and private support to address issues that included forced migration and the displacement of vulnerable communities, as well as the dangers related to food production during extreme weather events.


8 Ways Corporations are Poisoning Our Food, Water, the Earth
Mike Barrett, News Report: While we may be under the impression that our system of government is here to protect us, corporations—and the politicians getting paychecks from them—do a fair job of making that difficult. This manner of “legislative capture” is manifesting itself in a host of appalling ways far beyond those listed here. Here are 8 ways corporations are poisoning our food supply, humans, and mother earth.

ENERGY

Cape Wind Still Hopeful to Construct America’s First Wind Farm

imageAshley Curtin, News Report: Harnessing the power of wind off the coast of Cape Cod was the vision business owner Jim Gordon had in mind to provide renewable clean energy to the New England area. And in 2001, Gordon and his independent power company, Energy Management Inc., pursued the idea of converting solar energy into mechanical power and Cape Wind was born. The energy conservation project, which began development in 2001, will be America’s first offshore wind farm, but legal battles and potential federal budget cuts might stall the construction of the wind farm.

It’s Tar Sands, Not Just the Pipeline, that Threaten the Climate

William Boardman, News Analysis: The same day that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was promising a “fair and transparent” review of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to the Texas Gulf Coast, the CEO of the company building that pipeline, TransCanada’s Russ Girling, was reported as saying that his company’s “Plan A” was finishing a different pipeline that would take the same tar sands oil to Canada’s east coast. TransCanada’s plan to establish a pipeline to the Atlantic coast has received little attention since CEO Girling’s February 6 interview on Bloomberg Television and Bloomberg’s later report.

Millions of Acres of Land — Larger Than California and Florida Combined — Already Leased to Oil and Gas Industry

Amy Mall, News Report: According to a new NRDC analysis, at the end of 2011, seventy of the largest oil and gas companies operating in the U.S. held leases covering at least 141 million net acres of American land—an area greater than California and Florida combined. Given the sordid environmental history of oil and gas development that has already occurred across the U.S., NRDC is extremely concerned about the additional harmful environmental, health and safety impacts that oil and gas development of this magnitude will bring in the future.

NATIONAL SECURITY / DOD / WAR

‘Homeland Security’

Chris Hellman and Mattea Kramer, Op-Ed: Imagine a labyrinthine government department so bloated that few have any clear idea of just what its countless pieces do. Imagine that tens of billions of tax dollars are disappearing into it annually, black hole-style, since it can’t pass a congressionally mandated audit. Now, imagine that there are two such departments, both gigantic and you’re beginning to grasp the new, twenty-first century American security paradigm. For decades, the Department of Defense has met this definition to a T. Since 2003, however, it hasn’t been alone.

The Drone War Doctrine We Still Know Nothing About

imageCora Currier and Justin Elliott, News Analysis: Consider: while four American citizens are known to have been killed by drones in the past decade, the strikes have killed an estimated total of 2,600 to 4,700 people over the same period. The focus on American citizens overshadows a far more common, and less understood, type of strike: those that do not target American citizens, Al Qaeda leaders, or, in fact, any other specific individual. In these attacks, known as “signature strikes,” drone operators fire on people whose identities they do not know based on evidence of suspicious behavior or other “signatures.”

How Does the U.S. Mark Unidentified Men in Pakistan and Yemen as Drone Targets?

Cora Currier, News Report: Earlier this week, we wrote about a significant but often overlooked aspect of the drone wars in Pakistan and Yemen: so-called signature strikes, in which the U.S. kills people whose identities aren’t confirmed. While President Obama and administration officials have framed the drone program as targeting particular members of Al Qaeda, attacks against unknown militants reportedlymay account for the majority of strikes.

INFRASTRUCTURE

Poland, in Crisis, Cuts Public Transport, Stranding Thousands

Pawel Wita, News Analysis: Poland was widely praised as the European state least touched by the financial crisis in 2008. Its economy grew even when all of its neighbors, including Germany, were in recession. With the wave of funds provided by the European Union in recent years, the country managed to connect its major cities by freeway and improve its infrastructure with shiny new sports fields. But these types of development are only one side of the coin. In Poland’s version of modernization, like in many other places, the biggest advantages have gone to cities while the countryside has become ever more marginalized.

(And if you look around the U.S., most of the infrastructure builds have taken place in urban instead of rural areas.  Is the GOP taking us the way Poland just chose to go?)

CONGRESSIONAL ACTIVITY (AND INACTIVITY)

Under Obama, More Appointments Go Unfilled

Theodoric Meyer, News Analysis: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services haven’t had a Senate-confirmed administrator since 2006. The Federal Labor Relations Authority has had only a single member since January and can’t issue decisions. And the Election Assistance Commission hasn’t had any commissioners at all since 2011. All presidential administrations have vacancies. But an analysis of appointments data by ProPublica shows that President Obama hasn’t kept up with his predecessors in filling them. A greater share of presidentially appointed positions that require Senate confirmation were sitting vacant at the end of Obama’s first term than at the end of Bill Clinton’s or George W. Bush’s first terms.

Three-Quarters of Progressive Caucus Not Taking a Stand Against Cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid

imageNorman Solomon, Op-Ed: For the social compact of the United States, most of the Congressional Progressive Caucus has gone missing. While still on the caucus roster, three-quarters of the 70-member caucus seem lost in political smog. Those 54 members of the Progressive Caucus haven’t signed the current letter that makes a vital commitment: “we will vote against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits — including raising the retirement age or cutting the cost of living adjustments that our constituents earned and need.”

THE NRA

NRA to African Americans: You’ll Need Guns to Protect Yourselves From the Government
Igor Volsky, News Report: The National Rifle Association (NRA) is increasing its outreach to African Americans with a new campaign that links the Civil Rights struggle and nonviolent resistance to gun ownership, arguing that blacks need firearms to protect themselves from the government. The video is part of an effort by the gun lobby to grow the organization’s appeal beyond a mostly white, middle-class membership and attribute high rates of gun violence in some African American communities to “culture” rather than the prevalence of guns.(Yeah … and then once you have those guns … they’ll turn around and vilify you as a criminal. Humor me — Just do a Google search for “guns NRA” … how many “black gun owners” do you NOT see?  Is that a subtle racist meme … if a white guy has a gun, he’s a protector, a hunter … but if a black guy has a gun … he’s a criminal and should be locked up.)

How Voter Suppression in 2012 Will Erode Reproductive Rights

— By Charlene CarruthersRH Reality Check | News Analysis

There is power in a woman’s right to vote.

Since 1984, women have been the majority of the total vote in every presidential election. This year, millions of women will stand in line and prepare themselves to decide who will serve in state legislatures and in the U.S. Congress. They will decide who sits on the local school board and who becomes the next President of the United States. They will also decide who shapes the future of reproductive health and rights for all women in this country. The power to preserve and expand reproductive rights is inextricably tied the right to vote.

But what is power if your ability to leverage that power is stripped away?

That’s just what Republican-led state legislatures across the country are poised to do. Since 2010 state legislatures with Republican majorities have introduced and passed restrictive laws with the potential — and many argue the intent — of forcing widespread voter suppression, and to disenfranchise women, people of color, students, the elderly, and low-income communities.

The overall strategy has included efforts to:

  • Pass laws that require voters to produce proof of citizenship;
  • Make the voter registration process more difficult by eliminating Election Day registration and creating new restrictions on voter registration drives;
  • Cut early and absentee voting periods;
  • Make the restoration of voting rights more difficult;
  • Require eligible voters to possess current and valid state issued photo ID

Brennan Center for Justice.Brennan Center for Justice.These voter suppression tactics are not new, our nation has faced this type of encroachment before. During the civil rights movement African-Americans, women, students, and allies all fought together to gain access to the vote for all citizens. Now, Republican-led state legislatures across the nation are working to roll back hard-earned progress.

What happens if this strategy succeeds?

According a Brennan Center for Justice study, approximately one in ten, or 21 million, Americans do not currently possess valid and current government-issued photo ID. Many of those voters are women whose last names changed with marriages.

The same study found that since the beginning of 2011, at least 180 bills restricting voting rights were introduced in 41 states. Due to this well-funded and well-organized GOP-led effort, 16 states succeeded in passing restrictive voting laws. These states account for 214 electoral votes, or nearly 79 percent of the total needed to win the presidency. If these restrictions are enacted, an estimated 5 million eligible voters could be turned away from the polls in 2012.

Republican state legislators are not pushing this agenda alone. A corporate-funded conservative group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — whose membership includes legislators and major corporations — created model voter ID legislation. Then, legislators and corporations worked together to introduce and push the model voter ID legislation in several states under the guise of preventing voting fraud.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “proponents of such voter suppression legislation have failed to show that voter fraud is a problem anywhere in the country.” Right-wing politicians and groups including ALEC are leveraging the right to vote against a problem that doesn’t exist.

Brennan Center for Justice.Brennan Center for Justice.What’s happening in states?

Florida has a long history of disenfranchising its eligible voters. Florida Governor Rick Scott’s attempt to purge more than 180,000 Floridians from voter rolls just before a key election is a prime example the GOP’s effort to disrupt the voting process and disenfranchise eligible voters. In the 2000 presidential election, thousands of ballots from African American voters were rejected and tossed out. George Bush’s victory was hinged upon the decision of Florida election officials, he won by just 573 votes. Every single vote counts.

Some Republican officials are transparent about the intent behind their efforts to rig the 2012 elections. Last month, Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R) openly stated that voter ID “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”  As a result of Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law, over 758,000 eligible voters now face disenfranchisement because they lack an acceptable form of ID. Over 186,000 of these voters live in the urban center of Philadelphia — home to nearly half of all African Americans in Pennsylvania.

In Mississippi the photo ID referendum has proved to be especially cumbersome. In order to obtain the required photo ID, voters have to have a birth certificate. To obtain a birth certificate, voters most have a state photo ID. See where this gets sticky?

The Texas voter ID law will accept gun licenses — but not student IDs — as proof of identification in lieu of a photo ID. Fortunately, like Mississippi, Texas is required to undergo federal review for any changes to its voting laws due to a history of discriminatory practices.

There are several factors that contribute to a person not having a current and valid photo ID. They expire. Some voters live in areas where driving is not necessary, therefore a state-issued drivers license is not necessary. Voters move and are unable to obtain new ID prior to registration or election day. College students who live away from home and only possess a student ID are also at risk of being turned away for the polls in some states.

The latest available figures show that only 48 percent of voting-age women with ready access to their U.S. birth certificates have a birth certificate with their current legal name. The same survey showed that only 66 percent of voting-age women with ready access to any proof of citizenship have a document with their current legal name.

Ultimately, these measures make the voting process more confusing and place additional burdens on groups who each had to struggle to obtain the right to vote and the right to access quality & affordable reproductive health care.

What are leaders in the movement saying?

“If you can’t access the ballot box, how do you ensure access to reproductive health care?” — Aimee Thorne-Thompson, Advocates for Youth

For reproductive justice advocates, voter suppression is a reproductive justice issue. Many groups like the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights (RCRC) and NYC Reproductive Justice Coalition (NYC RJC, formerly SisterSong NYC) and Advocates for Youth work year-around to educate communities on the issues and mobilize them to vote for progressive candidates and ballot measures.

Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Justice Director at RCRC, Angela Ferrell-Zabala says voter suppression has the potential to affect down ballot measures and local races in states like Florida.

“Down ballot issues like Amendment 6 will open the state’s constitutional privacy laws and make it very difficult for women to seek abortion care’’ Ferrell-Zabala states.

If Amendment 6 is passed, politicians will be allowed to intrude on personal medical decisions and take away access to healthcare that many women who are Florida public employees currently have.

There is much at stake and “we have to look at the repercussions, it all leads back to reproductive justice. Accessing healthcare and education — making informed decisions about your sexual health and family planning.” Ferrell-Zabala explains.

This is about agency and the power to transform communities.

“To limit the agency of women and youth who are disenfranchised by the social conditions of our race, gender, age and socio-economic status is unacceptable at best, and a direct violation of our human rights at its worst.” says Jasmine Burnett, NYC RJC lead organizer.

Gloria Feldt, author and past president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America argues that “the young, the poor, the women struggling to make ends meet for their families are most vulnerable to disenfranchisement yet have the most to lose if right-wing perpetrators of voter suppression succeed.”

The power of the women’s vote can only be effectively leveraged if every woman who is eligible to vote is able to enter the voting booth and have her vote counted. If they are not counted in 2012 then, “reproductive rights, health, and justice would be among the first freedoms to go, and economic justice not far behind.” said Feldt.

The implementation of voter ID laws and other restrictive measures have the potential to shape whose votes are cast and counted in this year’s presidential election, but we must think long-term. What happens after the next presidential inauguration takes place on the steps of the U.S. Capitol?

Local races will occur where the individuals on the ballot stand to gain the power to decide what happens in women’s lives. They will have the power to decide what health centers receive funding, or whether the personhood of a woman is valued over the interests of a fertilitized egg… laws passed by elected officials who will never be in the position to choose. More often than not, these decisions affect women of color and women with low-incomes the most.

“The reproductive health, rights and justice movement must work with organizations doing voter education and civic engagement work to defeat these bills and ballot measures. Otherwise, all of our other rights are at risk.” says Thorne-Thompson.

As America’s democracy grows older and its citizenry becomes more diverse, our elected officials should focus on reducing barriers to voting and developing a more modern voting process. We must create a more streamlined and effective registration process and improve our use of technology in the voting process in order to realize full voter-participation. The power of the vote depends on this and our democracy is dramatically weakened — indeed completely undermined — without it.

This work by Truthout is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License. This article is republished from RH Reality Check, a progressive online publication covering global reproductive and sexual health news and information.

CHARLENE CARRUTHERS
Charlene Carruthers is a New York City based activist and writer. A native of Chicago, she has worked extensively to promote social justice, empowerment and build leadership on local and national levels. Trained in the Saul Alinsky tradition of community organizing, Charlene believes in intentional and inclusive power building. Her passion for working with young leaders to build capacity and leadership has led her to work with and train youth of color and women across the country. She has worked for national progressive organizations including the Center for Community Change, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law and the Women’s Media Center and ColorOfChange.org. She has traveled and studied throughout the global south and brings with her a sense of global citizenship. Charlene received her Master of Social Work from Washington University in St. Louis, where she focused on urban development and public policy. She is also a graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University where she majored in History and International studies. Follow Charlene on twitter at @CharleneCac.