Gerrymandering is the real rot of the foundation of democracy

(Permanent musical accompaniment to this post)

This is our semi-regular survey of what’s going on in the various states where, as we know, the real work of government is done, where people are carrying signs that say “Ban The Bums.”

I can tell from the number of ads on my teepee that it’s back to school again. So let’s check around and see what the curators of our young minds are up to. (The answers aren’t promising, folks.)

Let’s start in Tennessee, where a newly elected local district attorney is trying to figure out if this runaway train to Toontown has a reverse gear. From Lawyer:

As elected officials across the country have called for books to be banned or restricted on LGBTQ+ themes and issues of racism, [then-candidate Coty] Wamp joined the choir in May, advocating for the prosecution of librarians who store books she finds objectionable. A video from a campaign event recently resurfaced on YouTube and tells the story.

An audience member asks Wamp a long question about whether it’s appropriate to sue librarians for the “awful” things they allow to be placed in front of children. The interrogator said the right-wing group Moms for Liberty had denounced “obscenity and vulgar language” in library books. Wamp says in the video that she connected a Moms for Liberty representative with the local sheriff she was an attorney for at the time. “I think there will come a time in some of these books where he crosses a criminal line,” Wamp said. “It’s called contributing to the delinquency of a minor.” She equates the distribution of inappropriate brochures to children when they enter school with giving them access to library resources.

The Wamp camp is currently scrambling to backtrack on the video, now that it’s on YouTube and garnering attention from the cyberverse. But his videotaped comments are clearly where the ongoing war on the curriculum in public schools is headed.

Meanwhile, in Florida… From the Pensacola News-Journal:

The teacher, Michael James, sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis and Escambia County Superintendent Tim Smith in which he wrote that a district employee had removed photos of black American heroes from his classroom walls. historical, citing the images as “age inappropriate”. Images that were removed from the OJ Semmes Elementary School bulletin board included depictions of Martin Luther King Jr., Harriett Tubman, Colin Powell and George Washington Carver, James said. “It really upset me,” James told the News Journal. “I’ve been teaching special education for 15 years, and it really upset me when she did that.”

And of course :

James, 61, of Daphne, Alabama, sent his letter to the governor on Monday evening. He officially resigned from his job teaching exceptional students at OJ Semmes Elementary School on Tuesday morning. His resignation came amid a national teacher shortage, a day before the start of the new school year on Wednesday.

Mr. James seems to be a very good teacher and a decent human being. The Florida governor, who appears to be running for president on a platform of bashing people like James, is neither. What a goddamn mess it all is. It didn’t start with Trump and, god knows, it won’t end with him. Our temporary Republican allies have a lot of cleaning to do in the boondocks.

We’re heading to Ohio, where its gerrymander-crazed Republican legislative majorities have been so barbaric in their enthusiasm for rigging state electoral districts that they’ve caught the attention of the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer (it’s never a good thing if you do political mischief). And the Ohio Legislature has become a hotbed for political vandals and buccaneers.

Longtime Ohio politicians have been shocked by the state’s transformation into a center for extremist legislation, not just on abortion, but on such contentious issues as guns and transgender rights. Ted Strickland, a Democrat who served as governor between 2007 and 2011, told me, “The legislature is as barbaric, primitive, and Neanderthal as any in the country. It’s really disturbing. When he was governor, he recalls, the two parties worked reasonably well together, but politics in Ohio “changed.” The story is similar in several other states deemed moderate, such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania: their legislatures also began to propose laws so right-wing that they could never pass the US Congress.

Mayer’s scalpel remains sharp as does his eye for nonsense.

State Rep. Gary Click, pastor of the Fremont Baptist Temple and a Republican who serves the Sandusky area, has proposed a “personality law,” which would prohibit interference with embryonic development from the moment of conception, unless the mother’s life is in danger. If the bill passes, it could ban many types of birth control, not to mention the various practices commonly used during in vitro fertilization. In an email, Click told me that “the ultimate question to be answered” is “When does life begin?” He added: “I believe the answer to that question is self-evident.” Click graduated from an unaccredited Christian school in Michigan, Midwestern Baptist College, whose website says “civil government is of divine appointment” and must be obeyed “except in things opposed to ‘the will of our Lord. Jesus Christ.’ ”

Mayer then speaks with various local analysts, one of whom has come to the startling conclusion that the Ohio legislature is now more right wing than South Carolina.

“It’s all about gerrymandering,” Niven told me. Ohio’s legislative district maps were deliberately drawn so that many Republicans effectively couldn’t lose, while ensuring the party had a veto-proof supermajority. As a result, the only contests most Republican incumbents have to worry about are the primaries — and, because diehard supporters dominate the vote in these contests, the only threat most Republican incumbents face is the possibility of being outflanked by an even further rival for the right.

Mayer’s guide to the gerrymandered wilderness is an analyst named David Pepper, a former chairman of the state Democratic Party who wrote a book imploring the National Democratic Party to start paying attention to the attacks on representative democracy that are occurring in state houses across the line. Ohio is as good an index patient as any.

Pepper understands that few Americans share his obsession. “Nobody knows anything about the Statehouses,” he said. “They can’t even name their state representatives. And it gets worse every year, since local media die and Statehouse offices empty. Columbus has an exceptionally strong press corps, but this is an exception. And it is precisely because so few Americans pay attention to state politics that legislatures have become ideal arenas for manipulation by extremists and special interests, who often work in tandem.

Mayer goes on to illustrate the success of the Republican campaign to capture state houses and keep them in perpetuity, a multifactor phenomenon in which every factor worked in favor of the Republican Party. The horrific price of this success is very clearly evident in Ohio: Gerrymandering turned the state legislature into a Bedlam.

…last March… Republicans in the State House pushed legislation banning public school teachers from teaching “dividing concepts.” The bill, aimed at censoring classroom discussions of critical race theory — which was never part of the Ohio public school curriculum initially — threatened teachers with suspension unless they n neutrally instruct students on “both sides of a political or ideological belief”. When Morgan Trau, an enterprising state reporter for a Cleveland television station, pressed one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Sarah Fowler Arthur, for details, the lawmaker caused an uproar by proposing the ‘Holocaust as an example of a topic that required a ‘two-sided approach.’ “You should talk about those atrocities that have happened in history, but you also have an obligation to highlight the value each individual brings to table,” Arthur Fowler said, adding that students should view the Holocaust “from the perspective of a German soldier.

Read it all, as the kidz say. This is where the real rot of the foundation lies.

And we conclude, as usual, in the great state of Oklahoma, from where Friedman of the Plains, the official translator of the Icelandic saga, tells us how a Florida company looked for a suction cup and would have discovered that the ‘Oklahoma was, well, OK!

Of Oklahoma:

The lawsuit, filed Friday, names the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services and the Oklahoma Office of Educational Quality and Accountability as plaintiffs against former Florida-based provider Kleo Inc., ClassWallet’s parent company. Oklahoma officials hired ClassWallet in August 2020 to distribute $17.3 million in federal governor education emergency relief funds, a program commonly referred to as GEER.

ClassWallet provided services for two assistance programs for Oklahoma: the Stay in School Grant, which provided up to $6,500 in tuition assistance to parents of private school students who were affected by the pandemic, and Bridge the Gap Digital Wallet, which provided $1,500 grants to low-income families to purchase educational materials. For its services, Oklahoma paid ClassWallet a $650,000 cut from GEER funds.

Yeah, bad idea.

A joint investigation by Oklahoma Watch and The Frontier in May found that hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Bridge the Gap program were spent on non-educational items such as smartphones, televisions, video game consoles, trees Christmas and barbecues, among others. When the program started, parents wondered if there were any restrictions on what they could buy. Secretary of Education Ryan Walters, the Republican candidate for state superintendent of public instruction, gave a ClassWallet representative blanket approval for all articles on ClassWallet’s online platform, revealed emails obtained by the media.

Are Christmas trees “non-educational”? Why Oklahoma hate baby jesus?

This is your American democracy. Cherish it.

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