Commentary & Community

Wisconsin Assembly Resolution 4: Prohibit Using Private Lawyers to Defend Redistricting


Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in Wisconsin, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!


Assembly Resolution 4, Prohibit using private lawyers to defend redistricting: Failed 35 to 62 in the state Assembly


To prohibit the legislature from contracting with private legal services to defend legislative redistricting efforts. In January, a federal court found that the legislative districts drawn by the legislature were unconstitutional. This bill would prohibit using tax revenue to pay private-sector attorneys to appeal. This vote was to withdraw the bill from committee to allow the entire Assembly to vote on it.


Comment below to share what you think of Wisconsin Assembly Resolution 4!


Is Gerrymandering Coming to an End?


Politicians drawing electoral districts to benefit politicians – it’s a practice that’s almost as old as the U.S. Criticism of this partisan redistricting, known as gerrymandering, also goes back to the early days of the republic. Actions by legislators and judges in 2017 may make some long-lasting changes to this long-lived process.


Practices vary, but in most states the legislature and the governor draw legislative and congressional districts. And while gerrymandering may be deplored by Republicans and Democrats alike, it is practiced by both parties to maximize their advantages at the ballot box.


In recent years there have been efforts to give nonpartisan commissions the power to draw these districts, in order to take the political considerations out of the process. Currently, four states have these independent commissions.


Actions to address gerrymandering go beyond mere legislative proposals. In some states, lawsuits have been filed to overturn what plaintiffs consider illegally partisan districts.


Here is what is happening in some states concerning gerrymandering:


Wisconsin – In January, a federal court ruled that Wisconsin’s legislative districts must be redrawn in time for the 2018 election. State legislators have approved using a private law firm to appeal this ruling, prompting complaints about using taxpayer dollars to do this.


Michigan – emboldened by the successful suit in Wisconsin, a former Democratic official is preparing to sue the state to overturn what he considers partisan gerrymandering in Michigan.


Virginia – legislators have advanced a resolution to amend the state constitution that would dampen gerrymandering by requiring that legislative and congressional districts must be compact, follow existing political boundaries (such as county lines), and not be drawn to protect a certain party or incumbent lawmakers.


Maryland – when in office, Governor Martin O’Malley approved a map containing some of the most gerrymandered congressional districts in the nation. Now that he’s out of office, O’Malley is having second thoughts. He has said he supports a nonpartisan commission to draw districts, something his successor in the governor’s office, Larry Hogan, is pushing legislators to adopt.



What do you think should be done about gerrymandering?


Virginia Senate Bill 872: Require Photo ID for Absentee Ballots


Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in Virginia, and go to www.votespotter.com to signup and see how your legislators voted.


Virginia Senate Bill 872, Require Photo ID for Absentee Ballots: Passed 20 to 19 in the state Senate on January 30, 2017


To require that anyone requesting an absentee ballot by mail to include a copy of his or her photo ID with the request. When the voter submits the completed ballot, he or she must also submit a copy of his or her photo ID. Exempt from this requirement are military and overseas voters as well as voters with disabilities.


Gun Control in the States

Gun rights or gun safety?


This is the question facing many lawmakers in states across the U.S. While Congress considered and failed to enact any gun control legislation in 2015 or 2016, state legislators have faced a variety of measures relating to gun regulation. In some states, we’ve seen stricter controls put on gun ownership or use. In other states, however, lawmakers have relaxed restrictions.


Stricter gun control laws


California legislators led the way in enacting new gun control laws in 2016, passing 12 bills that imposed new restrictions. Governor Jerry Brown signed most of them, such as a bill to require background checks for ammunition purchases, one banning guns with magazine locking devices, and one that prohibits temporary firearm loans to anyone but family members. Governor Brown vetoed bills that would have regulated unfinished firearm frames and that would have required the mandatory reporting of a lost or stolen firearm within 48 hours.


Connecticut passed legislation that would prohibit those who have a temporary restraining order filed against them from possessing firearms.


Voters weighed in on gun control laws in the 2016 election, too. In California, they continued the trend started by legislators by approving a ballot measure that requires a permit to buy ammunition, bans the possession of large-capacity magazines, and advances the effective date of a state law that prohibits buying ammunition out-of-state, among other things. Washington voters approved a referendum that allows courts to issue “extreme risk protection orders,” which allows guns to be taken from someone deemed to be a significant danger to himself or others. Nevada voters supported a ballot initiative that would require anyone who sells or transfers a firearm do so through a licensed dealer who must run a background check, while Maine voters rejected a similar measure.


Removing restrictions on guns


In states that are controlled by Republicans, gun legislation generally involves loosening rules on ownership or carrying.


For instance, Tennessee lawmakers passed bills allowing both concealed and open carry of firearms on college campuses, which the governor allowed to become law. Georgia legislators also passed a bill allowing the carrying of concealed firearms on college campuses, but Governor Nathan Deal vetoed it.


There were unique dynamics in the debate over gun laws in Virginia this year. In December 2015, Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring announced that the state would no longer recognize concealed carry permits issued by many other states. This prompted a backlash in the Republican legislature. Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe worked with legislators in 2016 and agreed to sign a bill that enshrines right-to-carry reciprocity in state law. In return, legislators passed bills favored by the governor that make it more difficult for domestic abusers to possess firearms and that station state police agents at gun shows to provide voluntary background checks.


Virginia legislators also passed a bill that would have allowed state workers to keep firearms in their cars and one that overturned the governor’s ban on firearms in state buildings. Both of these bills were vetoed by Governor McAuliffe.


In 2015 and 2016, four states (Kansas, West Virginia, Idaho, and Mississippi) passed laws allowing the carrying of concealed firearms without a permit. Other states have considered similar legislation. For instance, Virginia senators deadlocked 20 to 20 in a 2016 vote for a similar law in that state. Both houses of the Montana legislation voted in 2015 to allow concealed carry without a permit in that state’s cities and towns (it is already legal in outside of city limits), but Governor Brian Schweitzer vetoed it. New Hampshire’s governor also vetoed permit-less concealed carry legislation in 2015.


The Voters Speak: State Ballot Initiatives

Although laws differ across the country, voters in many states can have a direct say in governing through initiatives and referendums. According to the Initiative and Referendum Institute, voters in 34 states had their say on 157 ballot propositions. 

Here are some of the issues that voters decided in this way on Tuesday:



  • Alabama puts right-to-work in the state constitution. Virginia voters rejected the idea of putting it in their state’s constitution. 
  • Higher minimum wage: Arizona; Colorado; Washington enacted increases to their minimum wage requirements on businesses.



  • Go ahead, buy your full-strength beer at the supermarket: Oklahoma will let people buy full-strength beer at grocery stores and convenience stores on Sundays.
  • Wanna bet? New Jersey rejects letting casinos expand beyond Atlantic City. Massachusetts rejects putting slots at a race track. Rhode Island will now allow a casino in the town of Tiverton.
  • Cigarette taxes, yes and no: Voters in California, Colorado, Missouri, and North Dakota considered tobacco or cigarette tax increases. Only in California did a tax increase pass.



  • Politician pay raises: The pay of legislators in Minnesota will no longer be decided by legislators themselves. Instead, it will go to an independent committee.
  • Statewide ranked-choice voting: Maine enacts a new method of casting and counting ballots, which is used in some cities nationwide.
  • Voter ID required: Missouri will require people show a photo ID when voting.
  • Primaries open to all: Colorado allows people to vote in a party’s primary election without declaring a party affiliation.
  • Limits on campaign spending: Missouri and South Dakota will limit how much money people can contribute to state races; Washington approves a system of taxpayer funding on campaigns.
  • Keep partisan primaries: South Dakota rejected a measure to ban party affiliations in primary elections and replace it with a system under which the top two vote-getters in the primary appear on the general election ballot.



  • No to more charter schools: Massachusetts voters rejected a measure to expand charter schools.
  • No to state control of schools: Georgia voters said ”no” to a measure that would have allowed the state to take over under-performing public schools.



  • No to single-payer in one state: Colorado voters rejected a 10 percent payroll tax to fund a state-run health care system.
  • Doctor-assisted, on my own terms death: Colorado will let people who have a diagnosis of six months to live get a prescription for fatal doses of medication.



  • Capital punishment: Voters in Oklahoma say that capital punishment is not “cruel and unusual punishment,” and instructed the state to come up with a new means of execution of the existing ones are ruled impermissible by courts.
  • Voters in California rejected a ballot measure that would have repealed the death penalty, while narrowly approving a measure that would speed up the death penalty appeals process.  And Nebraskans overturned a state law that repealed the death penalty.


  • No to carbon taxes: Washington voters rejected a carbon tax that would have imposed a $100 per-ton carbon tax.


What Will Happen in the House in 2017?

Post-election update: Democrats gained seats in the House of Representatives, but not enough to end the GOP majority. Working with President Trump, House Republicans will likely pass legislation to repeal Obamacare (in whole or part) early in 2017. They could also move quickly to enact Trump’s tax policies and pass legislation to deal with immigration. Due to Paul Ryan’s lukewarm support of Trump, there will likely be efforts to replace him as Speaker of the House. These efforts probably do not have enough support to have any effect.


With Election Day quickly approaching, it seems likely that Republicans will retain control of the House of Representatives. Even though this is a continuation of the situation that exists currently, that does not mean that all will remain the same in the lower body of Congress.


Even if Republicans keep control, for instance, that does not mean that House Speaker Paul Ryan is guaranteed to keep his job. Some House members are dissatisfied at Ryan’s lackluster support of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. When the new session of Congress convenes in January, there will likely be some effort to replace Ryan as speaker. It is unlikely that a majority of the House members would support such an effort, however.


Under a Clinton presidency, a Republican-led House would act similar to what it has done under the Obama Administration. There would be major fights over the yearly appropriations bills, with the possibility of more partial-government shutdowns if the White House and Congress cannot agree. The House would also pass legislation, such as eliminating Obamacare, which members know will not survive the Senate or the president’s veto. Any major initiatives that President Clinton would propose would likely be stopped or scaled back by a Republican House. House Republicans would also be very likely to open numerous investigations into Hillary Clinton’s activities.


President Trump would find it easier to work with a Republican House. The House members would not be a stumbling block to his major initiatives. Of course, Trump could face issues from the group of Republicans who did not support him or who only offered tepid support. It is unlikely that a Republican-majority House would act as a rubber stamp for President Trump, but it is also unlikely that they would frustrate him the way they would try to do President Clinton.


In the event that the Democrats took the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi would probably retake the gavel as speaker. She would use that power to support President Clinton’s initiatives or to thwart whatever President Trump sent to Capitol Hill. Under Democratic control, any major investigations of Clinton would be few, if any.


In the House of Representatives, whoever controls the majority of seats controls the agenda in a way that is unlike the Senate. There are few procedural checks on the majority’s power in the House, and there is nothing like the Senate filibuster. The Speaker of the House has vast powers to determine what the body does and what legislation will pass. That makes having a friendly House majority very important for whichever candidate wins the White House.


What do you think the House agenda should be for 2017?


The Senate Agenda for 2017

Post-election update: Republicans won most of the key Senate battles on Tuesday, setting up a scenario where a Republican majority will serve with President Trump. It is unclear the extent of the majority, since two races are currently unresolved. Regardless of the outcome of these races, Republicans will not have enough senators to defeat Democratic filibusters. That means Trump will have trouble getting his policies through this chamber if he does not work across party lines. Because Senate Republicans refused to hold a vote on Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, it is likely that Trump will face a fight early in his term over filling this Supreme Court vacancy. The Senate is also likely to tackle an Obamacare repeal early in 2017. Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell of Kentucky will be the majority leader and New York’s Chuck Schumer will be minority leader.


What will the U.S. Senate look like when new senators are sworn in on January 3, 2017?


The fate of Republican control of the Senate depends on how races turn out in a few states, such as North Carolina, Florida, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. If Hillary Clinton wins the presidency, Democrats need to pick up four seats now held by Republicans (Tim Kaine, as vice president, would break any tie in a Senate divided 50-50 between the two parties). A Donald Trump win would mean that the Democrats need to gain five seats.


Because of the Senate’s rules and traditions, a switch in partisan control does not bring a major swing in policy direction. That is especially true in an evenly-divided Senate or one where a party has narrow majority. To advance a bill that has even a hint of controversy requires that the majority leader must find a super-majority. That is because a cloture motion, or motion to cut off debate on legislation, requires 60 votes.


Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois is likely to be the majority leader if the Democrats take control of the Senate, and the minority leader if they don’t. Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is almost certain to remain majority leader if his party retains control, but be demoted to minority leader if the Democrats prevail in enough close races to take the Senate.


Under a Clinton presidency, a Democratic Senate majority would not have a free hand to push through whatever legislation they favor. Even if they are in the minority, Republicans will have enough seats to block legislation and nominees through a filibuster. The reverse holds true for a Republican majority during a Trump administration. For a bill to emerge from the Senate, it takes bipartisan cooperation. Given this year’s election, that is likely to be in short supply no matter who sits in the White House.


The next president’s term could also see an end to the tradition that Supreme Court nominees are not filibustered. Republicans have already signaled that they may block any Clinton nominee to the high court, and Democrats may do the same under President Trump.


It is unclear how a Senate with a Republican majority would work under a Trump presidency. Some Republican senators, such as Jeff Flake from Arizona and Ben Sasse of Nebraska, have openly rejected the GOP nominee. Others have wavered in their support of him. Would these senators feel party loyalty to President Trump, or would they feel free to oppose him when he is office just as they oppose him on the campaign trail? A Democratic majority under a Trump presidency would ensure numerous roadblocks for any legislative proposal that may come from the White House.


Regardless of which party holds power, some senators in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party have said they would work with Vermont’s Bernie Sanders (who is an independent, but who caucuses with the Democrats) to push what they call a “progressive agenda” of a higher minimum wage, criminal justice reform, and a focus on the environment. These liberal senators have said that even under a Clinton presidency, they may oppose cabinet nominees who they view as too cozy with business.


Given the unpredictable nature of this election, no one can make a solid bet about which party will end up in control of the Senate in January 2017. Only once the votes are counted on Election Day will we know for sure.


What initiatives do you think senators should pursue next year?


Another Choice for President


FBI investigations. Accusations of sexual assault. Vicious personal attacks.


By any measure, it’s been an ugly presidential race. As we approach Election Day, many Americans are dissatisfied with the two major party nominees, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. If you are one of them, then there are other candidates on the ballot who would be happy to receive your vote.


Here are a few of the third party candidates who are also running for president this year:


Gary Johnson – this former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico is running under the Libertarian Party banner. He chose another former Republican governor, Bill Weld of Massachusetts, as his vice presidential candidate. Johnson is socially liberal but fiscally conservative, and takes a non-interventionist approach to foreign policy. He also ran as the Libertarian Party nominee in 2012, gaining nearly 1% of the popular vote.


Jill Stein – a physician, Stein is running as the Green Party nominee, which she also represented as its presidential nominee in 2012. She is running on a platform of government support for renewable energy, cancelling student loan debt, and cutting military spending. During her campaign she has participated in protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline.


Evan McMullin – a former CIA officer and chief policy director for the House Republican Conference, McMullin is running as a “conservative alternative” to Donald Trump. He is opposed to abortion, supports free trade, and takes a more hawkish view on foreign policy than does Trump. A Mormon, he is polling very well in Utah. It is possible that he may win this state, which would mean that a third party candidate would win an electoral vote for the first time since 1972 (when a GOP elector cast a rogue vote for the Libertarian Party nominee).


Third party candidates often perform poorly in general elections. While there are exceptions, such as Ross Perot in 1992 and George Wallace in 1968, relatively few Americans vote for candidates who are outside the two main parties. The most recent third party candidate to receive more than 1% of the popular vote was Ralph Nader. He represented the Green Party in 2000 and won 2.74% of the vote.


Given the unpopularity of this year’s two major party candidates, it is likely that more Americans than usual will be voting for third party nominees. Can Gary Johnson win 5% of the vote, which would be the highest level of support for a Libertarian Party nominee ever? Can Jill Stein break Ralph Nader’s record? Will Evan McMullin win Utah? These are all possibilities in this volatile election year.


Have you considered voting for a candidate other than Trump or Clinton this year?


Final Debate Sets the Stage for Election Day



In keeping with their previous meetings, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton had some memorable moments during the final presidential debate in Las Vegas. Moderator Chris Wallace seemed to steer the debate in a more controlled direction than was the case in the other two debates. However, the two candidates could not help interrupting each other and tossing a few barbs across the stage.


Perhaps the most memorable moment of the debate was when Trump refused to say that he would accept the result of the election if he lost. Instead, he said, “I will look at it at the time” and vowed to keep America in suspense. Clinton called this comment “horrifying.” In recent speeches, Trump has been accusing the election system of being “rigged” and talking about voter fraud. Clinton hit him for not having faith in the system, saying, “When you are whining before the game is even finished, it shows you that you aren’t up for the job.”


The first discussion of the debate revolved around the Supreme Court and how it would rule on issues like gun control and abortion. While Clinton said that she supports the Second Amendment, she also said she believes that there must be regulations such as comprehensive background checks. Trump said that he was “a very strong supporter of the Second Amendment” and that he was proud to have the National Rifle Association’s endorsement.


On abortion, Trump advocated for the states to have the ultimate say over whether abortion is legal, and re-affirmed his opposition to partial-birth abortion in graphic terms. Clinton gave a strong defense of Roe v. Wade and condemned Trump for using “scare rhetoric” about late-term abortions.


Familiar issues came up in the debate. Clinton attacked Trump for being too friendly with Russian president Vladimir Putin, saying that Putin “would rather have a puppet as a president.” Trump said he would welcome better relations with Russia, and accused Clinton of being upset that Putin had outsmarted her when she was secretary of state.


As was the case in the past, the two disagreed over immigration, but both competed to sound a tougher line on trade deals. Clinton reaffirmed her desire to raise taxes in those who earn higher incomes, while Trump promised personal and business tax cuts.


The continuing saga of sexual harassment accusation against Trump also came up, with Trump claiming that the stories about him assaulting women “have been largely debunked.” He also blamed these stories on the Clinton campaign. He asserted, “Nobody has more respect for women than I do. Nobody.” Clinton claimed, “Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger.”


One of the last issues to be discussed was entitlement reform, with moderator Wallace laying out the fiscal issues that are looming due to projected shortfalls in Medicare and Social Security. Neither candidate offered a plan that would deal with this issue. Clinton said she would raise payroll tax cap and put more money in Social Security trust fund, but she would not cut benefits. If fact, she called for enhancing benefits for women and low-income workers. Trump said that cutting taxes would grow the economy, which will help with the entitlement issue. He also called for a repeal of Obamacare.


Compared to debates in other presidential elections, the Clinton-Trump face-offs have featured far more personal attacks than we have seen in the past. While this has produced good TV, it is unclear if this series of debates changed the minds of many voters.


What do you think about the debates between these two candidates? Did anything they said affect how you are going to vote?


A Must-Watch Final Debate



Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have faced off in two debates. At times these debates have turned very personal, and at times there has been some good discussion of policy. What will their third meeting bring?


Date: Wednesday October 19

Time: 9:00 p.m. EDT

Where: University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Moderator: Chris Wallace from Fox News


Since the last debate on October 9, Trump has faced a variety of accusations from women claiming he assaulted them. Moderator Chris Wallace will almost certainly raise this issue, but it’s unclear how Clinton will handle it. Will she press it, or will she simply let the accusations speak for themselves? Trump is likely to try to use the recently-released information by WikiLeaks to attack Clinton, and it will be interesting to see how she responds to this.

There will be a balancing act at this debate, just as at the others, between discussing the issues of character. How much policy will be discussed? How much time will be devoted to issues of sexual harassment?

With the previous two debates drawing high ratings, it is likely that their final face-off will be watched by tens of millions of views.

Will you be watching? If so, what do you want to see the candidates discuss?


What’s the Most Contentious Election?


While the presidential race may divide us, we can all agree that it’s been an interesting election year. The 2016 presidential race has exposed a deep divide in our nation. Trump supporters and Clinton supporters seem to have little common ground. The race is increasingly nasty, with name-calling and personal attacks overshadowing discussions of the issues.


By any measure, this year is a very contentious election year. But how does it measure up to other years where the U.S. has had divisive elections?


1824 – As the only presidential election decided by the House of Representatives, this race is one of the most contentious in our nation’s history. The four candidates running each had strong bases of support in different sections of the country, but none was able to appeal to the entire nation. As a result, no candidate received a majority of the electoral votes. That left it to the House of Representatives to choose the president from the top-three vote-getters: Senator Andrew Jackson, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, and Secretary of the Treasury William Crawford. The fourth candidate, House Speaker Henry Clay, threw his support behind Adams, which led to the House electing Adams as president. Andrew Jackson, who received more popular and electoral votes, claimed that Adams and Clay entered into a “corrupt bargain” to steal the election from him. Jackson challenged Adams for the presidency in 1828 and won.


1860 – How contentious was this election? It led to a Civil War, so that probably puts it at the top of our list. Like in 1824, multiple candidates ran in this race, each appealing to a certain section of the country. Unlike in 1824, however, Republican Abraham Lincoln won a majority of the electoral votes. Vowing that they could not live with a president who opposed the expansion of slavery, seven southern states seceded before his inauguration. Four more states seceded after Lincoln assumed office, leading to a war that lasted until 1865.


1968 – In the middle of the civil rights movement, the 1968 election also featured multiple candidates. Along with Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat Hubert Humphrey, segregationist Democrat George Wallace ran, too. He appealed to blue collar voters who increasingly felt left behind by the Democratic Party’s liberalism, as well as southern voters who opposed civil rights. Humphrey’s campaign was not helped by rioting that occurred during the Chicago convention that nominated him. Ultimately, Nixon prevailed, but Wallace won 46 electoral votes.


2000 – The Supreme Court had to decide the extremely close race between George W. Bush and Al Gore, which makes the 2000 election unique. Bush lost the popular vote, but the electoral vote hinged on which candidate won Florida. After weeks of uncertainty, the Supreme Court stepped in and essentially ruled that Bush was the winner. Many Democrats still consider Bush’s win tainted.


2016 – While the result is unknown, the race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump has become increasingly contentious as Election Day draws closer. We have seen one candidate accused of sexual assault and the other candidate accused of breaking federal law regarding classified information. With strong polling by third-party candidates, there is even the possibility this race could end up in the House of Representatives if no one receives a majority of electoral votes.

Today's presidential races seem to divide the country just as they did in the past. The difference between this year's contentious election and previous contentious elections is the presence of social media, which provides voters and candidates alike with easy access to large audiences of opinion makers. It is interesting to consider how differently those previous campaigns might have played out if the candidates had access to the media and communication tools available today. 

How do you think this year's election compares to the past?


The Big Surprise in the Second Debate – Focus on Policy


In a somewhat surprising twist, the second debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton focused more on policy than personality than the first. With a more measured performance than in their previous meeting, Trump may have given his campaign a lifeline.

With the revelation on Friday of a 2005 tape where Trump is heard making crude comments about women, many expected that this debate would devolve into name-calling and not much else. The debate started out that way, with a focus on the Trump tape and his comments. Trump characterized his remarks as “locker room talk” and said he was “not proud of it,” but then pivoted and said he’ll “knock the hell out of ISIS” and that we should be focusing on much more important things. He also brought up Paula Jones and other women allegedly victimized by Bill Clinton. Hillary Clinton said that Trump isn’t fit to be president, and that his remarks on the tape “represents exactly who he is.”

The beginning of the debate also got into the issue of Clinton’s private e-mail server, with Trump pledging to appoint a special prosecutor for to look into her actions. After Clinton remarked that she was happy someone with his temperament wasn’t directing the Justice Department, Trump said that was because “you’d be in jail.” After these discussions, however, the debate questions began to focus on more policy issues. Both candidates laid out their ideas on how to deal with things like taxes, terrorism, health care, and energy policy.

On the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, Clinton acknowledged problems with the law and vowed to fix them. She said that if it is repealed, as Trump advocates, then all the benefits of Obamacare are lost to everyone. Trump retorted that “Obamacare is a disaster.” He then vowed to replace it with “something that works” by allowing interstate sales of health insurance. He said that will create enough competition to lower prices dramatically.

The candidates also differed on taxes, with Trump advocating eliminating the carried interest deduction and cutting corporate tax rates. Clinton said that Trump’s tax plan is a massive gift for the wealthy and that it would raise taxes on middle class families. They also touched on Trump’s tax returns, with him saying that he used tax deductions that Clinton condemns. However, he claimed, Clinton’s friends like George Soros and Warren Buffet do the same thing.

Clinton took a hard line on Syria, supporting a no fly zone and advocating that the U.S. be more closely involved with allies on the ground. She said the real issue there was Russia, and that Russia wants Trump as president. Trump countered that “almost everything she’s done in foreign policy has been a mistake and a disaster.” He also said that he disagrees with his running mate, Mike Pence, on confronting Russian provocation.

The Supreme Court also came up, with Clinton condemning Citizens United and saying that she wants a court that understands the problems with voting rights. She also pledged to nominate justices that will continue to support legal abortion and gay marriage. Trump said he would appoint judges in the mold of the late Antonin Scalia.

The candidates also discussed energy issues, with Trump contending that energy is under siege by the Obama Administration and that the EPA is putting energy companies out of business. He said that Clinton wants to put miners out of work, while Clinton said the nation should move towards more clean, renewable energy.

The final question from the audience asked the candidates to name one thing they respected about each other. Clinton said that she respects his children while Trump said that he respects that she is a fighter that doesn’t give up.

The next presidential debate will be Wednesday, October 19, in Las Vegas.


Presidential Town Hall Debate


After a memorable first debate, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are scheduled to meet again this weekend. A record number of viewers tuned into the first debate, and interest in their second meeting is likely to be just as high. Here are the event details:


Time: 9:00 p.m. EDT

Location: Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri

Moderator: Martha Raddatz from ABC News and Anderson Cooper from CNN

Unlike their first debate where the two candidates faced each other on stage, Sunday’s event will take place in a town hall format. They will take questions from the audience and moderators with two minutes to give their answers.

With questions coming from the audience, any number of subjects could come up for the candidates to address. While we don’t know for sure what will be discussed, there are some things that we are likely to hear about. Donald Trump’s tax returns were an area of controversy in the presidential and vice presidential debates that have already occurred, so they are almost certain to surface in this debate, too. It is likely that there will be discussions of the two candidates’ tax plans, as well as their differing views on foreign policy. Donald Trump has publicly mulled over bringing up issues surrounding Bill Clinton’s infidelities, and this would be an opportunity to see how Hillary responds.

There is also the matter of temperament and how candidates will perform. With many giving Clinton the edge in their first debate, Sunday night could be the place where Trump demonstrates whether his previous performance was a fluke or not.

Will you be tuning into the second debate? What are your expectations?

Pence and Kaine Face Off

Vladimir Putin, Trump’s tax returns, the Iran nuclear agreement – a few topics came up time and time again during the lone vice presidential debate between Senator Tim Kaine and Governor Mike Pence.

Kaine, who is the running mate of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, repeatedly tried to get Pence to defend the views of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. At times Pence happily defended Trump, and at other times he hit back at Kaine and Clinton. This debate focused more on policy than did the first presidential debate, but at times the two had heated exchanges. Kaine even called Trump a “maniac” at one point, implying that he may start a nuclear war.

One of the main issues that Kaine kept bringing up was Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns. He suggested that the reason Trump won’t release his returns is because the public will see that his tax plans will benefit him and that he has business dealings with Russia. Pence defended Trump, saying that he will release his tax returns after an IRS audit is complete. He also pointed out that Trump has completed a detailed financial disclosure.

Another area where Kaine went on the offensive was over positive remarks that Trump had made about Vladimir Putin. Pence pushed back, contending that Hillary Clinton was soft on Russia during her tenure as Secretary of State. At time, it appeared that the two were competing to see who could go further in condemning Putin and recent Russian actions in Europe. Kaine repeatedly gave Clinton credit for playing a key role in the Iranian nuclear agreement, but Pence dismissed the pact with Iran as having little impact on stopping that nation’s bid to acquire nuclear weapons.

On the economy, Pence stressed Trump’s tax plan, saying it will lead to greater prosperity than we have experienced under President Obama. Kaine emphasized Hillary Clinton’s economic proposal, which would spend federal dollars on a variety of new programs, cut taxes for some, and raise taxes on high-income earners.

Social issues, which have been largely absent during the presidential campaign, also came up. Pence condemned the Democratic Party for its support of partial-birth abortion and Kaine said that abortion was a matter of personal choice that should not be legislated.

While this debate featured discussion on a range of issues, it is difficult to say if it will have much impact on the campaign. As well-prepared as both candidates were, they are running for the second spot on the ticket. The attention of most voters is still focused on the people running for the top spot. Clinton and Trump will square off in their second debate on Sunday.



Pence and Kaine Ready to Square Off


With people still talking about the first presidential debate, the first vice-presidential debate is quickly approaching. Democratic Senator Tim Kaine and Republican Governor Mike Pence will face each other for 90 minutes on Tuesday to discuss the issues and lay out their vision for America’s future.


When: Tuesday, October 4

Time: 9:00 p.m. (EDT)

Where: Longwood University, Farmville, Virginia (and on many TV networks)

Moderator: Elaine Quijano, CBS News


The format for this debate is nine ten-minute segments, with candidates having opening statements and then two-minute responses to each other. However, as we saw with the Trump-Clinton debate, this format can break down if the discussion gets heated.

No topics for this debate have been announced. As with any vice presidential debate, the dynamics are different than when the presidential nominees face each other. Pence may attempt to reassure voters about the GOP ticket by showing a more measured tone in his performance than did Donald Trump. Kaine may try to focus on honesty and transparency, two areas which continue to plague his running mate, Hillary Clinton.

Will you be watching the vice presidential debate? Do you expect it to produce as many interesting moments as the first presidential debate did?

Should Virginia’s Constitution Protect Right to Work?


Election Day is fast approaching, and Virginians are being asked to vote on a variety of offices and measures. One of those measures would enshrine in the state constitution the prohibition on mandating union membership as a condition of employment.


This provision, known as “right to work,” is already state law, so approval of this ballot measure would not change business practices in the commonwealth. However, if placed in the state constitution this measure could not be overturned by legislators in the future. Rep. Richard Bell, who sponsored the bill to put this question to a vote, said it is important to give the right to work constitutional protection. According to him, “we are protecting it from the whims of the legislature and thus ensuring it can remain in place for generations to come.”


Others, such as Senator George Barkers, disagreed, saying, “This amendment is downright unnecessary. Right to work laws have been on the books in Virginia for over 70 years. It is ironic that Republicans frequently accuse Democrats of government overreach, and yet they feel it appropriate to reflect in the Constitution something that has been practice for so long.”


If approved by voters, this section would be added to Virginia’s constitution:


“Any agreement or combination between any employer and any labor union or labor organization whereby nonmembers of the union or organization are denied the right to work for the employer, or whereby such membership is made a condition of employment or continuation of employment by such employer, or whereby any such union or organization acquires an employment monopoly in any enterprise, is against public policy and constitutes an illegal combination or conspiracy and is void.”


The first resolution to place the measure on the ballot passed the House of Delegates by a vote of 64-29 and the Senate by a vote of 21-17. However, legislators must pass resolutions in two successive years to place a question on the ballot. The final resolution to do so passed the Senate by a vote of 21-19 and the House of Delegates by a vote of 64-34.


Do you support amending the state constitution to ban mandatory union contracts?

Do Banking Regulations Need Reform?


In the wake of the Wells Fargo scandal, banking regulation has become a top issue in Pennsylvania’s Senate race. Senator Pat Toomey, who sits on the Senate Banking Committee, plays a large role in setting the rules governing how banks handle our money and overseeing regulations on banks. His challenger, Katie McGinty, has been denouncing the senator’s actions in these areas.


One of the key points of disagreement is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), an agency established by the Dodd-Frank law passed in the wake of the Great Recession. According to McGinty, “Toomey has been working overtime to bust not the banks but the protection bureau. I think those priorities are a little upside-down, and I don't think we're going to take it anymore.”


The basis for this attack is Senator Toomey’s support for changing the way the CFPB operates. He has backed amendments and legislation that would change the funding mechanism for the agency. Currently, the CFPB receives funding through an independent account in the Federal Reserve. Other federal agencies are funded through the appropriations process, whereby Congress and the president allocate money on a yearly basis for their operations. The CFPB is exempt from this process, and Congress has no authority to review the budget set by the CFPB’s director.


Senator Toomey would like the CFPB to be treated like any other federal agency – Congress and the president set the agency’s budget. The Heritage Foundation points out that “the bureau’s independence from congressional appropriations or budgetary review prevents Congress from exercising its key means of oversight: the power of the purse.”  Critics of congressional control of agency funding say that this is a means to weaken the agency: “This would not only give Republicans an opportunity to slash the bureau's funding, but to leverage its budgeting control to pressure the agency against cracking down on lenders.”


The structure of the CFPB has also come under attack by Senator Toomey. He would like to replace the director of the agency with a bipartisan board to govern it.


As you may expect, Senator Toomey disagrees with McGinty’s characterization of the issue. He contends that his reform proposals will make the agency operate better. “The CFPB is completely unaccountable,” he said in 2015. “It is unique among enormously powerful regulators in having no accountability to Congress. It has exceeded its authority in part because it's not subject to congressional oversight. And it's frankly outrageous that they are able to operate with the budget that they have and with the latitude they have without having to come to Congress for this oversight.”


Do you agree with Sen. Toomey that the CFPB is in need of reform and should be overseen by Congress? Or is Katie McGinty right that these reform proposals are designed to weaken the agency?

Highlights of the First Presidential Debate


In the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the candidates clashed over a number of issues, including the economy, race relations, policing, and national security.


One of the main themes of the night for Trump was that the U.S. is being held back by bad deals, including trade agreements like NAFTA, defense agreements with nations like Japan, or national security agreements like the one negotiated with Iran over that nation’s nuclear weapons. He said that he would bring his experience as a businessman to the office of president and negotiate better deals for the U.S.


Clinton stressed that she is prepared to be president, bolstering her case by focusing on policy specifics. She also made pointed appeals to minority voters and women voters.


The two candidates did not hesitate to attack one another. Clinton scored against Trump by going into a lengthy discussion of his refusal to release his tax returns and his questioning of whether President Obama was born in the United States. Trump hit Clinton on her e-mail server scandal. He also attempted to use the experience issue against her, saying that Clinton has been in politics for 30 years but has not used that time to address the problems she is discussing during the campaign.


Areas of agreement


While the debate mainly consisted of Trump and Clinton pointing out how they differed, there were some areas of agreement. While Trump strongly attacked free trade agreements such as NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, Clinton also took a skeptical view of many trade deals.


On gun control, Clinton called for stronger measures to restrict gun sales. One of the proposals she stressed was prohibiting individuals on the no-fly list from being able to purchase firearms. While Trump did not explicitly endorse this idea, he did suggest that he may agree with it.


Both Clinton and Trump agreed that the U.S. should concentrate more on cybersecurity issues.


Areas of disagreement


On the economy, Trump said that he would create jobs in the U.S. by re-negotiating trade agreements, cracking down on companies that invest overseas, lowering taxes so that the wealthy create jobs, and cutting middle class taxes.


Clinton laid out a plan for economic growth that consists of creating new government programs for things like paid family leave and college tuition subsidies. She also repeatedly called for raising taxes on the wealthy. She said that Trump’s tax cuts are “trickle down” and will not work, befitting Trump himself, not the American people.


On crime, Trump said, “We need law and order.” He vigorously defended the controversial stop-and-frisk practice that came under fire and was halted by a judge in New York City. Clinton said there was an epidemic of gun violence and called for more gun control


When it came to national security, Trump blames Obama and Clinton for creating a vacuum that led to ISIS. He said the U.S. should have taken Iraq’s oil to deprive ISIS of income. Clinton accused Trump of not caring whether other nations obtained nuclear weapons, but Trump countered that he believed nuclear weapons (not global warming) was the single greatest threat to the U.S.


On the nuclear issue, Clinton said, “The man who can be provoked by a tweet should not have his finger near the nuclear codes…”


Their best lines?


Clinton: “I have a feeling by the end of this evening I'm going to be blamed for everything that's ever happened.”

Trump: “Why not?”
Clinton: “Why not? Yeah, why not? Just join the debate by saying more crazy things.”


Trump: “I have a much better temperament than she does… my strongest asset, maybe by far, is my temperament.”


Clinton: “I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. And yes, I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president. And I think that's a good thing.”


Trump (on who may have hacked the DNC e-mails): “It could have been Russia. It could be China. It could be someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”


What do you think?

Do you think Clinton or Trump won the debate? What do you think was their strongest moment against each other?

It’s Debate Time!


Are you ready to see Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump square off in the first presidential debate? It’s just around the corner.


Date: Monday, September 26

Time: 9:00 p.m. Eastern

Where: Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY (and on most major TV networks)


Moderator Lester Holt from NBC said the debate topics would focus on these themes: "America's direction," "achieving prosperity," and "securing America.” These are fairly ambiguous terms, but we can probably expect questions on the economy, terrorism, and immigration. There will be six segments of approximately 15 minutes each for candidates to answer questions and then respond to each other.


Both candidates have experience in this format, given the numerous debates during their primary campaigns. However, they have never faced each other, and there is significant anticipation over how Clinton and Trump will interact on the stage. Trump, in particular, has a history of deviating from traditional debate decorum. Many people are wondering if he will continue this behavior on Monday.


This debate will feature only the two major party candidates, with the Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein being excluded.


Will you be watching the first presidential debate? What do you expect to see from the two candidates?

Ethanol Fuels Pennsylvania Senate Differences

In his race for re-election, Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey is touting his opposition to ethanol. Is this a winning issue for him? It just may be.

In 2005 and 2007, there was bipartisan support for legislation to impose and broaden the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). This law mandates that a certain volume of biofuel must be used in gasoline. Because ethanol is the only commercially viable biofuel, the RFS has resulted in E10 (gasoline containing 10% ethanol) being widely sold across the U.S.

While there was bipartisan support for this biofuel mandate in 2007, there is growing bipartisan opposition to it now. Senator Toomey is one of the most vocal critics of the RFS in Congress. He has worked with Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein on legislation and amendments that would eliminate the mandate.

According to the Morning Call, Senator Toomey’s opponent does not share his view: “McGinty, a long-time clean-energy advocate who served as a top environmental policy adviser to former Gov. Ed Rendell and former President Bill Clinton, supports the use of corn ethanol as a renewable fuel that can replace the need for some fossil fuels, according to her campaign.”

Ethanol producers agree with McGinty, saying, “Ethanol is one of the best tools we have to reduce harmful emissions and fight air pollution from our vehicles.” However, a recent report from a University of Michigan researcher concluded, “Despite their purported advantages, biofuels — created from crops such as corn or soybeans — cause more emissions of climate change-causing carbon dioxide than gasoline.”

There is strong political support for ethanol in farm states, especially Iowa. Senator Toomey may have picked a good issue for Pennsylvania, however, since the state is increasingly important for fossil fuels. In addition, as Senator Toomey points out, the ethanol mandate can be a burden on the state’s refineries.

Do you support ethanol in our fuel? Or do you think that it’s time for the ethanol mandate to be repealed?

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