Tag Archives: conservatives

Wis. Supreme Court urged to bar judges from cases involving their donors

The Wisconsin Supreme Court this week postponed an open meeting about whether to bar judges, including those on the high court, from hearing cases involving people who donated significantly to their election campaigns.

The Supreme Court, whose 5-2 majority leans conservative, was scheduled to take up a petition on March 16 from 54 retired Wisconsin judges pushing for the rule change.

But the open meeting was postponed until April 20 after Brian McGrath, a lawyer for the conservative group Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, emailed the court to say his group intends to show that the petition “should be dismissed without a further and wasteful investment of judicial and public resources” and plans to submit its arguments in writing in the next 30 days.

Jenni Dye, a research director at the liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now, said in a statement she’s not surprised the court accommodated the group.

“The coalition of retired judges asking for this rule change were concerned about corruption or the appearance of corruption on the court,” she said. “That the court would go along with this request from a conservative group is further proof the rules need to change to insulate the justices from influence of special interests.”

The institute’s president, Rick Esenberg, said the court is doing what it should by waiting for input from various points of view.

“What could possibly be the problem with taking the time to listen to a petition from someone with another perspective?” he said.

Esenberg said his group plans to argue that tightening the rules would inhibit free speech by steering individual supporters away from contributing to campaigns and amplifying special interest groups.

“Speech cannot happen without resources,” he said. “If we’re going to have elections, we need to be able to have a public conversation.”

The postponement came the day a national campaign finance watchdog group, the Campaign Legal Center, sent a letter to the court urging it to adopt stricter rules, arguing that Wisconsin lags behind other states in preventing judicial conflicts of interest.

The Brennan Center for Justice also sent the court a letter this week urging a review of the rules.

Currently, donors can give up to $20,000 to Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates and a court can’t force judges to recuse themselves from cases with possible conflicts of interest.

Former Milwaukee County Judge Michael Skwierawski, who helped write the petition, said he’s troubled by the influx of money to judicial campaigns.

“It puts judges in a difficult position when all that extra money is forced on campaigns,” he said, adding that even judges who act in good faith risk having the appearance of their independence tarnished.

“Someone cannot simply pay for a judge’s election and expect the public to believe the judge could be fair on a case involving that party,” he said.

The petition suggested requiring judges to recuse themselves if they have received campaign donations from any parties in the case of varying amounts, ranging from $10,000 for state Supreme Court justices to $500 for municipal judges. The proposal would include in the total any expenditures made to influence the outcome of an election, including those to third parties, though Esenberg expressed doubts about whether this would be viable. If more than four judges are recused for a case, the proposal suggests allowing an appeals court judge or retired Supreme Court justices to hear a case to ensure four judges.

Candidates currently are also free to coordinate with outside interest groups who spend money on so-called issue advocacy but stop short of endorsing specific candidates. That stems from a 2015 Wisconsin Supreme Court case centered on whether Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign illegally coordinated with outside interest groups.

Now-retired Justice David Prosser, one of three conservative judges to halt the investigation, acknowledged at the time that some groups under investigation had helped his campaign, but he refused to recuse himself, saying the spending happened years ago.

 

Conservative court says DOJ doesn’t have to release Schimel videos

The Wisconsin Supreme Court this week rejected Democrats’ efforts to force the release of training videos featuring Republican Brad Schimel before he became attorney general, finding that he didn’t say anything inappropriate in them, as Democrats initially alleged, and that releasing them could hurt prosecutors and crime victims.

The recordings don’t reveal any misconduct and releasing them would reveal prosecutor strategies as well as re-traumatize victims in a high-profile sexual extortion case, the court’s conservative majority ruled in a 5-2 decision.

The state Democratic Party asked the state Department of Justice in 2014 to release videos of presentations on sexual predators that Schimel gave in 2009 and 2013, when he was the Waukesha County district attorney.

The 2009 video shows Schimel discussing prosecution strategies.

In the 2013 video, Schimel recounts a case in which a Waukesha County high school student posed as a woman online, obtained graphic pictures from male classmates and blackmailed them into sexual acts.

The Democrats’ demanded the videos during the height of Schimel’s attorney general campaign, alleging they showed him making ethnic and racial slurs, as well as sexist comments.

The DOJ refused to hand over the videos, arguing that they reveal prosecutorial strategies and could re-traumatize the blackmail victims.

That stance prompted Democrats to sue.

A Madison judge who viewed the videos found that Schimel didn’t make any inappropriate remarks and that no victims were identified by name.

Both the judge and a state appeals court ruled the videos should be released.

The DOJ allowed the Democrats’ attorney to view the videos, after which he dropped the misconduct claims, according to court documents.

The state Supreme Court sided with DOJ, ruling the videos don’t show any official misconduct and the lawsuit suggests a partisan purpose behind the request.

Writing for the majority, Justice Rebecca Bradley likened the 2009 video to prosecutors’ case files, which are exempt from Wisconsin’s open records law.

The video clearly contains discussions of tactics and could be widely disseminated online, helping criminals avoid detection, the court found.

Bradley acknowledged that Schimel doesn’t name any victims in the 2013 video, but she wrote that someone could figure out who they are from the context. That could re-traumatize them in violation of a state constitutional amendment that requires the state to treat crime victims with dignity, she wrote.

“The denial of public access occurs only in exceptional cases. This case presents one of those exceptional situations,” Bradley wrote. “The two videos requested here do not contain any evidence of official misconduct. Our review independently demonstrates that the reasons proffered (for withholding the videos) are sufficient and supported by the facts in this case.”

The court’s two liberal-leaning justices, Shirley Abrahamson and Ann Walsh Bradley, dissented.

Abrahamson wrote that the court should have ordered the videos released with sensitive information redacted.

She chastised the majority for suggesting that the request was politically motivated, noting that the open records law doesn’t require requestors to explain their motivation. She added the ruling offers no limits on when protecting victims trumps disclosure.

“What has the majority achieved with its opinion grounded in speculative, abstract, and unsubstantiated fears? The answer for me is: A dimming of the light on public oversight of government, especially in matters pertaining to criminal justice.”

A Democratic Party spokesman didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

MoveOn hiring organizers for United Against Hate campaign

MoveOn.org Political Action is hiring dozens of organizers to serve as state directors and field organizers in eight battleground states through November.

The hiring push will create a major field presence in key states — including Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania — where organizers and MoveOn volunteers will work to defeat Donald Trump and elect Hillary Clinton, and help take back control of Senate.

The organizers will recruit, train and support grassroots leaders, “focusing on communities that Trump has attacked and coordinating volunteer teams who will knock on hundreds of thousands of doors and hold conversations with thousands of likely voters in coming weeks,” according to a statement from MoveOn.

MoveOn.org is building field programs with paid organizers and volunteer leaders in:

• Arizona

• Florida

• Iowa

• Nevada

• New Hampshire

• North Carolina

• Ohio

• Pennsylvania.

MoveOn said it has more than 1 million active members in these states.

Also, MoveOn members have voted to endorse Senate candidates in seven of the eight states:

• Ann Kirkpatrick (Arizona)

• Patty Judge (Iowa)

• Maggie Hassan (New Hampshire)

• Deborah Ross (North Carolina)

• Catherine Cortez Masto (Nevada)

• Ted Strickland (Ohio)

• Katie McGinty (Pennsylvania)

“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment to ensure that Donald Trump never sets foot in the White House, and MoveOn members across the country have the power to influence this election by helping elect Hillary Clinton and winning key Senate seats across the country,” said Victoria Kaplan, organizing director for MoveOn.org.

She continued, “We know that face-to-face conversations with voters are the number one most effective way to increase voter participation and that’s why we’re unleashing the phenomenal energy of volunteer leaders and the millions of MoveOn members to canvass their own neighborhoods and communities, where they can make the biggest difference.”

MoveOn senior adviser Karine Jean-Pierre said, “We know that our task is not just to win an election, but to demonstrate that bigotry is a losing strategy and to build power to win on the issues that matter to everyday people: income inequality, police and criminal justice reform, climate change, good jobs, immigrants’ rights, and more.”

Earlier this year, MoveOn members voted to launch a multi-million dollar effort against Trump.

Since then, MoveOn has kicked off a major voter contact effort, opened a rapid-response video lab to produce dynamic content around the election, launched a nationwide Laughter Trumps Hate comedy contest and published an open letter featuring more than 100 prominent artists standing against Trump.

Divided America: Global warming more polarizing than abortion

Tempers are rising in America, along with the temperatures.

Two decades ago, the issue of climate change wasn’t as contentious. The leading U.S. Senate proponent of taking action on global warming was Republican John McCain. George W. Bush wasn’t as zealous on the issue as his Democratic opponent for president in 2000, Al Gore, but he, too, talked of regulating carbon dioxide.

Then the Earth got even hotter , repeatedly breaking temperature records. But instead of drawing closer together, politicians polarized.

Democrats and scientists became more convinced that global warming was a real, man-made threat .

But Republicans and tea party activists became more convinced that it was — to quote the repeated tweets of presidential nominee Donald Trump — a “hoax.”

When it comes to science, there’s more than climate that divides America’s leaders and people, such as evolution, vaccination and genetically modified food.

But nothing beats climate change for divisiveness.

“It’s more politically polarizing than abortion,” says Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. “It’s more politically polarizing than gay marriage.”

Leiserowitz says his surveys show 17 percent of Americans, the fastest-growing group, are alarmed by climate change and want action now, with another 28 percent concerned but viewing it as a more distant threat.

But there’s an often-vocal 10 percent who are dismissive, rejecting the concept of warming and the science

Sometimes dismissiveness and desire for action mix in one family.

Rick and Julie Joyner of Fort Mill, South Carolina, are founders of MorningStar ministries. Most of the people they associate with reject climate change. Their 31-year-old daughter, Anna Jane, is a climate change activist.

As part of a documentary a few years ago, Anna Jane introduced Rick to scientists who made the case for climate change. It did not work. He labels himself more skeptical than before.

“They’re both stubborn and equally entrenched in their positions,” says Julie, who is often in the middle. “It doesn’t get ugly too often.”

 

TRIBALISM

People in the 1960s “had faith in science, had hope in science. Most people thought science was responsible for improving their daily lives,” says Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences.

Now “we see partisan polarization or ideological polarization,” says Matthew Nisbet, a communications professor at Northeastern University.

The split with science is most visible and strident when it comes to climate change because the nature of the global problem requires communal joint action, and “for conservatives that’s especially difficult to accept,” Nisbet says.

Climate change is more about tribalism, or who we identify with politically and socially, Nisbet and other experts say. Liberals believe in global warming, conservatives don’t.

Dave Woodard, a Clemson University political science professor and GOP consultant, helped South Carolina Republican Bob Inglis run for the U.S. House (successfully) and the Senate (unsuccessfully). They’d meet monthly at Inglis’ home for Bible study, and were in agreement that global warming wasn’t an issue and probably was not real.

After seeing the effects of warming first-hand in Antarctica and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Inglis changed his mind — and was overwhelmingly defeated in a GOP primary in 2010. Woodard helped run the campaign that beat him.

“I was seen as crossing to the other side, as helping the Al Gore tribe, and that could not be forgiven,” Inglis says.

Judy Curry, a Georgia Tech atmospheric scientist and self-described climate gadfly, has experienced ostracism from the other side. She repeatedly clashed with former colleagues after she publicly doubted the extent of global warming and criticized the way mainstream scientists operate. Now she says, no one will even look at her for other jobs in academia.

 

WHAT CHANGED

In 1997, then-Vice President Gore helped broker an international treaty to reduce heat-trapping gases from the burning of coal, oil and gas.

“And at that moment” says Leiserowitz, “the two parties begin to divide. They begin to split and go farther and farther and farther apart until we reach today’s environment where climate change is now one of the most polarized issues in America.”

Consider lobster scientist Diane Cowan in Friendship, Maine, who expresses dismay.

“I am definitely bearing witness to climate change,” Cowan says. “I read about climate change. I knew sea level was rising but I saw it and, until it impacted me directly, I didn’t feel it the same way.”

Republican Jodi Crosson, a 55-year-old single mother and production and sales manager in Bexley, Ohio, thinks global warming is a serious problem because she’s felt the wrath of extreme weather and rising heat. But to her, it’s not quite as big an issue as the economy.

Scott Tiller, a 59-year-old underground coal miner in West Virginia, has seen mine after mine close, and says coal is getting a bad rap.

“I think we’ve been treated unfairly and kind of looked down upon as polluters,” Tiller says. “They say the climate is changing, but are we doing it? Or is it just a natural thing that the Earth does?”

 

BRIDGING DIFFERENCES

Overwhelmingly, scientists who study the issue say it is man-made and a real problem. Using basic physics and chemistry and computer simulations, scientists have repeatedly calculated that most of the extra warming comes from humans, instead of nature. Dozens of scientific measurements show Earth is warming. Since 1997, the world has warmed by 0.44 degrees (0.25 degrees Celsius).

Repeatedly explaining science and showing data doesn’t convince some people to change their core beliefs, experts say. So instead some climate activists and even scientists try to build bridges to communities that might doubt that the Earth is warming but are not utterly dismissive.

The more people connect on a human level, the more people can “overcome these tribal attitudes,” Anna Jane Joyner says. “We really do have a lot more in common than we think.”

 

Critics seek replacement, call Trump’s candidacy a disaster

Desperate conservatives have circulated a petition calling for the Republican National Committee to host a special meeting where Donald Trump could be replaced as the party’s presidential nominee.

Organizers — some of the same Republicans who tried to prevent Trump from winning the GOP nomination — acknowledge the effort is a long shot at best. But fearing an Election Day disaster, they have appealed to RNC members across the nation in recent days to intervene.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” Regina Thomson, executive director of a political action committee known as the GOP Accountability Project, wrote in an e-mail distributed to RNC members over the weekend and obtained by The Associated Press.

“Donald J. Trump is a disaster,” Thomson wrote, attaching a copy of the petition in the message. “His post-convention behavior has been deplorable.”

Trump has worried many leading Republicans in recent weeks with a string of controversies and fights, notably with the Muslim American parents of an Army captain killed in Iraq and prominent Republicans up for re-election. Trump reversed course and ended up endorsing House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.

Still, Thomson and other anti-Trump Republicans are concerned.

Party rules allow RNC members to replace a presidential nominee in the event of “death, declination, or otherwise” – language Trump critics say allows for his replacement soon after he formally captured his party’s presidential nomination at the national convention. To force a meeting to discuss Trump’s ouster, however, organizers must submit signatures by at least 16 RNC members from 16 states.

Should they do so, GOP chairman Reince Priebus has 10 to 20 days to convene the full, 168-member Republican National Committee.

“This is the same story over and over again,” said RNC spokesman Sean Spicer, dismissing the latest effort. He suggested that the Trump rebels have “a credibility problem” after repeated failed attempts to block Trump’s nomination at the convention.

Even after Trump ended his feud by endorsing Ryan last Friday night, a fresh wave of Republican operatives – and even a handful of elected officials – vowed to vote for someone else or even leave the GOP altogether.

“We’re concerned he’s on a path to destruction and we’re trying to avert that,” Thomson said in a Monday interview.

The Colorado Republican, the former state chairwoman for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign, said she has received verbal commitments from party officials willing to sign the petition, but declined to say how many or who they are.

Several RNC members, reached by the AP on Monday, acknowledged deep frustration with Trump’s candidacy, but said they would not sign the petition. None were willing to give their names for fear they would be associated with the move.

“It is a difficult path but we are supportive of their efforts,” said Republican operative Dane Waters, who led an anti-Trump effort at the convention. “It is important that all options be considered and tried. Priebus should never have allowed this to happen.”

Congressional conservatives threaten criminal justice reform

A handful of Senate Republicans have dealt a severe blow to prospects for overhauling the criminal justice system in Congress this year, with one lawmaker calling the bipartisan legislation championed by President Barack Obama and some prominent conservatives “a massive social experiment in criminal leniency.” 

The opposition from Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, and others will make it difficult for proponents to push the bill as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., assesses GOP support. Backed by the White House and a coalition of conservatives and liberals, supporters had hoped it would be a rare legislative accomplishment in a fiercely partisan election year and a final piece of Obama’s legacy.

At an event for congressional staff, Cotton and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., joined a group of federal prosecutors and argued against the bill, which would allow judges to reduce prison time for some drug offenders. The two senators — along with Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah and David Perdue, R-Ga. — also issued statements of opposition.

Cotton later stood on the Senate floor, warning his colleagues that they would be held accountable if criminals were released and committed more crimes.

“If supporters of this bill and President Obama are wrong, if this grand experiment in criminal leniency goes awry, how many lives will be ruined?” Cotton asked. “How many dead? How much of the anti-crime progress of the last generation will be wiped away for the next?”

The bipartisan legislation, passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee in November, would give judges discretion to give lesser sentences than federal mandatory minimums, eliminating mandatory life sentences for three-time, nonviolent drug offenders. It also would create programs to help prisoners successfully re-enter society. The idea is to make the sentencing system fairer, reduce recidivism and contain rising prison costs.

Disparate voices — from Obama and the American Civil Liberties Union to the conservative Koch Industries — have said the system is broken and have backed the Senate bill.

In 1980, the federal prison population was less than 25,000. Today, it is more than 200,000.

Supporters of the bill are considering some changes to win over opponents, even though they sharply dispute the charge that the legislation would let violent criminals out of prison. Under the Senate bill, each case would be reviewed by a judge before the prison sentence was reduced.

Possible changes include revising or eliminating parts of the bill that would allow judges to consider reduced mandatory minimum sentences for violent offenders or criminals who had possessed a firearm.

“How those changes will look is still being determined, but we’re moving ahead to get a bill ready to be considered on the Senate floor,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement early this week with Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, another supporter.

Cotton said he has been talking to staff as they look at changes, but still believes the legislation is based on a “false premise” that those who would be released are low-level, nonviolent offenders. Cotton and others have been more supportive of the prison reform piece of the bill that helps prisoners re-enter society.

The Arkansas senator is talking to Senate colleagues individually as advocates rally McConnell to move the bill this year. Cotton’s lobbying pits him against Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate. Cornyn has been pressing his colleagues to support it, saying that opposition from Cotton and other conservatives like Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, who has similar concerns, is misplaced.

As conservative opposition has grown, Cornyn and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., have said the legislation doesn’t have to move this year. Unlike McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has said the legislation is a priority, but hasn’t committed to a timeline.

The House Judiciary Committee has approved several separate criminal justice bills, with the eventual goal of moving them separately or together on the House floor. 

Cash for Cruz: Billionaires helped Cruz rise in GOP presidential bid

Four of America’s wealthiest businessmen laid the foundation for Ted Cruz’s now-surging Republican presidential campaign and have redefined the role of political donors.

With just over a week until voters get their first say, the 45-year-old Texas senator known as a conservative warrior has been ascendant. The $36 million committed last year by these donor families is now going toward broadcast and online advertisements, direct mailings and get-out-the-vote efforts in early primary states.

The donors’ super political action committees sponsored weekend rallies in Iowa featuring Cruz and conservative personality Glenn Beck. The state holds the leadoff caucuses on Feb. 1.

The long-believing benefactors are New York hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, Texas natural gas billionaires Farris and Dan Wilks, and private-equity partner Toby Neugebauer. They honed their plan to help Cruz before he began his steady rise in polls — before he even announced his presidential bid in March.

“No one wants to lose,” Neugebauer told The Associated Press when asked why he and others bet big on Cruz. “We didn’t miss that an outsider would win. I think we’ve nailed it.”

The groundwork laid by Neugebauer and other major donors began roughly two years ago, first in a casual conversation with Cruz at a donor’s home in Palm Beach, Florida, then in a more formal way over the 2014 Labor Day weekend at Neugebauer’s ranch in East Texas.

That October, big-data firm Cambridge Analytica — in which Mercer is an investor — began working to identify potential Cruz voters and develop messages that would motivate them. Alexander Nix, the company’s chief executive officer, said the importance of this early work cannot be overstated. He credits Cruz for understanding this.

“Money never buys you time,” Nix said, drawing from his experiences with campaigns worldwide. “Too often clients will come to you just before an election and expect you to work miracles. But you cannot roll back the clock.”

Key donors soon came up with a novel arrangement: Each family would control its own super PAC, but the groups would work together as a single entity called Keep the Promise. They keep in touch through weekly strategy phone calls.

That’s not how super PACs usually work. More typically, multiple donors turn over their money and leave the political decisions to professional strategists. For example, Jeb Bush’s super PAC counts more than two dozen million-dollar donors.

For Cruz, the pool of really big donors is far more concentrated: Mercer gave $11 million, Neugebauer gave $10 million, and the Wilks brothers and their wives together gave $15 million.

That level of support has opened Cruz to criticism that donors are influencing his policies, whether on abortion, energy or the gold standard.

Ethanol advocates point to his oil and gas donors as the reason he wants to discontinue that government subsidy for the corn-based fuel. Cruz and the donors have dismissed that as nonsense. His campaign cites as evidence Cruz’s desire to end handouts to all parts of the energy industry.

Neugebauer, whose private equity investment firm has investments in shale, moved to Puerto Rico in 2014. He said he relocated for his children’s education, but there are tax breaks as well.

Mercer is a former computer programmer and co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies, one of the country’s largest hedge funds. The Wilks brothers are relative newcomers to the world of political donations, having made billions in 2011 by selling their company, which manufactures equipment for the hydraulic fracturing of natural gas.

Although these donors set aside their millions for Cruz 10 months ago, it’s only now that the money is making its way to the 2016 race in a major way.

Since mid-December, the Keep the Promise super PACs have documented about $4 million in independent expenditures to help Cruz or attack other candidates — most often Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, federal election records show.

The super PACs have been identifying and connecting with Cruz voters through digital ads and door-knocking, and recently began a multimillion-dollar TV ad campaign. A Keep the Promise van tailed the Cruz campaign bus as it made its way through Iowa last week. Super PAC workers handed out thousands of “Choose Cruz” yard signs.

For the biggest donors, it’s no surprise that Cruz seems to be well-positioned heading into the primaries. In mid-July, Keep the Promise posted on its website a slide-show presentation called “Can He Win?” The document predicted it would be “very difficult for Establishment to destroy the conservative challenger.” 

Sarah Palin endorses Donald Trump

Donald Trump, the reality television star-turned-politician, was endorsed by Sarah Palin, the politician-turned-reality TV star, in his front-running bid to be the next Republican U.S. president, his campaign said on Tuesday.

To voters, it may seem a natural fit. Though she never made it to the White House after becoming the party’s vice presidential pick in 2008, Palin’s style, which showed a candidate could be popular by eschewing policy minutiae in favor of plain-speaking, is seen as a precursor to Trump’s recent success.

“I’m proud to endorse Donald J. Trump for president,” Palin said in a statement provided by his campaign.

Trump said he was “greatly honored” by the endorsement, according to his campaign’s announcement. “She is a friend, and a high-quality person whom I have great respect for,” his statement said.

Palin was due to join Trump later on Tuesday at a campaign event in Ames, a city in central Iowa, the first state in the nation to vote for the Republican and Democratic parties’ nominees in two weeks.

Trump is in a tight contest with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas for the support of Iowa Republicans, who lean conservative and whose evangelical Christians comprise a major voting bloc.

Palin was in her first term as governor of Alaska in 2008 when U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona, the Republican nominee in that year’s presidential election, picked her as his running mate.

She liked to suggest there were no fiercer fighters for conservative values than a small-town “hockey mom.” She was a former beauty-pageant winner who professed a love of hunting with guns and thought it more important that the United States increase drilling for oil than fret about climate change.

Trump is a real estate billionaire from New York City who has taken to vigorously insulting politicians in both parties while demonizing Muslims and some Mexicans, an unusual approach in U.S. presidential politics. He has been polling as the voters’ favorite on the Republican side for months, with Hillary Clinton, a former U.S. secretary of state, the leading Democratic candidate.

McCain and Palin lost the 2008 election to Barack Obama and Joe Biden, but by then Palin’s transformation from a little-known politician to national celebrity was complete. 

In 2009, she resigned as Alaska’s governor, and has since worked as a conservative political commentator and as the producer and star of lightly staged television shows about her large family enjoying Alaska’s rugged landscapes.

But even some onetime admirers wondered if her moment had passed, saying they found a speech she gave a year ago before conservative voters in Iowa to be unintelligible at times.

Joe Brettell, a Republican strategist in Texas, said he thought Palin would not help Trump much “beyond a jolt in the news cycle.”

Lindsey Graham – a Republican senator from South Carolina who last month ditched his own effort to become president and has endorsed former Florida Governor Jeb Bush for the nomination – said in an interview with CNN that he liked Palin.

Still, he added, “Sarah Palin can’t save Donald Trump from being crazy,” referring to some of Trump’s proclamations, such as a plan to ban Muslims from entering the country, which Graham said made Trump unelectable.

High stakes on highest court

Decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court this year may be as crucial to our lives as choosing the next president. On the docket are important cases related to union rights, voting rights and access to reproductive health services.

In the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a group of teachers sued their state union, saying it is unconstitutional to require them to pay union dues. They claim that public sector union membership is a form of political speech and that forcing them to support it violates their First Amendment free speech rights.

For decades, union-busting law firms and GOP politicians have targeted dues as a way of undermining the financial structure of unions. Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10 in 2011 essentially destroyed public unions in our state (without relieving budget problems). It also served him politically as a mechanism to divide and conquer workers by fostering resentment among non-union workers toward those with union benefits. If the Supreme Court decides against the California Teachers Association, public sector unions throughout the country will be seriously crippled. 

The Supreme Court is set to decide a significant voting rights case out of Texas that challenges how state legislative districts are determined after each decennial census.

In the Texas case, the appellants claim that “citizen voting age population” rather than “total population” should be the determining factor in establishing legislative districts. They claim that as residents of areas with higher numbers of voters, their right to equal representation is outweighed by areas with higher populations of non-voters. 

Previous high court rulings supported the “total population” standard, but our conservative Supreme Court could find the Texans’ argument compelling. If their appeal is upheld, legislative districts nationwide could be drastically redrawn. For the first time in our nation’s history, individuals under age 17 would not be counted for purposes of representation.

The practical effect of such a change, according to Garrett Epps of The Atlantic, will be to “produce districts that are older, whiter, richer, and more likely to vote Republican.” This is another example of the “divide and conquer” ethos driving right-wing politics.

The Supremes also will decide an appeal against restrictions on abortion clinics adopted by the Texas Legislature, which require doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and force abortion clinics to meet onerous building specifications. 

The Texas laws reflect laws being passed nationwide, including in Wisconsin. Proponents of the laws say they are concerned about the welfare of women. In fact, they want to shut down clinics and end women’s access to abortion services. 

If the court denies the appeal, 5.4 million women of reproductive age in Texas will have limited options to safely end their pregnancies. Every state will be free to impose similar restrictions. We will be closer to the day when women again suffer and die from self-induced or backstreet abortions and unwanted children are born to uncertain fates.

In voting for president, consider the decades-long impact your choice will have on the court that determines so much.

States plan new rounds of debates on religious freedom, LGBT rights

Lawmakers in numerous states are preparing for a new round of battles over gay rights and religious freedoms in 2016 following last summer’s Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage.

In some states, lawmakers will be pushing discrimination protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

But other lawmakers are pushing back against the court ruling by proposing religious exemptions for nonprofits and business owners that object to gay marriage.

States also could be moving in opposite directions on gun rights and abortion.

Those potentially divisive debates will play out as legislators confront difficult financial issues, such as budget shortfalls and calls to boost funding for public schools and roads.

States also will be dealing with several emerging issues, such as opiate addictions and regulations for fantasy sports.