By Kirk Clay
Washington’s Political Gridlock Can Become A Self-inflicted Wound
For months there have been endless warnings of the economic, military, and societal decay that will take effect if obstructionists in Congress repeat their 2012 “do-nothing” tactics. Their political roadblocks now extend past traditionally non-partisan issues like infrastructure spending to include Presidential appointments. Without question, the class of 2010 has spent too much time fighting the commonsense proposals of a twice elected President that has the overwhelming support of the American public. This reminds me of something my grandpa would say – “Son, this seems like a long hot walk for a short drink.”
One of the most egregious recent examples of this obstruction has nothing to do with past political inaction but everything to do with the future of voter empowerment. As the President pointed out in his State of the Union speech, Americans like 102-year-old Desline Victor waited hours to cast her ballot in 2012. It’s a shame that 49 years after the 24th amendment banned the discriminatory practice of the poll tax people of color (POC) are still saying “we deserve a simple vote.” What’s more troubling is that even the Republican’s brightest leader who is a person of color refused to mention the Voter Empowerment Act – a bill that would ensure equal access to the ballot box for all Americans – in his response to the State of the Union speech. In fact, he barely mentioned immigration reform.
It’s unacceptable that Latinos and African Americans waited an average of 20 minutes to cast their ballot in the 2012 election. That’s nearly twice as long as whites. It’s even more astonishing that nothing is being done in states like New Jersey and Virginia that have a contested race for Governor this year. A New York Times/CBS News poll points out that voters in Virginia waited an average of 23.6 minutes to vote. Also, thousands may have left the polls without voting.
It’s no wonder that people of color are voting for Democrats more these days. Just look at the Asian American (API) vote for example. Their national vote share has ballooned from 2% of votes cast in 2004 to 3% in 2012. Moreover, the API citizen voting-age population (CVAP) is now over 3% and their support for Democrats increased from 56% in ’04 to 73% in ’12. In 1992, President William Clinton only received 31% of their vote.
What does this mean for Congress? Will the rising electorate of progressive whites, Latinos, African Americans, Asians, Native Americans, unions, and young voters force Congressional extremists to change their obstructionist ways? As people of color begin to exert their political influence, will these self-inflicted wounds help the Democrats flip the Red House to Blue in 2014?
No one knows for sure but President Obama did win a bunch of Republican congressional districts in 2012. In particular, he won New Jersey’s CD 2 with over 53% of the vote in both ’08 and ’12. This seat has over 100,000 voters of color fired up and ready to vote at a moment’s notice. We also see the potential impact in upstate Bergen County where over 25% of the eligible voters are not registered. The population in this county, which includes Hackensack, has grown 2.4% to 905,116 residents and is now 6% African American, 16% Latino, and 14% Asian Pacific Islander. This is a significant factor given that Hackensack has over 14,000 “key” voters of color and precincts like Hackensack 2-01 could be a bellwether.
As we move forward, the work of authentic leaders like New Jersey’s Cory Booker will play a significant role in helping to shape the electoral landscape. If passed, the Voter Empowerment Act will improve our electoral process by decreasing barriers to voting. However, as election reform results begin to run parallel with the level of progressive civic participation, expect an increase in the effort to obstruct these policies. The only cure for this form of politics is hope and change.
What many politicians don’t understand is that in order to inspire voters they have to embrace hope. In fact, it’s probably the only way to survive in this new political environment. We now see Americans feeling better about the direction of the country and rejecting the dark clouds of the past. The old strategy of “do-nothing” is wearing thin on this electorate’s patience. As voters become hopeful they tend to want more. They want more from their leaders, and deserve more than the usual dysfunction– they deserve a simple vote. That’s popping the clutch.
Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPAC