'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Thursday, March 10th, 2011
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Guests: Abrahm Lustgarten, Richard Trumka
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Lawrence. Thanks very much for that.
And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
This is a special report. We‘re doing sort of a special show tonight about what is going on in state politics in the United States. We‘re doing this as a special report, I will admit, in part to try to put a spotlight on this, because the Beltway media really hasn‘t caught on to what‘s happening.
The Democratic Party‘s base, particularly in the Midwest, they have figured it out. The media in some parts of the rest of the country I think so far have not figured it out. And so, tonight, we‘re going to try to connect some of these dots.
What you‘re looking at here is not Wisconsin. This is video from Indianapolis today. Protesters in that traditionally pretty conservative state rallied today under the banner “Hoosiers standing up for the middle class.” Thousands of people turned out at the state capitol in Indianapolis today to protest against not only union-stripping measures that Indiana Republicans introduced last month but also efforts by Republicans to shift a massive amount of public school resources into private hands. That‘s going on in Indiana.
Now, this—this is Wisconsin. This was the scene at the Wisconsin state capitol today. Thousands of people gathered again to protest the biggest rolling back of workers‘ rights in that state in the state‘s history.
Last night, in the blink of an eye, Republicans in the Wisconsin Senate wiped away most union rights for most of the state‘s public employees. Today, Republicans in the state assembly did the same over the loud and vocal protests of those who had gathered outside the chamber as well as the Democratic representatives inside the chamber.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
STATE REP. MARK POCAN (D), WISCONSIN: We think what‘s happening in this building is what‘s ruining Wisconsin. When we completely ignore this institution and our rules and the laws, then democracy is completely melted down.
STATE REP. FRED KESSLER (D), WISCONSIN: We have a 50-year tradition of collective bargaining, and in four weeks, we are having people say, no, this proposal ought to be adopted.
STATE REP. LEON YOUNG (D), WISCONSIN: We are fighting for the people‘s rights. You know, everybody, just take a second. Listen. I don‘t have to say anything. Listen to what‘s going on out here.
REP. PETER BARCA (D), WISCONSIN: This is a stain on our democracy. It is a stain. It is a stain so deep I don‘t know if it can ever be cleaned.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: Despite the protests both inside and outside the capital, the Republican union-stripping measure in Wisconsin passed today. Republican Governor Scott Walker has pledged to sign it into law as soon as possible.
Wisconsin has been the focal point for the country these past few weeks for good reason. In part that‘s because the national Republican Party put the spotlight on the Wisconsin fight as the symbol of what the Republican Party nationally stands for now.
But this fight and the pushback against it is actually happening now all over the country.
These are images today from Boise, Idaho, of all places, where some union rights for teachers were stripped away this week by that state‘s Republican-led legislature.
These are images from Columbus, Ohio, where thousands gathered in protest over the last few weeks against Republican-led efforts there to strip away union rights.
These are images from Lansing, Michigan. The state capitol in Lansing reportedly saw its largest protests ever this week against union-stripping measures and dramatic new unilateral powers being claimed by the state‘s Republican administration. In Michigan, they are expecting their biggest protest yet on Tuesday of next week.
Who has called for the Tuesday protest in Lansing? The AARP, the American Association of Retired Persons. That‘s because part of what Republican Governor Rick Snyder is trying to do in Michigan is a massive transfer of wealth. He and the state‘s Republicans want to raise $1.7 billion by taxing poor people and old people and also by taxing people who want to make donations to support public schools. From those groups, they‘re going to extract an extra $1.7 billion.
But then they will not be applying that money to fix the state‘s budget. They will be giving that money away to businesses. A $1.8 billion corporate tax break—taxing the old and the poor in order to give that money to corporations.
A spokesman for the AARP in Michigan telling the “Detroit News” today that seniors are willing to do their share but they don‘t want to pay for a business tax cut. He accurately called what‘s going on in Michigan not a cut but rather a shift. And that‘s exactly right. That‘s important.
What they are doing in Michigan with this particular tax hike will not make that state‘s budget deficit any better. It just shifts resources from one group of humans, old people and poor people, to corporations. It‘s just a shift of the resources that the state has control over. As you might imagine, this is not a popular kind of idea.
Now, Florida is doing the same kind of shift with their schools. Cutting hundreds of millions of dollars out their K through 12 education not to pay down the state‘s budget deficit but in order to give that money away to businesses. The money saved by sticking it to the school kids will be given away as a corporate and property tax break. And the state‘s deficit will stay as is, roughly.
Shifting resources like this, shifting resources like this, reallocating resources, reallocating money from the poor, from kids, from old people to businesses is not a very popular idea. There is a reason that people don‘t run for office by saying that‘s what they‘re going to do.
Whether you‘re just looking at the protests or whether you‘re just looking at the polls, policies that hurt the great majority of people who work for a living in order to benefit a tiny corporate class, that creates two numerically unbalanced sides in your political debate. A lot of people get hurt so a few people can benefit.
Nobody runs a campaign saying they‘re going to do something like that. Nobody runs a campaign saying “I will raise taxes on the poor and cut their services so a comparatively tiny number of rich people can do even better than they‘re already doing.” I mean, think about if you‘re—what would your campaign slogan be if that‘s what you were running on? Your campaign slogan would be ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.
That doesn‘t—that doesn‘t go well on a bumper sticker. These are unpopular ideas. You don‘t run on this stuff.
What‘s happened when Republicans decided to unleash policies like this on Wisconsin is that Wisconsin said no. And Wisconsin, I believe, won.
The Republicans lost the debate on this. It remains to be seen whether they will pull this off in terms of a policy coup. Legal action is under way to try to block what Republicans did in the blink of an eye last night.
But overall, Republicans lost the argument in Wisconsin. Wisconsin won. Greg Sargent at the “Washington Post” got an advanced look today at the Wisconsin Republican recall effort. According to a poll soon to be released by Survey USA, in the district of Republican Senator Dan Kapanke, Republican senator, 57 percent of his constituents would now rather have someone else represent them in the state Senate, please. He is up for recall.
In the district of Republican senator Randy Hopper, 54 percent of his district would please rather have somebody else represent them now. He‘s up for recall. That‘s not 54 percent of Democrats in the district.
That‘s voters in the whole district.
That‘s not Democrats. That‘s voters. That‘s everybody who just elected them in the first place just a couple of months ago.
Facing that kind of political catastrophe of their own making and their own state, you want to know what Republican state senators in Wisconsin are planning for their next move? They literally ran out of the Wisconsin state capitol last night. They ran after they voted on their big union-stripping bill.
Where were they running to? Washington, D.C., where Wisconsin‘s Republican senators will soon be holding a fundraiser for themselves in the offices of a corporate lobbyist—a corporate lobbying firm, a firm called BGR. I am not kidding. The facts have a humorless liberal bias in this case.
Overwhelming numbers of humans are against what they‘re doing, but at least they can take corporate comfort at their lobbyist fundraiser in Washington. I mean, that‘s who‘s had their back throughout, right?
Right now, Wisconsin Republicans are being defended with ads nationwide run by Karl Rove‘s Crossroads group, a group that does not disclose its funders. But what we do know of Crossroads is that their top disclosed funders are corporations and individual billionaires. Crossroads GPS is running ads to support the Wisconsin Republicans and to deride those rich, awful public sector workers who they vaguely but ominously assert are making 42 percent are more than you probably.
All over Wisconsin, the billionaire Koch brothers and their organization, Americans for Prosperity, have also had the Republicans‘ back, running an ad that intones against government workers getting rich and living high on the hog at the expense of everyone else. Again, that‘s the Koch brothers‘ Americans for Prosperity ad that has been running in Wisconsin.
You know, there was really good news for the Koch brothers this week. Did you see that the new “Forbes” billionaires list came out? David and Charles Koch, probably the most aggressive and prolific right-wing activists in America today, individually, they are each tied for 18th richest man in the world. And their combined fortune would rank them at number four, right behind Carlos Slim, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett.
This isn‘t them moving up in the ranks. They would have been fourth in the world last year, too. But just in the past year, good news, David and Charles Koch saw their wealth increase by $9 billion in one year. That‘s how much it went up.
And remember, they don‘t really work. They inherited an oil and chemical company from their papa. But they made $9 billion in the past year doing the hard work of inheriting something.
So number one, Carlos Slim. Number two, Bill Gates. Number three, Warren Buffett. Number four, the combined wealth of the Koch brothers.
But this list turned out to also be good news for those of us here at THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW, because coming in at number seven this year was Susie Jones, Kent Jones‘ mom. Number seven on the billionaires list this year. She‘s a retired kindergarten teacher from Missouri. Way to go, Susie.
Also number nine, she‘s apparently very secretive now, so no photo, but it‘s my third grade public school teacher, Mrs. Marchant. She taught me third great at Chabot Elementary in Caster Valley, California. Of course, she‘s been making off like a bandit ever since. Ninth richest person in the world we‘re estimating her fortune at $27 billion.
These public school teachers, I mean, you‘ve got to admire their wealth. But, man, they are sucking us dry.
In politics, if you are pursuing policies that mostly just redirect wealth and resources from the rest of the country to people who already have a lot or policies that make things harder for people who have to work for a living, policies that transfer resources from public assets we all own and enjoy to something that only privately benefits a small number of people who frankly have already got a lot—those sorts of policies, again, they hurt a large number of people to help a small number of people.
And because of that, it takes great top-notch expensive political strategy to distract from the “my side” versus your side numbers problem that you‘ve got in terms of support for a policy like that. And so, what you get for distraction is the crisis strategy. That‘s what we got in Wisconsin, right?
Oh, I‘ve been so looking forward to this. Ready? Does it work?
Oh, my God, oh, my God, it‘s a crisis. Oh, my God. Oh, my God, it‘s a crisis. We have a big budget deficit. We have a big budget crisis. We have to do really dramatic stuff to close the budget deficit.
Do not ask us what we‘re going to do, there‘s no time. Can‘t you see? It‘s a crisis. It‘s a crisis.
I think you guys just want it to seem like a crisis. Otherwise, you wouldn‘t in your first actions as governor, Scott Walker, have made the state‘s future budget deficit $140 million worse with business tax giveaways. But wait, but wait, it‘s a crisis, it‘s a crisis, the unions are sucking us dry. The unions are very, very bad for the budget.
No, you want it to seem like it‘s a crisis. But when the unions made every financial concession you demanded of them, you turned those concessions down.
But wait, but wait, it‘s a crisis. The existence of unions, the existence of unions themselves, that is the thing that is so expensive. No, you just want it to seem like a crisis.
If the existence of unions themselves was so expensive, then why did you exempt the unions that supported you in the last election? Those unions have some of the most expensive benefits of any in your state. But you let them off.
But wait, but wait, the protests against us. The protests themselves are a crisis. It‘s going to cost $7.5 million to clean up all the horrible damage that they‘ve caused. Right, $7.5 million—or 95.3 percent less than that, depending on which day you asked and whether or not the governor wanted to make a crisis headline out of it that day or not.
I mean, come on. Remember the bond refinancing thing, too? We have to end this right now or we won‘t be able to refinance our state debt. Remember that? They said the Democrats would have to return to the state by February 25th or the state wouldn‘t be able to refi, millions of dollars would be lost.
It turns out that wasn‘t really the deadline, they actually have until April to do it. And it turns out it costs money to refi anyway. It doesn‘t save them any money. So, you know, when we called it a crisis before, turns out we sort of just liked the siren.
There‘s no crisis. There‘s no crisis. The siren is awesome.
There‘s no crisis.
This is not about a crisis. This is not about a budget. This is not about bond refinancing. This is not about unions being expensive.
This is about a massive reallocation of resources held in common by the citizens to corporations for their private gain. And it is about a tactical kneecapping of the political force that might resist that, that might resist what the Republicans are doing—a tactical kneecapping of the Democratic Party and its union base.
The policies that Republicans in these states are pursuing right now are not popular. They attack people who work for a living and most people work for a living. They attack the middle class. And they attack the institutions that make the middle class possible and that defend the middle class.
The only problem the Republicans have got, the only roadblock in their way, the central weakness of their position is that whole—you might have heard of it. It‘s the one person, one vote thing? Democracy?
These policy that‘s they‘re promoting benefit a few moneyed interests at the expense of a whole lot of humans. When you hit national poll numbers that say 72 percent of people support firefighters‘ union rights, 66 percent of people support teachers‘ union rights nationally, that‘s not just liberals. This is a numerically unwinnable fight for anybody picking on firefighters and teachers like this.
They may have the money on their side, but what they‘re up against is everyone who disagrees with them. They are pursuing policies that hurt way more people than they help. How do you get away with that in a one person, one vote system? You don‘t. So, that‘s what they‘re going after next.
This is ugly. I will explain. That‘s next.
MADDOW: Dismantling unions means dismantling the only competition Republicans have for significant outside group campaign contributions. These were the top 10 outside group campaign contributors in the last elections. Seven of the top 10 made their donations in a conservative manner. Three of the top 10 did so in a liberal manner. All three of the liberals were unions.
So, Republicans used government to kill the unions. They kill off the Republicans‘ only big money competition in elections. But what if instead of just attacking groups that fund Democratic causes, Republicans could use government to go after Democratic voters directly? Wouldn‘t that be more to the point?
MADDOW: One person, one vote. One person, one vote—one of the simplest ideas of democracy. It‘s supposed to ensure that in general, over time, over all, the government will do stuff that most people want, that the government will enact policies that most people who elect that government will want them to enact.
So, what do you do if you want government to do stuff that most people really hate? If you want government to do things for which you‘ve got maybe minority support but which, say, are going to awaken the vast populist sleeping dragon that is the middle class—that is, people who work for a living, the traditional base of the Democratic Party—all rising up against you, one thing that might help you get away with passing policies like that is to have a ton of money on your side. Having a few freely spending billionaires on your side can really help limit the damage your policies might cost you at the polls.
But you know what would really help? Just directly limiting the damage your unpopular policies passing policies are going to cost you at the polls, limiting it at the polls. Keeping likely Democratic voters out of elections.
You know who‘s a likely Democratic voter? A poor voter. A low-income voter.
You know what might make fewer low-income people vote? If you don‘t allow people to register or to vote unless they show a kind of ID that poor people are less likely to have.
You know who else is a likely Democratic voter? Minority voters. You know what might make fewer of them vote? If you force people to show a kind of ID that minorities are less likely to have.
You know who else is a likely Democratic voter? College students. You see how this goes—say you that can‘t vote or you can‘t register unless you show ID that college students are less likely to have, and you can thereby reduce the number of college students who are voting.
First-time voters are another constituency that‘s more likely to vote Democratic. If you want to make sure that fewer of them vote, get rid of the ability to register and vote on the same day. First-time voters love that. So, stop doing that.
Here‘s another example: the state of Florida made a civil rights advance in the year 2007. Moderate Republican Governor Charlie Crist said if you were convicted of a felony after you completed your sentence and paid your debt to society, you could have your voting rights restored. More than 150,000 Floridians did so.
And for a state struggling with the reintegration of former prisoners back into society, the challenge of knitting people cast out from society back into society—those 150,000 civil rights success stories were kind of inspiring. And those new voters were considered demographically to be likely to cast their votes for Democrats.
And so, Florida‘s new Republican government this week rescinded that civil right, effective immediately. Governor Rick Scott and his cabinet voted yesterday that you now have to wait five years before you can even ask to have your rights restored. That ought to take care of it.
While Wisconsin‘s famous Senate Democrats were in out of state exile to try to stop the Republicans‘ union-stripping bill there, one of the things the Republicans did in their absence was bring the state within about an inch of passing a law that would make it more difficult to vote in Wisconsin than probably in any other state in the nation. Among the provisions of the Wisconsin Republicans‘ “make it hard to vote” bill would be that your Wisconsin student ID will no longer be sufficient ID for you to be allowed to vote.
See? That‘s very handy because students tend to vote lopsidedly for Democrats. When Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry ran in ‘04, he won the state of Wisconsin, barely. He won by 11,000 votes total in the whole state.
At the University of Wisconsin at Madison, at just that won university, there are 17,000 out of state students who, it‘s safe to say, if they voted, mostly voted Democratic. They voted mostly Democratic then. They would most likely vote Democratic again, as young people and college students tend to do.
So, Wisconsin Republicans are throwing up a huge procedural hurdle to make it harder for students to vote. The U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed that if you are living somewhere to attend college there, you can vote there. But that doesn‘t mean Republicans have to make it easy. So, no student IDs.
In New Hampshire, Republicans are trying the same deal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The kids coming out of the school and basically doing what I did when I was a kid. Voting as a liberal. You know, that‘s what kids do. They don‘t have life experience and they just vote their feelings.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Stupid kids.
That New Hampshire Republican legislator there has introduced legislation that would only let college students vote in their college towns if they or their parents had previously established permanent residency there. Another New Hampshire bill would end election day registration, which would disproportionately impact first-time voters and young voters, who, again, are more likely to vote Democratic.
Over in Texas, they‘re dealing with a massive $27 billion budget deficit. In order to deal with that state‘s disastrous budget emergency, Republican Governor Rick Perry has introduced five bills this session that he insists must be considered on an emergency basis.
One of them, just so you know, would make the state spend millions of dollars a year to force women to have ultrasounds if they wanted to be allowed by his grace, Rick Perry, to get an abortion. Apparently, that‘s an emergency. Also, government small enough to fit in your uterus in Texas.
But also on Rick Perry‘s emergency list is a restrictive new voter ID law for Texas, which just like all of these is expected to make it a lot harder for young people, first-time voters, poor voters, minority voters, and other traditional Democratic constituencies to get registered to vote and to actually cast their vote.
The great—this is the best part of it—the great partisan tell in the Texas law is that Republicans did—they did recognize this is going to cause sort of a hardship. It‘s going to make it a little bit hard for some people to register and for people to vote. So, they did include two exemptions to this draconian new voter ID law, two exemptions.
The two exemptions are for the elderly and for people who have concealed carry gun permits. So, the only people they have exempted from their new “make it harder to vote” voter ID bill are the most reliable Republican constituencies in the country other than the Cheney family, gun owners and the very old.
In the 2008 presidential election, among Texans voters 65 and older, the Republican John McCain beat Barack Obama by 34 points. Among gun owners in the entire country, 62 percent voted for John McCain.
These are the two groups for whom voting will be easiest now in the great state of Texas. But for everybody else it gets harder.
You know what this is not about? This is not about the budget.
It‘s also not about voter fraud because this is the face of voter fraud.
This is the face of voter fraud right now, this pitiful specimen.
This is Indiana‘s secretary of state, the top election official in Indiana. His name is Charlie White. He‘s a Republican—although that doesn‘t really matter. He has been charged with the pitiful voter fraud crime of lying about still living at his ex-wife‘s house so he could keep his job on the city council there. And then he voted in her precinct as well because he wanted to keep up the illusion that he still lived there even though he had moved somewhere else.
It is pitiful. It would be pitiful even if he were not the secretary of state. But it‘s particularly pitiful given that.
And that guy, that guy‘s case, that‘s sort of what voter fraud looks like in this country. There are a handful of sad sacks every year who register at the wrong address or who forget they‘re already registered and fill out a second registration form or who don‘t know that because they‘re on probation, they‘re not supposed to vote. Those are the kinds of things that constitute the voter fraud supposed epidemic in this country that you hear about on the FOX News Channel.
Is there a voter fraud epidemic in the United States of America of people using fake IDs in order to impersonate somebody else while voting? No, there is not.
But for a long time now, the right has been stoking hysteria about it. FOX News even set up a special e-mail hotline before the last election so you, average American, could report what was undoubtedly rampant voter fraud to FOX News. It was announced on Megyn Kelly‘s show.
The right promotes hysteria about mass voter fraud—familiar, right? -- in order to create a sense that there is a crisis. A crisis, a crisis! In order to justify public policy that makes it harder to register and harder to vote—policies that specifically target voters likely to vote Democratic, to make it harder for those voters specifically to participate in an election.
It is supposedly public policy that puts a Republican thumb on the scale for the next election and for every election after, making it more cumbersome and difficult to vote, particularly if you are a likely Democratic voter.
They overreached on this big-time during the Bush administration. Remember, this is when the whole U.S. attorney scandal came from—Karl Rove giving speeches around the country about the menace of voter fraud and then the White House political operation pressuring federal prosecutors to bring charges, to find cases, to make it seem like there was a voter fraud crisis, because the states needed to crack down on that voter fraud and incidentally make it harder for likely Democratic voters to register and to cast their votes.
But U.S. attorney scandal or not, get this—right now, in 2011, Republicans in 32 states are considering adding more onerous ID requirements to make it harder to register and harder to vote, which should bring down the number of Democratic voters nicely in time for the 2012 presidential election, and which should limit any electoral damage these guys might be expecting from pushing for even wildly unpopular redistribution of resources and rights away from America‘s middle class. Ta-da.
MADDOW: Did you ever have that not so democratic feeling? I don‘t mean capital-D Democratic like yay, donkeys, yay blue? I mean small-D democratic.
I mean this is a democracy. I mean I have a right to vote, no one gets in the way of that right to vote. All our votes get counted and then the result of all that rights having and vote not blocking and fair counting is that I get a government—we all do, we participate in a group decision about who our elected officials are and then those officials get to do that thing we call governing in all its messy hysterical, fraught glory.
When you look at a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council, funded in part by the billionaire Koch brothers, providing model legislation to Republicans in dozens of states about how to change laws in those states to make it harder to vote, harder to register to vote, that can provoke a not so democratic feeling about the direction of conservative public policy in America in 2011.
But what about this? What about conservative public policy that would not just make it harder to vote? What about policy that would let the Republican administration of the state just fire anyone you elected, that would let the Republican administration of a state just declare an emergency and dissolve the town government you voted for, fire the mayor you voted for, fire the city council you voted for? Anything you made happen with your vote, they could nullify on their own authority, at their own discretion, and put themselves in charge instead?
We have been reporting this week on how Republicans are changing the law to do just that in the great state of Michigan. It looks like Republicans in Pennsylvania may be trying something worse.
We are just starting to figure this one out. It is amazing. You have not heard it anywhere else. It‘s next.
MADDOW: This is video of somebody setting their drinking water on fire. Ready?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoa! Jesus Christ!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I hate it when that happens. That‘s from the Oscar-nominated documentary “Gasland,” about the controversial gas drilling effect known as fracking, a process the gas drilling industry claims delivers cleaner, greener energy. But it‘s also a process that people who are not the energy industry are understandably slightly terrified of, a little worried about—not just because it seems to make water combustible. That guy set the water coming out of his tap on fire, but also because of fracking polluting water tables and rivers and streams perhaps irreversibly.
So, there‘s an interest for energy companies to do this thing, this thing called fracking, right? They will reap big profit by extracting natural gas this way.
But fracking has hugely negative and actually quite terrifying consequences for giant numbers of people who are not the energy industry.
Now, the thing that‘s supposed to represent the interests of the millions of people, a large, enormous, big public interest in those private companies, actually not getting what they want even though they really want it—the thing that does that is the government. The laws that protect land owners. The laws that protect the land itself, that protect people that would like to not have the land and the water in their taps kill them or set them on fire. The state agencies enforce those laws.
That‘s why we have all of that. It is to preserve the interests of all of those huge numbers of American people who would lose if a handful of companies got what they wanted. Enter new Republican Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, who has decided that this system just will not do.
In a paragraph in his budget entitled “Regulatory Reform,” Tom Corbett has declared that a campaign contributor and coal company CEO, the governor appointed to his cabinet, now has unilateral authority to override all other agencies—all other agencies of the state, unilateral authority to overturn any action by any agency for any reason.
So, if, say, some gas company wants to frack your backyard and the laws set up to protect the land and protect you say, no, they can‘t have a permit for that because of the clean water act or whatever, this man alone can unilaterally waive the law, waive everything set up to protect you, and issue the permit himself.
So, enjoy your democracy. If laws exist, Republican Governor Tom Corbett has dictated that they can be nullified. If permits are denied on the basis of law, that can be nullified. Anything that exists in the government that we have created with our vote, with our democracy to protect us, Governor Corbett through his coal company CEO says it can be nullified on his say so.
If this is conservative, the word “conservative” has lost all meaning.
That we know about this attempted power grab is due to some excellent reporting by Abrahm Lustgarten. He‘s an energy and environment reporter for ProPublica.
Mr. Lustgarten, it‘s very nice to meet you. Thank you for being here.
ABRAHM LUSTGARTEN, PROPUBLICA REPORTER: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: Did I accurately set my hair on fire about the wide scope of authority that the governor has granted this appointed position?
LUSTGARTEN: For the most part, yes. It‘s not really clear yet exactly what this all means. We‘ve left more than a half dozen messages with the governor‘s office and its various branches asking for clarifications and they haven‘t responded.
It‘s a very vague statement and it‘s a very broad statement. Some people I‘ve spoken with say they think the governor would have to issue some sort of executive order or even perhaps some legislative action in order to finalize what he‘s suggesting here.
But the language that he has put in the budget is pretty clear. It says any agency and any in circumstance where the, quote-unquote, “creation” of jobs is at play.
MADDOW: That‘s a very specific criteria, as I‘m sure you can imagine. I know that your reporting on this was both in depth and broad. In terms of anybody else who you spoke to, experts in this field, people who deal with policy in this field, people in other states, has anybody else seen anything like this tried in any other state? Is this unprecedented?
LUSTGARTEN: Nobody I‘ve spoken with has heard of anything similar to this, where one person in an agency that‘s unrelated to the function of other agencies would have, as one person I spoke with, said, have power over the statutory authorities of separate agencies.
MADDOW: It‘s appointing a person to be an over-rider of other government and law.
LUSTGARTEN: That‘s what it sounds like.
MADDOW: What about the legality here? There‘s obviously the question of trying to implement it. As you mentioned, maybe legislative support for it, maybe executive order support for it.
But in bold terms, I mean, is it—is it legal to give somebody the authority to expedite permits that enforce law? I mean, I‘m thinking speaking specifically of federal law here.
LUSTGARTEN: Also completely unclear and a lot remains to be seen. I think that this individual could have a great deal of authority as far as the implementation of Pennsylvania regulations. We‘re not talking about doing away with the need for permits. We‘re talking about just making sure they go through smoothly and quickly so they don‘t interfere with the progression of business, the creation of jobs.
Where I think that the state might run into real trouble is where the implementation of federal regulations is handled by state authorities. And, for example, environmental regulations like the Clean Water Act or the Safe Drinking Water Act are delegated by the federal EPA. They‘re handed to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. And that agency in Pennsylvania is responsible for enforcing those laws.
Now, if you have somebody who doesn‘t have environmental professional experience in an economic development agency who theoretically can come in and say, let‘s just push those permits through even though they haven‘t maybe met, you know, all these requirements, then I think that raises some real questions about legality we‘re going to have to see in the next couple days, you know, how that pans out.
MADDOW: We‘ve been following the story just as an aside as well of what‘s happened in Maine—a very, very, very conservative Republican governor just elected in Maine. He appointed as his head of the Department of Environmental Protection there a casino developer who still has pending casino development permits with the agency that he now heads.
Can you tell us anything important about C. Alan Walker—this man that we showed on the screen, this man that Governor Corbett wants to put in charge here?
LUSTGARTEN: Yes. I mean, he is—he‘s made his money, and quite a lot of it, in the coal industry. He‘s listed as the owner or part owner of about 13 companies, most of them coal companies. At least one is a trucking company and one is an oil and gas company.
At some point, his coal business was one of the largest in the state of Pennsylvania. He‘s influential. He‘s a large campaign contributor. He‘s a member of the chamber and business councils and the Pennsylvania Coal Association. He‘s closely allied with industry.
We don‘t know if he‘s a good guy or a bad guy. I think what‘s most
important here besides his politics and his background is that he‘s one
guy. And it comes back to what we were talking about, whether you can have
one person who has this supreme authority over what completely separate
agencies and large staffs of people in different professions might be
MADDOW: Exactly. That‘s exactly the point of this. Even if he were, you know, Jesus‘ nephew at this point, the whole idea about the way this works is that one guy doesn‘t get to decide. My point, not yours.
Abrahm Lustgarten, energy and environment reporter for ProPublica.
Thank you for your intense and really interesting reporting on this.
Thanks for coming in.
LUSTGARTEN: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: AFL-CIO president, Richard Trumka, will join us for the interview, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD TRUMKA, AFL-CIO PRESIDENT: This is a debate that we‘ve wanted to have for 20, 25 years. Well, guess what? Suddenly, the debate came to us. And here‘s the most beautiful part of it—we‘re winning that debate with the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Richard Trumka is the president of the AFL-CIO, an organization that represents over 12 million members in a federation of 57 national and international labor unions. He joins us now for the interview.
Mr. Trumka, thank you very much for being here. It‘s a real honor to have you, sir.
TRUMKA: Rachel, thanks for having me on. I wanted to ask you for a favor.
TRUMKA: I wanted to borrow your crisis siren and light so that we could let these guys know that there‘s a job crisis out there and they ought to be creating jobs, not trying to destroy middle class jobs like they‘re doing.
MADDOW: I got you.
TRUMKA: So, if you‘d send it to me, I‘ll use it, I promise.
MADDOW: I got you. Although I think it‘s probably going to come up.
It is amazing. I made a list today of all the things we had on tap to talk about on tonight‘s show. We knew we were going to do this special -- in terms of things that Republicans are working on in places where they now really have governing authority, the House of Representatives in the federal government and all of these state legislatures and state houses around the country.
And I was only able to come up with Muslim radicalization, abortion bans, union-stripping, and—I mean, a host of other things related to making it harder for Democrats to vote in the next election. The job stuff is hard to come by.
Do you think that still is the fundamental debate we‘re having as a country?
TRUMKA: Well, I think that‘s the fundamental issue on everybody‘s mind out there. It‘s jobs, jobs, and more jobs. And they‘re wondering why the people that they elected aren‘t trying to create jobs.
And as you said earlier on show, but they‘re more interested in shifting money and power to their corporate benefactors that spend over a billion dollars getting them elected.
So, they abandoned the notion of jobs so they can help their corporate buddies.
MADDOW: In terms of this fight specifically on stripping union rights, we have seen this happen in well over a dozen states now. You said in that clip that we showed at the top there that we are winning the debate with the American people over this. Republicans may have picked this fight, but your side is winning it.
Why do you think that is?
TRUMKA: Well, I think everybody is after it. The energy that‘s been created by workers, not just union workers but nonunion workers, small business people, people from the religious community, all come together saying, look, you‘ve over reached. This is a power grab. We‘re not going to tolerate it.
If you look at the polls—it‘s 70 percent of the people who say or better in some instances, we support the right of public employees and private employees to be able to come together and bargain collectively for a middle class way of life.
MADDOW: Do you think that the Democratic Party is being galvanized if not just in the individual states maybe even nationally by these protests and by the way people feel not only wounded by this but energized by this? Is the Democratic Party sort of reconnecting with its base because of this fight?
TRUMKA: I think there is no question about that, Rachel.
I think what also is happening is this—there‘s now a sharp edged difference. The Republicans try to pretend like they‘re worker-friendly. But all these fights in every one of these states and at the national level, they‘re clearly for corporate America and against workers.
The Democrats are now standing up. Whether you‘re the 14 senators in Wisconsin or whether you‘re senators in Ohio that stood up for workers, or people here in Washington, D.C.—they‘re connecting and saying, we won‘t allow this power grab to go on. We‘ll stand with workers.
So, the edge is cleaner now. And everybody knows you‘re either with workers or you‘re with corporate America, and it‘s pretty clear which party is with which right now.
MADDOW: I feel like the Democratic Party doesn‘t have anything more potent in its political quiver than economic populist issues. When the Democratic Party, for example, really gets behind—raises the minimum wage, for example, to take a very simple one, or other issues like that that have a real material impact on people who have to work for a living, there is nothing that I know that has more of a multiplier effect, more of an energizing effect, more of a mobilizing effect for Democratic voters than those kinds of issues.
Is it true that the labor movement has essentially been pushing the Democratic Party to invest more in economic populism as their causes? Do you see the labor movement as having that sort of effect on Democrats?
TRUMKA: Absolutely. If you look in the last election we have a group called Working America. They‘re made up of people that are ultra conservatives. They‘re liberals. They‘re a little bit of everything. They‘re Christians. They‘re new Christians and everything.
And the economic arguments, populist arguments that we make really
trump every other issue that‘s out there and they vote actually 76 percent,
the pocketbook issues or populist issues that‘s out there. So, it‘s been -
when we get that issue out there, the American public grasps onto it, whether it‘s a surcharge on millionaires or taxing Wall Street to help pay for some of the mess that they created, the general population is with us and I think the Democratic Party is starting to understand the potency of populist, economic populism.
MADDOW: I know that I believe—it was in Ohio we heard from local activists—they‘re facing union-stripping measures there—that the last time that happened in that state, back in the 1950s, Republicans got it done and then Democrats put it to the voters. They got it on the ballot in the next election. They beat it two to one on the ballot and they threw the Republican governor out of office in that same election.
Are you expecting that that might be the remedy that progressives and the labor movement and Democrats choose in some of these states, turn this into a ballot measure and try to turn it against the Republicans that way?
TRUMKA: Absolutely. And you take Ohio, it was even more corrupt, because when they were voting on the issue in the committee, they had to remove one of the Republican senators during the vote so that they would get enough votes to pass it. That infuriated everybody—independents, Democrats, Republicans alike.
And if they are so bold to continue on this foolish course of making war on workers instead of trying to create jobs, and help the middle class, they‘ll see it on the ballot, and it‘ll be a tremendous mobilizer for our side.
MADDOW: Do you want to see President Obama aligning himself more with workers, with progressives, with Democrats, with the labor movement on this? Do you think that he‘s—it‘s been appropriate for him to keep the distance that he has kept, or would you like to see him out there?
TRUMKA: Well, I think he‘s made several comments and been very helpful. First, he called what was going on in Wisconsin the attack on working people.
And then he met with the Republican governors and he said you‘re wrong for villainizing public workers. They‘re our neighbors, they‘re our friends, they‘re our nurses, they‘re our doctors, they‘re our teachers. They‘re all of our friends. You shouldn‘t do that.
And just today, he said, what they did in Wisconsin was wrong.
But here‘s what I‘d say about the president—it‘s important for working people to know that the president is on our side, and I think they know that he‘s on our side. But this really isn‘t about Obama. This is about those governors that are making war on their employees and trying to deny them a middle class lifestyle. And that‘s what we keep focused on continuously.
Hopefully, there will be more and more support from politicians, including the president, because everybody can do a lot more. But right now, we‘re focused on the governors that have over reached and are trying to pay back their corporate donors for the last election.
MADDOW: Richard Trumka is president of the AFL-CIO. It was a real priority for us today to have you as the interview on the night of this special report. Thank you very much for your time.
TRUMKA: Rachel, thanks for having me on. I really appreciate it.
TRUMKA: And please—please send me that light.
MADDOW: You know, I might have to take up a collection and buy a new one for myself but we‘ll get you one. Thank you, sir.
All right. I hope you stuck around after our show last night to watch Ed Schultz‘ show. Did you see it? He had on 10 of the 14 Wisconsin Senate Democrats at the same time. Ed has been on fire on this story for three weeks. He is on it again as soon as we are done tonight.
We will be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
NEIL CAVUTO, FOX NEWS: If these teacher protests are really about the kids, why do you hear so many teachers railing about their benefits?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Teachers just don‘t get paid nearly as much as
people on Wall Street do. That‘s not
MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS: Nor with all due respect to teachers do they work as—
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: Nor do they work as much.
It is that kind of rhetoric repeated among the union-busting efforts across the country that made me invoke Kent Jones, Susie. Mrs. Jones, a retired kindergarten teacher in Missouri tonight. Of course, she was going to come up anyway because the new “Forbes” billionaire list came out.
But it‘s the “I hate teachers, blame the teachers” rhetoric that reminded my friend, Ed Schultz, of the debt he owed his public teachers at Maury High School in Norfolk, Virginia. He went back to school tonight to report on what those teachers are facing and more. Do not miss this.
“THE ED SHOW” starts right now.
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