Alice Ollstein Archive

Trump’s D.C. hotel fights to unionize as his Las Vegas workers win their first contract

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

More than a year after winning a union election, about 500 workers at Donald Trump’s Las Vegas hotel announced Wednesday that they have successfully bargained their first contract. While specific details are not yet available, the Culinary Workers Union says the four-year agreement “will provide the employees with annual wage increases, a pension, family health care, and job security.”

Whereas workers at the Trump International Hotel used to make about $3 less than the average hotel worker’s wage in the city, union communications director Bethany Khan told ThinkProgress that under the new contract, “wages and benefits will be comparable to the rest of the union members on the Las Vegas Strip.”

The contract victory comes after months of legal battles and tense negotiations. Last December, shortly after the workers voted to unionize, hotel management refused to recognize the union and attempted to have the results thrown out. Workers at the hotel told ThinkProgress they faced intimidation and retaliation from management, who brought in lawyers to attempt to dissuade them from organizing.

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BREAKING: Republicans block program to register 2 million Illinois voters

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

On Tuesday, the Illinois General Assembly narrowly voted to uphold the governor’s veto of a bill that would have automatically registered two million voters across the state. The override failed by just four votes.

Fifteen House Republicans supported the bill earlier this year. On Tuesday, zero did. Thirteen changed their votes, and two have resigned.

Rep. Ed Sullivan, Jr. (R- Mundelein) said he changed his vote after he came to understand the “unintended consequences” of the policy, which has already been enacted in Oregon, California, West Virginia, Vermont, Alaska, Connecticut, and Washington, D.C.

“Certainly all of us want to make it easier for more people to vote, but we didn’t make it right,” he said on the House floor. “We can do it better.”

Governor Bruce Rauner (R) also warned of “unintended consequences” when he vetoed the bill in August, alleging the policy could “inadvertently open the door to voter fraud,” but presenting no evidence of this threat.

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Republicans Were Wildly Successful at Suppressing Voters in 2016

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

Last week, the first election in 50 years without the full protection of the federal Voting Rights Act propelled Donald Trump to the White House.

Trump will assume the presidency because of the Electoral College’s influence — nearly a million more people cast ballots for Hillary Clinton as of November 15. The election was also marked by low turnout, with tens of millions of eligible voters choosing not to participate at all. Yet there has been relatively little discussion about the millions of people who were eligible to vote but could not do so because they faced an array of newly-enacted barriers to the ballot box.

Their systematic disenfranchisement was intentional and politically motivated. In the years leading up to 2016, Republican governors and state legislatures implemented new laws restricting when, where, and how people could vote — laws that disproportionately harmed students, the poor, and people of color. In several instances, lawmakers pushing such policies said explicitly that their goal was suppression of voters who favor the Democratic Party.

Three such states serve as case studies for the effectiveness of these voting restrictions: Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Florida.

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Trump Violates Federal Labor Law, Refuses to Negotiate with His Vegas Workers’ Union

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

As Donald Trump makes his final pitch to U.S. voters — calling himself “financially brave” and promising “law and order, balanced with justice and fairness” — he faces new charges that he violated the federal labor rights of his own employees.

The National Labor Relations Board ruled Wednesday night that Trump has been illegally refusing to bargain with the 500-odd employees at the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas. They officially unionized earlier this year.

“We find that the Respondent’s conduct constitutes an unlawful failure and refusal to recognize and bargain with the Union,” the NLRB wrote.

The board ordered Trump to immediately recognized the workers’ union and begin bargaining a contract with them, and said he must post notices in the hotel itself admitting the violation.

“Mr. Trump should accept the federal government’s order to negotiate and treat his workers with respect,” said Geoconda Arguello-Kline, the Secretary-Treasurer of union that represents the workers. “Mr. Trump is breaking federal law and Trump Hotel Las Vegas is operating illegally.”

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BREAKING: Court Forces Ohio to Allow Most Illegally Purged Voters to Cast Ballots

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

A federal district court ruled Wednesday night that Ohio must allow most of the voters illegally purged from the rolls to vote in this year’s presidential election using provisional ballots.

“ If those who were unlawfully removed from the voter rolls are not allowed to vote, then the Secretary of State is continuing to to disenfranchise voters in violation of federal law,” Judge George Smith warned.

Though the state’s Republican leaders had argued last week that they should only have to restore the voting rights of those purged last year and those who haven’t moved since they last registered to vote, the court’s order is much broader.

Now, anyone purged since 2011 as well as anyone who has moved within the same county will be able vote.

“Moving down the street shouldn’t mean someone’s vote is thrown away,” Mike Brickner with the American Civil Liberties Union told ThinkProgress.

Additionally, the state has to send notification to any purged voter who requested an absentee ballot that they may vote in person using a provisional ballot either early or on Election Day.

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Federal Court Allows Ohio to Throw Out Ballots with Typos and Small Errors

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

This week has been rough for voters in Ohio.

In the span of just two days, they have lost a full week of early voting and their only chance of same-day registration, and hundreds of thousands of still-eligible voters were denied absentee ballot applications. A third blow fell Tuesday afternoon, when a panel of judges from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a law that allows the state to throw out absentee and provisional ballots that have errors as small as leaving out one’s middle name or zip code.

The two judges who ruled to uphold the law are white and were appointed by Republican presidents. The judge who dissented is African American and was appointed by Jimmy Carter, and he blasted his colleagues for backing a policy that “dishonored the struggle for the right of the most vulnerable to vote.”

“I am deeply saddened and distraught by the court’s deliberate decision to reverse the progress of history,” Judge Damon Keith said in his blistering dissent. “The unfettered right to vote is the bedrock of a free and democratic society — without it, such a society cannot stand.”

Keith accused his colleagues of ignoring the factual findings of the lower district court, including that “minorities use provisional ballots more often than whites, and in presidential election years, the absentee ballots and provisional ballots of minority voters are more likely to be rejected than those of white voters.”

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Hillary Clinton Calls North Carolina Voting Laws a ‘Blast from a Jim Crow Past’

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

In a speech in Charlotte, North Carolina on Thursday, Hillary Clinton tore into North Carolina’s Republican leaders for making it harder for people of color, the poor, and students to vote.

Deviating from her usual stump speech about Trump’s threat to national security and American values, Clinton cited a recent federal court ruling that found the state guilty of intentional voter suppression by using voter ID laws, deep cuts to early voting, and other legal changes that, in the words of the court, “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

“These laws are a blast from the Jim Crow past and have no place in 21st century America,” she said. “We should be doing everything we can to make it easier to vote, not harder.”

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Federal Court Slashes ‘Golden Week’ Of Early Voting In Ohio

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a crushing ruling on Tuesday for Ohio’s Democratic Party, which has been fighting to restore early voting days in the crucial swing state ahead of this November’s election.

A federal district court ordered the state in May to restore the early voting days eliminated over the last few years by the Republican-controlled legislature, calling the cuts “unconstitutional” and “unenforceable.” Tuesday’s 2–1 appellate court ruling overturns that decision, and will allow Ohio to cut what is known as “Golden Week” — the time when residents can register and vote on the same day.

The two judges on the panel who ruled for Ohio’s early voting cuts — both George W. Bush appointees — said they did so because courts should give deference to states in deciding how to run their elections instead of being “micromanagers.” They argued that even without Golden Week, Ohio’s early voting policy is “really quite generous,” and said the cuts pose “no such infringement” on the “fundamental right to vote.”

Judge Jane Branstetter Stranch dissented, calling her colleagues’ fears of micromanaging “unfounded and antiquated.” Stranch, who was appointed by President Obama, said that voting is such a basic right that it deserves extra attention from the courts. The early voting cut, she argued, “imposes a disproportionate burden on African Americans” and is “linked to social and historical conditions of discrimination that diminish the ability of African Americans to participate in the political process.”

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More Than 180,000 Virginians Still Can’t Vote A Month After Governor Promised To Restore Rights

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) has not kept the bold promise he made in July to sign 200,000 individual clemency grants in two weeks, to allow Virginians with felony records be able to vote this November.

On Monday, nearly a month later, McAuliffe announced that he had restored the rights of nearly 13,000 ex-offenders who had already tried to register to vote, but whose registrations were nullified by the Virginia Supreme Court.

“Extending voting rights to people who are living, working and paying taxes in our community is not a partisan act,” McAuliffe said, addressing accusations that the move is designed to help Hillary Clinton win the swing state in November. “I say to Democrats and Republicans alike: ‘Go earn these Virginians’ votes.’”

“I have a duty to all Virginians,” he added, “and I will not let them be condemned for eternity as inferior, second class citizens.”

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GOP Leans In To Misogyny During Convention

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

Each day of the Republican National Convention, as tens of thousands of delegates, reporters, and curious onlookers pushed and shoved their way down a single narrow street leading to the arena’s main stage, a group of vendors hawked t-shirts and buttons attacking Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Delegates and other convention-goers eagerly purchased items that called Clinton a “bitch” and a “tramp,” suggested she be imprisoned, and described her “fat thighs” and “small breasts.”

Mary Patterson, a guest of a delegate from Racine, Wisconsin, perused the merchandise on Sunday morning with her friend, Carol McNeill-Skorupan. Both women stopped in their tracks to buy pins featuring Clinton’s face and the words: “Life’s a bitch. Don’t vote for one.”

“This sums it up right here,” Patterson told ThinkProgress. “She comes off as a bitch, quite honestly. She doesn’t have a warm personality. She seems very cold. It has nothing to do with the gender.”

Her friend agreed. “She is just not a pleasant person,” McNeill-Skorupan said. “Her husband had some charisma, which allowed him to get away with a lot of things, obviously. But she does not have it and she does not have a winning personality. She is kind of a screamer. In my mind, if you’re just out there screaming, you’re negative, you are not positive, you’re a bitch.”

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Texas’ Strict Voter ID Law Goes Back To Court, With Half A Million Voters’ Rights At Stake

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

One of the most conservative courts in the nation is hearing a challenge Tuesday to Texas’ voter ID law from from the state conference of the NAACP and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. These groups, represented by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, argues that the voter ID requirement suppresses the votes of people of color, who are much less likely to have a proper ID and much more likely to face barriers to getting one.

More than half a million registered Texan voters, the vast majority of them people of color, could be disenfranchised if the law is upheld.

“This is the most restrictive and burdensome law of its kind,” said Kristen Clarke, the president of the Lawyers Committee. “There is a clear discriminatory impact on voters. African Americans and Latinos are two to three times more likely than whites not to have an ID, and poor people are ten times more likely. So we are confident that when the full panel of judges hears the evidence they will agree with us and find the law is discriminatory and should be stricken before this election.”

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Lawmakers In Missouri Just Passed A Voter ID Bill That Could Disenfranchise 220,000 People

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

Republicans in Missouri have been trying to pass a voter ID bill for more than a decade, and they may soon claim victory.

This week, a supermajority of lawmakers sent a bill to the desk of Gov. Jay Nixon (D). Even if the governor vetoes, as he did to a similar one in 2011, lawmakers may have the votes to override it.

Democrats in the state Senate staged an all-night filibuster last week to stop the ID bill, but backed down after striking a compromise deal with Republicans.

The deal involves amendments to the bill that progressive lawmakers say will “ensure no voter is denied his or her Constitutional right to vote.” For instance, the state would be required to provide free photo IDs and any underlying documents necessary to obtain them, such as birth certificates and Social Security cards. Additionally, voters who are unable to get the required ID for whatever reason would be able to sign a legally-binding affidavit promising they are who they say they are, and could then vote with regular ballots.

This is aimed at preventing problems that have surfaced in other states with voter ID laws, including Wisconsin and Texas, where citizens who can’t afford a copy of their birth certificate or lack the means of transportation to get one have been disenfranchised.

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Ohio Official Blasts ‘Sickening’ Voting Restriction

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

In Ohio’s March 15 presidential primary, a car crash blocked a major highway near Cincinnati, leaving thousands of people stranded in their cars as the polls were set to close. A local judge received calls from voters frantic about losing their chance to cast a ballot, and ordered the polls to remain open just one hour later than scheduled. Now, a Cincinnati Republican is pushing a bill to make sure it’s much more difficult, and expensive, to get such an emergency extension in the future.

If legislation sponsored by Republican State Senator Bill Seitz is approved, anyone petitioning a judge to extend voting hours would have to put up a cash bond to cover the cost, which could range in the tens of thousands of dollars. If a court later finds that the polls should not have remained open, the voter would forfeit all the money. Only those who are so poor they can be certified as indigent would be exempted.

Rep. Dan Ramos, a Democrat who represents the working class Lorain community, told ThinkProgress he finds the effort “sickening.”

“This has been par for the course, ever since the Republicans took control of the House. They’ve been trying to do everything they can to make it more difficult to vote,” he said, noting the state’s cuts to early voting hours, voter roll purges, and attempts to block some students from voting in the primaries. “Now they’re saying the only way a person can have access to courts for voting is if they’re a wealthy person.”

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GOP ‘Adult’ John Kasich Pushes Debunked Anti-Muslim Myth

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

GOP ‘Adult’ John Kasich Pushes Debunked Anti-Muslim Myth

In a lengthy interview with the NY Daily News released this week, Ohio Governor and presidential hopeful John Kasich said he’s staying in the 2016 race because “somebody’s got to be the adult.” Yet the GOP candidate repeated to the editorial board a disproved myth floated by his rivals that there are neighborhoods in European cities where non-Muslims cannot enter.

“Europe, they need to get over all their hangups over there, which is all the political correctness,” Kasich said. “I can’t go into a neighborhood, because it’s three o’clock in the afternoon, or these things that you read about and hear. And obviously, Europe has a big problem with integration…which they are gonna have to deal with.”

When Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal — who has since dropped out of the 2016 race — made a similar claim last year, he was widely derided by European officials, who called it “complete nonsense.” After Fox News made the same assertion, they were forced to admit their “serious factual error” in multiple on-air apologies.

Yet this didn’t stop other Republicans from asserting that there are neighborhoods were non-Muslims and police officers fear to go. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Donald Trump, and Ben Carson — who has endorsed Trump — have also made this claim, using it to advocate for stepped up surveillance of Muslims in the United States.

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This Embarrassing Interview Signals Donald Trump May Be In Trouble In Wisconsin

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

With the Wisconsin primary just a week away, the remaining presidential candidates are descending on the Badger State. National frontrunner Donald Trump, who hasn’t made a campaign appearance in several days, ventured Monday morning into unfriendly territory: Wisconsin talk radio, where hosts have been viciously criticizing Trump for months.

On Monday morning, influential radio host Charlie Sykes grilled Trump for nearly 10 minutes in an often uncomfortable interview, at one point scolding him for sounding more like a “12-year-old bully on the playground” than a candidate for president.

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Scalia’s Death Throws North Carolina’s Upcoming Election Into Confusion

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

North Carolina’s primary is less than a month away, but the key swing state may be forced to postpone. A federal court ruling last week declared the state’s voting maps unconstitutional thanks to racial gerrymandering, and ordered them to be redrawn. Unless the Supreme Court intervenes, state lawmakers will have to scramble to create new maps that don’t pack African American voters into small, oddly shaped districts that make the surrounding districts whiter and easier for Republicans to win.

Yet this week, as North Carolina lawmakers prepared to create these revised maps, they spoke openly about making sure the state is still gerrymandered along political lines, if not racial ones.

“Our intent is to use the political data we have to our partisan advantage,” Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) told the Joint Select Committee on Congressional Redistricting on Tuesday. “I acknowledge freely that this would be a political gerrymander which is not against the law.”

He’s right. Thanks to a Supreme Court ruling in 2004, states are free to use gerrymandering to entrench the political power of the majority party.

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What Working Class New Hampshire Voters Think Of The GOP Candidates’ Poverty Plans

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

Out of the snowy darkness came a line of fast-food workers, marching towards the site of the latest Republican debate. With beanies pulled over their ears and gloved hands holding protest signs, the workers, their families, and their supporters chanted, “You want our vote? Come get our vote.”

A record-breaking half-million New Hampshire voters are expected to go to the polls Tuesday to pick the nominees for the Republican and Democratic parties. The remaining White House hopefuls in both parties have descended on the Granite State, holding dozens of town halls, rallies, and debates each day to win over the state’s undecided voters, who have grilled them on their plans to address drug addiction, immigration, and the minimum wage.

Among the hundreds of low-wage workers protesting the Republican debate at St. Anselm College was 26-year-old New Hampshire native Megan Jensen, who walked off her job at KFC to join the crowd demanding a higher minimum wage.

“I share an apartment with a roommate and my three kids, who are ages 4, 2, and 10 months,” she told ThinkProgress. “It’s very hard to get by on $8 an hour. I have to use food stamps and subsidized health insurance to get by. If I got a raise, I’d be able to get my own place. I’d be able to support all three kids by myself without any help from the state or anybody.”

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The Progressive Policy Donald Trump Just Embraced

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

On the campaign trail in New Hampshire this week, with the nation’s first primary contests mere days away, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump aligned himself with Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Nancy Pelosi on a key policy question.

Trump declared support Monday night for allowing the federal Medicare program to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, claiming the government could “save $300 billion” a year if allowed to do so. (Experts have estimated the savings to be closer to $16 billion a year). The hotel mogul pointed to the lobbying power of those companies as the reason this doesn’t happen already.

Thus, the man who has railed against Obamacare as a “disaster” and promised to replace it with a “beautiful” private system endorsed a policy that would give the government more control over the health care market. It’s a change Democrats have demanded for more than a decade, ever since the government was barred from conducting such negotiations by a 2003 law signed by President George W. Bush. President Obama has called for restoring this power in his past few national budget proposals, but the Republican-controlled Congress has blocked its implementation. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced a bill in September to empower the government to negotiate with drug companies. The bill would also allow people to legally import cheaper drugs from Canada, and would force pharmaceutical companies to report their research and development costs.

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North Carolina GOP Accused Of Intentionally Suppressing Black Votes To Preserve Their Majority

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

On Monday, residents of North Carolina are taking the state to court, arguing that North Carolina legislators designed a new voter ID law to stifle growing minority turnout that threatened the Republican majority in Raleigh.

The state is claiming that the law was passed to prevent voter fraud, though there is no evidence of widespread fraud at the ballot box. Attorney Denise Lieberman with the Advancement Project, which is representing the North Carolina NAACP in this case, told ThinkProgress that the state lawmakers who debated and passed the ID law knew it would place a disproportionate burden on African American and Latino voters.

“This is illuminated by the fact that there’s no legitimate basis for having this law,” she said. “We have expert witnesses who will testify that the state’s rationale for the law is unsupported, that there is absolutely no evidence of in-person voter impersonation that would justify this law. Furthermore, these laws don’t advance or expand people’s confidence in the voting process, as the state is arguing. They actually reduce it. So the conclusion we must draw is that lawmakers knew what they were doing.”

Lieberman and her colleagues plan to argue that this 2013 law was in part a backlash against the “increased political power” of voters of color in the state. Over the past few decades, both the number of residents of color and the percentage of them who showed up to vote have increased exponentially, thanks in large part to a series of laws making it easier to vote.

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Meet The Protesters Who Just Shouted Down Donald Trump In Las Vegas

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

Hotel mogul and GOP frontrunner Donald Trump had just handed the microphone over to a group of parents of people killed by undocumented immigrants when the chants began to ring out in the cavernous hall at the Westgate Casino.

“Dump Trump!” shouted two local activists as they were quickly dragged out of the room by hotel security guards. “Black lives matter. Muslims matter.” When one of them fell on the ground, an angry crowd of Trump supporters encircled him, phones aloft to film. One elderly man in a pinstripe suit repeatedly screamed, “Take them out!” while another yelled, “Light the motherfucker on fire.”

A few minutes later, when Trump had retaken the podium and was extolling his latest national poll numbers, a handful of immigrant rights activists launched another disruption. The crowd around them booed loudly and began chanting Trump’s name over and over to drown them out. As they were roughly hustled out a side door, Alejandra Romero dropped her phone. A Westgate Security guard threw it through an open door onto the concrete outside. Shaken by the experience, she and Astrid Silva broke out in tears, huddling in the alley outside the casino.

As the two women contemplated filing assault charges, another one of the activists, labor organizer José Macías, told ThinkProgress why he decided to interrupt the controversial candidate.

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Trump’s Vegas Hotel Refuses To Recognize Its Workers’ Union

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

Just 24 hours before billionaire frontrunner Donald Trump took the stage for the fifth GOP debate, the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas launched a legal challengeto its 500-odd workers’ effort to form a union.

After a year of organizing, much of it in secret, a narrow majority of the workers voted earlier this month to join the Culinary Workers Union and Bartenders Union, which are part of the national hospitality workers union Unite Here. The text of the company’s complaint — filed with the National Labor Relations Board in D.C. — is not yet public, and multiple calls to the hotel’s management were not returned by the time of publication. But Trump hotel workers told ThinkProgress that their company is “objecting to the outcome of the vote and want it thrown out.”

“Mr. Trump has said repeatedly that he expects and insists on being treated fairly as he campaigns to be the next president of the United States of America,” said Jeffrey Wise, a food server at the hotel. “I also want to be treated fairly. My coworkers and I participated in a democratic election process, just like the one Mr. Trump is preparing for right now.”

The workers — more than 80 percent of whom are immigrants and more than 50 percent of whom are women — are now attempting to negotiate with a boss known for making statements offensive to women and immigrants on the campaign trail. As they attempt to coax Trump management to the bargaining table, the workers have decided not to criticize their boss or their working conditions in any way. Yet speaking to ThinkProgress at the union’s offices just a few miles from the glitzy casino strip, they were frank about why they wanted to form a union and the obstacles they have faced in doing so.

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Jeb Bush Says Unlike Others, He Won’t Give African Americans ‘Free Stuff’

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

Jeb Bush Says Unlike Others, He Won’t Give African Americans ‘Free Stuff’

Speaking to a crowd of mostly white Republicans in South Carolina this week, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush mused on his strategy to win over African American voters.

“Our message is one of hope and aspiration,” Bush said at the East Cooper Republican Women’s Club annual Shrimp Dinner. “It isn’t one of division and get in line and we’ll take care of you with free stuff. Our message is one that is uplifting — that says you can achieve earned success.”

The remark echoes a comment made by Mitt Romney four years ago, when he was asked at an NAACP event about his stance on the Affordable Care Act. “If they want more stuff from government, tell them to go vote for the other guy — more free stuff,” Romney said. He soon followed up with the infamous speech to private donors saying Democrat voters “believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” Romney went on to lose the election, earning just 6 percent of African American votes.

Jeb Bush’s campaign did not respond to ThinkProgress’ inquiry on whether he too was referring to health care, food, and housing when he said “free stuff.”

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Georgia County Admits To Illegally Disenfranchising Voters

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

Georgia County Admits To Illegally Disenfranchising Voters

Fulton County, Georgia admitted to illegally disenfranchising and misleading voters in the 2008 and 2012 elections in a settlement this month. For more than two dozen violations of state law — including improperly rejecting eligible ballots and sending voters to the wrong precincts — the county will pay a fine of $180,000. To make sure the problems do not continue in the future, the county has promised to spend an additional $200,000 on new training software for their poll workers.

Voting rights advocates who focus on the region, including Julie Houk with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, praised the Secretary of State for investigating the violations but questioned whether the punishment fits the crime.

“What’s going to happen to that money?” she asked ThinkProgress. “How is the state going to use it? Is it wise to make the county pay a very large civil penalty in light of the economic crunch many of these counties are in? I wonder why a settlement couldn’t have been reached to set aside the money for remedial training to make sure the issues don’t happen again.”

The county, which includes Atlanta, has a heavily African American voting population and leans progressive, voting overwhelmingly for President Obama in 2008 and 2012. As detailed in the new settlement, county elections officials misinformed the precincts of who was coming to vote and when, failed to provide absentee ballots to voters who requested them, and failed to put voters who registered on time on the rolls, among other violations. The head of Fulton County’s elections office was fired last year, which she credits to her refusal to cover up the improper purging of voters in 2012.

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After Massive Contribution To Scott Walker, NBA Owner Will Get $250 Million In Tax Dollars For New Arena

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

After Massive Contribution To Scott Walker, NBA Owner Will Get $250 Million In Tax Dollars For New Arena

Wisconsin Governor and Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker will sign a bill Wednesday finalizing his controversial plan to spend $250 million in state, county and city funds — plus tens of millions more in interest and future tax breaks — on a new basketball arena for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Walker has characterized the plan to replace the existing 27-year-old NBA arena as beneficial to taxpayers, arguing that the state would lose even more money if they declined to do so. But voices from across the political spectrum are blasting the plan, saying that pouring money into private sports stadiums is a terrible investment, and arguing the team’s Wall Street billionaire owners should shoulder the burden, since they’ll be reaping the profits.

“Government shouldn’t be in the business of financing private sports stadiums,” said the Koch brothers-backed group Americans for Prosperity Wisconsin. “The current deal is based on fuzzy math, complicated accounting and millions of taxpayer dollars. Whether it comes from the state, the county, the city or other authority, these are taxpayer dollars.” The Libertarian CATO Institute added: “Any presidential candidate who believes that taxpayer-subsidized stadiums are ‘a good deal’ shouldn’t be anywhere near the federal Treasury.”

The fact that the current Bucks arena is still $20 million in debt only bolsters their arguments.

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Trump Mocked For Having No Real Immigration Plan, But Are His GOP Rivals Any Better?

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

Thursday’s premier GOP debate will feature real estate mogul Donald Trump comfortably in the number-one slot after his controversial remarks about undocumented Mexicans helped catapult him to fame and notoriety.

Trump, when pressed by reporters for a concrete immigration plan, has said he would build a nearly 2,000 mile wall on the U.S.’ southern border and force Mexico to pay for it, deport all 11 million undocumented people currently living in the U.S., and then let whoever he determined to be the “good ones” back in. The statements were widely mocked as costly, unrealistic, and illegal.

However, the few other Republicans in the presidential race to actually release plans have been similarly vague, and similarly focused on ramping up immigration enforcement while avoiding true reform.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, considered to be the candidate most amenable to immigration reform, released a plan this week that is almost entirely concerned with enforcement. Any “practical solution to the status of the people who are here illegally,” he says, “is a nonstarter if our borders are not secure.”

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First GOP Debate To Take Place In A State Where Access To Voting Rights Is Getting Worse

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

When ten Republican presidential candidates gather on stage in Cleveland this Thursday, they’re unlikely to touch on access to the polls, despite the fact that the debate marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and the debate’s host state Ohio has been rolling back voting rights protections.

Progressive groups and the White House are urging the Fox News debate moderators to press the candidates on whether they would restore key voter protections the Supreme Court gutted in 2013. But the candidates’ records in their home states and in Congress show a higher interest in limiting access to the ballot.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who barely made the cut for the debate, has worked to restrict where and when state residents can register to vote, vote early, and vote absentee — policies that have brought lawsuits from students and people of color who say they’ve been disenfranchised. Kasich has also approved several bills to change election dates, while his secretary of state has been accused of intimidating voters and throwing out eligible provisional ballots.

“To me, it seems like a concerted effort to confuse the electorate by changing the rules,” said state Rep. Dan Ramos, who represents Cleveland in the Ohio legislature, in an interview with ThinkProgress. “We also have a real problem with access. There are counties in Ohio with a bigger population than some states, and others smaller than some neighborhoods, but they each only have one early voting location. This can cause long lines, and if the location may not be on a bus line, it isn’t really providing access.”

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Scott Walker Tries To Use A Back Door To Get Rid Of Wisconsin’s Living Wage Law

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

Scott Walker Tries To Use A Back Door To Get Rid Of Wisconsin’s Living Wage Law

Only one hurdle stands between Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and his upcoming bid for the White House: passing a budget to keep his state chugging for the next two years.

After months of uproar over provisions to slash hundreds of millions of dollars from state universities and strip the values of “truth” and “service” from their mission, lawmakers in Madison missed their July 1 deadline to pass the budget.

In the ensuing scramble, Governor Walker and his allies in the statehouse used the 4th of July holiday weekend to insert several more controversial provisions into the massive document, which local press called “a grab bag of pet projects.” Walker and Republican lawmakers have already been forced to retreat on one of them: a gutting of the state’s open records law that would have barred reporters and the public from accessing the documents that reveal how laws are written, including drafts and e-mails between state lawmakers.

But the other additions remain, including provisions that censor information about police shootings, scrap factory workers’ right to one day off per week, and completely eliminate the state’s 100-year-old definition of a “living wage,” which now says workers deserve pay that provides “minimum comfort, decency, physical and moral well-being.” This major change, which has received far less attention than the open records law rewrite, would strip the state’s Department of Workforce Development of the power to to investigate complaints that an employee is not being paid a living wage, and would replace “living wage” with “minimum wage” throughout Wisconsin’s laws.

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Louisiana Has A Lot Of Problems. This Is How Bobby Jindal Made Them Worse.

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

Louisiana Has A Lot Of Problems. This Is How Bobby Jindal Made Them Worse.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has spent much of his final year in office outside of Louisiana, with frequent trips to Washington, D.C. and the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — trips funded by the disgruntled taxpayers of his state. On Wednesday, he confirms the ill-kept secret that he is joining the growing pack seeking the Republican nomination for president in 2016.

As Jindal makes headlines for his controversial remarks about Islam and racial inequality, his record running Louisiana has gotten less attention from voters around the country.

Since Gov. Jindal took office in 2008, Louisiana has earned some dubious honors. The state has the largest gender pay gap in the country, with women making 66 cents for every dollar a man earns.

A study by the Violence Policy Center published in late January found the state also has the second-highest rate of gun deaths in the nation, and the state’s rate of incarceration currently leads the U.S. — and thus, the world. Nearly two-thirds of Louisiana’s prisoners are doing time for a drug crime or other non-violent offense. Last year, Jindal vetoed a bipartisan measure that would have made more inmates eligible for parole and redirected the money saved from their early release to fund rehabilitation programs. Jindal called the bill “a step too far that could put our citizens at risk.”

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The Rise Of Anti-Union Rhetoric In The 2016 Race

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

The Rise Of Anti-Union Rhetoric In The 2016 Race

This week, the Supreme Court agreed to take a case that could spell doom for public sector unions, with the potential to make the entire country so-called “right-to-work” territory.

If that effort fails, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has vowed to make every state a “right-to-work” state if elected president. Out of all the Republican candidates running for president, a growing roster that now tops a dozen, Walker has focused the most on his record fighting unions — a record he says prepares him to confront enemy combatants like ISIS if elected president.

But while Walker may be the loudest and proudest union buster in the 2016 race, his fellow candidates are also striving to prove their anti-labor bona fides.

Carly Fiorina has blamed unions for pay disparities between men and women, though that disparity is much smaller among unionized workers.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has called for ending collective bargaining for postal workers and implementing “right-to-work” nationwide.

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State Employees Are Having A Hard Time Explaining Scott Walker’s New Voting Restrictions

Alice Ollstein Political Reporter, Think Progress

State Employees Are Having A Hard Time Explaining Scott Walker’s New Voting Restrictions

When Hillary Clinton issued a sweeping call for expanding and protecting voting rights, and called out Wisconsin and other states for passing discriminatory laws, Governor Scott Walker responded by blasting her views as “extreme” and “far outside the mainstream.” He defended his own record of cutting early voting days and implementing a strict voter ID law, saying these changes “make it easier to vote and harder to cheat.”

But at a workshop held in Milwaukee in early June, state government employees struggled to explain the byzantine voting restrictions to a crowd of poll workers and community activists.

Under Wisconsin’s voter ID law, which was blocked by courts until this March, you can vote with an expired military ID, but naturalization papers and student IDs must be current. Students must bring additional proof of enrollment, such as a class schedule. All Wisconsin residents can obtain a free state ID from any DMV, but only if they have no drivers license from any state. For 18-year-olds registering to vote for the first time, a public high school ID counts, but a private one doesn’t. A bank statement can serve as proof of residence, but not a credit card statement.

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