Monday, January 14, 2008

Hillary's "Florida Republican tactics"

One week from today, the Nevada Democratic caucuses will be receding in the rear-view mirror, and the story I'm about to describe may well be relegated to a footnote. But let us live for today. What we have here is a classic demonstration of the disconnect between what a politician says and what a politican does.

At the same time that Hillary Clinton is extolling herself (on Meet the Press yesterday) as a tireless champion of working women and people of color - "I've worked all my life on behalf of civil rights and women's rights and human rights" - her allies and surrogates in Nevada have filed a lawsuit that is designed to undercut the voting rights of working women and people of color.

This is how the game is played when the stakes are high: The Clinton surrogates - who have no direct links to the Hillary campaign, and are thus supposedly acting on their own - don't like the fact that the Nevada Democratic party is making it easy for unionized casino workers to participate in the Saturday caucuses. So they've sued to stop the process.

The state Democratic party has been busy setting up meeting sites at nine big casinos, so that members of the powerful Culinary Workers Union - as well as any non-union workers within a two-mile radius of the sites - can choose a candidate during their work break. That seems like a reasonable idea - so reasonable, in fact, that the Democratic National Committee overwhelmingly approved the plan last spring; and so reasonable that nary a whisper of dissent was voiced by any of the Democratic presidential candidates.

Indeed, when Hillary left Iowa last week, she lamented the fact that so many working people were unable to participate in those caucuses, due to their work schedules. As she told ABC News, "You have a limited period of time on one day to have your voices heard. That is troubling to me. You know, in a situation of a caucus, people who work during that time - they're disenfranchised."

But all of a sudden, Hillary's surrogates are now claiming that the Nevada Democratic plan violates the U.S. Constitution, and that therefore these "at large" caucus sites - which are actually intended to enfranchise more working people - should be eliminated.

I'm just wondering: Could this lawsuit, filed late Friday, have anything to do with the fact that the 60,000-member Culinary Workers Union gave its much-coveted endorsement, 48 hours earlier, to Barack Obama?

Kirsten Searer, the state party's deputy executive director, is quoted as saying that, ever since the caucus rules were OKed by the national Democrats last May, "the campaigns have been fully informed throughout the process." There hadn't been a shred of protest from the Hillary camp about the plans for casino caucus sites; nor had there been any protest from the pro-Hillary folks who have now filed the lawsuit. In fact, some of those pro-Hillary folks are members of the state party, and they participated in the March 31, 2007 meeting that OKed the plan...unanimously.

Officially, Hillary's campaign says it knows nothing about the laswuit and, as the candidate herself said this weekend, "I have no opinion on the lawsuit." So we are supposed to believe that she and her campaign have no connection whatsoever to the plaintiffs, who happen to include the Nevada State Education Association teacher's union, whose deputy executive director is a founding member of Hillary's Nevada Women's Leadership Council. And it's perhaps sheer coincidence that the law firm pushing the suit is Hillary-friendly; several senior partners have given her money, and one prominent lawyer in the firm, ex-congressman James Bilbray, has endorsed her and has been campaigning for her. (Here's Hillary, yesterday: "I don't think it's supporters of mine. There seems to be some misunderstanding about that.")

Hillary has complained for years that the 2000 post-election Florida crisis was an insult to democracy, an attempt by Republicans to disenfranchise minorities by suppressing their votes. It's hard to see how she is well served today by exposing herself to that same charge in Nevada - particularly when it is being leveled by a pro-Democratic union official whose members include large numbers of working-class Hispanics ("This is an attempt to wholesale disenfranchise people who are largely women, largely people of color, and people who do the kind of work that makes this town go").

On the one hand, we have Hillary repeatedly declaring that she has fought for minorities all her life; on the other hand, we have her surrogates suing to shut down caucus rules that have been designed to help minorities (again, state party official Searer: "The at-large precincts were included to increase participation in the highest concentration of shift workers - many of whom are minorities"). On the one hand, we have Hillary inveighing for years about Republican suppression tactics; on the other hand, we have D. Taylor, the Culinary union official, accusing Hillary's surrogates of "Florida Republican tactics."

Barack Obama should be pleased, because Hillary has handed him a hot one. She comes off looking like a typical pol who says one thing but does another, somebody who lawyers up to change the rules, even at the risk of alienating the minorities and working stiffs whom she claims to best represent.