The national news is very distressing when Republicans ignore the 2012 elections and the concerns of party leaders and instead keep Congress gridlocked. To survive that, grassroots Democrats must stay active. (More)

Staying Active, Even When Congress Isn’t (Non-Cynical Saturday)

Aside from President Obama’s trip to Israel and Jordan, the national news has been stagnant. The House once again passed Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget, which the Senate wisely rejected by a 59-40 vote. Yes, the Senate narrowly passed a Democratic budget late last night, including an amendment opposing the use of Chained CPI and other votes that clarified the parties’ budget priorities. But it seems doubtful the Senate budget will pass with House Republicans increasingly reliant on a base that Pew Research director Andrew Kohut calls “estranged from America.” And as we discussed yesterday, both House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell say Republicans will take the debt ceiling hostage yet again, demanding yet more spending cuts as ransom.

Meanwhile, immigration reform may be stalled, with the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO unable to reach agreement on guest worker visa numbers. Although Congress made permanent NRA-favored regulations that weaken gun safety, even universal background checks may be blocked by a Republican Senate filibuster. President Obama’s promising Energy Security Trust program seems dead on arrival as Republicans demand it be paid for with drilling permits in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But the Senate approved the Keystone XL pipeline.

And then there were the neoconservatives stubbornly defending the Iraq War, including this shocker by Richard Perle in an interview on NPR’s Renee Montagne:

Montagne: Ten years later, nearly 5,000 American troops dead, thousands more with wounds, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead or wounded. When you think about this, was it worth it?

Perle: I’ve got to say I think that is not a reasonable question. What we did at the time was done with the belief that it was necessary to protect this nation. You can’t a decade later go back and say we shouldn’t have done that.

It seems learning from your mistakes isn’t part of conservatism, neo- or otherwise. And that’s a dispiriting thought.

Action: a remedy for despair

With so much bad news, it’s easy to give up and turn away. And while it’s sometimes necessary to take a break from the news, we can make those breaks more energizing – and more productive – if we stay active. So despite the short deadline, I was pleased when the Florida Democratic Party sent an action alert to county Democratic Executive Committees this week.

The issue is Florida Senate Bill 600, the not-quite-companion to House Bill 7103 that passed on the first day of the legislative session. Both are election reform laws that address some of the many flaws that left some Florida voters waiting in line for over six hours last November. The House bill isn’t ideal, but it’s a clear improvement. It expands early voting, notifies voters whose Vote By Mail ballots are rejected so they can address the problems, and has several other positive changes. However, it doesn’t mandate the 14 days of early voting that Floridians enjoyed in 2008, nor does it mandate that early voting be allowed on the Sunday before Election Day, enabling “Souls to the Polls” programs that boosted turnout among black voters.

Senate Bill 600 doesn’t fix the weaknesses in the House bill. In fact, it creates new obstacles, especially those who Vote By Mail. For example, it would require a witness signature on Vote By Mail return envelopes, in addition to the voter’s own signature. It would also prohibit the “Vote Now!” program where voters could go to their Supervisor of Elections office, request a Vote By Mail ballot, fill it out, and turn it in there at the office. And Senate Bill 600 would prohibit voters from turning in Vote By Mail ballots, in person, at their Supervisor of Elections office on Election Day.

Florida Democrats made Vote By Mail a major focus in 2012. In my county, we closed a 10,000-voter Vote By Mail deficit in 2010 to under 500 in 2012 with a months-long voter outreach effort. Vote By Mail turnout is 84% – by far the most effective turnout tool we have – and by-mail voters are more likely to vote all the way down the ballot.

That extensive Vote By Mail effort helped Florida Democrats in 2012. President Obama carried the state, Sen. Bill Nelson easily won reelection, and Democrats gained seats in the U.S. House and both chambers of the Florida Legislature.

So of course Republicans in our state senate want to “fix” Vote By Mail by making it more difficult. Unlike House Bill 7103, which passed almost unanimously, Senate Bill 600 passed out of committee on a strictly party line vote.

That’s why the Florida Democratic Party sent out the action alert, and as Vice Chair of my DEC I proposed an action plan that my Chair approved and set in motion within hours. Other county DECs across the state are doing likewise, and together we’ll let our state senators know we reject any effort to weaken Vote By Mail and the other improvements of House Bill 7103.

My DEC are also starting work on our voter outreach plan for 2014, and recruiting candidates for key county and state races. In a county commission meeting this week, we urged the commissioners to close the gun show loophole – as the Florida Constitution authorizes them to do – and our efforts earned extensive and positive local media coverage. Our monthly DEC meetings are energetic, with members bringing not simply ideas but specific plans … and commitments to act on those plans.

It’s been a rough national news week and Republicans seem intent on stalling any progress in Congress. And that can be dispiriting. But if you find ways to stay active with other Democrats in your area, you may find the national news doesn’t weigh quite as heavily on your mind. Action is the best remedy for despair.

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Happy Saturday!