April is the cruelest month, breeding dumb news out of the dead land. In other words, it's like every other month, at least when it comes to political news. Here's a taste of what's been happening around the country — at least in the weirdest or most random parts.
This Month in Unavoidable Folksiness
You always know it's coming. In order to prove their "regular person" bona fides, there comes a time when a politician must do something that 99 percent of regular people do not do.
Here are April's entries into the American “Oh shucks, I just had to put a bullet hole in that gosh darn bill” canon.
1. West Virginia Governor Jim Justice used these props to note his distaste for the state legislature's budget bill:
(For those not fluent in folksiness, that is actual bull shit, a “nothing” burger, and a mayonnaise sandwich.)
2. Both candidates in the special election for Montana's lone House seat are running ads in which they shoot screens. (They are not the first candidates to think of this idea. It is a long-held belief in electoral politics that shooting a TV screen is the best way to prove that you care about the Second Amendment.)
This Month in Unexpected Headlines
Courtesy of the Alaska Dispatch News: “Here's why Alaska legislators, staffers and lobbyists are listening to Wu-Tang Clan.”
Au Revoir, Land
Governor John Bel Edwards pregamed for Earth Day by declaring a state of emergency for the entire Louisiana coast. “Louisiana continues to experience one of the fastest rates of coastal erosion in the world,” the declaration notes, “and this complex and fragile ecosystem is disappearing at an alarming rate — more than 1,800 square miles of land between 1932 and 2010, including 300 square miles of marshland between 2004 and 2008 alone.”
Things are already getting untenable for some of the state's residents; the country's first climate refugees came from an island in southeastern Louisiana. As ProPublica reported a few years ago, “The state is losing a football field of land every 48 minutes — 16 square miles a year — due to climate change, drilling and dredging for oil and gas, and levees on the Mississippi River.” The emergency might be official now ... but it's no surprise to the people living there.
Not Being Racist 101: Florida Edition
A state senator in Florida resigned last week after coming down with a chronic case of being unable to shut his mouth. Frank Artiles's exit was preceded by a series of apologies to his coworkers — saying sorry to one woman for calling her a bitch, sharing regrets for calling a male colleague an asshole, and, last but not least, apologizing for calling black legislators the n-word.
Some of those targeted by his apology tour weren't convinced he was sincere, especially since the Cuban-American politician tried to explain his words by saying, “I grew up in a diverse community. We shared each other’s customs, culture, and vernacular. I realize that my position does not allow me for the looseness of words or slang, regardless of how benign my intentions were.” He added that he was probably only being targeted because Democrats wanted his seat.
“To say that the ending of the word changes the connotation of it,” one black Florida legislator responded, “I think the word may be asinine. Whether it's -er, -a, -z, whatever it is, it's offensive. It's not something that anyone should be saying. No one should be called that word.”
In other news, Artiles, who was accused of punching a college kid at a bar a few years ago, has not yet explained why he hired a Playboy model and Hooters “calendar girl” to serve as consultants on his last campaign.
Weirdest Out-of-Context Moments at Congressional Town Halls, a Continuing Series
— “ You lie!”
— “You say you pay for me to do this? Bullcrap. I pay for myself.”
— “He’s the invisible man to me, or more specifically, my invisible representative.”
— “Yelling and screaming won’t do any of us any good.”
This Section Is Not a Bar
All restaurants in Utah will now need to say whether they are BAR or NOT A BAR, thanks to the state's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission and a new law mandating that liquor prices go up. “A restaurant is a restaurant and a bar is a bar, never the twain shall meet,” as one commissioner summed it up.
Thankfully, the signs will not look like this:
The States of Voting Rights
North Dakota passed an amendment to its voter ID law this month, but it's not clear how long it might exist — the policy is still snaking through the federal court system after being blocked last year for posing an undue burden for Native Americans. In Nebraska, legislators are still in the process of debating voter ID; if passed, it would end up on the ballot next year. The Iowa state legislature just passed a voter ID law too. If the governor signs the bill, the policy will go into effect before the 2020 caucuses. New Hampshire is currently debating voting-law changes that would make it harder for new residents to vote, worried that people are illegally voting in the state's early primary. (There is no proof that this is happening.)
Meanwhile, three times this year alone, federal courts have found that Texas's voting laws and maps are discriminatory.
In Florida, a constitutional amendment will appear on the 2018 ballot asking voters if they want to give convicted felons back their voting rights. Per the Tampa Bay Times, Florida has an estimated 1.5 million felons who have been stripped of their voting rights, more than any other state. Thirty-eight states, plus D.C., give felons the right to vote back after their sentence is completed.
In North Carolina, prosecutors have decided not to charge a woman who honored her mother's dying wish: impersonating her in order to vote for Donald Trump. “Please understand,” she explained, “that my actions were in no way intended to be fraudulent but were done during my grief and an effort to honor my mother’s last request.”