Tag Archives: liberals

Conservative court says DOJ doesn’t have to release Schimel videos

The Wisconsin Supreme Court this week rejected Democrats’ efforts to force the release of training videos featuring Republican Brad Schimel before he became attorney general, finding that he didn’t say anything inappropriate in them, as Democrats initially alleged, and that releasing them could hurt prosecutors and crime victims.

The recordings don’t reveal any misconduct and releasing them would reveal prosecutor strategies as well as re-traumatize victims in a high-profile sexual extortion case, the court’s conservative majority ruled in a 5-2 decision.

The state Democratic Party asked the state Department of Justice in 2014 to release videos of presentations on sexual predators that Schimel gave in 2009 and 2013, when he was the Waukesha County district attorney.

The 2009 video shows Schimel discussing prosecution strategies.

In the 2013 video, Schimel recounts a case in which a Waukesha County high school student posed as a woman online, obtained graphic pictures from male classmates and blackmailed them into sexual acts.

The Democrats’ demanded the videos during the height of Schimel’s attorney general campaign, alleging they showed him making ethnic and racial slurs, as well as sexist comments.

The DOJ refused to hand over the videos, arguing that they reveal prosecutorial strategies and could re-traumatize the blackmail victims.

That stance prompted Democrats to sue.

A Madison judge who viewed the videos found that Schimel didn’t make any inappropriate remarks and that no victims were identified by name.

Both the judge and a state appeals court ruled the videos should be released.

The DOJ allowed the Democrats’ attorney to view the videos, after which he dropped the misconduct claims, according to court documents.

The state Supreme Court sided with DOJ, ruling the videos don’t show any official misconduct and the lawsuit suggests a partisan purpose behind the request.

Writing for the majority, Justice Rebecca Bradley likened the 2009 video to prosecutors’ case files, which are exempt from Wisconsin’s open records law.

The video clearly contains discussions of tactics and could be widely disseminated online, helping criminals avoid detection, the court found.

Bradley acknowledged that Schimel doesn’t name any victims in the 2013 video, but she wrote that someone could figure out who they are from the context. That could re-traumatize them in violation of a state constitutional amendment that requires the state to treat crime victims with dignity, she wrote.

“The denial of public access occurs only in exceptional cases. This case presents one of those exceptional situations,” Bradley wrote. “The two videos requested here do not contain any evidence of official misconduct. Our review independently demonstrates that the reasons proffered (for withholding the videos) are sufficient and supported by the facts in this case.”

The court’s two liberal-leaning justices, Shirley Abrahamson and Ann Walsh Bradley, dissented.

Abrahamson wrote that the court should have ordered the videos released with sensitive information redacted.

She chastised the majority for suggesting that the request was politically motivated, noting that the open records law doesn’t require requestors to explain their motivation. She added the ruling offers no limits on when protecting victims trumps disclosure.

“What has the majority achieved with its opinion grounded in speculative, abstract, and unsubstantiated fears? The answer for me is: A dimming of the light on public oversight of government, especially in matters pertaining to criminal justice.”

A Democratic Party spokesman didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

MoveOn hiring organizers for United Against Hate campaign

MoveOn.org Political Action is hiring dozens of organizers to serve as state directors and field organizers in eight battleground states through November.

The hiring push will create a major field presence in key states — including Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania — where organizers and MoveOn volunteers will work to defeat Donald Trump and elect Hillary Clinton, and help take back control of Senate.

The organizers will recruit, train and support grassroots leaders, “focusing on communities that Trump has attacked and coordinating volunteer teams who will knock on hundreds of thousands of doors and hold conversations with thousands of likely voters in coming weeks,” according to a statement from MoveOn.

MoveOn.org is building field programs with paid organizers and volunteer leaders in:

• Arizona

• Florida

• Iowa

• Nevada

• New Hampshire

• North Carolina

• Ohio

• Pennsylvania.

MoveOn said it has more than 1 million active members in these states.

Also, MoveOn members have voted to endorse Senate candidates in seven of the eight states:

• Ann Kirkpatrick (Arizona)

• Patty Judge (Iowa)

• Maggie Hassan (New Hampshire)

• Deborah Ross (North Carolina)

• Catherine Cortez Masto (Nevada)

• Ted Strickland (Ohio)

• Katie McGinty (Pennsylvania)

“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment to ensure that Donald Trump never sets foot in the White House, and MoveOn members across the country have the power to influence this election by helping elect Hillary Clinton and winning key Senate seats across the country,” said Victoria Kaplan, organizing director for MoveOn.org.

She continued, “We know that face-to-face conversations with voters are the number one most effective way to increase voter participation and that’s why we’re unleashing the phenomenal energy of volunteer leaders and the millions of MoveOn members to canvass their own neighborhoods and communities, where they can make the biggest difference.”

MoveOn senior adviser Karine Jean-Pierre said, “We know that our task is not just to win an election, but to demonstrate that bigotry is a losing strategy and to build power to win on the issues that matter to everyday people: income inequality, police and criminal justice reform, climate change, good jobs, immigrants’ rights, and more.”

Earlier this year, MoveOn members voted to launch a multi-million dollar effort against Trump.

Since then, MoveOn has kicked off a major voter contact effort, opened a rapid-response video lab to produce dynamic content around the election, launched a nationwide Laughter Trumps Hate comedy contest and published an open letter featuring more than 100 prominent artists standing against Trump.

Divided America: Global warming more polarizing than abortion

Tempers are rising in America, along with the temperatures.

Two decades ago, the issue of climate change wasn’t as contentious. The leading U.S. Senate proponent of taking action on global warming was Republican John McCain. George W. Bush wasn’t as zealous on the issue as his Democratic opponent for president in 2000, Al Gore, but he, too, talked of regulating carbon dioxide.

Then the Earth got even hotter , repeatedly breaking temperature records. But instead of drawing closer together, politicians polarized.

Democrats and scientists became more convinced that global warming was a real, man-made threat .

But Republicans and tea party activists became more convinced that it was — to quote the repeated tweets of presidential nominee Donald Trump — a “hoax.”

When it comes to science, there’s more than climate that divides America’s leaders and people, such as evolution, vaccination and genetically modified food.

But nothing beats climate change for divisiveness.

“It’s more politically polarizing than abortion,” says Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. “It’s more politically polarizing than gay marriage.”

Leiserowitz says his surveys show 17 percent of Americans, the fastest-growing group, are alarmed by climate change and want action now, with another 28 percent concerned but viewing it as a more distant threat.

But there’s an often-vocal 10 percent who are dismissive, rejecting the concept of warming and the science

Sometimes dismissiveness and desire for action mix in one family.

Rick and Julie Joyner of Fort Mill, South Carolina, are founders of MorningStar ministries. Most of the people they associate with reject climate change. Their 31-year-old daughter, Anna Jane, is a climate change activist.

As part of a documentary a few years ago, Anna Jane introduced Rick to scientists who made the case for climate change. It did not work. He labels himself more skeptical than before.

“They’re both stubborn and equally entrenched in their positions,” says Julie, who is often in the middle. “It doesn’t get ugly too often.”

 

TRIBALISM

People in the 1960s “had faith in science, had hope in science. Most people thought science was responsible for improving their daily lives,” says Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences.

Now “we see partisan polarization or ideological polarization,” says Matthew Nisbet, a communications professor at Northeastern University.

The split with science is most visible and strident when it comes to climate change because the nature of the global problem requires communal joint action, and “for conservatives that’s especially difficult to accept,” Nisbet says.

Climate change is more about tribalism, or who we identify with politically and socially, Nisbet and other experts say. Liberals believe in global warming, conservatives don’t.

Dave Woodard, a Clemson University political science professor and GOP consultant, helped South Carolina Republican Bob Inglis run for the U.S. House (successfully) and the Senate (unsuccessfully). They’d meet monthly at Inglis’ home for Bible study, and were in agreement that global warming wasn’t an issue and probably was not real.

After seeing the effects of warming first-hand in Antarctica and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Inglis changed his mind — and was overwhelmingly defeated in a GOP primary in 2010. Woodard helped run the campaign that beat him.

“I was seen as crossing to the other side, as helping the Al Gore tribe, and that could not be forgiven,” Inglis says.

Judy Curry, a Georgia Tech atmospheric scientist and self-described climate gadfly, has experienced ostracism from the other side. She repeatedly clashed with former colleagues after she publicly doubted the extent of global warming and criticized the way mainstream scientists operate. Now she says, no one will even look at her for other jobs in academia.

 

WHAT CHANGED

In 1997, then-Vice President Gore helped broker an international treaty to reduce heat-trapping gases from the burning of coal, oil and gas.

“And at that moment” says Leiserowitz, “the two parties begin to divide. They begin to split and go farther and farther and farther apart until we reach today’s environment where climate change is now one of the most polarized issues in America.”

Consider lobster scientist Diane Cowan in Friendship, Maine, who expresses dismay.

“I am definitely bearing witness to climate change,” Cowan says. “I read about climate change. I knew sea level was rising but I saw it and, until it impacted me directly, I didn’t feel it the same way.”

Republican Jodi Crosson, a 55-year-old single mother and production and sales manager in Bexley, Ohio, thinks global warming is a serious problem because she’s felt the wrath of extreme weather and rising heat. But to her, it’s not quite as big an issue as the economy.

Scott Tiller, a 59-year-old underground coal miner in West Virginia, has seen mine after mine close, and says coal is getting a bad rap.

“I think we’ve been treated unfairly and kind of looked down upon as polluters,” Tiller says. “They say the climate is changing, but are we doing it? Or is it just a natural thing that the Earth does?”

 

BRIDGING DIFFERENCES

Overwhelmingly, scientists who study the issue say it is man-made and a real problem. Using basic physics and chemistry and computer simulations, scientists have repeatedly calculated that most of the extra warming comes from humans, instead of nature. Dozens of scientific measurements show Earth is warming. Since 1997, the world has warmed by 0.44 degrees (0.25 degrees Celsius).

Repeatedly explaining science and showing data doesn’t convince some people to change their core beliefs, experts say. So instead some climate activists and even scientists try to build bridges to communities that might doubt that the Earth is warming but are not utterly dismissive.

The more people connect on a human level, the more people can “overcome these tribal attitudes,” Anna Jane Joyner says. “We really do have a lot more in common than we think.”

 

Right-wing and liberal groups gear up for Supreme Court fight

Right-wing and liberal groups are only beginning their battle over the Supreme Court vacancy, with a smattering of television ads and behind-the-scenes research serving as warning shots in what’s sure to be an expensive fight that will color November’s elections.

Activity will only ramp up once President Barack Obama names someone to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia — a nomination Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other Republicans promise the chamber will never consider. Many expect Obama to announce his pick next week.

With the court’s 4-4 balance between liberal and conservative justices in play, both parties and their allies are reaching out to rally their memberships, solicit contributions and savage the opposition.

The conservative Judicial Crisis Network has run TV spots backing GOP senators in seven states and digital ads targeting Democrats in four others, while its leader wrote an article criticizing one potential nominee for a case she handled while a public defender a decade ago. On its website, the legislative arm of the National Rifle Association links readers to an article titled “Justice Barack Obama?” suggesting that scenario should Democrat Hillary Clinton become president.

The Senate Majority PAC, backing Democrats, has launched a New Hampshire TV ad accusing GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte, in a competitive re-election race, of “ignoring the Constitution, not doing her job.” End Citizens United, dedicated to overturning the Supreme Court decision that unleashed unlimited campaign spending by corporations and unions, has aired commercials pressing Ayotte and Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., to consider a nominee. A group of 21 Democratic attorneys general penned a letter warning Senate leaders not to “undermine the rule of law.” MoveOn.org and other progressive groups plan rallies outside senators’ home-state offices on a March 21 “National Day of Action.”

“A Supreme Court nomination is the No. 1, top priority for almost any conservative group,” said Carrie Severino, the Crisis Network’s policy director, a sentiment shared by liberals, too. “Almost every issue ultimately finds its way to the Supreme Court.”

VOTERS FAVOR HEARINGS

Democrats and liberals have focused on Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and other Republican senators seeking re-election this fall in swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Backed by nearly all GOP senators, Grassley has said his panel won’t hold a hearing on Obama’s choice.

Democrats cite recent polls showing majorities of Americans favor hearings, which they say means GOP senators in tight races must change their positions or face defeat this fall. Over half of voters in a February Pew Research Center poll backed hearings and a vote, while an NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey early this month found that more disapprove than approve of Republicans ignoring an Obama nominee by about 2-1.

“Our pollsters say Americans ignore most issues, but they happen to get this one,” said No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Richard Durbin of Illinois.

REPUBLICANS SEE A WINNING ISSUE

Republicans view the politics differently. They see a wash among voters, with the issue strongly energizing both parties’ loyalists but having little impact on those in the middle.

“You can go to every diner in every town in America and you’re not going to find anybody that’s particularly animated about this, unless they’re a base Republican or base Democrat,” said Josh Holmes, a GOP consultant and McConnell adviser.

Both sides say the issue has helped unite party leaders with allied interest groups in what has otherwise been a divisive primary campaign season. That’s particularly unusual for Republicans, with McConnell and ousted House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, favorite targets of grassroots conservative organizations that believe they have been too accommodating of Democrats.

If the GOP ignores any Obama nominee, conservatives have “a really powerful incentive to go out and vote for Republicans,” said Dan Holler, spokesman for Heritage Action for America, a frequent detractor of establishment Republican leaders.

Around 30 representatives of conservative organizations met March 2 with McConnell and Grassley in McConnell’s Capitol office, with GOP leaders urging the groups to activate their members, participants say. The participating groups included the anti-abortion National Right to Life Committee, the NRA and Heritage Action.

Katie Beirne Fallon, Obama’s former legislative affairs chief now helping coordinate liberal organizations’ tactics, met privately with Democratic senators on March 3 to lay out the groups’ plans, said one Democrat.

One virtually certain tactic: Capture the visual of the eventual nominee, trailed by TV cameras, knocking on office doors of GOP senators who have said they won’t meet with the person.

On the conservative side, One Nation — which runs ads and conducts polling and is headed by Steven Law, president of the Republican super PAC American Crossroads — will be “extremely active,” said spokesman Ian Prior.

Conservatives have also started hunting damaging information on potential nominees.

The Judicial Crisis Network’s Severino wrote in The National Review about one of them, federal appeals court Judge Jane Kelly. Severino cited a 2005 newspaper article that said Kelly, then a public defender representing a previously convicted child abuser, argued in court that he was not a threat to society.

Kyle Barry, the liberal Alliance for Justice’s director of justice programs, called Severino’s piece “a smear campaign” for attacking Kelly for doing her job as public defender.

 

MoveOn endorses Sanders in Democratic race

MoveOn.org Political Action on Jan. 12 endorsed U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders for president.

The progressive group’s endorsement is derived from votes cast by members. Sanders won 78.6 percent of the 340,665 votes cast. MoveOn said this was a record number of votes and the largest margin of victory in a presidential endorsement in its history.

Sanders, in a statement released by his campaign, said, “I’m proud to have MoveOn and its community of millions of members join our people-powered campaign. MoveOn has spent more than 17 years bringing people together to fight for progressive change and stand up against big money interests. MoveOn’s fight to give the American people a voice in our political system was reflected in the group’s internal democratic process. I’m humbled by their support and welcome MoveOn’s members to the political revolution.”

Ilya Sheyman, MoveOn.org political action executive director, said in a news release, “This is a massive vote in favor of Bernie Sanders, showing that grassroots progressives across the country are excited and inspired by his message and track record of standing up to big money and corporate interests to reclaim our democracy for the American people. MoveOn members are feeling the Bern. We will mobilize aggressively to add our collective people power to the growing movement behind the Sanders campaign.”

MoveOn pledged to mobilize millions of members in support of Sanders, focusing initially on turning out its 43,000 members in Iowa and 30,000 in New Hampshire.

Sanders is running against Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley for the nomination.

The first votes in the nominating process are less than a month away.

Supreme Court will hear first abortion case since 2007

The Supreme Court is giving an election-year hearing to a dispute over state regulation of abortion clinics in the court’s first abortion case in eight years.

The justices will hear arguments, probably in March, over a Texas law that would leave only about 10 abortion clinics open across the state. A decision should come by late June, four months before the presidential election.

The issue split the court 5-4 the last time the justices decided an abortion case in 2007, and Justice Anthony Kennedy is expected to hold the controlling vote on a divided court.

The case tests whether tough new standards for clinics and the doctors who work in them are reasonable measures intended to protect women’s health or a pretext designed to make abortions hard, if not impossible, to obtain.

Texas clinics challenged the 2013 law as a violation of a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.

The high court previously blocked parts of the Texas law. The court took no action on a separate appeal from Mississippi, where a state law would close the only abortion clinic, in Jackson.

States have enacted a wave of measures in recent years that have placed restrictions on when in a pregnancy abortions may be performed, imposed limits on abortions using drugs instead of surgery and raised standards for clinics and the doctors who work in them.

The new case concerns the last category. In Texas, the fight is over two provisions of the law that then-Gov. Rick Perry signed in 2013. One requires abortion facilities to be constructed like surgical centers. The other allows doctors to perform abortions at clinics only if they have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

Twenty-two states have surgical center requirements for abortion clinics, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports legal access to abortion. Eleven states impose admitting privileges requirements on doctors who perform abortions in clinics, the institute said.

The measures go beyond what is necessary to ensure patients’ safety because the risks from abortions in the first trimester of pregnancy, when the overwhelming majority of abortions are performed, are minimal, the institute said.

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said Texas is one of several states that have enacted “sham laws” to restrict access to abortion.” This law does not advance women’s health and in fact undermines it,” Northup said.

There is no dispute that the law has had a significant impact on Texas clinics. The state had 41 abortion clinics before the clinic law. More than half of those closed when the admitting privileges requirement was allowed to take effect. Nineteen clinics remain.

Northup said the effect of the law has been to increase wait times for women in the Dallas area from an average of five days to 20 days.

The focus of the dispute at the Supreme Court is whether the law imposes what the court has called an undue burden on a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. If allowed to take full effect, the law would leave no abortion clinics west of San Antonio and only one operating on a limited basis in the Rio Grande Valley.

The state has argued that women in west Texas already cross into New Mexico to obtain abortions at a clinic in suburban El Paso.

In its decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in 1992, the court ruled that states generally can regulate abortion unless doing so places an undue burden on women. Casey was a huge victory for abortion-rights advocates because it ended up reaffirming the constitutional right to an abortion that the court established in Roe v. Wade in 1973.

In 2007, a divided court upheld a federal law that bans an abortion procedure that opponents call partial-birth abortion and opened the door to new limits on abortion.

Kennedy was one of three authors of the Casey opinion and he wrote the majority opinion in 2007.

Public opinion polls have consistently shown an edge for abortion rights. Fifty-one percent of Americans think abortion should be legal in most or all cases and 45 percent think it should be illegal in most or all cases, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll in January and February.

The case is Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, 15-274.

Coalition rallies for Milwaukee ID card

A coalition on Nov. 2 rallied in support of a Milwaukee County budget amendment to create a work group to produce a Milwaukee ID card.

After the rally, about 20 people spoke in support of Milwaukee IDs during a hearing held by the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors.

The ID would be available through a partnership between the city and the county.

The budget amendment creating a work group to produce the card passed the county board’s finance committee in late October and will come to a full vote before the county board on Nov. 9. Last week, the public safety committee of the Milwaukee Common Council unanimously backed legislation to include the program in the city’s budget, which was to be voted upon on Nov. 3.

Speakers at the rally included County Supervisors Khalif Rainey, Peggy Romo-West and Marina Dimitrijevic, transgender community members, undocumented immigrants, family members of incarcerated people, and representatives of St. Ben’s Community Meal Program.

“This is about is about giving everyone an opportunity to be included in society,” said Rainey. “You shouldn’t be a member of our community and go to the hospital and not be able to get the services you need. That’s why I’m standing with you in solidarity in support of local ID.”

“I need to have a way to identify myself, to show who I am,” said Guadalupe Romero, a member of Voces de la Frontera. “One of my sons broke his back in a work accident, and had to have a metal bar placed in his spine. You can imagine the pain he was in. The doctors gave him a prescription for pain medicine, but because he didn’t have a government-issued ID card the pharmacist would not give it to him.

“A little while later our pet dog got sick,” continued Romero. When we took him to the veterinarian, we were able to obtain medicine for the dog immediately, and I ask, why? Does my son not have more value than an animal?”

“In many cases, a lack of a government-issued ID is a barrier to domestic violence victims who are attempting to escape abusers,” said Tony Gibart, public policy director of End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin. “First, court documents, such as petitions for divorce, must be notarized, and notaries usually require the presentation of a government-issued ID. Second, applications for federal immigration protections for undocumented victims of domestic violence and their children require possessing a government-issued ID. Providing the opportunity for people to easily obtain a local ID would address these problems.”

“I had to deal through years of shame, and still continue to be shamed for simply declaring: this is who I am,” said transgender woman Livia Rowell-Ortiz. “When I leave my house I am making a conscious decision that I am placing myself in active danger — that it is likely that I be harassed increasingly depending on how visible I am that day, to the extent of fearing going outside at all. It is my hope that this local ID will pass and start the process of ending this shaming with the protection of the county and city of Milwaukee for myself and other transgender persons.”

“We have homeless at St. Ben’s who constantly come to the doors saying they need help in trying to get an ID,” said Br. Rob Roemer, OFM Cap, director of St. Ben’s Community Meal Program. “Often they cannot get their birth certificate that is required to get a State ID. We encourage the county to start offering other forms of ID’s that help the homeless and poor to get the jobs and help they need to get out of their situations.”

The coalition supporting local IDs for Milwaukee includes St. Ben’s Community Meal, Project Return, Wisconsin Jobs Now, Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation and Voces de la Frontera.

Sanders wants end to death penalty

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders called on Oct. 29 for an end to the death penalty, a day after rival Hillary Rodham Clinton stopped short of saying the United States should end capital punishment.

“We are all shocked and disgusted by some of the horrific murders that we see in this country, seemingly every week,” said Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont. “And that is precisely why we should abolish the death penalty. At a time of rampant violence and murder, the state should not be part of that process.”

Clinton’s remark a day earlier to take a “hard look” at abolishing capital punishment gave Sanders an opening to distinguish himself from the former secretary of state, who is the party’s frontrunner in the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Sanders also called for reforming the criminal justice system, which he said puts more people in jail than any other country on Earth and makes it harder for Americans to get back on their feet once they’re out of jail.

“A criminal record stays with a person for his or her entire life-until the day he or she dies,” Sanders said. “If a person has a criminal record, it will be much harder for that person later in life to get a job. Many employers simply will not hire somebody with a criminal record. A criminal record destroys lives.”

Clinton said she thinks there are certain “egregious cases” in which the death penalty should be considered, “but I’d like to see those be very limited and rare.”

Sanders would remove marijuana from list of federally outlawed drugs

Citing a recent FBI report that someone in the United States is arrested every minute on marijuana charges, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders told a nationwide meeting of college students on Oct. 28 that he would take marijuana off the federal government’s list of outlawed drugs.

Speaking from George Mason University to 250 online student meetings in all 50 states, Sanders said, “In the United States we have 2.2 million people in jail today, more than any other country. And we’re spending about $80 billion a year to lock people up. We need major changes in our criminal justice system – including changes in drug laws.”

“Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use. That’s wrong. That has got to change,” he added.

Under the senator’s proposal, people in states which legalize marijuana no longer would be subject to federal prosecution for using pot. Owners of stores that sell marijuana could fully participate in the banking system, like any other business.

States which want to regulate marijuana would remain free to do so the same way local laws now govern sales of alcohol and tobacco. Sanders, a candidate for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, would continue to allow federal law enforcement officials to arrest and prosecute drug dealers for trafficking in marijuana sales.

Highlighting the proposal as part of a criminal justice reform agenda, Sanders noted that there were 620,000 marijuana possession arrests in 2014. That’s one a minute, according to The Washington Post.

Sanders pointed to marijuana arrests as another example of the disparate treatment of African-Americans by the criminal justice system. Although about the same proportion of blacks and whites use marijuana, a black person is almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, the American Civil Liberties Union has found.

Arrests for marijuana possession rose nationwide last year even as Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize the use of marijuana, followed by Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia.

The legalization movement may spread next year when marijuana decriminalization advocates plan to put the question to voters on ballots in Nevada, Arizona and California.

A 2012 estimate calculated that about 20,000-30,000 people are in prison on marijuana possession.

Sanders, Clinton set tone for leadoff presidential caucuses

Bernie Sanders sharpened the contrast with Hillary Rodham Clinton on a bevy of liberal causes over the weekend, casting himself as a principled progressive before thousands of Iowa Democrats in an appearance that could set the tone for the leadoff presidential caucuses in February.

Sanders, the independent Vermont senator, never mentioned Clinton by name at the high-profile fundraising dinner but implicitly criticized her delayed opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Keystone XL pipeline as well as her vote in favor of the Iraq war and passage of the Defense of Marriage Act during her husband’s administration.

“I promise you tonight as your president I will govern based on principle not poll numbers,” Sanders said, eliciting roars from his supporters.

Clinton did not respond in kind, making the case that she would be best equipped to take on the Republicans. “I hear Donald Trump when he says we have to make America great again,” Clinton said. “America is great — we just have to make it fair and just.”

Clinton and Sanders sit atop a Democratic presidential field that was effectively pared down to two after Vice President Joe Biden announced this week he would not seek the nomination.

Clinton made a direct appeal to Biden’s supporters, saying that the vice president has been at Obama’s side every step of the way. “He has fought passionately for middle-class families and middle-class values,” she said.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who trails both by a wide margin, reached for a breakout performance at the dinner, presenting himself as a fresh face in the party, who got things done in his home state.

“We cannot move beyond today’s gridlocked politics by returning to the divisions of our past,” O’Malley said. “I’m not about that.”

The speech marked a more aggressive turn by Sanders, who struggled at times to scrutinize Clinton’s record during their first debate in Las Vegas earlier this month.

In that encounter, Clinton offered a full-throated rebuke of Sanders’ record on gun control, noting his opposition to the 1993 Brady Bill and his backing of a 2005 law that shields gun manufacturers, distributors and dealers from most liability lawsuits.

This time, Clinton only made a passing reference to Sanders on gun control, saying, “I won’t be silent” on the issue.

Sanders, meanwhile, pointedly assailed the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act during Bill Clinton’s administration, saying, “some are trying to rewrite history by saying they voted for one anti-gay law to stop something worse. That’s not the case.” Hillary Clinton said in an interview with MSNBC last week that the law was signed as a “defensive action.”

Sanders vowed “not to abandon any segment of American society whether you’re gay or black or Latino or poor or working class _ just because it is politically expedient at a given time.”

Clinton placed third in Iowa in 2008 and has since built a formidable organization to power her to victory here.

Eight years ago, Obama suggested Clinton was motivated by polls and triangulation while the then-New York senator countered that “change is just a word” unless you have the strength and experience to lead.

This time, Clinton presented herself as Obama’s heir, warning Republicans would seek to slash taxes for the wealthy and repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law.

“I’m running as a proud Democrat,” the former secretary of state said to a large cheering section that waved blue neon sticks. “We need to defend the progress we’ve made under President Obama and build on it until the recovery is secure.”

But Republicans insisted over the weekend that today’s Hillary Clinton is the same one who ran eight years ago.

“The Hillary Clinton of 2015 is no different than the Hillary Clinton from 2007, who at the time refused to be straightforward with Iowans,” said Republican National Committee spokesman Fred Brown. “Things haven’t changed.”

One hundred days remain before Iowans nominate their presidential candidates, and the state Democratic party’s annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner drew a raucous crowd of more than 6,600 activists in what traditionally serves as a kickoff to the Iowa caucuses.

It capped a daylong pageant of political activities: Former President Bill Clinton headlined his first rally of the campaign, introducing pop singer Katy Perry at a free concert for Clinton’s faithful. Sanders led cheering supporters across a Des Moines bridge in a march that included chants of “Hey, hey, ho, ho, the oligarchy has to go!”

Clinton’s campaign has been on an upswing this month. She received a boost from Biden’s decision not to run, then put together a grinding, competent appearance before a Republican-led congressional committee probing the deadly 2012 attacks on diplomatic outposts in Benghazi, Libya.

Two lesser-known rivals, Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee, abandoned the race following Clinton’s strong performance on Oct. 13 in the first primary debate.

The dinner, called the “J-J,” was an important showcase for Sanders, a Vermont independent who has drawn large crowds with his calls for a “political revolution” but trails Clinton in national polls.

Playing the role of underdog, Sanders drew a comparison with Obama. “I think we are going to prove the pundits wrong again. I think we are going to make history one more time.”