Andy Beshear won the Kentucky governor’s race last month by a mere 0.5 percent margin. This week, he assumes office. He has pledged to make two extraordinarily important changes immediately upon taking the reins of power: First, he’s going to end Kentucky’s cruel efforts to impose workfare requirements on Medicaid recipients; second, he’s going to restore voting rights to tens of thousands of Kentuckians convicted of nonviolent felonies who have completed their sentences.
Andy’s father, former Governor Steve Beshear, signed an executive order restoring the vote to roughly 100,000 people in 2015, but his successor, Republican Matt Bevin, reversed the order. Now Beshear Jr. is reversing the reversal. And Democrats in the statehouse are determined to put a measure on the 2020 ballot, similar to Florida’s Amendment 4, that would automatically reenfranchise felons upon completion of their sentences.
Regarding health care access, Bevin tried to implement a workfare requirement for Medicaid that would have reduced Kentucky’s rolls by about 95,000 people. The plans, which were temporarily blocked by the courts, are now going to be discarded.
You might have missed these developments because of all the Noise about Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump’s insecure, Russia-compromised cell-phone connections; or the White House’s shrill—and unconstitutional—refusal to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.
If Kentucky’s example doesn’t convince you that voting matters, ponder what’s happening to the nation’s federal courts. Late last week, a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that the Trump administration was within its rights to fundamentally rewrite immigration policy via a draconian reinterpretation of the public charge rule—and the Ninth Circuit is supposed to be the bastion of liberalism! The two judges who sided with the administration were appointed by President George W. Bush. Unfortunately, they have been joined in recent years by several more conservatives.
For now, that ruling is more symbolic than practical in its impact, since courts in New York and in Maryland have already imposed nationwide injunctions against the new public charge rules. But it’s a stark warning that if the federal courts fundamentally shift to the right, it will become much harder to protect the basic rights that are under sustained attack by Trump and the GOP.
Trump is tolerated by the GOP-led Senate mainly because he keeps delivering the judicial goods, nominating a slew of anti-abortion, pro-gun, anti-LGBT, pro-corporate, anti-environmental, hostile-to-immigrants judges. As of early November, 158 of his judicial nominees had been confirmed by the Senate, all to lifetime appointments. These include two Supreme Court justices as well as roughly one quarter of all appeals court judges. Astoundingly, more judges now on the Ninth Circuit, have been appointed by Trump than by any other single president. If Number 45 gets reelected, it’s a fair bet that even the Ninth Circuit will eventually have a conservative majority.
Pew Research data on voting habits indicate that people are discouraged from voting for a variety of reasons, but 8 percent of voting-age Americans say that casting a ballot doesn’t matter. No offense to the tens of millions who don’t bother to vote, but that is baloney. Elections clearly do matter. Look no further than Kentucky or the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.