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Simmering Disputes Over Statehood Are About Politics And Race. They Always Have Been – NPR



Six-year-old Mary “Dodie” Brown holds a copy of the 1959 special Hawaii statehood edition of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

George Bacon/Hawaii State Archives

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George Bacon/Hawaii State Archives

When Arthur Roland Kam thinks back to 1959, he remembers how everyone around him felt a huge political shift as Hawaii became the country’s 50th state.

“For a Hawaiian citizen, it was great because it had been a long time coming,” Kam describes. He was 28 years old, working for Pan Am on the island of Oahu.

“It was a big moment in my lifetime, to know that we are part of the union now,” he says of the pride he felt. “To me, it was a moment to cherish. Now, we have a star on the flag. And that star is Hawaii.”

But as the years have passed, many Hawaiians began to mark August 21, the anniversary of statehood, with solemnity, reflecting on the history of the United States’ seizure and colonization of the Independent Kingdom of Hawai’i.

“There were benefits and protections that came with statehood, but there’s still a painful aspect to the whole history of Hawaii and its overthrow, annexation and statehood,” says Sen. Maisie Hirono, D-Hawaii. “There are a lot of people who do not consider [today] as a time of celebration because of the painful history,” she adds.

Hawaii’s journey to statehood was a complicated one, marked by a series of political calculations and maneuverings in Congress that were amplified by undercurrents — and very often overt displays — of racism.

That story resonates today in the political disputes over the prospect for statehood for the District of Columbia, which has faded from headlines but not disappeared entirely after a push by House Democrats earlier this year.

They called it an issue of justice and fairness; Republicans called it an attempted power grab.

Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., for example, said this month that she worries that if Joe Biden is elected president and Democrats gain a governing majority, they’ll try to make states of D.C. and Puerto Rico. McSally implied the territories’ racial makeup would mean they’d likely be easy seats for Democrats to keep and hold.

“We’d never get the Senate back again,” McSally said of the GOP.

Hawaii’s fraught path to statehood

Race and its implications often are subplots in a state’s accession.

In 1893, the monarchy of Hawaii, under Queen Lili’uokalani, was overthrown by white settlers. Five years later, the U.S. annexed Hawaii despite local opposition and protests.

Petitions for statehood began in the first twenty years of Hawaii’s territorial status, a process that intensified during the 1930s when sugar interests were threatened by Congressional legislation and the powerful sugar lobby got behind the statehood cause.

“The pressure from within Hawaii for annexation was from an economic elite of Europeans and European Americans seeking economic, political and military protection,” says Roger Bell, author of “Last Among Equals,” which documents the history of Hawaii’s path to statehood.

“The criteria for statehood the Congress imposes include that the population of the territory seeking statehood must demonstrate that they are sympathetic to and imbued with the principles of what Congress called ‘American democracy,'” Bell explains. “In other words, that they were Americanized politically and culturally.”

During World War II, Hawaii’s majority nonwhite population was regarded with suspicion, asked to demonstrate its loyalty to the United States over Japan. But fears over disloyalty faded after the war, in part because of the heroic efforts of the Japanese-American-led 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

Former Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner presents the Congressional Gold Medal to Susumu Ito of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an Army unit comprised of Japanese Americans from Hawaii which became the most decorated unit for its size and service.

Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

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Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

Statehood efforts accelerated again following the war, but not without new political and racial roadblocks.

In the mid-1950s, Hawaii shifted from being Republican to largely Democratic, which prompted Democrats to increase their push for statehood efforts for both Hawaii and Alaska, another Democratic territory, hoping to boost influence in the Senate by four votes.

Senators from the south flatly rejected statehood.

“The profile of Hawaii racially and culturally was a threat to the rigid patterns of race relations in the American South and to the southern way of life, which was a euphemism, of course, for protecting segregation,” Bell describes.

Some senators were transparent about their motivations in keeping the prospective state out of the union.

Admission of Hawaii would mean “two votes for socialized medicines, two votes for government ownership of industry, two votes against all racial segregation and two votes against the South on all social matters,” said Sen. James Eastland, D-Miss.

A group of supporters of statehood drive through the street in Waikiki, Honolulu, Hawaii, on March 13, 1959.


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“Perhaps we should become the United States of the Pacific and finally should become the United States of the Orient,” said Sen. George Smathers, D-Fla.

Efforts stalled, which frustrated then-President Harry Truman, who observed privately that many southerners “still have that antebellum pro-slavery outlook.”

“The main difficulty with the South is that they are living eighty years behind the times and the sooner they come out of it, the better it will be for the country and themselves,” he wrote in a 1948 letter.

Seven months before it would officially become a state, the Republican County Committee in Hawaii sent petitions to Congress for statehood.

“Our people have willingly and patriotically accepted and complied with any and all national requests, mandates or patriotic obligations required from all American citizens; be it in peace, or in war,” it reminded Congress.

President Dwight Eisenhower helps unfurl the new 50-star flag on Aug. 21, 1959 after signing a proclamation making Hawaii the 50th state of the union. At right is Daniel K. Inouye, Democratic congressman-elect from Hawaii.

Byron Rollins/AP

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Byron Rollins/AP

In 1959, President Dwight Eisenhower signed legislation making Hawaii America’s 50th state.

It wasn’t until 1993 that the “Apology Resolution” passed in Congress, which “apologizes to Natives Hawaiians … for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii … and the deprivation of the rights of native Hawaiians to self-determination.”

Not just Hawaii

Before the Civil War, two states were generally admitted to the union at the same time in order to prevent one party, and thereby the divided north and south, from gaining a political advantage.

“You had, up through the 1850s, this idea of balancing: that one state would come in as a free state and one state would come in as a slave state,” says Paul Frymer, professor of politics at Princeton University and author of “Building an American Empire.”

Following the Civil War, the dominant Republican Party looked westward to seize land and break it into states they believed would be Republican.

In what Frymer describes as one of the “biggest hang-ups at the end of the 19th century,” the last two states on the continent – New Mexico and Arizona – vied for statehood.

“Arizona was always settled by more whites than New Mexico was,” Frymer explains. “They both pushed for statehood, but there was more support for Arizona. And here you see both partisan politics, with two parties fighting over what would constitute a state, and then racial politics.”

Much of the statehood debate over New Mexico, which had joined the U.S. as a territory in 1850, hinged on race.

“The conversation in Congress was, ‘Was the state white? Was there a majority white population? Was there a large enough white population that spoke English?’ All of these types of terminology were applied to what was largely an indigenous and formerly Mexican population,” Frymer says.

Republican Sen. Lot Morril of Maine went so far as to call New Mexico’s residents “Indians — the men that we hunt when we have nothing else to do in the summer season.”

Statehood for New Mexico failed to pass until 1912, when Congress felt satisfied the population was “American” enough.

Will there ever be more stars on the flag?

Puerto Rico’s governor’s race in November may bring with it a renewed effort to embrace statehood efforts. Former congressional representative Pedro Pierluisi defeated Gov. Wanda Vázquez in the primary election and is a supporter of statehood.

This summer, the House of Representatives cast a historic vote to grant statehood to D.C, whose residents overwhelmingly support admission as a state.

But strong Republican opposition in Congress and the White House dooms any movement on that legislation.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told TV host Laura Ingraham last year that any Democratic push for D.C. statehood is “full-bore socialism on the march in the House,” a comment that critics felt hearkened back to justifications for keeping Hawaii out of the union.

President Trump has been even more explicit about his reasons for opposing D.C. statehood, telling The New York Post: “Why? So we can have two more Democratic — Democrat senators and five more congressmen? No, thank you. That’ll never happen.”

A day before the House passed the legislation, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, issued a speech on the Senate floor categorizing statehood efforts as a power grab by Democrats and seemingly dismissing the value of District residents.

“Yes, Wyoming is smaller than Washington by population, but it has three times as many workers in mining, logging and construction, and 10 times as many workers in manufacturing,” Cotton said. “In other words, Wyoming is a well-rounded working-class state.”

His comments prompted outrage on social media, with many pointing out the civil rights implications of the district’s lack of representation. The city has been majority-minority since the 1950s and of its over 705,000 residents, 46% are Black.

But Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., says he views the push for statehood as purely political.

“If your interest is solely to be able to vote for representatives in Congress, you could have retrocession occur,” he says, referencing small efforts in recent years to cede the city’s land back to Maryland, a plan that would not change the number of senators.

“I think the most telling political thing is that when the retrocession bill to Maryland was introduced 10 years ago in Congress, no Democrats co-sponsored it, which belies the fact that the goal is a political goal, because if the goal was just representation then retrocession to Maryland would work,” Harris says.

Harris says even if Democrats win back the Senate and the White House this November, D.C. statehood is far from guaranteed.

“The constitutionality would immediately be argued,” he says. “I think the Supreme Court will ultimately agree that this is an issue of changing the Constitution because the federal capital city is described in the Constitution and the authorities over that capital city.”

It’s the kind of opposition Sen. Hirono expects.

“I think there will be a lot of Republican resistance to having any state that will create more seats that would go Democratic,” she says. “Especially now in this much divided political environment.”

Frymer, of Princeton, says if the tables were turned, and D.C. was a Republican stronghold, it’s unlikely the Democratic party would be rushing to grant statehood.

“No party wants one state to come in that’s going to boost the other party. That’s why historically, both parties have looked for some type of balance,” he says.

“To me, this is one of those issues that historically will be resolved. The pressure is going to continue to build and build over time. The question is, when will the moment occur that the United States finally embraces it?”

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Covid: How the coronavirus pandemic is redefining Scottish politics – BBC News



The pandemic has probably done more than anything to define Scottish devolution in 21 years of Holyrood decision making.

Before coronavirus, the Scottish Parliament’s policy choices – from free personal care for the elderly to minimum pricing of alcohol – made it distinctive.

Now, Scottish ministers are making life and death decisions affecting everybody almost every day.

The exercise of emergency powers to combat Covid-19 commands public attention like nothing before.

We’ve had six months of lockdown restrictions and after a recent period of relaxation, they are tightening again as coronavirus cases rise.

Paying attention is essential to knowing whether or not you can go to work, visit your granny or have friends round for dinner.

It is First Minister Nicola Sturgeon rather than the prime minister, Boris Johnson, who is deciding for Scotland because public health is devolved.

Many of her decisions so far have matched those by the UK government for England and the devolved administrations for Wales and Northern Ireland.

That was especially true in the early stages of the crisis when there was much talk of a four nations approach – but differences have emerged over time.

The Scottish government has generally been more cautious about lifting restrictions than the UK government.

Bars and restaurants stayed closed in Scotland for longer and it was slower to lift quarantine for people arriving from Spain, before this was reimposed across the UK.

By contrast, the Scottish government was the first in the UK to restore full-time classroom education in schools after the summer.

Scottish ministers did coordinate with the other administrations to introduce the “rule of six” for people attending social gatherings.

However, on closer inspection, the Scottish rule differs from that for England in two key respects.

It is more restrictive in limiting the six people to two different households and more flexible in exempting children under the age of 12.

This is devolved decision making in action as never before.

Some argue divergence across the UK is confusing and undesirable, but opinion polls consistently suggest the Scottish public trust Holyrood to set the pace.

After a period in which Conservatives argued that Scotland should leave lockdown in lockstep with the rest of the UK, a multi-speed approach became accepted.

The pandemic, however unwanted, has given Ms Sturgeon an opportunity to demonstrate leadership and the public seems to appreciate that too.

An Ipsos Mori survey for BBC Scotland in May suggested 82% of people thought Ms Sturgeon was handling the pandemic either very or fairly well.

By contrast, only 30% from the same sample of around 1,000 Scottish adults gave Boris Johnson similar credit.

More recent polling has produced similar indications even although coronavirus outcomes are not profoundly different between the UK nations.

The Office for National Statistics reported that England had the highest increase in excess deaths in Europe to the end of May. At that point, Scotland had the third highest behind Spain.

While politicians of all stripes have been working to suppress coronavirus, coronavirus has suppressed much of our everyday politics.

Previous Holyrood priorities like completing an expansion of free childcare, introducing new devolved benefits and reviewing the school curriculum have been deferred.

Major controversies such as the Scottish government’s mishandling of complaints about the behaviour of the former first minister, Alex Salmond, seem less potent.

Independence referendum

The Scottish government parked preparations for an independence referendum in 2020 to prioritise its response to the pandemic.

That has not meant opinion on the major constitutional question in Scottish politics has remained static.

As coronavirus has swept the country, a trend has emerged in opinion polls suggesting there is now majority support in Scotland for independence.

Some analysts suggest this could be directly linked to the focus on devolved leadership in the crisis.

The trend has worried Conservatives enough to change their Scottish party leader and some in Scottish Labour have unsuccessfully tried to change theirs.

Those who favour the union point out that Scotland has been supported by what they call the “broad shoulders” of the UK economy throughout the pandemic.

Lockdown is largely underwritten by the Treasury with huge funding for furlough and other schemes to support business.

Nationalists say this help would be replicated by Holyrood if it had the economic powers of independence.

Unionists question the scope for doing so in a country which, as a devolved part of the UK, had a notional deficit of £15bn before the pandemic took full effect.

Economics will always be important in the debate over independence as will the public’s sense of identity.

In the 2014 referendum, Scotland voted 55%-45% for continued union. If indyref2 was held tomorrow, the polls suggest the result would go the other way.

There is much that could sway opinion further – both for and against independence – in the coming months.

The economic crisis the pandemic brings, the impact of Brexit and the efforts of politicians to overcome the continuing health emergency could all have a bearing.

The public could weary of politicians telling them what they can and can’t do especially if their livelihoods are on the line.

Arguments over all this and more will find expression in the campaign for next May’s Holyrood elections.

Together with elections to the Welsh Assembly and local government in England, these will be the first major votes of the pandemic.

A pandemic that has already given new definition to devolved power and could be playing a role in shaping opinion on the future of the Union

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The two most divisive events in US politics are about to take place at the same time – CNN



The US President now plans to make a third pick for the nine-person bench on the highest court in the land. He will almost certainly enshrine an unassailable 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court, which means that political change launched by any future Democratic presidents and Congress could be undone by the Court’s constitutional interpretations — no matter what the majority of the nation wants.
Appointed for a lifetime, justices can change over the years, sometimes in a way that surprises and annoys the presidents who nominated them. They are also supposed to respect precedent, so it’s impossible to say how the high court will behave on all issues.
But there is now a very real prospect that a woman’s right to an abortion, guaranteed by the 1973 case Roe v. Wade, could be overturned or limited. A conservative-dominated Supreme Court could also roll back future attempts to regulate gun laws, hinder attempts to regulate polluters in the fight against climate change, and embolden challenges to legislation on voting rights and outlawing racial discrimination. And fear is growing among supporters of same sex marriage, only legalized in 2015.
Former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, which allowed millions to buy insurance plans, already looks to be in trouble. The court will hear the Trump administration’s attempt to kill it off after the election. Even if Trump’s latest pick is not yet in place and Chief Justice John Roberts votes to save the law for a third time, a potential 4-4 tie among justices would mean a lower court ruling invalidating it would stand.
Demographic trends in the United States look unappealing for Republicans; there is a strong argument that the country will become more secular, urban, socially liberally, and racially diverse in the next few decades. But a conservative Supreme Court could be a bulwark against political change — one reason why conservatives have spent several generations working toward building this majority and why Democrats will long curse their failure to beat Trump in the 2016 election that opened the way to this extraordinarily important moment.

‘What was then a hypothetical is now a reality’

Two Republican senators so far have said they would oppose taking up a Supreme Court nomination before Election Day — Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. “For weeks, I have stated that I would not support taking up a potential Supreme Court vacancy this close to the election. Sadly, what was then a hypothetical is now our reality, but my position has not changed,” Murkowski said Sunday. “I did not support taking up a nomination eight months before the 2016 election to fill the vacancy created by the passing of Justice (Antonin) Scalia. We are now even closer to the 2020 election — less than two months out — and I believe the same standard must apply.”

Battles ahead

The two most divisive, tumultuous events in American politics — a Supreme Court nomination battle and a presidential election — are about to take place at the same time.
The President is expected to name his nominee to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg this week. He has promised to name a woman, and Republicans will rush to try to get her onto the bench either before November’s election or shortly afterwards.
Democrats are furious, rightly accusing Republicans of gross hypocrisy: In 2016, when conservative Justice Scalia died in February of that year —months before the election — Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell refused to even consider then-President Barack Obama’s nominee, saying voters should ultimately decide who should get to fill the vacant seat. Now, with a Republican in the White House and the election just 44 days away, McConnell is refusing to apply the same principle.
The Kentucky senator’s power play four years ago turned out to be one of the shrewdest and most ruthless moves in modern American politics, paving the way for the court’s conservative majority. There’s little Democrats can do to stop McConnell pressing ahead. Even if Joe Biden wins the election and Democrats win back the Senate in November, McConnell could still plow onward to confirm Trump’s pick in a lame duck session of Congress before new lawmakers arrive in January.
That prospect has some Democrats — who believe the chance of building a liberal majority on the nation’s top bench has been stolen from them, are thinking of nuclear options — like expanding the size of the court itself if they win back the Senate.
The sudden Supreme Court fight could also have unpredictable knock-on effects on the election itself. It will allow Trump to try to take the focus off the pandemic and to solidify his standing among evangelical and socially conservative voters who might frown at his morals — but for whom a conservative Supreme Court is a life and death voting issue. But reviving the fight over abortion in the nominating battle may alienate suburban women voters Trump needs to win a second term (they are already moving away from him) and vulnerable Republican senators might prefer not take a stand on an issue that could anger the moderates they need for survival. Meanwhile, the vacancy has already electrified the left and could drive more Biden voters to the polls.

‘Nobody’s buying this’

Sweeping UN sanctions have now been placed on Iran — according to the US and literally nobody else. As other signatories to the Iran nuclear deal point out, the Trump administration’s invocation this weekend of sanctions from the JCPOA holds little legal power, since the US quit that very same deal more than two years ago. “The whole world is saying that nothing special has happened. Mr. (US Secretary of State Mike) Pompeo’s fantasy, he is fantasizing this. He wants to make everyone believe this but nobody’s buying this,” said Iranian Foreign Minister spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh at a Sunday press briefing in Tehran. But the question is how far the US might go to enforce that “fantasy.”

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Vaughn Palmer: 'The best way forward is to put politics behind us,' says Horgan – Vancouver Sun



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“This has not been a time of instability in government,” she told reporters in blasting Horgan for calling an election that was as unnecessary as it was irresponsible. “This has been a time of unbelievable co-operation and collaboration for the people of B.C.”

The Greens (including Weaver) provided the NDP with the necessary support on every confidence measure over three years and counting.

“We have adhered to every part of that (CASA) agreement,” insisted Furstenau. “But what that agreement didn’t stipulate was absolute total obedience to the NDP.”

Absolute total obedience to the NDP.

There, I suggest, is what Horgan actually seeks with this election call: an obedient legislative majority that he can bend to his will, as surely as he has already stifled those skeptics in the party and government who questioned the wisdom of an early election.

“The final decision rests with me and me alone,” Horgan told reporters Monday. “I take full responsibility for it.”

In one breath, he insisted that he wasn’t presuming he would win the landslide suggested by the opinion polls: “I am not taking anything for granted.”

In another breath, he made it sound as if victory was already in the bag: “I have never been more confident that this is the time to ask British Columbians where they want to go.”

Then came a real thigh-slapper: “The best way forward is to put politics behind us,” said Horgan.

Right. Nothing like double-crossing your allies and springing an unnecessary election in the midst of a global pandemic to put politics behind us. 

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