Discover more from Letters from an American
April 11, 2023 (Tuesday)
The dramatic events in Nashville last week, when Republican legislators expelled state representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, two young Black men, for speaking out of turn when they joined protesters calling for gun safety, highlighted a demographic problem facing the Republican Party.
Members of Gen Z, the generation born between 1997 and 2012, grew up doing active shooter drills in their schools, and they want gun safety legislation. And yet, Republicans are so wedded to the gun industry and guns as part of party members’ identity that today, one day after five people died in a mass shooting in Louisville, Kentucky—including a close friend of Kentucky governor Andrew Beshear—the Indiana Senate Republicans passed a resolution honoring the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Later this week, Republican leaders will speak at the NRA’s annual convention in Indianapolis, where firearms, as well as backpacks, glass containers, signs, and umbrellas, are prohibited. Those speakers will include former president Trump and former vice president Mike Pence.
The resolution and the speeches at the NRA convention seem an unfortunate juxtaposition to the recent mass shootings.
Abortion rights are also a place where the Republican Party is out of step with the majority of Americans and especially with people of childbearing age. Last Tuesday, Janet Protasiewicz, who promised to protect reproductive rights, won the election for the Wisconsin Supreme Court by an astonishing 11 points in a state where elections are often decided by less than a point. Victor Shi of Voters of Tomorrow reported that the youth turnout of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, increased 240% since the last spring general election in 2019. Youth turnout at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, increased 232%. Almost 90% of those young people voted for Protasiewicz.
And yet the party needs to grapple with last Friday’s ruling by Trump-appointed Texas federal judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk that the Food and Drug Administration improperly approved mifepristone, a drug used for more than 50% of medically induced abortions, and that it must be removed from the market. The party also must grapple with a new Idaho law that makes it illegal for minors to leave the state to get an abortion without the consent of their parents.
In New York today, Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg pushed back against Republican overreach of a different sort when he filed a lawsuit in federal court against Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) in his official role as chair of the House Judiciary Committee, the committee itself, and Mark Pomerantz, whom the committee recently subpoenaed, in response to a “brazen and unconstitutional attack by members of Congress on an ongoing New York State criminal prosecution and investigation of former President Donald J. Trump.”
The lawsuit accuses Jordan of engaging in “a transparent campaign to intimidate and attack District Attorney Bragg” and to use congressional powers to intervene improperly in a state criminal prosecution. Like any defendant, the lawsuit says, Trump had every right to challenge his indictment in court. But rather than let that process play out, Jordan and the Republican-dominated Judiciary Committee “are participating in a campaign of intimidation, retaliation, and obstruction” that has led to multiple death threats against Bragg. Bragg’s office "has received more than 1,000 calls and emails from Mr. Trump's supporters,“ the complaint reads, “many of which are threatening and racially charged."
“Members of Congress are not free to invade New York’s sovereign authority for their or Mr. Trump’s political aims,” the document says. “Congress has no authority to ‘conduct oversight’ into District Attorney Bragg’s exercise of his duties under New York Law in a single case involving a single defendant.”
While Jordan and the Republicans defend Trump, there is a mounting crisis in the West, where two decades of drought have brought water levels in the region’s rivers to dangerously low levels. According to Benji Jones of Vox, who interviewed the former director of the Water Resources Program at the University of New Mexico, John Fleck, last year about the crisis, the problem has deep roots.
One hundred years ago, government officials significantly overestimated the water available in the Colorado River System when they divided it among Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming through the Colorado River Compact of 1922. The compact provided a formula for dividing up the water in the 1450 miles of the Colorado River. It was designed to stop the states from fighting over the resource, although an Arizona challenge to the system was not resolved until the 1960s. On the basis of the water promised by the compact, the region filled with people—40 million—and with farms that grow much of the country’s supply of winter vegetables.
Now, after decades of drought exacerbated by the overuse permitted by the Colorado River Compact and by climate change, Lake Powell and Lake Mead have fallen to critical levels. Something must be done before the river water disappears not only from the U.S., but also from Mexico, which in 1944 was also guaranteed a cut of the water from the Colorado River. The seven states in the compact have been unable to reach an agreement about cutting water use.
Today the Interior Department released an environmental review of the situation that offered three possible solutions. One is to continue to follow established water rights, which would prioritize the California farmland that produces food. This would largely shut off water to Phoenix and Los Angeles. Another option is to cut water distribution evenly across Arizona, California, and Nevada. The third option, doing nothing, risks destroying the water supply entirely, as well as cutting the hydropower produced by the Glen Canyon and Hoover dams.
There is a 45-day period for public comment on the plans, and it appears that the threat of the federal government to impose a solution may light a fire under the states to come up with their own agreement, but it is unlikely they will worry much about Mexico’s share of the water. Historically, states have been unable to agree on how to divide a precious resource, and the federal government has had to step in to create a fair agreement.
Meanwhile, back in Tennessee, the fallout from last week’s events continues. Judd Legum has reported in Popular Information that Tennessee House speaker Cameron Sexton, a Republican, doesn’t live in his district as state law requires. And Tennessee investigative reporter Phil Williams of News Channel 5 reports that state representative Paul Sherrell, “who recently suggested bringing back lynching as a form of capital punishment, has been removed from the House Criminal Justice Committee.”