Organization founded by LeBron James and other Black athletes turns focus to fighting GOP-backed bills restricting voter access

By Dan Merica | CNN

The political organization founded by NBA superstar LeBron James and a host of other Black athletes and artists will kick off its post-2020 work with a focus on the wave of Republican-backed legislation aimed at restricting voter access in the wake of the latest presidential election.

More Than A Vote will use the 2021 NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta to draw attention to recent efforts by Republican lawmakers in Georgia to make it harder for people to vote by pushing for restrictive election laws. The group is kicking off a campaign named Protect Our Power, which, in addition to fighting these laws in states across the country, will look to mobilize Black voters in off-year and municipal elections.

The new program will be punctuated by a new ad campaign voiced by James himself, in which the NBA icon argues that the success his group and others had at registering and turning out voters during the 2020 election led directly to Republicans looking to make it more difficult to vote.

“Look what we did. Look what we made happen. What our voices made possible,” James says as images and video of activism ahead of the 2020 elections plays. “And now, look what they’re trying to do to silence us. Using every trick in the book. And attacking democracy itself. Because they saw what we’re capable of and they fear it.”

He adds: “So this isn’t the time to put your feet up or to think posting hashtags and black squares is enough. Because for us, this was never about one election. It’s always been More Than A Vote. It’s a fight that’s just getting started. And we’ve been ready. You with us?”

The group said that a 30-second cut of the ad will premier during coverage of the All-Star Game on Sunday. The ad will be part of a broader focus on voting rights during the All-Star Game — the group announced earlier in the week that they have partnered with the NBA and the players union to highlight attacks on voting around the game.

“We are in a position to let the world know and, in particular, let people who are new to the process or not as engaged with politics know, that these fights around voter suppression don’t just take place during an election year,” said Addisu Demissie, the executive director of More Than A Vote.

Michael Tyler, a spokesman for the group, added that they want to make clear that while “there has been a change of leadership at the federal level, in order to secure lasting justice, people have to maintain a sense of engagement at the local and state level year in and year out.”

A secondary goal for the group is to signal to people that the kind of activism they saw from athletes during former President Donald Trump’s administration would not be ending with his loss.

“We called ourselves more than a vote for a reason,” said Demissie. “This is us planting the flag that athletes being activists is not just going to stop because the 2020 election cycle is over.”

Republican lawmakers, spurred on by Trump’s repeated false claims about fraud in the 2020 election, have begun to push restrictive voting changes across the country, with the Republican State Leadership Committee leading the charge to roll back provisions that expanded the vote in key states. The group claims their aim is to “restore the American people’s confidence in the integrity of their free and fair elections” by “making it easier to vote and harder to cheat,” parroting Trump’s baseless claims.

The Brennan Center for Justice found last month that more than 250 bills aimed at limiting voter access have been filed since the election.

More Than A Vote will begin with a focus on Georgia, a state that became a leading battleground after Joe Biden became the first Democratic presidential nominee since 1992 to win there in November and both US Senate elections were won by Democrats in January. The group will partner with Black Voters Matter Fund, Fair Fight Action, Georgia NAACP and the New Georgia Project.

The plan, said group organizers, is to expand work done in Georgia to other states where stricter voting laws may be passed, including Pennsylvania, Florida and Arizona.

“Black and brown voters changed the game in 2020, so in response, lawmakers are trying to change the rules in 2021,” said Renee Montgomery, a WNBA player who opted to forgo the 2020 season to focus on social justice. Montgomery became a More Than A Vote member and is now a co-owner of the Atlanta Dream, her former team.

“We know that as athletes and as leaders we have to keep our foot on the gas to protect our power, preserve and expand our voting rights, and to continue turning moments into momentum,” she said. “More Than a Vote is just getting started.”

More Than A Vote was founded in the run-up to the 2020 election, providing James and others with a vehicle to help register Black voters and turn them out in the November election. The group currently boasts dozens of professional athletes and artists as members, including NFL quarterback Patrick Mahomes, American tennis star Sloane Stephens and comedian Kevin Hart.

James has long been one of the nation’s most politically active and outspoken athletes and he used his platform to routinely criticize Trump. The basketball star recently got into a spat with Swedish soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who said athletes like James should stay out of politics.

James responded by saying he would “never shut up about things that are wrong” and that there is “no way I would ever just stick to sports, because I understand how powerful this platform and my voice is.”

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Political spotlight will shine on O.C. in 2018

The Buzz is the Register’s weekly political news column.

The new year could redefine the political reputation of Orange County, long known as “America’s Most Republican County.” Here are the big stories to watch.

Battle for the House

Orange County is at the heart of Democrats’ effort to take control of the House of Representatives. Twenty-four seats would need to be flipped and the county is home to four of the targeted districts, thanks to the county’s shifting demographics and to Hillary Clinton winning all four of those GOP-held congressional districts in 2016.

So far, there were 32 challengers for those four seats — including 25 Democrats who backed up their aspirations with several million dollars of early fundraising last year.

Several prominent handicappers have tagged the races of Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Costa Mesa, as tossups. Tougher for Democrats will be incumbent Reps. Ed Royce, R-Yorba Linda, and Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Beach, who won by broad margins in 2016, have largely steered clear of controversy and have identities distinct from President Donald Trump.

The growing legion of anti-Trump activists, meanwhile, are largely motivated by a passionate dislike for the president and pounce on every opportunity to link GOP incumbents to the commander in chief.

Republicans traditionally vote in higher proportions than Democrats in mid-term elections. Democrats’ fortunes will depend heavily on whether millennials, minorities and women turn out in large numbers, as all three groups now favor Democrats in the county. Additionally, if current polling holds, two Democrats — and no Republicans — will be vying for governor in November, which wouldn’t help GOP turnout.

A wild card will be whether strong GOP challengers emerge in any of the four districts. The large Democratic fields could open the door for two Republicans to advance out of the top-two open primary, shutting out Democrats’ hopes for November.

Rohrabacher’s run

Rohrabacher’s district has the biggest GOP lead in voter registration of any county House seat, 41-percent Republican to 30-percent Democrat. But the 15-term incumbent, who’s long marched to his own drummer, has been attracting headlines that have led many activists and handicappers to consider him a ripe target.

The venerable Roll Call news outlet listed him as the fifth most vulnerable House member, largely because of those headlines. Among them:

Rohrabacher downplayed Trump’s lewd Access Hollywood comments, has met with people linked to the Kremlin and advocated friendlier relations with Russia, met with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, had his aide to a Foreign Affairs subcommittee fired and has seen his travel and hearing requests get greater scrutiny from the Foreign Affairs Committee’s Republican leadership.

More headlines in 2018 are possible: News reports in December said the FBI as well as the House and Senate Intelligence Committees wanted to talk to him about his meeting with Assange.

Orange turning blue

Republicans’ advantage in the county’s voter registration peaked in 1990 at 22 percentage points. By 2010, it was half that and shrinking fast.

By the 2016 election — in which the county voted for the Democratic presidential nominee for the first time since 1936 — the margin was 3.8 points. It’s now 3.3 points with a myriad of Democratic clubs and resistance groups launching voter drives.

While Democrats may not surpass Republicans in voter registration this year, it appears to be only a matter of time.

Latinos are 34 percent of the county’s population and 18 percent of registered voters, with the electoral growth trend expected to continue as more become citizens and more reach voting age. Of those Latino voters, 53 percent are Democrats, 21 percent are Republicans and 26 percent are independents or third party members, according to a Political Data Inc. analysis in 2016.

In 2002, voters under 35 were 42 percent Republican and 29 percent Democrat. By 2016, they were 36 percent Democrat and 26 percent Republican, with the rest independent or third party.

Newman recall

County Republicans are largely playing defense so far this election cycle, particularly in terms of their four House seats and their voter registration advantage. But a key GOP offensive is their effort to recall freshman state Sen. Josh Newman, R-Fullerton, which has attracted Republican support from throughout the state.

Newman upset Republican Ling Ling Chang in 2016, helping give Democrats a two-thirds majority in both statehouse chambers. That enabled the party to pass new taxes without a single GOP vote.

In 2017, they raised the gas tax and vehicle-license fee to fund a 10-year, $52-billion roads and transportation improvement package, getting the bare minimum of votes for passage with one Democrat opposed and one Republican in favor.

Newman voted with the majority and was quickly targeted for a recall based solely on the new tax. The effort qualified and is expected to go before voters on the June ballot.

Newman was chosen because he is considered the legislative Democrat most vulnerable to being replaced by a Republican, thereby breaking the supermajority in the Senate.

“Lions don’t attack every gazelle,” said activist and San Diego talk radio host Carl DeMaio, who has helped lead the recall. “They attack the one that’s slowest and weakest and they work together, as a team, and share the meal.”

A new sheriff

In each of the last two decades, the county has elected a new sheriff — and it will do so once again in 2018 when Sandra Hutchens steps down after 10 years in the post.

Hutchens’ tenure has not been quite as troubled as that of predecessor Mike Carona, who spent 4 years in federal prison for corruption. But while she was initially embraced as a stabilizing force, the past couple years have seen rough waters.

Both the state and federal justice departments are investigating alleged misuse of jailhouse informants by the Sheriff’s and District Attorney’s Offices. There’s been criticism of the lax protocols that may have contributed to the escape of three inmates in 2016. And early this year the ACLU issued a scathing report on the county jails, citing excessive violence and unhealthy living conditions while calling for Hutchens to resign.

The top contenders for the job are Hutchens’ second in command, Undersheriff Don Barnes, and Aliso Viejo Mayor Dave Harrington, a retired county Sheriff’s Department sergeant.

Barnes, who represents a continuation of Hutchens’ policies, has endorsements from Hutchens, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, three of the five county supervisors, former county GOP Chairman Scott Baugh, four Republican Congress members, five Republican state legislators and 19 local mayors and council members.

Harrington, running as a reform candidate, has far fewer high-level GOP endorsements, but does list backing from 26 local mayors and council members. Many of those supporters represent cities that contract with the Sheriff’s Department for police services and have expressed concerns that they may be overcharged for those services.

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