Mass Torts/Politics & the Media
September 25, 2021
Humane War?
October 9, 2021
Show all

On today’s program, we look at two ways that corporate lobbies and their political allies subvert democracy: “gerrymandering” and “preemption.” First, law professor Herman Schwartz breaks down the scourge of partisan gerrymandering. Then Mark Pertschuk, director of “Grassroots Change,” sheds light on how states and the federal government can “preempt” cities and local communities from for instance raising their own minimum wage, allowing paid sick leave, regulating firearms, banning plastics, or enforcing anti-discrimination laws. Plus, Ralph, David, and Steve discuss the infrastructure package and stock buy backs.

Herman Schwartz is a Professor of Law Emeritus at American University Washington College of Law. He formerly chaired National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty and has developed a course in which students work with national and local public interest organizations that deal with poverty issues. He co-chaired a project on transitional justice in emerging democracies, founded the ACLU Prison Project and argued two cases in the Supreme Court relating to prisoners rights, and throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s he served as chief counsel in school desegregation cases in the North and the South.

There was a guy who was really a genius who died recently, named Hofeller. Who was the Republicans’ star gerrymanderer… He was quoted at one point saying: “Gerrymandering is the only legal way that one can still steal an election.”

Professor Herman Schwartz, American University Washington College of Law


[Gerrymandering] is predictable because of the mountain of data that is now available about practically every single house on a block.  Every single street.  And all of the various ways in which all of our data– our personal data– is available, pretty much, to anybody who wants it.

Professor Herman Schwartz, American University Washington College of Law


I’ve noticed that this issue of gerrymandering doesn’t get people very angry because it tends to be technical. It’s quite simple in terms of its political intent. The party in charge of the state government wants to pick their own voters, rather than have the voters pick the candidates.

Ralph Nader


What is happening is the growth, mostly by legislative initiatives, voter initiatives in the commission movement. Unfortunately, it tends to be concentrated among Democrats. You don’t see too much of it, except over the dead bodies of Republicans… That’s one of the few successful things that’s taken place. Some people think that the Democrats who were pushing this are engaging in unilateral disarmament.

Professor Herman Schwartz, American University Washington College of Law

It seems to me… that the only real way to overcome it and then change it once more progressives and “small-d” democratically inclined legislators get into office is by getting out the vote in the minority areas which are being discriminated against.  And having a progressive agenda reaching people who want a living wage and universal health insurance. Even though they call themselves Conservatives or Republicans. They’re putting their families first.

Ralph Nader


[Preemption] aborts local democracy. It strip-mines democracy. People around the country mobilize, and they elect people to their local government, and they think they’ve got some sort of control, and they start improving the community… And they just pull the rug out from under them.

Ralph Nader

Mark Pertschuk is the Director of Grassroots Change, an organization that connects grassroots leaders with the evidence, tools, and training to advance grassroots health and safety movements. One of their initiatives, Preemption Watch, helps grassroots advocates understand and track whether local authority has been preserved or preempted, and counter preemption.


Historically, [local] jurisdictions have taken the lead– it’s an understatement to say they’ve taken the lead on protecting people in the community. Going back for a century… But now that we are so limited at this moment in time in what we can do to take hold of our destiny, to take hold of our lives and our communities, the attack on local [government] is just a broad attack on one of our last avenues.

Mark Pertschuk, Preemption Watch and Grassroots Change


Grassroots movements…when they’re successful, can be incredibly powerful. They may be one of the only things that can counterbalance corporate power. True grassroots movements. And the industry knows that by preempting local authority, they are forestalling grassroots movements at the local level.

Mark Pertschuk, Preemption Watch and Grassroots Change

Ralph Nader Radio Hour Ep 395 Transcript (Right click to download)


  1. Don Harris says:

    Thank you for mentioning One Demand. Perhaps if you had read the part of my comment from last week that explained how One Demand could effect gerrymandering Prof. Schwartz could have addressed the possible effect it could have on gerrymandering.

    You did a good job of explaining the main purpose of One Demand but both you and Prof. Schwartz were off the mark in your discussion on small donor campaigns.

    Neither Trump or Bernie ran small donor campaigns. Both got more total money from big donors.

    They both ran small contribution campaigns. The difference between a small donor and a big donor is the total amount of contributions made by each individual donor- not by the size of the individual contributions from a donor.

    For example, a donor opting in to the weekly contribution you mentioned to Bernie’s 2020 campaign for 50 dollars a week starting in March/April of 2019 when Bernie declared would make about 40 contributions by January of 2020 for a total of 2000 dollars. Not a small donor (200 dollars or less total).

    Bernie says that the average contribution is 50 dollars to create the impression that he is supported by small donors. He does not elaborate the 2000 dollar total from one donor that is the same 2000 dollar total that Joe Biden might get from one donor in one check for 2000 dollars.

    I am surprised that this obvious deception has fooled you.

    Many pundits dutifully pointed out in early 2019 how 87% of Bernie’s donors were small donors described as donors with contributions totaling 200 dollars or less in contributions after just a few weeks of Bernie’s campaign accepting contributions. Several months later none of those pundits would address what became of the 87% as the recurring or continuing small contributions most likely took the total contributions for many of the 87% over the 200 dollar limit. Yet many of these pundits still referred to Bernie’s “small donor” campaign.

    Participants in One Demand will demand that candidates finance their campaigns with ONLY small donors and enforce that demand their votes. No divided loyalties.

    It is a way to test your theory that politicians want our votes more than big money.

    10% of the 150 million investing just 100 dollars in contributions to small donor candidates would total 1.5 billion dollars. 01% investing 1000 dollars to five to ten candidates would total another 1.5 billion.

    With 10% of voters committing 1.5 billion dollars they will also provide 10% of the vote. They will be joined in voting by other voters that cannot afford to make even 100 dollars in contributions that could push the vote total up to 15-20% in some districts which can be enough to upset the balance in those districts as it is more than the difference in many districts and would be made up of a good portion of the swing voters in those districts.

    Now that you have begun the conversation on One Demand I hope you will continue it in a more timely fashion.

  2. John Puma says:

    Re: Dems proposing a tax on stock buy backs. I’d suggest, that IF this occurs (and I have my doubts), it is ONLY because the Dems know they have in their senate caucus a real man of the people of W. Virginia who will fight to have the voices heard of the poor in his state, who he will claim essentially all think: “We don’t necessarily agree with all actions of massive trans-national corporations but we DO support their rights to grind us into economic (and/or actual) dust if they feel it is best for their bottom lines.”

    To sum up: the frequency and boldness of legislation by the Dems, addressing true problems, occur in direct proportion to the utter IMPOSSIBILITY of legislative passage of such bills. Saint Obumma had to muster ALL his 13D-chess savvy to skillfully squander a massive House majority and a several-month filibuster-proof senate majority to “craft” a corporate give-away disguised as medical insurance legislation … that took more time to roll-out than it survived outside the walls of the capitol.

  3. Dale West says:

    A great example of Federal ceiling preemption is in the – Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. This 2016 weak update amendment to the toothless 45 year old – Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 – is just more legislative incrementalism & regulatory capture.

    More blind faith deregulation of corporations to self-regulate the public’s safety of some 83,000 chemicals in commerce. EPA is still unable to even have a total ban on asbestos. Congress repeatedly failing the public interest.