Who the Heck Is John Bonifaz?

Hint: remember Katherine Harris? John's the anti-Harris...

John Bonifaz announced yesterday that he is going to run for Secretary of State in Massachusetts, on an explicit voting rights platform, with a Voters Bill of Rights.

Who is John Bonifaz? Only one of the finest young public interest attorneys of our time. A leading voting rights and campaign reform activist. And a fighter.

Here's a memo he wrote to Rep. John Conyers last May, after the Downing Street Minutes were leaked, making the case for George W. Bush's impeachable offenses. He ends the memo with these words: "The United States Constitution demands no less." (His brilliant testimony to Rep. Conyers' Downing Street hearings last June is here.)

John went to Ohio last November to fight for the right to vote. When the Kerry Campaign took its $15M and went home, John took his $150 and bought a plane ticket to Columbus to help fight for a recount. (Video here of Bonifaz testimony at Conyers hearing on Ohio.)

He sued George W. to try to prevent an illegal war under the Constitution, which explicitly grants the right to declare war to Congress. When most of the Congress took a dive during the run-up to the war, Bonifaz took the Bush Administration to court, representing John Conyers, Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee, and 9 others from the small but brave antiwar team in the U.S. House. (Check out this interview with Amy Goodman.)

Along with law professor Jamin Raskin, John helped invent the concept of the "wealth primary" as an obstacle to civil rights and voting rights.

John is the founder of the National Voting Rights Institute (NVRI), which uses the law to expand voting rights for the disenfranchised and disrespected.

John has spent much of his adult life working with Public Campaign, Public Citizen, Common Cause, and other campaign finance reform groups, trying to take special interest money out of politics, and put "clean money" in. He defended the clean money initiative in Massachusetts, and is currently helping NVRI & U.S. PIRG with a case in Vermont right now, trying to reinstitute a campaign spending cap in our elections, to limit the power of big money.

(Conflict of interest notation: he's also my friend, a co-founder of our group, and along with Joe Trippi, Tim Carpenter, and a sharp group of grassroots activists in Massachusetts, I'm helping him run.)

Big deal, I can hear you say. So he's a smart young guy, a great progressive, honest and brave--why should I care about the Secretary of State's office?

Good question. I can even make it a tougher question by pointing out that John starts out as an underdog to the incumbent Secretary of State (who is still deciding whether or not to run for Governor), and very possibly against John Kerry's brother, Cam Kerry, both of whom would have way more money.

Here's my answer: because we need some honest, nonpartisan, visionary Secretaries of State in this country, to counter the Karl Rove syndrome--the explicit partisan tactic of making the person that's supposed to oversee the elections the state campaign chair, as Rove did for Bush in Florida 2000 with Katherine Harris and in Ohio 2004 with Kenneth Blackwell.

We need an energetic, enthusiastic advocate of voting rights to help Massachusetts become a model for the nation, in voting reforms, in same day voting, in transparent voting systems, in ending the "privatization" of our most important public good, our democratic elections.

We need someone like John--and another friend of mine, Mark Ritchie, running for Secretary of State in Minnesota, to take on the task of working with their brother and sister Secretaries of State to get rid of secretive, partisan, private vote-counting companies; to make voter registration simple and easy; to make voting easier for working people and minority voters; to push for reforms that add value to our votes, like clean money, instant runoff voting, and fusion/cross-endorsement. (If these terms are new to you, one of the great web sites anywhere for election reformers is the one hosted by the Center for Voting & Democracy.)

In 10 days, some of us will remember the 5th anniversary of 12/12/2000, the day that the Supreme Court stole an election, with Katherine Harris' connivance and voter suppression schemes.
John Bonifaz is no Katherine Harris--more like her exact opposite--and that's a good thing.
So if Katherine Harris and Kenneth Blackwell voter suppression tricks bothered you, go here.
Because every vote counts--and every vote should be counted...