On Sunday’s Last Week Tonight episode, John Oliver dropped a few truth bombs about what is really important on election day and it is not the balance of power in the Senate. The “Hostus Mostus” put the focus on state legislature races and probably struck terror into a few hearts by doing so. It turns out that a lot of recent legislation has been passed by state legislatures that operate with surprisingly little oversight, have failed ethics tests and employ people of questionable sanity. In addition, it appears that state legislatures are shadow governments that plagiarise bills from a conservative bill mill and cannot define what a conflict of interest is. As if all of that was not worrying enough, John Oliver then proceeded to announce election results before voting had even started and he did it with 100 percent accuracy.
Before getting to the days-late, Halloween-like political terror that is state legislatures, however, Oliver kept it light with a “Recap of the Week.” First was Hungary where a protest against a proposed internet tax actually worked. Oliver noted that the words felt strange to say, much like “Guy Fieri, that was delicious.” But he also very realistically urged the Hungarian people to download as much porn as they possibly could be the tax was revisited in 2015. Next he looked at the news from New Zealand that Prime Minister John Key wants to have a referendum on changing the country’s “fleeg.” That flag (as the rest of the world calls it) looks a lot like the Australian flag and has resulted in a few embarrassing moments in which New Zealand officials are placed under and Australian flag at international events. His initial new design, however, was a simple silver fern leaf on an all black background. While some rugby fans may recognize that as the logo on All Blacks jerseys, others may identify it with the black and white flag of ISIS. To be honest, being accidentally seated under and ISIS flag would be a lot more embarrassing than sitting with Australians, even if they do say “G’day” with annoying frequency.
Moving closer to home, Oliver noted that Lowe’s, the home improvement giant, was introducing a new employee to some of its stores. A new robotic shopping assistant will be available for the busy time of Christmas shopping and while it is very new age, it also does not serve the primary function of hardware store employees. Hardware stores are places where marriages implode in the light bulb aisle and all the hidden issues of a couple’s marriage are brought to the surface while they shop for synthetic hardwood flooring. That is why John Oliver presented the new ad for Home Depot, featuring Nick Offerman as “Doug.” A couple comes in and cannot agree on whether to buy a copper sink, but “Doug” notes that, “It never is about the copper sink.” The couple go on to argue about having another baby, a mother-in-law moving in, Asian girl porn and the bride giving the best man a hand-job on the wedding day, while “Doug” steps in to distract them with ceramic tiles and paint chips. Can Lowe’s new robot do that? Definitely not.
Finally, Oliver turned to the issue of the midterm elections, specifically the huge importance of state legislature races whose results he announced at the end of the show. These are the races that actually matter, but he had to admit that they are often very hard to take seriously. The campaign ads are one reason why, but so are moments like the Alabama fist fight between two old men and a California state senator talking about spanking his wife during sex into an open mic. As the Last Week Tonight show noted, that last tidbit was not surprising since from the dialogue the senator had no idea how to tell when something was turned on or not. But more importantly, outrageous moments like these do not turn on the voting public to the stupidity of their own state legislatures, which is concerning since they pass the majority of legislation nowadays. While the current United States Congress has passed a measly 158 bills, local legislatures have passed over 24,000 bills into law some of which are deadly serious. They cannot pass an official state exercise bill all the time.
While they are doing all that work of passing bills, the oversight on these bodies is practically nil. In Hawaii they cannot define what a conflict of interest is, as in the case of Joe Suge who was allowed to vote on a bill from which he would receive financial benefit. Unless “conflict of interest” also means “no conflict of interest” like some political Aloha, that is inexcusable, said Oliver. But it gets worse. 28 out of the 41 state ethics commissions failed an ethics test, which is more than can be said of some of the legislators. One Rhode Island politician was caught shoplifting condoms while a California lawmaker was arrested for arms trafficking along with Chinatown gang figure Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow. Some of these stories sound like unholy combinations of John Grisham novels and Far Side comics, but they are actual events that have happened. Moreover, legislation is being written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and taken verbatim by some lawmakers who then try to pass it off as their own. Oliver showed a clip of a lawmaker caught giving handouts bearing his name as originator, but directly copied from the ALEC website and still bearing its logo in the title. There is even an [insert state] name here spot on the ALEC bills, meaning that anyone who can spell their state’s name can use it as legislation.
The show wrapped up with the horrifying news that many of the ridiculous and down-right scary lawmakers he had profiled in the show were running unopposed. They would win their elections simply by beating the concept of nothing. With that in mind, John Oliver took it upon himself to announce the election results of 25 percent of the state elections, roughly over 1,000 races. Included in that list were the “dwarf tossing guy,” the “Islam is a cancer guy” and the “alleged Rhode Island condom stealing guy,” all of whom had already been mentioned in the show. Oliver ended with the terrifying news that these people would be wielding a huge amount of influence with no one paying attention to them or able to stop them until the next election. That news was more scary than any Halloween prank of the past week and will last infinitely longer than a one-day sugar high.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury