Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Don't Hate The Rating, Hate The Game edition

Hey, you.
Yeah, you. Person who reads this collection of statehouse news and jokes of questionable quality each week.
It’s not exactly news that Election Day is right around the corner.
But you know that means, right?
  • First, let’s get one little thing out of the way first. I’m going to be talking about chamber majorities won/lost/kept, not legislative seats.
    • Because counting the number of state legislative seats won or lost by each party nationwide is a meaningless metric.
      • Winning more seats in a chamber is a good thing, but it only matters insofar as it gets you closer to a majority in that chamber.
      • But total number of seats across the country? Garbage. Anyone who tries to get you to care about that number is wasting your time.
And I value your time. Frankly, I’m shocked (but appreciative!) that you sliced a chunk of it out of your busy day to give to this.
Is one party holding a greater number of legislative seats than the other a general indicator of partisan health at the state level? Sure.
  • But it’s a lousy measure of real party power—especially when you take into account that, while Democrats hold somewhere around 1,000 fewer state legislative seats than Republicans across all the states, they only need to flip 17 seats from the GOP to win majority control of eight legislative chambers.
So, since chamber control is the only measure of power at the state legislative level that matters, here’s where we are now:
  • Republicans hold majority control of 66 chambers (excluding Nebraska, which is technically nonpartisan), while Democrats control the other 32.
  • Of the 98 partisan chambers across the country, 87 are on the ballot this fall.
  • Of those, only 22 can be fairly regarded as competitive.
...in my legitimately expert opinion, anyway.
First, some stage setting.
  • Midterms have been “historically” lousy elections for Democrats at the state legislative level.
    • But historically really should mean longer ago than the previous two midterms, IMO.
    • Because, yeah, it’s not news that Democrats lost majorities in a ton of chambers in 2010 and backslid even further in 2014 (partly as a consequence of the post-2010 redistricting that, thanks to that cycle’s statehouse results, was overwhelmingly controlled by Republicans).
    • But the midterms during George W. Bush’s presidency weren’t bad for Democrats. Team Blue picked up majority control or ties in handful of chambers in both 2002 and 2006.
    • And now a Republican is president again. And not just any Republican—a political lightning rod with low approval ratings in key states.
  • But presidential approval isn’t the ballgame, not by a long shot. Rather, it’s the stage on which these elections play out.
    • And Democrats aren’t 100 percent on offense this cycle, either.
      • In particular, they’re defending skin-of-their-teeth majorities in the Connecticut Senate and the Delaware Senate, as well as a governing coalition in the Alaska House.
  • But generally this cycle? It’s much better to be a Democrat that a Republican.
Tired of reading already? Okay. My money’s on Democrats picking up five chambers on Nov. 6.
Still with me?
Great, let’s do this.
(If you’d like to see a full list of chambers that I consider “Safe” for the party that controls them, as well as those that aren’t up for election this year, please click here.)
  • Arizona Senate (13D/17R): Democrats only need to flip two seats to tie the chamber, three to control it outright. Democrats have left just one seat uncontested (full stats on that for all chambers right here), while Republicans have given five Democrats walks on Nov. 6. Latino turnout will likely determine whether this is the year Democrats finally take this white whale or if it’s yet another Oh Dang We Were So Close year.
  • Connecticut Senate (18D/18R; effective Democratic control): Retirements on both sides and comparably successful recruitment between the parties help make this anyone’s game. Hopefully outgoing Gov. Dan Malloy’s unpopularity doesn’t poison the well too badly for Democrats. (Note: Ties are currently broken by the Democratic lieutenant governor, so if it remains tied, the outcome of this year’s open-seat race will loom large.)
  • Iowa House (41D/58R): A bunch of GOP retirements and a truckload (25!) of uncontested Dem seats help put this chamber in play. Democratic fundraising and ground game are reportedly strong here, and Republicans have two years of crappy unified governance (gutting unions, nearly banning abortioncutting taxesto Kansas-like levels) to defend.
  • Minnesota House (56D/77R/1 vacancy): Local and national operatives with respected track records are almost hilariously bullish on Democratic prospects here, and Democrats at every other level of the ballot are polling quite strongly. There’s no reason to think this enthusiasm won’t translate down-ballot.
Lean D
  • Alaska House (17D/21R/2I; effective Democratic control): A slew of Republican retirements and two years of relative success as a majority coalition give Democrats a better shot at holding control than how things appear on paper, so to speak. (Three Republicans currently caucus with the Democrats.)
  • Colorado Senate (16D/18R/1I): Democrats are effectively one seat away from chamber control, but that doesn’t make this a gimme majority this year. Republicans want to keep this Senate as much as Democrats want to take it from them, and outside spending is high on both sides.
  • Delaware Senate (11D/10R): Democrats are probably fine here this year, but this chamber margin is a bit too close for comfort in this blue state, especially with three Dem retirements and comparable recruitment on both sides.
  • New Hampshire House (167D/212R/2 other/19 vacant): This chamber is prone to wild swings in partisan composition each cycle, and Democrats have a leg up here in terms of recruitment and open seats.
Lean R
  • Arizona House (25D/35R): Democrats out-recruited Republicans here this cycle, and with House districts identical to Senate districts (the former elect two representatives each), success in the upper chamber is likely to translate to the lower chamber.
  • Florida Senate (16D/22R/2 vacancies): Democrats are defending fewer seats here relative to Republicans (Florida Senate elections are staggered), and they won the recruiting game, too. If Democrats don’t flip this chamber on Nov. 6, watch for them to take it in 2020.
  • Michigan House (46D/63R/1vacancy): An uphill climb for sure, but term limits have forced a lot of incumbent Republicans out, resulting in a slew of open seats. Additionally, according to the guy who drew Michigan’s gerrymandered legislative maps, the GOP’s House majority is dependent on the Republicans at the top of the ticket winning 47 percent of the vote statewide—something current polls indicate Team Red may struggle to do.
  • New Hampshire Senate (10D/14R): Three seats might not sound like a lot, but in a chamber this small, it’s tough (as Democrats learned when they sought but failed to flip it in 2016). Don’t be shocked if the Democrats win this House and this chamber stays in Republican hands.
  • Wisconsin Senate (15D/18R): Again, flipping two seats looks easy on paper—until you see the GOP’s gerrymandered map. But Democrats are running strong challengers in two key districts, so I’m not writing this one off.
Also worth mentioning: North Carolina.
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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Lawmakers of Summer edition

Cripes, y’all. Summer’s almost gone.
(Okay, no, not technically, but amusement parks are about to close on weekdays and pools are shutting down after this weekend and we’re no longer supposed to wear white for some reason, so in the lay, non-astronomical sense, I think we’re all agreed that summer spiritually ends with Labor Day.)
(Which is, like, here.)
But before we all take off for the holiday that heralds the last hurrah of the season, let’s check in on what’s happening in the states. Because, while most legislatures aren’t in session in the summers, that doesn’t mean statehouse action takes a vacation.
Summer Fights: First, let’s pay a visit to North Carolina.
Because, thanks to the GOP-controlled legislature and its never-ending series of power-grabs and general assaults on democracy, there’s ALWAYS something happening in North Carolina.
  • Two weeks ago in this space (my vacation was lovely, thank you), I wrote about a court fight over the GOP’s super-brazen (even for them) attempt to change the rules in the state’s Supreme Court race mid-game, so to speak.
Two weeks was, like, forever ago, so let me catch you up:
  • Last year, Republicans passed legislation specifically designed to impact the 2018 elections by allowing any candidate running for office to change his or her party affiliation right up to the time they officially file as a candidate.
    • Oops:
      • Just before the filing deadline, a third candidate got into the state Supreme Court race, which had previously just had one Democrat—Anita Earls—and one Republican—Barbara Jackson—running.
      • That candidate—Raleigh attorney Chris Anglin—filed to run as a Republican, sparking GOP fears that he’d siphon votes away from Jackson, splitting the party’s vote and easing Earls’ path to the bench.
      • Until June 7 of this year, this fresh Republican face in the race was a registered Democrat.
  • The state Republican Party vowed to treat Anglin as “the enemy he is.” Both Anglin and state Democrats aver that no shenanigans are afoot here; rather, Anglin is just a concerned citizen who wanted to run as a “constitutional Republican.” (Yeah, I don’t know what that means either, but whatevs, cool, you do you.)
  • GOP lawmakers went further in their response to his candidacy: The state Senate majority leader filed a fun ex post facto bill this week that would have prevented Anglin from being listed on the ballot as a Republican.
    • While Anglin’s not mentioned by name in the bill, it applies only to judicial elections, and it only allowed candidates to display their party affiliation on the ballot if they were a member of that party 90 days prior to filing to run.
  • The bill passed along party lines, of course.
  • And it was immediately challenged in court, of course.
    • A Wake County judge swiftly issued an injunction to prevent the state from printing ballots unless the candidates are identified on them by their preferred party, and the court ultimately ruled in favor of Anglin appearing on the ballot as a candidate of his party of choice.
  • This week, the state Court of Appeals declined Republicans’ request to stay the lower court’s ruling.
  • And, for once, GOP lawmakers gave up.
I mean, yeah. Republicans literally tried to change the rules mid-game.
Summer Pain: Also in North Carolina, the fight over a series of tremendously impactful series of amendments to the state constitution continues.
Yup, the Republicans’ lawyer basically argued that lawmakers have a right to mislead voters.
  • Never mind that the GOP is asking voters to make fundamental shift to the balance of power among branches of government, obstruct ballot box access, and dramatically undermine the state’s tax base, resulting in inevitable cuts to schools and other essential government duties.
  • Last week, a state court blocked two of the proposed amendments because of their deceptive wording.
    • Specifically, the one concerning stripping the governor’s power to appoint the elections board and giving it to the legislature, and the one giving the legislature control over who the governor can select to fill judicial vacancies.
  • The GOP-controlled legislature both immediately appealed and convened a special session to hastily rewrite those amendments.
    • Shockingly, they’re still misleading.
Okay, not shockingly.
Fun fact! Ballot printing is supposed to begin Saturday.
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Thursday, August 9, 2018

Doggo Days of Summer edition

It’s just that time of year.
It feels like the dog days of summer are in full effect, but I may be a little bit behind on this one. Or I’m not, depending on where you are while reading this—astronomical dog days occur at different times, depending on things like latitude and the position of the stars relative to the Earth and such.
The term “dog days” originates in Greek and Roman literature and actually refers to the days when the dog star, Sirius, appears to rise just before the sun. It’s a time those civilizations generally associated with catastrophe.
Which may be a fair assessment of GOP electoral prospects this fall. And it’s almost always a reasonable take on Republican antics in statehouses.
Let’s fetch some news.
Hair Of The Dog: Kris Kobach’s fight to become the Kansas gubernatorial nominee got most of the headlines in Tuesday’s primaries, but interesting things were afoot down-ballot, too.
Big freaking deal, it’s Kansas, after all, right?
  • The resurgence of conservative Republicans in the Kansas House presents a serious reversal of a pretty significant swing the other way in 2016, when not only did Democrats flip 13 seats in November, but 14 moderate Republicans ousted conservative incumbents while seven more won nominations for open seats in that year’s primary.
  • It’s tough to predict what this shift back to right for Republicans means for legislative elections in November.
    • Will the contrast against the Brownback-esque policies that resulted in a disastrous budget chasm help Democrats flip even more seats?
    • Or is the conservative faction of the House Republicans on its way back to legislative hegemony?
(By the by, the state Senate isn’t up this year, and the Republicans there are just as divided as their House counterparts.)
Wolves: The judicial drama in West Virginia I wrote about a few weeks ago has reared its head again—just in time for GOP lawmakers to capitalize on it for a state Supreme Court coup.
  • It all started last fall, when reports began to surface concerning Supreme Court justices indulging in Trump cabinet-esque spending on fancy furniture amid lavish renovations of their chambers (in the neighborhood of $700,000 for things like fancy couches, elegant flooring, and pricey rugs).
Fun fact! Republicans made state Supreme Court races nonpartisan when they took control of the legislature in 2014.
  • Before the corruption scandal broke, Democrats had an ostensible one-seat majority on the bench.
  • If impeachment proceedings had been concluded by Aug. 14, the open Supreme Court seats would have been on the ballot this November.
But why would the GOP-controlled legislature want that when foot-dragging would let the Republican governor just appoint the replacements himself?
Just in case you think this is anything but a brazen Republican attempt to replace an entire branch of government through GOP appointments, consider this:
  • A Democratic member of the House attempted to initiate impeachment proceedings back in February—which would have left plenty of time to resolve the matter and place judicial candidates on the ballot this fall.
  • At the time, Republican leadership called the move “a political stunt.”
And why entertain timely steps to remove corrupt justices when you can slow your roll and execute a Supreme Court coup instead?
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Thursday, July 26, 2018

Laws of Future Passed edition

With monsoon-like conditions in part of the country and record-breaking heat in others, weather manipulation strikes me as a pretty sweet superpower to have these days.
But we can’t all be Storm, so while we’re stuck enduring the weather-hand we’ve been dealt, let’s take a gander at what’s going on around the country in non-climate-related news.
DomiNOPE: A few weeks ago in this space, I wrote about GOP lawmakers in North Carolina pushing a constitutional amendment that would effectively allow Republicans to pack the state Supreme court.
To refresh your recollection: 

Sounds innocent enough, yes?
    Not so much.
  • If Democrat Anita Earls loses her race for the state Supreme Court this fall, the court will have a 4-3 Democratic majority.

  • The GOP-controlled legislature can then simply vote with their veto-proof majorities to add two seats to the court.
  • Then the legislature’s new sham commission would be able to send Cooper a list with nothing but hardcore partisan Republican names to fill those new vacancies they just created, opening the door to a 5-4 GOP majority.
Fun fact: When one Democratic lawmaker called his GOP colleagues out for this court-packing scheme, not a single Republican bothered to deny it.

  • Other constitutional amendments slated to appear on North Carolina ballots this fall include:
    • Requiring voters to present a photo ID to cast ballots.
    • Giving the legislature (read: Republicans) the ability to choose members of the State Board of Ethics and Elections enforcement, taking that power away from the governor and preventing the Democrat currently occupying the office from appointing a Democratic majority to the board.
  • Republicans also passed legislation specifically designed to impact the 2018 elections by allowing any candidate running for office to change his or her party affiliation right up to the time they officially file as a candidate.
    • Democrats protested the move, saying it could lead to shenanigans.
  • And then North Carolina Republicans’ luck ran out.
    • That candidate—Raleigh attorney Chris Anglin—filed to run as a Republican, sparking GOP fears that he’d siphon votes away from Jackson, splitting the party’s vote and easing Earls’ path to the bench.
    • Until June 7 of this year, this fresh Republican face in the race was a registered Democrat.
  • The state Republican Party has vowed to treat Anglin as “the enemy he is.” Both Anglin and state Democrats aver that no shenanigans are afoot here; rather, Anglin is just a concerned citizen who wanted to run as a “constitutional Republican” … whatever that means.
    • While Anglin isn’t mentioned by name in the bill, it applies only to judicial elections, and it states:
    The party information listed by each of the following candidates’ names is shown only if the candidates’ party affiliation or unaffiliated status is the same as on their voter registration at the time they filed to run for office and 90 days prior to that filing.
  • The bill passed along party lines, and, though Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is likely to veto it, Republicans’ veto-proof majorities are sure to overturn any attempt to block it.
    • When it becomes law, this measure is virtually certain to be challenged in the courts.

I mean, changing the rules in the middle of an election?
    Even for North Carolina Republicans, who are already legendary for their shameless and breathtaking attacks on democracy in their state, this is … brazen.
Skincrawler: Sacha Baron Cohen has convinced some lawmakers and prominent political figures to say and do some pretty damning things on camera for his new show, “Who Is America?”

Not-so-fun fact: Spencer resisted calls to resign last year when he threatened a black former state lawmaker advocating for the removal of Confederate statues by saying that “she won’t be met with torches but something a lot more definitive” and suggested that she would “go missing in the Okefenokee [swamp]” because of her stance.

  • After the “Who Is America?” segment aired, Spencer faced immediate calls to resign—despite the fact that he’d already lost his primary election and would be out of the legislature come January, anyway.
    • But Spencer had good reason to try to hang on.
  • Oh late Tuesday night, however, the House speaker’s office announced that Spencer would be resigning his seat in the legislature, effective at the end of the month.

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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Bad Moon Rising edition

The month of March is rapidly drawing to a close, and in some parts of the country, maybe it’s “going out like a lamb,” as the kids say.
But no matter where you are, March is definitely ending with a full moon. A blue moon, to be precise, and the second one this year.
Also, it’s the last blue moon (a second full moon within a single calendar month) we’ll see until 2020 (on Halloween night, to be precise—oooOOOooo spooky!).
It’s super fun to blame the full moon for all kinds of things, from exacerbated medical conditions and increased births to car accidents and lycanthropy.
But studies have shown that the notion that full moons produce these and other effects to be false and likely the product of good old-fashioned confirmation bias—when we focus on data points that confirm our beliefs and ignore those pesky facts that don’t fit.

He Sees Trouble On The Way: For all his myriad flaws as a governor and a politician, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker can’t be considered guilty of such an unrealistic way of looking at the current state of politics. He identified the consistent trend of Democratic special election wins and over-performances in state legislative races this cycle and decided that maybe he didn’t so much want to hold any more special elections to fill vacant Republican seats.
  • Wisconsin judges shut that nonsense down for good this week when they stymied a GOP plan to outlaw these elections altogether and forced Walker to finally call these specials to avoid violating a court order.
Some background:
  • When Walker quietly declared—in that week between Christmas and New Year’s when normal folks are less likely to pay attention to political news—he was going to leave two Republican seats empty for over a year, the special election trend line was obvious, and it indisputably favored Democrats.
    • In the 70 Democrat-vs.-Republican special elections held (by that point) since Trump’s election, Democrats in 2017 were outperforming Clinton’s numbers by 10 percent, on average, and they were even outperforming Obama’s 2012 numbers by an average of 7 percent.
    • Democrats had flipped 12 seats from red to blue in statehouse specials in 2017, and Democrats had flipped another 19 seats in the Virginia and New Jersey general elections.
So yeah, it’s not hard to see why Walker didn’t want to hold these special elections.
Losing seats sucks!
  • Walker got even more scared when Democrat Patty Schachtner flipped the historically and solidly Republican SD-10 in January (as demonstrated by his little Twitter freakout right after the election). And it’s pretty easy to figure out why.
    • Both seats Walker refused to fill (SD-01 and AD-42) voted for Trump, 56-39 and 55-40, respectively.
    • But in 2012, Romney carried SD-01 only 52-47, and Obama actually won AD-42 by a 51-48 margin.
      • For frame of reference, that SD-10 seat Democrats flipped in November? Trump won 55-38 there. 
      • These seats aren’t going to be easy pickups by any means, but they’re quite solidly within the realm of electoral possibility for Democrats this cycle.
Not being represented in your state capitol for over a year is extremely lame.
  • So a couple of voters teamed up with the well-moneyed and well-lawyered crew at the National Democratic Redistricting Committee and sued to force Walker to hold special elections to fill these seat and get these good Wisconsinites some representation.
  • Late last week, Walker-appointed Judge Josann Reynolds told the governor he was in violation of the very plain meaning of state law and ordered him to call the special elections by high noon on Thursday, March 29.
Well, we all know what Republicans do when a court rules against them.
  • They cry foul or attack the judges or attempt to undermine the decision or the court itself or all of the above.
  • In this case, Walker and his GOP cohorts in the state legislature called a special session, set to convene Tuesday, April 4, to pass a bill that would effectively nullify the court’s order and prevent special legislative elections from being held in even-numbered years ever again.
    • The whole scheme was a pretty obvious and egregious end-run around both democracy AND the rule of law.
      • And Wisconsinites knew it: Over the course of just three days, over 3,300 Wisconsin members of the Daily Kos community sent more than 6,500 letters to their own Assembly members and state Senators denouncing this move.
  • But Republicans had a timing problem.
    • Once the special elections were called, outlawing all even-year specials in the future wouldn’t matter—there’s no un-ringing the election bell, so to speak.
    • And the court’s ruling demanded Walker call those special elections Thursday, well ahead of the legislature’s special session to pass their bogus anti-democracy bill on Tuesday.
  • Walker asked the judge—whom Republicans publicly trashed after she ruled against them—to pretty please extend his deadline for calling the specials to next Thursday, April 6, so the legislature would have plenty of time to outlaw them.
    • Another judge, substituting for Reynolds, issued a pointed rebuke as he refused the governor’s request.
    • Walker then appealed to a higher court, which issued a pointed rebuke as it refused the governor's request.
    • Walker, likely fearing yet another pointed rebuke, decided against appealing the decision to the state Supreme Court and called the special elections a few hours in advance of Thursday’s deadline.
      • The special elections for Assembly District 42 and Senate District 1 will be held on June 12, with primaries on May 15.
Fun fact! There’s already a Democrat running in SD-01! His name is Caleb Frostman, and he enjoys hunting. Like, a lot.
But wait, there’s more good news on the Republicans-pissed-off-about-a-judicial-ruling-so-they-want-to-burn-it-all-down front!
  • Twelve Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania jumped on the impeachment bandwagon last week and introduced resolutions in the state House to impeach four of the five Democratic justices on the state Supreme Court—the same four justices who ruled the state’s congressional district map was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander and required it be replaced with fairer lines.
    • This threat was quite real, too.
      • Republican need a simple majority to pass impeachment resolutions in the House, and they need two-thirds supermajority to actually impeach those justices in the Senate—both of which they have, thanks to their extremely gerrymandered state legislative maps.
  • But Pennsylvania’s House majority leader—who determines which bills are and aren’t heard in that chamber—has effectively doused that fire for the time being, asserting that, while he sure wasn’t a fan of the court’s gerrymandering decision, “disagreement over the outcome of any particular case should not be grounds for impeachment.”
You don't say!
We’ll see what happens when the state House reconvenes on April 9, but assume GOP impeachment effort dead—at least for now.
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