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.
NBD.
  • 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.
August.
Sweltering.
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?
Wrong!
  • 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?
Read the rest of this week's edition here.
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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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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Spring, Sprang, Sprung edition

Happy spring!
… she said as she made a small snowman somewhere in the middle of the Eastern Seaboard.
Well, whether it seems like it or not, it’s definitely technically spring. Which is, like, a time for renewal or whatever.
But statehouse action is seasonless. Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call…
… out Republicans for doing Very Bad Things. Like a judge just did in Wisconsin.
Spring BREAKING: A Wisconsin circuit court judge has ordered Gov. Scott Walker to call special elections to fill two vacant state legislative seats.
  • The seats became vacant in December 2017, when Walker appointed two Republican lawmakers to his administration.
  • Walker wanted to delay filling the seats until “special” elections could be held concurrent with general elections this November.
    • This plan would have left voters in these state Assembly and state Senate seats unrepresented for more than a year.
Fun fact! The judge who ordered Walker to hold special elections to fill the seats before November was appointed to the bench by Walker himself in 2014.
  • Walker’s refusal to hold these special elections predates an epic special election upset in Wisconsin’s SD-10 in January, but Democrats had already flipped 34 state legislative seats from red to blue at that point in the cycle—a stark fact someone as politically adept as Walker was certainly aware of.
And if you’re worried about losing special elections, what better way to prevent that than not having them at all?
Okay, so we’re going to have special elections. Can Democrats flip these seats? 
  • Both seats (SD-01 and AD-42) voted for Trump, 56-39 and 55-40, respectively.
  • But in 2012, Romney won 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.
So yeah, no wonder Walker wasn’t eager to fill these seats in special elections.
But Wisconsin isn’t the only GOP-led state that’s balking at special elections these days.
  • Florida Gov. Rick Scott is also refusing to fill two vacant legislative seats: state House District 33 and Senate District 16.
    • The open Senate seat alone leaves more than half a million Floridianswithout representation for almost a year.
    • And if you’re wondering why Scott might be afraid to hold those specials ... well, Trump won SD-16 by a 56-42 spread—in other words, the kind of turf that's been in reach for Democrats this year. (Trump carried HD-33 by a much more comfortable 69-29 margin, but Scott can’t possibly justify holding a special for one seat and not the other.)
  • While we’re talking about Republicans refusing to hold special elections for fear of losing them, let’s revisit Alabama, where Republicans are upping the anti-democracy ante by basically trying to do away with ALL THE SPECIAL ELECTIONS.
    • First, Republicans pushed a measure that would eliminate special elections for U.S. Senate seats; a gubernatorial appointee would instead occupy the seat until the next general election.
    • Republicans also want to eliminate most special elections to fill vacant state legislative seats.
      • If a vacancy occurs after the first two years of a lawmaker’s term, a special election would not be called to fill the seat. (Fun fact: state representatives and senators all serve four-year terms in Alabama.)
      • Instead, the governor would appoint someone to the post until the next general election.
      • This measure has passed both chambers of the legislature, but it still must be approved by a majority of the state’s voters in November as an amendment to the state Constitution.
  • GOP lawmakers claim that both proposals are aimed at saving money.
Funny how Alabama Republicans didn’t care about election costs until they got their butts handed to them in one of those special elections they suddenly want to do away with.
ImPeachy Keen: A month and a half or so ago, a Republican lawmaker had a totally reasonable response to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling the GOP’s severely gerrymandered congressional maps unconstitutional: IMPEACH!
  • But this wasn’t just some crazy backbencher screaming into the void; Rep. Cris Dush received tacit approval from GOP legislative leadership, and a GOP members of the U.S. House and Senate voiced their support.
  • And now that a new, fairer map is definitively in place for Pennsylvania’s congressional elections this fall, Republicans are moving to make good on this impeachment threat.
  • On Thursday, the chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court—notably, one of the members not targeted for impeachment, and a Republican, to boot—took the unusual step of issuing a statement denouncing the GOP’s move to impeach his fellow justices.
    • Chief Justice Thomas Saylor rightly called out the threats as retaliation for the justices’ “decision in a particular case” and as “an attack upon an independent judiciary.”
Of course, we know that “attacking an independent judiciary” is something Republicans are super hot for.
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