Thursday, June 13, 2019

Commonwealth of the Wicked edition

Primary day in Virginia has come and gone, and now all the ballots have been set for November.
… well, almost all.



One local Republican committee is tearing itself apart trying to figure out who’s the official nominee for the 97th House District.
  • According to some, Del. Chris Peace was ousted by Scott Wyatt in a convention back in May. 
    • But Peace and the state GOP maintain that convention lacked legitimacy and claim the incumbent won a firehouse primary earlier this month in this suburban-rural district outside of Richmond.
Depending on who prevails in this intra-party battle, Peace would be one of two Republicans who supported Medicaid expansion in Virginia last summer to fall to challengers from their right.
  • The other is Del. Bob Thomas, who barely beat Democrat Joshua Cole in HD-28 two years ago (and possibly only because of some erroneous ballot distribution in a split precinct).
    • Thomas rather solidly lost to local county supervisor Paul Milde.
    • Cole, by the by, is giving it another go this fall.
  • Medicaid expansion-supporting Sen. Emmett Hanger, on the other hand, easily dispatched challenger Tina Freitas, wife of ultra-conservative Del. Nick Freitas.
    • If she’d won, the pair might have been Virginia’s first married couple to serve together in the legislature.
My colleague Jeff Singer has an excellent and intensive analysis of the difficulties facing the Virginia GOP this fall that you should read, but here are some highlights: 
  • As an erudite reader of This Week in Statehouse Action, you probably already know that all 140 seats in the Virginia General Assembly (100 House, 40 Senate) are up this fall.
  • You surely also already know that Republicans are clinging to itty-bitty majorities in both chambers: 21-19 in the Senate, 51-49 in the House of Delegates.
    • Those numbers already look pretty good on paper, in terms of distance to goal, but Virginia Democrats got another boost when a court ruled a whole slew of House districts to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.
    • The judges redrew the 25 affected districts, and many of them changed in favor of Team Blue.
      • In fact, the new bluest Republican-held seat may ring a bell—it’s currently represented by Del. David Yancey, who only holds it by virtue of the luck of a literal draw that should never have happened in the first place.
      • Shelly Simonds is back for a rematch, and this redrawn district now favored Clinton over Trump 56-39.
  • Other prime targets for Democrats in their quest to end decades of GOP control of the House include the Hampton Roads-area HD-76 and Northern Virginia’s HD-40.
    • GOP Del. Chris Jones can’t be thrilled that his redrawn HD-76 backed Clinton 53-44 and Northam 55-44.
      • However, as chair of the super-powerful Appropriations Committee, he has ALL THE MONEYS to spend on keeping this seat.
    • Republican Del. Tim Hugo’s HD-40 wasn’t touched by the re-redistricting, but it backed Clinton 53-42, favored Northam 55-44, and Hugo squeaked by with just a 101-vote win in 2017.
    • Democrat and veteran Dan Helmer is taking him on this time around.
      • I’m told he will not be singing for any campaign videos (if you remember his “Helmer Zone” bit from his congressional primary run, you’ll understand why this news bitterly disappointed me).
But Democrats aren’t the only ones with pickup opportunities in the House, which is why flipping this chamber will be no cakewalk.
  • In fact, a couple of the Republicans ousted in 2017 are back for rematches—and they’re bringing their war chests with them.
    • The two districts that have me most nervous are HD-85 (48-46 Clinton), a Virginia Beach seat left open by Del. Cheryl Turpin’s run for state Senate, and NoVA’s HD-10 (50-44 Clinton), where Republican ex-Del. Randy Minchew is coming after first-term Del. Wendy Gooditis.
    • I’m also nervous about HD-73 (51-43 Clinton), a Richmond-area district left open by Del. Debra Rodman’s Senate ambitions with a strong GOP contender.
But let’s turn to the state Senate, where Democratic recruitment was great (Dems are contesting 35 of the chamber’s 40 seats) and the map is trending bluer every year.
Fun fact! Clinton carried 23 of the Senate’s 40 seats in 2016.
  • Flipping just one seat would give Democrats effective control of the chamber, since the Democratic lieutenant governor breaks ties in everything but budget votes.
But Democrats reeeeeeeeally need to flip at least two seats this fall. Here’s why.
Item 1: Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax. He almost certainly won’t resign, but with two women credibly on record as accusing him of sexually assault, he’s not someone Dems are eager to rely on establish effective chamber control.
Item 2: 2021. Virginia senators serve four-year terms, but the lieutenant governorship is up in just two years. Democrats’ continued dominance in statewide elections is anything but a guarantee, and a GOP LG would hand control back to the Republicans until at least 2023 (when the Senate would next be up again).
Item 3: Joe freaking Morrissey.
Or rather, effectively Sen.-elect Joe Morrissey.
  • Yup, the extremely not good human I’ve been railing about in this missive for … quite a while now is returning to the Virginia legislature.
    • To the Senate, specifically, since he scored a pretty epic upset over Sen. Rosalyn Dance on Tuesday (56-44%), and no Republican has filed to run in SD-16.
You may be wondering why this is bad.
  • Well, a 20-20 tie contingent on a vote from someone like Joe Morrissey isn’t much of a tie at all.
    • Rather, it’s an invitation for a chaos Muppet to wreak havoc.
    • It gives a man who’s loyal only to himself the opportunity to repeatedly demonstrate that loyalty—his own party be damned.
    • It gives someone who clearly believes the rules don’t apply to him the chance to destabilize state government if the mood strikes him.
And if you think this a harsh characterization of Joe Morrissey, then … well, you don’t know Joe.
But I grew up in the Richmond media market. I’ve worked in and around Virginia politics my entire adult life.
So let me tell you about Joe Morrissey.
  • An attorney by trade (never mind that his law license has been repeatedly revoked, as detailed below), Morrissey began making a notorious name for himself in the 1990s, and he really hasn’t let off the gas since.
    • His notable misadventures include:
      • Going to jail for writing a threatening letter to a judge in 1991.
      • Getting in a fist fight with opposing counsel, also in 1991.
      • Settling a rape case without the consent of the victim in 1993.
      • Having his law license suspended for six months in 1993.
      • Going to jail for 90 days, followed by three years of probation, for violating a federal court rule prohibiting making public statements about witnesses in 1999.
      • Having his law license suspended for three years in 1999.
      • Violating that three-year probation in 2000 by attempting to lie about his community service hours (Habitat for Humanity!) and then lying to his probation officer about trying to lie.
      • Losing his Virginia law license entirely in 2003 (he'd already lost his license to practice in federal court in 2001).
      • Teaching trial advocacy and becoming a valued mentor to over 100 Crown prosecutors in Australia between 2003 and 2006—until the Australians realized he'd been deemed unfit to practice law in his home country.
      • Returning to the United States, getting elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 2007, getting his Virginia law license back in 2012, and brandishing an AK-47 on the House floor in 2013.
      • Getting indicted for allegedly having sex with a minor, taking an Alford plea, going to jail, resigning his House seat, winning re-election to his House seat in the special election to replace himself, and attending the legislative session under a work-release program accommodated by his jail sentence.
      • Instead of running for re-election to the House, he made a run for Dance’s Senate seat.
      • Running for Richmond mayor in a seven-way race that a leading candidate dropped out of for the express purpose of preventing Morrissey from winning by splitting the vote.
      • During the race, and while the former minor with whom he’d had sex and later married was pregnant, a client Morrissey represented alleged he’d sent her sexually suggestive texts and exposed himself to her in his office. (Morrissey copped to the "flirtatious” texts but denied showing her his junk.)
      • Getting his own goddamn radio talk show.
      • Having his law license, which the Virginia Supreme Court had restored while he was in the House of Delegates despite the recommendation of the Virginia State Bar, revoked yet again in 2018.
So, yeah, Morrissey clearly doesn’t think that the rules that govern normal human behavior apply to him.
And now this guy is going to be making laws.
And that’s bad enough. But the bottom line is that the Democrats in the Virginia Senate can’t afford to rely on Morrissey for, like, anything.
  • But the good news is that four of GOP-held Senate seats Democrats are targeting in November were won by Clinton in 2016.
    • Meanwhile, only four incumbent Democrats are facing opposition, and the seriousness of some of those candidates is … debatable.
There’s more good news for Dems out of Tuesday’s primaries, too.
  • In Richmond-area SD-10, Democrats have the chance to elect the Senate’s first Muslim woman.
    • And since the district went for Clinton 53-40 and Northam 57-42, Ghazala Hashmi’s chances aren’t too shabby.
  • Also, statewide primary turnout indicates Democrats still have voter enthusiasm on their side. Reportedly over 70,000 more Democrats than Republicans went to the polls in Virginia on Tuesday.
tl;dr: It’s not going to be easy.
And it sure as hell isn’t going to be cheap.
But Democrats have a pretty good shot at flipping both legislative chambers and taking trifecta control of Virginia government for the first time since the early 1990s.
Stay tuned for updates as the cycle progresses.
  • And especially as the special legislative session to consider gun safety measures convenes on July 9.
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Thursday, May 23, 2019

GTFO edition

Sigh.
What a couple of weeks, huh?
More and more abortion bans passing in GOP-controlled states.
Floods and deadly severe weather across the country.
The end of Game of Thrones.
But I guess we have the consolation of being this close to a long weekend … ?
Hey, it’s something, at least.
But before we GTFO of work or town or whatever, here’s an update on the other garbage happening around the nation.
GTFO of the Speakership: Two weeks ago, I wrote in this space about a bizarre and troubling saga coming out of the TennesseeHouse speaker’s office.
  • It all started when information came to light indicating that Republican Speaker Glen Casada’s office may have tried to frame a black activist for violating a no-contact order with the express purpose of getting him thrown in jail.
    • Justin Jones is a Vanderbilt divinity student who’s been pushing Tennessee GOP leadership for years on issues related to voting rights, as well as the removal of Confederate Gen. and KKK “grand wizard” Nathan Bedford Forrest’s bust from the statehouse.
      • Former GOP House Speaker Beth Harwell routinely met with Jones and his fellow activists to hear their concerns.
      • No such meetings have happened under Casada’s leadership.
    • In late February, Jones was arrested after someone threw a cup into the speaker’s own personal elevator.
      • Jones was released on bond on the condition he have no contact with Casada.
        • He’s obeyed the order and hasn’t set foot in the capitol for the past few months.
  • But Casada’s then-chief of staff, Cade Cothren, seemed to really want to take away Jones’ freedom.
    • Why else would he have shared a copy of an email with the DA purporting to show that Jones sent this email to Cothren and copied Casada after he’d been released on bond, thus violating the no-contact order?
      • The thing is, Jones has a copy of his original email, and that email shows that it was sent before this arrest or the subsequent no-contact order.
      • Confronted with evidence of the doctored date on the email shared with the DA’s office, the speaker’s office claimed there was a lag in terms of when the email was delivered versus when it was sent due to “a security issue.”
        • Thankfully, the DA has stopped trying to throw Jones in jail over this.
Was this apparent malfeasance enough to take down a powerful speaker and his chief of staff?
Nah.
  • But enter one “former acquaintance,” an unidentified person with whom Cothren and Casada had been exchanging text messages for years.
    • He (the nature of some of these messages makes it clear we’re talking about a dude here, so I’m gonna run with that pronoun) decided to share texts from Cothren with a Tennessee TV station, WTVF—texts that demonstrated Cothren’s outright racist sentiments, signaling that he’s totally the type of a-hole who’d lie to get a black man thrown in jail.
      • Cothren first tried to claim the texts had been fabricated.
      • Then, when WTVF confronted him with texts from that same acquaintance in which he bragged about snorting cocaine in his legislative offices, Cothren admitted they were real.
        • Casada stood by his man at this point, claiming that Cothren came to him about his personal struggles—including a drug problem—a few years ago and is working towards “redemption.”
  • But that “former acquaintance” apparently wasn’t done.
    • Still more incriminating texts surfaced.
    • And this batch was … bad. It was super bad.
    • In these texts, the speaker’s top aide:
      • Solicited nude photos and oral sex from an intern
      • Sought sex with a lobbyist
      • Referred to various women in demeaning or sexually explicit ways
      • And so forth, and so on.
        • And Speaker Casada—who was married at the time (gee, wonder why that didn’t last)—participated in some of these text exchanges, making gross comments about touching and intercourse with women.
    • After the article on these texts ran in The Tennessean, Cothren fell on his sword and resigned.
  • But pressure on Casada continued to build.
    • His own caucus began to turn on him, and Republican leaders demanded he resign the speakership.
    • Just this past Monday, GOP House members voted 45-24 (not even close—woof) that they no longer had confidence in his ability to lead the chamber.
  • On Tuesday, Casada announced he’d be resigning his post as speaker (but not his seat in the legislature).
GTFO of My Uterus: Unless you’ve been in a coma for the past few weeks, you’ve heard about at least one of the many abortion bans making their way through GOP-controlled statehouses.
  • Here’s a quick rundown of what is or is about to be shitty state law:
    • Alabama: Outright ban, signed into law, no exceptions for rape or incest.
    • Georgia: So-called “heartbeat” ban, which is just an outright ban with a stupid fucking bow on it to discourage people from calling it an outright ban.
      • The notion of a “fetal heartbeat” is itself a total (and deliberate) misnomer: At six weeks, when this law would apply—before many women even know they’re pregnant—a fetus doesn’t have anything resembling a heart but rather only a “a 4 mm thickening next to a yolk sac,” and the “beat” is only electrical activity.
      • Signed into law, exceptions for rape or incest.
    • Ohio: Same as Georgia, except no exceptions for rape or incest.
    • Kentucky: Same as Georgia, except no exceptions for rape or incest.
    • Mississippi: Same as Georgia, except no exceptions for rape or incest.
    • Louisiana: Not law yet, but it’s passed the legislature and Democratic (wtf bro) Gov. John Bel Edwards says he plans to sign it.
      • Same as Georgia, except no exceptions for rape or incest.
    • Missouri: Not law yet, but it’s passed the legislature and GOP Gov. Mike Parson says he plans to sign it.
But wait, there’s more!
  • Despite the fact that laws banning abortion at 20 weeks have been ruled unconstitutional by federal courts, Arkansas and Utah passed laws this year outlawing abortion at 18 weeks.
  • And Missouri didn’t come up with the idea for a “trigger” ban on its own:
    • ArkansasKentucky, and Tennessee have fresh laws on their books that will automatically outlaw abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
It’s cold comfort, but fwiw, none of these new or pending laws have taken effect or will take effect in the near future.
  • They’re pretty obviously unconstitutional, so they’re being blocked pending legal action—which will likely culminate in an eventual Supreme Court challenge to Roeitself.
  • But I think I speak for a whole heckuva lot of women when I say I don’t enjoy having a sword of Damocles hanging over my reproductive organs for the next few years.
One thing the states listed above have in common is that they’re all run by Republicans (with the lone exception of Louisiana—seriously, wtf dude).
  • States run by Democrats have been pushing reproductive healthcare rights in a different direction—specifically, a good one.
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Thursday, May 9, 2019

Dear Mama edition

Happy almost Mother’s Day!
While many of us will take a pause this weekend to thank maternal figures in our lives, Republicans in state legislatures are busy doing things their moms are probably pretty ashamed of.
I mean, I know +my+ mom would be pretty embarrassed of me if I went around trying to keep people from voting or exercising their right to determine what they do with their own bodies or trying to throw student activists in jail or …
Well, you get the idea.
Mama Tried: … presumably, to teach her Republican Tennessee sons to not be garbage humans.
But woof did she fail.
  • A fews weeks ago, I wrote in this spaceabout the heinous anti-voter registration bill making its way through the Volunteer State legislature.
  • In case you’ve forgotten just how bad this new law is, allow me to refresh your recollection.
    • The law would fine community groups conducting voter registration drives that turn in incomplete applications.
      • The fine, a civil penalty, would be levied against groups who file 100 or more so-called “deficient” voter registration forms, starting at $150 in each county were a “violation” occurred.
        • A person or group that filed more more than 500 incomplete applications could be fined up to $10,000.
      • And as if that weren’t sufficient discouragement for folks looking to register voters, this bill also criminalizes the practice of setting a minimum goal of registration forms for workers to collect. Violators could face a fine of up to $2,500 and a year in jail.
    • This law creates some of the most aggressive voter registration penalties in the country.
      • Tennessee already ranks 45th out of 50 states in terms of its voter registration rate, so suppressing registration even further seems pretty bonkers.
        • … until you remember that Tennessee is run by Republicans and that Republicans really can’t stand things like “expanding the electorate” and “more people voting.”
      • Several groups that champion ballot box access, including NAACP and ACLU, are already suing over the new law.
But that’s not the only bullshit afoot in Tennessee.
  • Because it sure looks like the House speaker’s office tried to frame a black activistfor violating a no-contact order with the express purpose of getting him thrown in jail.
    • Also, Speaker Glen Casada’s chief of staff seems to be racist as hell.
      • And otherwise pretty awful.
  • Justin Jones is a Vanderbilt divinity student who’s been pushing GOP leadership on issues related to voting rights, as well as the removal of Confederate Gen. and KKK grand wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest’s bust from the statehouse.
    • Former GOP House Speaker Beth Harwell routinely met with Jones and his fellow activists to hear their concerns.
    • No such meetings have happened under Casada’s leadership.
  • In late February, Jones was arrested after someone threw a cup into the speaker’s own personal elevator.
  • Jones was released on bond on the condition he have no contact with Casada.
    • He’s obeyed the order and hasn’t set foot in the capitol for the past few months.
  • But Speaker Casada’s chief of staff, Cade Cothren, seems to really want to take away Jones’ freedom.
    • Why else would he have shared a copy of an email with the DA purporting to show that Jones sent this email to Cothren and copied Casada after he’d been released on bond, thus violating the no-contact order?
      • The thing is, Jones has a copy of his original email, and that email shows that it was sent before this arrest or the subsequent no-contact order.
      • Confronted with evidence of the doctored date on the email shared with the DA’s office, the speaker’s office claims there was a lag in terms of when the email was delivered vs. when it was sent due to “a security issue.”
        • Thankfully, the DA has stopped trying to throw Jones in jail over the issue.
  • Cothren’s apparently earned the ire of someone else, though.
    • A “former acquaintance” shared text messages from Cothren with a Tennessee TV station that demonstrate Cothren’s outright racist sentiments.
  • But wait—there’s more!
    • Cothren first tried to claim the texts had been fabricated, but when that TV station confronted him with texts from that same acquaintance in which he bragged about snorting cocaine in his legislative offices, he admitted they were real.
      • Casada, for his part, stood by his man, claiming that Cothren came to him about his personal struggles, including a drug problem, a few years ago and is working towards “redemption.”
  • But that was last week.
    • Over the weekend, still more incriminating texts surfaced.
    • This batch had Cothren:
      • Soliciting nude photos and oral sex from an intern
      • Seeking sex with a lobbyist
      • Referring to various women in demeaning or sexually explicit ways
      • And so forth, and so on.
        • And Speaker Casada—who was married at the time (gee, wonder why that didn’t last)—participated in some of these text exchanges, making gross comments about touching and intercourse with women.
    • After the article on these texts ran in The Tennessean on Monday, Cothren fell on his sword and resigned that night.
Fun fact! Cothren was pulling in almost $200,000 per year of taxpayer-funded salary!
Mama Said Knock You Out: … of voting eligibility right after you finally got it back, according to Florida Republicans.
  • You may recall that, last November, Floridians voted by a landslide (65-35) to approve a 2018 constitutional amendment to restore voting rights for as many as 1.4 million citizens who had fully completed their felony sentences.
  • But because we all know by now that Republicans just can’t stand it when more people vote, Republican legislators have sent GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis a bill (that he’s pledged to signthat would try to keep the vast majority of those citizens disenfranchised.
  • How?
    • By being sneaky, duplicitous bastards and imposing a measure straight out of the Jim Crow playbook: poll taxes, basically. The measure would require the payment of not just restitution, but also all court-related fines and “user fees” courts impose on defendants upon conviction.
      • These user fees are charged for such things as
        • applying for a public defender
        • receiving medical treatment in jail
        • participating in drug abuse treatment programs.
      • Those who receive probation face “surcharges” for
        • halfway house supervision and room-and-board
        • electronic monitoring
        • drug testing.
      • Convicted defendants are also charged fees to fund court costs and crime prevention programs.
      • And all this is on top of the up to $500,000 in criminal fines many face.
      • Many individuals convicted of felonies can never fully repay these exorbitant fees.
        • Finding employment post-incarceration is challenging enough, and few can afford to remit massive chunks of their pay back to the state.
    • Florida's felony disenfranchisement system itself is a remnant of Jim Crow: It was given its modern form shortly after the Civil War as part of a way of keeping black citizens from voting in a state that was nearly one-half black at the time.
  • By demanding that citizens pay all court fines and fees, Republicans could effectively roll back most of the 2018 amendment.
    • The potential impact of the Republicans’ diabolical policy is thus:
      • Of the 1.4 million Floridians who regained the right to vote via Amendment 4, over 1.1 million people would lose that right—and they’d be disproportionately black.
Mama Told Me (Not To Come): … look I’m sorry but Republicans keep pushing laws imposing their bullshit will on women’s bodies so yeah they should keep it in their damn pants until they butt out of our private and medical decisions. In the meantime, I’ll make unfortunate sex puns.
  • We’ve all heard about the unconstitutional abortion ban Republican Gov. Kemp just signed in Georgia (no, it is NOT a “heartbeat bill”; that’s just a garbage euphemism for “banning abortion before most women have any damn reason to know they’re even pregnant and journalists should stop using it), so I really don’t feel the need to flog it here.
  • But maybe not everyone’s heard about a bill in Ohio that would ban most forms of birth control.
    • It's a popular one, too—one fifth of the members of the state House (do I even need to tell you they’re all Republicans?) have signed on to House Bill 182, which would prevent most insurance companies from providing medical coverage for abortion procedures (including in cases of rape or incest).
    • Oh, and it also lays out a medically impossible procedure, because its very much non-doctor author thinks that life-threatening ectopic pregnancies (where a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus and will absolutely kill a woman if not removed) can just be plucked out of wherever they happen to be and re-implanted inside of the uterus.
      • Which is extremely not a thing.
    • Oh, and it also bans birth control that could stop a fertilized egg from implanting.
      • Which includes the pill, IUDs, and most other forms of birth control that aren’t, like, condoms.
  • The bill has had its first committee hearing.
    • Oh, and in case you’d forgotten, Ohio already has its very own six-week abortion ban.
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