These are the voyages of state legislators. Their continuing mission: to explore strange new laws, to seek out new statutes and new regulations, to boldly pass laws that no one has passed before (unless they're ALEC shell bills, in which case they pop up basically everywhere).
The Wrath of Con(stitution): While Election 2016 delivered Republicans a net loss of legislative majorities, the fact that they grabbed control of a couple of chambers for the first time in quite a while gives them an opportunity to wreak legit havoc.
- Article V of the Constitution is a real Final Frontier (...sorry) of fundamental governmental change.
- Conservative activists who see the traditional method of amending the Constitution as just too darn hard, I guess (nevermind that it's worked just fine 27 times over the past 200+ years) started a push a few years ago to change our founding document by the other means provided for in Article V: two-thirds of state legislatures can request Congress call a constitutional convention of states.
- Republicans have effective majority control of both chambers in 33 states -- just one shy of the 34 that need to pass resolutions calling for that Article V convention.
- An older movement has been pushing an Article V convention for almost 40 years with the sole purpose of passing a balanced budget amendment, but the modern "movement" (the Convention of States, a smokescreen/outgrowth of the right-wing Citizens for Self-Governance) seeks more sweeping changes, from congressional term limits to "restraints on federal power," code for enshrining an ultra-conservative agenda in our fundamental governing document.
- The Convention of States Project, which was co-founded by religious-right activist Michael Farris and is led by Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler, wants to use an Article V convention to
- overturn marriage equality,
- eliminate the regulations that keep our food and water safe and slow climate change,
- undermine our entire federal tax structure,
- sell off public lands (the existence of which is apparently at fault for the rape of a woman in Oregon, according to the eighth paragraph of this shameful screed),
- undermine Medicare...
...well, you get it. Ultimately, the point here is that
- This organization has a sweeping, ultra-conservative agenda, and
- The fact that there's no precedent and no prescribed rules for an Article V convention means that pretty much anything is possible if a bunch of Republican delegates (from all these GOP-controlled states that made it possible to call the convention) get together and, ahem, revise the U.S. Constitution to conform to their partisan beliefs.
The Session on the Edge of Forever: North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has finally conceded the gubernatorial election to Democrat Roy Cooper, but he may be going out in a blaze of sour grapes.
- North Carolina Republicans don't handle loss especially graciously.
- Exhibit A: Gov. McCrory contesting his narrow-but-clear defeat for almost a month.
- Late last week, McCrory called a special legislative session for December 13, ostensibly to deal with disaster relief funding following Hurricane Matthew and wildfires. But word on the street in Raleigh is that Republicans plan to use the session to pack the state Supreme Court with two additional justices -- which would be appointed by GOP lame duck Gov. McCrory and wouldn't stand for election until 2018.
Rewind: It didn't get quite so much attention, but McCrory wasn't the only North Carolina Republican to go down last month:
- GOP Justice Bob Edmunds lost (by more than nine percentage points) to Democratic Judge Mike Morgan in a contest that tilted the balance of power on the state Supreme Court from three Democrats/four Republicans to four Democrats/three Republicans.
- A chief justice and six associate justices have comprised SCONC since 1936, but the state's Constitution allows the legislature to expand the court to eight associate justices. Which they could totally do during that December 13 special session.
- With GOP majorities in both legislative chambers and a Republican governor for just a little while longer, this court-packing scheme faces no practical obstacles.
Fun fact! The last time Gov. McCrory called a special session, Republican lawmakers used it to ram HB2 down the state's throat.
- GOP lawmakers have every reason to want a Republican-majority Supreme Court to uphold their unpopular and destructive policies, especially as they face a Democratic governor in the years to come.
- And with someone as shameless as Donald Trump as the head of their party, why wouldn't North Carolina Republicans go all in on this unprecedented power grab?
The Ungerrymandered Country: North Carolina Republicans also are tasked with remedying their unconstitutional racial gerrymandering by redrawing state legislative district lines by March 15, 2017, and legislative elections will be held in the new districts in November.
- But don't go getting excited about the fact that the state will have a Democratic governor on this one; North Carolina is one of a handful of states in which the governor has zero authority to veto maps or in any way affect the redistricting process.
Amok Line: Speaking of redistricting, two racial gerrymandering cases were argued before SCOTUS yesterday. The Virginia case concerns 12 House of Delegates districts into which GOP lawmakers packed African Americans, thus diminishing their voting power; another North Carolina case concerns two congressional districts with the same issue.
Fun fact! Since Virginia holds state legislative elections in odd-numbered years, a ruling in the case may come too late for maps to be redrawn for this election cycle (primaries are typically in June).
- And let's not forget that the clock is ticking in Wisconsin. When a panel of federal judges ruled on November 21 that extreme partisan gerrymandering of state legislative districts violated the U.S. Constitution, they didn't order any immediate changes; rather, they invited ideas for remedies from lawyers and plaintiffs over the subsequent 30 days.
- While that deadline hits just a little before Christmas (and Hanukkah this year!), it's unclear how long it'll take those judges to turn those ideas into solutions.
Also, this is totally getting appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, so there's that.
The Dooms(election)day Machine: For the third election in a row, Democratic candidates for the Michigan state House received more votes statewide then Republican House candidates; however, Democrats remain in the minority in the chamber.
Just, you know, FYI.
The Lame Duck in the Dark: While we're talking about Michigan, the artificial GOP House majority is fast-tracking a new voter suppression measure through the chamber during their notorious lame-duck session (Republicans have previously used the less-scrutinized period between Election Day and the New Year to ram through so-called "right to work" legislation and eliminate straight-ticket voting [since reinstated by court order]).
- The new measures would dramatically tighten the state's voter ID requirement, removing the option for voters lacking photo ID to swear an affidavit and giving Michigan one of the most prohibitive voter ID laws in the nation.
Fun fact! In 2016, 18,339 Michiganders without strict photo ID used the affidavit option to cast ballots — which, incidentally, is 8,000 votes greater than Trump’s margin of victory in the state.
- Republicans have also pulled their little trick of adding an appropriation to the bill to make it referendum-proof (they did the same thing to their straight-ticket voting measure last year, since voters had already repealed such a law at the ballot box).
- The legislation is awaiting final passage in the GOP-controlled House before moving to the GOP-controlled Senate.
The following 2 state legislatures are meeting actively this week: NEW JERSEY and OHIO.
Also meeting: DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA and PUERTO RICO.