Court strikes down Texas’ GOP-drawn congressional map for racial gerrymandering

TX Redistricting: Late on Friday, a federal district court finally issued its long-awaited ruling in the lawsuit over Texas’ Republican-drawn congressional map (shown here). The court delivered a major victory for voting rights when it struck down several districts for violating the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protections Clause, holding that they were intentionally racially discriminatory. This ruling could result in a new map being used in the 2018 elections that would contain additional districts where Latino voters could elect their candidate preference, and Democrats could consequently gain seats.

The court struck down several districts where Republicans had either diluted Latino voting strength so that Anglo candidates could win, or where Republicans had packed Latino voters to prevent them from electing their candidate choice in neighboring seats. A redrawn map could consequently see considerable changes to the invalidated 23rd District, which spans from El Paso to San Antonio, the 27th, which covers Corpus Christi and Victoria, and the 35th, which stretches from Austin to San Antonio, along with neighboring seats. Such adjustments could subsequently see a Latino Democrat oust Republican incumbents Will Hurd and Blake Farenthold in the 23rd and 27th, respectively.

The judges additionally faulted Republicans for abusing race when drawing districts in the greater Dallas area, but did not specifically indicate that they would require Republican legislators to draw a new district to elect a Latino candidate. Plaintiffs will undoubtedly press the court to impose such a requirement when they argue for the appropriate remedy. Indeed, Daily Kos Elections itself has previously demonstrated how Republicans could have drawn another seat that would elect Latino voters’ candidate choice in Dallas at the expense of an Anglo Republican, in addition to making the aforementioned GOP-held 23rd and 27th heavily Latino.

Crucially, the court’s finding that Republicans intentionally discriminated could be grounds for placing Texas back under Justice Department “preclearance” for voting law changes under the Voting Rights Act. Several predominantly Southern states with a history of discriminatory voting laws previously had to preclear any such changes until the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the VRA in 2013. While a Jeff Sessions-led Justice Department is unlikely to block new oppressive voting laws, a future Democratic administration could.

Absurdly, this case has been ongoing ever since 2011, and litigants completed their arguments all the way back in 2014. Plaintiffs had rightly been outraged that the court was dragging its feet on issuing its ruling. Republicans have gotten away with an illegal racial gerrymander for a majority of this decade, demonstrating how it pays to illegally gerrymander, since the court of course can’t invalidate the last three election results held under the existing map.

Republican legislators will assuredly appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court. However, given a string of recent victories against Republican racial gerrymandering, there is a strong likelihood that the court will uphold part or even all of this decision, meaning Texas could have a new congressional map for 2018. Should the courts impose a remedy that makes the 23rd and 27th districts capable of electing Latino voters’ candidate preference, Democrats could gain at least two additional seats next year thanks to redistricting.


DE-Sen:  Democratic Sen. Tom Carper will be 71 on Election Day and he hasn’t announced his 2018 plans yet, but he seems to be leaning towards seeking another term. Carper recently told the National Journal that he did consider retiring when he thought Hillary Clinton would win, but under Trump, “I am probably more energized right now than I’ve been in 16 years.” Carper did not commit to anything, though he says he’d run if he had to decide now. If Carper does leave the Senate, there are a number of Democrats who might eye his seat, but he’s unlikely to face any credible primary or general election opposition if he wants a fourth term.

IN-Sen: GOP Rep. Luke Messer has signaled that he plans to run against Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly next year, though Messer recently insisted to Howey Politics that he’ll make a final decision in a couple of months. However, one of Messer’s colleagues is also coveting the same seat. Rep. Todd Rokita expressed interest a little while ago, and his political strategist makes it sound like he’s likely to go for it. Howey also reports that Rokita has been touting a mid-2016 poll that showed him “within 5 percent of Donnelly” to unnamed GOP insiders.

As we’ve noted before, Rokita doesn’t seem to have a great relationship with those GOP insiders, though. Last year, after Mike Pence ended his re-election campaign in order to serve as Trump’s running mate, Rokita entered the race to take his spot as Team Red’s gubernatorial nominee. Since the primary had passed, the 22-member state party central committee chose the new nominee, and Rokita reportedly won just two votes.

Other Republicans may also be eyeing this seat. Howey says that state Sen. Mike Delph, ex-Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, and Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke are all considering, though there’s no other information about their thinking. However, Winnecke did announce last week that he would run for re-election in 2019, and he hasn’t shown any interest in leaving before then. When the mayor was asked if he saw himself running for another office last week, Winnecke said that “I don’t see myself in terms of public service being anything else.”

Delph, who thought about running for the Senate in 2016, is a far-right politician who is not liked by the state GOP establishment. Ballard may be his exact opposite, and if he could do well in Democratic-leaning Indianapolis in a general, he’d be tough to beat. But Ballard’s relatively liberal social positions (he once served as grand marshal of Indianapolis’ LGBTQ parade) could hold him back in a primary. Ballard also left the door open to challenging Pence in the 2016 primary when the governor was still running for re-election, which could also cause him problems now that Pence is more powerful than ever.


AL-Gov: Republican state Auditor Jim Zeigler has been one of scandal-tarred Gov. Robert Bentley’s biggest intra-party critics, and he recently earned some attention when he filed a lawsuit to try and force the state to hold a special election for the United States Senate sooner than November of 2018. Zeigler has also been one of the loudest voices in the GOP to speak out against Bentley’s decision to appoint then-state Attorney General Luther Strange, whose office was investigating Bentley for allegedly using state resources to conceal an affair, to the Senate. Bentley is termed-out in 2018, though he may leave a lot earlier if the legislature removes him, and Zeigler confirms he’s interested in running to replace him. In fact, Zeigler is currently hawking his new book, unsubtly titled, “The Making of the People’s Governor 2018.”

Zeigler did not give any timeline for when he expects to decide, though he says that “people’s response” to his book will help him make up his mind. But if that book is any indication, he’s very likely to go for it: The tome’s description states that, “Several of the usual suspects ran for governor with no track records of having stood up against the abuses of the Bentley administration. But one candidate had stood up in the Bentley years and, in 2018, stood out from the rest.” Why, which candidate could that be?

Zeigler has run for office several times in the past, and earned the nickname “Mr. 49 percent” for narrowly falling short. Zeigler had a reputation for picking fights with powerful Alabamians, but in the 2014 auditor primary runoff, he got to face a very different type of politician. Zeigler’s opponent in that fateful race was none other than the one and only Dale Peterson, who ran the classic “thugs and criminals” ad during his unsuccessful 2010 bid for state agriculture commissioner; while Peterson only took third in the GOP primary, he became an internet star and inspired a very funny parody. But Peterson’s second campaign was nowhere near as fun as his first, and he lost the auditor runoff to Zeigler 65-35.

A number of other Alabama Republicans have talked about running for this office. We’ve heard interest from Jefferson County Commissioner David Carrington; Troy University Chancellor Jack Hawkins Jr.; Mark Johnston, who led a large Episcopal camp; state Senate President Del Marsh; and former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville. Rep. Bradley Byrne, who lost the 2010 runoff to Bentley, and twice-disgraced former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore also haven’t said no.

Several other GOP politicians haven’t said anything publicly, though they continue to be mentioned as possible contenders, including Secretary of State John Merrill; Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey (who would assume the powers of the governor if the state House impeaches Bentley, and become governor if he resigns or is convicted by the state Senate); and state Treasurer Young Boozer. The Alabama Political Report also mentions Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan, who was the guy who ultimately won that fateful race that Dale Peterson lost. If nothing else, McMillan got a small piece of eternal fame when Peterson created a second commercial for the runoff where he endorsed McMillan and fired his gun at someone who tried to steal a McMillan yard sign.

CA-Gov: Republicans may get a candidate for governor… just probably not one they’re especially excited about. Ex-Assemblyman David Hadley has formed an exploratory committee, and he says he’ll decide in the next two months. Hadley actually does have experience running in competitive races: In 2014, Hadley narrowly unseated Democratic Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi in a race for a Torrance seat, but he lost their expensive rematch 54-46. Businessman John Cox is already in, and he contributed $1 million to his campaign. But in a state this expensive, $1 million for a statewide campaign is sort of like a candidate in Vermont announcing that he’ll spend $14,000 of his own money. Republicans are still holding out hope that San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer will run, but he’s sent only mixed signals about his level of interest.

CO-Gov: It looks like we’ll only need to keep track of one Salazar at the most in next year’s open gubernatorial race. Democratic state Rep. Joe Salazar, who was a prominent Bernie Sanders’ supporter in Colorado, spent a few months flirting with running to succeed termed-out Gov. John Hickenlooper, but he’s announced that he will run for attorney general instead. Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman is herself a possible candidate for governor, though she hasn’t said anything publicly. Ex-Sen. Ken Salazar, who doesn’t appear to be related to Joe Salazar, is one of several Democrats mulling a bid for the governor’s office.

GA-Gov: The GOP may have their first declared candidate soon. The Atlanta-Journal Constitution reports that Secretary of State Brian Kemp will run, though they say it’s not clear when he will make an announcement. A number of other Peach State Republicans are considering.

MD-Gov: Last week, Maryland Matters reported that Alec Ross, a former State Department senior adviser for innovation, was considering seeking the Democratic nod to face GOP Gov. Larry Hogan. Ross confirmed his interest to Politico, and says he’ll decide “in the next month.” A number of other Old Line State Democrats have talked about challenging Hogan, who has polled well during the first half of his governorship.

NJ-Gov: A few days ago, Clinton-era Undersecretary of the Treasury Jim Johnson launched what his campaign says is a seven-figure cable and internet buy. Johnson’s minute-long ad emphasizes his humble origins and how his family almost lost their home during an economic downturn. Johnson then blames political insiders for not helping regular people. Johnson is a longshot in June’s Democratic primary against establishment favorite Phil Murphy, a former ambassador to Germany and Goldman Sachs executive. However, Johnson is the only Murphy primary opponent who has raised enough money to qualify for the state’s two-for-one matching funds, and he may be the best positioned to benefit if the frontrunner stumbles.

NY-Gov: Pretty much from the moment that Donald Trump fired Preet Bharara as part of a large purge of Obama-era U.S. attorneys, speculation began that Bharara could challenge Gov. Andrew Cuomo in next year’s Democratic primary. However, unnamed people tell Politico that they’ve never heard Bharara show any interest in running for elected office. Bharara himself did take a shot at Cuomo on Twitter shortly after he was sacked, but running against the governor in what would be an incredibly expensive race is another thing altogether.

OH-Gov: On Monday, ex-state Rep. Connie Pillich announced that she would seek the Democratic nod to succeed termed-out GOP Gov. John Kasich. Pillich represented a competitive Cincinnati-area seat for three terms, and she won her last term in 2012 52-44 as Romney was carrying her district 51-48. Two years later, Pillich was Team Blue’s nominee against Treasurer Josh Mandel, who took a sabbatical from running for the Senate to seek re-election. Pillich’s 57-43 loss was better than the rest of the statewide ticket, which speaks volumes about how awful 2014 was for Ohio Democrats. Pillich joins state Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni and ex-U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton in the primary.


NE-02: According to attorney Ann Ferlic Ashford, ex-Rep. Brad Ashford has ruled out seeking a rematch with Republican Rep. Don Bacon, who unseated him 49-48 last year. However, Ashford says she’s interested in picking up where her husband left off and challenging Bacon in this Omaha-based seat, which Trump carried 48-46. Ashford says she’ll decide on whether she’ll seek the Democratic nomination in the spring.

Ashford has identified as a Republican for most of her life, and her father, Randy Ferlic, served on the University of Nebraska Board of Regents as a Republican. Ashford has only run for office once, losing a nonpartisan 2012 contest to succeed her father to GOP ex-Omaha Mayor Hal Daub by a 53-47 margin. This seat is likely to be a Democratic target next year, and there may be other Omaha Democrats interested in running.

SC-05: Filing closed on Monday for the special election to succeed Republican Mick Mulvaney, who resigned to become Trump’s budget chief. Trump carried this northern seat, which includes Rock Hill, by a 57-39 margin, and the GOP nominee should have little trouble holding it on June 20. The party primaries will be May 2, and there will be a May 16 runoff in contests where no one took a majority of the vote.

There were no last-minute surprises before the filing deadline. On the GOP side, the candidates are ex-state party head Chad Connelly; Sheri Few, a prominent state opponent of Common Core education standards who took a close third place in the 2014 primary for superintendent of education; attorney Tom Mullikin, the commander of the all-volunteer S.C. State Guard; ex-state Rep. Ralph Norman, who lost a 2006 bid for this seat to Democratic incumbent John Spratt; state House Speaker Pro Temp Tommy Pope; attorney Kris Wampler; and Ray Craig, who took 21 percent against Mulvaney in a quixotic 2016 primary race. On the Democratic side, former Goldman Sachs senior advisor Archie Parnell faces Les Murphy, a veteran who works with a local veterans’ non-profit, as well as one other candidate.


Atlanta, GA Mayor: We have our first poll of the non-partisan November race to succeed termed-out Democratic Mayor Kasim Reed. In a survey for WSB-TV, local GOP pollsters Landmark Communications and Rosetta Stone have City Councilor Mary Norwood, who lost the 2009 runoff to Reed by 714 votes, taking first place with 29 percent. In the very likely event that no one takes a majority, there will be a runoff, and it’s a muddled field for second:

City Councilor Mary Norwood: 29

State Sen. Vincent Ford: 9

City Councilor Keisha Lance Bottoms: 9

City Council President Ceasar Mitchell: 8

Ex-City Council President Cathy Woolard: 6

City Councilor Kwanza Hall: 6

Fulton County Commission Chair John Eaves: 4

Ex-Atlanta chief operating officer Peter Aman: 2

Ex-Atlanta Workforce Development Agency head Michael Sterling was not tested. Most of the candidates are Democrats, though Norwood identifies as an independent.


The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, and James Lambert.

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