Texas: Like their brethren in North Carolina, Republican legislators in Texas have been embroiled in racial gerrymandering lawsuits almost since the moment they passed new redistricting plans following the 2010 census. Earlier in 2017, a federal district court panel ruled that the GOP’s 2011 congressional and state House maps were intentionally discriminatory against black and Latino voters. Because Republicans had already redrawn those maps in 2013, following court rulings that blocked the 2011 districts from ever taking effect, there will be an expedited July trial over the current maps.
With the Supreme Court dealing Republicans a major blow in North Carolina (see our North Carolina item below), there’s a good chance Texas Republicans will also suffer a courtroom defeat that could lead to yet another set of new maps in 2018. In late May, the district court invited Republicans to voluntarily redraw their maps, and some Republican congressman reportedly even begged GOP Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session in order to do so. However, the governor has refused to budge, raising the risk of the court stepping in and drawing the lines itself.
It’s not clear why Abbott’s being so stubborn. It’s possible Republicans view a redraw as an admission of wrongdoing—or that they’re hoping for a better outcome at the Supreme Court. Yet whatever the reason, this intransigence is potentially to the detriment of Abbott’s own party, since a court-drawn congressional map could have a devastating impact on Republicans and potentially cost them several congressional seats in 2018.
As we explained previously, March’s court ruling only specifically faulted a handful of seats, but since so many surrounding seats would have to be redrawn to correct the problematic districts, the possible range of outcomes is very broad. If plaintiffs prevail and GOP legislators ultimately redraw the lines, Republicans could limit Democrats to a gain of just two or three seats. However, if the court implements new lines of its own, that number could rise to something more like a five-seat pickup for Democrats, in what Republicans have aptly called their “Armageddon” scenario.
• Maryland: Lawsuits against far more widespread Republican gerrymandering have understandably dominated media attention, but a case against one of the country’s rare Democratic congressional gerrymanders could finally lead to a Supreme Court precedent with national implications for partisan gerrymandering. That suit, stemming from a challenge to Maryland’s map, will go to trial later this year. The Republican plaintiff has argued that the Democrats’ gerrymander of the state’s 6th Congressional District violated his rights to free speech and association under the First Amendment, based on his party preference.
In an important development, former Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, who signed that map into law, admitted in a deposition that Democrats did indeed draw the 6th District in western Maryland to obtain a partisan advantage. This admission could be key because any successful partisan gerrymandering challenge will almost certainly have to prove that mapmakers intentionally sought a partisan edge. While we have previously demonstrated how Maryland’s insanely convoluted district lines are more a result of placating incumbent demands than obtaining the maximum partisan advantage (as we typically see with most GOP maps), the lines they drew are nevertheless intended to help Democrats at least modestly.
O’Malley has further stated that he supports reform at the national level and says he signed off on this map because it didn’t make sense for Democrats to unilaterally disarm, especially since Republicans controlled the redistricting process in far more states following the 2010 census. Yet in an ironic twist, Democrats won’t be too displeased if this lawsuit forces them to redraw the lines in Maryland because such a ruling—or victories in different cases in North Carolina and Wisconsin—could finally see the Supreme Court reverse its longstanding refusal to strike down partisan gerrymanders. That could lead to a wave of challenges against other maps that have helped give Republicans a near-lock on the House and in many legislatures.
• North Carolina: In late May, the Supreme Court upheld a district court ruling issued last year that struck down North Carolina’s Republican-drawn 2011 congressional map on the grounds that GOP lawmakers had engaged in unconstitutional racial gerrymandering, handing voting rights advocates a major victory and dealing a huge blow to what was arguably the most effective congressional gerrymander of the modern era.
As shown in this map, Republican legislators used surgical precision to pack black voters into just two out of 13 districts, the tentacular 1st and the snake-like 12th. The lower court found that these districts separated voters on the basis of race without serving a compelling interest in violation of the constitution, a move that effectively prevented black voters from electing their preferred candidates in neighboring seats.
Before Republican legislators put these new lines into place, the black population in both the 1st and the 12th constituted a mere plurality in each of those districts. During redistricting, the GOP increased those pluralities to majorities, claiming alternately that the Voting Rights Act forced them to do so (in the case of the 1st) or that they’d ignored race entirely and only considered partisan preferences in the 12th (something that is still legally permissible).
The Supreme Court, however, rejected both arguments. Black voters in both districts had for decades been able to elect their candidates of choice (black Democrats), so increasing the black population in these two seats wasn’t necessary to ensure this state of affairs would continue. Indeed, in related cases, the Supreme Court has consistently rejected the notion that mapmakers are required to create districts with majority-black populations instead of taking local conditions into account to determine the proper threshold for black voters to elect their candidate preference.
As a result, because Republicans so flagrantly prioritized race over all other criteria with respect to the 1st, and because they could have achieved their partisan objectives by different means with the 12th, the court held that race unconstitutionally predominated in the redistricting process.
As noted above, this now-invalidated congressional map was one of, if not the very most aggressive partisan gerrymanders in modern history. North Carolina is a relatively evenly divided swing state—Donald Trump won it by less than four points last year—yet these lines offered Republicans 10 safe districts while creating three lopsidedly Democratic seats. Amazingly, all 10 Republican districts hit a perfect sweet spot with GOP support between 55 and 60 percent, a level that is high enough to be secure yet spreads around Republican voters just carefully enough to ensure the maximum number of GOP seats possible.
Unfortunately, Republican legislators swiftly replaced this map in 2016 with an almost equally aggressive gerrymander (shown here) that, they claimed, only took into account partisan considerations. As we have previously demonstrated, this map maintained the same split of 10 Republicans and three Democrats, and indeed, this was borne out in last year’s elections.
Republican state Rep. David Lewis even explicitly defended the redrawn map as a partisan gerrymander, stating unequivocally that it was intended to maintain the maximum possible edge for the GOP. This brazenly undemocratic admission was part of a legal tactic intended to insulate the new lines from renewed racial gerrymandering claims, but it helped expose the map to lawsuits alleging unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering. Again, partisan gerrymandering is currently allowed under U.S. law, but the Supreme Court will likely address this topic, too, in a series of related cases in North Carolina and other states.
Nevertheless, the high court’s recent ruling is a critical victory in a state that has been ground zero in the battle over voting rights. This decision will make it easier to challenge GOP racial gerrymanders elsewhere, which is significant because Republicans in nearly every Southern state could have drawn another congressional district that would elect black or Latino voters’ candidate of choice.
Federal courts have now struck down Republican-drawn maps for illegal racial gerrymandering in four Southern states since the 2010 census, including Alabama, Texas, and Virginia, leading to new maps. All four of those states plus Georgia also still have ongoing racial gerrymandering litigation at the congressional level, legislative level, or both. However, the North Carolina GOP’s new, allegedly “partisan-only” congressional map is still in place at the moment, and there’s still a long way to go before it, too, might come undone at the hands of the courts.
Tar Heel Republicans also have to contend with two more Supreme Court cases regarding illegal racial gerrymandering of the state legislature. One of these challenges saw a federal district court strike down a slew of districts last year for abusing race, but that decision came too late to affect last year’s elections. The lower court called for special elections to take place this fall, but the Supreme Court stayed that opinion pending appeal. The high court will likely soon decide whether to hear GOP legislators’ appeal, and given their ruling on the congressional map, it’s quite possible that they could summarily affirm the district court’s decision and require new maps.
The second racial gerrymandering case pertaining to the legislature has a more convoluted history. This challenge worked its way through the state court system only to see the North Carolina Supreme Court twice uphold the GOP’s legislative maps, most recently on a party-line vote in 2015. However, the U.S. Supreme Court sent that case back to the state Supreme Court on Tuesday for a third review in light of its decision on the congressional map. What makes this move so significant is that Democrats’ newfound majority on the North Carolina Supreme Court means that the state court is now very likely to rule against the GOP this time.
Unfortunately, Republicans have a firm grip on the legislature thanks to those selfsame illegal gerrymanders, and North Carolina’s governor plays no role in the redistricting process (not even to sign or veto maps). Republican legislators will therefore likely get a chance to draw new gerrymanders, since Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper can’t stop them. However, if they do, they’ll do so under new constraints that will likely limit their ability to maximize their partisan advantage, at least compared to the current district lines. Given the extensive recent history of abusive GOP gerrymanders, the courts might even take it upon themselves to draw new maps, which would be the best-case scenario for Democrats.
• New Hampshire: As expected, Republican legislators used their state House majority to advance a bill that restricts voter residency requirements. The bill heads back to the state Senate, where Republicans had passed a slightly different version on a party-line vote, and GOP Gov. Chris Sununu has said he will sign it if it reaches his desk. If this bill becomes law (as it probably will), voters who have moved to the state within 30 days of Election Day will have to show proof that they intend to remain in New Hampshire long term. Existing voters will have to provide proof that not only do they have a residency in the state, but that they live there day-to-day by making it their “domicile.”
These changes could very well prove to be unconstitutional, but if they survive review, they could disenfranchise college students and young voters in particular, two demographics that lean strongly toward Democrats. After Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan won New Hampshire by just 1,017 votes and Hillary Clinton by only 2,736 votes in 2016, even a small effect could have enormous consequences if it swings a close race, which is exactly what Republicans are intending.
• North Carolina: On Thursday, a state appeals court unanimously moved to dismiss Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s challenge to a law that the Republican-dominated state legislature had passed in April to remove Democratic majorities from every state and county election board, a power grab that we have previously detailed at length. If this law stays in effect, election boards shift from having one-seat Democratic majorities to being evenly split along partisan lines. The resulting deadlocks will allow Republicans to veto any efforts to roll back their previous voter suppression efforts back when they had majorities under former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.
Republicans pushed through this latest effort to usurp Cooper’s powers in late April after a state court struck down a previous attempt earlier this year for violating the state constitution’s separation of powers provisions. Cooper swiftly vowed to appeal this latest ruling, and he may have a good shot since Democrats gained a critical four-to-three majority on the state Supreme Court in last year’s elections.
However, Thursday’s lower court ruling nonetheless saw two Democratic-appointed judges side with a Republican-appointed one. The judges, though, reached their decision because they felt they lacked jurisdiction to hear the case and did not opine on the underlying merits of the dispute, so the outcome of Cooper’s appeal remains very much up in the air.
● Ohio: On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal that will set up the first major high-court voting rights battle since Donald Trump appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch to the bench. Ohio Republicans are appealing a 2016 appellate court decision that invalidated their purge of voter registrations that appeared to discriminate against Democratic-leaning and nonwhite voters. To initiate this purge, Republican officials had sent notices to anyone who hadn’t voted or updated their information in two years; if that notice wasn’t returned and the voter didn’t cast a ballot in the next four years, they were removed. Federal law, however, prevents states from striking voters from the rolls simply for failing to vote, leading to last year’s ruling against the state.
Ohio’s GOP Secretary of State Jon Husted has in fact eliminated two million voters from the rolls since taking office in 2011. While records for voters who move or die must be updated, mass purges run the risk of wrongly disenfranchising many valid voters. The lists of inactive voters are also themselves prone to error: The Akron Beacon Journal reported last year that some supposedly inactive voters had actually cast ballots in 2016.
But with Gorsuch now part of a conservative five-member majority on the Supreme Court, there’s no telling whether this ruling will stand. And if it’s overturned, that will give Republican officials in a slew of other states license to pursue similar mega-purges, making it more burdensome for valid Democratic-leaning voters to exercise their voting rights.
• Texas: Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has now signed a bill that loosens Texas’ restrictive voter ID law after federal courts repeatedly found that the previous statute intentionally discriminated based on race. This new measure attempts to salvage the state’s voter ID regime lest the courts ultimately throw out the entire law. Instead of requiring voters to present an ID from a very specific set of government-issued IDs, this new law makes permanent what the court temporarily required last year: Voters who swear that they had a “reasonable impediment” to obtaining an ID may vote if they present another document showing their name and address, like a utility bill or paycheck.
This new law is a mixed bag for voting rights advocates. On the one hand, it preserves a voter ID requirement even after the conservative-leaning 5th Circuit Court of Appeals had deemed the previous measure discriminatory just last year. The law itself also remains transparently partisan: It allows voters to use hunting permits as an acceptable form of ID but not student ID from state schools. It’s not hard to guess which type of ID is more used by which type of voter. And even these “softer” requirements are still prone to causing voter confusion.
On the flipside, Republicans might have prevailed had they appealed all the way to the Supreme Court (again, see Gorsuch). Seen in that light, this loosening of restrictions counts as a modest victory for voting rights. And litigation over the finding of intentional discrimination regarding the original, strict version of Texas’ voter ID law is still ongoing. Voting rights advocates are pushing for the courts throw out the entire law on the basis of that earlier finding.
Unfortunately, at the very same time, Texas Republicans also passed a new law that is unequivocally bad for voting rights. Abbott signed a bill that eliminates the straight-ticket voting option, which a huge share of voters have used in recent elections. Texas can often have several dozen partisan races on the ballot at once, thanks to a multiplicity of contests for obscure offices like judgeships. Consequently, eliminating straight-ticket voting could dramatically increase the time it takes to cast a ballot, leading to even longer lines at polling places. It will also very likely spark an increase in undervoting, where voters simply skip making a choice in races that are far down the ballot.
What’s more, those who’ve exercised the straight-ticket option in recent elections have been disproportionately black and Latino—and consequently Democratic-leaning in their voting preferences. Fortunately, voting rights advocates have a potential opening for a lawsuit, since they successfully blocked Michigan Republicans from repealing straight-ticket voting in a court case last year that focused on its disparate impact on black voters due to increased voting times.
• Maine: Maine’s state Supreme Court recently issued a unanimous opinion saying that a 2016 ballot initiative that switched Maine’s elections to instant-runoff voting for state and congressional races violates the state constitution. This advisory opinion was non-binding, meaning the court did not yet formally strike down the law that voters had approved 52-48 last year. Furthermore, it only applies to state-level general elections, leaving instant runoffs in place for primaries and for all federal elections. However, the opinion casts serious doubt on the prospect of the legislature actually implementing instant runoff voting (sometimes called ranked-choice voting) as scheduled for the 2018 elections.
If this provision nonetheless goes into effect, Maine would become the first state in the country to adopt instant-runoff voting for Senate and House races. (It also would have been the first to use it for gubernatorial and state legislative races, but that’s almost certainly no longer in the cards.) This new system lets voters rank up to six candidates in order of preference. If no one initially attains a majority of first-choice votes, the last-place candidate gets eliminated and votes for that candidate shift to each voter’s second choice. That process repeats until one candidate achieves a majority (or all ballots are exhausted).
However, the court found that this system would violate a state constitutional provision that says that state-level candidates only need to win the most votes—a plurality—in order to be elected. Instant-runoff voting essentially requires candidates to win a majority.
Consequently, there’s a good chance legislators will now repeal the law to avoid a near-certain lawsuit to block its implementation, using the court’s opinion as political cover for a repeal that many already wanted to see. While reformers quickly pledged to introduce a state constitutional amendment to make instant-runoff voting permissible, such an effort would require two-thirds support in both legislative chambers, which looks like an impossible burden. (Any amendment would also have to go before voters.)
Legislators will soon consider both the proposed amendment and an outright repeal bill, but with Republicans, who mostly oppose the reforms, controlling the state Senate, they can easily block any amendment. Conversely, the Democratic-run state House might block outright repeal, but Republicans could simply thwart implementation for federal races and primaries by failing to budget the necessary resources for it. Some Democrats have also opposed instant runoff based on a belief that it would help independent candidates, so it’s possible Republicans could win over enough defectors in the lower chamber for the repeal bill.
Only twice in Maine’s past 11 gubernatorial elections since 1974 has the winner won a majority of the vote. The problems with the status quo became readily apparent in the 2010 Republican wave election when tea partying Gov. Paul LePage won his first term by a mere 38-36 plurality over a fractured field of left-leaning opponents. Despite an obvious appetite for electoral reform and a strong independent streak, Maine voters lack the power to initiate state constitutional amendments at the ballot box. Their best recourse appears to be the daunting task of voting in new legislators—most likely Democrats—who will support instant-runoff voting.
Voter Access and Registration
• Connecticut: Last month, Connecticut’s Democratic-run state House voted mostly along party lines to pass a state constitutional amendment to allow early voting. Democrats just barely control the state Senate thanks to Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman’s tie-breaking vote, meaning the upper chamber could pass it without any Republican support if need be. Since Republican opposition makes a three-fourths supermajority allowing for a 2018 voter referendum impossible, Democrats would need both chambers to pass this amendment in both 2017 and 2019 before it could head before voters in 2020.
Connecticut Democrats have tried for years to allow early voting, since the state is one of just 13 that does not allow it. However, they keep running into trouble trying to overcome Republican opposition to this measure that would make voting easier. Democrats previously put an amendment on the 2014 ballot, but it narrowly failed 52-48 in that year’s GOP wave. Democrats are optimistic that higher turnout in the 2020 presidential cycle will result in victory next time it makes it to the ballot, though again, there are still further legislative hurdles to overcome.
• Georgia: Proponents of voting access won a court case early in May that forced Georgia to temporarily reopen its voter registration period ahead of the critical 6th Congressional District special election later this month. Republican officials had unsuccessfully tried to prevent anyone who wasn’t registered for the April 18 primary from participating in the June 20 runoff, but the court held that this effective three-month registration deadline violated federal law. Nearly 8,000 people have since taken advantage of this ruling by registering to vote by May 21, though since Georgia lacks party registration, it’s not immediately possible to say whether this new influx helps one side or the other.
• Illinois: Illinois’ state House unanimously passed a bill on Tuesday to establish a system of automatic voter registration, followed by the state Senate’s similar unanimous approval of the measure the next day. This marks a huge turnaround from just last year, when Republicans voted along party lines to block a Democratic effort to override GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of a different automatic registration bill after it had initially passed with broad bipartisan support. This time, though, Rauner has said he will sign the bill.
Nonetheless, this legislation isn’t a total victory after Democrats made some key compromises on their earlier proposal to win over Republican support. This latest measure would automatically register eligible voters who do business with the Department of Motor Vehicles and, importantly, other government agencies, too. However, the newer version would ask voters themselves to confirm their eligibility at the time of registration instead of having election officials do so afterward. It would also ask voters up front if they want to opt out of registering, rather than in a follow-up letter.
It’s unclear what the impact of these changes will be, but they could lead to voter confusion over eligibility. Since Illinois already asks eligible voters if they want to register when at the DMV, simply asking instead if they don’t want to register might not produce substantially different results. Consequently, fewer new voters might be added to the rolls than would have under the previous iteration of this legislation. Earlier estimates have suggested that automatic registration could result in the registration of more than one million new voters, but the compromises needed to pass this bill could lower that number, perhaps considerably.
• Rhode Island: Illinois isn’t the only state moving forward with automatic voter registration: On Wednesday, Rhode Island’s heavily Democratic state House unanimously passed a bill to automatically register eligible voters who interact with certain state agencies unless they opt out, although it’s unclear from the bill’s text whether the opportunity to opt out will come up front or after the fact. This bill would not only cover those who do business with the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles but also those who apply for public assistance, unemployment, and other services. These additional agencies are important because many low-income citizens and city-dwellers might seldom or even never have reason to interact with the DMV.
Despite having near-monolithic Democratic majorities in the legislature and a Democratic governor, Rhode Island lags far behind when it comes to making voting quick and easy. It has no same-day registration, no early voting, no excuse-free absentee voting, and it’s the only state where Democrats were instrumental to passing a voter ID law, although theirs is nowhere near as restrictive as most Republican-designed measures. Still, if the state Senate approves automatic registration and Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo signs it, the reform could go a long way toward making voting easier in this blue state.
• Alabama: In a surprising development, newly elevated Republican Gov. Kay Ivey and the state’s GOP-dominated legislature have passed a law that loosens Alabama’s felony disenfranchisement restrictions. Alabama had amended its constitution back in 1901, during the Jim Crow era, to disenfranchise those who committed crimes involving “moral turpitude,” a term that was deliberately vague enough to give local officials the leeway to wield it as a weapon to target African Americans, just as its authors openly intended. Although the Supreme Court later struck down that provision, which had included misdemeanors, subsequent laws still denies the vote to those convicted of felonies of nebulous “moral turpitude.”
Indeed, according to the Sentencing Project, Alabama currently disenfranchises nearly 300,000 individuals, or roughly 8 percent of its adult citizens. That number includes 15 percent of African Americans, roughly three times the rate of all other groups. The new law finally defines which exact crimes fall under the definition of moral turpitude, effectively limiting it to fewer than 50 felonies instead of nearly all of them. This list includes crimes like murder, assault, theft, and sexual offenses, but it conspicuously excludes certain white-collar crimes like public corruption—even though Republican Mike Hubbard, the once-powerful speaker of the state House, was convicted of just that offense in a major case last year—so it’s plausible that African-Americans will still be disproportionately affected.
Unfortunately, this new law requires those who have completed their sentences to repay all court fines and fees before regaining their voting rights, a burden that amounts to a poll tax. Furthermore, Alabama will still disenfranchise many who are on parole or probation for some felonies, and of course those who are still incarcerated. It therefore remains to be seen just how many disenfranchised people will regain their voting rights following this reform; the Southern Poverty Law Center
first posted in 2015
Today, 750 million people in the world live without access to clean water. Now, they say 663 million live with access to clean water and 2.4 billion live without improved sanitation. We all have to know one without the other equals illness disease and death. This crisis disproportionately affects women, who walk a combined 200 million hours a day to collect water for their families. Stella Artois is supporting Water.org to help solve the global water crisis. Learn how you can help at http://BuyALadyADrink.com
Now, in the year 2017, they say 663 million live with access to clean water and 2.4 billion live without improved sanitation. We all have to know one without the other equals illness disease and death.
|David Phillips just started a petition to Chico Police Department and California State Attorney General Xavier Becerra demanding that the:
Police Department immediately fire the officers involved in killing Desmond Phillips and that the California State Attorney General press charges against the officers who killed Desmond Phillips.
I just started a petition titled: “Fire and charge the officers who killed Desmond Phillips.”
Here’s why this is important:
On March 17th, Chico Police Officers Alex Fliehr and Jeremy Gagnebin came into my home and killed my 25-year-old son Desmond Phillips right in front of me!
I had called 911 for medical assistance, something that I had to do relatively often since my son suffered mental health problems due to PTSD from being beaten by the Sacramento Police Department. This assault by Sacramento Police put him in the hospital ICU for four days. The Chico 911 dispatch, Chico Police, and Chico Behavioral Health Department were familiar with Desmond’s background and had successfully taken him in for mental health treatment twice before.
On March 17th, the first responders who arrived at my apartment removed Desmond’s headphones and sunglasses which is how he was coping with the crisis he was in. When he became agitated in response, they first responders called in the police. The police arrived at the scene with a non-lethal beanbag gun and shield, but those things were never used. When Desmond saw the police he panicked and locked the front door. The police broke down the door, tased him and within seconds Officers Gagnebin and Fliehr fired 16 shots total from their two semi-automatic handguns.
I was in the home the whole time and had to witness the murder of my son by the police. Desmond’s nephews who are 10 and 12 years old were also in the apartment. The neighbors heard what can be heard on the 911 tape as well, the taser was deployed and only a few second passed before the gunshots began. Every shot to my son was in his face and chest area. The police fired so many shots that a couple of the bullets passed through a wall into the neighboring apartment.
Both officers were rookies, one with two years and the other with one year on duty. It was negligent and reckless for Sergeant Lefkowitz to send two rookies into a mental health crisis. The 911 dispatcher, the first responders, and the police NEVER called in ANY mental health professionals. Chico Police Chief O’Brien and DA Ramsey claimed that the Officers involved had gone through Critical Incident Training. However, Sheriff Duch who teaches de-escalation training, resigned in protest citing that the Police and DA were lying about the training Officers Fliehr, Gagnebin, and others have had. Sheriff Duch said that the officers who killed my son had never attended one of his de-escalation trainings.
Butte County District Attorney Michael Ramsey has ruled that the murder was “justified” and will not be pressing criminal charges. During each public statement DA Ramsey gave during the investigation, his version of what happened has changed in multiple ways. The two Officers who killed Desmond got a paid vacation (administrative leave, during the investigation) and are now back on duty. The present a huge threat to anyone that lives in Chico.
Join my family and our community in demanding that the Chico Police Department fire these officers! We also ask that the California State Attorney General launch an independent investigation and press criminal charges against Officers Alex Fliehr, Jeremy Gagnebin, and Sergeant Todd Lefkowitz.
How many Black people must be killed by law enforcement before we see justice for their families, serious consequences for the killers, and changes in policy and procedure?
NC Redistricting: In a major victory for voting rights on Monday, the Supreme Court affirmed a lower court ruling issued last year that had struck down 28 of North Carolina’s 170 state legislative districts on the grounds that Republicans had unconstitutionally racially gerrymandered these maps. These lines will now have to be redrawn, and new elections will be held under them, most likely next year or possibly even later this year. When that happens, Democrats could finally break the GOP’s years-long veto-proof supermajorities in the legislature, which Republicans have used to run roughshod over democratic norms and impose a radical conservative agenda on an evenly divided swing state.
So why did the courts determine these lines were invalid? Republicans had taken seats like the 21st State Senate District in Fayetteville—the tentacular monstrosity shown in this map—that had a plurality of African-American voters and made them majority black. Republicans claimed that they were required to do so under the Voting Rights Act so that black voters could elect their candidates of choice, but that argument was entirely pretextual.
That’s because black voters, even in plurality-black districts, were already able to elect their preferred candidates—typically, black Democrats. Republicans merely sought to pack as many black voters into as few seats as possible in order to make surrounding seats whiter. In the South in particular, blacks tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic while whites vote heavily for Republicans, so reducing the black population in these neighboring seats quite simply made it easier for the GOP to win them.
Unfortunately, there’s one big hitch. Though the courts have ordered new maps, the very same Republicans who benefitted from the gerrymanders that were just struck down will get to draw up those new lines. Whatever new districts they produce, Republicans will likely now claim that they’re only taking partisanship (and not race) into account. We know this because the exact same thing happened with the state’s congressional map, which was also struck down as an illegal racial racial gerrymander but reconstituted (so Republicans said) as a purely partisan construct—something the Supreme Court still tolerates.
But the GOP will still face new constraints on how it can use race when it goes back to the literal drawing board, and that could make all the difference. The now-invalidated maps were so brutally effective that Republicans won veto-proof three-fifths majorities every election since they were first put in place following the 2010 census. That even includes last year, when North Carolina elected Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to office.
Yet now it will be harder for Republicans to retain that hammerlock going forward. Democrats only need to gain four seats in the 120-member state House to break the Republicans’ 74-46 supermajority (one nominally Democratic member in a Trump seat frequently sides with Republicans). Exactly when the GOP will face its moment of truth remains to be seen, though. The lower court had originally called for special elections to take place this year, but the Supreme Court vacated that part of the ruling and told the district court to issue new findings in regard to timing. That means special elections could still happen in 2017, though it’s more likely that the new maps won’t be used until the regularly scheduled elections next year, when the entire legislature will go before voters.
Whatever schedule is chosen, Democrats have a major chance to set North Carolina in a new direction. Republicans have turned the Tar Heel State into an experiment in hardline conservative governance and made it ground zero in the battle over voting rights. With redrawn districts, Democrats could finally provide a firm check against Republican legislative abuses by sustaining Cooper’s vetoes and restoring sanity to North Carolina’s government.
• MT-Sen: Confirming reports from last Friday, Montana’s GOP state Attorney General Tim Fox announced on Monday that he indeed would not run for Senate against Democratic incumbent Jon Tester in 2018. His opting out of the race deprives Republicans of what would have been one of their strongest potential recruits against the two-term incumbent in this Republican-leaning state. State Sen. Al Olszewski and businessman Troy Downing are already running for the GOP, but Fox’s declining to enter the race leaves many state Republicans searching for a better-known standard-bearer among the party’s relatively deep bench.
• AZ-Gov: State Sen. Steve Farley became the second noteworthy Democrat running for governor against Republican incumbent Doug Ducey when he announced his campaign on Monday. Farley, who runs a graphic design and art company, represents a Democratic-leaning seat in the Tucson area and serves as assistant minority leader, giving him a prominent perch in the legislature. He joins Arizona State University professor David Garcia, who narrowly lost a 2014 race for state education superintendent, in the Democratic primary.
Ducey, who is the wealthy ex-CEO of Cold Stone Creamery, has so far demonstrated few vulnerabilities in this red-leaning state. However, Arizona trended strongly Democratic last year when it favored Donald Trump by just 3.5 points, and its growing Latino population gives Democrats hope that they can put the state into play for future races.
• CT-Gov: Over the weekend, Connecticut Port Authority Chair Scott Bates announced that he would not join the crowded Democratic primary. Bates picked an odd way to make his plans clear, writing a long op-ed in The Day with candidate-like phrases such as, “I grew up in a middle-class family in the small town of Mystic,” and, “I’ll put three ideas out there that I think should be at the core of our governing agenda in Connecticut.” If you skipped the last paragraph, you’d probably be sure Bates would be on the ballot.
Still, Bates does conclude, “I need to carry out the duties of my role as Deputy Secretary of the State and do all I can as chairman of the Connecticut Port Authority to help build the infrastructure that creates jobs and economic growth. I can’t do either job right from the campaign trail running for governor.” It certainly does feel that Bates, who could have been the first governor from southeastern Connecticut since the 1880s, is either building up his profile for a run for something, or is at least auditioning for another appointed post.
• FL-Gov: GOP Rep. Ron DeSantis, a close ally of tea party-friendly groups like the Club for Growth, reportedly has been considering running for governor of Florida for a while, but he’s said little publicly. However, DeSantis recently told Politico that he “appreciate[s] the encouragement I’ve received about the 2018 governor’s race,” and is “considering how I can make difference and will decide my plans by the fall.” Politico’s Marc Caputo also writes that DeSantis has met with donors about a possible run for state attorney general as well, and the congressman wants to assess how much money he can raise before deciding on anything.
If DeSantis gets in, he’ll face a very expensive GOP primary with state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. But DeSantis, who served in the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps in Iraq before winning his seat, hopes he can emulate the strategy that allowed termed-out Gov. Rick Scott to upset Attorney General Bill McCollum in the 2010 primary. DeSantis would likely try to portray Putnam, who has never left elected office since he won a state House seat at the age of 22, as a career politician.
While Caputo writes that DeSantis knows he would get outspent by Putnam, who has $10 million in the bank, he wouldn’t be starting his fundraising quite from scratch. DeSantis has $2 million in his House account and $750,000 in a super PAC, and he can transfer a large part of his cash (though not all) to a gubernatorial campaign. However, it’s worth noting that when DeSantis ran for the Senate in 2015 to replace the temporarily-retiring Marco Rubio, his fundraising wasn’t incredible. DeSantis brought in a total of $4.5 million from the start of the cycle until he dropped out of the race when Rubio turned around and sought re-election in late June of 2016.
Campaign finance rules would be different for a gubernatorial campaign and DeSantis would be facing a completely different field of opponents, so his fundraising could go completely differently in 2018 if he runs. Still, Putnam already has more than twice as much cash at his disposal than DeSantis managed to raise in 18 months, and he may have the connections to widen his lead.
If DeSantis ran and beat Putnam, he may give Democrats a better chance to win the general. DeSantis is a member of the hardline House Freedom Caucus, and he echoed Trump on Monday just after the weekend’s terror attacks in London when he argued that Mayor Sadiq Khan insisted that terrorism is “part and parcel” of city life. What Khan actually said last year was that “part and parcel of living in a great global city is you gotta be prepared for these things [terrorism], you gotta be vigilant, you gotta support the police doing an incredibly hard job, you gotta support the security services,” but that doesn’t sound as surrendery has Trump and DeSantis would like it to. Of course, as outgoing Gov. Rick Scott and Trump’s own narrow wins have shown, flawed candidates can very well win in this swing state.
Three other notable Republicans have expressed interest in running. State Sen. Jack Latvala, a powerful Tampa Bay Republican, says he’ll decide sometime in the summer. State House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Scott antagonist, insists he won’t decide until next year, but he’s begun fundraising for a possible bid. Eccentric rich guy “Alligator” Ron Bergeron also says he’ll decide around August.
• GA-Gov: On Saturday, House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams announced that she would seek the Democratic nomination for governor. That same day, the influential group EMILY’s List threw its backing behind Abrams even though another Democratic woman, state Rep. Stacey Evans, is also running. If Abrams wins the general election, she would be Georgia’s first African-American governor (and the first female black governor of any state), while either Abrams or Evans would be the first woman to serve as governor of the Peach State.
• IA-Gov: Republican Kim Reynolds got her promotion from lieutenant governor to governor last month after Terry Branstad resigned to become ambassador to China, but it looks like not all her fellow Republicans are on board with her. Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett, a former state House speaker, has been considering a bid since December, and he told the Quad City Times that he plans to announce he’s running at the end of June, though there’s no direct quote from Corbett definitively saying he’s running.
Corbett is the guy who back in February teased a “big surprise” at the end of his final state of the city address. That “big surprise” turned out to be Corbett singing “Sweet Home Cedar Rapids,” a tribute he wrote to the tune of “Sweet Home Chicago.” We’re content to wait for Corbett to actually say “I’m running for governor” just in case this is another fake out and he’s actually announcing that the Sweet Home Cedar Rapids Experience is going on a multi-state tour.
• MN-Gov, MN-08: Republican state House Speaker Kurt Daudt has been talking about running for governor, and Minnesota politics tipsheet Morning Take reports he does indeed plan to announce a bid soon, which has reportedly been delayed by a lawsuit over legislative funding. So far, the current major GOP candidates include Ramsey County Commissioner Blake Huffman, state Rep. Matt Dean, and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, who was the 2014 Republican nominee. Several other Republican state legislators have also expressed interest in a potential campaign.
Morning Take also reported that businessman Stewart Mills was considering a run for governor now after Democratic Rep. Nolan announced on Friday that he wouldn’t seek the governor’s office, but Mills categorically denied the report, saying a bid was “never … considered.” Mills had used his considerable personal fortune to finance two heavily contested House races against Nolan in 2014 and 2016, but he just narrowly fell short both times even as the Iron Range-based 8th District lurched from 52-46 Obama to 54-39 Trump. However, the rich businessman did reiterate that he was still considering a third bid for House even after Nolan’s recent decision not to seek higher office.
• NV-Gov: Republican state Attorney General Adam Laxalt has not yet formally declared his expected 2018 gubernatorial campaign, but he recently released a poll from Remington Research taken in late may that showed him with a 46-37 lead over Democratic Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak in a hypothetical general election. Sisolak had said back in January that he was considering a bid, with the Las Vegas Review-Journal reporting at the time that he expected to announce his plans by April, but that month came and went without any formal decision. However, Sisolak did recently reaffirm that interest and asserted that his own internal polls did not agree with Laxalt’s numbers, but with almost no other polling of this race, it’s hard to tell where things stand.
Laxalt reported raising over $600,000 since April, while Sisolak has a significant amount of cash left over from his 2016 re-election campaign that he can use on a statewide race, although the commissioner noted it was somewhat less than the $3.8 million he had at the beginning of 2017. Laxalt appears to have locked up substantial support ahead of a potential GOP primary, but state Treasurer Dan Schwartz has previously said he’s considering running too. On the Democratic side, wealthy businessman Stephen Cloobeck has made noises about running, though his support for GOP Sen. Dean Heller doesn’t exactly make him an ideal nominee.
• TN-Gov, TN-Sen: Republican Sen. Bob Corker has been coy about his 2018 intentions for a while, but his plans came a little more into focus in a recent interview. Corker stated that he was leaning toward running for a third term in the Senate next year unless “something else” came up, but that he was “not interested” in a gubernatorial bid and that it wasn’t included in the “something else.”
Corker would have been the biggest-named candidate if he had run in next year’s GOP primary to succeed term-limited Gov. Bill Haslam, but many prominent Republicans are still potentially in the mix. State Sen. Mae Beavers and a pair of lesser-known state government officials are already running in the GOP primary, while state House Speaker Beth Harwell, state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, and Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett have all said they’re considering it.
• VA-Gov: Democrat Tom Perriello debuted two new ads on Monday (here and here) ahead of Virginia’s June 13 gubernatorial primary. The first spot features his most nationally prominent endorsers, with Elizabeth Warren praising Perriello as a fighter for hard-working families interspersed with footage of Perriello’s rallies with Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama, the latter of which was from his old 2010 re-election campaign. Perriello closes the segment by promising to fight for everyone and leave “no region or race behind” contrary to Donald Trump’s values.
The second ad showcases Perriello talking to the camera to bemoan Trump’s attacks on our nation’s values while asserting that he’ll advocate for Virginians of all backgrounds and a fairer economy.
• WI-Gov: Two new Democrats have recently weighed in about their interest in a possible gubernatorial bid. Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, who has served for three separate tenures over the past five decades, said he’s thinking about running after previously refusing encouragement to do so last year. However, his close association with the progressive enclave of the state capital could prove to be a negative with swing voters, a notion with which the mayor himself said he had long agreed. Meanwhile, Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin president Mahlon Mitchell, who was Team Blue’s nominee for lieutenant governor in the 2012 recall, refused to rule out a campaign, stating that he has not “made any plans to run” and thought that it was too early for anyone to make a decision.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker is expected to seek a third term in 2018, but Democrats still have no noteworthy candidate to speak of in the race. State Rep. Dana Wachs and businessman Andy Gronik both said that they were considering the race back in early spring and would reveal more about their plans “soon,” but we haven’t heard anything from either of them in the intervening months.
• FL-27: Talking head/political consultant Ana Navarro, one of the most prominent anti-Trump Republicans in the country, on a possible bid for Florida’s 27th Congressional District: “But at this time it seems to me that it requires a level of masochism that I have not yet reached.” We’ll check back in with her once she reaches the appropriate level of masochism.
• GA-06: Democrat Jon Ossoff’s latest ad for the upcoming June 20 special election skewers Republican Karen Handel over her controversial failed effort to defund Planned Parenthood while serving as vice president of the Susan G. Komen Foundation in 2012. It features several women who survived breast cancer thanks to early detection lambasting Handel for using her leadership role at a breast cancer charity to try to eliminate funding for an organization that provides critical cancer screenings.
• IA-02: Republican Michael Bousselot, who was chief of staff to Gov. Terry Branstad before Branstad resigned to become ambassador to China, has been mentioned as a possible candidate against Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack, but it looks like he’s decided to do something else. Bleeding Heartland notes that Bousselot has taken a job with Summit Agricultural Group as “managing director and head of external relations,” and the gig is over in the 4th District.
• MN-01: On Monday, ex-state Sen. Vicki Jensen became the first noteworthy Democrat to announce that she would seek this open southern Minnesota seat. This district swung from 50-48 Obama to 53-38 Trump, and Jensen was one of the Democratic victims of the region’s lurch toward Trump. In 2012, Jensen won her first term in the state Senate 53-47 even as Romney carried her seat 51-46. But four years later, Jensen lost re-election 59-41 as Trump was taking her district 58-34. Other Democrats have made noises about running here, and former Assistant Secretary of Defense Dan Feehan reportedly is planning to get in.
• NY-19: During the first three months of 2017, Democratic attorney Antonio Delgado raised $300,000 (with no self-funding) for a campaign against freshman GOP Rep. John Faso, even though Delgado said his campaign was still in the “exploratory phase.” Unsurprisingly, Delgado has dropped from the exploratory phase into normal space and announced that he’s running for this this Hudson Valley seat. A number of other Democrats are eyeing this race as well or are already running.
• SC-01: Two weeks ago, South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford had two GOP primary challengers, but now he has none. On Friday, wealthy businessman and Marine veteran Ted Fienning announced that he was dropping out of the race for this red Charleston-area seat, saying only that he and his wife “realized that we need to focus on our two young sons and growing our businesses.” About a week earlier, defense analyst Tom Perez announced that he was being deployed with the military oversees, and wouldn’t be back before next year’s primary.
However, Sanford can’t rest easily with so much time before the candidate filing deadline. While enough voters may have forgiven the former governor for his infamous 2009 sex scandal (people who actually hike the Appalachian Trail may still be angry with Sanford for turning their activity into a euphemism), he still pulled off an unexpectedly weak 56-44 primary win against an underfunded state representative last year. Since then, Sanford has emerged as one of Donald Trump’s most vocal critics in the Republican Party. A few months ago, Sanford notably told Politico’s Tim Alberta that Trump “has fanned the flames of intolerance” and says he can’t “look the other way” as Trump lies.
As Sanford’s 2013 comeback showed, GOP voters can tolerate many personal indiscretions, but Sanford is definitely playing with fire by picking a fight with Trump, who remains popular with Republicans. Sanford himself may not care, telling Alberta, “I’m a dead man walking. If you’ve already been dead, you don’t fear it as much. I’ve been dead politically.” Still, you can’t beat someone with no one, and we’ll see if Sanford picks up a new primary foe. Trump carried this coastal seat, which takes up part of Charleston and its suburbs, 54-40.
• TX-16, TX-23: Over the weekend, Democratic state Rep. César Blanco announced that he would seek re-election rather than run for either House seat. Blanco initially expressed interest in challenging GOP Rep. Will Hurd in the swingy 23rd District, though he said he was being encouraged to seek the safely blue 16th if Rep. Beto O’Rourke left to run for the Senate. O’Rourke ended up doing just that, and Blanco, whose seat is almost entirely in the 16th, initially didn’t rule out a bid for this El Paso seat while the legislature was in session.
• WA-05: At 52-39 Trump, this eastern Washington seat isn’t exactly hospitable to Democrats. Still, Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart is out with a poll from EMC Research arguing that he has a path against Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a member of the GOP leadership. The survey gives McMorris Rodgers a 49-42 lead, and 37 percent of voters give her a poor rating, the same percentage as those who give her a good or excellent review; an additional 22 rate her as “only fair.”
The poll also says that, “A brief message battery shows that Ben Stuckart’s biography and issue positions are clearly appealing to Democrats and Independents,” and propels him to a 51-42 lead. However, McMorris Rodgers will likely have more resources to get her message out instead. At the end of March, McMorris Rodgers only had $273,000 in the bank, but the well-connected incumbent likely can raise a whole lot more if she feels seriously threatened. By contrast, Stuckart had about $50,000 on-hand.
• Pres-by-LD: Daily Kos Elections’ project to calculate the 2016 presidential results for every state legislative seat in the nation takes on South Carolina, a solidly Republican state where Democrats still do hold some conservative seats. You can find our master list of states here, which we’ll be updating as we add new data sets; you can also find all of our calculations from 2016 and past cycles here.
Donald Trump carried South Carolina 55-41, a swing to the right from Mitt Romney’s 55-44 win in 2012. The GOP has held the state House since the 1994 Republican wave, and they captured the Senate in 2000. Team Red has an 80-44 lead in the House and a 28-18 edge in the Senate (one Democratic-held House seat is vacant, and Daily Kos Elections assigns open seats to the party that last held them). The entire House is up every two years, while the Senate is only up in presidential cycles.
We’ll start with a look at the House. Trump carried 86 of the 124 seats, taking three Obama seats while losing two Romney districts. Unlike in neighboring North Carolina and Georgia, ticket splitting actually benefited Democrats here. Seven Democrats hold Trump seats, while only state Rep. Kirkman Finlay is the one Republican in a Clinton seat. Of those seven Democrats, four represent seats that also backed Romney, while another Democrat holds a Romney-Clinton district.
The Democrat in the reddest House seat is Michael Anthony, who won his eighth term 55-45 even as his HD-42, which is located south of Spartanburg, went from 55-44 Romney to 60-37 Trump. Those other three Democrats in Romney/seats also represent districts that swung right and gave Trump at least a 19-point margin of victory. Finlay, the one Republican in a Clinton seat, won a third term 59.5-40.5 as his HD-75, which is located in the Columbia area, moved from 56-43 Romney to 48-45 Clinton.
Democrats haven’t had much luck in statewide races in South Carolina recently, and the GOP-drawn House map was designed to make it even tougher for Team Blue to flip the chamber. One way to illustrate the GOP’s advantage is to sort each seat in each chamber by Clinton’s margin of victory over Trump and see how the seat in the middle—known as the median seat—voted. Because both chambers have an even number of seats, we average the two middle seats to come up with the median point in the chamber. In the House, the median seat backed Trump 59-37, quite a bit to the right of his 55-41 statewide win.
We’ll turn to the Senate, which won’t be up again until 2020. A bit surprisingly, Trump won all 33 Romney seats, while Clinton carried each of the 13 Obama districts. No Republicans hold Clinton seats, while five Democrats represent Trump turf. The Democrat in the reddest seat is none other than Vincent Sheheen, who was Team Blue’s 2010 and 2014 gubernatorial nominee. Sheheen won re-election last cycle without any GOP opposition even as his SD-27, located in the northern part of the state, swung from 55-44 Romney to 59-38 Trump.
Three other Democrats hold seats that backed Trump by at least a 10-point margin. The Republican in the bluest seat is John Courson, who led the chamber from 2012 to 2014 and was indicted on ethics charges earlier this year. Courson’s SD-20, which is located in the Columbia area, went from 54-44 Romney to just 48-46 Trump, and it could be a Democratic special election target if Courson needs to resign. Trump carried the median seat 58-38, also well to the right of the state.
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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