The Downballot: Why Wisconsin is so dang important, with Ben Wikler (transcript)

No state regularly hosts as many hotly contested elections as Wisconsin, which is why we're talking to state Democratic Party chair Ben Wikler about all of this year's key races on this week's episode of The Downballot. He tells us about everything his organization does to ensure year-round investment in Democratic infrastructure; details the state of play in the battle to defeat Sen. Ron Johnson and re-elect Gov. Tony Evers; and previews a critical race for the state Supreme Court next year that could flip control from conservatives to progressives.

Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also recap several recent elections, including Sarah Palin's first-place finish in the special primary for Alaska's lone House seat, the defeat of a pro-impeachment Republican congressman in South Carolina, and a special election where the GOP picked up a Democratic-held House seat in heavily Latino south Texas.

Please subscribe to The Downballot on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

David Beard:

Hello and welcome. I'm David Beard, Contributing Editor for Daily Kos Elections.

David Nir:

And I'm David Nir, Political Director of Daily Kos. The Downballot is a weekly podcast dedicated to the many elections that take place below the presidency, from Senate to city council. You can email us your thoughts at thedownballot@dailykos.com or find us on Twitter @DKElections.

David Beard:

And please subscribe to The Downballot wherever you listen to podcasts and leave us a five-star rating and review. But let's go ahead and get to today's episode. What are we going to be covering, Nir?

David Nir:

We have a bunch of elections to recap. There was a special election for a congressional seat in Texas. There were primaries in South Carolina that saw one pro-impeachment Republican go down to defeat and there was also an unusual Saturday special election in Alaska for the seat that had been held for decades by the late Republican Congressman Don Young so we'll be talking about all of that.

David Nir:

After we recap those weekly hits, we are going to be discussing Wisconsin with the chair of the State Democratic Party, Ben Wikler, who will tell us exactly what a state party like his does and the key races that they're focusing on this November, so please stick with us.

David Nir:

Primary season continues apace but we also had an election on Saturday. We'll get to that one in a minute, but Beard, why don't you kick us off with the top goings on from Tuesday night?

David Beard:

Sure. So we're going to start in Texas where there was a special election held to fill the remaining term for democratic representative Filemon Vela who resigned earlier this year to take a job at a lobbying firm. Conservative activists, Mayra Flores flipped this Rio Grande Valley-based district to the GOP. She won about 51% of the vote. There were four candidates on the ballot but just one major Republican and one major Democrat and then two very minor, one Democrat and one Republican who took a very small percentage of the vote each. And so, Flores won 51% of the vote, the major democratic candidate, former Cameron County commissioner, Dan Sanchez, won about 43% of the vote.

David Beard:

Now, there's a couple of mitigating factors here. Republicans spent over a million dollars on this race. They really invested. Democrats only began airing TV ads in the final week. They didn't spend very much money. This district is changing a significant amount. Biden won the current district which is still from the 2010 redistricting cycle by a 52-48 margin but Biden wins the new district that will go into effect this November by a 57-42 margin so it's getting noticeably more Democratic. And so, there wasn't a ton of investment in trying to hold this seat on the Democratic side.

David Beard:

That being said, that's definitely a shift in the margin from 52-48 Biden to, if you combine the Democrats and the Republicans, about 53% voted Republican and 47% voted Democrat so that's a noticeable shift. It's certainly in line with a more Republican-leaning year which is what we've been seeing with the polling and with other information that's been coming in. The other factor here that's certainly worth noting is that it was very, very low turnout so that can also be a factor in why there was somewhat of a shift. So you don't want to take this and just say, "Oh, we saw this shift. It'll translate all the way to November in every way," but it's certainly a signal worth acknowledging that it is certainly a sign of a Republican leaning environment right now.

David Nir:

The other thing to note is that had Flores not gotten a majority of the vote, the race would've gone to a runoff and Sanchez was actually quite angry at the democratic establishment and the DCCC in particular for coming in so late. It does seem that with a little bit more effort, Flores could have been held under the 50% mark and maybe Democrats would have lost in a second round but you'd certainly always rather have the chance to fight another day.

David Beard:

Yeah, I think the thinking of the Democrats is even if it's only going to be around for six months, it's still worth fighting for... Flores has only won 51% of the vote. You would think that a real investment here had the Democratic Party done that from the start, when the Republicans started investing, there was a good chance she could have been held under that and it would've gone to a runoff. And then, who knows? You never know with 100% certainty how an election's going to turn out.

David Nir:

So we'll switch gears to a couple of primaries in South Carolina that have been framed as Trump's revenge and he did, in fact, exact revenge against a Republican Congressman in the 7th district, Tom Rice, who was one of the ten who voted for impeachment. Rice got completely obliterated by State Rep, Russell Fry, who beat him 51-25. What was even more remarkable about this is there were five Republicans total challenging Rice so for Fry to get a majority of the vote was pretty unexpected. Even Fry claimed that his own polling showed the race going to a runoff.

David Nir:

Really though, this whole outcome feels pretty predictable. The 7th District which is in the Pee Dee region in the state's northeastern corner was actually Trump's best district in the 2016 GOP Presidential Primary and the seat really barely changed at all in redistricting. What I think matters most here is what this says for the remaining pro-impeachment House Republicans who still have primaries yet to come. Of the ten, four decided to retire. Rice is the first to actually lose and there is still one, David Valadao, on California whose primary hasn't been resolved yet. He probably will survive and then four more after that.

David Nir:

I think the two who are probably going to be at most risk right now are Peter Meijer in Michigan's 3rd Congressional District. And of course, Liz Cheney, where we've seen multiple polls now showing her getting completely obliterated. Rice, kind of an enigma. He was always a very low-key, extremely conservative guy, but he just felt that, Jan 6th, really, he had had enough. In remarks a few weeks ago before the primary, he even referred to Trump as a dictator and he seemed completely dispirited about the direction of the Republican party. He said that Trump just wants the entire GOP to be yes men and his diagnosis is exactly right, of course. Really, there's absolutely nothing to feel about this outcome except being deeply depressed at the state of the GOP going even further toward cult status.

David Beard:

I think what we can see, particularly as it looks like, as you mentioned, Cheney and Meijer are probably in very tough shape given this election result. That the only real protection for a Republican running after having voted to impeach Trump is to be in a state like California or Washington state where they do a top two primary so that they can outpace that person with other votes, potentially Democratic and independent votes, and don't have to face them in a Republican electorate. That's where the three, you mentioned Valadao and there's two in Washington state, who have a good shot to move onto the general election and honestly, at this point, I would be surprised if any of the other ones did.

David Nir:

The other South Carolina race that was really closely watched last night, I think, reinforces this as well. This is the 1st District where representative Nancy Mace beat former State Representative, Katie Arrington, 53-45 so she won without a runoff. Trump also despised Mason. He endorsed Arrington. Trump was pissed at Mace because right after Jan. 6, she made a few comments that were critical of him. But unlike Tom Rice who really stuck to his guns the whole way through, she very, very quickly backed off. She did not vote for impeachment and a number of press accounts refer to her as a Trump critic; that's complete bullshit.

David Nir:

A few months ago, Nancy Mace did one of the most humiliating things we have seen in an era when Republican politicians regularly humiliate themselves. The day after Trump endorsed Arrington, Mace went up to New York City, 800 miles away from her district, and filmed a video, it looked like it was filmed on a cellphone, of her in front of Trump Tower pledging her loyalty to Donald Trump. It was just super, super cringey, it was totally gross, and it totally worked for her. She really spent much of the race trying to prove her Trump-y bona fides. She also laid some effective attacks on Arrington who was responsible for this seat flipping to the Democrats in 2018. Mace picked it up for the Republicans again in 2020.

David Nir:

But really, the only lesson here is maybe you can get back in the graces of enough Trump-y voters, even if you can't win Trump back himself, simply by licking his boots. Man, if anything, not that Donald Trump is clever enough to see it this way, but winning back a one-time mild critic is almost more powerful because it just shows your absolute dominance. He was never going to get Rice back but now he's brought Mace back to heel, he can obviously do it with anyone else who even has dared utter any negative comments about him in recent years. So again, I think a truly dismaying outcome.

David Beard:

Yeah. That reminds me of the Ohio Senate Primary actually, where Trump ended up endorsing Vance and the talking point going around was that Trump actually likes when formerly Trump-critical Republicans come crawling back and go over the top to prove themselves loyal to Trump like Mace has done. So while his candidate didn't win, I don't think he'll be too upset about the outcome given how Mace has acted.

David Beard:

Our last election that we're going to cover in the Weekly Hits is the election that took place on Saturday. It was the special election for Alaska's at-large congressional seat that's taking place due to representative Don Young passing away earlier this year.

Alaska has a different electoral system. All of the candidates were in the ballot in this first round and the top four candidates will advance to a second round on August 16th. That ballot will use ranked choice voting to determine the winner which means that anybody who votes can rank the four candidates, 1, 2, 3, 4, and then the fourth place candidate from those results will get eliminated and if you had voted for that candidate, first, the candidate that you voted for second will then get your vote.

The same thing would happen with the third place candidate after those votes were reallocated. And then you would only have two candidates remaining. And the person then with the majority of those two candidates would be the person elected. Ballots are still being counted, but the AP has declared three of the four candidates who are going to advance to the second round, the first being former governor Sarah Palin, who has a clear lead so far with about 30% of the vote.

David Beard:

Of course, Palin is a Republican, as is the so far second-place candidate, businessman Nick Begich, who has about 19% of the vote. And then independent Al Gross, who is also the former 2020 Democratic nominee for Senate, but is running now as an Independent; he's also been called to advance. He has about 13% of the vote so far. And then, the fourth slot hasn't been called yet, but former Democratic state representative Mary Peltola is currently in that spot and will likely advance as well, unless late-breaking ballots are radically different than what's been counted so far.

David Beard:

Palin's strong first-round showing, getting over 30% of the vote, makes it likely that she'll be one of the last two candidates standing when this ranked-choice voting takes place. So, the big question is who's going to make it into that other slot where the fourth place candidate and then the third place candidate are eliminated?

David Beard:

If Begich advances, he's probably favored to consolidate the anti-Palin vote, as he's a fellow Republican but would probably collect the overwhelming number of independent and Democratic votes. But if either Al Gross or Peltola advance, then Palin would probably be the favorite as the only Republican of the two candidates when the ranked-choice voting takes place. But that's not certain. I don't want to say that one of the other two candidates couldn't beat Palin in that last two candidates portion, but we'll have to wait and see. I think Palin would be the favorite in that circumstance.

David Nir:

Palin was always a polarizing figure, but she has Donald Trump's endorsement, which makes it much more likely that Begich would pick up those Independents and Democrats, as you were suggesting, if it is those two facing off against each other at the very end of the instant runoff tabulations. One other thing we should note is that the second round, which you said is taking place on August 16th, that is also the day of the state's regular primary. And there is, once again, going to be a huge ballot of candidates seeking this position for a full term.

Usually, when you have these simultaneous elections, you see the same sets of candidates advance. But because things are so unusual, this is the first time any state anywhere has ever used this top-four system, we could wind up with a different group of four candidates who advance to the November general election, which again, will also be decided by an instant runoff. So, if for no other reason, just watching this unique electoral system unfold, it's going to be worth watching both of these races, the special and the regular election.

David Beard:

And incumbency in Alaska is so important, as we've seen. So, it'll be interesting to see, in that primary vote, they won't know who the incumbent is. So similar to this one, it'll be a free-for-all. As we saw, so many candidates ran in this first round.

David Nir:

Well, that wraps up our weekly hits. We are going to be talking, after the break, with the chair of the Wisconsin Democratic party, Ben Wikler, about all of the fascinating races that his state has in store for us this year. So, please stay with us after the break.

Every year, it seems that Wisconsin tops the list of states with incredibly important and incredibly competitive elections. That was certainly true in 2018, in 2020. And it's going to be true again this November, in 2022.

We have joining us today, on The Downballot, the chair of the Wisconsin Democratic party, Ben Wikler, to tell us everything that is going on in his state this year. Ben, thank you so much for joining us.

Ben Wikler:

Thanks so much Nir. Thanks so much Beard. It's great to be with the Davids.

David Nir:

Ben, you haven't exactly had what might be called a typical path to becoming chair of your state party. I would love it if you could tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and how it is you came to run the Wisconsin Dems.

Ben Wikler:

Sure. In the short-term, Wisconsin has a elected state party chair. You're elected by conventions to our state party convention. That happened with me in June of 2019. But if you go back in time, I grew up in Madison. I actually live in the house that I grew up in. I bought it from my mom who now lives four blocks away. And my wife, Beth, and I have three young kids. So, we have lots of helpful grandparent time, which is great.

Ben Wikler:

I got involved in politics a lot as a kid. And my godmother, a woman named Ada Deer, ran for Congress when I was 11 and became the first American Indian woman to win a congressional primary. So, knocking on doors for her and stuffing envelopes, putting up yard signs was kind of my entree into volunteering for campaigns.

I got to volunteer for a then state Representative who ran for Congress, named Tammy Baldwin, who's now well-known as our fantastic U.S. Senator. Worked on the governor's race. I also got very involved in activism and in comedy writing because The Onion was based in Madison. And so, my friends and I were obsessed with it. And we wrote for first, an underground student newspaper in middle school, another one in high school. And then eventually, we kept sending every issue to The Onion HQ. And eventually they wrote back and invited us to come in.

So, my friend, Peter Koechley and I, who went on to help launch Upworthy, started writing Onion headlines when we were seniors in high school. And that path led to, in college, I got very involved in activism and interned for Russ Feingold then, as a college student. I met my wife putting up posters for a protest together and fell in love with her.

And then, my senior year in college, I met a comedian who was increasingly involved in politics, named Al Franken. And my background with The Onion and doing political stuff, led him to hire me to work with him on the book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. And I worked at Air America Radio as one of the producers on his radio show. And that was kind of my entree to the national progressive movement.

That's where I first met Markos Moulitsas and people involved in Daily Kos and tons of folks. There was a Harvard professor that we would book on the show to talk about bankruptcy and the way that tax laws worked, named Elizabeth Warren. There were all these fascinating people who came through and were on the show.

When Al Franken moved to Minnesota, I moved to Ohio and worked for Sherrod Brown for Senate race and then worked for different advocacy and organizing organizations for a bunch of years until I was at MoveOn as the DC director in 2013 through, I guess, '18. And was involved, first in trying to stop Trump from getting power, and then in trying to organize the huge pushback to stop the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the gutting of Medicaid. I got to work with disability rights activists and so many people who were mobilizing all across the country.

During all this time, I had dreamed of eventually raising my family in Wisconsin. And my wife had heard me singing Wisconsin's praises from our first date on. In 2018, after our third child arrived, we decided to move back. And I volunteered a whole bunch for the Evers campaign and for Baldwin's reelection campaign at that point. And then, when we had actually landed in Wisconsin, the then state party chair decided not to run for a third term. So, I threw my hat in the ring and wound up crisscrossing the state, going to county party meetings, talking to all these people; learning everything I could about all the things we needed to do to win and was elected that June. And it has been a nonstop rollercoaster ever since, for the last three years. I was reelected in 2021.

David Nir:

Let's talk a little bit about what that rollercoaster ride has been like. I'm sure that some of our listeners are probably pretty plugged into their own state Democratic parties. But I'll bet that many folks aren't necessarily all that familiar with what their state parties do. And of course, the goal of any party organization is to get their candidates elected. But what exactly does the Wisconsin Democratic party do to make that happen?

Ben Wikler:

The biggest part of our budget and the crown jewel, the central thing that we do, on a year-round basis, is organize in every corner of the state. Our state party unusually uses the Obama campaign model, where our organizers actually build teams of volunteers that run door-to-door canvasing and phone banking operations in their own communities. And when you do that on a continuous basis, as we've done now since my predecessor, who launched these neighborhood teams in the spring of 2017, and we've built and built and built them; we now have hundreds across the state. When you do that continuously, you actually build momentum over time. So, every dollar you spend on organizing goes further, because you can have one organizer who's working with multiple teams to coach and support them and make sure they have the data they need. But you don't have to have a staff member at every canvas launch location.

Ben Wikler:

You can have teams running door-to-door canvases from their living rooms and from coffee shops around the state. So, that is one huge part. But it's now so much more than that as well.

We have a communications team that is doing everything we can to make sure folks know how terrible Ron Johnson is and how terrible the other Republicans running for governor and Congress and state legislature are. We have a voter protection operation that works, now, on a year-round basis. It didn't used to be year-round. But something we've really focused on over these last few years that works to make sure that local clerks aren't rolling back voting rights, that we're recruiting and supporting poll workers, poll observers; lawyers who are able to help voters resolve issues.

We run a voter protection hotline that any of our listeners who happen to be in Wisconsin can call. It's 608-DEM-3232. We have a data team that helps make sure we're figuring out where the voters we need to mobilize are and who we need to persuade.

Ben Wikler:

We have a political team that includes the staff that just make sure the party operates, in terms of supporting our county parties and congressional district parties, in youth caucuses; our state administrative committee, which is my boss. It's our statewide board. And organizes our state party convention. Every state party does one of these every year. Ours is coming up later this month, the 25th and the 26th of June in La Crosse, Wisconsin. It's going to be amazing.

Ben Wikler:

There's a coalitions team, which is also a year-round team that specializes in working with building the coalitions partnerships with Black and Latino, Asian American, Pacific Islander; Wisconsinites with tribal nations, sovereign nations across Wisconsin; with rural Wisconsinites, with LGBTQ Wisconsinites, to make sure that our big tent party includes and lifts up everybody.

Ben Wikler:

We have a candidate services team that, this spring, worked with hundreds of local candidates running for offices like school board and city council to make sure that they were able to run digital ads, to be able to send mailings to their constituents and to connect with our field organizers to make sure that we were knocking on doors and supporting folks running for those offices.

They'll be back at it this fall with state legislative races and other races. And all of this is supported by our finance and HR and operations teams that do all the kind of back-end work that makes an organization go. So there's a whole bunch of people, but the big idea here is candidates should have to be great at being candidates, but they shouldn't also have to be great at figuring out how to stand up an organizing program or doing things that really shouldn't just be starting when the general election begins. There were days in the past in Wisconsin, where if someone wanted to run for Senate, they would have to find a statewide organizing director and fill in all the levels of that organizing program.

 

Sometimes in just a few months at the end. In 2016, Hillary Clinton's team hired their first staff in Wisconsin that August and had no time at all to try to figure out who should be talking to whom. The party can take care of all that. If you have a well funded well run organization, it's like a permanent piece of campaign infrastructure. And then the candidates can just focus on things that only a candidate can do. All of our candidates across Wisconsin now with the democratic party trust and work with our coordinated campaign. So that when we knock on doors, we talk about everyone running up and down the ballot. And that means that people who might not run for office otherwise can do so. It's almost like a form of public financing where people know that they won't need to raise the money for those pieces of the work because the party can take care of that. And that's allowed us to welcome just an extraordinary group of folks running for office holding office.

Ben Wikler:

Now, it's one reason why we have these contested primaries for a bunch of the statewide offices in November, because folks know that they don't need to do every piece. They just need to focus in on the being a candidate part of being a candidate.

David Beard:

Yeah. I've often heard it described as running a campaign as like building a small business, except you do it in the course of six to nine months, maybe a year. And you build it with the entire idea of going to election day and then sort of all that throwing away that small business that you spend all this time creating. But of course, a state party like yours can do so much of the infrastructure work that makes that so much more feasible for so many more people.

Ben Wikler:

That's exactly right. And it's so, I mean, from a business perspective, it is so dumb to do all this work and all this research and all this hiring, and then lay everybody off. Like it just doesn't make any sense.

David Beard:

Amen.

Ben Wikler:

By having organizers on the ground year, over year, over year, you it's like a flywheel. It's like it keeps on spinning faster and faster. So we had more volunteer shifts this spring than we had in the spring of 2021 and more in 2021 than we had in 2020 when we had a much bigger staff because we have kept these neighborhood teams going. And so the kind of the impact of supporting a state party actually grows each time because you get all these things established and you don't have to start from scratch every time there's a new race on the horizon.

David Beard:

So let's dive into the upcoming Wisconsin elections this November, which has two extremely important races at the top of the ticket. You've already mentioned governor Evers and Senator Johnson. Johnson is one of the worst senators in the country. He regularly makes odious statements and claims. A lot of people outside of Wisconsin, I'm sure have heard about him and heard not good things about him. But tell us how that race is shaping up and the race against him on the Democratic side.

Ben Wikler:

Ron Johnson is so, so appallingly extraordinarily bad. He is... It's not just that he says that COVID can be cured with mouthwash or says that the January 6th insurrectionists where patriots, who love their country and love law enforcement, which is something he actually said. He said he would've been scared if it had been Black Lives Matter protestors, but he wasn't scared with the protestors that were actually there. It's not just all that stuff. It's that he's profoundly self-serving. His claim to fame as a Senator is that he insisted on an extra tax break on top of Trump's giant tax scam that personally benefited him and his biggest donor massively. It's one of the most regressive tax cuts ever passed through the United States Congress that he insisted on putting in, and that he's been billing taxpayers to fly him back to Congress from his vacation home in Florida.

Ben Wikler:

So we've been making this case against him. And so many independent and grassroots organizations have done the same thing. His approval rating is now 36%, which is stunning in a year that's supposed to be tough for Democrats and good for Republicans. The Political Report called him the most vulnerable incumbent from either party in the Senate in 2022. And meanwhile, on the democratic side, there's a contested primary. There's a bunch of candidates who've made the ballot, but we won't know our nominee until August 9th. And so this is a perfect kind of case in point for why having a strong party matters, because we have to build the whole general election apparatus before August 9th. It's like building a spaceship right on the launchpad. And then once we have the nominee, they jump into the cockpit and they hit ignition.

We do not want to do the ‘building the plane as you fly’ metaphor that people often use because that is not sound aviation safety practice. You want to actually have the thing built before there's a pilot. So that's the work that we're doing. But I think we really have a shot because he's just so repellent to so many voters. And it's not just that people don't want to vote for him, it's that the chance to vote against him will cause more people to vote.

He's a negative voter turnout machine for our side and we're going to do everything we can to make sure folks know just how bad he is and that they have the power to oust him, that it is worth getting up off the couch and going in or better yet casting an absentee ballot. So we know you voted in advance. Those things can make the difference, not just to defeat him. But also we hope to expand the democratic majority in the Senate and give us a chance to actually pass into law so many of the things Democrats are fighting for.

David Beard:

And we've seen negative partisanship be a real motivating factor. Most prominently at the presidential level, of course. But when you've got a Senator like Johnson, who's so prominent and has so many negative feelings rightfully created among so many Wisconsin citizens. Like that's a motivating factor for them, for sure.

Ben Wikler:

Absolutely. And I talked to folks, I mean, I will say some of our fundraising success this year has come because people want to make sure that Ron Johnson does not win and certainly there's volunteer shifts. It reminds me a lot of the campaign against Scott Walker in 2018 where people saw that he was vulnerable, saw that he was terrible, tons of candidates ran. And in that election, everyone came together around the nominee and we were able to prevail. I think, we're looking for a similar path in the Senate race and I think we have a very, very good chance of ending Ron Johnson's political career this November.

David Nir:

Can you tell us a little bit more about this spaceship that you're building on the launchpad for the eventual Democratic nominee for the Senate race?

Ben Wikler:

Absolutely. So it's all the pieces of the party that I spoke about; the digital, the data, the organizing, the voter protection, the communications, all these different elements. Specifically, in some cases with staff just focused on Ron Johnson and the Senate race. And then with each of the Senate campaigns, we want to make sure that they know that we're doing all these different pieces and understand what they anticipate their needs will be.

So whoever the nominee is, and I should mention our state party because of our state party constitution, we are bound and committed to remaining neutral in the primary. So we're not putting our thumb on the scale, but all the candidates have told us that once we have a nominee, they will work with the infrastructure that we've put in place. As opposed to doing what has often happened in different states around the country, which is you get a Senator nominee and they decide they want to reshuffle all the staff and reshape how the program works and all this kind of stuff.

Ben Wikler:

This is the same strategy we used for the presidential in 2020. We built a presidential scale campaign through the state party. We kept briefing all the candidates in the primary about it. And then eventually we had a nominee and the nominee just adopted our operation wholesale and added their in-state staff to do the things that the nominee needed. But the organizing whole structure, all these different pieces were held and carried forward. And that meant that we were the relationships we built, the trust we'd built, all that kind of stuff was actually preserved and accelerated as opposed to being broken down and then attempted to... There was no Humpty Dumpty situation with a fall and then a reassembly.

David Nir:

So in the race for governor, you almost have the inverse situation where we know who the democratic nominee is going to be. Of course, that's going to be governor Evers, but Republicans are in the midst of a really nasty primary that I don't think has gone, maybe exactly as at least some folks might have expected. So can you fill us in on who the major players are there and what you see happening and the final outcome being there?

Ben Wikler:

 I will say that we went to the Republican state party convention a few weeks ago and had a mobile billboard with an image, an animation of a dumpster fire and held the press conference in front of the dumpster fire mobile billboard. Because that is what the Republican gubernatorial primary is. This is a group of extremist candidates that keep on leapfrogging each other into the most radical fringes of the right wing fever swamps.

Rebecca Kleefisch was the first to announce. She was Scott Walker's Lieutenant governor. If you go to radicalrebecca.com, you can find out more about her. She is someone who just keeps like kind of lurching and grabbing to the right. I'll just give one example. Wisconsin has an 1849 ban on abortion. This is pre-Civil War law. The only exception it says in the statute, if two doctors agree that an abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother, that's the only condition where it could be allowed.

Rebecca Kleefisch wants to remove that exception from that law. It's so far out of step with where our values and the vast majority of Wisconsinites are. She's also wants to completely scrap our bipartisan Wisconsin elections commission. She said that there should be an elected official in charge so they would be one throat to choke. That is a direct quote, one throat to choke in charge of the elections. And she was pushed on this by election officials who said, don't use these metaphors when you're talking about election administrators. And she said, oh, I use that phrase all the time. That was her big defense. It's alarming, but apparently radical Rebecca Kleefisch isn't extreme right enough for Donald Trump because Donald Trump has endorsed a different candidate, Tim Michels. Who jumped into the race very late and has been scrambling to get to the furthest right position in this primary that he can possibly find.

He, this week, came out against marriage equality, which is one of those arguments that you thought was over. He supports going back to the 19th century with the 1849 abortion ban in Wisconsin. He joins Rebecca Kleefisch and wanting to totally scrap our bipartisan Wisconsin's elections commission. He's talked about 2020 being rigged. He's one of these kind of Doug Mastriano ultra-hard right candidates who the more voters find out about what he actually thinks about things, the less support that he has.

There's two others in the race as well. There's a guy named Timothy Ramthun who wants to retroactively decertify the 2020 election, which just has no basis in the constitution or law, but that doesn't stop him. Tim Ramthun has a bill that would allow any election where the margin of victories is less than the number of absentee ballots cast in the race to be nullified. That bill so far has not moved through the state legislature. But I have now come to believe that nothing's impossible with these Republicans. And then the guy named Kevin Nicholson, who actually used to be the president of the College Democrats.

But now is the kind of pet project of Dick Uihlein, who is the biggest funder of the Stop The Steal rally and is right there with Rebecca Mercer in the kind of ultra hard right authoritarian billionaire category.

 

So that is the Republican slate of candidates for Governor. We won't know which one is the nominee until August 9th, but we can already tell that all of them are so far out on the right that we have a real shot at defeating them with a candidate as common, sensical and pragmatic and focused on doing the right thing as our democratic Governor Tony Evers. So Tony Evers won in 2018 by 1.1 percentage points, which I call a Wisconsin landslide. We’re the only state where four of the last six presidential races come down the less than one percentage point.

Tony Evers ran on a platform of protecting healthcare, supporting our schools and fixing the damn roads, which is a pretty salty language there. He has fixed the roads. He's paved enough roads to drive to Denver and back. He has restored funding to our schools, which are now back in the top 10 in the country. He's protected healthcare and gotten shots into arms. He's also kept his campaign promise to cut taxes from the middle class. He signed into law of 15% income tax cut and he's invested stimulus funds in small businesses. We've had 4,200 small businesses open storefronts and expand operations on Main Streets across our state.

So we have record low unemployment right now, and we have a state budget surplus. He's demonstrated that the Democratic kind of basic idea of investing from the middle out to grow the economy in a way that works for people can succeed in Wisconsin and that has made him someone that people basically trust. The last public poll, 40% of people disagreed with his statement, he cares about people like me. 54% of people agreed.

Most Wisconsinites know that he's on their side. It's such a clear contrast. Someone who just wakes up wanting to help people and do what's right as opposed to this group of Republicans who are supplicating for Trump's endorsement for the far right fringe of their party, and especially trying to rig the rules and potentially overturn our democracy. That's a contrast that works well for us. In a year that I recognize it's going to be tough nationally, I think we have a very good shot at winning two races that the Cook Political Report calls a tossup, both the Senate and the Governor's race.

David Nir:

For those of us who've watched Wisconsin from the outside, we've seen Governor Evers stand as a bulwark against some absolutely batshit legislation that Republicans have passed in the legislature. Maybe tell us about a few of the examples that Evers has prevented from becoming law.

Ben Wikler:

I appreciate that question. He called himself a goalie. He didn't realize that would be such an important part of his job when he was first running. In 2020, I should mention, Governor Evers put his campaign on hold and just focused on supporting state legislative candidates through a project called Save The Veto, that was a partnership with the state party, and we managed to stop Republicans from getting super majorities in both chambers.

If 3,500 votes had gone the other way, they would have those super majorities now. So it was down to the wire, but because he in veto bills and the state legislature sustains those vetoes, he was able to veto a bill they passed this spring that would allow people to bring loaded guns onto school property in their cars. That is not law because of his veto pen.

Ben Wikler:

He's vetoed 14 different voter suppression and election sabotage bills. He has vetoed a string of anti-reproductive rights bills, and Republicans are not only saying they would try to pass all these bills if they get a trifecta in the state, they have a lot more coming. The kinds of really hideous voter suppression bills that became law in Georgia, Arizona, Texas, Florida. Those would absolutely be law in Wisconsin if it wasn't for having a Governor who believes in democracy.

David Beard:

So you mentioned the upholding of the vetoes, which was allowed to happen because Democrats prevented the Republicans from getting a two thirds majority in the state legislature in 2020. Of course, Wisconsin has one of the worst Republican gerrymanders in the country. That's going to continue into the new decade. What are your goals as from the point of view of the state party for the state legislative elections that are coming in November? And is there a candidate or two you'd like to highlight for those races?

Ben Wikler:

Absolutely. Republicans have managed to re-gerrymander the maps, at least for now, with some help I should mention from the U.S. Supreme Court, which unlike in other states, decided to reach down and strike down our state legislative maps for reasons that will puzzle constitutional scholars for decades. So we have really, really tough maps this cycle.

Ben Wikler:

Republicans are explicitly trying to get super majorities in both chambers yet again, and we are explicitly determinedly working to stop them. We have great democratic leaders in both chambers that we're working closely with, Greta Neubauer in the Assembly, Janet Bewley in the State Senate. We have strong candidates across the state. Republicans are targeting folks like Katrina Shankland in central Wisconsin and Steve Doyle in western Wisconsin, really across the board in our state.

Ben Wikler:

Any place there's a Democrat, Republicans want to take them out. In those districts, we're going to absolutely support our candidates, and we will be organizing everywhere because we believe in the reverse coattails effect that having candidates on the ballot and supporting those candidates turns out voters who can affect the top of the ticket as well. That the essential thing is to make sure that they don't get the two-thirds majorities, and to win the governorship.

Ben Wikler:

Then next year, just to squeeze this in, in April of 2023, we have a state Supreme Court race. There will not be a lot happening across the country in election days that spring, but that race will be for the majority in Wisconsin state Supreme Court. If we can sustain the Governor's veto and if we have a non-hyper right wing majority in our state Supreme court, that sets us up to have a secure and fair and real legitimate election in 2024 when Wisconsin will probably be the tipping point state yet again. And so that is the kind of three hurdles that we have to jump through in order to make sure that the attempt that Republicans attempted in 2020 doesn't carry through in 2024.

David Nir:

It is almost a year off, but I would love to talk a little bit more about that state Supreme Court race because at Daily Kos, we have been obsessed with these sorts of races for many years, and only recently really I think has the broader progressive movement finally begun understood the importance of these races.

From my perspective, of course, I'd rather not be voting for judges at all, but this is the system that we have to live with, and the court right now is a four-three, usually conservative majority. We could flip that because of this Republican seat that's coming up. So can you tell us a little bit about the candidates who are running and how the whole timing of that election works because the time of year is even a little bit unusual?

Ben Wikler:

Sure. Six months after November 8th, 2022, it'll be April, early April 2023, and Wisconsin will have a statewide election, that will follow a February primary. There are already two kind of more progressive independent candidates who have announced their candidacy. On the right, the current justice is Pat Roggensack and she is retiring. She will be 81 when the election takes place, so it's an open seat. And the Republican rumored to be most likely to run is Dan Kelly, who's the candidate we defeated in 2020.

Dan Kelly is a hyperpartisan Republican lawyer who Donald Trump endorsed in 2020 in a big rally, and then kept talking about during his COVID briefings from the White House, which is arguably a Hatch Act violation right there. But Trump was all in for him because he thought that Dan Kelly would cast the deciding vote in our state Supreme Court to overturn the election results if he lost. As it was, we had one more vote against Trump than there were votes for Trump, and Trump was not able to overturn the election results in our state.

Dan Kelly is talking publicly about trying again and making sure that guy does not get in our state Supreme Court is just absolutely critical to people who want to live in a democracy nationally. There shouldn't be so much that rests on Wisconsin state Supreme Court decisions for the future of democracy in the entire United States, but this is where we are. I hope folks will circle in their calendar April of 2023, and we're going to need all the help we can get to mobilize and shoot up, turnout in an election that historically the kind of odd numbered year spring elections have not been a giant national and statewide focus.

David Beard:

So how can our Wisconsinite listeners get in touch with the Democratic party in their state and get more involved?

Ben Wikler:

Wherever you might be, you can support Democrats and the Democratic party of Wisconsin in fighting for victory for Governor Evers in defeating Ron Johnson, and I think Dems up and down the ballot, including defeating Derrick van Orden, who's an insurrectionist and is currently on probation for trying to bring a gun on a plane. He's running for Congress in the 3rd congressional district, which is an open seat. We need help across the board and you can get involved. You can become a monthly donor. That is the single, my favorite thing you can do.

If you go to wisdems.org/monthly, you can sign up to give a few bucks a month, that helps us to hire and know that we'll be able to keep our staff on month over month, year over year, and that in turn allows us to do the kind of deep, long term organizing building neighborhood teams that I've been talking about that helps us win, especially in these tough elections like the spring state Supreme Court race next year. So wisdems.org/monthly is great. Go to wisdems.org/convention to watch our state party convention, wherever you might be, or register and come to join us in lacrosse on June 25th to 26th.

And finally, I'll give the link wisdems.org/volunteer. You can join our virtual phone banks. You can join our volunteer operation to turn out every possible democratic voter. Races here are so close, so often. I was just talking to someone whose county board majority is in place because of a five-vote margin. That kind of thing is not uncommon across our state. And so helping turn out votes can have a huge impact, not just on the lives of Wisconsinites, but in the lives of everyone affected by who has the majority in the U.S. Senate or who the U.S. President is, or who is affected by the U.S. House majority, which is everybody on earth. So get involved wisdems.org/monthly, /donate, /volunteer and /convention.

David Nir:

We've been talking with Ben Wikler, the chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party about all of the intensely competitive races coming up this year and in fact, next year as well in his state. Ben, thank you so much for joining us on The Downballot today.

Ben Wikler:

It has been my great pleasure. Thanks so much, Nir. Thanks so much, Beard.

David Beard:

That's all from us this week. Thanks to Ben Wikler for joining us. The Downballot comes out every Thursday, everywhere you listen to podcast. You can reach us by email at thedownballot@dailycoast.com. If you haven't already, please like and subscribe to The Downballot and leave us a five-star rating and review. Thanks to our producer, Cara Zelaya and editor, Tim Einenkel. We'll be back next week with a new episode.

Highlights from The Downballot: Primary recaps and ‘a double whammy of BS’ in New York

This week on The Downballot, hosts David Beard and David Nir were joined by political strategist and fellow elections expert Joe Sudbay to recap a plethora of primary results. They covered, among other things:
  • Madison Cawthorn losing in North Carolina
  • The GOP nominating QAnon ally Doug Mastriano for governor, and the still-undecided Republican battle for the U.S. Senate nomination in Pennsylvania
  • A fantastic win for an Oregon progressive who'd be the state's first Latino member of Congress—which was also a humiliating loss for a crypto-backed super PAC that spent massively on another candidate
The group also discussed DCCC chair Sean Patrick Maloney’s inexplicable, selfish decision to run in a new district where three-quarters of the residents are already represented by a progressive Black freshman, Mondaire Jones.
You can listen below, or subscribe to The Downballot wherever you listen to podcasts. You can also find a transcript for this week right here. New episodes come out every Thursday!

All eyes were on North Carolina this week, where a prominent U.S. Senate Republican primary contest saw Rep. Ted Budd easily defeat former Gov. Pat McCrory, by about 59% to 25%. This ended up not being a close race at all, Beard noted. In November, Budd will face former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, who narrowly lost reelection in 2020 by about 400 votes. “She is primed to go forward and take on Budd there. She had very nominal primary competition and won in a huge landslide,” Beard added.

In North Carolina’s 13th District, which lacked an incumbent, both parties had primaries. On the Democratic side, state Sen. Wiley Nickel easily defeated former state Sen. Sam Searcy, 52% to 23%. The Republican contest featured a plethora of candidates, but one candidate, former North Carolina state football player Bo Hines, managed to eke out 32% of the vote—just above North Carolina's 30% barrier to avoid a runoff.

Looking over at the opposite coast at Oregon, Nir and Beard highlighted another incumbent who is, as of right now, on track to lose: Blue Dog Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader in Oregon's redrawn 5th District. Schrader once infamously dissented on impeaching Donald Trump, likening his impeachment to a “lynching.” He is currently trailing progressive attorney Jamie McLeod-Skinner. As Nir explained, as of recording this episode on Wednesday evening, Schrader was down 61-39% with around 40,000 votes counted. However, a very large number of votes remain untallied in what is more or less his home base of Clackamas County, and those ballots are going to be slow to be counted. However, the back-of-the-envelope consensus, Nir notes, is that Schrader has way too much ground to make up and that McLeod-Skinner is going to be the likely winner: “If [McLeod-Skinner] is [the winner], either way this remains a somewhat competitive district. It leans blue. It got a little bit bluer, in fact, in redistricting, thanks to Democrats, but the real news will be replacing a moderate like Schrader with a much more progressive alternative.”

At this point, Nir and Beard welcomed Sudbay to the show to discuss some of the bigger pieces of news to come out of the recent primaries.

Sudbay started with Pennsylvania, where a gubernatorial race exposed the chaos happening among Republicans. On the Democratic side, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro ran unopposed. For Repubicans, however, things look very different, as Sudbay elaborated:

They have elected, they have nominated one of the craziest, most extreme politicians that we have seen in a very, very long time. He's basically a Christian ideologist nationalist. I mean, Doug Mastriano was at the January 6th event. He is really Trumpier than Trump, which, that's kind of getting out there. But this guy, I'll tell you one of the ways I knew Republicans were freaking out … A lot of Republican donors said if Mastriano wins, they're going to support Shapiro. The other thing that happened is there was this frenzied effort to try to maybe back Lou Barletta, who used to be a member of Congress; before that he was the mayor of Hazleton. [Barletta is] one of the most extreme anti-immigrant politicians around—well, I mean, he’s just normal now for the Republican Party, but he used to be extreme in the GOP. He lost the Senate race by about 13 or 14 points in 2018. That's how desperate they were—they decided maybe Lou Barletta would be their savior. So they've got Mastriano now.

Turning to the Republican primary in North Carolina’s 11th District, which garnered a storm of media attention due to a steady drumbeat of media coverage of incumbent Madison Cawthorn’s past indiscretions, the hosts shared their thoughts on how the Republican establishment—in a rare moment for today’s GOP—succeeded in pushing back against growing extremism in their party. As Sudbay put it, “It was interesting, because every time there was a new revelation—and there were numerous revelations over the past few weeks about him—[Cawthorn] would tweet, ‘The Libs are trying to destroy me.’ No, dude. It was the Republicans that were trying to destroy you, and the Republicans did.”

The trio also revisited Oregon, where, thanks to population growth, Democrats won a new House seat in reapportionment, leading to the creation of the blue-leaning 6th District, a brand-new open seat. Andrea Salinas won the Democratic primary here. “Democrats unexpectedly had a completely bonkers, out of control and, I will say, obscene primary that really should never have happened. But the good news is the good guys won. So what went down?” Nir asked.

Sudbay recalled that the entire race saw a basically unprecedented amount of money being spent by Sam Bankman-Fried, a crypto billionaire who was financing Carrick Flynn, an artificial intelligence researcher with no prior electoral experience:

Oh my God. The amount of money that was spent in this race by, I call him a crypto brother, who had a super PAC to elect a … I'm just going to call him sort of a no-name Democrat. And also the other thing that really struck me on this one: this crypto bro super PAC is spending money in a bunch of places. And like you said, fortunately, Andrea Salinas won. She will be the first Latina to represent Oregon.

But the other thing that happened was the House Majority PAC decided to invest in this race against her, well, for the other Democrat, which I know I keep not mentioning his name, but I am just so amazed that this was the race they chose to get into. And it really pissed off the … the Democratic House congressional caucus, because they were spending money to defeat a woman who's ... a great Democrat. She's been a state rep, she worked for Harry Reid, and it's like, where did that strategy come from? I just don't get it. I don't get that amount of spending … it was just bizarre to watch.

“It was totally bizarre,” Nir agreed, noting that “our guests from HMP came on before we learned about their decision to put $1 million in this race.” What’s more, he explained that there has been a lot of speculation that HMP made that investment because Sam Bankman-Fried, the crypto billionaire, actually runs an ‘exchange’ for cryptocurrency, and that he had possibly offered to give a donation to HMP in exchange for them getting involved on behalf of his favorite candidate. “We won't know until Friday at the soonest, which is when the next financial reports are due for super PACs like that, but it will cast a cloud over this race, no matter what,” Nir added.

The total spending for Carrick Flynn came close to $15 million for only around 15,000 or so votes—meaning that he spent $1,000 per vote. The race has not been called yet, with Salinas leading Flynn 36-18%, as Nir said: “I hope we don't see this kind of thing happen again. I'm not optimistic but this is a pretty humiliating outcome for the $15 million gang.”

In New York, the court-appointed expert released a new congressional map earlier this week that makes radical changes to existing districts. Right after this map dropped, Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney announced that instead of running in the district where three-quarters of his constituents currently live, he would run one district to the south, where only a quarter of his constituents live and where three-quarters of the constituents are represented by a progressive Black freshman, Mondaire Jones. “What the hell is Sean Patrick Maloney thinking?” Nir wondered.

Sudbay replied:

I think Sean Patrick Maloney thinks about Sean Patrick Maloney first and foremost and only. And that sounds kind of harsh, but that's just who he has been. As you mentioned, he chairs the DCCC, which should be solely focused on expanding the Democrats’ margin this year. And instead, he put himself first. I saw a tweet today from Jake Sherman, who does Punchbowl News, which I refer to as one of ... the Capitol Hill gossip publications. But he said, ‘Sean Maloney allies are spreading the message that Jones would be ideologically better suited for another district.’

Richie Torres, another member of Congress from New York, retweeted that and said, ‘The thinly veiled racism here is profoundly disappointing. A Black man is ideologically ill-suited to represent a Westchester County district that he represents presently and won decisively in 2020? Outrageous.’

Nir added that Maloney’s move could have ripple effects, as there are a couple of other ways this “really selfish move” could affect his colleagues:

First off, and this one is, in a way, the most important to me, is that by abandoning New York's 18th Congressional District—instead wanting to run in the 17th—he's making it more likely that we'll lose the 18th. And that's completely unforgivable. But just as unforgivable is that he wants Mondaire Jones to run in the 16th District. Well, that district is also represented by a first-term, progressive Black man, Jamaal Bowman. Maloney is trying to both risk a vulnerable seat, the 18th, and reduce representation among Black progressive men, by pushing them into a primary against one another. It's really a double whammy of BS.

The Downballot comes out every Thursday everywhere you listen to podcasts. As a reminder, you can reach our hosts by email at thedownballot@dailykos.com. Please send in any questions you may have for next week's mailbag. You can also reach out via Twitter: @DKElections.

Fascism at CPAC, Bernie winning by being the least-weak, and more you might have missed

Doesn’t it feel like February is fully blurring together AND that it’s lasted about a decade? The New Hampshire primary was this week. THIS week. Feels like a month ago.

Anyway, here’s what you might have missed. 

Disgusted with Republicans? You don't have to wait until November—we can beat one next month

By David Nir

At moments like these, November can feel a long way off. But if you want to channel your disgust and your anger into productive action right now, there’s something you can do: Help elect union plumber Harold “Howie” Hayes to the Pennsylvania state House next month.

Of course, we can’t all help but be worried and paying attention to the huge presidential race in November, but we need to make sure that we’re fighting for progressives EVERYWHERE, ensuring that our candidates are getting the resources that they need. 

Howie’s race is particularly interesting. Please help out if you can, it’s one of the best ways that we can #resist. 

On March 17, the Keystone State will hold a special election in the 18th House District, located in the Philadelphia suburbs. The seat became vacant when its former representative won a different office last year—one of more than a dozen Republicans in the chamber who’ve decided to bail rather than seek re-election.

Better still, this area has a history of supporting Democrats at the top of the ticket: It voted for Hillary Clinton by a 53-44 margin in 2016, and supported Gov. Tom Wolf and Sen. Bob Casey by more than 20 points apiece in 2018. And here’s the key stat: Thanks to big gains two years ago, Democrats need to flip just nine seats to take control of the 203-member House this fall, despite the GOP’s extreme gerrymander. If we win in March, that figure shrinks to eight.

Sanders wins New Hampshire by being the least-weak of a suddenly weak field

By kos

In 2016, Bernie Sanders won roughly 50% of the Iowa vote (if not more; no popular vote was recorded). This year? His final vote was 26.5%, essentially halved.

In 2016, Sanders received 152,193 votes in New Hampshire in a 60-38 blowout of Hillary Clinton. This year, he barely eked out a one-point victory over small liberal college-town Mayor Pete Buttigieg, receiving only 75,690 votes, or 25.7% of the vote. Again, he lost half of his 2016 support.

Are you a Sanders supporter? Are you still on the fence? Here at Daily Kos, we are staunch Blue No Matter Who folks. That doesn’t mean that we’re not concerned about the current state of the primary. 

No white male has ever gotten 63 million votes in a presidential election. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both hit 65 million. When our nominees look like our base, we perform better. But this latent fear of the white Republican voter, stoked by Biden, did a real disservice to the women in the race.  So he stomps into the race, when no one was asking for him, damages serious, credible candidates by dint of his name recognition, and then runs the most godawful campaign of the cycle, leaving nothing but a damaged legacy in its wake. Unbelievable.

Fascism: CPAC head warns Romney to stay away, saying he would fear for senator's 'personal safety'

By Hunter

It was easy to miss in all the [raises arms, gestures broadly in all directions], but on Sunday Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Chair and aggressive Trumpophile Matt Schlapp delivered a warning of sorts to Utah Sen. Mitt Romney: Not only are you not invited to this year's CPAC, Mitt, but it could be very bad for you if you dared show up.

Romney dared to do his job and follow his sense of values and ethics. Unfortunately, if you’re a Republican, you now face serious consequences for daring to have any sense of morals. 

"We won’t credential him as a conservative. I suppose if he wants to come as a non-conservative and debate an issue with us, maybe in the future we would have him come. This year, I’d actually be afraid for his physical safety, people are so mad at him," Schlapp told interviewer Greta Van Susteren.

What will Trump do if there is violence enacted toward a member of his own party who openly disagrees with him, like Romney? Do we have to look further than to remember how he treated Senator McCain? 

Indeed, CPAC is in many ways now the heart of the new Republican fascism. It has always been a den for the crackpots of the far-far-right, but that did not stop it in past years from becoming a must-stop speech location for conservative lawmakers, pundits, hangers-on and archconservative administration officials. The discussion has always been conspiratorial and angry, but in recent years has become more explicitly fascist in nature.

Great. Wonderful. Yikes. That’s no terrifying at all. …

House Judiciary Committee passes NO BAN Act to terminate Trump's Muslim ban

By Gabe Ortiz

The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday voted 22-10 to advance the NO BAN Act, which would terminate impeached president Donald Trump’s Muslim ban, to the full House floor. Politico reports that the vote was split along party lines, with Democrats voting in favor of ending this discriminatory policy, and Republicans voting in favor of continued state-sanctioned discrimination against Muslims.

Advocates cheered the bill’s passage in committee, with the executive director of the civil rights organization Muslim Advocates, Farhana Khera, saying in a statement, “This historic bill could be the first ever passed by a chamber of Congress to specifically affirm the civil rights of American Muslims.” A hearing held by House Democrats last year on the NO BAN Act was believed to be the chamber’s first-ever hearing on Muslim civil rights.

We’re, of course, worried that this will die in the Senate. But it’s vital that the House and the rest of us activists and organizers keep up the fight. We have to show that we have better values than the current Senate and our racist wannabe fascist president.

This is how democracies die': House Democrats' flagging urgency on Barr's depravity is inexcusable

By Kerry Eleveld 

The rule of law is the very virtue that separates a democracy from a dictatorship. Though one’s ability to vote is a feature of democracy, elections are meaningless without a functional legal apparatus to safeguard them. People are allowed to cast votes in virtual dictatorships all the time, but their collective will is ultimately crushed by leaders who rig the outcomes. Without the rule of law America is doomed as a democracy, and the sanctity of the legal system is exactly what Donald Trump and his attorney general, William Barr, are working to dismantle in real time by turning the Department of Justice into a tool of the State.

This was easily the biggest story of the week here in the United States, but it is truly terrifying that it doesn’t seem to be spurring rampant national protests instantly. This is a code red.

Trump is reportedly seething after enduring three years of investigations for which he is constitutionally incapable of taking any responsibility. Sure, he called for Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s emails in 2016, and Russia followed suit almost immediately by hacking the Democratic National Committee. Sure, he asked the Ukrainian president to investigate his political rival Joe Biden and withheld desperately needed funding and political backing to pressure him into doing so. But Trump is never wrong, can never be questioned, and surely has never been held accountable in his life. And now that he will carry the stain of impeachment to his grave, there’s going to be hell to pay and the nation’s top law enforcement officer has proven eager to help wherever possible.

I can not repeat myself enough here: we can not let this stand.

But this goes way beyond the interference Barr ran last year on public release of the Mueller report, which otherwise would have been devastating to Trump. Barr is now intervening in the administration of justice on multiple cases, weaponizing the Justice Department against Trump’s political enemies, and shielding Trump’s allies from the full force of the law.

The list of interventions is simply staggering. In brief, they include a relentless effort to find wrongdoing by the officials at the FBI and CIA involved with launching the Russia investigation in 2016, taking specific aim at former FBI Director James Comey and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe (who was already denied his pension benefits by Barr’s predecessor after decades of service at that bureau).

And on the leniency side, Barr has moved in recent weeks to lighten the punishment for two Trump loyalists and former campaign advisers, Mike Flynn and Roger Stone. In service of that goal, Barr removed the Senate-approved U.S. attorney in D.C. and replaced her in the interim with a close ally from his office, Timothy Shea, who has gladly done Barr’s bidding. Shea is the guy who earlier this week signed off on overruling the sentencing recommendations made by the four federal prosecutors on Stone’s case who have all since resigned in protest. While all these actions are indefensible, Barr’s interference with the sentencing recommendations of a Trump ally was so unprecedented that it has elicited an outcry from a groundswell of former federal prosecutors and Justice Department officials.

We are living in truly terrifying times. We can not grow disheartened or weary; we have to take care of one another and fight like our republic depends on us; because it does. Now more than ever. 

Friends, were there any stories this week you thought we should have highlighted? Are you also totally freaking out but in it for the long-haul to defend our country from the CPACs, the Trumps, the racists?

I’d love to talk to you all below. Let me know.