Morning Digest: Investment in GOP primary for Illinois governor pays dividends … for Democrats

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

Subscribe to our podcast, The Downballot!

Leading Off

IL-Gov: Democrats looking to prevent Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin from winning the June 28 GOP primary got some very welcome news Friday when the Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ released a survey from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling finding far-right state Sen. Darren Bailey ahead 32-17, with another 11% going to venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan. The poll came shortly after a conservative PAC called People Who Play by the Rules PAC, which has been attacking Irvin, publicized its own numbers from Fabrizio, Lee & Associates giving Bailey a smaller 27-20 edge over the mayor.

Irvin in late May had unveiled his own numbers showing himself ahead 31-25, but he didn't have anything to offer Friday when reporters asked him about his underwhelming showing from PPP. Instead, the one-time frontrunner said there were "two and a half weeks left" before primary day and that "that's a lifetime in politics." Those comments came a day after Irvin's campaign confirmed they had cut planned advertising in southern Illinois, which led observers to wonder if the mayor was running out of the $50 million he'd received from billionaire Ken Griffin.

But Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker's allies at the DGA are still pouring it on with another ad designed to make Bailey, who among other things once pushed a hopeless bill to kick Chicago out of Illinois, more appealing to GOP voters. Just like the group's previous spots, the narrator asks, "Are pro-Trump conservative Darren Bailey's policies too conservative for Illinois?" The spot goes on to remind viewers that Bailey "sued to stop J. B. Pritzker's Covid mandates" before showing footage of the state senator using a firearm.

election recaps

 AK-AL: Almost 110,000 votes have been counted in Saturday’s special top-four primary for the final months of the late GOP Rep. Don Young’s term, and while the Associated Press has not yet called any of the four spots in the Aug. 16 instant runoff general election, three contenders have established clear leads over the other 45 candidates. Two Republicans, former reality TV show star Sarah Palin and businessman Nick Begich III, are taking 30% and 19%, respectively; independent Al Gross, who was the 2020 Democratic Senate nominee, is in third with 12%.

The battle for the fourth and final spot is tight, with former Democratic state Rep. Mary Peltola holding a 7-5 edge over a third Republican, former state Interior Department official Tara Sweeney; not far behind with 4% is North Pole City Council member Santa Claus, a self-described "independent, progressive, democratic socialist" who previously had his name changed from Thomas O'Connor. 

It’s not clear how many votes are left since mail-in ballots received though June 21 will be tabulated as long as they were postmarked by Saturday, though election authorities say that a total of 139,000 votes have been received thus far. The state, writes the Alaska Beacon, plans to count more ballots on Wednesday, Friday, and June 21, with certification to follow four days later.

Redistricting

LA Redistricting: A panel of judges on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday issued a short-term "administrative stay"​ for a lower court ruling that struck down Louisiana's GOP-drawn congressional map for racial discrimination, but the stay was lifted Sunday​​. Arguments over the case are set to take place in early July, though, so this is far from the final word on the future of the maps. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards has reiterated that a special redistricting session will begin Wednesday.

NY Redistricting: A state appellate court has struck down New York's Democratic-drawn Assembly map on the grounds that the legislature lacked the authority to draw its own map after the state's bipartisan commission failed to pass anything of its own. However, the ruling won't take effect until after this year's elections, since the court ruled that the Republican plaintiffs had waited too late into the election cycle to bring their lawsuit, meaning the upcoming June 28 primary will proceed using the Democratic-drawn districts and the courts will oversee the redrawing of the map for the 2024 elections.

Senate

GA-Sen: The progressive group VoteVets has launched a TV commercial as part of a $1.5 million ad buy that accuses Republican Herschel Walker of using his supposed charity to prey upon veterans to his own financial benefit of $331,000 last year alone, noting that prosecutors charged the charity with defrauding the federal government. As the Associated Press has reported, Walker served as a celebrity spokesperson for Patriot Support, which is actually a for-profit program marketed to veterans by the large hospital chain Universal Health Services.

A civil lawsuit against Universal by the Justice Department and a number of state governments alleged that the company aggressively pushed veterans into inpatient mental health care facilities, often via misdiagnosis and fraudulent documents, to take advantage of how government-sponsored insurance plans don't limit the duration of psychiatric hospital stays under certain conditions, unlike private insurance plans. Universal ultimately reached a $122 million settlement with the federal government and various states in 2020 but denied any wrongdoing.

NV-Sen, NV-Gov: The nonpartisan Nevada Independent has once more released a survey from the GOP firm OH Predictive Insights of Tuesday's Republican primaries, and it finds the Trump-backed Senate and gubernatorial frontrunners, former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt and Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, maintaining double-digit leads in their respective contests.

In the contest to take on Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, Laxalt posts a 48-34 edge over Sam Brown, an Army veteran who has run a surprisingly well-funded campaign. One month before, the firm showed Laxalt up by a similar 45-30 edge, and we haven't seen any reliable polling in the intervening time. The former attorney general's allies at the Club for Growth and its School Freedom Fund affiliate aren't taking any chances, though, as they've continued to spend on advertising in the closing days of the contest.

Meanwhile in the race to go up against Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, Lombardo outpaces attorney Joey Gilbert, a former professional boxer who has bragged that he was "definitely on the Capitol steps" on Jan. 6, 34-21, which puts things a bit closer than Lombardo's 35-15 edge the previous month. Two other Republicans, North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee and former Sen. Dean Heller, tie for third with 10% each, which is about where they each were in May.

NBC reported Wednesday that Lee, a former conservative Democrat who defected to the GOP last year, has actually outspent Lombardo $2 million to $1.2 million on advertising, but that a group called Better Nevada PAC has deployed an additional $2.9 million to help the sheriff. The DGA-affiliated A Stronger Nevada, meanwhile, has poured $2.5 million into ads largely attacking Lombardo as "more worried about his public image than public safety" in an effort to try to derail the frontrunner.

OH-Sen: The Democratic group Innovation Ohio has publicized an internal from GrowProgress that shows Democrat Tim Ryan leading Republican J.D. Vance 44-41, little different from his 43-41 edge in a late April poll taken just before both men won their primaries. The only other recent general election survey we've seen was a late May Suffolk University poll that put Vance ahead 42-39.

Governors

MD-Gov: Former Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker announced Friday that he was suspending his campaign, saying that he didn't have the money to win the Democratic nomination on July 19. Baker, who took second in the 2018 primary, said he'd consider restarting his efforts if he received substantially more donations in the next month, but he acknowledged this was very unlikely to happen.    

MI-Gov: Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, who was the Republican primary frontrunner before he was disqualified last month for fraudulent voter petition signatures, announced Thursday that he'd wage a write-in campaign to secure the nomination in August. "I got emails, text messages through my campaign that says: 'Chief, we know you were robbed," insisted Craig. "And you know what? I'm not going to roll over. Because this is not about me as a candidate."

Craig made his announcement on the local station Fox 2 along with self-funding businessman Perry Johnson, who is suing in federal court to get back on the ballot himself. However, while Johnson, whose campaign also fell victim to a fraudulent signature scandal, is going to federal court to try to get back on the ballot, he sounded skeptical about running his own write-in effort.

Johnson, while not explicitly ruling out the idea, acknowledged it would be "very, very difficult" for anyone to pull off and estimated the effort would take $22 million. Craig, who had $1.2 million on-hand at the end of 2021, suggested that he and his wealthy former rival "should be partners," but Johnson quickly said he didn't want to be his running mate.

MN-Gov, MN-AG: The Democratic firm Change Research's new survey for the nonpartisan MinnPost shows Democratic Gov. Tim Walz leading his likely Republican rival, Scott Jensen, just 42-40, but there's an important caveat.

The firm found that 7% of respondents chose, "The candidate from either one of the legalize marijuana parties (Legal Marijuana Now or Grassroots Legalize Cannabis)," but the poll didn't name any candidates by name or even separate the two parties. This is a potential issue because, by presenting the two options this way, Change is not replicating how these choices will actually be presented on the ballot. (Independence-Alliance Party Hugh McTavish, who was indeed asked about by name, snagged an additional 3%.)

The poll also finds Democratic Attorney General Keith Ellison locked in a tight race against both of the Republicans competing in the August primary. Attorney Jim Schultz, who won the party convention last month, edges out Ellison 45-44, while the incumbent deadlocks 44-44 in a rematch against 2018 rival Doug Wardlow.

House

FL-07: Several Orlando-area Democratic elected officials have endorsed state party official Karen Green's campaign to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy in a constituency that the new GOP gerrymander transformed from a 55-44 Biden seat into one Trump would have taken 52-47. One of the pols backing Green, whom we hadn't previously mentioned, is state Rep. Carlos Guillermo, who didn't quite rule out a bid of his own right after Murphy retired. Florida's filing deadline is June 17, so the field will be set very soon.

FL-23: Airline pilot Curtis Calabrese has filed paperwork with the FEC terminating his campaign for the Democratic nomination for this open seat. Calabrese only switched his party registration from Republican to Democratic in March even though state law requires candidates be registered with their party at least a year before the start of candidate filing, so he likely would have faced serious legal opposition had he continued on.

GA-10: There haven't been many negative ads in the leadup to the June 21 GOP primary runoff, but former state Rep. Vernon Jones is going up with one that portrays his opponent, trucking executive Mike Collins, as a little boy who can only explain his rationale for running with, "My daddy was in Congress." After the actor playing "Little Mike" repeats this line, Jones tells the audience, "My daddy wasn't in Congress, but he was a veteran and he fought for this country."

MT-01: The Associated Press on Thursday evening called the June 7 Republican primary for former Rep. Ryan Zinke, who outpaced former state Sen. Al Olszewski by a surprisingly slim 41-40 margin. But despite his name recognition, support from Trump, and financial advantage, Zinke faced serious scrutiny for reportedly spending more time in his wife's hometown of Santa Barbara, California rather than in Montana, as well as over his myriad of ethics issues from his time as Trump's secretary of the interior.

Zinke will go up against Democratic nominee Monica Tranel, an attorney and former Olympic rower, for a western Montana seat that Trump carried 52-45.

NY-23: State Republican Party Chair Nick Langworthy said Friday morning that he would indeed run to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Chris Jacobs, a decision Langworthy revealed hours before candidate filing closed.

NY-23 (special): Republican leaders on Thursday chose Steuben County party chair Joe Sempolinski as their nominee in the Aug. 23 special election for the final months of former GOP Rep. Tom Reed's term. Sempolinski, who is not seeking a full term in Congress this year, will go up against Democrat Max Della Pia in a constituency Trump took 55-43.

TN-05: The Tennessee Supreme Court on Friday unanimously ruled that music video producer Robby Starbuck would stay off the August Republican primary ballot for this open seat, a move that reverses a lower-court decision that briefly resurrected his campaign.

Starbuck, who was booted by the state GOP failing to meet its opaque "bona fide" standard​, responded by​ tweeting Sunday​, "I have 3 days to decide if I’ll run write in for the primary or general (I have to pick 1). Problem is, if I win the primary, TNGOP can ignore it and pick the person who came in 2nd." He added that he'd told party leaders​, "If they agree to honor the results of the primary election and support the winner, even if it’s a write-in, then I’ll run in the primary as a write-in and not in the general. The ball is in their court now."

Secretaries of State

NV-SoS: The GOP firm OH Predictive Insights surveys Tuesday's Republican primary for secretary of state for the nonpartisan Nevada Independent and finds a 21-21 deadlock between former Assemblyman Jim Marchant and developer Jesse Haw. Marchant, a QAnon ally who has said he would not have certified Joe Biden's 2020 victory, has attracted attention by grouping with other conspiracist candidates running to become their state's chief election official. Haw, though, has himself winked at the Big Lie by saying that last election "had a lot of shenanigans and potential fraud."

The eventual nominee will go up against former state Athletic Commission member Cisco Aguilar, who faces no Democratic primary opposition in the race to succeed termed-out Republican incumbent Barbara Cegavske.

Morning Digest: The year’s biggest special election so far is on Saturday

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

Leading Off

TX-06: Texas' 6th Congressional District will kick off this year's first competitive special election for the House on Saturday, though we'll almost certainly have to wait until an as-yet-unscheduled runoff before we know the winner. That's because, under state law, all candidates from all parties are running together on a single ballot. In the event that no one captures a majority—which is all but certain, given the enormous 23-person field—the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, will advance to a second round.

Exactly who that lucky twosome might be is difficult to say, given the paucity of recent polling and, in any event, the difficulty of accurately surveying the electorate in a special election like this one. The few polls we have seen have all found the same two contenders at the top of the heap: Republican Susan Wright, the widow of the late Rep. Ron Wright (whose death in February triggered this election), and Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez, the party's 2018 nominee who lost to the former congressman by a closer-than-expected 53-45 margin.

The numbers have all been extremely tight, however, and "undecided" has always remained the most popular choice, while several other candidates have trailed closely behind the frontrunners. On the Republican side, the more notable names include state Rep. Jake Ellzey, former Trump administration official Brian Harrison, and former WWE wrestler Dan Rodimer (who lost a bid for Congress in Nevada last year). For Democrats, also in the mix are educator Shawn Lassiter and businesswoman Lydia Bean, who unsuccessfully ran for a nearby state House district in 2020.

Campaign Action

Wright earned what's typically the most important endorsement in GOP circles these days when Donald Trump gave her his blessing on Monday, which could be enough to propel her to the runoff on its own. However, early voting had already been underway for a week, potentially blunting the announcement's effectiveness. What's more, Wright's top Republican rivals, led by Ellzey, have all outraised her. The top outside spender in the race, the Club for Growth, also seems to view Ellzey as a threat, since it's put at least $260,000 into TV ads attacking him. Two other super PACs, meanwhile, have spent $350,000 to boost Ellzey.

There's been less third-party activity on the Democratic side, with two groups spending about $100,000 on behalf of Sanchez, who raised $299,000 in the first quarter, compared to $322,000 for Lassiter and $214,000 for Bean. The biggest concern for Democrats right now may be making the runoff altogether, since there's a chance two Republicans could advance. It's theoretically possible the reverse could happen, but overall, Republicans have dominated in fundraising, collectively taking in $1.7 million to just $915,000 for Democrats.

That disparity may reflect the traditionally conservative lean of the 6th District, which covers much of the city of Arlington but juts out to take in rural areas south of Dallas. The area has always voted Republican, though in 2020, Trump's 51-48 win was by far the closest result the district has produced in a presidential race in many years. Ron Wright, however, ran well ahead of the top of the ticket, defeating Democrat Stephen Daniel 53-44.

To have a chance at flipping this seat, Democrats will need the district's overall trend to the left to continue, though first, of course, they'll need to make sure one of their candidates gets to the runoff. Exactly when that second round might happen is unknown, though, because Texas law only permits runoffs to be scheduled after an initial election takes place.

Governors

FL-Gov, FL-Sen: An unnamed source tells Politico that Democratic Rep. Val Demings is "more likely than not" to seek statewide office next year, adding that "if she does, it's almost definitely running for governor" against Republican Ron DeSantis rather than for Senate against Marco Rubio.

MD-Gov: Nonprofit head Wes Moore, who said in February that he was considering seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, has filed paperwork with state election officials to create a fundraising committee. Maryland Matters reports that Moore is likely to make an announcement "within the next few weeks."

NJ-Gov: Though New Jersey's primary is not until June, former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli is acting as though he already has the nomination in the bag, judging by his TV ads attacking Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy. His latest slams Murphy for ordering a shutdown of businesses at the start of the coronavirus pandemic—without actually mentioning the pandemic, making it sound like Murphy just arbitrarily forced pizza places to close their doors. Perhaps this kind of messaging will work as the worst of the pandemic begins to fade, but voters are apt to recall just how terrifying the virus' devastation was.

One person trying to remind voters of precisely this is none other than … Jack Ciattarelli. In an ad he released last month, he berated Murphy for nursing home deaths that happened on his watch, saying that 8,000 seniors and veterans died "scared and alone."

VA-Gov: Former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy's campaign has announced that it's spending $450,000 on a new TV buy in the Washington, D.C. media market, which is home to a little more than a third of the state's residents, ahead of the June 8 Democratic primary.

Carroll Foy also has a new spot where she talks about how, after her grandmother had a stroke, "we were forced to choose between her mortgage and medicine." She continues, "So when my babies were born early, I was grateful to have healthcare that saved their lives and mine." Carroll Foy concludes, "I've been a foster mom, public defender, and delegate who expanded Medicaid. Now, I'm running for governor to bring affordable healthcare to all of us."

House

MT-02: Former Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke has filed paperwork with the FEC to create a campaign committee that would allow him to run in Montana's as-yet-undrawn—and entirely new—2nd Congressional District. (Yes, that was weird to type. We're still writing "MT-AL" on our checks.) Zinke previously served as the state's lone member of the House after winning an open-seat race in 2014 but resigned not long after securing a second term to serve as Donald Trump's interior secretary.

It was a promotion that worked out very poorly. Like many Trump officials, Zinke was beset by corruption allegations, including charges that he'd spent tens of thousands in taxpayer funds on personal travel and used public resources to advance a private land deal with the chair of the oil services company Halliburton.

In all, he was the subject of at least 15 investigations, but what appears to have finally done him in was Democrats' victory in the 2018 midterms, which would have exposed him to congressional subpoenas. The White House, the Washington Post reported, told Zinke "he had until the end of the year to leave or be fired." He resigned in mid-December.

Zinke's old seat is now occupied by Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale, who won his first term last year after Zinke's successor, Greg Gianforte, decided to run for governor. Fortunately for Zinke, he and Rosendale are from opposite ends of the state: Rosendale lives in the small town of Glendive, not far from the North Dakota border, while Zinke's from Whitefish, another small town located in Montana's northwestern corner. It's impossible to say, of course, when the next map will look like, but these two burghs almost certainly won't wind up in the same district.

We also don't know if Zinke will in fact seek a comeback, since he hasn't yet spoken publicly about his intentions (and as we like to remind folks, it's easy to file some forms with the FEC—it's a lot harder to actually run a campaign). But whether or not he does, it's very likely that other ambitious Montana pols will also want to kick the tires on this brand-new district.

NC-13: The conservative site Carolina Journal reports that some Republicans have already begun to express interest in running for North Carolina's 13th District, just a day after GOP Rep. Ted Budd kicked off a bid for Senate.

Former Davidson County Commissioner Zak Crotts, who's also treasurer of the state Republican Party, says he's "thinking about" the race, though he cautioned that "we have to see what the district looks like" following redistricting. Meanwhile, law student Bo Hines, who's been challenging Rep. Virginia Foxx in the GOP primary in the 5th District (which doesn't currently neighbor the 13th), didn't rule out the possibility of switching races, saying he's keeping "all options open."

Mayors

Three of Texas' 10 largest cities, Arlington, Fort Worth, and San Antonio, are holding mayoral races on Saturday, and we preview each of them below. All races are officially nonpartisan and all candidates compete on one ballot. In any contest where one candidate does not win a majority of the vote, a runoff will be held at a later date that has yet to be determined.

Arlington, TX Mayor: Arlington, home to Major League Baseball's Texas Rangers and the iconic Dallas Cowboys football team, is hosting an open-seat contest to replace termed-out Republican incumbent Jeff Williams. Business owner and former police officer Jim Ross has raised by far the most money of any candidate, having spent $311,000 so far, and has the support of Williams and former Mayor Richard Greene. Other prominent candidates include City Councilman Marvin Sutton and former City Councilman Michael Glaspie. Sutton is backed by former Mayor Elzie Odom, who was the first (and so far only) Black mayor in Arlington history.

Five other candidates are also on the ballot. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram notes that most of the contenders are people of color, with one longtime observer, local columnist O.K. Carter, calling it the most diverse field he's ever seen in the city.

One of the lesser-known candidates, talent purchasing agent Jerry Warden, was declared ineligible to run because of his status as a convicted sex offender. Due to Texas' election laws, however, Warden will still appear on the ballot, which could have an unpredictable impact as his name will be listed first.

Economic issues, particularly those affecting small businesses, have dominated this contest. Ross has spoken about the need to focus on Black businesses, saying, "When we have a 23% African American community and 1% of our businesses are owned by African Americans, there's a disparity there." Sutton has also discussed equity issues and the need to address economic disparities, while Glaspie has focused on helping Arlington businesses recover from the pandemic.

Fort Worth, TX Mayor: This is another open-seat contest to replace outgoing Republican Mayor Betsy Price, who is retiring as the longest-serving mayor in the city's history.

Eleven candidates have lined up to succeed Price, including her chief of staff, Mattie Parker, who has received the mayor's backing along with the support of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association. Parker also sports the biggest fundraising haul in the field, with $1 million raised. Also on the GOP side is City Councilman Brian Byrd, who is endorsed by Rep. Kay Granger. Byrd has raised $324,00 for this race and injected an additional $310,000 into his campaign via a personal loan.

Fort Worth is one of the country's largest cities with a Republican mayor, but Democrats are making a strong push to change that this year. Tarrant County Democratic Party Chairwoman Deborah Peoples and City Councilwoman Ann Zadeh are Team Blue's top contenders. Peoples has been endorsed by Dallas-area Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, Tarrant County Commissioner Roy Brooks, and state Sen. Royce West. Additionally, Rep. Marc Veasey, whose district takes in part of Fort Worth, reportedly will endorse one of these two progressives if either wins a spot in the runoff. Neither Peoples nor Zadeh have been as prolific fundraisers as their GOP counterparts, with the candidates reporting hauls of $286,000 and $128,000, respectively.

Diversity and equality has also emerged as a top issue in this campaign, even among Republicans. Peoples has made focusing on the needs of people of color and improving relations between police and communities of color a central focus of her campaign. There have been multiple incidents of police violence targeting Black residents of Fort Worth in recent years, and even Price acknowledged this issue was among the most challenging to deal with during her time in office.

Byrd has also spoken on racial issues, kicking off his campaign in a historically Black neighborhood in the city. However, Byrd, who is white, has sent out mailers with racial overtones that emphasized his support for police and commitment to "public safety," while another specifically targeted Peoples, who is Black.

San Antonio, TX Mayor: Incumbent Ron Nirenberg is seeking a second term as mayor of Texas' second-largest city and faces a rematch against a familiar foe. Nirenberg, a progressive independent, won a 51-49 contest over conservative Greg Brockhouse in 2019. Brockhouse is back again, and the pair are the top contenders in a wide field of 15 candidates.

Nirenberg, who has been endorsed by former Mayor Julián Castro, has a wide advantage in fundraising over Brockhouse, beating him $218,000 to $14,000 in the last fundraising period. Additionally, local pollster Bexar Facts, polling on behalf of KSAT and San Antonio Report, released a survey earlier this month that showed Nirenberg leading Brockhouse 56-21. Nirenberg's underlying numbers appeared strong in this poll as well, as he boasted a 67% approval rating.

Observers have noted this race has been a departure from the intense tone of 2019's contest, though issues surrounding police and firefighters unions have remained contentious. Brockhouse, a former consultant for both the city's police and firefighter unions, received strong support in his last bid from both labor groups, which deployed a combined $530,000 on Brockhouse' behalf—more than twice what the candidate himself spent.

This time around, though, the two unions have stayed neutral, as Nirenberg has successfully managed to navigate thorny issues with them. Nirenberg and the city negotiated a new deal with the firefighters union while also sidestepping questions about Proposition B, a measure that would repeal the right of the police union to engage in collective bargaining. Nirenberg has not taken a stance on the proposition and claims his focus is on the current round of negotiations with the union.

Other Races

KS-AG: We thought we were done with Kris Kobach, but we thought wrong. The notorious voter suppression zealot and former Kansas secretary of state kicked off a campaign for state attorney general on Thursday, following a failed bid for the Republican nomination for Senate in 2020 and a disastrous turn as the GOP's gubernatorial nominee two years earlier that handed the governorship to the Democrats.

Team Blue would certainly love another shot at Kobach, since his too-many-to-mention failings could once again put a statewide race in play. There's one we certainly have to note, though, since it directly impacts his qualifications to serve as Kansas' top law enforcement official: that time three years ago when a federal judge found Kobach in contempt for failing to comply with her orders in a suit that struck down a law he championed requiring new voters to provide proof of citizenship, then made him take a remedial legal education class titled "Civil Trial: Everything You Need to Know."

Of course, Republicans would like to avoid one more go-round with Kobach as much as Democrats would enjoy one. The GOP successfully kept Kobach at bay in last year's Senate race (which Republican Roger Marshall went on to win), though so far, he's the only notable candidate to announce a bid for the attorney general's post, which is open because Republican incumbent Derek Schmidt is running for governor. The Kansas City Star says that state House Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch and state Sen. Kellie Warren could run for Republicans, while no Democratic names have surfaced yet. With Kobach now in the mix, that will likely change.

VA-LG: EMILY's List has endorsed Del. Hala Ayala, who also recently earned the backing of Gov. Ralph Northam, in the June 8 Democratic primary. The six-person field also includes another pro-choice woman, Norfolk City Council member Andria McClellan.

Trump and the corrupt lackeys in his government need to know they will be prosecuted

For purposes of the following, let’s stipulate that Joseph Biden is elected president. Of course, we have a long road ahead to make that happen, but if it doesn’t happen, everything written below will be moot.

Given that scenario, and based on their past conduct, it’s fair to assume that the dominating, prevailing impulse among most if not all of Donald Trump’s appointees—and of Trump himself—will be to loot or otherwise exploit the vast resources controlled by our federal government for their personal ends. The lame-duck presidency will permit Trump’s appointees and their hires in nearly all of our federal agencies approximately 75 days of zero accountability, where their only goal, as they perceive it, will be to extract as much wealth as feasible for themselves, and to do favors for the interests that have placed them in that position to begin with.

Trump has surrounded himself with self-interested sycophants and corrupt grifters who have wielded enormous power within our government structure. The entire tenure of Betsy DeVos, Andrew Wheeler, Ryan Zinke, and Wilbur Ross (to name just a few), whom Trump placed in charge of our federal agencies over the past four years, has been dedicated to siphoning as much as possible from the taxpayer’s coffers and redirecting it for their own benefit or the benefit of interests they represent.

There will be no thought whatsoever by these people as to what type of future they are leaving the American people, or what kind of condition the country will be in after their loot-fest is completed. These are not people who entered public service out of any sense of responsibility or altruism; that is simply not the way they think. Trump carefully and deliberately constructed a kakistocracy—a government of the worst, most unscrupulous, most unqualified people—for which destruction of the government agency to which they were appointed was their primary qualification. Most of them could have drawn far greater salaries in the private sector, but they agreed to participate in government insofar as it served their own financial (or in some cases, purely ideological) interests, both during and after their tenures. So assuming Trump loses on Nov. 3, in addition to a spree of looting we can expect massive deletions of data from hard drives, probably outright destruction or theft of government property, shredding of documents, and more as they try to cover up what they’ve done.

In 2018, The New York Times compiled a comprehensive list of the administration’s corruption and conflicts of interest as of then—a list now rendered so incomplete that it seems quaint. 

Compiling the list made us understand why some historians believe Trump’s administration is the most corrupt since at least Warren Harding’s, of 1920s Teapot Dome fame. Trump administration officials and people close to them are brashly using power to amass perks and cash. They are betting that they can get away with it. So far, Congress has let them.

Two years later, the Trump administration has become a systematic web of conflicted interests and blatant theft more prevalent than any administration in history. Its tentacles have now enveloped the Department of Justice in the persona of William Barr, who is now utilized as a willing tool to conduct sham investigations, pressure foreign states to manufacture false evidence to serve Trump’s political interests, and reward Trump’s loyalists such as Michael Flynn and Roger Stone with sentence reductions and outright dismissals of their criminal convictions.

Because Trump’s corruption of our federal government is pervasive at this point, and because it has gone almost entirely unpunished and unexamined, the question of accountability on the part of members of the administration should be addressed now, before the final looting begins. Up to this point, any attempt to unveil this morass of corruption was stymied by a complicit Republican Congress for the first two years of Trump’s tenure. Now that the House is in Democratic hands, the favored response of the administration is to stonewall and “run out the clock.” His appointees engaged in the actual corruption—Barr, for example—are similarly insouciant, in effect thumbing their noses at attempts to investigate or punish their behavior.

Like all criminals, they clearly believe they’ll “get away with it.” It’s our duty to make them understand they won’t.

Michelle Goldberg, writing for The New York Times, frames the issue as one of accountability, which is simply vital if this country is to move forward. She observes that although former Vice President Biden has not ruled out criminal prosecution of Trump himself, he has deliberately avoided the subject. Goldberg also acknowledges that it would be highly unwise for Biden himself to be leading the charge.

Biden’s reticence is understandable, because a president who runs the White House as a criminal syndicate creates a conundrum for liberal democracy. In a functioning democracy, losing an election should not create legal liability; there was a reason Trump’s “Lock her up” chant was so shocking.

But you can’t reinforce the rule of law by allowing it to be broken without repercussion. After four years of ever-escalating corruption and abuses of power, the United States cannot simply snap back to being the country it once was if Trump is forced to vacate the White House in January. If Biden is elected, Democrats must force a reckoning over what Trump has done to America.

Senator and vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have both expressed the view that criminal prosecutions of Trump officials and Trump himself are likely unavoidable. While Trump officials will enjoy qualified immunity in the performance of their job functions, there are limits to that immunity when the conduct impugns the Constitution, or otherwise consists of acts not officially contemplated or made discretionary by their employment in government. The law itself, therefore, is not an impediment to prosecutions for gross corruption or other blatant acts of criminal behavior on the part of Trump’s appointees and their hires.

The much thornier question is whether pursuing criminal charges against these officials will be perceived as so political that it will create a precedent for whichever party is in charge to conduct investigations and criminal prosecutions, however frivolous, of the opposing political party. As pointed out in this report, prepared by the Center for American Progress (CAP), the issue of “creating a precedent” is actually moot. The fact is, as William Barr has amply demonstrated, that abuse of the nation’s law enforcement power against political opponents is now our current reality.

[T]he concern that law enforcement could be used to target political opponents is not a future hypothetical—it’s the current reality. The problem is how to respond to the way the Trump administration has used law enforcement to protect its friends and target its enemies. The precedent has been set; what is still to be determined is the nature of the response.

Any investigations should be driven by career officials following the facts where they lead. The only way to address the politicization of law enforcement is by eliminating it, which means that people in the Trump administration, or those with connections to the administration, do not receive special treatment.

Importantly, the authors of the CAP report point out that failure to hold these criminals accountable will set a far worse precedent: “If a free pass is provided to those who broke the law and subverted democracy, it will embolden them and any illiberal politicians or administrations in the future to show even greater disregard for the rule of law.” Further, a failure to insist on accountability will inhibit people who do have integrity—career, non-political employees—to stand up against corruption in the future.

The CAP report also addresses the  objection that such prosecutions will be “divisive.” Essentially the rejoinder is that the entire administration has been divisive—it is in fact completely predicated on dividing Americans. But all Americans (including even Republicans, presumably) are—or should be—united in their fealty to the rule of law.

But one of those shared ideals is the primacy of the rule of law: that people in the United States should be treated equally, and that there should not be one justice system for the politically well-connected and one for everyone else. Having a rule of law means that it applies at all times and in all places—not only when an administration chooses to enforce it. The law applies right now to the Trump administration; that the administration refuses to acknowledge that fact is all the more reason that a future administration must reassert it. That means holding people accountable for their wrongdoing.

The report also emphasizes that the investigations should be conducted without any White House involvement by career DOJ officials selected for their integrity and experience rather than their ideological and political leanings.

Goldberg quotes Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island to make the point that a Truth Commission of sorts was warranted after the Bush administration took our country to war in Iraq based on lies and phony, manufactured evidence, resulting in a geopolitical disaster from which that region has failed to recover, not to mention the massive loss of life.

Whitehouse was one of the Democrats who, in 2009, called for some sort of Truth Commission to examine the legacy of the last Republican to wreck the country. George W. Bush’s presidency left America “deeply in debt, bleeding jobs overseas, our financial institutions rotten and weakened, an economy in free fall,” Whitehouse said then. His administration took the country to war based on lies and authorized torture. There was a “systematic effort to twist policy to suit political ends; to substitute ideology for science, fact, and law; and to misuse instruments of power.”

But no Truth Commission was ever created. There was no accountability for Iraq, or for Guantanamo, or waterboarding, or “renditions,” just as there was no accountability for the Wall Street banks and financial behemoths that caused the financial crisis of 2007-2008. As a result, as former Obama senior adviser Ben Rhodes, quoted by Goldberg, states:

The “lack of accountability that people felt around the financial crisis and around torture didn’t go away,” said Rhodes. “It metastasized.” A generation of Republicans learned that there was no price for flouting the rules.

The point is that there is a direct line between the failure to hold Bush and Cheney accountable and the widespread, systematic corruption of the Trump administration. People like Stephen Miller, like Bill Barr, honestly believe they’re going to skate away and live happily ever after—perhaps, like Sean Spicer, even being invited to go Dancing with the Stars. They feel they are untouchable, and that’s why they continue with their corruption and illegality. After all, no one has ever been held to account; why would they be the first? 

With regard to Trump himself, in his mind, assuming he can somehow escape the prosecutions pending in the Southern District of New York, he clearly believes he has a future that doesn’t involve a jail cell for the rest of his life, possibly in some country without an extradition treaty with the U.S. The Trump crime family is now far more than Trump himself—it consists of his branding and the coercive power he has exerted by virtue of his office to benefit himself, clearly with a view towards pursuing additional ventures after he leaves office. If we allow that to happen, we’ll simply be setting ourselves up for another Trump.

The list of Trump’s crimes, grifting, and self-dealing, is of course inexhaustible. But Goldberg has a few suggestions on how to deal with this criminal. For starters:

The administration’s failure to contain the coronavirus — exacerbated, according to reporting in Vanity Fair, by Trump’s hostile indifference to hard-hit blue states — deserves something akin to a 9/11 commission. So does the wholesale corruption of American diplomacy, only a small part of which was addressed by impeachment. Just last month, The New York Times reported that Trump instructed America’s ambassador to Britain to press the British government to hold the British Open golf tournament at Trump Turnberry, the president’s money-losing golf resort in Scotland. But we have little visibility into how fully American foreign policy has been perverted to serve Trump’s personal interests.

It’s also certainly worth considering the prosecutions of Miller, ICE, and Border Patrol officials, if applicable, as proposed by Sen. Warren during the Democratic primary. As reported in Pacific Standard last year:

Warren states correctly that, as president, she could ask the Department of Justice to investigate and consider bringing charges against individuals from the Trump administration who violated the laws by detaining and criminally abusing immigrants," says Margaret Russell, a constitutional law professor at Santa Clara University. "This is within a president's authority even if the past administration defended its actions as permissible under the immigration laws."

As Goldberg points out, holding these people accountable does not simply mean “airing” or “exposing” their criminality. There is no benefit to that other than to encourage others by letting them know what they can get away with. What she is calling for are explicit legal sanctions—prison time for Trump’s criminal cabal. Of course, the right will call it a political vendetta. Fox News and every right-wing media outlet will call their minions into the street to protest, screaming at the top of their lungs. So? Just another reason to restore the Fairness Doctrine. It certainly couldn’t be much worse than what we’re experiencing right now.

Of course, the Biden administration—like any Democratic Administration coming out of this nightmare—will want to look forward, particularly since it will be attempting to rebuild what is likely to be the most damaged economy in American history. They will consider it a secondary matter to prosecute these people, secondary to saving the country itself from the disaster that Trump is leaving them to clean up. But in this circumstance, they may have no choice. As pointed out by Andrew Feinberg, writing for the Independent, Trump is a special case:

[G]ood government advocates, legal experts, and some prominent Democrats say the broad range of alleged violations of law by Trump administration officials and allies, ranging from misuse of government resources for personal gain; to the abuse and mistreatment of persons — including minors — in immigration detention; to obstruction of justice and making false statements to Congress; means a Biden administration effort to simply “turn the page” on the Trump years would be a dangerous concession to lawlessness.

It is a near certainty that Trump will contest any election result that goes against him, but assuming that our governmental institutions manage to thwart any attempts by Trump to evade that outcome, the timeframe between Nov. 3 and Jan. 20 will become the last opportunity for Trump’s cadre of appointees to indulge in a final spate of looting the public coffers.

The only way they are going to be deterred is by knowing that they will be held accountable to the full extent of the law.

Effective Get Out the vote can change an election. With Turnout2020, you call Democratic-leaning swing state voters & help them request an absentee ballot. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this is needed now more than ever. Sign up to volunteer, and you can make these phone calls from the privacy & comfort of your own home.