This Week in Statehouse Action: State of Mind edition

So the weather is getting warmer, we’re getting vaccinated, and … is this hope?

Nah, that’s indigestion.

Because even as federal politics is boring again, state-level political action remains a shitshow, and this week brought a reminder of the disaster to come next year.

Specifically, redistricting.

This week, the U.S. Census Bureau released its congressional reapportionment numbers, which is when decennial Census results are used to recalculate the number of congressional seats each state gets.

Because we’re stuck at 435 seats but our population keeps growing at different rates in different places, it’s a zero-sum game. More congressional seats for a state = more power for that state in Congress and in the Electoral College (which is bad and should go away but that’s a rant for another time).

The biggest winner among states was Texas, which picked up two U.S. House seats and will have 38 in the next Congress.

Campaign Action

Five states gained one seat: Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, and Oregon.

Seven states lost one seat: California (the first time that’s ever happened in the history of California being a state), Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

Courtesy of the amazing Daily Kos Elections squad, here’s a handy map of the changes: 

Obviously, the size of various state legislatures isn’t changing, but this is still very much a statehouse action issue because state lawmakers are tasked with drawing new congressional maps in the majority of states.

… which is why the fact that Democrats failed to flip a single chamber in November 2020 is so devastating for Team Blue at every level of government.

GOP lawmakers in the states will be able to draw new maps for anywhere from 38% to 46% of all congressional districts.

Meanwhile, Democrats will control the process for just 16% of seats.

The remainder will likely be drawn by nonpartisan entities or through bipartisan compromise.

Five of the seven seats being added were picked up by states where the GOP has complete control of redistricting: Florida, Montana, North Carolina, and Texas.

Three of those seven seats were lost by states where Democrats have some measure of control or influence over redistricting: Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania (Democratic governor, hooray!).

But it’s not enough for Republicans to control most of the next round of redistricting.

The GOP wants to have its way on pretty much everything.

And if you have the temerity to try to use things like “checks and balances” or “the rule of law” to hold them to account, good luck with that.

Because Republican lawmakers have no reservations about replacing judges who don’t agree with them with judges who do.

Take, for instance, Montana.

It’s easy to forget that the last two governors of the Treasure State were Democrats, but the GOP is fulling running the show in Helena these days.

… except not fully enough for Republicans’ liking.

High on that sweet trifecta control of state government for the first time since 2004, the GOP is thirstily passing a whole passel of bills of dubious constitutionality.

But what to do about that pesky state Supreme Court that might tell the GOP-controlled legislature that they can’t just do any old thing they want?

You fuck around and hope you don’t find out, that’s what.

Since this year’s legislative session began, lawmakers have proposed numerous bills seeking changes to the judicial branch.

This resulted in a progressive escalation of tensions between the two branches of government as the GOP-controlled legislature passed bills designed to reduce the independence of Montana’s highest court.

The cherry on top of the Republicans’ anti-separation-of-powers sundae is HB 325.

This measure—if approved by voters at the ballot box in 2022—would effectively gerrymander the state judiciary by forcing candidates for the state Supreme Court to run in seven pre-carved districts (yes, I know they don’t have the Census data yet that they’d need to make sure these districts have equal population, that’s part of the fun here).

According to DKE’s Stephen Wolf, if those districts had been used in 2020 to elect the state’s Supreme Court justices, GOP candidates would have won a majority of the seven seats despite losing the statewide vote by 7%.

But wait, it gets better! A justice running for reelection doesn’t have to actually live in the district—they’re just stuck running in the district with the number corresponding to the order in which they’re next up for election.

It’s totally arbitrary and very obviously designed to dilute the voting power of Montana’s (few as it is) Democratic-leaning urban centers.

But if you think this is the only place that GOP-controlled state governments are screwing around with the judiciary, I’ve got some bad news for you.

In Tennessee, GOP lawmakers get pretty sore when the state Supreme Court strikes down laws as unconstitutional.

Their solution?

Create a new court (that will conveniently be stacked with GOP appointees)!

A sort of “super court” would be established under legislation moving through the Tennessee statehouse to hear constitutional challenges to state laws.

Tennessee's new court would initially be staffed by three judges appointed by Republican Gov. Bill Lee. Starting in 2022, the judges would run in the state's first partisan statewide judicial races.

Currently, Tennessee Supreme Court justices are appointed by the governor and then subject to statewide retention elections every eight years—which means there are still two holdovers the state’s last Democratic governor.

Meanwhile, Texas Republicans are getting nervous about the inroads Democrats are making in judicial elections.

They’ve considered a number of shady options to “remedy” this, and they seem to have settled on one.

A bill that has already cleared the state Senate and is being considered by the House would create a new appellate court to hear a range of appeals, including lawsuits that challenge state laws or government action.

Currently, most cases challenging Texas laws are appealed to the court in Austin, which happens to be a Democratic bastion in the state.

But the new court would be chosen in statewide partisan elections, where Republicans still have a very real leg up.

It’s almost hilarious that, while the national GOP is screaming about Democrats’ proposal to expand the U.S. Supreme Court, state-level counterparts are openly screwing with actual separation of powers and actual court-packing.

And this is nothing new.

Republicans in states have a consistent and extensive history of messing with state judiciaries or other independent institutions as means of revenge for decisions perceived as adverse to the GOP’s interests. A look back at just the past decade provides myriad examples.

First, let’s set the wayback machine to 2011, when Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC), created in 2000 via a voter-initiated ballot measure that removed the drawing of state legislative and congressional district maps from lawmakers’ hands, drew new congressional maps that failed to give sufficient advantage to Republicans. Brewer proceeded to fire the head of the IRC for this affront.

The Arizona Supreme Court found that Brewer had insufficient reason to remove the commission’s chief and reinstated her. The “offending” maps were approved by the IRC and went into effect for the 2012 elections.

But Arizona’s Republicans weren’t done messing with the IRC. If we can’t control it, they decided, let’s get rid of it. So the legislature’s GOP majority sued to have the IRC declared unconstitutional, saying it unlawfully removed power over redistricting from the lawmakers themselves. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, and Arizona Republicans were forced to let the IRC remain in existence. Arizona Republicans then tried to get the maps themselves declared unconstitutional, but that didn’t go their way, either.

Yet, years later, Arizona Republicans kept trying to twist the IRC into something they can control. The commission is set now, though, so further shenanigans will keep until after the GOP decides if it likes the map it gets or not.

But courts remain Republicans’ favorite target. In 2015, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling finding the state’s method of funding public schools both inadequate and unfairly distributed. This upset the Republican-controlled legislature, which responded with a pair of retaliatory laws that created a catch-22 of sorts for state courts. The first law stripped the state Supreme Court of administrative power over lower courts; the second stripped the state’s entire court system of funding if a court struck down any part of the previous law.

(In other words: If you don’t rule exactly the way we demand, we’re going to take away every penny that funds your operations—from the copy machines to the clerks to the judges themselves.)

That first law removing the court’s authority was at least pretty straightforwardly unconstitutional, and the Kansas Supreme Court ruled thusly. But that triggered the law that eliminated the state court system’s financing. This didn’t last too long, though; it’s hard to run for re-election after you’ve destroyed the judicial system and your state’s become a lawless hellscape, after all. A few weeks later, the legislature blinked and passed a bill restoring the courts’ funding.

But Republicans weren’t going to let this perceived affront go without a further fight. Proposals surfaced to broaden the grounds for judicial impeachment, to give the governor and the legislature complete power over judicial selection, and to begin electing judges to state courts. The efforts stalled in 2016, but there’s no reason to think Republicans are giving up. Already this year, they’ve denied the state judicial branch’s request for a budget increase.

By the way, all five of the Kansas Supreme Court justices facing retention elections in 2016 kept their seats on the bench.

Speaking of 2016 elections, that was the year Democrat Roy Cooper ousted Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in North Carolina’s gubernatorial election. The state’s Republican legislators, occupying comfortable, veto-proof supermajorities in both the state House and Senate—obtained through gerrymanders that have since been ruled unconstitutional by the courts—were positively incensed that a Democrat had the temerity to win this race. So the GOP set about removing as much power from the executive branch as they conceivably could.

In December special sessions, with McCrory still in office but content to go out in a blaze of sour grapesRepublican legislators passed measures that fundamentally altered the state’s election oversight boards and forced the governor’s cabinet appointees to submit to state Senate approval. They also slashed the number of gubernatorial appointees from 1,500 to 425.

The North Carolina Supreme Court ended up blocking most of this Republican legislative power grab and restored much of this authority to Cooper shortly thereafter. But then Republicans used their veto-proof majorities to basically pass the same thing again—and again a state court swatted them down.

So, presented with some judicial rulings they didn’t like, Republican lawmakers set about messing with North Carolina’s court system itself. They started by ending public campaign financing, transforming the state’s previously nonpartisan judicial elections into partisan contests, and then they canceled judicial primaries. When three Republican judges on the state’s Court of Appeals hit mandatory retirement age, GOP lawmakers reduced the size of the court from 15 to 12, just to prevent the Democratic governor from appointing replacements.

Republican lawmakers also dislike being watched and investigated by agencies they can’t control. In 2015, the Republican-controlled Wisconsin legislature disbanded the state’s nonpartisan elections and ethics oversight agency, the Government Accountability Board (GAB). The GAB was created by a near-unanimous vote of the legislature back in 2007, and it had been hailed as “a national model for ethics and elections.” But after facing eight years of investigations of possible campaign violations, Republicans decided it was time to go back to the bad old days of partisan oversight.

Almost all of the GAB's critics were Republicans, and their ire was largely motivated by a GAB investigation into possible (and illegal) coordination between GOP Gov. Scott Walker's campaign and conservative groups during the 2012 recall election. Democrats lacked the numbers in the legislature to halt the GOP’s bill to dismantle the GAB, and in 2016, the board was officially dissolved and split into a separate ethics commission and an elections oversight commission. Commission members are now selected by legislative leaders or the governor—the very same partisan officeholders the commissioners are supposed to oversee. Critics called the move “a deliberate attempt to doom effective enforcement of Wisconsin election laws.”

And let’s not forget the ongoing threat from Pennsylvania Republicans to gerrymander that state’s Supreme Court after it ruled in 2018 ruling that their gerrymandered congressional map violated the state constitution. The GOP responded with defiance, lashing out publicly. They even threatened to evict the offending justices from the bench through impeachment.

And this fight isn’t over! The bill that could have put that constitutional amendment gerrymandering Pennsylvania’s highest court on the ballot this spring is in limbo for the moment, but it’s by no means dead, and if history is any guide, Republicans will try to pass it when they think no one is paying attention.

This is just a small sampling of the most egregious attacks Republicans have leveled at the judiciary and other independent agencies and branches of government, but it’s by no means an exhaustive list (though the nonpartisan Brennan Center has a catalog of plenty more).

The bottom line: The GOP’s contempt for courts and other government branches and agencies they lack power over burns intensely. Progressives must be girded for these ongoing assaults and fight back with even greater passion.

This Week in Statehouse Action: Spring Cleaning edition

Confession time.

I … [[deep breath]] am a hoarder.

I hoard web browser tabs.

I open something I mean to read or use for research, and four times out of five it just … sits. Unused. Unread.

In the Chrome window I’m using to write this week’s missive, I have 38 tabs open.

I’m not proud.

It’s time to admit that I have a problem.

So I’ve decided: Out with them.

This week, I’ll click on them, and then I’ll use them and/or close them forever.

From right to left—everything to the left of this window is important: Google docs and sheets, necessary-for-everyday-work tabs, that kind of thing.

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Okay, here goes.

Far-leftmost tab: Ah, yes, the GOP-controlled West Virginia legislature is trying to amend the state’s constitution to allow lawmakers to successfully execute the kind of high-court coup they failed to pull of back in 2018.

This is both weedy and based on a political event that was esoteric at the time and ancient history now.

But considering that I covered the Republicans’ attempt to oust and replace Democratic justices with GOP appointees way back when, you’re in good hands.

  • It all started in fall of 2018, when reports began to surface that the justices had indulged in exorbitant spending on expensive furniture amid lavish renovations of their chambers (in the neighborhood of $700,000 for things like fancy couches, elegant flooring, and pricey rugs).
  • Fast forward to June 2018, when prosecutors indicted Republican Justice Allen Loughry on state and federal charges (54 in all!) of fraud, witness tampering, making false statements, and more.
    • He was swiftly suspended from the bench, but he refused to resign.
      • His suspension gave Democrats an ostensible one-seat majority on the court. (Republicans made elections for the state Supreme Court officially nonpartisan after they took control of the legislature in 2014.)
    • Then, in early July, Democratic Justice Menis Ketchum announced his resignation, although he faced no criminal charges or formal allegations of ethics violations at the time. (He did later plead guilty to one count of fraud.) 
  • If impeachment proceedings had been concluded by Aug. 14 of that year, the resulting vacancies on the court would have been on the ballot in November 2018’s general election, and West Virginia voters would have had the chance to elect new justices.

But why would the GOP-controlled legislature want that when foot-dragging would let them game the state’s election deadlines and allow the Republican governor to just appoint the replacements himself?

  • In early August 2018, Republicans in the legislature finally got around to passing 14 articles of impeachment against all four remaining justices, and the full House convened the day before that Aug. 14 deadline to consider the matter.
    • Lawmakers approved 11 of the articles (mostly along party lines), but a trial still had to be conducted by the (also GOP-controlled) state Senate.
  • So by waiting until August to start proceedings, Republican lawmakers essentially guaranteed that the impeachment process couldn’t wrap up in time to let voters select replacement justices.
  • And if the state Senate had voted to remove the remaining three justices, replacement GOP appointees would have served two years on the bench before facing voters.

Remember, prior to this entire debacle, Democrats held a three-to-two majority on the Supreme Court.

  • But just in case you think this is anything but a brazen Republican attempt to usurp an entire branch of government through GOP appointments, consider this:

And why entertain timely steps to remove allegedly corrupt justices when you can slow your roll and execute a Supreme Court coup instead?

  • Anyway, in a surprise move on the morning of Aug. 14, 2018, Democratic Justice Robin Davis announced her resignation just in time to trigger a special election to replace her in November.
    • The crucial timing of her maneuver helped mitigate—but not obviate—Republican lawmakers’ scheme to fill the entire court with GOP appointees.

The drama continued for months.

  • Then-justices Margaret Workman and Allen Loughry and current Justice Beth Walker underwent impeachment trials in the state Senate.
    • Loughry resigned in November 2018, after he was found guilty on some of those 54 charges mentioned above.
    • Justice Walker, a Republican, was acquitted but censured by the Senate.
    • Workman, a Democrat, filed a lawsuit in October seeking to halt the proceedings.
      • Because it’s obviously pretty messed up for state Supreme Court justices to rule on a case impacting their own ability to remain on the bench, five district court judges were temporarily elevated to hear the case.
      • They ruled 5-0 that the House had erred in its adoption of the resolution of impeachment and, in doing so, had essentially run afoul of the whole separation-of-powers thing.
    • The GOP-run Senate tried to continue the Democrat’s impeachment trial anyway, but the justice presiding over the affair didn’t show (the court ruling effectively prohibited him from participating).
  • None of the other justices stood trial.
    • And Republicans in the legislature have been salty about it ever since.

Okay, finally, back to that pesky tab.

  • The article that piqued my interest enough to preserve it in tab form is about an amendment to the state’s constitution proposed by the GOP-controlled legislature.
    • House Joint Resolution 2 specifically prohibits any West Virginia court from intervening in any impeachment proceedings conducted by the legislature.
      • Despite the fact that there are some pretty obvious separation-of-powers issues inherent in such a proposal, the proposed amendment passed the House and is waiting on Senate action.
      • If the state Senate passes it with a two-thirds majority before the legislature adjourns on April 10, West Virginia voters will vote on it in the November 2022 election.

In a nutshell, because Republicans in the state House got sloppy in their fervor to game the impeachment of Supreme Court justices to benefit their own party (remember, the court was 3-2 Democratic when this got underway), they want to permanently usurp the power of a whole branch of government.

Something to remember when the GOP screams about Democratic efforts to expand federal courts, which, by the by, is extremely legal and would very much not require an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

… as I found out in my next open tab, the YouTube page with this week’s episode of Daily Kos’ The Brief, for which I was a surprise guest co-host on my first day back from vacation.

But it was fun, and I learned things, and because I’m me, I managed to find a state legislative angle on D.C. statehood.

Which conveniently brings me to my next tab, which is an article about various legislatures debating the merits of (and passing resolutions for and against) Washington, D.C., becoming an actual state.

Which, by the by, it should.

  • To help raise awareness, improve understanding, and build support for statehood, organizers have encouraged lawmakers across the country to introduce resolutions in their legislatures encouraging Congress to make D.C. a state.
  • Republicans, who can’t see past their horror at the likelihood of two additional Democratic members of the U.S. Senate to consider the underlying issues of basic fairness and democracy and taxation without representation and racial equity and self-determination, are pushing their own anti-statehood resolutions in various legislatures.
    • The first legislative push against statehood reportedly came from South Dakota (a state with a population that only barely exceeds D.C.’s), where the resolution’s sponsor cited fear that two D.C. senators would “dilute” his state’s power in the chamber.
    • Meanwhile, in a hearing on Arizona’s anti-statehood resolution, GOP Rep. Kevin Payne had words for residents of the District who want a voice in Congress:

If they want representatives, move. That’s what they made Mayflower for.


  • As of last month, Democrats in six states had introduced pro-statehood resolutions.

Of course, none of these resolutions for or against making Washington, D.C., a state have any sort of force of law.

But the fact that they’re being considered at all is quite new, and it speaks to the sudden salience of the issue.

Okay, next tab … 

  • The GOP-controlled Arkansas legislature has passed (and the governor has signed into law) a near-total ban on abortion in the state.
    • The law permits abortions only to save the life of the mother.
    • There are no exceptions for fetuses conceived via rape or incest.

And next tab … oh hey it’s another Arkansas story.

  • A sitting Arkansas state senator has left the Republican Party over its continued fealty to former President Trump.
    • Now-independent Sen. Jim Hendren, who was particularly horrified at the Trump-promoted violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, is the nephew of current Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, which is a nice touch here.

Conveniently, my next tab is story that dropped this week about the growing hold of right-wing extremism in state legislatures.

It’s certainly not the first piece on the topic. And it does a nice job of covering familiar (to you, as an erudite consumer of this missive) legislative leaders who have become standard bearers of Trump-flavored Republicanism.

Like our old pal, Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey.

  • You remember, the Mike Shirkey initially feigned outrage at the Capitol violence on Jan. 6 and then privately met with one of the organizers of the earlier, practice riot at the Michigan capitol to discuss the poor “optics” of the situation.
  • The Mike Shirkey who publicly cozied up with members of violent militias and spoke at one of their rallies. 
  • The Mike Shirkey who was caught on video claiming that the Capitol riot was a “hoax” staged to make Trump supporters look bad.
  • The Mike Shirkey who’s arguably the most powerful Republican in Michigan.

But of course, he’s far from alone.

We can’t forget Arizona state Rep. Mark Finchem.

Anyway, all this is to say that GOP lawmakers’ extremism might once have been brushed off as a fringe-y distraction with few material consequences, but we can’t afford to take this with anything but grave seriousness now. The Trump wing of the Republican Party holds real power in statehouses.

But not only does their rise to power poses an existential threat in statehouses across the country; the upcoming round of redistricting could cement—even expand—that power for the rest of the decade.


Welp, I didn’t clear out all those unused tabs, but I made progress! There’s a little breathing room in my browser window.

I’ll take my wins where I can get them, and you should, too. Maybe knock off early, call it a week, spend some time closing some of your, ah, spiritual browser tabs.

Just print this out and show it to your boss, she probably has more tabs open than I do.

This Week in Statehouse Action: Sedition edition

By this time next week, we’ll have a new president! (… hopefully)

But with Donald Trump’s second impeachment (who says Congress can’t act at state legislature-like speed when it wants to?) because of his responsibility for last week’s violence in the U.S. Capitol, we’re very much not yet done with the old one.

Worse, we’re far from done with his effects on politics—from federal elected officials all the way to state capitols.

In fact, the number of state legislators so affected by Trump that they traveled to DC last week for the terrorist attack on the Capitol is actually much larger than it was when I wrote about it in this space last week.

Here’s a list of the people who make laws in states who participated in this domestic terrorism (13 strong to date):

  • Alaska Rep. David Eastman
  • Arizona Rep. Mark Finchem
  • Illinois Rep. Chris Miller
  • Maryland Del. Dan Cox
  • Michigan Rep. Matt Maddock
  • Missouri Rep. Justin Hill
  • Nevada Assemblywoman Annie Black
  • Pennsylvania Sen. Doug Mastriano
  • Rhode Island Rep. Justin Price
  • Tennessee Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver
  • Virginia Del. Dave LaRock
  • Virginia Sen. (and gubernatorial candidate) Amanda Chase
  • West Virginia Del. Derrick Evans*
  • West Virginia Sen. Mike Azinger

*Derrick Evans faces criminal charges and has since resigned from the West Virginia House.

… plus various former state legislators, which is bad, but at least they don’t make laws any more.

by the by armed insurrection by private citizens is also bad

So yeah, that’s Republicans from 12 states and counting that physically, actively participated in a violent, seditious attack on the very core of our government.

And if you think these lawmakers left those anti-democratic impulses in DC, I’ve got some bad news for you.

Loyalty to Trump and distrust of the 2020 presidential election results has become a mainstream position in many (GOP-governed) parts of the country.

Earlier this week, Wisconsin Senate Republicans shut down Democrats’ attempt to pass a resolution condemning the violence in the U.S. Capitol and acknowledging Joe Biden’s victory over Trump.

As a reminder, Wisconsin GOP lawmakers did more than their fair share to further Trump’s lies about about the election being “stolen” from him, including holding bogus hearings and filing bogus lawsuits.

Thankfully, some lawmakers who fomented Trump’s dangerous, anti-democratic lies about the fairness of the presidential election are actually facing consequences.

In Georgia, the Republican lieutenant governor stripped three GOP senators who backed Trump’s attempts to undermine the state’s election results of their committee chairmanships.

In Virginia, three Republican delegates (Ronnie Campbell, Mark Cole, Dave LaRock) signed a letter casting doubt on the validity of the election outcome and asking Vice President Mike Pence to effectively disenfranchise millions of Virginia voters.

Democratic House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn booted the three Republicans from one committee each, saying in a statement that they “showed exceedingly poor judgment and conducted themselves in a manner unbecoming of their office.”

In Oregon, where Republican Mike Nearman opened a locked door to admit protesters to the state capitol (closed to the public because of the pandemic) as lawmakers gathered inside for a special session in December, Democratic House Speaker Tina Kotek has removed Nearman from all committees and called on him to resign.

She also fined him $2,000 in damages the unruly protesters did to the building, several of whom were arrested after spraying responding officers with bear mace and attacking journalists.

And we’re not done: Early this week, the FBI issued a warning that armed far-right extremist groups are planning marches on state capitols across the country this weekend.

To return to another piece of business from last week’s edition, the GOP-controlled Pennsylvania state Senate finally swore in and seated Democratic Sen. Jim Brewster.

On Tuesday, a federal court tossed a last-ditch lawsuit brought by Republican Nicole Ziccarelli, and Senate Republicans decided to accept the Democrat’s 69-vote victory (nice).

Remember, this shitty move by the Pennsylvania GOP had nothing to do with their control over the chamber.

Even after seating Brewster, Senate Republicans have a 29-21 majority. (Technically one member is independent, but he caucuses with the GOP.)

And now, a rerun of a totally different sort.

In the eons-ago time of Before Trump, it was something of a fad among GOP-controlled legislatures to attempt to gerrymander the Electoral College.

That is, Republican lawmakers in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, who were still sore about Obama winning their historically blue states, wanted to figure out a way to give some of their electoral votes to the Republican presidential candidate for a change by allocating them by (conveniently GOP-gerrymandered) congressional districts.

Then 2016 happened and they weirdly forgot all about it.

(That is, Trump won all of those states but Virginia, which was about to go fully indigo at every level of government.)

But (via Dave Weigel, who writes another newsletter you should read and has been on this incredibly esoteric beat for as long as I have, somehow) Republicans in some states are suddenly reconsidering this scheme.

In Michigan and Wisconsin, specifically, proposals to effectively disenfranchise voters who live in densely populated areas are already being floated.

Michigan U.S. Rep. Mike Huizenga proposed such change in a Facebook post earlier this week.

It’s been tried twice before in the Wolverine State.

In Wisconsin, there’s actual legislation to allocate the state’s electoral votes by (gerrymandered) congressional district being considered.

Thankfully, both of these states have Democratic governors who aren’t shy about using their veto pens.

And on top of that, Michigan is about to get its first redistricting via an independent commission.

Still, as yet another anti-democratic proposal from the GOP, it should very much generate concern.

This Week in Statehouse Action: Wolverine-al Failure edition

Republican legislators in key swing states still aren’t ruling out elector-related shenanigans designed to steal the election for Donald Trump, but there’s still a pandemic on, and a bunch of domestic terrorists just got arrested for plotting to overthrow Michigan’s government, so I’m going to shift focus a little this week.

To me, my statehouse action!

(But for real, the guy who wrote the law review article that inspired all of this and helped establish Pennsylvania as a potential Ground Zero for legislator-instigated elector-related constitutional crisis still thinks that this scenario is very much in play. And given what I’ve learned from working in and writing about state legislative politics for the past decade or so, I do, too.)


Campaign Action

House of M: Michigan is hands-down the most action-packed state that hasn’t or isn’t about to play host to a vice/presidential debate.

  • First, late last week, the state Supreme Court struck down Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive authority to issue emergency orders, which she’s of course been doing to help her state fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • The decision was 4-3, which matters because
      • Conservatives have a 4-3 majority on the court
      • The decision was straight along partisan lines
      • Progressives have a chance this fall to flip the Michigan Supreme Court to a 4-3 conservative minority.
  • The retirement of a conservative justice has created an opportunity to shift the highest court in this key swing state away from the GOP.
    • Democrats have a lot of balls in the air right now for sure, but Republicans have a history of not sleeping on court elections.
    • Dems, on the other hand … have yet to really get their act together when it comes to investing in these incredibly important, high-stakes, and infrequent (state supreme court terms are at least six years; in Michigan, justices serve eight-year terms) races.
      • Daily Kos has endorsed progressive Michigan Supreme Court candidate Elizabeth Welch in this race, but it’s not clear that the Democratic establishment outside of the state is paying any attention at all.

le sigh

  • So, the state Supreme Court’s ruling against Whitmer’s emergency executive powers last Friday threw her coronavirus-related orders into legal limbo.

Good, right?

  • But given that the Senate majority leader is opposed to a statewide mask requirement, and
  • GOP House members are feigning outrage because the governor is working to help elect a Democratic majority to the state House (and never mind that Republican lawmakers have been fighting Whitmer on her coronavirus-related executive orders for many months already),
    • … the outlook for real progress on protecting the state from the pandemic looks less than rosy.

And this all brings us to Thursday, when 13 white guys (well …. probably white. I haven’t found an article yet that describes them as anything but, and in my experience, news outlets tend to not mention someone’s race unless they’re NOT white, in which case, they ALWAYS mention it. Please feel free to hit me up with any examples you find that contradict this) were charged for participating in an alleged domestic terrorism plot that involved kidnapping Michigan’s governor and possibly murdering her or other state leaders they perceived as “violating the U.S. Constitution.”

  • And these weren’t just a bunch of disgruntled assholes.
  • After their arrests were announced Thursday, Whitmer tied these men to
    • Trump’s failure last week to condemn white supremacist (with which which Michigan’s militias have flirted) and extreme right-wing groups and
    • Trump’s tweeted encouragement to “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” earlier this year in response to protests of the governor’s coronavirus safety measures.

Yes, let’s blame the victim

So, yeah, the Wolverine State is having a super normal one.

The Dark Keystone Saga: But just because Pennsylvania GOP legislative leaders aren’t currently, right at this moment, actively working to steal the state’s electors for Donald Trump, don’t think for a second there aren’t shenanigans afoot there.

  • A shady resolution (read: Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf can’t veto it) establishing a “Select Committee on Election Integrity” charged with investigating and reviewing “the regulation and conduct of the 2020 general election” still awaits a full House floor vote, which it may get as soon as Oct. 19, when the legislature reconvenes.
    • This committee will be made up of three Republicans and two Democrats, has subpoena power, and is authorized to “prepare and file pleadings and other legal documents” (emphasis mine).

… like, say, a certificate of ascertainment for Trump’s electors ..?

  • The subpoena and investigatory power the resolution endows this “Select Committee” with with the power to find supposed “facts” designed to demonstrate that the election was not run properly or fairly.
    • The resolution appeared “out of nowhere” on last week—literally a day after Trump claimed during the presidential debate (somehow that was JUST LAST WEEK) that “bad things happen in Philadelphia” (he also encouraged his supporters to intimidate voters at polls there, but that’s a whole other matter).
  • And speaking of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court …


  • If Democrats can flip one of Pennsylvania’s legislative chambers (28 R/21 D Senate, 109 R/92 D House [2 vacancies]) next month, this GOP power-grab will die a delicious and deserved death.

Age of Coronapocalypse: In Virginia, where lawmakers are still meeting in special session to deal with racial justice, police reform, and coronavirus-related budget issues, one Republican may have put her legislative colleagues in grave danger.

  • State Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel attended the Rose Garden event announcing the nomination of conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court—an event now notorious for likely being responsible for numerous attendees’ subsequent COVID-19 diagnoses.
    • Just a couple of days after attending the gathering, at which photos reveal social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines were most definitely NOT followed, Vogel returned to Richmond for two days of in-person session with many of her Senate colleagues.
      • Vogel reports that she has since tested negative for COVID-19, but it’s not clear that those results came back before session last week—or that she even got tested before other Rose Garden event attendees’ coronavirus diagnoses came to light.
  • Vogel’s not alone in placing her colleagues in unnecessary danger when it comes to the coronavirus.

… just something to bear in mind the next time Republicans rail about “transparency” and “good faith.”

Welp, that’s a wrap for this week. (Better than a rap, because my rhymes would be almost as bad as my puns, and better than a rap sheet, because we’re not white domestic terrorists who’ve been arrested for plotting to overthrow state governments, hm?)

Hang in there. We have a few laps yet to put behind us before we cross anything resembling a finish line in this election.

Maybe you’re tired.




Something else entirely.

Some unfortunate combination of any of those things.

I see you. And I hope you’ll do something to take care of yourself this week.

Because you’re important.

And we need you.

This Week in Statehouse Action: Counterprogramming edition

I have a present for you.

It’s this.

You can read it instead of watching (or while watching, as a distraction) Trump’s RNC speech tonight.

I mean, let’s be real—it’s a much better use of your time all around.

This: Contains facts.

That: Contains outright lies.

This: Has bad jokes.

That: Has racisms.

This: Can be read to yourself in any voice you like (personally, I prefer Nathan Fillion as my internal narrator).

That: Can only be heard in Trump Yells.

Anyway, you get the idea.

Even though Republicans are holding their national convention this week, not all is sunshine and roses in GOP-land.

In fact, there’s some serious R-on-R violence astir in Ohio at the moment.

Campaign Action
  • And no, I’m not even talking about the state’s former governor who addressed last week’s Democratic convention.
  • Three GOP state House members have drawn up articles of impeachment against Republican Gov. Mike DeWine because they’re mad about how he’s been handing the coronavirus epidemic.
    • … which, frankly, he’s been doing a lot more competently than many of his fellow GOP governors.
  • GOP Reps. John Becker, Nino Vitale, and Paul Zeltwanger joined right-wing forces this week to sponsor an impeachment resolution detailing 10 specific articles against DeWine, including claims that he
    • Violated separation of powers by having the state health department issue orders “tantamount to creating new laws”
    • “Conspired” with the secretary of state to cancel the March 17 primary and move it to June (lawmakers eventually passed legislation setting an April 28 all-mail primary)
    • Unconstitutionally ordered businesses to close to prevent the spread of coronavirus, which “resulted in record-high unemployment,” which increased “poverty,” “depression,” “despair,” and “suicides” but also required state budget cuts
    • Usurped the state board of education’s power by ordering schools to shut down and then “violat[ing] students’ civil liberties” by requiring them to wear face coverings when schools reopened
    • “Prove[d] his incompetence” by providing “misleading COVID-19 data”
    • Violated Ohioans’ due process rights and civil liberties by issuing a stay-at-home order
    • Somehow violated the First Amendment by requiring Ohioans to wear face masks in houses of worship (and all other indoor spaces)
    • “Promote[d] fear” by issuing a face mask requirement.
  • These three genius lawmakers also set forth the inane lie that face coverings render the wearer somehow “more likely to infect themselves with COVID-19.”

Since both the state’s Democratic and Republican parties are denouncing the impeachment attempt, it’s fair to anticipate that these three extremists won’t be able to muster the House majority and Senate supermajority required to remove DeWine from office.

  • In fact, the Ohio GOP chair called the move “a baseless, feeble attempt at creating attention for themselves.”

… not that feeble, I guess. I’m not the only one writing about it.

  • Republican Rep. Nino Vitale made some other news this week, too.
    • Ohio’s GOP Secretary of State Frank LaRose filed a campaign finance complaint with the state elections commission accusing Vitale of, among other things,
      • Failing to keep a strict account of all campaign contributions
      • Failing to disclose all expenditures above $25
      • Failing to deposit all contributions into an account that wasn’t for personal or business use
      • Using campaign resources for his personal business when he
        • converted his campaign website, email marketing program, and social media accounts for his own use and
        • used his campaign account to pay for Facebook ads promoting his shooting classes on his personal gun range.
    • Vitale thinks LaRose is out to get him because of the impeachment resolution against DeWine.

let them fight dot gif

Elsewhere ...

  • The Milwaukee Bucks made some excellent headlines this week after their extremely righteous move to go on a sudden wildcat strike instead of taking the court for a playoff game in protest of racial injustice and police brutality in the wake of a Kenosha cop shooting an unarmed Black man seven times in the back last weekend.
    • Something that made fewer headlines, however, was the team’s substantive followup on their show-stopping activism.
      • The team also issued a statement on Wednesday calling out Wisconsin’s GOP-controlled legislature for “months of inaction” on bills addressing police accountability and criminal justice reform.
        • The state’s GOP leaders have said nothing in response to the Bucks’ call and have refused reporters’ requests for comment on the matter.
    • Relatedly, earlier this week, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers called a special session to convene this Monday specifically to consider nine bills related to police reforms and training he proposed back in June.
      • Lawmakers will meet, but the Republican-majority chambers could vote to adjourn as soon as they gavel in because they’re classy that way.
  • In Pennsylvania, the GOP-controlled legislature is responding to “glitches” in the state’s new mail-in voting law by … trying to make it harder to vote by mail.
    • Specifically, Republicans are pushing a proposal that would cut the amount of time voters have to request a mail-in ballot and limit the locations at which voters to hand-deliver their ballots prior to Election Day.

I mean, of course the GOP is trying to game the system in a closely-contested swing state like Pennsylvania.

It’s not clever, but it’s smart.

… but not everyone is up to no good.

  • Last week in Virginia, state lawmakers convened in a landmark special session and are continuing to advance legislation to reform police practices in the commonwealth.
    • But the session wasn’t noteworthy just because of the subject matter.
      • For the first time in over 400 years, the General Assembly tried a new way of convening.
      • Specifically, the House of Delegates held a virtual session.
        • The endeavor met with some hiccups, though—Republican members complained of lost connections and the system itself was described as “balky.”
        • But in light of the dangers posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Democratic-majority chamber was eager to try something new—despite GOP members’ foot dragging.
    • Because Republican delegates refused to immediately get on board with the change, legislative action in the House is off to a slow start.
      • The much smaller (40 vs. 100) state Senate opted to meet in person (with many precautions in place).
        • But that choice brought its own coronavirus-related consequence when GOP Sen. Bryce Reeves revealed this week that he’s tested positive for COVID-19.
          • Reeves reported experiencing “mild symptoms” during the special session’s three days last week.
      • Meanwhile, since Republican Sen. Amanda Chase refuses to wear a mask because of an alleged medical condition, Senate staffers constructed a Plexiglass box around her desk to keep her from potentially infecting her colleagues.
    • Despite all this drama, police reform legislation is actually making headway.
      • On Wednesday, the Senate approved (on a party-line vote) a measure allowing judges and juries to consider lesser offenses (i.e. misdemeanors) for someone who, say, shoves an officer (as opposed to the felony charge from a shooting or stabbing).
        • Currently, any “assault” on a cop is a felony that carries a mandatory six-month minimum sentence.
      • In the House, committees are advancing measures that would ban tear gas and rubber bullets, prohibit police departments from acquiring surplus military gear, and establish “community care teams” to accompany officers when responding to a mental health crisis.

While ending the garbage legal doctrine of qualified immunity for cops (which protects them from personal liability for their actions) is, sadly, not on the table in Virginia, stay tuned for some actual reforms to emerge from the newly-Democratic legislature in the coming weeks.

While some lawmakers are hard at work doing the business of the people in the middle of a pandemic, others are … hardly working.

  • Many are running for reelection, which, you know, makes sense, since we’re a couple of months away from Election Day.
    • But some Republicans would rather party with lobbyists on the beach than actually connect with their constituents or help their states deal with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic or work to address racism and police brutality.
  • This week, the Republican State Leadership Committee (the GOP party organization tasked with election Republican state legislators, lieutenant governors, secretaries of state, and judges across the country) met at a Georgia resort at Sea Island for their annual Summer Meeting.

These sorts of “meetings” are nothing new, and they certainly aren’t unique to the GOP.

  • In the middle of a pandemic, though, when you’re almost guaranteed to take germs you didn’t arrive with back to your respective home states?
  • In a huge COVID-19 hot spot?

Seems pretty clear that one party is actually taking the coronavirus seriously this election season, and it ain’t the GOP.

Welp, that’s a wrap for this week. Thanks for tuning in!

Now go do something nice for yourself.

A snack.

A beverage.

A stretch.

A call to someone special.

An animal ear-scratch.

A fitness.

Whatever floats your boat (including actually floating a boat).

Just take good care of you.

You’re important, and we need you.

This Week in Statehouse Action: 2 Lock 2 Down edition

Hello, and happy early Independence Day to all who observe!

(And, of course, as an erudite consumer of this missive, I know you’ll observe in a responsible, socially-distanced way. Because Lockdown 2: The New Batch is going to suck enough as it is.)

As a lot of states whose Republican governors reopened businesses prematurely in the middle of a damn pandemic begin to grapple with the obvious and avoidable fallout, a lot of state-level action right now is extremely coronavirus-related.

… but not all of it.

Body Double: … but some of it!

Campaign Action
  • In Pennsylvania, GOP Rep. (and noted Terrible Human) Daryl Metcalfe is coopting “my body, my choice” as a slogan to justify his reckless refusal to wear a face mask to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
    • Metcalfe has also introduced a resolution calling for the impeachment of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, saying in a statement that Wolf’s businesses closures and other measures he’s taken to combat the spread of the coronavirus have “caused immeasurable harm an hardship for far more Pennsylvanians than the virus!”

I dunno, getting a deadly disease seems like a pretty severe hardship

Double or Nothing: In Kansas, where I’m sure the GOP-controlled legislature is contemplating a measured and reasonable response to Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s new mandatory face mask order, one Republican lawmaker is super worried about losing his primary election in August.

Okay, this has all been interesting, but I did promise you non-coronavirus related content.

And, well, tomorrow is an important day.

No, not because it’s Independence Day Eve.

And not because it’s my half-birthday.

(Which it is.)

Election Day is four short months from July 3.

And this is a year that ends in zero.

Which makes this Election Day the final chance for Democrats to flip legislative chambers and put themselves in position in states across the country to prevent another decade of GOP gerrymandering.

Thousands of seats are on the ballot this fall.

And yes, all state legislative elections in each and every state are important.

But because redistricting is at stake, some are a bit more important than others this fall.

Democrats taking a birds-eye view of these elections (c’est moi) have to weigh a number of factors when it comes to prioritizing states, chambers, and seats this year.

  • How many seats do Democrats need to flip to win a majority in the chamber?
  • Do past election results, political trends, or other factors indicate that Democrats can flip that many seats in a single election?
  • Was Democratic recruitment strong?
  • Do legislators in that state impact redistricting (some states, like California, task independent commissions with drawing legislative and congressional maps)?

These are the chief factors I’ve weighed in determining my state legislative chamber priority target list for 2020.

Topmost among those targets are (in alphabetical order, nothing to read into here):

  • Arizona House (Dems need to flip two for a majority)
  • Arizona Senate (Dems need to flip three)
  • Michigan House (Dems need to flip four)
  • Minnesota Senate (flip two)
  • North Carolina House (flip six)
  • North Carolina Senate (flip five)
  • Pennsylvania House (flip nine)
  • Texas House (flip nine)
    • In Arizona, flipping either chamber would break the Republican trifecta. While legislative and congressional maps there are drawn by an independent redistricting commission, Republicans have spent the entire decade trying to undermine and dismantle the body; as long as the GOP has complete control of the state, fair redistricting is in real danger.
    • In Michigan, flipping the House would help stymie ongoing GOP efforts to dismantle or defang the independent redistricting commission the party’s been attacking since voters approved it in 2018.
    • In Minnesota, flipping the state Senate would give Democrats a governing trifecta (governorship, House, Senate) and complete control of the redistricting process.
    • Flipping at least one chamber in North Carolina is essential to preventing another GOP gerrymander of the state. The Democratic governor is generally favored to win reelection here, but it doesn’t matter—the legislature has complete control of legislative and congressional redistricting.
    • While Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is positioned to veto egregious partisan gerrymanders sent to him by the legislature, flipping a chamber in Pennsylvania would give him a redistricting partner, so to speak, which would send him a fair map to approve, levy against the GOP in negotiations, or be considered by the Democratic-majority state Supreme Court in litigation.
    • Flipping the Texas House would break the GOP trifecta in the state and give Democrats a say in the redistricting process for the first time since the infamous DeLay-mander of 2003.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be going in to detail on each of these chambers—challenges, opportunities, available paths to victory, targeted districts, and the like. And I’ll be adding target chambers as the electoral landscape shifts and solidifies as we approach November.

  • But let’s start with the relative layup of the bunch: Minnesota Senate.
    • As ever, much love to the beautiful brains at Daily Kos Elections who crunch the numbers that give us presidential and other statewide elections results broken down by legislative district.
      • And after this crunching, they’ve spit out multiple opportunities for Democrats to win that coveted trifecta this fall.
        • Republicans currently have a 35-32 majority in the Minnesota Senate.
        • In 2016, Hillary Clinton carried just 28 seats in the 67-seat chamber.
        • In the special U.S. Senate election in 2018, Democrat Tina Smith carried 39 out of 67 districts.
        • Democrat Tim Walz carried those same 39 seats, plus two more.
        • Sen. Amy Klobuchar annihilated her GOP opponent and carried a ridiculous 52 of the 67 Senate seats, but let’s look at the closer elections to map out the most viable targets in the fall.
          • Those targets can be found among the eight Smith/Waltz districts currently represented by Republicans.
    • It’s worth noting, though, that only two of those seats supported Clinton in 2016 (SDs 44 and 56).
      • … which, well, is fine, since Democrats only have to flip two for that sweet Senate majority and hot trifecta action.

Welp, that’s a wrap for this week. Thanks for checking in before checking out for the holiday!

Whatever you end up doing this weekend, I hope you enjoy the heck out of it.

You deserve it.

You’re worth it.

Hang in there.

And wear a mask.

This Week in Statehouse Action: Hocus Pocus Caucus Fracas edition

Why, hello there.

I’d like to welcome you to a safe, chill zone where the Iowa caucus debacle murmurs softly in the distance, like a kindly old wizard up in a tower casting a spell that will definitely end the world as we know it and bring about the rule of nameless horrors from beyond the stars …


Though we’re still waiting for Iowa caucus results, we need not wait for statehouse action, for statehouse action will not wait for us.

Scott Allen—Reconsiderer: In Wisconsin, white Republicans tried to hijack Black History Month … again.

Campaign Action

Last year, Republican lawmakers removed Colin Kaepernick, a Milwaukee native, from a Black History Month resolution drafted by Wisconsin’s Legislative Black Caucus that named specific honorees—ignoring the vocal objections of black lawmakers.

This year, GOP Rep. Scott Allen planned to introduce his own Black History Month resolution. Allen, who you’ll be just shocked to learn is white, didn’t see fit to consult his black colleagues before including several white people on his list. This quite understandably righteously outraged his colleagues of color. But would you believe that … Allen had a change of heart? He met and talked with members of the Legislative Black Caucus, and “as a result of those conversations,” he decided to scrap his crappy Black History Month proposal and asked black lawmakers for permission to sign onto their resolution, which is expected to pass the full legislature.

The Terrible Old Man: Virginia’s legislative session continues at full speed (they adjourn in early March, so yeah, they’re kind of in a rush), and the new Democratic majorities in the legislature keep doing pretty cool stuff.

This week, the General Assembly paved the way to become the first southern state with broad protections against LGBTQ discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

And Democrats continue to advance legislation that will allow localities to decide for themselves whether to remove Confederate monuments.

A 116-year-old law currently prevents local governments from actions that would “disturb or interfere with any monuments or memorials” erected to honor war veterans—even if that war was fought to maintain slavery and white supremacy. So cities and towns all over Virginia right now are totally stuck with their hate statuary. Democrats are trying to change that this year—to the dismay of many Republicans. So GOP Del. Wendell Walker came up with a truly brilliant troll. I mean, legendary. Why he’s not leading the Republican caucus, I’ll never understand. Total genius. Walker decided to make a point by introducing legislation to remove remove the statue of Democrat Harry Flood Byrd that stands sternly in Richmond’s Capitol Square. Byrd served as a Democratic state senator, U.S. senator, and Virginia governor over the course of his life, and for over 40 years, he led infamous Byrd Machine that maintained the dominance of white supremacy in the commonwealth’s politics. Byrd is most notorious for being the architect of Massive Resistance, the racist opposition to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that shut down schools across Virginia rather than integrate them and otherwise maintained segregation in the state’s schools for years. So yeah, Byrd was a monster. But because he was a Democrat, Walker thought that his colleagues across the aisle would both want to keep the statue and would think twice about empowering localities to remove Confederate statues.


When Democrats began asking him if they could co-sponsor his bill, Walker began to realize his mistake. It turns out that a lot of Democrats are pretty jazzed about the legislation and very much would like to vote to remove the Byrd statue. So Walker tried to withdraw his bill. Democrats, so far, are having none of it. They’ve denied his initial request to strike the bill are forcing him to justify the move at a hearing.

The Lurking Fear: Last week in this space, I discussed new legislative district data that reveals a challenging but extremely viable path to a Democratic majority in the Michigan House.

Democrats, by the by, are four seats down (52 D/58 R).

Thanks to the work of the Daily Kos Elections squad, we know that Democrat Gretchen Whitmer carried 56 of the 110 seats in the state House—that magic number Democrats need to take the majority.

Democrats aren’t the only ones aware of this, though. Republicans have relied on their extremely effective partisan gerrymander to cling to their Michigan House majority since the 2010 wave—despite Democrats winning more votes in three of the last four elections. But now they’re buttressing that baked-in advantage with a whole lot of cash money. Michigan Republicans are entering the election cycle with a whopping $3 million in the bank, thanks in part to the late-year largesse of the DeVos clan (of which our awful Secretary of Education is a scion). In December, the DeVos fam gave over half a million dollars to legislative Republicans. Democrats are … behind. … by about $2.3 million. But having Republicans scared and flush is better than having them happy and flush, and progressives still have plenty of time to jump into these elections and invest in flipping this chamber.

The Nameless City: The GOP-controlled legislature in Florida is stripping control over local policy away from cities and towns all across the state, and these localities are starting to get pretty damn sick of it.

I’ve written a lot about these Republican preemption laws over the years—especially in the wake of one especially notorious measure in North Carolina that overturned a Charlotte city ordinance allowing folks to use the bathroom corresponding with the gender with which they identify.

You remember 2016’s Bathroom Bill, right?

One of the less-noticed phenomena of the GOP’s dominance in state legislatures over the past decade is the glut of preemption laws Republican lawmakers have been routinely using to undermine the local authority of (often more liberal) city and municipal governments. Theoretically, preemption measures are used establish a sort of hierarchy to prevent conflicts between state laws and local ordinances and ensure that statewide policies are generally applied uniformly. They’ve also been used to set a “floor” below which municipalities are not permitted to fall with regard to things like civil rights protections and employment and wage standards. Over the past nine years (read: since Republicans came into ginormous power in state legislatures after the 2010 elections), however, many state-level preemption efforts have been used to bar localities from addressing local problems and issues—and to expressly punish jurisdictions that suddenly find themselves in violation of these new laws. This tendency has been especially pronounced in the Sunshine State, which one advocacy group identifies as one of the four most aggressively preemptive states in the country. (The others are Texas, Arizona, and Tennessee.)

(And what do these four states have in common? All together, y’all: Republican-controlled state governments!)

Many of the preemption bills that pass in Florida are backed by corporate interests or eliminate civil rights protections. Among the things preempted in Florida are local control over providing paid sick leave, increasing the minimum wage, gun safety measures, and banning environmental hazards like styrofoam. In Key West, local officials banned a specific type of sunscreen made with chemicals that damage coral reefs—which are part of the foundation of the heavily tourism-dependent area. But now Johnson & Johnson, a major manufacturer of sunblock, is backing a state-level preemption law that could overrule the ban. Residents of Orange County went to the ballot box and approved a measure requiring local employers to offer paid sick leave. But then Disney World and Universal Studios, both major employers in the area, worked through a lobbying firm to block it through a new state law. A band of Democratic lawmakers, activists, environmental groups, labor organizations, and more have come together to fight back. The coalition is filing a raft of bills that would undo many of the preemption measures hog-tying localities and getting in the way of what’s known in Florida as “home rule.” Do any of these bills have a shot of passing the GOP-dominated legislature? Nope, not even a little. But the group is going to use these bills to raise awareness of just how much power Republicans in Tallahassee have stripped from local governments all across the state in recent years and to begin a long-term campaign to return power to the people of Florida.

Welp, that’s all for this week. And what a week it’s been, huh? Caucus debacle, impeachment acquittal, Trump lickspittles, novel coronavirus transmittals, I’m all out of Skittles …

Anyway, you should maybe knock off early, get a jump on the weekend. Maybe you’ve got wood to whittle. Just print this out and show it to your boss, I bet she’ll give you that workday remittal.

This Week in Statehouse Action: Winter Windbags edition

So I heard you needed a little break from reading about impeachment. Or maybe not. Maybe you clicked on this accidentally, and right now you’re thinking Oh crap what have I done someone get me out of here this is the end tell my family I love them etc.

Or maybe—just MAYBE—you’re thinking to yourself, Hey, this impeachment stuff is super important, because while Trump definitely exploited the office of the presidency and undermined national security for purely personal gain, state legislative politics and elections are also extremely important and remain so despite whatever’s happening in D.C.

Regardless, HI!

Campaign Action

Truly, statehouse action cares little for what transpires in the U.S. Capitol. And with 32 of 50 state legislatures in session right now, there’s plenty of that action to be had all across the nation. But even more pressing than sessions at the moment is one very special special election in Texas.

Out in the Cold: You see, the runoff in Texas House District 28 is this Tuesday, Jan. 28, and Democrat (and Daily Kos endorsee) Eliz Markowitz is facing Republican Gary Gates as she tries to turn this historically red seat a nice, frosty blue.

Yup, you read that right: Texas.

It’s by no means assured, but Democrats have a shot at picking up this seat. Texas HD-28 is definitely trending toward Democrats: Ted Cruz won it in 2012 by a giant 64-34 margin. But in 2018, his win narrowed to 51-48. Special elections are odd creatures, and anything could happen, but a Democratic win in this seat wouldn’t just be a satisfying flip; it would also make Democrats’ path to a majority in the Texas state House just a little easier.

Because yes, that majority is very much on the menu this fall.

In 2018, both parties were stunned when Democrats picked up 12 House seats from the GOP. That put Democrats within nine seats of flipping the 150-seat chamber. Republicans are understandably nervous about this prospect—as evidenced by the fact that the Republican State Leadership Committee announced its endorsement of Gates this week.

I mean, of course the RSLC endorsed Gates. He’s the Republican in the race. Who else, exactly, was up for that endorsement?

The endorsement didn’t come with an express commitment of funds or other resources, but it’s likely that not only is the RSLC spending money to keep a GOP seat in Texas, but also that this release served as a call for conservative donors to step up and invest in holding onto HD-28. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee has spent about $200,000 in the race, and other progressive groups have also directed resources to it. Additionally, a number of current and former presidential candidates, including Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Beto O’Rourke, and Julián Castro have gotten involved in this contest in support of Markowitz. A Markowitz win would helpfully reduce the number of seats Democrats need to pick up to flip the House from nine to eight, which would be great, of course. But even if Republicans manage to hold on to this seat on Tuesday, Democrats still very much have a path to a Texas majority in November: In 2018, then-Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke carried nine state House districts still held by Republicans

Needless to say, those nine seats are Democrats’ top targets this fall.

She’s So Cold: When the #MeToo movement got under way, women in statehouses across the country—everyone from staffers to lobbyists to lawmakers themselves—began shining harsh light on the male legislators they worked with/for who made unwanted advances, said demeaning things, or otherwise engaged in sexual misconduct. 

According to a study by the AP, these efforts to hold state elected officials accountable for this kind of behavior has, in fact, produced results.  Since January 2017,  At least 101 state legislators have been publicly accused of sexual harassment or misconduct. At least 39 lawmakers resigned or were expelled from office. Another 37 faced other repercussions, such as the loss leadership positions or committee chairs. A few were cleared. Investigations are ongoing against others. In addition to penalties, the fight against sexual misconduct has resulted in structural changes. At least 43 state Senate chambers and 45 House or Assembly chambers now require sexual harassment training. That 88 chambers is a big jump up from the mere two-thirds that required such trainings two years ago. Additionally, states have enacted more than 75 new laws and resolutions targeting sexual harassment, abuse, and assault within government or the private sector.

But not everyone’s getting the message.

Just last week, Michigan GOP state Sen. Peter Lucido told a reporter that a group of teenage boys visiting the capitol “could have a lot of fun with [her].” After the reporter came forward, Democratic state Sen. Mallory McMorrow filed a sexual harassment complaint against Lucido. McMorrow revealed that, just two days after they’d both won their 2018 elections, they met at legislator orientation, where Lucido placed his hand on the small of her back after they exchanged a handshake and said he “could see why” she’d defeated her opponent after giving her the ol’ up-and-down. [[shudder]]


Lucido is accusing McMorrow of making “politically motivated” claims against him, but another lawmaker observed Lucido’s behavior at the time, and McMorrow immediately told her husband about the incident. Lucido chairs two powerful committees in the GOP-controlled chamber and is openly considering a run for governor in 2022. Chamber leadership has called for a Senate Business Office investigation and plans to have outside attorneys assist.

Winter Winds: … are blowing a key member of Pennsylvania Republican leadership right out of the legislature.

In a stunning move in an election year where his party is at real risk of losing its House majority, Speaker Mike Turzai announced this week that he won’t seek reelection. Further, he wouldn’t even commit to serving out the remainder of his term, instead saying that he’s “going to take a look at [private sector] opportunities as they arise” (which is retiring lawmaker-speak for WHO WANTS TO PAY ME ALL THE MONEYS BECAUSE I’M READY TO MAKE ALL THE MONEYS NOW PLEASE). While Turzai’s HD-28 is a pretty solidly Republican district, it’s been trending slowly toward Democrats over the past few election cycles. In 2012, it went for Romney 63-37. In 2014, it went for Republican Tom Corbett over Democrat Tom Wolf 62-38. In 2016, it went for Trump 53-44. This district won’t be a top target among the nine seats Democrats need to flip (out of 203) to win a majority in the chamber in November, but Democrat Emily Skopov is running again after being Turzai’s first challenger to get within 10 points of him when she took him on in 2018 (she lost 46-54).

Stone Cold Crazy: Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has a fever, and the only prescription is … intense surveillance of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ government.

The GOP leader has embarked on a crusade to use taxpayer resources to effectively conduct ongoing opposition research on the Evers administration. This work began in early 2019, when Vos hired a number of former Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s staffers and set his team to work compiling weekly “oversight” reports on executive branch agencies—something not specifically in the Assembly speaker’s purview. When contacted for comment, no former speakers were willing to normalize Vos’ endeavor by saying they’d engaged in it themselves when they held his position. Not one would discuss the Vosopticon, either declining to comment or just straight up ignoring the reporter’s request. Similarly, the Assembly chief clerk's office refused to respond to questions about whether past speakers implemented monitoring systems similar to Vos’. Refusing to trust the information coming out of state agencies, Vos has instead set his staff to independently compiling regular status reports on everything from grants to lawsuits to vacancies to staff members’ personal Twitter accounts, claiming he wants to “double check” the executive branch. Not that he has any misconduct to base his lack of trust on. … unless you count having the temerity to be a Democrat and get elected governor as misconduct.

It’s just so weird that Vos didn’t feel the need to do any of this when a Republican was governor.

And speaking of surveillance …

Freeze Frame: I get asked quite a lot what I think the hot state legislative issues of any given year will be.

My answers tend to have a lot in common year after year, depending on who’s newly in power where and what’s not moving on the federal level that can go places in the states: Abortion policy, health care generally, voting rights, gun safety, environmental regulations, LGBTQ rights are all perennial favorites. But I think the new hotness is going to be in the realm of data and technological privacy. California, as it often does as a ginormous state with term-limited legislators who only have a few years to put their stamp on things, has led the way with 2018’s California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and Maine dipped its toe in those waters in 2019 with its own broadband privacy law, which prohibits internet service providers from selling customers’ data with third parties without consent. Last year actually saw a dramatic increase in bills related to various aspects of data privacy. Few passed, but many more are still under consideration (many states have two-year session cycles, allowing last year’s bills to survive for consideration this year). And in most states, this is an election year.

You know what sounds good in a TV ad or on a mail piece? Talking about your vote to protect the data and privacy of the good people of [state X].

So yes, all those other issues—abortion, health care, guns, environment, LGBTQ rights—are extremely important, too, but since Virginia was the only state with a dramatic change in partisan power last year, it’s the only state that’s going to see a ton of action in those areas (not that other states aren’t also doing things—it’s just that most of the things already got done when the party in charge took power).

Welp, that’s a wrap for this week. Back to impeachment! And other important things! Like that new Star Trek show! Regardless, you should knock off early. I don’t care that it was a four-day week to begin with. Just print this out and show it to your boss, I’m sure she won’t mind.