The Political Report – June 10, 2023

Gallup: “Seventy-one percent of Americans think same-sex marriage should be legal, matching the high Gallup recorded in 2022. Public support for legally recognizing gay marriages has been consistently above 50% since the early 2010s.”

Thursday’s stunning Supreme Court decision that will require Alabama to redraw its congressional map will not only allow Black voters to elect their candidate of choice in a second district, it’s likely to have a far-reaching impact on similar cases across the country. As a result, we may soon see Louisiana and Georgia, and possibly even other states such as Texas, reconfigure their maps to remedy violations of the Voting Rights Act. Such changes would both empower voters of color and potentially swing enough seats toward Democrats to affect the balance of power in the closely divided House of Representatives.

And we already have a good sense of what these new districts might look like. In order to prove their claims under the relevant provision of the VRA (known as Section 2), plaintiffs in Alabama and elsewhere must draw illustrative maps demonstrating that the minority group in question is both large enough and sufficiently geographically compact such that its members can form a majority in a reasonably drawn district.

The Alabama challengers, a group of voters backed by the state NAACP, hired two experts to do just that. Together, they drew 11 hypothetical maps of the state’s seven congressional districts showing that a second Black-majority district could easily be crafted. Four of those maps, created by Tufts professor Moon Duchin, are shown in this illustration. (You can also find interactive versions here.)

The plaintiffs’ general approach would decouple the cities of Birmingham and Montgomery, two locales with large Black populations that Republicans deliberately merged into the current 7th District in order to reduce Black voting strength elsewhere—the very type of discrimination that the VRA was designed to thwart. At the same time, Republicans carved up the Black Belt, a rural region home to many African Americans, between three districts, using a portion of it to link Birmingham and Montgomery.

Instead, the plaintiffs’ maps have Birmingham and Montgomery each anchor their own districts while dividing the Black Belt between the two. (In the maps above, the Birmingham district is shown in gray and retains the number 7, while the Montgomery district is in green and would be numbered the 2nd.) In every version, both would be home to a Black majority, and both would very likely elect Black voters’ preferred candidates to Congress—almost certainly Black Democrats, like the current representative for the 7th District, Terri Sewell.

It will still be some time before we have a new map officially in place, though, and we can’t predict its precise contours, though there’s a good chance it will resemble one of the plaintiffs’ offerings. We also can’t say for sure who will even get to draw it. Last year, when the three-judge district court panel that heard the Alabama case struck down the GOP’s map, it gave lawmakers the opportunity to come up with a new one. But perhaps expecting the Supreme Court would step in, Republicans refused to take action, prompting the court to hire outside experts to do the job.

They never got the chance, since the Supreme Court put the case on pause later that same day, just before the lower court’s deadline for legislators to submit a new map. While the majority didn’t issue a written opinion, a concurrence by Brett Kavanaugh argued that the Alabama ruling could not be implemented because it had been issued too close to the election. (That preliminary decision was one reason among many why the Supreme Court’s ruling on Thursday came as such a shock, especially since Kavanaugh supported it.)

It’s not clear now whether the district court will give Republicans a second shot, or whether they’ll turn back to their experts. There’s a further wrinkle as well: While Supreme Court jurisprudence requires anyone bringing a Section 2 claim to show they could draw a district where the affected minority constitutes a majority of voters, any actual remedial map doesn’t have to feature a strict majority. It’s enough, rather, that members of this minority can still elect the candidate they prefer, which in practice means being able to count on “crossover” support from white voters.

In Alabama, though, there’s precious little crossover voting to be found, as white voters almost always back Republicans while African Americans overwhelmingly support Democrats. The district court recognized this issue, citing “the ample evidence of intensely racially polarized voting” presented to it. But the judges still held out the possibility that the Black population could fall slightly under the 50% mark, ruling that “any remedial plan will need to include two districts in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it.” That will give mapmakers some added flexibility.

Ultimately, the final product will dramatically reshape Alabama’s political landscape, ensuring that the number of Black representatives it sends to Congress reflects the proportion of Black people who live in the state. (At 27%, that’s almost exactly two-sevenths.) It will also alter its partisan balance, turning a delegation that’s included six Republicans and just one Democrat since the 2010 elections into one with a 5-2 split.

And beyond Alabama’s borders, similar litigation could bring about similar transformations that could affect several more districts—enough, potentially, to erase the GOP’s five-seat advantage in the House.

David Wasserman predicts that the Supreme Court’s surprise ruling against Alabama’s congressional map could reverberate to Louisiana, South Carolina and Georgia, forcing creation of between two to four new Black majority districts and possibly netting Democrats two to four seats in the House of Representatives.

Playbook: “In a closely divided House (and country), of course, that could be the whole ballgame.”

With the surprise Supreme Court ruling throwing out the Alabama congressional map, the Cook Political Report has shifted five House seat ratings toward the Democrats:

AL-1: Jerry Carl (R) – Solid R to Toss Up
AL-2: Barry Moore (R) – Solid R to Toss Up
LA-5: Julia Letlow (R) – Solid R to Toss Up
LA-6: Garret Graves (R) – Solid R to Toss Up
NC-1: Don Davis (D) – Toss Up to Lean D

David Wasserman: “Politically, the ruling could shake up the 2024 battle for the House, send shockwaves beyond Alabama and potentially offset a new gerrymander Republicans are likely to impose in North Carolina. The key states to watch are Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia and South Carolina.”

Vice News: “AI-generated political ads are officially here. And no one—including the campaigns themselves, let alone the voters—are prepared to handle this new reality.”

“Artificial intelligence is becoming more sophisticated by the day, and candidates and campaigns are just beginning to grapple with practical and ethical concerns over AI-produced content creeping into politics. The time when a deepfake videos which can’t be easily discerned from real events play a major role in campaigns seems not only inevitable but closer than ever.”

Wall Street Journal: “Rapidly evolving artificial intelligence is making it easier to generate sophisticated videos and images that can deceive viewers and spread misinformation, posing a major threat to political campaigns as 2024 contests get under way.”

“Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), a stalwart of Republican politics for a generation, wants nothing to do with his party’s presidential frontrunner, Donald Trump,” CBS News reports.

Said Boehner: “I think it’s time for the Republican party to move on. And frankly, I think it’s time for Donald Trump to move on.”

New York Times: “His political advisers had been preparing for weeks to exploit the federal indictment for full effect. His team has come to view federal law enforcement actions against him as a core part of its fund-raising strategy. Online fund-raising — which has long been the lifeblood of Mr. Trump’s political operation because high-end Republican donors largely shun him — has dried up for all Republican candidates over the past several years, including Mr. Trump.”

“G.O.P. donors are exhausted by constant hysterical appeals to give money to Mr. Trump to stop Democrats from destroying the nation. It takes a lot these days to grab the attention of such contributors; indictments are among the few events that enliven the grass roots enough to dip into their pockets.”

Politico: “The generational disconnect suggests broader GOP opposition to gun restrictions will be a steady irritant inside a party already struggling to appeal to young voters. It could also challenge White House hopefuls and members of Congress to eventually refine their message on guns with Republican primary and general election voters, even if the concerns of young people won’t transform GOP politics overnight.”

WISCONSIN U.S. SENATOR. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel “that he will not run for Senate in 2024, leaving wide open the Republican field for a seat in a key battleground state that could help decide who controls Congress’ higher chamber.”

The Democratic firm Public Policy Polling finds former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who was a far-right favorite early in the Trump era, ahead 40-20 in a hypothetical Republican primary against Gallagher; another 10% of the sample favors Rep. Tom Tiffany, with 3% opting for wealthy businessman Eric Hovde. PPP, which did not identify a client for this survey, also has Clarke beating Gallagher 45-26 in a head-to-head contest.

No notable Republicans have announced bids against Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin yet. A spokesperson for Clarke didn’t rule out a possible Senate campaign in March, but we haven’t heard anything new in the ensuing three months. Tiffany, meanwhile, has said that, while he plans to decide this summer, he’d prefer it if Gallagher runs instead.

In the presidential race, Donald Trump leads the GOP field with 41%, followed by Ron DeSantis at 25%, Mike Pence at 8%, Nikki Haley at 5% and Tim Scott at 5%.

UTAH 2ND DISTRICT and SALT LAKE CITY MAYOR. Republican Rep. Chris Stewart on Wednesday officially informed Gov. Spencer Cox that he would “irrevocably resign” effective the evening of Sept. 15. Later that same day, Cox announced that he would delay the state’s regularly scheduled municipal elections so that a special election for Stewart’s 2nd Congressional District can be held this year rather than next.

Cox’s proclamation sets the primary for Sept. 5―a full 10 days before Stewart is to leave office―and the general election for Nov. 21. The primaries and general elections for municipal races will also take place on those same days, several weeks later than the respective Aug. 15 and Nov. 7 dates they’d originally been set for.

The largest contest impacted by the change is the nonpartisan race for mayor of Salt Lake City, where Democratic incumbent Erin Mendenhall’s main foe is former Mayor Rocky Anderson of the left-wing Justice Party. (About two-thirds of the city is located in the 2nd District, with the balance in the 1st.) All of these dates are contingent on the approval of the GOP-dominated legislature in a special session next Wednesday, but there’s no indication that Cox’s plan won’t pass.

Anyone who wants to run to replace Stewart needs to file by June 14, though not everyone who submits their name might end up on the ballot. Contenders have two routes to compete in the primary. The first option is to turn in 7,000 valid signatures by July 5, an expensive and time-consuming task that often causes headaches even for well-funded candidates. The other alternative is to win their party’s convention, an event that also must take place by July 5. Under the state’s special election law, though, only one person can advance out of the convention instead of the maximum of two that are normally allowed.

All of this means that, while numerous Republicans may file to campaign for this gerrymandered 57-40 Trump seat, only a few might still be in the running after Independence Day. In the 2017 special election to succeed Republican Jason Chaffetz in the old 3rd District, for instance, former state Rep. Chris Herrod’s convention victory ended the campaigns of nine different rivals.

Herrod ultimately only faced two opponents in the primary, each of whom had gathered signatures: Provo Mayor John Curtis, who also competed at the convention, and consultant Tanner Ainge, who skipped the gathering. Herrod’s dominant showing among GOP delegates ultimately didn’t matter, though: He lost the primary 43-33 to Curtis, who still holds the seat today.

Even before Cox had set the schedule for the special, a few Republicans had already started to prepare bids. Former state Rep. Becky Edwards, who badly lost the 2022 Senate primary to incumbent Mike Lee, set up a fundraising committee with the FEC earlier this week, and former state House Speaker Greg Hughes followed suit Thursday. RNC committeeman Bruce Hough has also submitted paperwork, while state party official Jordan Hess tells KSLN he “intends to file.”

ARKANSAS REFERENDUM. Arkansas organizers seeking to repeal a bill promoted by Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders that purports to ban critical race theory in public schools got the go-ahead Monday to begin qualifying a referendum for next year’s ballot. However, a separate law passed by Republicans earlier this year will make the task of collecting signatures to place the measure on the ballot much more difficult, though a pending legal challenge could strike those new hurdles down.

Sanders made national news in March when she signed the LEARNS Act, which she declared meant that “all forms of racism and leftist indoctrination in our schools will be outlawed.” Among other things, the bill bans teaching students about “gender identity, sexual orientation, and sexual reproduction” before fifth grade. It also bars any discussion of critical race theory—without actually defining the term. (It’s an academic framework for analyzing systemic racism, but the phrase is frequently brandished by conservatives to describe any conversation on race they find objectionable.)

The act also provides vouchers to help pay for students to attend private schools or be homeschooled, which opponents have charged would aid wealthy parents while undermining the public school system.

Nonetheless, the legislation overwhelmingly passed both chambers of the GOP-dominated legislature. State Rep. Jim Wooten, a former public school teacher who was one of the few Republicans to vote “no,” argued that the bill sailed through due to a combination of sycophancy and fear. “I would say that 50% of them are trying to get close to the governor,” he said of his colleagues, “and the other 50% are afraid of her.”

A state judge recently barred the law from going into effect on a temporary basis, but Republican Attorney General Tim Griffin has asked the state Supreme Court to overturn that decision. And given the high court’s conservative bent, opponents of the LEARNS Act are seeking a more permanent solution.

Under the state constitution, citizens unhappy with a law passed by legislators have the option of sending what’s known as a “veto referendum” before voters, with a simple majority vote needed to repeal the legislation in question. Anyone looking to qualify such a referendum must gather petitions from about 54,000 voters, a figure that represents 6% of the ballots cast in the most recent gubernatorial election.

But there’s a strict deadline: Signatures must be collected in the 90 days following the end of the legislative session in which the targeted legislation passes. This year, that clock began ticking on May 1, but Griffin had prevented the organization challenging Sanders’ new law, Citizens for Arkansas Public Education and Students, from moving forward until now.

While CAPES had begun preparations many months ago, Griffin rejected its first two proposed ballot measures for what he claimed was “misleading” summary language. Finally, on Monday, Griffin accepted a new version with a summary stretching to almost 8,200 words, more than 10 times the length of the original.

In a letter to organizers, Griffin opined that their summary “essentially cuts and pastes from nearly every section of the LEARNS Act” and that he therefore “cannot conclude that it is misleading.” However, he cautioned that the state Supreme Court “has repeatedly warned sponsors of statewide measures about their ballot titles’ length and complexity,” though he noted that, when it comes to veto referendums, opponents can’t control the length of the legislation voters will be asked to weigh in on.

Thanks to Griffin’s delay, CAPES now has less than two months to collect petitions, which are due by July 31. Republicans have also sought to make the collection process much harder. In addition to the statewide signature requirement, the constitution specifies that organizers must gather signatures equal to 3% of the vote in the last election for governor in at least 15 counties. That’s already a significant burden for any progressive measure: Just eight of the state’s 75 counties voted for Joe Biden in 2020, meaning that activists must seek out supporters on conservative turf.

But that wasn’t enough for Republicans, who passed a bill in March ramping up that requirement to 50 counties. Even if organizers were to target just the “bluest” counties in the state, that would include places like Van Buren County, which voted for Donald Trump by a 77-20 landslide.

Voting rights advocates charge that this effort to make the geographic distribution requirement more onerous violates the state constitution, which they say represents a ceiling rather than a floor, which can only be altered by a constitutional amendment. In fact, less than three years ago, Republicans did try to amend the constitution to triple the number of counties required to 45, but voters soundly rejected that effort by double digits.

Undaunted, CAPES issued a statement following Griffin’s decision saying it was “excited to move forward.” If organizers can overcome the obstacles arrayed before them and qualify the referendum, then their task will shift to convincing voters to support the repeal effort. No public polling yet exists on the matter, and ballot measures are typically challenging to survey accurately, but it’s likely we can expect a major battle if the referendum does indeed go before voters next year.

NASHVILLE MAYOR. The real estate development group NAIOP Nashville has released a survey of the Aug. 3 nonpartisan primary from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, and it finds no candidate earning more than 10% of the vote two months out:

  • Council member Freddie O’Connell: 10
  • State Sen. Jeff Yarbro: 9
  • State Sen. Heidi Campbell: 8
  • former economic development chief Matt Wiltshire: 8
  • Council member Sharon Hurt: 7
  • GOP strategist Alice Rolli: 4
  • former AllianceBernstein executive Jim Gingrich: 3
  • Someone else: 6
  • Not Sure: 45

The poll, which NAIOP Nashville says it commissioned “as a public service to voters in Metro Nashville,” did not include Davidson County Property Assessor Vivian Wilhoite and four other candidates as options. In the all-but-certain event that no one takes a majority, a runoff would take place Sept. 14.

The only other poll we’ve seen of this contest came last month from the GOP pollster Victory Phones on behalf of Tennesseans for Student Success, a pro-charter schools group that doesn’t appear to be supporting anyone, and it offered a different take on the race. Campbell led with 22% as Yarbro edged out O’Connell 17-16 for second, with Hurt far back at 7%. Rolli, who also scored 4%, is the only contender who identifies as a Republican in this dark blue city.

The Nashville Banner says that just two contenders, Gingrich and Wiltshire, are spending heavily on ads right now, with the two deploying a total of $700,000 last month. A recent offering from Wiltshire calls for “investing in our neighborhoods,” while Gingrich pledges he has “a plan to manage growth and make Nashville more liveable.”

WILLIAMSON 2024. “Marianne Williamson’s longshot presidential campaign has been plagued by staff turnover and internal dysfunction. The person she’s turned to to stabilize the ship has some issues of her own,” Politico reports.

“Williamson’s new campaign manager, Roza Calderon, was accused of financial fraud by a local Democratic party group in 2017.”

“Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) is using her growing national profile to raise money for federal candidates through a new political action committee,” Bridge Michigan reports.

“An aide to the second-term Democrat on Monday filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to form the ‘Fight Like Hell PAC,’ echoing a slogan Whitmer used as she fought for legal abortion rights last year during her own successful re-election campaign.”

BIDEN 2024. “The lifting of the debt ceiling might not seem like bumper sticker material for a campaign. But President Joe Biden’s aides believe voters will reward him for working across the aisle to do it,” Politico reports.

“And now, they’re putting cash behind that theory.”

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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