The Political Report – October 15, 2023

Jeff Landry (R) will win the race for Louisiana governor outright, without a runoff, the Baton Rouge Advocate reports. Landry competed alongside more than a dozen other people in the jungle primary, winning with 51.6% of the vote with 95% of the vote in. Democrat Shawn Wilson was second with 26% of the vote, and the rest of the crowded field, all received 5.9% or less, in some cases much less.

Geoffrey Skelley: “Louisiana is undoubtedly a red state. But in 2015 and 2019, it went against the grain by electing and reelecting Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards. As a result, Louisiana — which former President Donald Trump carried by 19 percentage points in 2020 — is the second-most Republican-leaning state with a Democratic governor, behind only Kentucky.”

“On Saturday, though, Louisianans will head to the polls to potentially decide their next governor, and it looks like a red wave could wash over the blue bayou.”

LOUISIANA SECRETARY OF STATE. Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin is retiring, and while none of the three main GOP candidates running in the eight-person race to succeed him have embraced the Big Lie, two of them have winked at election conspiracy theories.

Bolts’ Cameron Joseph writes that Nancy Landry, who is Ardoin’s top deputy, declared at a candidate forum, “I do think that President Biden is the legitimate president, but I do think there were some very troubling allegations of irregularities in many states.” Landry (who is not related to Attorney General Jeff Landry), went on to argue that, while the state’s elections are secure, “I understand people’s concerns and their lack of confidence in elections. I think most of it is based on what they’ve heard that happened in other states.”

State House Speaker Clay Schexnayder has employed similar rhetoric, declaring that “we don’t have any overreach from the federal government to come in and manipulate elections” and pledging to form a body to “investigate all and any allegations made towards election irregularities.” Public Service Commissioner Mike Francis, who was challenging Ardoin before the incumbent retired, also told Joseph he’d hold a “technical conference” to test “all these accusations about the wrongdoing,” but he added he hoped this would inspire confidence in the state’s elections.

Two major Republican donors very much want to see Landry advance at Schexnayder’s expense.’s Sam Karlin says that a PAC funded by 2019 gubernatorial nominee Eddie Rispone and Lane Grigsby has been airing ads labeling the speaker “Shady Clay.”

The GOP field also includes grocery store owner Brandon Trosclair, who has embraced the Big Lie but has little money or party support. Two notable Democrats are also in: Former Orleans Parish Criminal District Clerk of Court Arthur Morrell, who hails from a prominent New Orleans political family, and Gwen Collins-Greenup, who lost to Ardoin 59-41 in 2019. The ballot additionally includes another Republican and an independent.

On Saturday, Landry received 19.3% of the vote, and that was enough for first place in the crowded field, and she advanced with the Democrat Gwen Collins-Greenup to the runoff election

The winner will be tasked with managing the state’s badly aging election equipment, and state law expert Quinn Yeargain writes in Guaranteed Republics that “voting machines are on the ballot in Louisiana in a way that they haven’t been since 1972, when Louisiana last elected a State Custodian of Voting Machines.” Yes, that was a real post: Yeargain explains that it came into existence in the 1950s thanks to a truly bitter feud between the legendary Gov. Earl Long and Secretary of State Wade Martin.

Check out Yeargain’s piece for the story behind this strange office, as well as why Long once said, “I can’t make a jackass out of myself or I will make a jackass out of the people who voted for me.”

LOUISIANA TREASURER. Former Rep. John Fleming, a conservative hardliner who served four terms in the House before waging a failed 2016 Senate bid, is trying to achieve a comeback by winning the race to win the office that GOP Treasurer John Schroder is giving up to run for governor. Schroder, though, announced days before the election that he was backing a different Republican, state Rep. Scott McKnight. The final candidate is Democrat Dustin Granger, a financial planner who unsuccessfully ran for the state Senate in a 2021 special election.

Fleming and Granger advanced to the runoff, with Fleming getting 44% of the vorte and Granger 32%.

LOUSIANA REFERENDUM. Louisiana will become the first state in the nation to let voters weigh in on a proposal to ban private funding for elections this fall. That effort comes after years of conservative conspiracy theories about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s role in providing grants to local election authorities to help them handle pandemic-related disruptions during the 2020 presidential election. We still haven’t seen any polls since we profiled Amendment 1 in late August, though a prominent local voting rights advocate told Bolts’ Alex Burness that month that he was pessimistic about beating it.

The referendum passed by 73%. I am sure it will be challenged in court.

ILLINOIS 17TH DISTRICT. Former state Circuit Judge Joseph McGraw announced Wednesday that he would take on freshman Democratic Rep. Eric Sorensen, and The Pentagraph writes that he has support from the NRCC. McGraw, who stepped down from his post in July, currently has the GOP side to himself as he tries to flip a north-central Illinois constituency that favored Joe Biden 53-45.

ALABAMA 2ND DISTRICT. State House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels tells the conservative site 1819 News that he’s interested in seeking the Democratic nod for this redrawn seat even though his Huntsville base is located well to the north of the 2nd. Daniels touted that he grew up within the confines of the revamped seat in Bullock County and argued, “At the end of the day, if we limit representation based on lines and whether or not a person can actually do something to really have a positive impact on the entire district, that’s my home.”

And while the Alabama Political Reporter recently wrote that an unnamed person close to Daniels believed he’d defer to Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed if he got in, the minority leader declared, “I’m not limiting my ability to make a decision based on who gets in, who gets out.” Daniels added that he planned to decide by early November.

NEW JERSEY 3RD DISTRICT. NJ-03: State Assembly Majority Whip Carol Murphy on Wednesday became the first notable candidate to enter the race to succeed Rep. Andy Kim, a fellow Democrat who is waging a primary bid against indicted Sen. Bob Menendez. Murphy, who was first elected to the legislature in 2017, would be the first woman to represent a South Jersey-based seat in Congress. Joe Biden won the current version of this seat 56-43.

NEW JERSEY 7TH DISTRICT. Roselle Park Mayor Joe Signorello has confirmed that he’s dropping out of the Democratic primary to take on GOP Rep. Tom Kean Jr., telling the New Jersey Globe that he didn’t bring in enough money to continue. Signorello’s departure leaves Working Families Party state director Sue Altman and former State Department official Jason Blazakis as the two notable Democrats in the running.

OHIO REDISTRICTING. A campaign to end Republican gerrymandering in Ohio cleared a significant hurdle on Thursday. The state Ballot Board, which has a Republican majority, unanimously voted that a ballot initiative that would create an independent redistricting commission complies with state law, clearing the way for supporters to soon begin gathering voter signatures to get it onto the November 2024 ballot. If the measure qualifies and wins voter approval, the proposed constitutional amendment would require the new commission to draw fairer maps in 2025, replacing the GOP’s current gerrymanders.

The ballot initiative effort is being led by a group called Citizens Not Politicians, whose website has more information about how to support the effort. Supporters face an initial July 3, 2024, deadline to gather 413,487 signatures statewide—a number equal to 10% of votes cast in the 2022 election for governor—though they would receive an extra 10 days if they fall short. Backers also must obtain signatures equal to 5% of the votes cast for governor in 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties. This county-based requirement significantly disadvantages progressives—but not conservatives—because even the bluest half of Ohio’s counties include ones that Donald Trump won by up to 70-28, which is far redder than his 53-45 statewide margin.

However, redistricting reformers already received a significant boost in August when Ohioans voted 57-43 to reject a Republican-backed ballot measure that would have made it considerably harder for voters to pass any future constitutional amendments, requiring a 60% supermajority of voter support instead of a simple majority. The GOP’s measure also would have required signatures for voter-led amendments in all 88 counties and eliminated the 10-day grace period for gathering additional signatures.

Top Republicans had been exposed saying that the purpose of their failed amendment was to block voters from passing an abortion-rights measure next month and approving redistricting reform next year, both of which now have a chance for voters to make the measures law.

If approved by voters, the redistricting amendment would create a commission of 15 members—five Democrats, five Republicans, and five unaffiliated members—with strict limitations on who can serve as a commissioner, including a ban on elected officials, lobbyists, and other politically connected individuals. The amendment imposes several criteria for drawing new maps, which critically includes a requirement that the proportion of districts favoring each of the two major parties reflects each party’s level of support in statewide elections over the previous six years.

The reform would replace Ohio’s flawed bipartisan process, which let Republicans, who dominate state government, pass aggressive gerrymanders after the 2020 census. Ohio’s Supreme Court had struck down the GOP’s congressional maps twice and their legislative maps five times, but the Republican-backed amendments that voters had passed last decade to create the current system didn’t let the court draw its own maps. Republicans were therefore able to run out the clock and use a set of illegal maps that preserved their supermajorities.

Republican stonewalling paid off last year because a moderate Republican justice who had sided with her three Democratic colleagues to strike down the maps was barred from seeking reelection due to age limits, and hard-line Republicans subsequently gained a 4-3 majority on the state Supreme Court. The state’s GOP-controlled bipartisan redistricting commission recently approved a sixth set of legislative gerrymanders that would otherwise remain in use for the rest of the decade, but the redistricting reform amendment would, if it passes, replace them with fairer maps in 2025.

OHIO STATE HOUSE. State Rep. Derek Merrin and his allies filed a lawsuit in state court over the weekend to try and claim control of the powerful Ohio House Republican Alliance from state House Speaker Jason Stephens’ side, a move that comes nine months after Democrats joined with a minority of GOP members to elect Stephens over Merrin.

OHRA finished June with $1.1 million in the bank, and the legal battle could determine if its funds are used to help or hurt the Stephens backers who are already attracting challengers for their March primaries. The matter may not be settled until long after that, though, because the judge has set the trial for October of next year. Still, the Associated Press’ Samantha Hendrickson writes that a legal defeat for Stephens could make it tougher for him to exert enough power to survive an all-but-inevitable leadership challenge following the 2024 elections.

Merrin began 2023 as his party’s official choice to lead a chamber where Republicans hold 67 of the 99 seats, but Stephens and 21 other Republicans unexpectedly joined all 32 Democrats to make Stephens speaker. Merrin responded by accusing those Republican dissenters of “ramp[ing] up their efforts” for the top job when they learned their rival was busy caring for his dying father.

Stephens went on to approve rules that give Democrats more representation on committees and let Minority Leader Allison Russo choose members for special committees, but his leadership hardly was the start of a bipartisan age. Republicans came together in May to place an amendment on the August ballot to make it harder to change the state constitutional again; Stephens responded to its stinging defeat at the ballot box by pledging to beat this fall’s abortion rights amendment, declaring, “As a 100% pro-life conservative, we must defeat Issue 1 on Nov. 7 to stop abortion from being a part of our state’s constitution.”

Hardliners, though, still had little patience for their unwanted speaker. The state party’s central committee in January censured Stephens and his 21 allies, a faction one official dubbed “the Blue 22.” The state branch of the Koch network’s Americans for Prosperity additionally launched a $200,000 digital and mail offensive against half of them in August.

Stephens and Merrin also wasted no time feuding over who would have access to the official corporate debit cards that allow them to spend the OHRA’s money: Stephens’ people insisted he has this power because the speaker has traditionally also been the leader of the majority caucus, while Merrin emphasized that a majority of that caucus elected him its chair. The two factions reached an agreement in April to give them joint custody, though no one acted like this was the end of the party’s public feud.

Things escalated over the weekend when Merrin and two fellow state representatives filed their lawsuit alleging that Stephens’ side “immediately reneged” on their deal and spent over $280,000 without the requisite joint approval. The plaintiffs are asking the judge for full control of OHRA, plus about $400,000 for reimbursement, damages, and legal fees. Stephens, for his part, dismissed the suit as “nothing more than the desperate antics of a handful of self-promoting individuals.”

But no matter how things turn out with the suit and the upcoming primaries, Stephens is likely to face a serious challenge to his speakership in January of 2025―just not from Merrin. Hendrickson writes that state Senate President Matt Huffman, who is termed out of the upper chamber, not only plans to run for the state House, but that he’s “openly touted he’s vying for speakership.” Merrin, for his part, is also term-limited and thus won’t be around to oppose Stephens.

KENTUCKY GOVERNOR. Campaign finance reports covering Sept. 9 through Oct. 8 show Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear outraising Republican Daniel Cameron $1.5 million to $530,000 and going into the final month with a $1.9 million to $1 million cash on hand lead.

AdImpact, a firm that tracks political ads, published data on Wednesday showing that Democrats have maintained a nearly two-to-one advantage in ad spending ahead of next month’s contest between Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Republican state Attorney General Daniel Cameron. Overall, Beshear and his allies have outspent Cameron and his supporters by $39.8 million to $21.3 million.

However, those numbers actually understate just how big Beshear’s edge is since federal law entitles candidates to much lower TV ad rates than outside groups. That badly disadvantages Republicans since Beshear’s campaign itself has outspent Cameron’s by a lopsided $19.1 million to $3.1 million, meaning Republican ad spending has consisted overwhelmingly of outside groups coming to Cameron’s aid. Consequently, Democrats have likely run well over two-thirds of the TV ads in this race thanks to those cheaper candidate rates.

NEW JERSEY U.S. SENATOR. Federal prosecutors on Thursday released a superseding indictment against Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez alleging that the former Foreign Relations Committee chair “provided sensitive U.S. Government information and took other steps that secretly aided the Government of Egypt.” The Justice Department accused Menendez of violating federal law by acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign country; the senator has refused calls for his resignation in the weeks since he was first indicted on corruption charges.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said that his wife, First Lady Tammy Murphy, is not likely to be appointed to the U.S. Senate if Bob Menendez resigns, the New Jersey Globe reports. Said Murphy: “I don’t see any scenario where that would be the case.”

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

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