Where The Action Is Tuesday

A smattering of elections on Tuesday will tell the nation and politicos where the nation stands one year after the election of Donald Trump.  From the East Coast (Virignia) to the West Coast (WA State) a series of elections are taking place that will help set the stage for next year’s midterms.  So, without further ado let’s take a look at them shall we?

Virginia Governor: Virginia has a unique election schedule where the gubernatorial elections always fall a year after the Presidential election, all House seats are up every two years and all Senate seats are up every four years in the year before the Presidential election.  Further, Virginia’s Governors can only serve a single term ensuring every gubernatorial election does not feature an incumbent.

Since 2004 , Virginia has trended blue, the only blip being in 2009.  Outgoing Governor Terry McAullife is popular and has anointed Lt. Governor Ralph Northam to be his successor.  Ironically, Republicans in the era of Trump nominated the least likely Trump-like candidate in former lobbyist and RNC Chair Ed Gillespie.

In a state Hillary Clinton won by five points, Trump garnered less than 45 percent of the vote and has horrid approval ratings it should be a cakewalk for Democrats.  Instead, Gillespie has kept it close by sending cultural appeals to Republicans in the West of the state while talking up traditional conservative beliefs in NoVA and the Richmond suburbs.  Northam should have this race in the bag but his lack of flash and appeal have helped keep it close.  Likely, if Northam goes down, so do the Democrats for Lt. Governor and Attorney General.  If Gillespie goes down, as is likely, so go down the other statewide Republican candidates.

Gubernatorial and Legislative

Virginia State House: The Virginia State House is up every two years and has been a bastion of conservatism in the state even as it has trended left.  In 2009, the GOP gained seven seats and after redistricting, in 2011, gained nine seats due to a favorable GOP controlled drawing of the legislative lines.  Since then, the GOP has had a stranglehold on the chamber.  In the less favorable 2013 and 2015 legislative elections the GOP only lost a single seat in each cycle.

This election, the GOP is defending their 66-34 majority and odds are good Democrats will gain a minimum of three seats in the NoVA suburbs.  That said, it is hard to see Democrats gaining the 17 seats, or even coming close, to gaining the majority.  The party holds out hope though considering they are challenging so many GOP held seats and Clinton actually carried exactly 17 GOP held House seats.

Democrats are hoping for a big night at the top of the ticket to help carry them down-ballot.  But if Gillespie is close it means he is over-performing in either NoVA or the Richmond and Tide water areas (all the regions Democrats see the biggest opportunity in for legislative gains).  For a more specific rundown of individual legislative races check here.

Georgia:  Yes, yes, I know.  The big event in Georgia is officially non-partisan, the Atlanta mayoral race, but another main event is.  The election for the 6th Senate District.  Held by Republicans, the seat became swung hard to Clinton last year 55-40.  If Democrats gain the seat they will officially break the GOP’s two-thirds supermajority in the legislature and can block the party from voting to put Constitutional Amendments on the ballot.  Five Republicans and three Democrats are running and if nobody gets 50 percent of the vote a run-of will be held in December.  Due to the number of candidates running, it is possible two Democrats or Republicans could face off in December but smart money is on a traditional, partisan two-way race emerging in December.

WA State: Despite being a blue state, WA State has been under divided government since 2013.  In 2012, two Democrats crossed the aisle and joined a coalition of Republicans in the State Senate.  One of those Democrats has resigned and a Republican was defeated in November, meaning the GOP’s majority is a single seat.

Earlier this year, Senate District 4 became open when State Senator Andy Hill died of lung cancer after being narrowly reelected last year.  The seat backed Clinton 65-28 and should be an easy takeover for Democrats but the GOP is stronger here down-ballot (like in the rest of the state).  In August, Democrat Manka Dhingra led Jinyoung Englund 51.5-41.5 in the August top-two primary for this seat and it’s likely she wins Tuesday.

But, the race has ultimately come down to both Dhingra and Englund distancing themselves from their parties with Dhingra saying she would be an “independent voice”  in Olympia while Englund has said she did not vote for Trump.

Dhingra’s impending victory has Democrats dreaming of creating a united West Coast wall against Trump and enacting a massive, visionary progressive agenda.  That would be great except Democrats majorities in both chambers will rest on a mere three seats and pushing an income tax or other taxes will likely be unpopular in conservative Democratic seats (they do exist).  In reality, whatever happens here won’t change much.

New Jersey Governor and Legislature: This year, there is not much excitement in the Garden State.  Governor Chris Christie, who was reelected in a landslide in 2013, is so unpopular he probably could not be elected dog catcher.  This is dragging down Republican Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno.  Democrats nominated some rich dude Phil Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive and ambassador to Germany.  He has crushed Kim in every poll and the only question is how much he wins by.

Democrats already have strong majorities in both chambers of the legislature and most Republicans and Democrats are likely to win reelection despite what happens at the top of the ticket.  One note of excitement might be in Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney’s (D) 3rd District in South Jersey.  Sweeney has angered the NJEA for backing pension reform in 2011 and has spent heavily to elect Republican Fran Grenier.  Grenier has run on a traditional, conservative platform and largely avoided saying much about pension reform. Sweeney’s mostly rural district did back Trump and Democrats have diverted millions to defend him so might we see a surprise Tuesday night?

UtahDemocrats wish they had a shot in the very red 3rd CD of former Congressman Jason Chaffetz.  Republican candidate and former Provo Mayor John Curtis, is well ahead of Democrat Katie Allen and it would be somewhat of a surprise of Curtis wins by less than 20 points.

Michigan: Democrats are hoping to flip HD 109, a seat that backed Obama in 2012 but backed Trump last year.  The seat, located in the reddening Upper Peninsula, is a test case for Democrats in the state legislature who have been locked out of power since 2011.

Mayoral Contests: (skipping Atlanta, Seattle and Minneapolis contests because the only suspense is how progressive the ultimate winning candidates are).

Charlotte: The biggest mayoral contest of the night in North Carolina is Charlotte.  Despite the city’s blue tint, Republicans held the office until 2009.  No Republican has won since.  Despite this, Democrats have not had an easy time running the city.

Incumbent Mayor Jennifer Roberts lost earlier in the year and Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles is running against Republican Councilman Kenny Smith.  Lyles may still be weighed down by Roberts while Smith is far, far more conservative than Republican Ed Peacock, who lost two narrow races in 2013 and 2015.  A Survey USA poll found the race deadlocked statistically speaking at 41-40 in October.  There is another contest in Raleigh but the only question is what Democrat leads the urban enclave.

St. Petersburg: A number of mayoral races are occurring in Florida but the most interesting by far is in St. Petersburg.  Democratic Mayor Rick Kriseman is being challenged by former GOP Mayor Rick Baker.

Baker left office in 2010 to sky-high approval ratings due to his strong approval among black voters.  In August, the two finished the primary neck and neck though Kriseman over-performed relative to what pre-election polls showed.  Kriseman has tried to make the race a partisan affair by tying Baker to Trump.  Baker has attacked Kriseman for inept management of the state’s ailing sewage system.  If the race hinges on Trump then Kriseman wins but if local management matters the most to voters the race will be a nailbiter.

Manchester: In 2015, GOP Mayor Ted Gatsas won reelection with an unimpressive 85 votes.  His opponent, Joyce Craig, is back for a rematch and she won the nonpartisan primary in September 53-46.  In her last go-round, Craig lost the nonpartisan primary.  Ultimately, Democrats claiming this office will be a talking point but little else.  However, it could set Craig up to be a force in state politics into the future.

Statewide Initatives:

Maine: GOP Governor Paul Lepage has vetoed several legislative efforts to expand Medicaid in the state.  Progressives responded by putting expansion on the ballot in the form of Question 2.  Legislators have split on the question while unsurprisingly, LePage has opposed it.

There have been nil reliable polls on opinion about the question but it will probably be decided along partisan lines.  Likely correlating with partisan opinion on the question Maine Senator Susan Collins decided to stay in the US Senate and not run for governor because few state Republicans had a favorable opinion of her after she helped defeat GOP efforts to repeal the ACA.

New York State (including county races): New York City has a mayoral race but Bill de Blasio could probably shoot somebody and be reelected.  In other words, there is no excitement in the race.

In Nassau County, Democrats are trying to retake the county executive post lost in 2009.  Republican Ed Mangano was indicted last fall on corruption charges and the county GOP flocked to former State Senator Jack Martins.  Democrats support Nassau County based legislator Laura Curran.

Curran has made the contest a referendum on corruption and former GOP Senate Leader Dean Skellos (whose conviction was overturned by an appeals court).  Martins has responded by trying to make the race about law and order and portraying Curran as soft as crime.  The most recent poll gave Martins a tiny edge and the county has a history of supporting down-ballot Republicans but anything can happen.

In Westchester County, which backed Clinton by 33 points last November, GOP incumbent Rob Astorino is running an uphill race against State Senator George Latimer (D).  Astorino was his party’s gubernatorial nominee in 2014 and has heavily outspent Latimer.  If not for the outside spending of GOP supporter Rob Mercer he probably would have no shot.  Latimer has tried to tie Astorino to Trump while Astorino has made the race about local issues.  A local poll found the race a dead heat.

Now, onto the weirdest feature of NY’s elections.  Under state law, a question appears on the ballot every twenty years asking voters whether they want to hold a constitutional convention.  At this convention changes could be made to the state constitution.  If the measure passes, delegates would be elected in 2018, followed by the convention in 2019.

While few New Yorkers love their state government, even fewer seem willing to take the risk of a convention.  Liberal labor, reproductive rights and environmental groups and conservative groups oppose the “con-con,” arguing special interests could hijack the delegate elections.  Liberals fear conservative delegates being elected utilizing state senate lines while conservatives fear liberals taking control of the convention and ramming their beliefs down state voters throats.  If a recent Siena survey is accurate, voters will once again reject the “con-con.”

Thanks for reading!




Roy Moore’s Victory Was An Alabama Thing: Nothing More

Many in the political/pundit class are hailing Roy Moore’s victory in Alabama’s Senate GOP Primary run-off as a victory for the anti-establishment and insurgent forces in the party.  It only reinforced such a view when earlier this week Bob Corker resigned.  But, the reality, is far from what most pundits recognize.  The truth is the election was an “Alabama thing” and little else.

I have a name for you, Robert Bentley.  That is who this election was really about.  The former Governor who used taxpayer money to hide an extramarital affair cast a wide shadow over the primary.  Is it any wonder the guy he appointed to the Senate then lost in a primary?

Let’s back up for a second here.  If you did not know who Robert Bentley was he was the former second term Governor of Alabama.  Bentley had a stellar record and was widely liked in party circles until it broke he had used taxpayer money to hide an extramarital affair.

The Attorney General investigating him at the time, none other than Luther Strange, was soon appointed to US AG Jeff Session’s open Senate seat.  The entire process stunk and it only grew worse when soon after being appointed, Strange said he had never been investigating Bentley.  Um, except the House of Representatives held off impeaching Bentley because you asked them to for your investigation.

Ultimately, Bentley stepped down and was replaced by his Lt. Governor Kay Ivey.  A special election needed to be held to finish out all of Session’s Senate term and Strange and his allies wanted it to coincide with the 2018 midterms.  Instead, owing nothing to the good ole boys of yesteryear, Ivey called the special for December, which meant primaries over the summer.

Unsurprisingly, Strange had the backing of McConnell and leadership.  McConnell has made clear he backs incumbents over challengers.  Though he had hinted he would jump into the race it was still a bit of a surprise when Moore got in.  The former state Supreme Court Justice had a colorful history of being elected on the court until 2002, when he was removed.  In 2012, he ran and won back a spot on the court and openly defied the US Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage.  The last Republican with any standing to enter was Mo Brooks.

Brooks finished third in the initial primary, unsurprisingly as Moore and Strange finished first and second.  McConnell’s PAC spent millions attacking Moore but at the end of the day as much as some conservatives detested Moore they could not get over Strange’s appointment to the Senate.  It stank of a political pro quo.  As a result, Moore won the runoff last week with 55 percent of the vote.

The irony here is that if Strange had simply run in the primary and not been appointed to the seat by Bentley he probably would have won the election.  Unlike Moore, Strange is well-liked and does not have the controversial streak of Moore.  But elections are about more than who you like best (just ask Al Gore).

It’s a stretch to say Moore’s victory puts the seat in play but a new poll did put him ahead by only five points.  Still, for this seat to really be competitive Moore would probably have to lose a significant contingent of his base and it is hard to see that happening now if it hasn’t already.

Do Democrats Have A Chance In Tennessee?

Democrats are currently celebrating they get to face Roy Moore in December in Alabama but they also are debating how much of a shot they have to flip Bob Corker’s ruby red Senate seat.  On Tuesday, Corker announced he would not seek reelection.  Though he had been toying with the idea for months, few thought he would.

It is important to consider looking at recent elections to assess Democratic chances in the state.  The last Democrat to win a partisan statewide election was Governor Phil Bredesen,  He was term-limited out in 2010.  The same year, Bob Corker won a narrow reelection with almost 51 percent against Harold Ford who received 47 percent.  The best a Democratic Senate candidate has done since then is 32 percent.

Of course, this is now an open seat so Democrats can probably do better.  They also have an appealing candidate reminiscent of Ford in James Mackler, a veteran who has raised almost $500K.  His biography is appealing to voters of many different ideologies.

Corker had attracted the ire of the Steve Bannon and Breitbart.  Bannon had vowed to spend heavily to defeat Corker.  But, Corker had hinted for some time he was considering leaving and his decision this early opens up the floodgates for more established candidates to decide.

The top candidate currently considering is Marsha Blackburn.  Blackburn currently represents the Central Tennessee based 7th District in Congress and has never faced a serious reelection.  She’s conservative, a woman, and would be hard to beat in a GOP primary or general election.

The outsider candidate supposedly credited with driving Corker out was the former state head of the Americans for Prosperity is Andy Ogles.  While he has outsider backing to date he has received little outside support and has limited electoral backing.

As indicated above, Democrats have had a tough time in Tennessee of late.  The last Democrat to carry it at the federal level was Bill Clinton in 1996.  Like many Southern states, Democrats maintained a majority in the state legislature until the late 2000’s.  But, like many other states, the shift to the red team down-ballot came quickly.

In 1996, Republicans narrowly took control of the state senate even as Bill Clinton was carrying the state.  Democrats would retake the chamber in 1997 and hold it narrowly until 2005 and have held it since (a nominal Independent split the chamber in 2006 and 2008).

The State House was the foundation of Democratic dominance in the state.  Until 2008, the party had a healthy majority in the chamber.  But as successful as 2008 was for Democrats in Tennessee the GOP took the State House for the first time since 1969.  However, in a strange turn of events, Kent Williams colluded with Democrats to be elected Speaker over another opponent and gave Democrats plum committee assignments.  In turn, he was stripped of his party affiliation and nominally became an Independent.  In 2010 and 2012, the GOP expanded their majorities to 30 plus seats.

As for the Congressional delegation, after 2010 redistricting the state has settled into a 7R-2D House delegation.  Redistricting is not to blame for the shift though as long-time moderate Democrats retired and their districts turned redder in the age of Obama.

All this paints a grim picture for Democrats next year.  Especially when one considers the party has better targets in Nevada, Arizona and arguably Texas.  Plus, Democrats will be spending quite a bit of money playing defense.  All this seems to indicate Democrats wound need everything to break their way for success even with Corker retiring.

Will Virginia Be A Bellwether For Next Year

All the excitement is on the Democratic side.  Right?  At least that is the general consensus going into this off-year’s elections in Virginia and New Jersey.  Republicans are certain to lose New Jersey (how much lower can Chris Christie’s approval go) and it seemed certain Virginia would stay blue.  President Trump had a sub-forty approval rating nationally and in Virginia (until recently).  Worse, the GOP candidate, Ed Gillespie, who should have won his primary barely squeaked by with a narrow victory.

But, the polls out of Virginia do not make the race a foregone conclusion.  The latest surveys have shown a deadlocked or near deadlocked contest.  The last two surveys on the contest, from Suffolk and Mason-Dixon have found the race tied or a one point affair.  Of course, the devil is usually in the details.  Mason-Dixon found more black voters and Democrats undecided than Republicans meaning if they turn out Gillespie is in trouble.  But the recent surveys in Virginia and their data-points also indicate despite all the anger Democrats have turned towards Trump they might still be struggling to motivate their base.

This matters not just for Virginia but also elections next year.  White, college educated liberals, have historically always turned out for the party.  But, last year, and more recently in GA-6, the party learned the hard way they cannot count on Obamaesque levels of turnout among minorities.  Hispanics turned out in force in California but they failed to come close to their total electoral power in Colorado or Florida.

Amid all the hand-wringing among Democrats is a continual worry they simply will be unable to turn out their base in sufficient numbers to swing key Congressional and Senate contests.  Hope for increased minority turnout in GA-6 fizzled and many of the legislative districts Democrats have flipped in special elections have been low-turnout sleepy affairs or in GOP controlled Oklahoma (where voters are angry about the GOP taking an axe to the education budget).

If Democrats cannot turn out minorities next year, which have become an increasingly crucial part of the party’s upstairs/downstairs coalition they’ll have problems.  Winning districts in CA that voted for Clinton but are held by Republicans would be brutal and in FL, CO and VA, the party’s hopes of winning additional seats becomes a long-shot.

This is to say nothing of the even more crucial statewide and legislative contests across the nation next year.  If Democrats hope to have any chance to capitalize on minority growth in the next decade they will need to win positions of power in the states to actually realize these gains.

This poses a problem for Democrats.  In Ohio, the party is incredibly reliant on the state’s black population.  It failed in November.  In Florida and Colorado, while Hispanic turnout increased, the voting block is not lockstep in support of the party and in GA-6 there is even the question whether any more minorities can be convinced to vote.  Have Democrats reached the point where they have maximized their turnout among minorities in the short-term?

Of course this is all speculative.  But if Virginia falls flat, even if Democrats hold all statewide offices and make gains in the State House, it indicates Democrats have serious problems for a multitude of reasons.

First, it would seem to indicate smart Republicans can outrun and distance themselves from Trump.  They might be able to win over voters who disapprove of Trump (aka circa 2016).  Secondly, if Virginia, a state demographically made for the party is tepid on the Democratic nominee it signals the base really is more bark than bite.  Virginia has a 20% black population, a burgeoning Asian and Hispanic voting bloc and is one of the most affluent and educated states in the country.  If Democrats can barely win here can they expect to compete in districts tailor-made for them against a sitting GOP incumbent?

Come November we’ll see.


To Gerrymander Or Not To Gerrymander?

Gerrymandering is a decennial and highly partisan sport for American politicians and consultants.  And nowhere has it been more so than in three states, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Texas.  Indeed, so partisan has it become that Democrats have convinced an appellate court to side with their interests and force the state of Wisconsin to appeal to the Supreme Court (oral arguments are scheduled for next month).

Gerrymandering can take many forms, some insidious, some partisan, and some plain racial.  In Wisconsin, new territory is being charted in the form of a map that is too partisan.  No Supreme Court ruling has found a map can be too partisan.  The drawing of Congressional and legislative lines is by its very nature a partisan action.

In Wisconsin specifically, GOP officials in 2011 drew a map that locked in their assembly majorities from 2010.  Under unified GOP control the state drew lines that locked Democrats into political irrelevancy (kind of like Illinois, but Democrats did it there so it is fine).

For example, in 2008, the state legislative lines had a slight GOP lean.  That election, Democrats won 57 percent of the assembly vote and garnered 52 seats to the GOP’s 46 seats with 43 percent of the vote (a conservative Independent caucused with Republicans).  In 2012, the changed maps showed their effects.  Democrats won 53 percent of the assembly vote but won a mere 39 seats to the GOP’s 60.  In 2016, Republicans won 53 percent of the assembly vote and an eye-popping 64 seats.

Such results have prompted liberal scholars to come up with mathematical tests to assess whether a map passes the partisan smell test.  In prior court rulings, all but one conservative jurist, Anthony Kennedy, have closed the door on ever saying a map is too partisan.  Liberals would say maps should be non-partisan and ram it down the states throats if they could get away with it.

Using mathematical tests to assess partisanship is fine and all but determining at which point it crosses the line is the difficult part.  More so, can the mathematical model account for partisan or cultural changes over time?

For example, just look at the state of West Virginia (a mostly white state like Wisconsin).  The current map was passed in 2011 by a Democratic Governor and a Democratic legislature.  Last year, every single legislative district voted for Trump.  Today, those Democratic maps have produced a GOP majority in the legislature, an all GOP US House delegation and a GOP Governor.  The mathematical tests used to assess partisanship and violation of one’s 1st Amendment rights would say West Virginia violates this idea.  But one could easily argue, in turn, West Virginians made the choice to vote Republican irregardless of partisanship.  That’s the tricky nature of determining what is and is not too partisan.

Voters move, opinions change over time and it is unlikely a mathematical model of any kind can account for this.  Plus, it would be hard to rationalize being able to meet other state and legal redistricting requirements (compactness, keeping communities of interest together, etc.) on top of this one without seeing some tortured legislative districts.

Certainly, Wisconsin’s situation is unique but one thing it is not is racially based.  The state is more than 90 percent white meaning the map is based exclusively on partisanship.  The same cannot be said for maps in the South.  Specifically Texas and North Carolina (though Alabama deserves a mention here to).  In both states, legislative and Congressional maps have been shot down by the courts over their racial intent.

Unlike partisanship, racial mapmaking has been a big no, no in this country for decades as first defined by the Voting Rights Act.  As a result, many states had to get “preclearance” from the Department of Justice if any electoral changes were made in the state (think changing precinct lines.  Yes, I kid you not).  The Supreme Court saw fit to strike down this aspect of the VRA in 2013 but left the rest of the law intact.Not surprisingly though, the history of race dominated their processes.

In Texas, the state has seen a booming population due to the influx of Hispanics and Asians.  Easily 50 percent of the population growth in the state from 2000-2010 was Hispanic.  But the state GOP, having controlled all statewide offices since 1994 and the legislature since the new millennium worked hard to draw lines that locked in their majorities.  As a result, the Congressional lines of the state resulted in a 24-12 GOP Congressional delegation and lopsided legislative majorities.

Democrats and civil rights groups cried foul even before 2012 and a San Antonio District Court in 2011 found the lines were a racial gerrymander.  The District Court drew temporary lines for 2012 but the Supreme Court struck them down for imposing a burden on the state.  In 2013, Texas made much of the 2011 District Court map permanent.

But a flurry of new rulings have again brought racial gerrymandering to the forefront.  Earlier in the year, a different District Court found the 2011 maps were unconstitutional and soon after the same court found the current 2013 lines were as well.  Specifically, the District Court found two Congressional districts (could have been much worse for the GOP) were racial gerrymanders for splitting up Hispanic communities.  In turn, the GOP appealed to the US Supreme Court and in a one-page order, Justice Alito ordered a stay on the District Court’s ruling.

Similar to Texas, North Carolina’s legislative and Congressional maps have been the subject of racial line drawing.  Interestingly, due to a quirk in state law that allows the legislature to approve new lines without the Governor’s approval the new legislative GOP majorities in 2011 rammed through a partisan map in the fullest.  For decades, Democrats in North Carolina who controlled the legislature did the same thing and now the GOP was returning the favor.

The 2012 results highlighted the significant change.  That year, Democrats won the Congressional and legislative vote 51-49 in the state.  But, the 6-5 Democratic Congressional majority turned into a 10-3 GOP majority and the party gained seats in the legislature (Romney did also win the state).

Due to this the GOP gained a super-majority in the state legislature and with Governor McCrory helming the state the GOP ushered in a plethora of conservative legislation.  However, a series of lawsuits making their way through the courts came to a head this year when it was ruled the state had racially gerrymandered 28 state legislative districts.  Failing an appeal to the US Supreme Court and getting no help from the state’s new Democratic Governor, the legislature redrew the lines and explicitly argued the new lines were meant to emphasize partisanship and not race (a strange admission but one so far the highest court in the land has accepted).

Complicating matters further in many Southern states is the fact race and partisanship go hand in hand.  When 95 percent of blacks support Democrats it is easy to pack them into one district or a handful of districts arguing they can elect the “candidate of their choice,” while maximizing your partisan gain.  The Supreme Court in recent years has handed defeats to Virginia and Alabama based on overturning these arguments as opponents of the maps have cited how it limits the ability of black voters to maximize their voting power.  Such is the contradiction of the Voting Rights Act.

In turn, the Voting Rights Act is showing its age.  No longer is the country divided along two major colors (black and white).  As the country becomes more diverse, courts will continue to disagree with each other and the Supreme Court will find it hard to keep their decisions rational and logical.

Gerrymandering is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.  For all the cries of non-partisan redistricting commissions, many state legislatures are opposed to handing over such power.  Additionally, in states like Illinois and Maryland, the courts often short-circuit such efforts (where efforts are actually led by Republicans).

In sum, two major themes run through American political redistricting.  The first is redistricting is partisan in nature but at what point does partisanship infringe on the right to free speech and association?  Secondly, how does one disentangle race and polarization in an era in the South where 90 percent of whites in some states vote Republican and 90 percent of blacks vote Democrat?

The next few years could go a long way in determining the answers to these questions.

Ohio and Oregon: Going Opposite Directions

Last Tuesday, Oregon Democratic Governor Kate Brown, the nation’s only LBGT Governor, signed into law the most progressive abortion law into the nation.  The law, passed on a party-line vote by the Oregon legislature (which means not even pro-choice Republicans could support it, they do exist in Oregon) in July makes abortion for any reason legal, puts taxpayers on the hook to subsidize the procedure and even allows illegal immigrants to acquire free abortions at taxpayer expense.

The $10.2 million bill takes effect immediately, allocating almost $500,000 for abortions for the over 22,000 women eligible under the plan.  This includes female immigrants ineligible for the state exchange.

Unsurprisingly, lawsuits are sure to follow.  Opponents argue the law violates the obscure Weldon Amendment, passed in 2004, that prohibits Health and Human Services from providing funding to states that discriminate against healthcare providers.

The initial version of HB 3391 provided few if any religious exemptions.  Providence Healthcare, as a result, threatened to exit the state exchange if changes were not made to the law.  Providence, churches and religious nonprofits are exempted from the law but doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners are not.  Even California and NY State that make abortion free do not have laws that personify “abortion on demand” and their exemptions are much more generous.

In Middle America, another state is taking a drastically different course.  Ohio, led by moderate Governor John Kasich and a solidly Republican state legislature has steadily enacted an anti-abortion agenda which culminated with a ban on abortions after twenty weeks.  Kasich vetoed a fetal heartbeat bill at the same time.

In response to a stunning study on Iceland showing down syndrome has been eliminated not through acceptance or in-vitro fertilization but rather through abortions of prospective parents of children with down syndrome an Ohio State Senator is promoting a bill to ban abortions based on down syndrome.

First introduced in 2015 the idea has been resurrected in the face of actions by states like Oregon and NY State.  The Ohio Senate Health, Human Services, and Medicaid Committee heard proponent testimony for the Down Syndrome Non-Discrimination Act (S.B. 164) on August 22nd, 2017 and the bill is likely to fly out of committee.

In the face of medical advances leading to eugenics Ohio Right to Life President Michael Gonidakis said, “The Down Syndrome Non-Discrimination Act is a crucial step in creating a society that is inclusive of people who are different, no matter how many chromosomes they have.  This legislation is an important part of protecting those most vulnerable from discrimination based on their genetic makeup. We are so thankful for the advocates, families, and medical professionals who came out to stand up for unborn babies with Down syndrome.”

Right to Life is not the only supporter of the bill.  Medical professionals Dr. Dennis Sullivan and Kelly Kuhns both testified in support of the bill.  Sullivan, a Bioethics expert at Cedarville University said such a law is necessary to protect society’s most vulnerable from the unintended consequences of technological advancement.

Most glaringly, while progressives argue limiting women’s access to abortion is discriminatory the same argument is used in favor of banning Down syndrome based abortions.  “Down syndrome isn’t fatal, but discriminatory abortions that target those who have it are. Ohio has the chance to lead the nation and create a society where people with Down syndrome are included, accepted, and loved.” Abortion has to be one of the most tragic forms of discrimination we can imagine,” said Gonidakis. “None of us are perfect, yet babies with disabilities continue to be targeted for elimination based on the notion that some babies are simply better than others. We are all created equal and should be protected as intrinsically valuable members of our one human family.”

As mentioned before, the legislation comes in response to studies showing an untold number of children are aborted who have Down syndrome.  Shockingly,  in Denmark, 98 percent of babies with a positive diagnosis are aborted and in Iceland the number is almost 100 percent . Last year, a French court banned a pro-life commercial featuring smiling children with Down syndrome on the basis that it could “disturb the conscience” of women who had aborted their unborn children.

In an era of intense polarization and social/ideological schisms such maneuvers by elected officials and advocates are inevitable.  But the ideological debate going on today is only surface level.  Below lurk the dangers of eugenics and the warnings many bioethics experts have been telling for years with rapid advancements in medical technology.

Welcome to America 2017!



Democrats Face The Most Unfavorable Congressional Map In 100 Years

In legislative special elections Democrats are vastly outrunning President Clinton’s performance last November.  They even have done better in Congressional special elections.  But, even so, it might not be enough to overcome the record setting bias of the US Senate map.  Indeed, the US Senate map has never been so tilted toward the GOP since the direct election of Senators in 1913.

Consider this fun fact.  If, “Democrats were to win every single 2018 House and Senate race for seats representing places that Hillary Clinton won or that Trump won by less than 3 percentage points — a pretty good midterm by historical standards — they could still fall short of the House majority and lose five Senate seats.”  Yes, that is how bad it is for the party out of power.

There are a number of reasons for this.  Part of it has to due with the nature of Congressional districts: gerrymandering and Democrats clustering in urban areas have helped move the median seat to the right of the nation.  Then some of it just has to do with bad timing.  Democrats had a stellar year in 2006 and had a great year considering the map in 2012.  But, due to this, Democrats have to defend 25 of their 48 seats compared to the GOP’s 8 out of 52.  Worse, many of the seats Democrats are defending have trended rightward and showed their true leanings last November.

The larger trend here should significantly alarm Democrats.  Democrats have made significant inroads in California and NY State; liberal states with massive urban centers giving the party a huge popular vote edge in the Presidential contest.  They’ve even made inroads in red Texas due to urban centers.  But, NY and CA only elect 4 Senators (out of 100) and Texas still has a massive GOP edge in statewide contests.

Meanwhile, the GOP’s edge in rural states like West Virginia, Iowa, North and South Dakota, Arkansas, Louisiana and Montana, has grown exponentially.  Due to the nature of the Senate- these small states wield significant power.

Contrary to the cries of many Democrats, GOP gerrymandering has had little to do with the pro-GOP bias in Congress.  For example, in 2008, under lines drawn by many Democrats, the average Democrat won their House seat by 4.4 points compared to the President’s 7.3 percent victory.  That’s an almost 3 percent bias towards the GOP.

Fast-forward to today and the bias is even worse.  Trump lost the national popular vote by 2.1 percent.  Yet, the average Republican won their House seat by 3.4 percent and Senate seat by 3.6 percent.  That’s a “yuge” gap.  In fact, it’s the widest Senate gap in a century and the largest in a half century (except for 2012) for the House.

There is a fairly easy way to quantify this.  In 1980, there were 18 states that were five points more Democratic at the Presidential level than the nation.  There were 18 states likewise more Republican than the nation with 14 states in between.  Assuming all things being equal, all either had to do was win their friendly states Senate seats and 15 of the 28 Senate contests in the swing states.

Today, Republicans don’t even need to come close to do that.  Fifty-two Senate seats are in states where Republicans won the popular vote for President by five points more than the national result (at least R+2.9).  There are only 28 seats in states where the margin was at least 5 points more Democratic, and only 20 seats in swing states.  And Republicans own several of these swing state seats making the Democratic climb even steeper.

The national political climate, the GOP Senate’s dysfunction and its minimal 52 seat majority make the chamber look competitive.  But a deeper look reveals Democrats hold far more seats in red territory than the GOP in blue states.  The GOP does not hold a single seat in the 14 states that are more Democratic than the nation.  Meanwhile, Democrats hold six seats in states more Republican than the nation.  These Democrats have unique and individual brands but they have largely behaved the same as their liberal colleagues in opposing Trump.  Can they outrun that?

This has repercussions beyond just electoral politics.  Consider, in 2010 Democrats need sixty votes from all Democratic Senators, including 13 from states Obama lost in 2008.  It only took the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, a once in a generation political candidate and the strength of individual Senatorial candidates to acquire those sixty seats.  And, oh yes, a razor thin margin in Minnesota and an old GOP Senator in Pennsylvania flipping his allegiance.

It’s hard to see such events occurring today.  But, if the GOP wanted to acquire sixty seats all they would need to do is win all sixty seats in Trump states.  It’s unlikely this uniformity would happen but it showcases just how uphill the Democratic climb is to simply regain the majority in the chamber.

Democrats probably cannot count on a sixty seat majority for a generation or more.  Meanwhile, due to the elimination of the judicial filibuster, lower courts can be filled with conservative jurists without a single, Democratic vote needed.  Even if Democrats win the White House in 2020, they will likely see their preferred nominees blocked and compromise candidates be the only candidates to get through.

This is not even mentioning the Supreme Court.  The increasing polarization of the parties and the public has filtered in the courts (see Merrick Garland circa 2016).  As a result, the GOP could get one or two more jurists on the Court under Trump and then simply hunker down and wait out a Democratic President by using their majority to block his/her nominee/s.

Finally, even if Democrats win the House along with 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue the Senate would likely kill or modify many of their ideas.  Progressive legislation the base is agitating for would likely never see the light of day.  That is what the Democratic Party faces today and if it stops them from having a success 2018 the party will also be locked out of power in the states and Congress for another decade.