This Week in Statehouse Action: Icy Hot edition

This Week in Statehouse Action: Icy Hot edition

It’s getting brisk out there.

Temperatures are dropping (don’t get it twisted, the earth is still warming at a terrifying rate), and autumn is in full swing.

And even though the Virginia elections are still on folks’ minds (… or maybe just mine), it’s important to remember that there’s still a lot of trash being perpetrated by GOP state lawmakers across the rest of the country.

So let’s warm our chilly hands by these garbage fires.

We Didn’t Start The Fire: So while I was super focused on Virginia (and … other things), various state legislatures and commissions across the country started their respective redistricting processes.

Campaign Action

So, how’s all that going?

As an erudite consumer of this missive, you’ve probably surmised that, with Republicans in charge of the process in the vast majority of states, it’s NOT GREAT, BOB.

Here are some specific bits of that awfulness (and you should always check out my amazing Daily Kos Elections colleagues’ work for the latest and smartest takes on this):

Alabama: Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed Alabama’s new congressional and legislative maps last week. The congressional plan preserves the state’s current delegation makeup—which sends six white Republicans and one Black Democrat to Congress.

Black voters, which make up nearly two-sevenths of Alabama’s population, filed a federal lawsuit seeking to compel a second Black district (with the support of Democrats) almost immediately after Ivey signed the new congressional map.

Colorado: The Colorado Supreme Court has approved the map adopted by the state’s independent congressional redistricting commission in September.

The end result is a map that could easily result in equal representation for Republicans and Democrats, despite the fact that the state voted for Joe Biden by a comfortable 55-42 margin last year. That’s because the new 8th District, based in the Denver suburbs, would have gone for Biden 51-46 and in fact would have voted for Donald Trump 46-45 in 2016. 

Thanks to Colorado’s 2018 amendments creating its congressional and state redistricting commissions, the legislature and governor no longer play a role in redistricting, meaning that the new congressional map is now law.

The state Supreme Court is also reviewing the commission’s legislative proposals, but after the congressional map’s success, they’ll likely pass muster.

Delaware: Democratic Gov. John Carney has signed Delaware’s new legislative maps. Democrats currently control both the state House and Senate and will almost certainly remain in charge in this solidly blue state that voted for native son Joe Biden 59-40 last year.

Iowa: Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed Iowa’s new congressional and legislative maps into law last week. The congressional plan creates three red-leaning districts and one safely Republican seat, as outlined recently in Daily Kos Elections’ Morning Digest.

Despite the wide bipartisan support it received, the map could face a legal challenge according to redistricting expert Michael McDonald. Iowa law requires the drawing of “reasonably compact districts” that are “square, rectangular, or hexagonal in shape, and not irregularly shaped.” But as you can see here, the new districts are anything but “regular.”

Massachusetts: Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has signed Massachusetts’ new legislative maps, which passed both Dem-controlled legislative chambers last month almost unanimously. A congressional map remains pending before lawmakers.

North Carolina: North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature passed new congressional and legislative maps last week, so they’re now law because redistricting plans do not require the governor’s approval. All three are extreme GOP gerrymanders designed to lock the party into power for years to come, despite the state’s perennial tossup status.

With North Carolina gaining a seat due to redistricting, the new congressional map would create 10 safely red districts and just three that would be safely blue, with one swing seat currently held by a Democrat that’s been trending hard to the GOP. By comparison, the map used in last year’s elections—which Republicans had to repeatedly redraw thanks to intervention by the courts—sent eight Republicans and five Democrats to D.C.

The new map notably undermines Black representation by making a Democratic-leaning district held by African American Democrat G.K. Butterfield whiter, turning it into a pure swing district that could elect a Republican favored by white voters in next year’s midterm environment.

No state has seen more litigation over redistricting in the past decade than North Carolina, and that’s not going to change: An updated lawsuit has already been filed in state court over the congressional map in the same case that saw a state court block a prior GOP map in 2019 on the basis that partisan gerrymandering violates the state constitution. Separately, a new lawsuit has also been filed over the legislative maps. The chief attack on the maps centers on the fact that Republicans say they ignored racial data in drawing their lines, in contravention of the Voting Rights Act, with Republicans baselessly claiming that the VRA no longer applies.

North Dakota: North Dakota’s Republican-run state legislature has passed a new legislative map, sending it to Republican Gov. Doug Burgum for his signature. Both chambers use the same districts, with each electing two representatives and one senator, though the new map adds two exceptions to that pattern: Two House districts based around Indian reservations would now be divided in half, with each half electing its own member, to improve Native representation.

Ohio: Republicans in Ohio’s Senate and House have each released a draft congressional map, both equally extreme gerrymanders. The House version would likely send 13 Republicans and just two Democrats to Congress next year, while the Senate plan would do the same, just with districts configured a little differently.

South Dakota: In an … unusually bipartisan development, a group of Republicans in the (GOP-controlled) South Dakota House banded together with Democrats to pass a new legislative redistricting plan over the objections of a sizable bloc of conservative GOP dissenters. All seven Democrats present voted in favor of the map, along with 30 Republicans, while 31 Republicans were opposed, meaning Democrats provided the winning majority. The plan, which originated in the (also GOPP-controlled) Senate, easily passed the upper chamber 30-2, with all three Democrats likewise in favor.

The Republican objectors complained that the map would double-bunk some of their members and undermine their ability to elect far-right legislators. But at issue as well was the matter of Native representation. The proposed map preserves two districts that are split in half in order to give Native voters a better opportunity to elect their preferred candidates. 

The map now goes to Republican Gov. Kristi Noem, who has not yet indicated whether she will sign it into law.

Texas: Three lawsuits were filed last week by Democrats and advocates for voters of color that are challenging various parts of the gerrymanders that Republicans adopted last monthTwo of the suits were filed by Latino voter advocates, one in state court arguing that the state House map violates a state constitutional limit on splitting counties and another in federal court challenging the congressional, state House, and state Board of Education lines for racial discrimination. Meanwhile, Democratic state Sen. Beverly Powell and several voters filed an additional federal lawsuit arguing that the GOP’s redraw of Powell’s 10th District discriminated against Black and Latino voters.

Two previous federal lawsuits had already been filed in recent weeks, meaning there are now four federal cases and five in total.

Virginia: Virginia’s redistricting drama was largely eclipsed by the election, but here are the broad strokes of this tragicomedy:

In 2020, Virginia voters (not me, literally saw this coming) approved of the creation of a 16-member redistricting commission divided equally between Republican and Democratic lawmakers and other appointees.

But actually reforming redistricting involves more than merely taking the power to draw new legislative and/or congressional districts away from the actual legislature, and no one should have been surprised when the process swiftly devolved into partisan factionalism.

Paralyzed by the resulting (and predictable) deadlock, the commission failed to produce new maps for Congress or for either chamber of the state legislature. In accordance with that voter-approved constitutional amendment creating the commission, the body was dissolved, and the task passed to the state Supreme Court … which is mostly filled with GOP appointees (a 5-2 conservative majority, to be specific).

I mean, of course Republicans blew up the commission process. With the fallback option being a court dominated by their own appointees, it was in their clear interest to do so.

But of course state supreme court justices are rarely also experts in cartography, so these judges will rely on the skills and resources of two “special masters” chosen from a list of three submitted by each party.

Both the law and the court’s own rules specify that those nominees “shall have no conflicts of interest.”

So of course Virginia Republicans proposed three nominees with REALLY SERIOUS AND OBVIOUS conflicts of interest.

One was paid a $20,000 consulting fee in September by the state Senate’s Republican Caucus. Another directs the National Republican Redistricting Trust and previously held a series of other jobs with the RNC, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the Republican Governors Association. The third has supported Republican redistricting efforts in (notoriously GOP-gerrymandered) Wisconsin and currently is doing this work in Texas, where he reports to the Republican chairman of the state’s redistricting committee.

Democrats, adorably, chose highly credentialed scholars in line with state law and the court’s rules and without those pesky conflicts of interest. One is a Stanford Law School professor who has been appointed by courts to help with redistricting in various states. Another is a political science professor at Stanford University who has also served as a court-appointed redistricting expert in Arizona. The third is a political science professor at the University of California at Irvine and has worked on redistricting for Virginia courts in the past.

At least now we can stop pretending GOP lawmakers ever had any interest in actually nonpartisan, fair redistricting. Virginia Republicans enthusiastically supported the new map-drawing process because they—correctly—saw it as an opportunity for partisan political exploitation.

Wisconsin: A committee in Wisconsin’s Republican-run state Senate has passed the GOP’s proposed congressional and legislative maps, but they’re certain to be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers due to their extreme partisan gerrymandering. We can look forward to shameless Republican maneuvering and savage court battles over this debacle.

Okay, a few more notes on redistricting generally before I leave it behind for the week:

There’s an emerging media narrative that this redistricting cycle is a bit of a partisan wash—GOP and Democratic maneuvering and gerrymandering are balancing each other out.

A. This is bullshit.

The existing maps were mostly drawn by Republicans a decade ago, so they start from a place that already skews GOP.

Only about 14 states have completed their process, and places like Georgia and Ohio are going to start blowing up that alleged “balance” in very short order.

B. This is a Congress-centric view of redistricting.

As an erudite consumer of this missive, you know that some of the most extreme gerrymandering out there occurs at the state legislative level.

Where Republicans locked themselves into artificial majorities via map-drawing a decade ago.

Which Republicans will use to further entrench themselves into artificial majorities for the next ten years with this new set of maps.

And so forth, and so on, tiddely pom.

Anyway, today in This Person Make Laws:

Play With Fire: A Republican lawmaker in North Dakota who organized an anti-vaccine rally had to cancel his own appearance at said rally because he …

Oh, you know exactly what happened.

GOP Rep. Jeff Hoverson caught COVID-19.

He’s treating himself with ivermectin, so, um, good luck with that.

Meanwhile, about 400 people attended this potential superspreader event without their clownish ringleader.

Oh, but Hoverson totally sent his kids to the rally he was too sick to attend himself.

Because he CARES.

Oh, and there’s a state senator in Texas who’s just straight-up telling folks to not get vaccinated.

Sen. Bob Hall is no stranger to spreading COVID-19 vaccine misinformation—he’s been doing it for many months now, but mostly his remarks were confined to “skepticism.”

Great Balls of Fire: Closure is mostly a myth.

Life events/people/etc. have a way of failing to wrap themselves up in neat little packages for us.

So when I see a rare opportunity to tie something off neatly, I take it.

Like now.

With disgraced former Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada.

If that name rings a bell, thank you! … because that means you’ve been reading this missive since at least mid-2019.

But that was a long time ago, so allow me to refresh your recollection regarding this reprehensible representative.

Buckle up!

  • It all started when information came to light in 2019 indicating that Casada’s office may have tried to frame a Black activist for violating a no-contact order with the express purpose of getting him thrown in jail.
    • It all started earlier that year, when student activist Justin Jones was arrested after someone threw a cup into the speaker’s own personal elevator.
      • Jones was released on bond on the condition he have no contact with Casada.
        • He obeyed the order and didn’t return to the capitol.
    • But Casada’s then-chief of staff, Cade Cothren, seemed to reeeeeeeally want to take away Jones’ freedom.
      • Why else would he have shared a copy of an email with the DA purporting to show that Jones sent said email to Cothren and copied Casada after he’d been released on bond, thus violating the no-contact order?
        • The thing is, Jones had a copy of his original email, and that email shows that it was sent before this arrest or the subsequent no-contact order.
        • Confronted with evidence of the doctored date on the email shared with the DA’s office, the speaker’s office claimed there was a lag in terms of when the email was delivered versus when it was sent due to “a security issue.”
          • Thankfully, the DA declined to throw Jones in jail over this.

Wow, that’s lousy, you’re thinking. But wasn’t there more?

Oh yes.

  • Enter one “former acquaintance,” an unidentified person with whom Cothren and Casada had been exchanging text messages for years.
    • He (the nature of some of these messages makes it clear we’re talking about someone who identifies as a dude here, so I’m gonna run with that pronoun) decided to share texts from Cothren with a Tennessee TV station—texts that demonstrated Cothren’s outright racist sentiments, signaling that he’s totally the type of a-hole who’d lie to get a Black man thrown in jail.
      • Cothren first tried to claim the texts had been fabricated.
      • Then, when Cothren was confronted with texts from that same acquaintance in which the staffer bragged about snorting cocaine in his legislative offices, he admitted they were real.
        • Casada stood by his man at this point, claiming Cothren came to him about his personal struggles—including a drug problem—a few years back and was working towards “redemption.”
    • But that “former acquaintance” was extremely not done.
      • Still more incriminating texts surfaced.
      • In these texts, the speaker’s top aide:
        • Solicited nude photos and oral sex from an intern
        • Sought sex with a lobbyist
        • Referred to various women in demeaning or sexually explicit ways
        • And so forth, and so on.
          • And Speaker Casada—who was married at the time (can’t imagine why that didn’t last)—participated in some of these text exchanges, making disgusting comments about touching and intercourse with women.
      • After an article on these texts ran in The Tennessean, Cothren fell on his sword and resigned.
    • But pressure on Casada continued to build.
      • His own caucus turned on him, and when Casada declined to resign, GOP House members voted 45-24 (not even close—ouch) that they no longer had confidence in his ability to lead the chamber.
      • Then, finally, finally, Casada announced he’d be resigning his post as speaker (but not his seat in the legislature).
      • But that was May 2019, and he hung on his speakership until August.

So, yeah, Casada hasn’t been speaker for a minute, but he stuck around the state House.

  • … which provided opportunities for fun news stories like this one to pop up:
  • Other lawmakers have since come forward with accounts of Casada offering them funding for projects and other rewards as bribes for their vote on that voucher bill.
  • And at least one lawmaker says Casada threatened to support a primary challenge against him if he failed to vote for the bill.

Anyway, yeah, this is all very weedy and from the long-ago pre-pandemic times, but it brings me great satisfaction to share with you that Glen Casada is not running for reelection to the Tennessee state House.

This dude has been in the legislature since 2003, so yeah, that’s a pretty big career change.

Maybe this has something to do with the fact that, early this year, he was one of several state lawmakers whose homes and offices were searched by the FBI (for as-yet unclear reasons, though that voucher-vote-bribery thing might have come into play, or maybe it’s because Casada might have been laundering Republican House Caucus money to himself, or both, or possibly some third reason!).

But who knows? While the Tennessee legislature’s dominance by the GOP won’t be ending any time soon, quality counts, and residents of the Volunteer State are undoubtedly better off without Glen Casada making laws.

Welp, stick a fork in me, I’m done.

And … you’re still here!

I know you have a choice when you spend your valuable time reading things, and I thank you for choosing Air Fiddler This Week in Statehouse Action.

The destinations aren’t always sunny on these trips, but at least they’re … interesting?

And mostly not actually on fire

Anyway, before I beat this flying metaphor into the ground, let me just say that you’re important, so please use caution when opening overhead bins and crossing the street and just getting out of bed in the morning.

Because you’re important.

We need you.

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