This Week in Statehouse Action: Spring Cleaning edition

This Week in Statehouse Action: Spring Cleaning edition

Confession time.

I … [[deep breath]] am a hoarder.

I hoard web browser tabs.

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

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

I’m not proud.

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

So I’ve decided: Out with them.

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

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

Campaign Action

Okay, here goes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The drama continued for months.

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

Okay, finally, back to that pesky tab.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which, by the by, it should.

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

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

Jackass

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

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

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

Okay, next tab … 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But of course, he’s far from alone.

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

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

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

[[shudder]]

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

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

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

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