This Week in Statehouse Action: Tuber Genitalia edition

This Week in Statehouse Action: Tuber Genitalia edition

We’re approaching the year mark of everything shutting down because of the coronavirus, and everything remains … well, kinda terrible.

Sure, the vaccine news is increasingly good, the days are getting longer, and warmer weather has begun to show its face in some parts of the country.

But most legislatures are still in session (48, in fact), and most legislatures are controlled by Republicans, so mostly lousy bills are getting passed.

Too bad those lawmakers aren’t as preoccupied with defending Neanderthals and plastic potato toy genders as many of their conservative ilk.

Except … they kind of are preoccupied with gender right now.

It’s been five years (to the month!) since the GOP-controlled North Carolina legislature passed the notorious HB 2, a drastic and discriminatory response to a local ordinance in Charlotte that permitted transgender folks to use the bathroom corresponding with their gender identity (and also established nondiscrimination protections for the LGBTQ community).

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  • HB 2 not only dictated who got to use which bathroom, but it also prohibited all localities in the state from enacting their own LGBTQ anti-discrimination policies.

Fun fact! In less than 12 hours after its introduction in the North Carolina legislature, then-GOP Gov. Pat McCrory signed HB 2 into law.

  • National backlash was swift and broad.
    • Famous musicians, the NBA, and the NCAA all refused to hold or rescheduled massive events in the state.
    • Several large corporations that had been considering expansions in North Carolina abandoned their plans.
    • Over a dozen states banned taxpayer-funded travel there.
  • Correspondingly, the economic toll of HB 2 was enormous.
    • The Tar Heel State lost out on more than 2,900 jobs that went elsewhere.
    • Cancelled events alone cost the state over $196 million.
    • By the end of 2017, lost business was estimated to cost the state $525 million.
  • Eight months after signing the bill, McCrory lost reelection to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, but Republicans still dominated the legislature.
    • The GOP was anxious about all that lost money but was only willing to walk HB 2 back but so far.
      • In March 2017, Republicans passed a lousy compromise bill that sought to “appease” LGBTQ advocates on the bathroom issue but included a provision that prohibited localities from passing their own anti-discrimination ordinances until just this past December.

Fast forward to … nowish.

Opponents of transgender rights took a little bit of a breather during the Trump administration, which was sympathetic to their brand of oppression.

But with the advent of the Biden administration, which moved quickly to protect LGBTQ rights, anti-equality activists are back in a big way.

  • According to this handy tracker built and maintained by Freedom for All Americans, dozens and dozens of bills targeting transgender rights have been filed in some 30 states.
  • Many of these recent anti-transgender bills have taken the form of “athletic bans”—that is, legislation prohibiting anyone not assigned female at birth from playing women’s sports.

This is literally the first time any of these lawmakers gave two shits about women’s sports

  • On Wednesday, the GOP-controlled Mississippi legislature became the first state this year to send a bill to the governor’s desk banning transgender athletes from women’s sports at state schools and universities (GOP Gov. Tate Reeves plans to sign it into law).
    • As an erudite consumer of this missive, I surely don’t have to point out to you that these bills have absolutely nothing to do with women’s athletics and everything to do with shaming transgender kids and telling them that they don’t belong.
  • But don’t think for a second that there’s anything “grassroots” or “organic” about this sudden rise in anti-transgender legislation across the country.
  • Meanwhile, this week South Dakota’s GOP-controlled legislature became the first lawmakers in years to send a RFRA (“religious freedom restoration act”) bill to a governor for her signature.
  • Another type of horrifyingly popular anti-transgender legislation making its way through legislatures this year is banning doctors from administering hormone therapy, performing transition surgery, or providing other gender-affirming care to transgender youth.

But backwards and harmful views on gender and equality don’t just result in anti-transgender legislation.

Sometimes they can lead to your state to reject almost $6 million in early childhood education funds.

  • This week, the GOP-controlled Idaho legislature narrowly voted to decline massive amounts of kindergarten money for some … ah, dubious reasons.
    • One GOP state representative objected to this and “any bill that makes it easier or more convenient for mothers to come out of the home and let others raise their child.”
    • GOP state Rep. Barbara Ehardt argued against the funding because she thinks that young children are better off at home than in child care or preschool.
    • Other Republican lawmakers baselessly conjectured that the money would somehow be used to push a “social justice curriculum” or “to take our children from birth and be able to start indoctrinating them.”

Fun fact! About 50% of Idaho is an “early childhood education desert,” and this money would have gone a long way to correcting that.

  • The measure had the backing of several prominent conservatives in the state, including Idaho’s two U.S. senators.

Oh well!

Okay, time for a … detour of sorts.

This missive is, obviously, primarily focused on state legislatures—legislation, politics, elections, etc.

But another, lesser-known passion of mine is getting Democrats off their collective asses when it comes to state-level judicial elections.

While I wait impatiently for the Democratic Party to get off its duff and start a party committee dedicated to investing in these races in a strategic, ongoing way, my excellent colleagues at Daily Kos Elections have helpfully assembled a list of state supreme court races across the country this year and next.

So what? you may be asking yourself. I live in a state where judges are appointed or selected via some other method. Why should I care?

So glad you asked!

It’s probably not big news to you that the federal judiciary grew WAY more hostile to voting rights during the Trump era, and the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to curtail partisan gerrymanders designed to entrench one-party rule at both the state and federal levels.

But meanwhile, state courts have started striking down these gerrymanders and issuing their own decisions defending voting access. (Think Pennsylvania, 2017.)

Unlike federal judges, most state supreme court justices are elected to their posts.

This presents progressives with crucial opportunities to replace conservative ideologues with more independent-minded jurists.

Some states present major openings for progressive gains on state supreme courts over the next two years, while in others, Dems need to play some serious defense.

  • Specifically, progressives have the chance to flip Ohio’s Supreme Court, gain a more solid majority in Montana, and make inroads that could set them up to flip conservative-heavy courts in Georgia and Texas.
  • Meanwhile, without a coordinated defensive effort from Democrats, Republicans could take control of progressive-leaning courts in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and North Carolina.

I won’t get too deep into the weeds here (but you’re definitely welcome to dig in yourself here), but here are a few of the races Democrats can’t afford to neglect in the next couple of years.

Michigan

  • Republicans could flip the Michigan Supreme Court from Democrats, or Democrats could expand their majority to 5-2
  • Composition: Four Democrats, three Republicans
  • 2022 elections: Two seats up (nonpartisan with partisan nomination conventions)
    • Democratic Justice Richard Bernstein, first elected in 2014
    • Republican Justice Brian Zahra, appointed in 2011 by former Gov. Rick Snyder (R)

Democrats gained a 4-3 majority on Michigan’s Supreme Court in the 2020 elections, flipping it from GOP control, but Republicans have an opportunity to regain power in 2022 when one justice from each party will face voters again.

Montana

  • Conservatives could gain a seat on the Montana Supreme Court, or progressives could gain a seat of their own to secure a clearer majority
  • Composition: Three progressives, two conservatives, two swing justices
  • 2022 elections: Two seats up (nonpartisan)
    • Conservative Justice James Rice, appointed in 2001 by former Gov. Judy Martz (R) and confirmed by the GOP-run state Senate
    • Swing Justice Ingrid Gustafson, appointed in 2018 by former Gov. Steve Bullock (D) and confirmed by the GOP-run state Senate

Montana is one of a few red states where Republicans don’t control the state’s highest court, and that’s had a real impact, because its two pivotal swing justices have sided with the three more progressive-leaning justices in some high-profile cases in recent years. With Republicans winning full control over state government in 2020 for the first time in 16 years, however, the GOP is considering a number of new restrictive voting bills, but the state Supreme Court could act as a critical roadblock to these attempts to suppress the vote.

North Carolina

  • Republicans can flip the North Carolina Supreme Court from Democrats
  • Composition: Four Democrats, three Republicans
  • 2022 elections: Two seats up (partisan)
    • Democratic Justice Robin Hudson, first elected in 2006
    • Democratic Justice Sam “Jimmy” Ervin IV, first elected in 2014

Republicans have made North Carolina one of the most gerrymandered states in the country, but state courts have become a critical check on the GOP’s power to draw unfair maps, culminating in the GOP’s legislative and congressional gerrymanders getting blocked and redrawn in 2019. However, Republicans flipped two Democratic-held seats on the state Supreme Court in 2020 by very narrow margins, so the GOP now only needs to beat one of the two Democrats up next year in order to regain the majority that they lost in 2016.

Ohio

  • Democrats can flip the Ohio Supreme Court from Republican control
  • Composition: Four Republicans, three Democrats
  • 2022 elections: Three seats up (nonpartisan with partisan primaries)
    • Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, first elected associate justice in 2002 and chief justice in 2010
    • Republican Justice Patrick Fischer, first elected in 2016
    • Republican Justice Pat DeWine, first elected in 2016

Over the last two election cycles, Democrats have managed to flip three Republican-held seats on Ohio’s Supreme Court despite the GOP’s dominance in partisan contests over the same period. That’s put Democrats in a surprising position: If they can win just one of the three Republican-held seats that will be up for election next year, they could flip the court.

Welp, that’s a wrap for this week.

I hope I didn’t disappoint you too badly by leaning into the conservative Potato Head uproar instead of the Dr. Seuss cancellation crap.

That Republican crap!

That Republican crap!

I do not like

That Republican crap!

I do not like it here or there.

I do not like it anywhere!

I do not like it in the statehouse!

I do not like Rs when they grouse!

They spend such time on watching Fox

I think their heads are full of rocks!

I would not, could not, say they are

Full of policies that aren’t bizarre!

With Republicans, I guarantee

There’s so little on which we both agree.

I wish that they’d just let folks be!

They keep running on these vile refrains,

Making false claims in their campaigns

Stolen votes and other claims

Our credulity they strain

Even as they still do reign

In legislatures, such a pain!

Treating voters with disdain.

Their proposals are rather profane

Even as they continue to gain

Power and influence, though redistricting’s force.

They gerrymander without remorse

And could cost the Dems the U.S. House

… but that’s enough. For I must douse

This painful rhyme (yes, I’m aware).

Relax a bit, you’ve earned it square.

Real chill time is all too rare.

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