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This Week in Statehouse Action: Full Moon Fever edition
Legislative redistricting in Ohio, extremism in North Carolina, and some good news in Pennsylvania
I guess it’s the result of growing up Full Bumpkin in the middle of nowhere – night skies without light pollution, Farmers’ Almanacs on waiting area tables in various businesses, etc. etc.
However I got here, I’m super jazzed about today’s Harvest Moon – which is also a supermoon (the last one of the year).
In the years where September’s full moon occurs early in the month, it’s known as the Corn Moon, because it falls during the general time period when that crop is ready for harvest.
The Harvest Moon is whichever full moon – September’s or October’s – occurs closest to the autumnal equinox (which, as an erudite reader of this missive, you know was just last Saturday). So, 2023 trades the Corn Moon for the Harvest Moon.
The full moon closest to the equinox tends to rise around sunset for two or three days in a row (although it’s not technically totally full all those days), which historically gave farmers extra light during peak harvest time.
For centuries – and to an extent, even today – folks believed that the full moon induced erratic behaviors, but that’s a complete myth (outside of some people turning it into a self-fulfilling prophecy).
Alas, many state lawmakers don’t confine their untoward behavior to specific points in the lunar cycle.
Did you know that legislative redistricting is still going on in Ohio?
And yes, it’s going very, very badly.
The “why” here is long and complicated, so I’ll try to keep it to just the essential bits:
Once upon a time, way back in 2015, Ohio Republicans proposed an absolute shit version of legislative “redistricting reform.”
The GOP-controlled legislature placed a Republican-sponsored measure on the ballot that year creating a new way of terribly drawing maps.
That year’s Issue 1 changed the existing system by adding one more lawmaker from each party to the legislative redistricting commission, growing it from five members to the current seven: the governor, secretary of state, auditor, and four members appointed by the majority and minority leaders of both legislative chambers.
Also, it granted veto authority over new maps to the minority party — which, since Republicans were almost certainly going to control the commission, at least theoretically gave them some incentive to compromise with Democrats.
Sounds okay, right?
Under this redistricting “reform,” if (when) the maps pass along partisan lines and fail to earn the approval of at least two votes from the minority (read: Democratic) party, the news maps are in effect for four years, instead of the full ten.
After those four years are up, the commission reconvenes and votes on maps yet again. Those maps do not require any votes from the minority (Democratic) party, and they remain in place for the rest of the decade.
This new system didn’t necessarily seem any worse than the old system at first blush, but the ultimate practical effect of this "reform" measure was that the majority party will still be able to implement the maps it prefers for ten years without input or approval from the other side of the aisle.
Plus, Republicans got to claim that they “reformed” redistricting when they did absolutely nothing of the sort.
The 2015 reform did two other notable things:
It established a judicially enforceable provision prohibiting partisan gerrymandering (section 6), and
It prohibited state courts from drawing their own legislative maps if the GOP-dominated commission failed to pass anything that met the anti-gerrymandering standard (section 9).
I can’t help but point out that Democrats inexplicably got behind this BS “reform” measure in 2015, which still gives me indigestion today (and do NOT get me started on how the press bought this crap as legitimate reform hook, line, and sinker, I just don’t have the energy for rage right now).
Anyway, fast forward to last year, when this alleged “reform” was first put to the test.
Those new rules purportedly intended to give the courts more power to block gerrymandered maps just didn’t work out very well at all (… shocking).
By mid-2022, the Ohio state Supreme Court had rejected the maps drawn by the GOP-dominated redistricting commission no fewer than FIVE TIMES.
In fact, the fifth time, the commission didn’t even pretend to take the court’s rejection of its maps seriously – they literally just re-passed the already-rejected third set of maps they’d drawn.
But also the commission knew it didn’t really need to bother drawing new maps for that fifth go-round.
In April 2022, two Trump-appointed judges on a federal three-judge panel said that the third set of maps would be used for the 2022 elections if the commission failed to pass maps deemed legal by the state Supreme Court by May 28 of that year.
Why bother playing if you know you can win by just running out the clock? So Republicans did just that.
Fast forward to this week.
The Ohio redistricting commission met again to pass a new set of maps — and pass them they did.
But this time, the two Democrats on the commission voted with the Republicans to approve them.
This is bad for multiple reasons, but one big one is that it gives the state Supreme Court some cover in terms of signing off on the new districts.
It’s not immediately clear what sort of deal was struck to get the two Democratic commissioners’ votes, but if history is any guide, it likely had to do with protecting some of their own incumbents.
Also, Ohio’s Supreme Court has changed since last year, and not for the better.
In 2022, Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor sided with the court’s three Democrats (it’s 4-3 R, by the by) to reject the gerrymandered legislative maps.
But age limits forced O’Connor to retire, and after Republicans swept the state’s Supreme Court elections last year, the GOP’s 4-3 majority skews further to the right than it did previously.
With O’Connor as the swing vote in the 2022 rulings, the state Supreme Court had held that the proportion of districts likely to be won by each party must reflect the 54-46 advantage that Republicans had in statewide elections over the previous decade.
According to an analysis by Daily Kos Elections, Donald Trump would have carried a 63-36 majority of Ohio’s state House districts and a 24-9 majority of state Senate districts under the maps approved by the commission this week, despite the fact that he won statewide just53-45 in 2020.
Another analysis found that the new maps give Republicans a 61 to 38 advantage in the House and a 23 to 10 advantage in the Senate.
This imbalance technically violates the constitutional changes voters approved in the name of redistricting “reform” in 2015, but it’s not going to matter.
Because of the political cover provided by the commission’s Democrats supporting the new maps and the rightward tilt of the state Supreme Court, we’re not likely to see these maps rejected, and they’ll be in place for the rest of the decade.
It’s deja vu time in North Carolina.
You’d have to be a serious long-time consumer of this missive to recall this, but
once upon a time back in 2016, Republican lawmakers in the Tar Heel State absolutely could not cope with the fact a Democrat had the temerity to win the governorship.
So, with their lame duck session and an outgoing governor full of sour grapes, they came up with all sorts of creative ways to usurp the next governor’s authority.
One of the key ways the Republican-controlled legislature sought to undermine incoming Gov. Roy Cooper was to strip the governorship of its longstanding authority to appoint majorities of his own party to both the statewide and all 100 local election boards.
The state Supreme Court (which had a Democratic majority back then, womp womp) ruled this GOP move unconstitutional AF, and when lawmakers tried to get voters to approve it, they also said nope really, really loudly.
Fast forward seven years.
Now Republicans not only have supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature, they also have a majority on the state Supreme Court.
So, of course they were going to try the above shenanigans again.
And this time, they’re probably going to get their way.
On Wednesday, the legislature gave final passage to a bill that puts its GOP-controlled self in charge of all election board appointments.
The measure also strips the governor of his authority to appoint the majority-making member of election boards – which gives current boards a Democratic majority, and would do so again the next time a Democrat has the AUDACITY to win the governorship.
Now statewide and local election boards will be split evenly between parties, which will almost certainly lead to gridlock, where tied votes would block adoption of pro-voting measures: e.g. allotting more early voting locations in high-population Democratic cities.
But if the GOP-controlled legislature is stacking these boards with appointees of their own choosing, they might also be made up of some “Democrats” with unusually conservative leanings.
Cooper, of course, vetoed this bill on Thursday, but it won’t matter.
After state Rep. Tricia Cotham defected from the Democratic Party last summer, Republicans have supermajorities in both chambers, so they’ll just override the veto.
Voting rights groups will, of course, sue to block the new law, but it won’t matter.
Republicans won a majority on the North Carolina Supreme Court last fall, and they’ve already demonstrated their eagerness to overturn previous Democratic rulings when it politically benefits the GOP.
Yeah seems bad
Okay, I can’t leave y’all like that. So here’s just a touch of positive state-level news.
A few weeks ago in this space, I talked a little about the state Supreme Court race happening this fall in Pennsylvania.
While the results won’t change the partisan control of the court (before Justice Max Baer’s death last year, Democrats had a 5-2 edge, so it’s 4-2 at the moment), allowing Republicans to get within striking distance of a majority is a dangerous thing.
It’s also worth noting that Republicans won the most recent Supreme Court race in the Keystone State (2021).
Democrats only won a majority on the court in back in 2015, and since then, Pennsylvania’s highest court has made a series of super important pro-democracy decisions, from striking down the GOP’s congressional gerrymander in 2018 and providing a crucial backstop to preventing another set of GOP-gerrymandered state legislative maps this decade to smacking down a slew of Trump’s post-election lawsuits in 2020.
Thankfully, at least one progressive group is taking this race super seriously.
Planned Parenthood’s super PAC recently announced that it’s launching a seven-figure ad buy across TV, streaming, and digital opposing GOP candidate Carolyn Carluccio. The new ad (Planned Parenthood had recently run digital spots in the race) calls Carluccio out for deleting her anti-abortion views from her campaign website and for her endorsements from multiple anti-abortion groups.
Also, the Commonwealth Foundation was nice enough include this race in its quarterly poll, and the survey gives Democrat Daniel McCaffery a 42-36 lead over Carluccio.
Thank you, as ever, for hanging in.
Here’s hoping your weekend is super great, whether it involves harvesting or moongazing or whatever.
But, like, watch out for werewolves.
And take care of yourself in all other regards, too.
We need you.