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This Week in Statehouse Action: Luck Be A Lawmaker edition
Wisconsin legislators' bad luck, North Carolina voting rights attacks, some Ohio drama, and more...
I’m not a particularly superstitious person (although I do believe in certain election-related jinxes), so Friday the 13th doesn’t really bug me much.
Some folks dread the day, though, and I respect that.
Plus, I figure the cool thing about blaming bad luck on a particular day is that you know it’ll be behind you tomorrow, and believing that tomorrow will at least be a little better than today isn’t a bad way at all to move through life.
But state lawmakers don’t leave their fortunes to luck – they have a way of making their own, good, bad, or otherwise.
…is what Wisconsin Republicans – Assembly Speaker Robin Vos in particular – must feel like they had their fair share of this week.
As an erudite consumer of this missive, you likely recall that Vos assembled his own little SEEKRIT PANEL of former state Supreme Court justices a few weeks back to tell him that it was okay to impeach the newest justice, progressive Janet Protasiewicz.
Vos refused to disclose who was on his little panel, but one of its three members was revealed to be former conservative Justice David Prosser.
Prosser was possibly a perfect choice to serve on a panel that existed solely to cook up some excuse for legislative Republicans to impeach Protasiewicz before she rules on the legality of their incredibly gerrymandered legislative maps.
Before serving on the Wisconsin Supreme Court from 1998 to 2016, Prosser spent 18 years as a Republican member of the Assembly — and two of those years as Speaker.
During Prosser’s years on the court, there were numerous instances where he failed to recuse himself from cases involving issues he had voted on as a member of the legislature.
Prosser donated $500 to Protasiewicz’s conservative opponent.
Back in 2011, Prosser was investigated after a physical altercation with fellow Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, a progressive on the court (he allegedly tried to throttle her).
Earlier that year, Prosser called fellow Justice Shirley Abrahamson a “total bitch” and threatened to “destroy” her.
So, questionable impartiality plus a history of problems with women justices? Pretty much a perfect recipe as far as Vos was concerned… oops
In an email that became public this week, Prosser recommended that “there should be no effort to impeach Justice Protasiewicz on anything we know now,” as Protasiewicz hasn’t committed any crimes or done any corruption while in office (which, by the by, is less than three months).
Prosser went on to point out that using impeachment to affect the outcome of any particular case (cough cough redistricting cough) “will be viewed as unreasonable partisan politics.”
…not that Wisconsin Republicans have historically been bothered by appearing unreasonably partisan, but I digress.
Prosser’s email to Vos was reportedly sent this past Friday – the same day that Protasiewicz formally declined to recuse herself from the redistricting case and that the Court agreed to hear it.
Oral arguments have been set for Nov. 21, by the by. Happy Thanksgiving!
And as if one former Supreme Court justice failing to do what Vos specifically selected him to wasn’t bad enough, another conservative appointee to his seekrit panel also came out publicly against impeaching Protasiewicz this week.
Justice Jon Wilcox, who served on the court from 1992 until 2007, told AP that he “[does] not favor impeachment,” saying that it should be reserved “for very serious things” and that there was nothing to justify impeaching Protasiewicz.
The other member of the panel, former conservative Justice Patience Roggensack, has refused to make any comments on the matter.
Oh, and now Vos is claiming that his seekrit panel of three former Wisconsin Supreme Court justices was, like, totally not a panel, despite the fact that he announced back in September that he was “asking a panel of former members of the state Supreme Court to review and advise what the criteria are for impeachment and to be able to go to the next step of this process” (listen for yourself, yo – pertinent part of this audio recording starts at 7:26).
So yeah – good luck with that lawsuit, buddy.
Anyway, you’d think that maybe have having his impeachment validation scheme go so far off the rails would maybe give Vos a little pause…LOL nah.
Now Vos is saying that maybe he’ll (and yes, I know it takes a majority of the whole House to impeach an elected official, but Vos is 100% calling the shots here) impeach Protasiewicz after he sees how she rules on the redistricting case.
… which is, like, such an obvious threat of political retribution that it blows up even the slightest sheen of legitimacy Republicans are claiming to justify their attempt at political extortion.
And while I absolutely wouldn’t put it past Vos to straight up impeach a state Supreme Court for handing down a ruling he disagreed with, it’s just as likely he’s talking about “postponing” to avoid any appearance of capitulation to basic democratic principles/rule of law/free and fair election outcomes/whatever.
Also he’s probably planning to appeal a ruling he doesn’t like to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Either way, he’s absolutely playing for time while he figures out some other way to rid himself of this bothersome progressive justice who had the temerity to win an election.
Before we leave Wisconsin for the day, we also need to talk about the GOP majority’s latest policy badness.
Specifically, the state Assembly has jumped on the bullying-transgender-kids train.
On Thursday, Republicans passed bills that ban trans high school and college students from playing on sports teams that correspond with their gender identity and prohibit doctors from performing gender-affirming surgeries on anyone under 18.
The bills now go to the Republican-supermajority Senate, where they’ll pass, and then they’ll go to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who’s already pledged to veto them.
… you didn’t need a tarot reading to predict that the GOP supermajorities in the North Carolina legislature would overturn Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the awful election bill they sent to his desk a couple of weeks back.
As a quick refresher, the new law
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.
Additionally, these boards decide whether to certify election results.
After the last presidential election and the related conspiracy theories that still exist today, it’s far from alarmist to wonder if GOP members of an election board might refuse to certify a close election won by a Democrat.
This tied result would likely be adjudicated by the Republican-majority state Supreme Court that has already supported the GOP’s gerrymanders and voting restrictions, so … yeah, seems bad.
And as if all this weren’t enough, the new law also restricts actual voting.
One provision makes it harder for citizens to successfully vote using same-day voter registration.
Now any ballots cast this way are disqualified if a confirmation card sent by mail cannot be delivered after just one attempt; previously, the post office would try twice.
Another provision eliminates a three-day grace period for returning mail ballots as long as they’re postmarked by Election Day.
Now mail ballots must be returned to election officials by the close of polls on Election Day.
Mail ballots from military voters and other folks overseas will still have a nine-day grace period.
The new law also makes it easier for election officials to reject mail ballots by eliminating the ability of voters to fix problems with (“cure”) ballots that may be missing witness information.
I’m sure you’ll be shocked to learn that Cleta Mitchell – an attorney who was central to Trump’s attempts to overturn 2020’s presidential election results – likely had a big role in drafting this legislation.
Yes, lawsuits over this new law have already been filed, and more are likely to come. But with that GOP majority on the North Carolina Supreme Court and a U.S. Supreme Court majority that’s notoriously hostile to voting rights, don’t get your hopes up.
If you’ve been a reader since, like, January, you may recall that Ohio House Republicans were having some, um, math troubles …? Well, trouble with all sorts of numbers, really.
January was a long time ago, so lemme take a sec to catch you up:
Republicans in the Ohio House came out of last year’s elections with an unsurprisingly solid majority (67 R/32 D), thanks in part to the illegal maps they were running on (which I dug into at length a couple of weeks ago and won’t bore you with now).
Shortly after the elections, far-right Republican Rep. Derek Merrin won his caucus’ vote for speaker, so most considered the matter settled and the actual full House vote to actually elect him to the post at the beginning of the legislative session a mere formality.
Merrin, by the by, was absolutely expected to pull his caucus further to the right through his speakership; he’s backed a number of measures considered by enough of his GOP colleagues to be too extreme to pass, despite the party’s massive majority..
But a sufficient contingent of his fellow Republicans found the prospect of Merrin presiding over the chamber so gross that they rallied behind GOP Rep. Jason Stephens as a less-extreme alternative.
But neither could win without some Democratic votes, so Merrin and Stephens reached across the aisle to try to strike a deal.
Ultimately, all 32 House Dems voted with 22 Republicans to elect the less-extreme Stephens as speaker.
In exchange, Democrats gained more representation on committees and more power over certain committee appointments.
But the drama continued.
Shortly thereafter, 37 of the 43 Republicans who supported Merrin for speaker began calling themselves the “Republican Majority Caucus” and met behind closed doors with Merrin, who’s calling himself “the leader of the House Republicans.”
Traditionally, the Speaker is also head of the majority House caucus, but that’s certainly not required by any law or rule.
And then cash money got involved, so of course the fight escalated.
Speaker Stephens claimed that he’s in charge of Ohio’s House Republicans and of the Ohio House Republican Alliance (OHRA), which is the campaign fund that spends millions electing Ohio House Republicans.
But Rep. Phil Plummer, a Merrin supporter, also claimed that he was in charge of the OHRA. (Merrin, by the by, was still claiming to be the leader of the House GOP caucus.)
Now, these guys weren’t arguing over chump change: Just last year, the OHRA spent $4.5 million on GOP House candidates, to say nothing of the $1.8 million in in-kind contributions.
Stephens has actual control of the OHRA cash, but Merrin and his crew would like to change that.
Now it’s many months later, and Ohio House members are starting to think about their 2024 races – races that cost money, and primaries that might feature challengers backing either the Merrin or the Stephens faction.
As of June, OHRA had $1.1 million in the bank, by the by.
So Merrin filed a lawsuit last Saturday seeking to exert control over all that cash.
The outcome of this suit will effectively decide if OHRA’s funds are used to help or hurt Stephens supporters, who are already apparently attracting challengers for their primaries.
And to make matters even more interesting, the Ohio iteration of the Koch network’s Americans for Prosperity reportedly has already spent $200,000 on mail and digital ads targeting 11 House Republicans who helped elect Stephens as speaker and “thank-you” digital ads lauding eight GOP members who supported Merrin’s speakership bid.
Those primaries are in March, though, and the fight over who controls the Ohio House GOP’s campaign account may be far from settled by then.
A judge has set the trial for October 2024.
… you weren’t expecting any good news after the above.
I really like making sure these newsletters aren’t, like, all badness. After all, politics is generally pretty cyclical, and even a state that had GOP legislative majorities just a year ago can flip and start doing all kinds of good things.
Michigan already has some pretty solid stuff going for it.
Like, say, the fact that it’s third in the nation in terms of percentage of its voting-age population that’s registered to vote (77%!!).
But why be third when you can be first?
Democrats in the state House passed a bill last week that would automatically register any eligible Michiganders who apply for a driver's license to vote (you can opt out, of course).
Folks who apply for Michigan's government-run Medicaid health insurance program or seek to reinstate their driver license upon release from prison would also be automatically registered.
The measure is awaiting hearings in the Senate, but it’s likely to pass there, too.
If you’ve been reading me (or, heaven help you, have actually known me) for any real length of time, you may be wondering why I’m not talking more about Virginia’s incredibly important elections on Nov. 7.
Well, don’t you fret. It’s coming. I promise.
Next week, the final meaningful finance reports of the cycle will have dropped, and I’ll have all kinds of informed opinions about what those portend in the larger scheme of actual data and ground andecdata.
So let me take a quick moment to remind everyone (... okay, and myself) that Virginia’s elections aren’t the only important ones happening this fall.
Take Kentucky, for example (no, please, take it – just leave the bourbon).
The governor’s race there this year will decide whether Republicans win full trifecta control of the state or if Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear will serve another term.
Having a Democratic governor with a GOP-controlled legislature isn’t as useful here as it is, in, say, Wisconsin, since Kentucky is one of those weird states (six in total) where lawmakers can override a gubernatorial veto with a simple majority vote.
But executive authority comes with its own set of powers (see also North Carolina, where those Republican supermajorities are doing everything they can think of to completely defang the governorship), and Beshear hasn’t been shy about using executive orders to push policy (like, say, the one he issued on his third day in office in 2019 that restored the voting rights of folks with felony convictions on their records – about 180,000 people, or 5% of Kentucky’s adult population!)
In Louisiana, we already know that Republicans are guaranteed majorities in both the state House and Senate this fall, but if the GOP wins the governor’s race here (as is generally expected), they’ll have full trifecta control of the state for the first time in eight years.
By the by, voting in Louisiana’s elections starts this Saturday!
Like Louisiana, Republicans in Mississippi are pretty much guaranteed to retain majority control of both the state House and Senate this year, but with a high-profile scandal dogging him, it’s not inconceivable that Republican Tate Reeves could lose reelection to Brandon Presley (yes, relation).
Mississippi presents what could be generously described as a challenging voting rights landscape, so no amount of money or scandal is going to make this an easy race for any Democrat, no matter who he’s related to.
Next week, I promise we’ll be up to our eyeballs in Virginia. Get excited!
Thank you, as ever, for hanging in.
Here’s hoping your weekend is full of good fortune and happy things.
And take care of yourself.
We need you.