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This Week in Statehouse Action: Nights Indict Satin edition
Inside: How Trump’s indictment relates to state legislatures, Tennessee Statehouse Drama, and more
…never reaching the end
Newsletters I’ve written
Never meaning to send…
Kidding, kidding – I totally meant to send this.
I also, quite intentionally, read The Indictment when it dropped this week, and … well, let’s just say it was quite the spooky walk down memory lane.
In the long-ago time of September 2020, I wrote extensively about the election-stealing shit GOP-controlled state legislatures in key swing states could stir at the behest of Trump and his co-conspirators.
Thankfully, none of said shit specifically came to pass, and even if it had, courts would have likely shut Republicans down.
But the fact remains that GOP leaders in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin actively worked to invalidate any ballots counted after Election Day, even if they’d been properly cast or received by Election Day – a tactic thought to give a heavy advantage to Republicans.
You see, absentee and early vote returns seemed to strongly favor Democrats that year.
Also, absentee and early votes also take longer to count (envelopes and unfolding and verification and such).
And in MI, PA and WI, those ballots can’t be tabulated until after polls open on Election Day.
So cutting off vote-counting at midnight could potentially have disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of Democratic voters.
In the end, ballots were properly counted, and anti-democratic shenanigans mostly fell to Trump and his cabal – although, as The Indictment pointed out, those shenanigans involved attempting to make Vice President Mike Pence remit the selection of presidential electors to certain state legislatures.
The legislatures of key states that Trump lost – Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia – were all fully controlled by Republicans at the time.
And let’s be clear: When Trump and his co-conspirators were talking about “send[ing] it back to the states,” they meant “allow GOP-controlled state legislatures the opportunity to overturn certified election results and impose their own partisan will instead.”
In fairness, it’s not clear that these statehouse Republicans would have agreed to go along with literally invalidating and overturning their own states’ election results.
But GOP lawmakers in many of those states have repeatedly demonstrated that they’re willing to go to great lengths to secure the political outcomes they prefer, so I’m frankly reluctant to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Anyway, enough indictment talk.
Did you know that Thursday was election day in Tennessee?
If not, totally get it – it’s a pretty unusual day to hold an election, given our country’s general Tuesday-centricness.
And Thursday wasn’t just any old Tennessee election day; it’s the day the two Black lawmakers expelled by their GOP colleagues got officially reelected to their House seats.
All this Volunteer State drama started way back at the end of March, so here’s a quick recap for, say, normal people who don’t live and breathe this stuff.
You may recall that, on March 27, a school in Nashville was the site of a school shooting that resulted in the murder of six people.
In the days following the violence, hundreds of teachers, parents, kids, and other concerned citizens flocked to the state capitol to push lawmakers to actually do something to protect children from guns.
The protests were loud (which is, like, the whole point of most protests) and became too raucous for GOP legislative leaders’ taste; Republicans in both chambers removed demonstrators from the galleries.
In the state House, where Republicans enjoy a 75-24 supermajority, three Democratic lawmakers took to the floor themselves three days later – on a Thursday – to protest GOP inaction.
They began chanting “No action, no peace” and brought House proceedings to a temporary halt.
This temporary breach of “House decorum” apparently caused GOP House Speaker Cameron Sexton significant agita; he responded to the interruption by comparing the three representatives to the rioters who attacked the U.S. Capitol in 2021 and declared their actions an “unacceptable” violation of House rules.
By the following Monday, Sexton had revoked these Democrats’ physical access to the capitol building and stripped two of the three of their committee assignments.
Also that Monday, three Republicans each filed resolutions to formally expel these three Democratic lawmakers from the House: Reps. Justin Jones of Nashville, Justin Pearson of Memphis, and Gloria Johnson of Knoxville.
The expulsion votes against the three – two Black men and a white woman – were scheduled for Thursday, exactly a week after the protests that so upset GOP lawmakers.
Essentially, Republicans wanted to eject three Democrats from the offices to which they were elected just last fall for the heinous crime of Being Loud For A Little While.
The GOP-sponsored expulsion resolutions pointed out that the state constitution empowers the House to punish members for “disorderly behavior” and for violating House rules, which include preserving order and decorum, speaking only with recognition, not crowding around the Clerk’s desk, and not using props or displaying political messages.
The expulsion resolutions further contended that Jones, Johnson, and Pearson “did knowingly and intentionally bring disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives through their individual and collective actions.”
LOL “dishonor” wait until you hear about Scotty Campbell (below)
Over the course of five-ish hours, House members debated the expulsions, attacking one Democrat at a time.
Finally, one by one, each of the three expulsion resolutions received a full floor vote.
Rep. Justin Jones of Nashville was up first; House Republicans voted 72-25 to expel him.
Rep. Justin Pearson of Memphis was up last; his expulsion vote was a little closer: 69-26.
Rep. Gloria Johnson survived her expulsion attempt by a single vote.
As I noted above, Jones and Pearson are young Black men. Johnson is a white woman.
So 70-ish Republicans took it upon themselves to usurp the voices of 140,000-ish Tennesseeans (according to the members, each House district in the state comprises about 70,000 people).
But even better than that, House Republicans’ fit of undemocratic pique was completely pointless.
See, when a Tennessee House seat becomes vacant, special elections are scheduled to fill them within 100-107 days; in the interim, local county officials may appoint temporary House representatives.
So House Republicans are already and will continue serving alongside the lawmakers they voted to oust.
By the by, in Tennessee, members can’t be expelled twice for the same offense, so GOP House leadership can’t just up and boot them again.
And while these may have been the most relevant legislative special elections this week, they weren’t the only ones.
Voters in Tennessee House District 3 also went to the polls on Thursday to fill their vacant seat. And HD3 became vacant for an actual good reason, not for some racist bullshit.
But it almost didn’t become vacant at all.
Back at the end of March, an ethics committee found a member of GOP House leadership guilty of sexually harassing at least one legislative intern, likely two.
The ethics committee’s findings are in a memo dated just two days after the school shooting that sparked the gun safety protests – and just over a week before the lawmaker at issue voted to strip three of his fellow lawmakers of their duly elected offices for being loud.
Rep. Scotty Campbell, a Republican caucus vice chair who voted to expel all three Democratic lawmakers in April, faced accusations of making extremely vulgar comments and other inappropriate advances.
A bipartisan ethics committee found him fully liable for the sexual harassment.
But despite the ethics committee’s conclusions, Campbell initially faced no consequences.
The ethics committee – in accordance with the legislature’s lousy sexual harassment policy – quietly place a vaguely worded memo saying that Campbell had violated the policy in his personnel file.
Members of the committee are prohibited from discussing proceedings or outcomes publicly, but according to that sexual harassment policy, the House speaker “shall be” informed of any report finding that one of their members was found in violation.
So Speaker Sexton absolutely knew that a sexual harasser was voting to expel three of his fellow lawmakers.
Sexton didn’t even see fit to remove the 39-year-old East Tennessee lawmaker from his leadership position or strip him of his committee assignments, much less try to expel him or call on him to resign.
For a while, it looked like Tennessee taxpayers would be the only one paying for Campbell’s misdeeds.
Potentially thousands of state dollars were spent to protect one victim, relocating her from the apartment building where she and Campbell both had units, shipping her furniture back home in another part of the state, and putting her up in a hotel for the remainder of her internship.
Three weeks after the release of the ethics committee’s memo, a local news station confronted Campbell with its findings.
Six hours later, he resigned.
If that memo hadn’t somehow ended up in journalists’ hands, it’s possible Campbell would have faced no repercussions whatsoever.
Anyway, the Republican who was appointed to temporarily fill Campbell’s seat handily won the special election to serve out the remainder of his term.
Side note: The excellent folks over at Daily Kos Elections have been, as they do, tracking this cycle’s legislative special elections and comparing them to the presidential win margins in these districts.
And while special elections are, by their very nature, odd ducks that don’t necessarily predict how a party will fare in the next general, the data produced by these comparisons is pretty doggone encouraging for Democrats.
In this cycle’s (2023-2024) contested legislative special elections (i.e. races that pitted a Democrat against a Republican), Dem overperformance relative to 2020 presidential numbers in these districts is more than seven points.
For comparison purposes, Democratic overperformance in legislative special elections in the 2019-2020 cycle was less than 5 points.
Now we can all take a quick pause until the next important election … which is this Tuesday, Aug. 8, in Ohio, to determine if November’s ballot measure to amend the state constitution to protect reproductive rights will have to pass with a simple majority or an arbitrary supermajority of 60% (see last week’s edition for arguably way too much detail on this, or you can check out Dave Weigel’s excellent piece for something a little different).
In September, New Hampshire will hold a special election to replace a member of its 400-seat state House.
This race is noteworthy for two reasons.
If Democrat Hal Rafter wins, the chamber will be tied 199 D/199 R, plus two independents.
Republican nominee Jim Guzofski is giving serious Gordon Klingenschmitt vibes.
… and no, that is FAR from a compliment.
Klingenschmitt was a far-right Colorado lawmaker from back in the mid-2010s who sought to (un)enlighten the masses via his “Dr. Chaps” (cannot make this up) alter ego on his YouTube channel, where he hosts “Pray In Jesus [sic] Name News.” He was also spewing bigoted anti-transgender hate before Republicans mainstreamed it. A man ahead of his time!
Guzofski is, like Klingenschmitt, a Christian extremist. This pastor has a rich history of making statements ranging from crackpot anti-vax theories ("the majority of the people" who come down with COVID "are the ones that took the jab" since they "literally infected you with the virus") to full-blown homophobia (he believes being gay is "against nature" because "you never see two male dogs going at it and having kids") to … well, the nice folks at Daily Kos Elections did us the service of watching Guzofski’s 2021 Halloween sermon so we don’t have to:
No, it's a shade of witchcraft! Is probably what you're seeing. And you don't want to be bold enough to stand up and speak out against it. See, witchcraft is the religion of the fallen humanity. It's rooted in murder. Why do you think they fight so hard to keep abortion? I mean, to a lunatic frenzy! Because they know blood sacrifices to their god Molech.
This man wants to make laws.
If Rafter wins the special election on Sept. 19, Democrats still won’t be in charge of the chamber and won’t have the power to, say, select a new House speaker, but with a narrowly-divided 400-seat body, functional control honestly depends on who shows up to work that day.
Rafter lost this seat in 2022 by just 25 votes, so fingers crossed that this progressive can keep Guzofski’s special brand of bonkers away from state government.
I liked ending things on a positive note last week, so I’mma try that again.
On Aug. 1, Janet Protasiewicz was sworn in as the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s newest justice (she was elected way back in April), officially tipping the partisan balance of the court to a 4-3 progressive majority.
Fun fact! This is the first time progressives have held a majority on the court since 2008.
And literally the next day, voting rights advocates filed a new lawsuit challenging Wisconsin's Republican-drawn legislative district maps.
The suit asks the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take the case directly instead of having it work through lower courts, arguing that the state legislative maps are an unconstitutional gerrymander.
N.B., this lawsuit doesn’t challenge the state’s congressional maps, just the Assembly and Senate ones.
A little background, if you like:
Way back in 2021, the (then) 4-3 conservative-majority court sided with state Republicans in a lawsuit over the legislative maps, ruling that it saw no need to make significant changes to the existing (read: 2011) maps that helped the GOP win artificial majorities in the state legislature and congressional delegation over the past decade.
Fun fact! On those 2011 maps, Democrats won every statewide race and 53% of the statewide legislative vote in 2018 – but they won just 36 of the state’s 99 Assembly seats.
But then in 2022, the Wisconsin Supreme Court surprised pretty much everybody by adopting Democratic Gov, Tony Evers’ proposed legislative maps, which would have likely allowed Dems to make marginal gains.
But then the U.S. Supreme Court surprised absolutely nobody a couple of weeks later when they tossed those maps, and then the Wisconsin Supreme Court decided it was done surprising people and adopted the GOP-drawn maps shortly thereafter.
Anyway, back to 2023.
In her winning campaign for a seat on Wisconsin’s highest court, Protasiewicz spoke openly about her wish to revisit the issue of the state’s legislative maps.
With this new lawsuit, now she’ll get to.
And new, fair legislative maps in Wisconsin would change the nature of politics there in so many ways … well, that’s a whole other newsletter’s worth of stuff.
Contrary to my terrible joke at the beginning of this missive, it seems you have, indeed, reached the end!
It’s always, ah, Lovely To See You.
Thank you, as ever, for hanging in.
And take care of yourself.
We need you.
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