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This Week in Statehouse Action: State Unfair edition
A thing about me: I freaking love state fairs.
Mostly it’s a pleasant association with playing hooky from school so I could join my dad while he took his FFA students to learn how to judge livestock at Virginia’s fair each fall when I was a kid.
Also I loved the rides (though as an adult I’m way more skeptical of things that go at any rate of speed that are routinely dis- and re-assembled) and the candy apples and funnel cakes, but mostly it was the specialness of it all – all those sights and sounds and smells and experiences in one place just one time each year.
As many other state fairs have already come and gone, Virginia’s fairly late fair has yet to commence – it kicks off the very last full weekend of September.
Two years ago, it was lousy with “Farmers for Youngkin” signs, rendered in a John Deere-esque green and yellow. Last year, the John Birch Society had a table in the exhibition hall. Both felt deeply gross to me – the JBS for obvious reasons and the FFY signs because I’m reasonably certain the only kind of farm Glenn Youngkin’s ever set foot on outside of a photo op involved fancy horseback riding.
But even when they’re disgusting, state fairs – like state legislatures – have a special place in my heart.
… some more, ah, special than others.
Imagine a ride that seems like maybe it could be scary fun at first but then ends up being just awful and you can’t get off of it because the ride operator went to take a leak and died in the port-a-potty.
That’s Wisconsin politics right now.
As an erudite consumer of this missive, you’ve likely already had your fill of the GOP legislature v. Justice Protasiewicz saga, but Republicans are a long way from taking an L (or a W) on this whole situation, so there’s lots more to write about this week (and there probably will be next, too, apologies in advance).
To catch up newcomers and/or to refresh your recollection:
Republicans in Wisconsin’s legislature are pulling out all the stops to prevent the new progressive majority on the state’s highest court from ruling on crucial cases – especially redistricting (also reproductive rights, but the GOP’s main focus is holding on to the party’s ill-gotten legislative gains).
Even before Janet Protasiewicz got sworn in at the beginning of August (giving progressives their first majority on the court in 15 years), statehouse Republicans began rolling out their strategy to prevent the 4-3 progressive court majority from doing anything they didn’t like.
How? By impeaching the state’s newest progressive justice, that’s how.
N.B.: Protasiewicz has never ever promised to rule one way or another on redistricting or any other issues. She merely made her stances known to voters, which is what one does in an election.
And this is how GOP impeachment strategy will work:
Republicans have both the majority required in the Assembly to impeach a justice, and they also have the supermajority required in the state Senate to find her guilty of whatever offense they concoct.
But legislative Republicans don’t even have to bother finding Protasiewicz guilty; simply impeaching her is enough to turn the 4-3 progressive majority on the state Supreme Court into a 3-3 tie.
According to the state constitution, “No judicial officer shall exercise his office, after he shall have been impeached, until his acquittal.”
So the Wisconsin Assembly could impeach Protasiewicz, effectively removing her from the court, and the Senate could drag its feet pretty much as long as it wants before actually holding the impeachment trial.
Bonus: If Protasiewicz isn’t actually removed from office, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers can’t replace her.
Theoretically, an impeached Protasiewicz could resign after being capriciously impeached, and Evers can then appoint a progressive replacement, but that would literally allow GOP lawmakers to effectively undo a free and fair election that happened just this past April for the simple reason that they don’t like the way the winner might rule on redistricting.
So this brings us to this week, when Republicans seemed to want to find a way to prevent a 4-3 progressive Wisconsin Supreme Court from throwing out it’s blatantly gerrymandered legislative maps by somewhat less nakedly partisan power-grabby means.
But, obviously, not really.
On Tuesday, Republican legislative leaders released a trial balloon, of sorts, when they proposed a way to redraw current state Assembly and Senate maps in a purportedly “nonpartisan” manner.
Redrawing the maps would have the added effect of obviating the two lawsuits challenging the current, super-gerrymandered maps (can’t sue over maps that don’t exist any more, yeah?).
Needless to say, Wisconsin Republicans have opposed meaningful nonpartisan redistricting proposals since time out of mind. So what’s the deal here?
The deal is that the Wisconsin GOP’s redistricting plan is modeled on Iowa’s, which is to say that it’s not actually nonpartisan.
To spare you the slog through the doc linked above, here’s what it would do:
A five-member commission (two GOP appointees, two Democratic appointees, and then a fifth selected by those four) draws an ostensibly nonpartisan set of maps.
Those maps go to the legislature, which must approve or reject them as they are.
If they’re rejected, the commission submits a new set of maps.
The legislature must then vote on whether to accept or reject this new batch.
If these are rejected, the commission gets a third chance to draw new maps.
These will go to the legislature, where they can be amended just like any normal piece of legislation.
Which, obviously, they will, and then the Republican majority will go ahead and pass whatever maps they wanted in the first place (if their little hand-picked commissioners don’t give them a map they like on the first or second go-round).
Evers clearly understands that the GOP’s “nonpartisan” redistricting proposal is a load of crap, and he’s already said he’ll veto the bill establishing the commission and the scheme if it comes to his desk – which it’s not super clear it would; this was all Speaker Robin Vos and his cohorts in the state Assembly, and Senate Republicans have been pretty quiet about the proposal.
If this proposal accomplishes anything, it suggests that Vos might have some concerns about the political toll a nakedly partisan impeachment attempt on Protasiewicz would have on his party.
Speaking of nakedly partisan election stuff, the GOP-controlled Wisconsin Senate voted on Thursday to oust the state’s top election official for no reason.
Oh wait, I’m sorry – they do have a reason. It’s just a garbage one.
Essentially, GOP leadership in the state used Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) Meagan Wolfe as a convenient scapegoat for Trump’s failure to win the state in 2020. Argle bargle fraud and all that.
The road to her potential removal has been long and complicated, but the upshot is that the Senate voted along party lines to remove Wolfe as WEC administrator.
But, thanks to a ruling by the then-conservative majority state Supreme Court that benefitted Republicans, Wolfe may not be going anywhere.
That ruling allowed a Republican-appointed official to remain in his position after his term had expired because the Senate refused to confirm Evers’ replacement.
This whole situation is going straight to litigation, so stay tuned!
Anyway, back to the Protasiewicz saga.
On Wednesday, Assembly Speaker Vos (who’s kind of the Big Bad in this whole thing, so you’ll be hearing his name a lot as it drags on) announced he was convening a SEEKRIT PANEL to “investigate the criteria” for impeaching Protasiewicz.
The bullshit panel Vos is assembling will consist of three former Wisconsin Supreme Court justices.
But Vos doesn’t want us to know who they are.
The Speaker to Vos told AP this week he won’t disclose who’s actually on this panel until after their “work” (lol) is done.
Also, Vos claims they’re not being paid, and he says their “work” will be completed in the “next few weeks.”
But since the panel is made up of former state Supreme Court justices who are still kicking, the list is pretty small (there are only eight, and six of those are conservatives), and AP started asking around.
And former Justice David Prosser spilled the tea about his inclusion in this farce.
Here’s what to know about Prosser:
He served on the Supreme Court from 1998 to 2016.
Before that, he 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.
Even better, Prosser gave $500 to the conservative candidate who lost to Protasiewicz back in April.
So, yes, all a bit sus, but it’s important to note the character of this person Vos selected to concoct some grounds for impeaching Protasiewicz.
Back in 2011, Prosser was investigated after a physical altercation with fellow Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, a progressive on the court.
The alleged fight was over the court’s upcoming ruling on an incredibly high-profile new law that dismantled collective bargaining by public sector unions (I know y’all remember Act 10, yeah?), and Prosser allegedly tried to throttle Bradley by the neck.
Earlier that year, Prosser called fellow Justice Shirley Abrahamson a “total bitch” and threatened to “destroy” her.
Prosser actually confirmed making the remarks, saying he “probably overreacted,” and then proceeded to blame his outburst on Abramson.
So Vos selected a clear partisan who has a documented problem with women in power to help him remove a woman from power.
One of the other SEEKRIT PANEL members is probably recently retired conservative Justice Patience Roggensack, but she wasn’t as forthcoming as her colleague, so we can’t be 100% sure.
Sure hope she doesn’t end up disagreeing with Prosser over something, someone get that woman a protective detail
And finally, it’s worth noting that Justice Protasiewicz has just recused herself from a Supreme Court case – one calling for the Court to block GOP attempts to impeach her.
A former progressive state Supreme Court candidate filed the suit and claims that Protasiewicz’s impeachment would violate the state constitution and nullify the vote of over a million Wisconsinites (1,021,370, specifically).
So… fun week? But don’t expect the ride to end any time soon.
So Ohio Republicans are up to their gerrymandering tricks again, and now they want to extend those antics to the State Board of Education.
Currently, the Board of Education consists of 19 members, with 11 nonpartisan elected members and eight members appointed by the governor (and subject to Senate approval).
The districts for those elected board members are created every 10 years specifically for State Board elections, and each of those districts is made up of three contiguous state Senate districts.
(Which are already pretty gerrymandered, obvs.)
But that’s not good enough for Republican Rep. Sarah Fowler Arthur, apparently.
She’s introduced HB 235, which not only takes those appointed members and nonpartisan elected members and makes them all partisan elected offices.
Just as importantly, her proposal also reduces the number of Board members from 19 to 15 … which just happens to be the number of congressional districts Ohio has.
And of course, the new Board of Education districts will be based on those 15 congressional districts which are – all together now – extremely gerrymandered in favor of the GOP.
GERRYMANDER ALL THE THINGS
Look, I’m no expert on tax policy, but when a Republican state Senate leader is telling his Republican governor and Republican house Speaker that maybe they shouldn’t eliminate the income tax and blow a $4 billion hole in the state budget, he could be on to something.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, demonstrating a remarkably goldfish-esque memory of neighboring Kansas’ ill-fated dalliance with extreme tax cuts back in the 2010s, is calling a special session designed to start the process of gradually eliminating the state income tax.
Republican House Speaker Charles McCall is all about it, ‘bout it, even though it seems like he should be experienced enough to know better – he’s been in the state House since 2012.
Republican Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, however, is markedly less enthused.
Treat’s even gone so far as to publicly question (gasp!) the overall wisdom of eliminating Oklahoma’s income tax, since it would eliminate lots and lots of money from the state budget.
"Are we going to close schools? Are we going to tax oil and gas and businesses more? These are all questions the governor needs to answer directly to Oklahomans instead of just sending out an ambiguous special session call,” Treat said this week.
Whos’ gonna tell him that closing schools is totally what his fellow Republicans want
The fireworks – er, special session – kicks off Oct. 3, so stay tuned!
So I dunno if you heard, but the Pennsylvania House is tied again.
With a full complement of members, the Keystone State’s lower chamber has been barely controlled by Democrats since last fall’s elections, 102 D/101 R.
But then a Democrat resigned to seek another office, so it’s been 101-101 since late July.
On Sept. 19, that will change.
Democrat Lindsay Powell is running against Republican Erin Connolly Autenreith to fill the seat of former Rep. Sara Innamorato.
HD-21 includes a little bit of Pittsburgh and some of its suburbs, and it’s fairly Democratic (Innamorato won it 64%-35%), so this should be an easy hold for Dems … but with chamber control at stake, you just never know what’s going to happen, and taking a crucial win like this for granted would be a super epic error for team blue.
Here’s the good thing!
This week, Gov. Roy “Coop! There It Is” Cooper appointed Court of Appeals Judge Allison Riggs to replace Justice Mike Morgan, who resigned to run for governor.
At 42, Riggs is the youngest woman to serve on the Tar Heel State’s highest court.
Also, she immediately confirmed that she’s going to run for a full eight-year term with the seat is up next year, which will give her a little incumbency going into the election.
Party on party people let me hear some noise
Thank you, as ever, for hanging in (hanging on?).
Here’s hoping your weekend is super great, whether it involves unhealthy snack foods and thrill rides or not.
And take care of yourself.
We need you.