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This Week in Statehouse Action: Tricks, Treats, and Things Left Undead edition
Nov. 7 ballot things that aren't Virginia (Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire), plus North Carolina is still being awful
Spookier than any Halloween prank is the fact that the Nov. 7 elections are just over a week away.
(This is the time of year my normal internal monologue is replaced by the green news alien from Futurama screaming DOOOOOOOOOOOM over and over. So that’s fun.)
But knowledge is a pretty solid way to fight fear, and while my own has no rational basis and therefore cannot be alleviated, I can at least channel that terror energy into keeping my dear readers up to date on various statehouse goings-on and stuff that will be on the ballot in some states in [[gulp]] 10 days.
… in this case, I’m referring to the state of Ohio, not the river that forms its southern border. But you get it.
Also, fun fact: “Ohio” comes from the Seneca word meaning “good river”: ohi:yo’.
As an erudite consumer of this missive, you likely recall that a big ol’ ballot measure is going before Ohio voters on Nov. 7.
And you might also recall its fraught journey to the ballot.
Back in July, state officials announced that a pro-abortion rights citizen-initiated constitutional amendment had enough signatures from Ohio voters to go before voters.
This amendment would establish “a fundamental right to reproductive freedom” with “reasonable limits,” and it would incorporate restrictions reflecting the standard under Roe v. Wade, which kicked in around the 24th week of pregnancy and allowed for patient health and safety concerns.
This made Republican legislators and other electeds Big Mad, so they tried to pass their own constitutional amendment via ballot measure in August to rig the outcome of the ballot measure in November.
This measure, which GOP lawmakers placed on an Aug. 8 ballot, determined whether the November abortion rights amendment needs a majority of the statewide vote (normal for winning elections) or an arbitrary supermajority of 60% to pass.
While the proposed raised passage threshold was arbitrary, Republicans were anything but in their attempt to implement this new standard before the Nov. 7 election.
Ohio Republicans aren’t stupid, so they’re no doubt aware that the winning percentages for recent abortion rights votes in the red and purple states of Kansas, Kentucky, and Michigan (yes, it’s purple, not blue, fight me) were between 52% and 59%.
Too bad (for them) their attempt to change the rules mid-cycle failed, and the threshold for passing all ballot measures in Ohio remains the same as winning any other election – a simple majority vote.
And it failed quite respectably: 57%-43%, specifically.
Though stymied in their attempt to rig the outcome requirements for the reproductive rights ballot measure, Ohio Republicans persevered in their nasty quest to undermine its chances of success as thoroughly as possible.
The GOP-controlled Ohio Ballot Board decided to change the ballot measure language from what had been approved by Republican Attorney General Dave Yost and signed by over 700,000 Ohioans to something anti-reproductive rights activists might like a little better.
You can read the previously approved language here (page 13) and the altered language for yourself here (page 19), but the biggest change was that every instance of “fetus,” the medically accurate word for a fetus, was replaced with “unborn child,” a medically inaccurate and politically charged term for fetus.
Reproductive rights advocates then filed a lawsuit with the state Supreme Court challenging the altered language.
But after Republicans swept last fall’s Ohio Supreme Court elections, they have a 4-3 majority, so their odds were never very good.
And unsurprisingly, the Ohio Supreme Court handed down a lousy ruling.
While the court did clean up one misleading descriptor, a majority of the court’s justices deemed that replacing “fetus” with “unborn child” was “imprecise at worst” and allowed the anti-abortion language to remain on the ballot voters will read in November.
But, while anything can happen on Election Day (especially in an odd-year election in a state that’s not used to them), recent polling on the ballot measure to protect abortion rights (Issue 1) in the state constitution suggests it has a solid chance of succeeding.
A Baldwin Wallace University survey conducted from Oct. 9-11 found that 58% of likely voters favored passage of Issue 1.
Another hot race to watch on Nov. 7 is the Supreme Court election 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), allowing Republicans to get within striking distance of a majority is a truly dangerous thing.
Democrats only won a majority on the court in 2015, and since then, Pennsylvania’s highest court has made a series of 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 for this decade to smacking down a slew of Trump’s post-election lawsuits in 2020.
It’s also worth noting that, despite the ostensible 4-2 progressive majority on the court even after Baer’s death, the justices deadlocked on a key election rights case last November, with a 3-3 decision giving Republicans a win by preventing mail-in ballots that lack a date written on the outer envelope from being counted, despite the fact that they were returned on time.
State Superior Court Judge Daniel McCaffery is the Democratic candidate in the race; he faces Republican Carolyn Carluccio, a county court judge. McCaffery is a former prosecutor and is supported by Planned Parenthood and labor unions across the state.
Carluccio has spent most of the campaign fleeing from her own past and beliefs.
Shortly after winning her primary, she removed part of her campaign website that highlighted her anti-abortion stances.
Her campaign site currently makes no mention of abortion, but early this year, Carluccio claimed that she received the endorsement of the PA Pro-Life Federation, a group that stridently opposes reproductive rights.
Carluccio also happens to have the backing of the richest man in Pennsylvania: TikTok investor Jeff Yass, who also gave Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin $2 million recently, despite the fact that Youngkin banned TikTok from state electronic devices.
By the by, iyi, there’s a really great Yass deep dive available for your reading (dis)pleasure here. He’s unshockingly into some lousy stuff.)
Folks have been shelling out for McCaffery, too.
Planned Parenthood has seen Carluccio’s flight from her anti-abortion stance and raised her a seven-figure ad buy for McCaffery, and even the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (emphasis mine) came in with cash.
And despite all that Yass cash, AdImpact reports that McCaffery and his allies have now outspent Carluccio's side $6.8 million to $3.5 million in advertising and future reservations.
Carluccio has also found herself under some … heightened scrutiny. [[shows self out]]
Apparently, when the Philadelphia Inquirer’s editorial board asked her if Joe Biden won the 2020 election, she responded, "I have no idea."
But then she tried to walk it back with this “muddle:” "Yeah, I think he's the president. Obviously, he's our president. I believe he won the election. There are people in my party who don't believe that. I do believe that I'll be very clear about it. And I should have just been more direct in the beginning."
The Inquirer's board also asked Carluccio about all that anti-abortion language she removed from her website.
She claimed that the language had merely been "updated" by one of her consultants.
The board put it best, really: “Bottom line: The antiabortion language was removed before election season.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer, by the by, gave McCaffery a pretty dang full-throated endorsement.
The other big non-Virginia race to watch on Nov. 7 is a little ol’ special election in the New Hampshire House.
…you know, that legislative chamber with 400 seats.
So why would just one special matter?
Because it almost ties up the chamber, that’s why.
It would have totally tied up the chamber (198-198 + 2 independents/other) but for one feckless Democrat who up and left the party in early October (she’s “undeclared” now, how bold).
This put team blue two seats behind, so an (expected) win on Nov. 7 will bring the New Hampshire House to 197 D/198 R.
And while that technical majority leaves the speakership and committees in GOP hands, it doesn’t functionally give Republicans a majority for full floor votes.
With such a tenuous hold on the House majority, Republicans really just can’t afford the chronic absences that tend to plague the chamber (being a New Hampshire representative pays just $100/year, so pretty much all of them who aren’t retirees have full-time jobs).
These frequent absences (which aren’t peculiar to Republicans, to be fair) on top of its unwieldy size make the chamber hard to both control and predict.
So practically speaking, the exact number of seats held by each party doesn’t actually determine the outcome of New Hampshire House votes.
Also, the New Hampshire House’s size makes it especially prone to frequent vacancies. More special elections in 2024 will further affect the balance of power here.
But anyway, back to the seat that’s up on Nov. 7.
It’s a fairly solidly blue seat, so Dems are expected to hold it (but also it’s New Hampshire, that place is wild).
Democrat Paige Beauchemin faces Republican David Narkunas, who’s run for and lost this seat before.
But name recognition carries extra weight in low-information, low-turnout elections, so that could give Narkunas an edge, even though he’s an extremist, anti-immigration right-winger who wants to “undo the damage being done by the left.”
Beauchemin is a registered nurse who’s a strong proponent of reproductive rights.
They don’t have any super sexy elections in November, but we’ve gotta check in on the extremely jacked up world that is North Carolina politics.
Because those nasty maps I talked about last week?
Yeah, they’ve been passed into law.
The congressional map – which now ranks as one of the most extreme partisan gerrymanders in the country – is designed to elect at least 10, probably 11 Republicans and just three, maaaaaaaybe four Democrats.
Remember, the now-previous map elected seven Republicans and seven Democrats just last year.
Which, in a state that can and does elect Democrats statewide, apparently offended the GOP.
If you want to really dig in to exactly how Republicans transformed a fair congressional map into an extreme partisan gerrymander, you should definitely check out Daily Kos Elections’ deep dive here, just great stuff from the inimitable Stephen Wolf.
Those nasty legislative maps were approved, too, and the expert consensus is that they make it extremely difficult but not, like, totally impossible to break the Republican supermajorities in the state House and Senate.
Winning a majority in either chamber, however, is probably completely out of reach for Democrats for the rest of the decade.
… at which point Republicans will re-gerrymander their majorities for another ten years, and so forth, and so on.
Not to belabor the point of crap maps, but it’s worth noting something else crappy they do besides lock in artificially inflated GOP power.
These new maps are the brass ring for Tricia Cotham, who is bad.
Just a few months after winning reelection as a mainstream, pro-reproductive rights Democrat in a safely blue House district, Cotham announced she was switching parties.
Republicans already had a Senate supermajority, and this one turncoat gave them the House supermajority, too.
Cotham’s Iago turn is what allowed the GOP to pass that nasty, government-altering budget I wrote about a couple of weeks back, and literally anything else Republicans needed to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of.
Cotham claimed at the time of her switch that it was the result of Democrats being mean to her or something, but a little digging revealed that this switch was really an extraordinarily clever long game played by the GOP.
Like, for reals, props. A-grade evil.
Cotham had served in the state House as a totally ordinary Democrat for about eight years before bouncing to run for Congress in 2016.
She came in a disappointing third in the primary for NC-12, the district currently represented by Alma Adams.
After her loss, she went on to lobby with a firm with strong GOP ties that advocated for charter schools.
In 2022, Cotham jumped into the Democratic primary for state House District 112, which she won handily, and her victory as a Democrat last November helped stave off a GOP supermajority in that chamber (they’d just won it in the Senate).
But what most folks didn’t realize in 2022 was that the people who encouraged her to return to the state House were powerful Republicans like House Speaker Tim Moore, not her fellow Democrats.
Also, top donors to her primary campaign included GOP-aligned PACs.
In early April, she rewarded the GOP’s support by joining the party’s ranks.
Just a couple of weeks later, the newly GOP-majority state Supreme Court handed down the decision that allowed Republicans to re-draw maps for the state legislature – which was important, because there was no realistic way she could win reelection to her current seat as a Republican.
But Republicans in the legislature just drew her a shiny new district – HD-105, which would have voted for Trump in 2020 50-48.
So, Republican enough that her label doesn’t make her unelectable, but Democratic enough that her past progressive votes as a Democrat also don’t make her unelectable.
Additionally, the new North Carolina congressional maps place Cotham’s base of suburban Mecklenburg County in a safely red open seat.
So Cotham’s big prize might be an easy path to the GOP nomination there, courtesy of her new Republican besties, and ultimately that seat in Congress she wanted so badly in 2016.
We’ll see soon enough.
Thank you, as ever, for hanging in.
And take care of yourself.
We need you.