Nebraska Group Claims It Has Enough Signatures for Medicaid Expansion

Nebraska voters will decide whether or not to expand Medicaid in the state, after the organization behind the effort claimed it had enough signatures to put the question on the November ballot.

Insure the Good Life announced it had collected more than 135,000 signatures in its efforts, far more than the 84,268 required by today’s deadline.  In order to qualify, the group had to collect signatures from a minimum of 7 percent of the state’s more than 1.2 million registered voters. Those signatures were turned over to the office of  Secretary of State John Gale this afternoon, but verification could take as long as 50 days, according to an announcement sent out from Gale’s office.

If the initiative qualifies for the ballot and voters approve it, the state’s Medicaid plan would be expand eligibility to cover “certain adults” between the ages of 19 and 64 whose incomes are 138 percent below the federal poverty level. According to the Associated Press, Medicaid expansion would provide health care to an estimated 90,000 Nebraskans who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to qualify for financial assistance under the Affordable Care Act.

Maine voters approved Medicaid expansion during the 2017 election, becoming the first state to do so. A similar initiative is pending for the November election ballot in Idaho and another has already been certified and will appear on the ballot in Utah.

Supreme Court Politics and the 2018 Election Map

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision to retire four months before the election is the best thing that could have happened to Republicans, conventional wisdom says.  It is difficult to disagree with that logic, but it is also necessary to keep in mind the counterargument – which is that enthusiasm cuts both ways. (To be fair, the more adequate word for Democrats still reeling from the announcement isn’t enthusiasm, but fear.)

Historically, Republican voters have been more motivated to go to the polls because of the issue of judicial nominations than Democrats.  Exit polls from the 2016 election confirm this view. According to CNN, 56 percent of Trump voters said Supreme Court appointments were the most important factor in their decision. Evidence strongly suggests that filling Supreme Court vacancies was a big reason for Donald Trump’s win. Though the stakes for filling any court vacancy are always high, they aren’t as high or urgent from the Republican perspective this time around. Why? Two years ago, the presidency was up for grabs and, with it, the next two or more court vacancies, including the seat held by Scalia which could have altered the court’s majority if Hillary Clinton had won.  Now, Donald Trump is in the middle of his first term, with a Republican-controlled Senate. It may gin up enthusiasm among some Republican voters, but it doesn’t have the same existential sense of urgency that Democrats are now feeling.

“Misery motivates, not utopia,” Karl Marx once wrote. That principle, combined with lingering anger over the Senate Republican blockade of Merrick Garland and the recent string of losses in Supreme Court decisions during the week leading up to the Kennedy retirement, strongly suggest that Democratic candidates and their allies aren’t going to treat this Supreme Court vacancy like any other opening in the past.

State Democratic parties and candidates are fundraising off the Kennedy retirement, some on the specific message of running as a defender of abortion rights. Others have spoken more generally about the urgency of electing Democratic governors and legislators to have as a check on any sweeping future rulings from the Supreme Court on issues like abortion, voting rights, gun control, campaign finance, or redistricting. However, the initial messaging from Democrats and various interest groups on the actual Supreme Court vacancy itself is all over the map, depending on who you ask.  Their options to block a nominee are nonexistent after Senate Republicans abolished the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees for the Neil Gorsuch vote. Their only chance at blocking a nominee is the slim chance that minority leader Charles Schumer can hold all 49 Democrats and is somehow able to get two Republicans to join them in voting against.

Just as there will be enormous pressure on a handful of red state Democrats who are running for reelection this cycle (specifically Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin and Joe Donnelly, who voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch last year), there will also be enormous pressure on Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who are the only pro-choice Republicans in their party’s Senate caucus. Collins and Murkowski have the benefit of not running for reelection in this hyperpartisan political environment, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be feeling pressure. As Republican pro-choice women in the Senate who have a vote in judicial nominations, do they want their legacies to be defined by potentially casting the deciding vote to seat a Supreme Court justice who might one day vote to overturn Roe v. Wade?

It is also necessary to look beyond Murkowski and Collins for potential pressure points. Even though they aren’t on the ballot this year, the governors of Alaska and Maine are, as is Maine’s independent senator Angus King, who caucuses with the Democrats. Voters in both states won’t be able to vote against Murkowski or Collins in this cycle, so they may opt to flex their political muscles by voting for (or against) the candidates who are on the ballot in November.

While Senate Democrats have a terrible electoral map to defend this year, when it comes to governors and state legislatures, the map becomes almost the inverse, meaning that they will have ample pickup opportunities in down ballot races.  Democrats have shown more interest and energy in down ballot state legislative races in the first eighteen months of the Trump presidency, and have already demonstrated some success in special elections – the DLCC has flipped 44 Republican-held seats to the Democrats, in addition to a Wisconsin state supreme court seat, a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama, and stunning off-year results up and down the ballot in Virginia. If Democrats can harness this anxiety about the court and turn it into votes in November, that could drive them to some surprise victories.

Democrats might not be able to stop Donald Trump’s next Supreme Court nominee, but they can put themselves in a better political position for the second half of his term: retaking the House or Senate will give them subpoena power and the ability to launch investigations, as well as control of nominations to the upper chamber; control of governor’s mansions, state offices and state legislatures will give them control of state voting rights as well as drawing the congressional maps for the next round of redistricting after 2020.

As painful as losing cases at the Supreme Court will be, the Democrats’ best hope for now is that they can use the court as an issue to play the long game: rebuild their bench in state and federal offices, gain congressional majorities, and eventually win the presidency.

 

Voter ID Constitutional Amendment Qualifies for North Carolina Ballot

North Carolina voters will decide next fall whether voter ID requirement should be part of the state constitution.  The Republican-controlled state Senate approved the measure, which would bring back photo ID requirements that were part of a 2013 state election law that was later struck down by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2016. The ruling concluded, “the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision,” and called it, “the most restrictive voting law North Carolina has seen since the era of Jim Crow.” Amendments do not require the approval of the governor, in this case Democrat Roy Cooper.

Governor Cooper released a statement earlier this month saying, “Here they go again. After being stopped by the Courts for discriminating against African Americans with ‘surgical precision,’ this Republican legislature is once again reducing access to the ballot box. We should be making it easier for people to vote, not harder.”

In a statement, Let America Vote president Jason Kander said, “North Carolinians who believe in a free and fair democracy now must stand up and fight to defeat this amendment so that this un-democratic policy is not enshrined in the state constitution. Let America Vote stands with voting-rights champions to make sure that political consequences exist for politicians who suppress the vote.”

According to North Carolina Republican Party executive director Dallas Woodhouse, the State Executive Committee will meet in Charlotte on August 4 to formally endorse the amendments that will appear on the ballot, and work to ensure their passage. Because the amendments were passed by a Republican-controlled legislature, they would presumably help drive Republican turnout in the 2018 election with no governor or U.S. Senate race on the ballot this cycle. Voter ID will be one of six constitutional amendments on the North Carolina ballot this November. Only two states currently have voter ID requirements in their constitutions.