Federal Judge Strikes Down Tennessee Law Revoking Driver’s Licenses

Tennessee was one of approximately 40 states with laws under which drivers could lose their licenses if they were too poor to pay court costs or traffic fines. Judge Aleta Trauger struck down Tennessee’s law earlier this week, noting in her ruling:

“The damage that the lack of a driver’s license does to one’s employment prospects is just the beginning. Being unable to drive is the equivalent of a recurring tax or penalty on engaging in the wholly lawful ordinary activities of life—a tax or penalty that someone who committed the same traffic violation, but was able to pay her initial traffic debt, would never be obligated to pay.”

“As a general proposition, the cities, towns, and communities of Tennessee are pervasively structured around the use of motor vehicles. Anyone who doubts that premise is welcome to attempt to run a day’s worth of errands in a rural Tennessee county with no car and very little money… Nashville is a city where motor vehicle travel is, for the vast majority of the population, an essential part of ordinary life, particularly for anyone seeking to maintain or build economic self-sufficiency. All of these facts, together, leave very little room for doubt regarding the plaintiffs’ assertion that an indigent person who loses her driver’s license is only going to be made less likely to be able to meet the ordinary expenses of life, let alone pay hundreds of dollars in traffic debt.”

This ruling could have an impact on voter turnout in the midterm elections, where Tennessee has an open U.S. Senate race and an open governor’s race on the ballot. According to the Secretary of State’s office, “all voters must present a federal or Tennessee state ID,” which includes driver’s licenses. According to the New York Times, more than 100,000 Tennesseeans could get their licenses reinstated. Judge Trauger is also presiding over a separate lawsuit arguing that unpaid traffic fines have cost almost 250,000 Tennessee residents their licenses. The Times article also notes:

According to evidence presented in the Tennessee case, 93.4 percent of workers who reside in the state drive to work.

The state revoked 146,211 driver’s licenses for failure to pay court debts between July 2012 and June 2016. Only about 7 percent of those people were able to get their licenses reinstated in that same period.

Tennessee Democratic legislators had previously introduced bills on this subject.  A state Democratic Party official said, “We believe this is a major positive development because being poor is not a crime, and this is a huge burden lifted from many Tennesseans. Not having a valid photo ID is also a barrier to voting, so this could potentially have a positive impact on voter turnout among this group.”

The ruling could create a voter demographic that neither political party had previously accounted for, which could make the difference in a close race.  For comparison, during the last open Senate race in a mid-term election cycle in 2006, Bob Corker was elected to his first term in office by a margin of almost 50,000 votes.

NARAL Pro-Choice America Endorses Fred Hubbell for Governor of Iowa

NARAL Pro-Choice American president Ilyse Hogue endorsed Democrat Fred Hubbell for next November’s election, calling him “the champion we need in the Iowa Governor’s Mansion.” With Republicans in control of the governor and both chambers of the state legislature, the Hawkeye State has become a flashpoint in the legal and political battle over abortion rights.

Iowa state law currently prohibits abortions after twenty weeks of pregnancy. Incument Republican governor Kim Reynolds, whom Hubbell is hoping to defeat in the election, signed Senate File 359 into law last May. Known as the heartbeat bill because it would ban abortions once a heartbeat has been detected after about six weeks of pregnancy, it is considered one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

According to NPR, critics of the new law say it will prohibit abortions before some women might even know they are pregnant.   Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union both already announced their intentions to sue Governor Reynolds and the state.  The law is scheduled to go into effect on July 1.

A recent court decision does not bode well for the future of the heartbeat law. The Iowa Supreme Court ruled 5-2 last Friday that women had a right to an abortion under the state’s constitution, striking down a 2017 law requiring a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion.   “Autonomy and dominion over one’s body go to the very heart of what it means to be free. At stake in this case is the right to shape, for oneself, without unwarranted governmental intrusion, one’s own identity, destiny, and place in the world,” Iowa Chief Justice Mark Cady wrote in the majority opinion. “Nothing could be more fundamental to the notion of liberty. We therefore hold, under the Iowa Constitution, that implicit in the concept of ordered liberty is the ability to decide whether to continue or terminate a pregnancy.”

“Women deserve equal access to quality, affordable health care, and as governor, I am committed to making that a reality,” Hubbell said.

Terry McAuliffe Headlining Kansas Democratic Party Convention

Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-Va.) will be the keynote speaker at the Kansas Democratic Party’s bi-annual Demofest convention, scheduled to take place in Wichita during the weekend of August 24-26. It has been widely speculated that McAuliffe, a former chairman of the National Governors Association and of the Democratic National Committee, is considering a presidential run in 2020.

Jay Inslee Headlining Florida Democratic Party Gala

Gov. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) has been announced as the keynote speaker for the Florida Democratic Party’s annual Leadership Blue Gala, scheduled for this weekend in Hollywood, Fla.  Also scheduled to speak at the event are House Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) and incumbent senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who is running for re-election this fall.

The event is scheduled one week after Inslee traveled to Iowa to campaign on behalf of Democratic nominee Fred Hubbell, who is running for governor.  As was the case in Iowa last week, Inslee is attending the event in Florida in his capacity as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, although it will also raise eyebrows about his possible 2020 presidential ambitions.

Also scheduled to speak at the event are Democratic state legislators and candidates, including the five candidates running for the party’s nomination in the governor’s race this fall: Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham, Jeff Greene, Chris King and Philip Levine, as well as Marjory Stoneman Douglas teacher Kat Posada. Democrats are trying to win the state’s chief executive position for the first time in 24 years.

Larry Sabato and the Cook Political Report both project the Florida governor’s race as a toss-up. The state’s primary is scheduled for August 28.

Dust Settles in Maine Democratic Primary, Mills and Golden Advance to General Election

Nearly one week after the state’s primary and the first election using the new ranked-choice voting system, Maine Democrats nominated Attorney General Janet Mills as their candidate for governor and state representative Jared Golden as their candidate for the Second Congressional District.

The Maine governor’s race is projected as “Leans Democratic” by Larry Sabato and “Toss Up” by the Cook Political Report. The Second Congressional District is projected as “Leans Republican” by both.

Governors Oppose Trump Administration’s Family Separation Policy

In the past few days, governors from both parties have stated their opposition to President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance policy” which has resulted in the separation of thousands of migrant children from their families at the border. Some governors issued statements, while others like Larry Hogan, Charlie Baker and Roy Cooper took action by recalling their National Guard troops that had been deployed to protect the border.

Here is the list, in alphabetical order by state, as of the night of June 19:

For political context, Hickenlooper (D) and Malloy (D) are term-limited. Baker (R), Hogan (R), Raimondo (D), Scott (R), Sununu (R), and Wolf (D) are running for reelection.  Carney (D), Cooper (D), and Northam (D) are in the middle of their current terms.

 

Democrats Ahead By Double Digits in Pennsylvania Poll

Incumbent Governor Tom Wolf and incumbent Senator Bob Casey are far ahead of their Republican challengers, according to a newly released poll of Pennsylvania voters from Franklin & Marshall College.  Casey, who is running for his third term in the U.S. Senate, leads Republican candidate Lou Bareltta 44-27, with 23 percent of voters still undecided.  Wolf, who is running for reelection as governor of the Keystone State, leads Republican State Sen. Scott Wagner 48-29, with 23 percent of voters still undecided.

The same poll gives President Donald Trump a 35 percent approval rating, compared to 52 percent who say he is doing a poor job. The poll is problematic for Republicans on tax cuts and health care, two of the biggest issues in this election cycle. Only 33 percent of voters said they had seen an increase in household income because of the tax cuts signed into law last year. Only 41 percent of voters said the Trump administration had made “significant changes” to the Affordable Care Act. More ominously, 52 percent of voters said that changes to the Affordable Care Act would make the health care system worse for their family.

Pennsylvania had been considered a potential pickup opportunity for Senate Republicans because of Donald Trump’s upset victory in the state in 2016. However, this poll, as well as the redrawn congressional map by the State Supreme Court, and Conor Lamb’s upset victory in a congressional special election last April, would seem to indicate otherwise.

Larry Sabato and the Cook Political Report list both Pennsylvania races as Likely Democratic.