All Work and No Play Makes David a Dull Boy

Hi everybody…

I’ve been working hard on my second book for the past several months. I’m currently holed up in Aspen cranking out the first draft.  I’m hoping to have it finished this month or by early July at the latest, hence the blogging inactivity over here despite the many political developments in Washington DC and throughout the country.  Regular political blogging/reporting will resume shortly, I promise!

Ron Estes Wins Kansas Special Election

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Democratic candidate James Thompson addressed reporters at his campaign’s election watch party shortly after losing the race. Thompson had the best performance of any Democrat in this district since 1996. (Photo credit: David de Sola)

WICHITA, Kan. – State treasurer Ron Estes was elected to the House of Representatives, despite a close race by his opponent, civil rights attorney and political novice James Thompson, who had the best performance of any Democratic candidate in this district in 21 years. In a district where Republicans enjoy a 2-1 party registration advantage that President Donald Trump and Rep. Mike Pompeo won by 27 and 31 points last fall, Thompson lost by just shy of seven points. This marks a 24-point shift in the Democrats’ favor in the same race from last November.

“What’s hard to get my head around is that the last time we elected a Democrat from this district was in 1992. The last time a Democrat candidate broke 40 percent of the vote was 1996, and the guy who ran five months ago got 31 percent more of the vote than the Democrat did. It’s huge momentum,” Kansas House minority leader Jim Ward (D-Wichita) said in an interview.

Though Thompson lost the race, the mood of the candidate and his supporters at the election watch party on Tuesday night was far from defeated. Thompson told reporters that Estes didn’t win the race, attributing the victory to the last-minute interventions of President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and the National Republican Congressional Committee.  Thompson also called Estes “a weak candidate” and declared his candidacy for the same seat for the 2018 midterm elections, adding, “Mr. Estes won the battle, but he didn’t win the war.”

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FILE PHOTO: Kansas Treasurer Ron Estes speaking to supporters at a rally the day before the election. (Photo credit: David de Sola)

During his victory speech, Estes took a shot at the skeptics who thought he was going to lose the race. From the Wichita Eagle’s report:

“We heard a lot from the national media and from people outside the state that we weren’t going to be able to win this race. We showed tonight that we were,” Estes said. “We’re still a Republican seat. … We sent a message across the country that we’re still Republican. That message should echo.

“For far too long, Washington hasn’t worked for us. We need to make sure that changes,” Estes said. “Tonight is a symbol of that.”

He dismissed “angst against the president” and that the election “was a chance for the Democrats.”

“We really showed the pundits tonight, didn’t we?” he asked, to applause and cheers.

Thompson started the night with strong numbers out of Sedgwick County – the most populous of the district’s 17 counties, which includes Wichita – in part because of early voting.  Estes was able to make up an initial deficit of nearly 6,000 votes in Sedgwick County in more rural counties in the district as well as voters who turned out on Election Day.  Thompson wound up winning Sedgwick County by 1,874 votes, but lost every other county in the district.

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Voters at a Wichita area polling place on Election Day. (Photo credit: David de Sola)

Emily Percival, a registered nurse who works at a local hospital in Wichita, said she voted for Thompson because “I tend to care more about social issues than big business. Because of my profession, I frequently deal with the most vulnerable in our population,” and noted Kansas governor Sam Brownback’s recent veto of Medicaid expansion which passed with bipartisan majorities in both chambers of the state legislature.

Susan, a paraeducator and registered Republican, said she voted for Estes in part because of the national attention on the race. “The rest of the nation is looking at this election to see if we are supportive of Donald Trump’s initiatives,” she said, while also noting her pro-life position.  She added that she had some issues with the negativity of Estes’s campaign commercial attacking Thompson on abortion, but noted “There’s never a perfect candidate.”

Mike, a retiree and registered Democrat, said he voted for Thompson because, “I’m not satisfied with the state government, which is run by Republicans. We need a change of everything, from the president on down.”

Greg Gourley, a registered Republican who works in the aerospace industry, said he crossed party lines and voted for Thompson. “Estes would support Brownback. I don’t agree with the policies of the current administration.” He also noted that he had voted for some Democratic candidates in the past, adding, “I tend to vote the issues, not the party.”

Barbara, a retiree, said “[Estes] is the best man for the job. He’s against late-term abortions. He’s a Republican, and I’d like to replace [Mike Pompeo] with another Republican.”

Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman told the Wichita Eagle that turnout could potentially double the expected 20 percent, though final numbers were still not available.

Although Republicans managed to avoid what would have been a shocking upset in this race, now they must focus their attention on the special election in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District scheduled for next week.  President Trump won that district by one point in 2016, and the Cook Political Report recently ranked the race as a toss up.

“The Democratic Party needs to remember there are more than just a few states that are in play. We need to make sure that they step up and help out and not wait until the last minute,” Thompson told reporters. “The national party was concentrating on Georgia. It’s a close race, and they should take that. We’ve shown that it’s possible. People didn’t give us credit here, didn’t think it was possible, but they came in at the last minute and tried to help out and we appreciate it. We need to make sure that we have a true 50-state strategy in place to make all races competitive.”

Though Thompson lost the election, Political Wire publisher Taegan Goddard noted the significance of the result: “A 20-point swing towards Democrats in KS-4 during Trump’s first 100 days — a.k.a. his honeymoon — is a political earthquake.”

According to Burdett Loomis, a political science professor at the University of Kansas, “[A Thompson win] would be a national event, interpreted as huge Trump loss. [A Thompson loss] under 10 point [margin] would be significant,” he wrote in an e-mail, noting this might make both national parties focus more attention on congressional races in the Second and Third Congressional Districts for the 2018 midterms.

One Month Into Trump Presidency, the Democrats’ 2020 Field Is Beginning to Take Shape

I had been meaning to flag this good piece a few days ago from Politico’s Gabriel Debenedetti on the Democrats’ ever-growing list of possible candidates who want to run against Donald Trump in 2020, potentially as many as two dozen senators and governors who are more or less openly pondering their White House ambitions.

A lot of this interest comes from elected officials and operatives who had cleared the field for Hillary Clinton in 2007 and again in 2015 expecting her to win.  If she had been elected last November, that would have meant there wouldn’t be an open Democratic primary until 2024, assuming she had been elected to serve two terms. Her loss – combined with Donald Trump’s turbulent first month in office – means that many are sensing an opportunity that might not have been there even as recently as early January.

It should also be noted that some of these would-be candidates probably have little or no chance of getting the nomination. The question now is whether Democrats will follow the Republican model of running for president, in the sense that long-shot candidates don’t run with the expectation of actually winning, but rather to raise their profile and grow their email and donor lists to do something else: get a TV pundit or book deal, or set themselves up to run for another elected office in the future.  Then again, in the age of Trump, long shots from either party are now probably thinking they do have a chance of winning.

Washington Attorney General Scores Legal Victories Against Federal Government and Florist

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson scored two big legal victories today. The one that got the most attention is his lawsuit regarding President Trump’s travel ban, which has already been ruled in his favor on two separate occasions by four judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Department of Justice filed a 61-page document this morning with this crucial sentence:

Rather than continuing this litigation, the President intends in the near future to rescind the Order and replace it with a new, substantially revised Executive Order to eliminate what the panel erroneously thought were constitutional concerns.
President Trump confirmed this himself during his press conference today, telling reporters, “The new order is going to be very much tailored to what I consider to be a very bad decision.”
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson – who filed the initial lawsuit on behalf of the state, before being joined by his Minnesota counterpart Lori Swanson – said in a statement:
“Let’s be clear:  Today’s court filing by the federal government recognizes the obvious — the President’s current Executive Order violates the Constitution,” Ferguson said. “President Trump could have sought review of this flawed Order in the Supreme Court but declined to face yet another defeat.”
The question that remains now is what will the new executive order look like, and will there be further litigation surrounding that as well.
Ferguson’s other victory today was in the case of State of Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers. (Read the PDF here) At issue was a Richland florist who refused to sell flowers to a gay couple for their wedding because the owner didn’t believe in marriage equality. Ferguson’s office sued the florist arguing that by doing so, it was violating the state’s Consumer Protection Act and the Washington Law Against Discrimination.  The Washington Supreme Court ruled unanimously in the state’s favor. According to state law, businesses are not required to provide a particular service. However, if it does so for heterosexual couples, it must provide that service to same-sex couples.
In the bigger picture, this case provides a potential precedent for future litigation involving state or federal religious freedom bills that allow people to deny services if they conflict with their religious beliefs – for example, opposition to gay marriage.

DNC Race Home Stretch

The four regional forums are done, and in eight days, the 447 voting members of the Democratic National Committee will pick the party’s next chairman (or woman) and senior leaders.

The big drama in the past few days: Tom Perez sent out an email to DNC members saying he had locked up 180 votes – a claim which can’t be independently verified – out of the 224 votes necessary to win the chairmanship. This prompted Keith Ellison to send out his own email to DNC members accusing Ellison – without naming him – of misleading or misrepresenting his lead in the state of the race.  Young Turks reporter Nomiki Konst created a bit of a stir when she tweeted a series of photos showing Perez and Ellison having dinner together at a Dupont Circle restaurant after a candidates’ forum organized by the Woman’s National Democratic Club. Perez and Ellison subsequently tweeted that they were just friends, and in a statement pledged cooperation regardless of who won the chairmanship at the election later this month.

NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald reported that Ellison had offered New Hampshire Democratic Party chairman Ray Buckley “a role leading DNC operations” in exchange for his endorsement in the race. Asked to comment on this report, a source close to Buckley responded, “The Chairman is still in the race and is keeping all options on the table right now. He wants to make sure whatever he does is in the party’s best interests.”

Beyond that, here is the list of all the endorsements that have been announced by the various candidates over the past several days:

Sally Boynton Brown:

Pete Buttigieg:

Keith Ellison:

Jaime Harrison:

Tom Perez:

Former Maryland Governor Endorses Buttigieg for DNC Chair

Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland and Democratic presidential candidate, endorsed South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg to be the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee. O’Malley told Politico:

“I’ve known Pete Buttigieg for many years, he has been a terrific mayor. He’s one of those new, up-and-coming leaders in our country and in our party that’s really bringing forward a new and better way of governing,” O’Malley — who himself briefly considered a run for the chairmanship before bowing out in November — told POLITICO. “He speaks with a clarity that our party really, really needs right now. He has been successful in a so-called red state, he brings to the public service of being mayor the background of having served in our armed forces.”

“He is of a new generation of leadership. Our party sometimes talks about bringing forward a new generation of leadership, well, hey man, there’s never been a better time,” added O’Malley, referring to the 35-year-old veteran of the war in Afghanistan.

Some context and back story here:

  • O’Malley briefly considered running for DNC chairman himself very early on but ultimately chose not to get in the race.
  • Buttigieg rival Tom Perez – a Maryland native – served as O’Malley’s secretary of labor in 2007.  That O’Malley is endorsing Buttigieg and not Perez is seen as a snub in some quarters.
  • O’Malley is endorsing Buttigieg days before the fourth and final DNC regional forum, scheduled to take place in Baltimore – the city where O’Malley was once mayor – this Saturday.

Buttigieg – a Navy reservist and veteran of Afghanistan – also received the endorsement of VoteVets, a progressive veterans’ group:

“Progressives need fresh and bold new leadership, like Mayor Pete, to lead the way to regaining the majority in Congress, and the White House,” said Jon Soltz, Iraq War Veteran and Chairman of VoteVets.  “Veterans like Pete know how to communicate to so many Americans why it is progressive policies that will keep America safe, and prosperous.  Being from the heartland, Pete also knows how to reconnect with huge swaths of the country that Democrats, frankly, have ignored.  He has a record of success in Indiana doing just that – not just on a rhetorical level, but on a technical and strategic level, as a great organizer.  That’s why he’s exactly the right person to lead the progressive movement, as chair.”