Democrats Win Two Out of Three Connecticut Special Elections

While most journalists and political junkies had their eyes on Washington for President Trump’s address to Congress, Democrats were having a pretty good night in Connecticut, winning two out of three legislative special elections held that day:

In three special elections Tuesday night, Connecticut voters did nothing to shift the balance of power in the evenly split Senate or closely divided House, despite furious efforts to make one race a referendum on President Trump and another on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Democrat Dorinda Borer easily defeated Republican Edward R. Granfield in the 115th House District of West Haven to succeed Stephen D. Dargan, a Democrat who resigned to accept a post on the Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Borer’s victory only briefly restored Democrats to the 79-72 House majority they won on Nov. 8, since Rep. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford, and Rep. Eric Berthel, R-Watertown, now will resign after winning Senate seats in the 2nd District of greater Hartford and 32nd District outside Waterbury.

With the ability of Democratic Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman to break tie votes in the 18-18 Senate, Connecticut remains one of just a half-dozen states with a Democratic governor and state legislature.

In the 32nd Senate District, Berthel won comfortably over Democrat Greg Cava of Roxbury in a race that Democratic activists worked with some success to nationalize as a referendum on Trump: In the most Republican Senate district in the state, Cava lost by 10 percentage points, which Democrats say is their best showing there in decades.

After losing three Senate seats and eight House seats in November, despite Hillary Clinton’s carrying the state over Trump, Democrats were ready to celebrate the results of the special elections Tuesday as harbingers of better things to come in 2018.

These are the latest in a series of state legislative victories for Democrats since last November’s elections, having won (or defended) seats in special elections in Iowa, Virginia and Delaware. Reaction from Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee Executive Director Jessica Post:

“Congratulations to Rep.-elect Borer and Sen.-elect McCrory on their successes in today’s elections,” said Post. “These talented candidates with strong commitments to public service have brought the list of Democratic electoral victories to five in the scant six weeks Trump has been in the White House. DLCC is thrilled by these latest victories, which are just the latest expression of Democrats’ level of energy and engagement as voters reject Trump’s GOP and fight Republicans’ extreme and bigoted agenda on all fronts.”

Delaware Senate Race Metrics

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee sent out these figures in the aftermath of its victory in the Delaware Senate District 10 race.

  • Donors from all 50 states contributed to the Stephanie Hansen campaign.
  • More than 1,000 volunteers knocked on nearly 90,000 doors and made more than 60,000 phone calls.
  • Hansen, her staff, and her volunteers had more than 21,000 separate conversations with voters.
  • Hansen won 1,000 more votes on a Saturday special election in an off-year than the previous incumbent, Bethany Hall-Long, received in 2014. Hall-Long resigned the seat following her election as lieutenant governor.
  • Legislative Majority PAC – the DLCC’s affiliated super PAC and independent expenditure operation – helped produce more than $500,000 in ads and mail.

Democrats in the Twilight of the Obama Era

Check out this story from the Associated Press looking at the diverging political successes of President Obama and down ballot congressional and state Democrats. This is the dynamic of the past eight years that Democrats are trying to reverse, starting with the election of the next Democratic National Committee chair in February, followed by a series of congressional special elections and state legislative and gubernatorial races later on in 2017.

Democrats Made Gains in Kansas Legislature

The New York Times has an interesting story about Kansas Democrats and moderate Republicans making gains in the state legislature during the last election, in a state which Donald Trump won by 20 points:

It is interesting to see how voters responded to one-party rule in state government in one of the reddest states in the country that has not voted for a Democratic president since 1964. The question Democrats will probably be asking themselves in the weeks and months ahead is what – if anything – can they learn from what happened in Kansas and if they can capitalize on that in future statewide and congressional races.

California Is the New Texas

There are two stories worth reading about the role California might play in the years ahead as an opposition foil to Donald Trump. Democrats control the state – the governor’s mansion, combined with supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature. Essentially, California will – possibly in tandem with other states like New York, Massachusetts and Illinois – assume the role that states like Texas played during the Obama presidency.

First, this story from NPR:

There are several ways the state may challenge Trump and congressional Republicans. It may simply choose not to not enforce some federal laws it disagrees with and enact stronger state laws around environmental and consumer regulations. The state is also likely to aggressively file lawsuits against the federal government.

To that end, Brown’s pick to be California’s next attorney general, Congressman Xavier Becerra will play a high-profile role. Becerra said the state isn’t looking to pick fights but won’t be afraid to go to court either.

“My obligation is to protect my state, to promote the interests of my state,” said Becerra.

It may sound unusual for a liberal state like California to resort to an appeal to states’ rights. For the past eight years, conservative states have argued for their autonomy with respect to the federal government.

But states are opportunistic about their use of states’ rights arguments and tend to employ them when their party doesn’t control Washington, says Carlton Larson, a law professor at the University of California, Davis. Still, Larson says California may want to be careful about how much it uses that argument.

“If we were to push back very, very heavily against federal law, there’s a real danger,” that environmental and civil rights laws that depend on a broad reading of federal law could be endangered, said Larson.

Democrats have already introduced one bill to better train defense attorneys on immigration law and another to fund legal representation for people facing deportation. Both are “urgency measures” meaning they would take effect immediately if they muster a two-thirds vote. The programs are expected to cost millions of dollars.

Second, this Los Angeles Times story about a bill proposed by California legislators – hard to see this as anything other than a direct slap at Donald Trump after his refusal to release his tax returns – requiring presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns as a prerequisite to appear on California’s presidential ballot in 2020, based on a similar proposal circulating in the New York state legislature.

The precedent of presidential candidates releasing their tax returns to the public goes back to George Romney, who released a decade’s worth of returns in his unsuccessful run for the Republican nomination during the 1968 presidential campaign. This practice – not a legal requirement – was observed by candidates from both parties in every election since 1976. Mitt Romney only released two years’ worth of tax returns in the 2012 election, which he was harshly criticized for by Democrats and transparency advocates. Donald Trump didn’t release any of his tax returns, though pages from a 1995 state tax return were eventually leaked to the New York Times by an anonymous source.

These bills would make disclosure of tax returns a binding legal requirement for presidential candidates. Because election laws and ballot access issues are largely left up to the individual states, California and New York may be able to do this legally. The only potential downside is the fact that Donald Trump won the election without California or New York in his column, so hypothetically he might decide to disregard the law and try organizing a write-in campaign for his supporters in those states.

Democratic Governors Want Next DNC Chair to Commit to Investing in State Races

The Democratic Governors Association released an open letter to the candidates running for chairman of the Democratic National Committee listing the five criteria the DGA will use to evaluate candidates. From the letter:

1) Real, measurable commitment to investing resources in winning gubernatorial and state legislative races in 2018 and 2020, years that will decide the fate of redistricting;

2) A commitment to investing in organizing in states with competitive gubernatorial and legislative races — not just in states with competitive presidential or congressional elections;

3) A commitment from the candidate to serving full time as chair;

4) Commitment to provide resources to state parties for organizing and communications staff; to provide technical assistance for redistricting; provide training and support to recruit and support next generation of Democratic leaders;

5) A commitment to working with Democratic governors and other state policy leaders on advancing policies that grow our economy and strengthen the middle class.

The first two points are especially critical for the party’s short and long-term rebuilding plans. First, congressional redistricting is four years away, and in order to redraw more favorable maps, Democrats need to control governorships and state legislatures. (South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison noted at the forum organized by the Ohio Democratic Party last week: “33 out of 50 governorships are controlled by Republicans, 69 out of 99 state houses are controlled by Republicans, but we only obsess about the White House.”) The fact that the Democrats’ 2017-2018 calendar is much better at the state level than at the congressional level gives this even greater urgency.
The second reason is that they need to rebuild their bench in a hurry so that a new post-Obama, post-Clinton generation of leaders can make their way up the ranks. Remember, Barack Obama was in the Illinois state senate for seven years before he was elected to the U.S. Senate, which became his springboard to the presidency four short years later.

Federal Court Orders New Election in 2017 for 28 North Carolina State Districts

There was an interesting development in North Carolina this afternoon that didn’t have anything to do with the recount in the governor’s race. From the Raleigh News & Observer:

A federal court on Tuesday ordered North Carolina to hold a special legislative election next year after 28 state House and Senate districts are redrawn to comply with a gerrymandering ruling.

U.S. District Court judges earlier this year threw out the current legislative district map, ruling that 28 of them were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. They allowed the 2016 election to continue under the old maps, but ordered legislators to draw new districts in 2017.

Tuesday’s order settled the question of whether the new districts would take effect for the regularly scheduled 2018 election cycle, or if a special election would be required.

“While special elections have costs, those costs pale in comparison to the injury caused by allowing citizens to continue to be represented by legislators elected pursuant to a racial gerrymander,” the three-judge panel wrote in the order.

“The court recognizes that special elections typically do not have the same level of voter turnout as regularly scheduled elections, but it appears that a special election here could be held at the same time as many municipal elections, which should increase turnout and reduce costs.”

The order gives legislators a March 15 deadline to draw new district maps. Every legislator whose district is altered will have their current term shortened.

A primary would be held in late August or early September – the legislature is responsible for setting the exact date – with the general election in November, the order says.

This is the latest in a series of court rulings on voting laws and practices in the state, going back to last summer when the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the state’s voter ID law. In its ruling, the court 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.”
This means that there will be three states with statewide legislative races next year (the other two being New Jersey and Virginia, which are also having gubernatorial elections), though in the case of North Carolina it will only be the 28 gerrymandered districts affected by the ruling. According to the News & Observer, Republicans currently have a 74-seat supermajority in the House and a 35-seat supermajority in the Senate.
Here is the response to the ruling from the North Carolina General Assembly, relayed via the North Carolina Republican Party:

The North Carolina Democratic Party’s response:

UPDATE: I received this statement on Wednesday from DLCC executive director Jessica Post and DLCC board member Larry Hall:

“North Carolinians deserve fair representation in their state government, and Republicans’ illegal racial gerrymander made that impossible,” said Post. “We are thrilled for the voters of the Tarheel State that these maps are being redrawn. The GOP’s illegal redistricting was the first in a series of extreme right-wing overreaches that ultimately led to heinous policies like HB2 and the racially-motivated voter disenfranchisement law struck down by the courts earlier this year. The redrawing of the maps and subsequent elections will be the first steps in undoing the damage Republicans have spent the past six years inflicting on the state.

“We look forward to working with North Carolina legislators and leaders, including DLCC Board Member and Democratic House Leader Larry Hall, as this situation continues to evolve on the ground.”