Abrams Neither Running for POTUS Nor Sitting it Out

The Story:

In 2018 Stacey Abrams ran for Governor of Georgia, and very nearly won (losing to Brian Kemp, the Republican nominee, by only 50,000 votes.) Since then, Abrams — a black woman and a former tax attorney — has been celebrated by her fellow Democrats on the national stage, and often touted as a plausible candidate for the Presidency. Last week, Abrams responded to speculation on that score.

She Will Not Run for POTUS:

Abrams blames her narrow loss on voter suppression efforts, in which Kemp was involved as Georgia’s former secretary of state. After the election, she created an organization (Fair Fight Action) to press for stronger protection of voter rights in the state.

Last week, Abrams said that she is expanding this organization, and the efforts it represents. She is going to go national as a leader in pushback against voter suppression. As part of her commitment to that goal, she says that she will not run for President. Nor is she ready to endorse any of the candidates for that office.

The Thing to Know:

It does not follow that Abrams will not be on the Democratic Party’s national ticket in 2020. For she has also said that she would “be honored to be considered by any nominee” as a potential vice presidential candidate.

 

Feenstra Opposing King in Iowa Primary

The Story:

Randy Feenstra, a Republican state senator in Iowa, may well prove the beneficiary of outrage generated by the Republican representative for the 4th Congressional District in that state, Steve King.

Background: 

Rep. King is serving his ninth term in the US House of Representatives. He has made outrageous statements before. In January of this year, he said that he didn’t understand why the terms “white nationalist” and “white supremacy” have such negative connotations. The Republican leadership in the House responded by removing him from all his committee posts.

The latest furor concerns statements about rape and incest. King believes (as do many conservatives) that constitutional protection for abortions should be withdrawn, and that state legislatures should criminalize the procedure. At a recent political gathering he was discussing the common opinion that even should the procedure itself be re-criminalized, there should be exceptions for pregnancies generated by rape or incest.

He said, “What if we went back through all the family trees and just pulled out anyone who was a product of rape or incest? Would there be any population of the world left if we did that?” He seemed to be trying to make an argument that since anyone might be a product of rape or incest through some number of great grandparentage, it is wrong to abort on such a basis.

The Thing to Know:

Feenstra, also a conservative and a Republican, is challenging King’s renomination to his Congressional seat, hoping to defeat him in a primary next June. King’s latest remarks are shaping up as an early gift to Feenstra’s campaign.

The Progressive ‘Squad’ : A Test of Unity

The Story:

Frequently lumped together in discussion of a so-called progressive “squad,” four Congresswoman, each elected to the House for the first time in 2018, are diligently moving the politics of the Democratic Party to the left. Though neither of these four is running for President, they are in conjunction influencing the candidates for that post, and drawing the fire of irate tweets from the incumbent.

Four Members:

The four squad members are: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), Ilhan Omar (MN), Ayanna Pressley (MA), Rashida Tlaib (MI).

A conservative commentator on Fox News has called them “the four horsewomen of the apocalypse.”

Yet key policy issues may test their cohesion as a group. One such issue: whether Americans who support a Palestinian State ought to advance that cause by boycotting Israeli-made products, working to exclude Israel’s performers and academics from international events in their fields, and similarly working to isolate that country from the rest of the world.

The Thing to Know:

On July 23, the House of Representatives voted on a proposition to condemn the international boycott-Israel movement. Three of the four Squad members voted against condemnation. But Pressley, the fourth (and the one of the four with the most public policy experience prior to November 2018) voted yes, for condemnation, and so against the practice of boycotting Israel.

 

Why Hasn’t Gillibrand Gotten Traction?

The Story:

Kirsten Gillibrand, the junior Senator from New York, and one of many Democratic Party figures running for nomination to be the next President, has yet to score as high as 2% in the national polls. The lack of a Gillibrand ‘take-off’ has surprised many observers.

Background:

Gillibrand won a special election in 2010 to the New York Senate seat left vacant when Senator Hillary Clinton left that post to become Secretary of State under President Obama. Gillibrand was re-elected to a full term in 2012, then again last year.

By the standards of that institution, then, she might still be considered a newbie. But she was on her way to becoming a star by 2017, when she both co-sponsored a Medicare for All bill and took the lead in urging the resignation of Senator Al Franken (D – MN), in the face of sexual harassment allegations.

This is the context in which her campaign for President has been received: first as promising, then (as it failed to catch fire in the grass roots of the party) as disappointing.

The Thing to Know

A recent Politico profile suggests that Gillibrand has been too cautious for her own good. She “seems to believe that she can’t afford to alienate any one bloc of voters,” writes Tim Alberta, whereas the strategically savvy path might be to willingly alienate some voters within a crowded field, as the price of developing and firing up a passionate base of voters of her own.

Sanders and AOC Propose Limits on Consumer Debt

The Story:

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) have jointly proposed a new federal law that would limit the interest rates that consumer lenders or credit card issuers may charge: setting a cap at 15%. This is in response to what both Sanders and AOC see as a crisis of consumer indebtedness.

Other Provisions

The bill would have considerable bite for the lending industry. At present the average rate on credit cards is above 17%.

Other provisions of the bill would allow the Federal Reserve to make exceptions to the cap, thus permitting borrowing above 15%, but only if necessary to keep institutions afloat, and even then only with the proviso that any such exception lapses after 18 months.

“This is a moral issue,” Sanders said. “Every major religion on earth has condemned usury.”

The Thing to Know: 

Sanders is seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for President. AOC has become very prominent in some circles in that party since her June 2018 defeat of Joe Crowley, a member of the Democratic Party’s House leadership, in the primary for the seat she now holds. For Sanders to propose this bill in tandem with AOC will associate the two, and will perhaps increase Sanders’ credibility with AOC’s admirers.

Rep. Moulton Enters the Presidential Fray

Iraq Vet, Rep. Seth Moulton, Criticizes President Trump's Twitter Threats | Morning Joe | MSNBC

The Story:

On Monday, April 22, Seth Moulton, a member of the House of Representatives for the 6th district, Massachusetts, announced that he is running for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President of the United States.

Background:

Moulton is a former Marine and served in the Iraq War. (He now criticizes that war.)

Moulton has Harvard Master’s degrees in both business and public policy.

One weak point in his resume, though: his effort to establish himself as an entrepreneur was a bust. He co-founded Eastern Healthcare Partners in 2011. This entity was supposed to represent a private sector approach to the treatment of obesity. Moulton and an associate recruited a board of directors and drafted a corporate charter. But EHP never got beyond the incubation stage and, as of three years later, the Boston Globe reported, EHP still had no revenue.

The Thing to Know: 

Moulton was one of a group of Democratic representatives who sought to organize opposition to Nancy Pelosi’s bid to become Speaker of the House, after the Democratic Party’s victory in the 2018 midterm election. That recent episode has earned him some continuing intra-party bitterness.

 

Ryan Running for President: In the Blue Collar Lane

The Story:

Rep. Tim Ryan (D – Ohio), a political moderate, does not have a very high national profile. He hopes to change that, though, and on Thursday, April 4, he announced that he is running for President of the United States.

The Background:

Ryan clearly wants to run as the candidate of some of the same people who became disaffected with the Democratic Party three years ago, and who ended up voting for Donald Trump in industrial states that had key clutches of electoral votes.

Appearing on a morning talk show on the ABC television network, Ryan said Thursday, “I know how to get elected in working-class districts. Trump has been full of promises and hasn’t delivered on anything.” Ryan’s own district is in northeastern Ohio, stretching from Akron to Youngstown.

Ryan, like Trump, is not an enthusiast of free trade agreements, which in his words bear a “legacy of job loss.”

The Thing to Know:

Ryan’s statement that he knows how to win in a blue-collar district is no idle boast. In his last four campaigns to hold his seat in Congress (2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018) Ryan has never received less than 60% of the vote. In 2012 he received 72%.

Partisan Gerrymandering is Back Before the US Supreme Court

The Story:

This year the Supreme Court is taking another look at a perennial issue: partisan gerrymandering. The question is whether the lines of electoral districts as drawn by state legislatures can be found to violate the US constitution even if (a) they abide by the one-person-one-vote principle; (b) they do not give candidates of one race an advantage over candidates of another in any district; but (c) they do give the candidates of one political party a gross advantage over those of another.

Background:

Former Justice Anthony Kennedy, who for years was the swing vote in cases involving gerrymandering, always maintained that there could in principle be a rejiggering of lines so blatant that it would violate the constitutional rights of members of the political party it disadvantages. But Kennedy also maintained that the courts should not step in and interfere with the legislature’s prerogative unless plaintiffs could set out a clear judicially administrable standard of what is permissible or impermissible in this area.

On Tuesday, March 26, attorneys for the parties in two new gerrymandering lawsuits argued their case before the Supreme Court. The arguments followed familiar lines: one side tried to persuade the Justices that they had a straightforward clear-cut test of impermissibility. The other side sought to persuade the court that if they struck down the lines adopted they would find themselves in a pathless and dark political thicket.

The Thing to Know:

The Trump administration has come down on the side of the state legislatures’ prerogatives on this matter, and the US Solicitor General, Paul Clement, was in court speaking on that side of the dispute. When Justice Stephen Breyer suggested a rule to the effect that a map be deemed an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander if one party can win a majority of the statewide vote but nonetheless end up with less than one-third of the available legislative seats, Clement was unhappy.

There is “so much in that that I disagree with,” he said.


Florida: Suffrage Amendment for ex-Cons Still Unsettled

What to know about Florida’s election chaos

The Story:

Last November, the voters in Florida approved an amendment to the state’s constitution that said that “voting rights shall be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation.” It now appears likely, though, that few ex-cons will actually have those rights restored given a wrinkle in the implementation bill under consideration.

Background:

The initiative, approved by 64% of the voters on November 6, was largely the achievement of Desmond Meade, the leader of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. Meade put together the signature drive that gathered enough names to get the franchise restoration bill on the ballot.

The required threshold for an amendment to the Constitution in Florida by way of ballot initiative is 60%, so this bill cleared that bar. Since then, a bill has been introduced that would increase the necessary super-majority to two thirds. But that bill, even if it becomes law, will not have retrospective effect.

Bill Galvano, the President of the Florida Senate, has said that in his view the language approved by the voters was self-executing: there was and is no need for further action by the legislature to make it law.

The Thing to Know:

The legislature is nonetheless proceeding as if the amendment does require implementing legislation. And the bill now under consideration says that felons may not vote until they’ve paid all the restitution, fines, and other fees associated with their sentence. Florida has been very draconian in the imposition of fees on its felons, so that such a bill could reduce the number of people who would actually benefit from the amendment from 1.4 million down to just 300,000 people.

Campaign 2018 Continues, or Resumes, in NC 9th District

The Story:

In November, Mark Harris (R) seemed to have defeated Dan McCready (D) in a razor thin race to represent the 9th Congressional District of North Carolina. In the three months since, that victory has unravelled, and now the Board of Elections, with the concurrence of Harris himself, has called for a new vote.

Background:

The 9th district, in the south central part of the state, is bordered by Charlotte to the west and Elizabethtown to the east.

Harris won the Republican primary there in May 2018 by defeating incumbent Rep. Robert Pittinger, despite Vice President Michael Pence’s visit to the district to help Pittinger’s campaign.

In November, unofficial totals showed Harris led McCready by 905 votes. But there were reasons early on to suspect ballot tampering, and the Board refused to certify the results.

Now, in February, the Board has formally found the result tainted by corruption, and has called for a new election. Harris acknowledges that “public confidence in the 9th district has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted.”

The Thing to Know:

Criminal authorities in North Carolina are considering whether to bring charges against Leslie McCrae Dowless, the principal of a consulting company working for the Harris campaign, who appears to have coordinated tampering with absentee ballots.