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This Week in Statehouse Motion: Statehouse of Playing cards version

So I know I keep talking about those eight key chambers that Democrats should be most focused on flipping this fall, why they’re targets, how hard they’ll be to flip, etc., and today I’m going to return to that well for two reasons:

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You might spot some familiar names from past weeks’ discussions of Arizona, Michigan, MinnesotaPennsylvania, and Texas.

Which, if you recall that full list of targeted chambers, leaves just the Tar Heel State for a deeper dive.

Those chambers again (and number of seats Democrats need for a majority in each):

Arizona House (flip two)
Arizona Senate (flip three)
Michigan House (flip four)
Minnesota Senate (flip two)
North Carolina House (flip six)
North Carolina Senate (flip five)
Pennsylvania House (flip nine)
Texas House (flip nine)

And why they’re key redistricting targets:

In Arizona, a state that was solidly red not so long ago but has been trending hard towards Democrats in the past couple of years, Republicans spent the whole last decade trying to destroy the state’s independent redistricting commission (which draws legislative and congressional maps).

To guarantee the GOP can’t try to sabotage the commission again, Democrats need to flip at least one chamber to break the Republican trifecta.
As long as the GOP has complete control of the state, fair redistricting is in real danger.

While voters in Michigan approved their own independent redistricting commission two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court seems more likely than not to strike it down:
In a 2015 case, the justices upheld Arizona’s embattled commission by just a 5-4 vote.
Since then, deciding vote Anthony Kennedy has been replaced by Brett Kavanaugh.
And obviously there’s absolutely, like, no way we can trust Kavanaugh to do the right thing.

Minnesota Democrats already control both the governorship and the House, so if we flip the Senate, Dems will have trifecta control of state government for the first time since 2014.
This would give Democrats complete control of the redistricting process and could allow lawmakers to set up an independent commission for the state. 

Flipping at least one chamber in North Carolina is essential to preventing yet another GOP gerrymander of the state (multiple Republican maps were struck down by the courts over the past decade for discriminating against Black voters and Democrats).
The Democratic governor is generally favored to win reelection here, but it doesn’t matter—the legislature has complete control of legislative and congressional redistricting.

In Pennsylvania, Republicans have clung to legislative power thanks to some truly abysmal maps even as Democrats have managed to win almost every statewide office.
While Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is positioned to veto egregious partisan gerrymanders sent to him by the legislature, flipping a chamber here would give him a redistricting partner, so to speak, which would send him a fair map to approve, to levy against the GOP in negotiations, or to be considered by the Democratic-majority state Supreme Court in litigation.

In Texas, flipping the state House would break the GOP trifecta in the state and give Democrats a say in the redistricting process for the first time since the infamous DeLay-mander of 2003.
And yes, Democrats have a real shot at flipping this chamber for the first time in almost 20 years, thanks to an ongoing rebellion in once-red suburbs against the GOP’s hideous transformation under Trump. 

So, right, yes.

North Carolina (House: 65 R/55 D. Senate: 29 R/21 D).

North Carolina Republicans passed new maps for state House and Senate districts in September 2019 after a state court struck down their 2017 gerrymanders—maps that got locked in place after the plaintiffs abandoned further appeals and ended their lawsuit for reasons unknown and unknowable.

So, these lines are the ones state House and Senate candidates are running in for the first time this year.

My extremely smart Daily Kos Elections colleagues calculated the 2016 presidential results for both maps, and the result was … okay, I guess?
It definitely wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for Dems.

The bottom line is that Democrats acquiesced to GOP-drawn maps that do give Democrats the chance to win more seats this fall, but it’s still going to be challenging for the party to take a majority in either chamber.

… which, frankly, was always going to be the case to some extent.

Let’s take a look at the details.

Under the maps in effect this year, Trump took 72 House seats (out of 120) and 28 Senate districts (out of 50).

Translation: Even though Trump won just 51% of the vote in 2016, he’d still have won 59% of all seats in the legislature on these district lines.

So based on presidential performance in these districts, the current maps make it difficult for Democrats to shake the GOP’s grip on power.
But one way to dig a little deeper into this is to look at Trump’s margin of victory over Clinton in each seat with an eye towards the fact that, if Democrats are going to flip these chambers, they’ll need to win at least a couple of seats in each chamber that backed Trump by double digits.

Not easy, but definitely doable—especially with a strong Democrat like Cooper higher up on the ticket and Trump’s approval rating underwater (52% disapprove/45% approve) in the state.

But! These maps aren’t all bummersville for Democrats.

These lines simultaneously strengthen some Democratic incumbents while weakening some Republicans.

Last year, under the lines drawn up in 2017, Senate Democrats won three seats that had supported Trump, while Republicans carried no Clinton districts.

Under the new Senate map, just one Democrat now holds a Trump seat, while there are two Republicans in Clinton turf.

In the state House, 10 Democrats won Trump seats last year while Republicans once again failed to take any Clinton districts.
Under the 2019 map, there are now eight Democrats defending Trump seats and one Republican in a Clinton district.

Is flipping either chamber of the North Carolina legislature going to be easy?

Nope.

But it’s both absolutely doable and incredibly important.

Fun fact! In 2022, the Tar Heel State will have new legislative maps for the fourth cycle in a row.

But not every state is having state legislative elections this year.

Take Virginia, where instead of campaigning, lawmakers in the Democratic-majority legislature are still slogging through a special session to deal with issues related to police reform and coronavirus-caused holes in the budget.

Progress is actually being made to remedy some serious problems with policing in the commonwealth

On Thursday, the state Senate passed (on a party-line vote) an omnibus police reform bill that will, among other things
Ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants
Outlaw sex between cops and anyone being held in their custody (somehow this is legal wtf)
Make decertification of officers involved in wrongdoing easier
Establish minimum training standards

Sadly, this legislation doesn’t eliminate qualified immunity for police, a doctrine that shields them from liability for misconduct, but it does chip away at it by specifically defining when certain types of force can be used in state code, which will help eliminate uncertainty about whether police actions in question are “justified.”
A measure introduced by Del. Jeff Bourne (a fellow distinguished member of the W&M Law Class of ‘07) that would have more directly eliminated qualified immunity died savagely in a Senate committee this week after eking its way out of the House of Delegates. 

And just in case the special session isn’t enough drama for you, let’s take a look at a particular mockery of justice being made down in Portsmouth, a majority-Black city in the Hampton Roads region, that perfectly highlights the need for real police reform in the commonwealth.

It all started on June 10, when the murder of George Floyd by cops in Minneapolis had begun to spark anti-racism protests nationwide.
Confederate monuments celebrating a culture of racism and white supremacy understandably became a specific target of protesters’ ire.
A prominent Confederate monument in downtown Portsmouth, which residents had debated removing for several years, was covered up by protesters during a peaceful demonstration on June 9.
It was uncovered sometime that night.
When two local NAACP leaders returned the next day to re-cover it, they were arrested.

A short time later that day, state Sen. Louise Lucas, a longtime member of the General Assembly and the Senate’s first Black and first woman president pro tempore, arrived and identified herself to police.
She told them that, based on a conversation she’d had with the city manager, they weren’t to interfere with protesters who wanted to cover the monument with a tarp or with paint.
Police Chief Angela Greene arrived minutes later and disagreed with Lucas.

Many hours after Lucas departed, protests intensified, and the monument was defaced with paint.
The protest reportedly became more volatile, and part of the monument was pulled down, falling on a protester and severely injuring him.
Only at that point did the cops intervene.
Lucas demanded Greene’s resignation the next day.

Fast forward two months and change:
On August 17, the police got around to charging Lucas with two felonies for her supposed role in an alleged “conspiracy” to topple the monument—totally bypassing the local commonwealth’s attorney and normal processes regarding such charges.
And as if the delay and the sneakiness weren’t enough to raise suspicions about the Portsmouth Police’s credibility in the matter, it cannot be a coincidence that the charges against Lucas were announced the day before she was to return to Richmond for the special session on police reform.

Lucas had long advocated for both bringing that monument down and for police and criminal justice reform in Virginia.
The apparent retaliation against her by Portsmouth cops reeks of the very malfeasance she’s been fighting against for years.
A few weeks after Lucas was charged with two felonies, Chief Greene was placed on administrative leave pending an “internal investigation,” the details of which have unhelpfully not been made public.

Stay tuned!

But back to statehouse elections.

Which, as I keep saying, are super important.

And of course redistricting is of vital importance to the future and quality of democracy in the nation.

But it’s more than that.

State legislators pass the laws that most directly affect our lives.

Whatever your issue of choice is—the environment, abortion, healthcare access, criminal justice reform, education, workers’ rights, tort reform, voting rights, gun safety, affordable housing (just to name a few off the top of my head)—state legislatures pass legislation directly impacting it every single year.
And when we think about the grueling recovery to come after four disastrous years of Donald Trump, we should absolutely consider the crucial role state governments will play in this process.

Something that’s sure to make that process more challenging, though, is the likelihood that some QAnon adherents will be elected this fall.

Yup. These people will go to their state capitols and make laws.

It’s not clear how many subscribers to this absurd, racist, totally false, utterly delusional, deeply paranoid conspiracy theory are actually running, but some credible back-of-napkin math by the AP puts that number at about two dozen across a dozen states, including Arizona, Minnesota, Nevada, and Wisconsin.

While a few of these candidates are running long-shot campaigns as third-party or independent candidates, it’s no surprise that most of the folks running who express support for QAnon are Republicans.

Welp! On that scary note …

Seriously, thanks for hanging in on this, the dreaded Week After Labor Day.

I’ve always thought of it as the longest short week of the year, and in the middle of the raging epidemics of COVID-19 and racist cops maiming and murdering people of color, it really seems longer than ever in 2020.

But we carry on.

We look after each other.

We look after ourselves.

Because you’re important, and we need you.

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