Politics

Morning Digest: Blasting GOP’s new map as ‘racially gerrymandered,’ veteran Black congressman quits

The candidate filing deadline is Dec. 17, so Butterfield’s potential successors have just a month to decide what they’ll do. Hours before Spectrum News’ Reuben Jones broke the news of the congressman’s departure, Democratic state Sen. Don Davis told The Insider he would be interested in running for an open seat.

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The campaign of former state Sen. Erica Smith, who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate last year, also says she’s considering ending her second bid for the upper chamber in order to run here. Inside Elections’ also mentions Valeisha Butterfield Jones, the incumbent’s daughter and the co-president of the Recording Academy (the group behind the Grammy Awards), as a possibility.

On the Republican side, the most notable candidate is Butterfield’s 2020 foe, Sandy Smith, who kicked off a bid for a rematch before the congressman decided to depart. Smith, who lost last year’s race 54-46, ended September with $255,000 on-hand, thanks in large part to self-funding.

Smith may not have the primary to herself, though. Former state Sen. Buck Newton, who narrowly lost the 2020 general election for attorney general, expressed interest earlier this month, and others could also take a look here.

Butterfield’s retirement ends a long career in two different branches of the government. The future congressman’s father and namesake, G. K. Butterfield Sr., immigrated to the U.S. from Bermuda and made history in 1953 when his election to the Wilson City Council made him the first Black elected official in eastern North Carolina since Reconstruction. His colleagues responded to Butterfield’s work registering other African American voters by holding an emergency meeting while he was out of town and voted to require city council members be elected citywide instead of by district, a move they correctly calculated would lead to his defeat in 1957.

The younger Butterfield practiced civil rights law for many years, a career decision he said was motivated by the Wilson City Council’s actions, until winning election to a state Superior Court post in 1988. He served in that role until Democratic Gov. Mike Easley named him to the North Carolina Supreme Court in 2001, though he lost a retention election the following year.

Easley soon restored Butterfield to the Superior Court, but he permanently left the bench in 2004 after he saw an unexpected chance to run for Congress in the 1st District. Rep. Frank Ballance, a freshman Democrat, had announced his re-election plans earlier in the cycle, but he reversed course and retired for what he said were health reasons. Butterfield entered the race to succeed him, but the race took another unexpected turn when the incumbent resigned in June. (Ballance pleaded guilty to fraud and money laundering later that year.)

Party leaders designated Butterfield their nominee for the ensuing special election, which took place six weeks after Ballance’s departure—the same day as the Democratic primary for a full term. Butterfield won 71% in both races, and he never had trouble holding his seat for the rest of his career.

Butterfield served as chair of the Congressional Black Caucus from 2015 to 2017 and was a vocal proponent for restoring the Voting Rights Act after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted it in 2013. Indeed, as Insider’s Grace Panetta noted after the news of his retirement broke, Butterfield advocated for policies that would have cracked down on precisely the sort of racial gerrymandering that North Carolina Republicans used to target his district.

Redistricting

CT Redistricting: Connecticut’s bipartisan redistricting commission has unanimously agreed to a new map for the state House and said Thursday that one for the state Senate will be forthcoming soon. The commission faces a Nov. 30 deadline to complete its work but said that it may ask the state Supreme Court for more time to draw a congressional map.

GA Redistricting: A committee in Georgia’s Republican-run state Senate passed the GOP’s new congressional map on a party-line vote on Thursday, and the full chamber will reportedly take it up Friday.

OH Redistricting: Both chambers in Ohio’s Republican-run legislature passed the GOP’s new congressional map on Thursday, sending it to Republican Gov. Mike DeWine. Because the map passed without a three-fifths supermajority—all Democrats and a handful of Republicans opposed it—it will only have legal force for the next two elections rather than the entire decade. However, that may be precisely what Republicans prefer, since it will give them the opportunity to fine-tune their gerrymandering in just four years’ time.

The GOP’s recently adopted legislative gerrymanders are already facing multiple lawsuits pending before the state Supreme Court, and the congressional map is likely to draw litigation of its own. Because the GOP failed to muster a supermajority, a further provision of the Ohio constitution will now take force, one that prohibits lawmakers from adopting a congressional redistricting plan that “unduly favors or disfavors a political party or its incumbents.” But how aggressively the courts, and particularly Ohio’s 4-3 Republican Supreme Court, decide to enforce this mandate is an open question.

OK Redistricting: Oklahoma’s Republican-run House and Senate have each approved revised redistricting plans for their respective chambers to replace maps drawn using population estimates that were enacted earlier this year, before the release of data from the 2020 census. Republicans sought to pass those premature maps so that they wouldn’t miss a late May deadline in the state constitution, after which they would have forfeited control of redistricting to a bipartisan commission with an even number of members from both parties.

Illinois Democrats faced a similar situation and did the same thing: pass an early map relying on estimates (which in many cases turned out to be quite off-base) in order to beat their own constitutional deadline, then circle back later and pass revamps maps based on firm figures. That decision, however, has left them in a complicated legal thicket that prompted a federal court to take over the legislative redistricting process, despite the new maps. It’s not clear, though, whether Oklahoma legislators might encounter the same kinds of issues.

WI Redistricting: As promised, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers vetoed the new congressional and legislative maps passed earlier in the week by Wisconsin’s Republican-run legislature, calling them “gerrymandering 2.0” in a video statement on Thursday. The process of drawing new maps will now most likely be handled by the state’s conservative Supreme Court, which is currently presiding over a lawsuit filed by a conservative group in August.

Democrats and voting rights advocates have also filed a pair of suits of their own in federal court, in the hopes of obtaining a better outcome there. However, the three-judge panel hearing those cases (which were consolidated in September) has stayed those proceedings in order give the state Supreme Court a chance to adjudicate the dispute.

Senate

NH-Sen, NH-01, NH-02: Former Trump official Matt Mowers didn’t rule out the idea of ending his second campaign against Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas in the 1st Congressional District in order to challenge Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, but he doesn’t sound excited about the idea. The Republican told WMUR’s John DiStaso, “There have been people calling and encouraging me to explore running [against Hassan], but I haven’t really seriously considered anything but running for the U.S. House.”

Meanwhile, DiStaso reports that Londonderry Town Manager Kevin Smith (no, not the Clerks guy) is thinking about a Senate bid. Smith ran for governor in 2012 but lost the primary 68-30 to Ovide Lamontagne, whom Hassan defeated weeks later. Finally, brewery owner Jeff Cozzens told the New Hampshire Union Leader that he was continuing his campaign in the 2nd Congressional District against Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster and would not be running against Hassan.

 WA-Sen: Public Policy Polling (D) for the Northwest Progressive Institute: Patty Murray (D-inc): 50, Tiffany Smiley (R): 37 (May: 53-37 Murray)

Governors

OR-Gov: The Oregon Capital Bureau’s Gary Warner reports that independent state Sen. Betsy Johnson, a longtime conservative legislator who left the Democratic Party last month, has $2.3 million on-hand, which gives her by far the largest war chest of all the candidates running in next year’s open seat race. Johnson, who had $525,000 in her account when she launched her statewide campaign in mid-October, went on to raise $2 million over the following month.

Warner writes Johnson’s haul includes several six-figure donations from business groups, including $250,000 from the construction firm ​​The Papé Group. Those huge contributions are possible because, as Warner previously wrote, “anyone or anything can give unlimited money” for state-level campaigns. Unusually, we don’t need to wait for a defined fundraising period to end before we can get finance numbers: Candidates have 30 days to disclose donations during most of the campaign, and newly-provided information is quickly accessible on the secretary of state’s site.

On the Democratic side, former New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof raised $1.2 million since he began his own campaign late last month, and he has $1 million on-hand. State House Speaker Tina Kotek, who launched her own bid just after Labor Day, took in a smaller $440,000 and has $470,000 on-hand. State Treasurer Tobias Read, whose campaign started nearly a month later, raised $660,000 and has $500,000 to spend. Finally, Yamhill County Commissioner Casey Kulla has a mere $1,200 on-hand after raising $55,000.

On the Republican side, the best-funded candidate is someone we hadn’t previously mentioned. GOP consultant Bridget Barton, who launched in July, has raised $380,000 and has $255,000 on-hand. 2016 nominee Bud Pierce brought in $755,000, with around half of that self-funded, and he has a smaller $195,000 in the bank. Sandy Mayor ​​Stan Pulliam, meanwhile, has taken in $525,000 and also has $200,000 to spend.

Businesswoman Jessica Gomez has hauled in $145,000 but reports a negative balance, while Baker City Mayor Kerry McQuisten has raised $60,000 and has $50,000 on-hand. The primary is in May.

House

CA-14: Two Democrats, San Mateo County Board of Supervisors President David Canepa and Burlingame Councilmember Emily Beach, have each announced that they’re running in the June top-two primary for this safely blue San Mateo County-based seat. State Sen. Josh Becker also acknowledged his interest, saying, “I will be talking with people in the next few days.”

The Daily Journal’s Mark Simon also reports that San Mateo Councilmember Diane Papan is also thinking about getting in; her sister, Millbrae Councilmember Gina Papan, previously said she was thinking about launching a campaign of her own.

GA-02: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution mentions state Rep. Mike Cheokas, Dougherty County Republican chair Tracy Taylor, and veteran Chris West as prospective GOP foes against Democratic Rep. Sanford Bishop, who has announced that he’ll be seeking a 16th term next year. Former Navy SEAL Latham Saddler, though, says he’ll continue his Senate bid rather than drop down to the House.

The draft map the GOP legislature released this week makes the 2nd District, which is located in the state’s southwestern corner, more conservative, but it still remains blue turf overall. Joe Biden carried the proposed 2nd District 55-44 according to political analyst Niles Francis, while he took the current version of the seat 56-43.

GA-06: Republican Rich McCormick, who lost a tight 2020 general election to Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux for the current version of the 7th Congressional District, says he’s interested in running for the 6th District now that the GOP legislature has released a draft map that gerrymanders it into a very red constituency.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also writes that state Sen. Brandon Beach is “courting Donald Trump’s support” for a potential congressional campaign of his own, though he doesn’t appear to have publicly expressed interest yet. Last cycle Beach launched a campaign against Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath in the current confines of the 6th, but he dropped out almost a year before Election Day and ran for re-election to the legislature.

Beach, though, seems to have begun auditioning for a Trump endorsement long before now. While one Democrat once told the AJC‘s Bill Torpy that Beach “has been every Democrat’s favorite Republican,” he shed that image by becoming one of the biggest proponents of the Big Lie in Georgia. In January, Beach was one of the three senators who got ​​booted as chair of a key committee by fellow Republicans for leading an effort to overturn last year’s election. One of Beach’s Democratic colleagues, Elena Parent, expressed her surprise at the course of his career, saying, “It’s either a political calculation or opportunism, or he has lost his mind.”

The AJC also name-drops state Rep. Will Wade as another possible GOP candidate.

IN-08: While Republican Rep. Larry Bucshon indicated back in January of 2019 that his sixth term might be his last, this week he went ahead and announced he’d be running for term number seven in the new 8th District. Previous versions of this southern Indiana seat bore the nickname “The Bloody Eighth” because of their habit of ousting incumbents from both parties, but gerrymandering and the area’s turn to the right have made this 65-33 Trump constituency very antiseptic.

MD-06: Republican Del. Neil Parrott has announced that he’ll seek a rematch against Democratic Rep. David Trone “no matter what the map looks like.” Trone defeated Parrott 59-39 last year as Joe Biden was carrying the current version of the 6th District 61-38.

MT-01: Democratic state Rep. Laurie Bishop announced Wednesday that she was ending her congressional campaign in order to run for re-election.

NC-14: Local Republican Party official Michele Woodhouse, who chairs the GOP in the current 11th Congressional District, has announced a bid for the new 14th District.

Woodhouse, who is related by marriage to the notorious former state party executive director Dallas Woodhouse, doesn’t appear to have run for office before, but she could benefit from her connections in this western North Carolina constituency. According to calculations from Daily Kos Elections, 93% of the population in the new 14th District lives in the existing 11th District.

NH-01, NH-Gov: While there has been speculation all year that a Republican congressional gerrymander could motivate Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas to run for governor, the congressman came close to announcing a re-election bid this week. “I have always been committed to the work I am doing on behalf of the people of the 1st District, and I hope to have their confidence moving forward,” said Pappas.

Attorneys General

ID-AG: Former Rep. Raúl Labrador, who spent his four terms in the House as one of the most prominent tea party bomb throwers before losing his 2018 primary for governor of Idaho, announced Wednesday that he would try to resurrect his electoral career by unseating five-term Attorney General Lawrence Wasden in the May Republican primary. Wasden, who is the longest serving attorney general in state history, has not yet said if he’ll seek re-election, but the Associated Press writes that he lists his campaign as active with the secretary of state’s office.

While Labrador, as we’ll discuss, has a well-deserved reputation for not playing well with others, he kicked off his new campaign by arguing he’d “be a true partner with conservative lawmakers in the Legislature as they work to draft and write good laws that will stand up against the gamesmanship of activist judges.” That’s a not-so-subtle reference to Wasden’s many battles with a legislature that’s dominated by hard-liners from his party.

Most notably, Wasden refused to join 17 other GOP attorneys general in trying to overturn Joe Biden’s victory by arguing that he shouldn’t be getting involved in other state’s elections, but that’s far from the only time he’s alienated lawmakers. The AP’s Keith Ridler wrote in April that Wasden has called some of their legislation unconstitutional, and that he also infuriated them by “defending state-owned land and a constitutional mandate to maximize the state’s profits from logging, grazing and mining leases on that land to benefit schoolchildren.”    

Things came to a head this spring when the state House overwhelmingly passed two bills that would have, in Ridler’s words, “significantly defund[ed]” Wasden’s office. They each died in the state Senate, but Labrador is betting that the hard-right is still furious with their attorney general.

Labrador has been a high-profile national figure ever since 2010, when the then-state representative won the GOP primary for the 1st Congressional District by defeating Iraq War veteran Vaughn Ward, who was one of Sarah Palin’s favorite candidates at the height of her influence. Labrador went on to ride the GOP wave to victory by unseating freshman Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick, and he quickly established himself in D.C. as one of the biggest headaches for the GOP leadership.

Robert Draper would write in his book “​​Do Not Ask What Good We Do” that the new congressman told Speaker John Boehner that he “didn’t come to Washington to be part of a team,” something he proved in 2013 when he voted against returning Boehner to the speaker’s chair. Labrador would later say, “I led the effort to oust Speaker Boehner from his leadership post. At that time, we had sufficient votes to be successful, but at the last minute, several members changed their votes to support Boehner.”

Labrador that same year considered picking another fight at home by challenging Gov. Butch Otter for renomination. The congressman ultimately decided to stay put, though he endorsed Russ Fulcher’s near successful campaign against Otter (Fulcher would eventually succeed Labrador in the House in 2018). Labrador still tried to exert influence in local politics at home only to chair a chaotic 2014 state party convention that broke into infighting; according to The Spokesman-Review‘s Betsy Russell, Labrador “ended the convention facing jeers and walkouts from his own party members.”

Labrador was at the center of another fiasco in D.C. a few months later when he launched a long-shot campaign to succeed Eric Cantor, who had just lost his primary in Virginia, as majority leader. There was never much of a question, though, that California’s Kevin McCarthy would win, especially since Labrador lacked even the basic contact info for his colleagues. The following year the Idahoan gave Boehner some crucial support in his bid to keep the top job in the House, though he later torched him as “the worst speaker of the House in history.” Labrador in 2015 also co-founded the nihilistic House Freedom Caucus.

Labrador, who generated more headlines in 2017 when he argued, “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care,” decided to bail on D.C. by running to succeed the retiring Otter as governor. Labrador had a large geographic base as a congressman representing half the state, but he was badly outspent by his two main intra-party foes, Lt. Gov. Brad Little and physician and developer Tommy Ahlquist. Little edged out Labrador 37-33, but the defeated congressman soon rebounded by narrowly winning a 2019 race for state GOP chair.

Labrador stepped down from his party perch the next year, but he’s hardly been out of the spotlight. Labrador, just like so many of his ideological brethren, spent the pandemic questioning the effectiveness of masks, and he got a bigger perch this winter when he was appointed to the Central District Health Board.

Mayors

Atlanta, GA Mayor: City Councilman Andre Dickens on Thursday picked up the endorsement of Andrew Young, a civil rights legend who, among many other things in his long career, served as mayor from 1982 to 1990. Dickens faces City Council President Felicia Moore in the Nov. 30 nonpartisan runoff.




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