Michigan GOP sues to block Proposal 2, arguing the member-selection process violates the party’s associational rights

On August 22, 2019, the Michigan Republican Party filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Western Michigan seeking to block Proposal 2, which transferred the power to draw the state’s congressional and legislative districts from the state legislature to a 13-member independent redistricting commission. Voters approved Proposal 2, with 61 percent voting in favor of the constitutional amendment.
Laura Cox, chairperson of the state Republican Party, said Proposal 2 violated the party’s freedom of association as the amendment prevented parties from selecting their own members to serve on the redistricting commission.
Proposal 2 requires applicants for the redistricting commission to attest under oath regarding their partisan affiliation. However, Proposal 2 does not require the state department to confirm individuals’ partisan affiliation. As of 2019, voters in Michigan do not have an option to declare their partisan affiliation on voter registration forms.
Proposal 2 was designed to allow the legislative leaders from the two major parties to strike up to five applicants each (between the leaders, 20 strikeouts total) from the pool of 60 Republicans, 60 Democrats, and 80 non-affiliated applicants. Thereafter, a random selection from each partisan pool takes place, with four Republicans, four Democrats, and five non-affiliated applicants being selected.
The Michigan GOP’s legal complaint said applicants could self-affiliate with the Republican Party “without any involvement or consent of the applicable political party and without any specific consideration of the applicants’ past or current political activity, expression, or involvement.” The process, according to attorneys Gary Gordon and Charlie Spies, could allow Democrats to self-affiliate as Republicans “in an effort to alter the party’s selection process and weaken its representation on the commission by individuals who genuinely affiliate with MRP.” Stu Sandler, general counsel for the Michigan GOP, said, “In every other system that’s been created like this, political parties or legislative leaders have had the ability to select, or there’s been a strong history of voter registration so that you can tell who’s been a part of the party and who hasn’t.”
As of August 2019, six states have enacted laws for independent redistricting commissions for congressional districts. In Arizona, California, Colorado, and Idaho, registered voters can select to affiliate with a political party on their voter registration forms. Like Michigan, Washington does not have a party-affiliation option on voter registrations. The Washington process involves legislative leaders of the two major parties each selecting a member of the redistricting commission, and the four leader-appointed members appointing a fifth member.
Responding to the Michigan GOP filing the lawsuit, Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) said, “Our position on this matter has not changed. Our office will continue to vigorously defend Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and the legality of the redistricting commission, preserving the will of the people and their right to adopt amendments to Michigan’s Constitution at the polls.”
The Michigan GOP’s lawsuit is the second to be filed against Proposal 2. Another—Daunt v. Benson—argues that Proposal 2 unconstitutionally restricts who can serve on the commission by prohibiting individuals who, during the six years prior, were partisan candidates; partisan elected officials; officers of political parties; paid consultants or employees of candidates, officials, campaigns, or political action committees; state legislative employees; lobbyists; other specified state employees; and the parents and children of aforementioned persons from serving on the commission.

Trump campaigns for Bevin in Kentucky gubernatorial race

Last night, President Donald Trump (R) headlined a fundraiser in Louisville for Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s (R) re-election campaign. He also spoke at the American Veterans convention earlier in the day, where he told an audience, “We’ll get [Bevin and Sen. Mitch McConnell] both back in.”
Bevin, Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear (D), and John Hicks (L) are running in the the state’s gubernatorial general election on November 5. The race will decide the state’s trifecta status until at least the 2020 state legislative elections. If Bevin wins, Republicans will maintain their trifecta control of the state, while a Beshear or Hicks victory would result in neither party having trifecta control.
A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. As of August 2019, there were 22 Republican trifectas, 14 Democratic trifectas, and 14 divided governments where neither party holds trifecta control.

Proponents of 2020 California split-roll property tax initiative start over with revised version

In California, Schools & Communities First announced that it would file a new version of an initiative to require commercial and industrial properties, except those zoned as commercial agriculture, to be taxed based on their market value. Currently, Proposition 13 (1978) requires the taxable value of residential, commercial, and industrial properties to be based on the property’s purchase price, with an annual adjustment equal to the rate of inflation or 2 percent, whichever is lower. The change was estimated to provide $6.5 billion to $10.5 billion in additional revenue. Both the version of the initiative that has already qualified for the 2020 ballot and the refiled version would allocate revenue from the increased commercial and industrial property taxes to local community college and school districts and to local governments.
In 2018, proponents spent $3.5 million to qualify their initiative for the 2020 ballot after initially targeting the 2018 ballot. They filed a new version of the initiative on August 13, however, and announced they would be focusing on a new signature petition drive to put the revised version on the ballot.
Tyler Law, a spokesperson for Schools & Communities First, said that the campaign would not officially withdraw the currently qualified initiative from the ballot until the refiled initiative qualifies. Law also said of the new effort, “The committee’s got the money. We’re going to get it on the ballot.”
What’s different about the new initiative?
  • The qualified initiative would provide an exception from reassessment under the new rules for businesses with property value up to $2 million. The revised version would increase that exception threshold to $3 million.
  • Both versions provide a full property tax exemption for businesses with 50 or fewer full-time equivalent employees. The new initiative would add additional requirements for a business to qualify for the exemption:
    • independently owned and operated;
    • located in California;
    • owned by California residents; and
    • no major statewide influence on its industry.
  • Both initiatives allocate a portion of revenue to a fund for community college and local school districts, with the fund distributed to schools based on state formulas. The new initiative, however, specifies that 11% of the school fund would go to community colleges, and 89% would go to public schools, charter schools, and county education offices. It would also require a minimum of $100 per full-time student (adjusted annually based on revenue) for each community college and school.
  • The currently qualified initiative would go into effect on January 1, 2020. The new version would go into effect on January 1, 2022, and would phase in the reassessment rules over up to three years for property at least 50% occupied by small businesses.
Another difference between the two initiatives is the signature requirement for qualifying them for the ballot. Based on the low turnout of 2014, the currently qualified initiative required 585,407 valid signatures. Proponents spent $3.5 million to collect 855,623 signatures, with 661,306 of them deemed valid. The revised initiative will need to qualify for the ballot according to requirements determined by turnout at the 2018 election. This means they’ll need 997,139 valid signatures, which is the largest initiative signature requirement in California’s history.
Ballotpedia’s aggregation of polling on the initiative that has qualified for the ballot showed support for the measure ranging from 46% to 56%, with an average of 51% and the most recent poll showing 54% approval.
Law said, “For forty years, California’s novel approach to taxing commercial and industrial property has starved funding for schools and local communities, disadvantaged small and startup businesses, and exacerbated our housing crisis.” Explaining the revised initiative effort, he said, “[A] robust statewide signature gathering organization began prior to the 2018 election, but the ultimate submission and qualification process placed the initiative on the 2020 ballot. As a result, we are refiling the initiative to substantively strengthen the measure, including expansive new small business tax relief, and widen the path to victory in November 2020.”
In response to the new initiative, California Business Roundtable President Rob Lapsley said, “This is just another, equally flawed measure aimed at dismantling Proposition 13. Proponents should at least withdraw their existing measure, which they now acknowledge is fatally flawed. However, there are no tweaks or amendments that can be made to this split roll measure that will prevent it from being a major, multi-billion-dollar tax on all Californians in the form of higher prices on everything we buy – from groceries and gasoline to diapers and day care.” Lapsley is the co-chair of Californians to Stop Higher Property Taxes, the committee registered to oppose the qualified initiative.

New Hampshire governor vetoes two public-sector labor bills

On July 10 and July 12, 2019, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) vetoed two public-sector labor bills, SB18 and SB148. Here’s what you need to know about them.
What would the bills do?
  • SB18 would allow public-sector employees to authorize voluntary wage deductions for insurance or employee benefits offered in conjunction with their membership in a recognized union. It would allow employees to withdraw authorization with 30 days written notice.
  • SB148 would require unions to notify new public-sector employees of their right to join or refrain from joining a union. The notification would also include the estimated annual cost of union membership. This bill would also require employers to provide unions with certain personal information about the employees it represents.
Why did Sununu veto the bills?
  • In his veto statement for SB18, Sununu said, “Continuing the payroll deduction for a month after a worker has chosen not to continue union membership falls outside the spirit of the Janus ruling and could potentially expose the state, counties, and municipalities to litigation.”
  • In his veto statement for SB148, Sununu said, “Ensuring that public employees are informed of their options related to union membership is important. However, the other provisions laid out in this bill are items that should be negotiated through the collective bargaining process rather than enacted into law through the legislative process.”
What is the political makeup of New Hampshire’s state government?
Democrats control 58 percent of all House seats and 58 percent of all Senate seats, falling short of the two-thirds majorities required in each chamber to override a veto. Sununu, a Republican, was first elected in 2016 with a margin of victory of 2.3 percent. Sununu was re-elected in 2018 with a margin of victory of 7 percent.
What comes next?
Because they do not hold veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate, Democrats cannot act unilaterally to override Sununu’s vetoes. Lawmakers will not be able to consider a veto override until they reconvene in September.

Cameron and Stumbo compete in Kentucky attorney general election, one of seven Kentucky state executive races this year

Daniel Cameron (R) and Gregory Stumbo (D) are running in the general election on November 5, 2019, for Attorney General of Kentucky. Cameron won the Republican primary election on May 21, while Stumbo ran unopposed in the Democratic primary.
Democrats have held Kentucky’s Attorney General office since 1952, but recent election history suggests that the race could be competitive. Pre-election incumbent Andy Beshear (D) defeated his opponent by a margin of 50.1% to 49.9% in 2015. Beshear is challenging Governor Matt Bevin (R) in Kentucky’s 2019 race for governor, leaving the attorney general election open. In the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump (R) won Kentucky with 62.5 percent of the vote.
Cameron worked as a law clerk to Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, worked at a private firm in Louisville, and was legal counsel to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Stumbo’s experience includes 30 years in the Kentucky General Assembly and four years as the Attorney General of Kentucky from 2004-2008.
Heading into the election, Kentucky is one of 15 states under divided triplex control, meaning that its governor, attorney general, and secretary of state do not belong to the same political party. Either party could gain triplex control in 2019, as the attorney general election is occurring alongside Kentucky’s gubernatorial and secretary of state elections.
Three states are holding attorney general elections in 2019: Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Of those, Democrats hold two seats and Republicans hold one. Kentucky is also holding state executive elections for governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, agriculture commissioner, auditor, and treasurer in 2019.

State legislative special elections in Pennsylvania and South Carolina on Tuesday

On August 20, special general elections are scheduled for District 85 of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and District 19 of the South Carolina House of Representatives.
In Pennsylvania, Jennifer Rager-Kay (D) and David Rowe (R) are facing off for the District 85 seat.
  • Both candidates were selected by their respective political parties through nominating conventions in June.
  • The seat was vacated when Fred Keller (R) resigned on May 24, 2019. He was elected to Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District on May 21. Keller had served in the state House since 2011. He last won re-election in 2018, defeating Rager-Kay in the general election with 67.7% of the vote.
  • Heading into the election, Republicans have a 109-93 majority in the Pennsylvania House with one vacancy. Pennsylvania has a divided government, and no political party holds a state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.
In South Carolina, Carrie Counton (D) and Patrick Haddon (R) are running in the District 19 general election.
  • Haddon defeated a primary opponent in June. Counton ran unopposed in the primary.
  • The seat was vacated after Dwight Loftis (R) was elected to represent District 6 of the South Carolina State Senate. Loftis had served in the state House since 1996. He last won re-election in 2018, defeating Counton in the general election with 61.2% of the vote.
  • Heading into the election, Republicans have a 78-44 majority in the South Carolina House with two vacancies. South Carolina has a Republican state government trifecta.
Special primaries are also being held on Tuesday in District 42 of the Alabama House of Representatives and the Rockingham 9 District in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.
As of August, 72 state legislative special elections have been scheduled or held in 24 states. Between 2011 and 2018, an average of 77 special elections took place each year.

Third-place finisher endorses runner-up in Mississippi’s Republican primary runoff

State Rep. Robert Foster endorsed former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. in the Aug. 27 Republican gubernatorial runoff primary for governor of Mississippi.
Foster finished third in the Aug. 6 primary, winning with 18% of the vote. Waller finished second with 33%. First-place finisher Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves won 49% of the vote.  
Because no candidate received a majority, Reeves and Waller advanced to the Aug. 27 runoff.
At a news conference announcing his endorsement, Foster said, “In the end, we each just have one vote, or we can stay home. But if you don’t want to see Jim Hood win in November, I encourage you to join me in voting for Bill Waller.” 
Reeves and Waller both began airing new ads this week. Reeves’ ad criticized Waller for supporting Medicaid expansion in Mississippi and backing an increase in the state gas tax. Waller’s ad said that while Reeves was focused on attacking him, Waller was focused on proposing solutions to the challenges facing Mississippi.
The most recent campaign finance reports show Reeves with $5 million cash on hand to Waller’s $118,000. The next campaign finance reporting deadline is Aug. 20—one week before the runoff.
The winner of the Aug. 27 primary runoff will face the Democratic nominee, Attorney General Jim Hood, in the Nov. 5 general election. Inside Elections and Sabato’s Crystal Ball rate the general election as “Leans Republican” and Cook Political Report rates the contest as “Likely Republican.” Ronnie Musgrove was the last Democrat elected governor of Mississippi. He defeated Rep. Mike Parker (R) 49.6-48.5% in 1999.

New KY state legislative special election

A new state legislative special election has been added to our list. The special election is for the District 63 seat in the Kentucky House of Representatives on November 5, 2019. The Democratic and Republican parties will nominate the general election candidates.

Want to be Missouri’s redistricting demographer? Here’s what you need to know.

Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway (D) is looking for candidates to fill the state’s position of nonpartisan demographer, which the voter-approved Amendment 1 added to the Missouri Constitution in 2018. The nonpartisan demographer is responsible for drawing state legislative redistricting maps. As of 2019, the position of nonpartisan demographer is unique amongst the states.
Galloway said her office will accept applications between September 5 and December 4, 2019. Amendment 1 requires applicants to be state residents and to not have served in a partisan, elected position during the previous four years. Amendment 1 gives the state auditor the power to determine what other qualifications and expertise an applicant would need to serve as the nonpartisan demographer. So, what minimum qualifications does an individual need to serve as the state’s new nonpartisan demographer? There are two possible routes to meeting the minimum requirements:
(1) A Master’s degree in Demography, Geography, Statistics, Economics, Sociology, Urban Planning, Anthropology, Epidemiology, or Actuarial Science, with coursework in demographic or statistical analysis, and three or more years of experience in modeling, analysis, forecasting and project management, and utilizing geographic information systems, database, and statistical software applications.
(2) A Bachelor’s degree in the same-fields mentioned above and five or more years of experience in the aforementioned areas.
In 2020, the state auditor will select at least three applicants with sufficient experience and qualifications from the pool of submissions and submit the list to the Missouri State Senate’s majority leader and minority leader. If the majority and minority leaders agree on a single candidate, then that person will be selected to serve as the nonpartisan demographer. If the leaders disagree, each will strike one-third of the candidates from the list, and the auditor will conduct a random lottery of the remaining applicants for the job.
The nonpartisan demographer would need to consider the following criteria when drawing maps, in order of priority: (a) equal population; (b) requirements of the U.S. Constitution and federal law; (c) partisan fairness, defined as parties being able to translate their popular support into legislative representation; (d) competitiveness, defined as parties’ representation in the state legislature being similarly responsive to changes in the electorate’s preferences; (e) contiguousness; (f) coincide with boundaries of political subdivisions, such as counties and towns; and (g) compactness. The concepts of partisan fairness and competitiveness are based on formulas found in Amendment 1.
The nonpartisan demographer will file maps with the House and Senate apportionment commissions. Both commissions are composed of half Democrats and half Republicans. To make changes to the demographer’s proposed legislative redistricting map, the plan needs to win the support of 70 percent of the commissioners in the respective commission. If no changes are made or approved, the demographer’s tentative plan becomes final.