North Carolina’s gerrymandered election map is officially thrown out

First up today, a three-judge panel in North Carolina has officially rejected the gerrymandered congressional map developed by Republicans in 2016.

The judges have demanded that this map be redrawn for the 2020 primary. Incidentally, that primary is on March 3rd, which is Super Tuesday, which is REAL DARN SOON. The judges also said if the map isn’t redrawn, they will order that the primary be postponed.

Now, this all comes on the heels of the Supreme Court opting to stay out of this state-by-state gerrymandering issue. Well, now at the state level this particular map is not gonna fly. Reading from an article in New York Magazine’s Intelligencer by Ed Kilgore:

“The bottom line is that the big victory Republicans thought they’d won last summer when [the Supreme Court] refused to do anything about North Carolina’s (and Maryland’s) partisan gerrymandering was Pyrrhic. State courts around the country now have two models (this one and Pennsylvania’s in 2018) for using equality protections frequently appearing in state constitutions to stop partisan gerrymandering. And precisely because [the Supreme Court] has pushed federal courts out of the whole business of dealing with this problem, some eager would-be gerrymanderers must now deal with possible state-constitutional limitations just before the next decennial round of redistricting begins in 2021.”

And here’s a bit from an article in The New York Times by Michael Wines:

“...[T]he state panel said the map violated broader provisions in North Carolina’s Constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech and assembly and equal protection under the law, as well as a guarantee of free elections that does not appear in the federal Constitution.
The ruling in the end came down to very different decisions in federal and state courts on whether blatant gerrymandering to benefit a political party is permissible.
“North Carolina Republicans tried to beat democracy with their gerrymandered maps, and the U.S. Supreme Court would have let them get away with it,” Stanton Jones, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said on Monday. “The state court’s decision today ensures that North Carolinians will finally get to vote in free and fair congressional elections.””

So what happens next? There are a few options. This could be appealed to the State Supreme Court, or Republicans could use an existing bipartisan process to redraw the map now. Given how imminent the primary is, it’s unclear which path makes more sense. If the map is redrawn, it might substantially change who represents the state in Congress. Right now, 10 of the 13 districts in the state are essentially locked in to Republican control, in part due to gerrymandering. But the state itself, as a whole, is closer to 50/50 in terms of a Republican and Democratic split. So, this is a big story to watch as we get closer to actual primary voting.

What’s a PAC versus a Super PAC

Next up, an explainer on PACs versus Super PACs. I’ve been using these terms interchangeably, but they are not, and I want to pass along the differences there so you will understand these things for the different beasts that they are. And thanks to listener Richard for pointing this out.

First up, PAC stands for Political Action Committee. Today we’ll talk about regular PACs and Super PACs. Reading from the definition of a regular PAC from Ballotpedia:

“The general definition is a group that spends money on elections but is not run by a party or individual candidate. However, PACs can donate money to parties or candidates they support.”

So PACs come in a variety of flavors, but the key point is they are corporations that take in money, then spend that money on political things, including donating it directly to candidates. Regular PACs are subject to a variety of income and spending limits, like how much individuals can donate to it and how much the PAC itself can itself donate to a given candidate or party. Your typical PAC is limited to taking $5,000 dollars from an individual in a given election.

Oddly enough, a Super PAC is not actually a Political Action Committee. It is technically an Independent Expenditure-Only Committee, though we say Super PAC because there are similarities there, and it sounds way cooler. The key distinction between a regular PAC and a Super PAC is the limits on how their income and spending are governed. Reading again from Ballotpedia:

“[Super] PACs can accept unlimited contributions and spend an unlimited amount supporting or opposing federal election candidates, but they cannot directly donate to federal candidates or parties.”

Okay, so a Super PAC can’t directly give your money to a candidate, AND there are FEC rules around coordination between a campaign and a group like a Super PAC. The intent there is that a campaign can’t just say, “Hey, Super PAC, why don’t you go buy a zillion ads on this specific issue for our candidate.” That would be coordination. That would be against the law. But if your campaign publicly announces, gee, our campaign is really worried about this specific issue, and then the Super PAC just happens to start running ads on that issue, well…that’s really not enforced very strictly.

So when Biden says he’s open to a Super PAC, that would be an independent entity created by people who are not him and are not his campaign. And they wouldn’t give your money TO HIM, but they would effectively spend money on things that his campaign wouldn’t have to. Like, you know, big TV ads. So THAT is why a Super PAC is handy for a candidate.

Also, in a weird twist, a candidate CANNOT STOP a Super PAC from springing up and doing this stuff on their behalf. So you can have an anti-Super PAC candidate benefiting from Super PACs that they don’t even like or want.

Okay, lots of links in the show notes to related articles, including a Washington Post story from 2015 about how this worked in that primary season.

The Trump Impeachment Stuff in three minutes or less

And now, a new segment limited to three minutes or less. A quick update on the Trump impeachment inquiry, and other election-related stuff in the world of the sitting president. Also, I hope you enjoy this REVISED mellow music. Let’s get you up to speed.

Yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would in fact hold a floor vote in the House to authorize the impeachment proceeding and lay out various procedural details. The vote will happen this Thursday. This comes after a judge said last week it was actually not necessary, but that didn’t stop critics from saying the proceeding was illegitimate until a vote occurred. In a statement, Pelosi wrote:

“We are taking this step to eliminate any doubt as to whether the Trump administration may withhold documents, prevent witness testimony, disregard duly authorized subpoenas, or continue obstructing the House of Representatives. Nobody is above the law. Best regards, Nancy.”

This move has three clear purposes. First, it addresses complaints from high-profile Republicans like Lindsey Graham that such a vote was necessary. Second, it puts House lawmakers on the record as to whether they support the proceedings or not. Third, it is expected to establish some ground rules on the process which should help clarify how it will work. That last part may have some interesting ramifications—like rules about which parts of testimony will be public versus private—but we don’t the details yet.

And today, the biggest news is that Lieutenant Colonel Alexander S. Vindman testified in the House this morning. He is the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council and is a decorated veteran of the Iraq war. He offered a first-hand account of the phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky, confirming the report by the anonymous whistleblower. In his opening statement, Vindman said:

"I was concerned by the call. I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine. I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained. This would all undermine U.S. national security."

And last up in this segment, you may recall that yesterday, Charles Kupperman, who had served under former National Security Adviser John Bolton, didn’t show up for his scheduled testimony in the House. A few more specifics of his legal challenge have come out. Long story short, he claims to be caught between a gag order from the White House saying he can’t testify, and a subpoena from Congress saying that he must. That issue is what his legal filing is about, and that complaint has now been assigned to a judge, though no hearing has been scheduled yet. For the record, Congress doesn’t seem to agree, so there may still be a contempt of Congress proceeding at some point. End of segment.

Another Republican Congressman announces his retirement

Here’s a quick item. Representative Greg Walden of Oregon, my home state, has announced he will retire from Congress, not running again in 2020. Walden’s retirement is notable because he’s on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and would be able to remain there for another two years without term limits, but he is calling it quits at age 62.

In a statement, Walden suggested he was confident he could win again, but decided to step away from public service, having been at this since 1998. Seems fair to me.

According to a count made by Politico, Walden is the 19th House Republican to announce that he will not seek reelection in 2020.

Bullock releases his LGBTQ rights plan

Yesterday, Montana Governor Steve Bullock released his plan to improve legal rights for LGBTQ Americans. Reading from the introduction:

“Every American deserves a fair shot at success. But for LGBTQ Americans, our work did not end with marriage equality. As President, Steve will continue the fight for equal rights and opportunity for LGBTQ Americans. As Governor, Steve signed a landmark executive order that provided significant protections to LGBTQ workers in Montana and was the first governor of Montana to officiate a same sex wedding ceremony.”

There’s a big photo at the top of the policy showing that wedding, and then the policy details begin. The plan starts by suggesting Bullock would pass existing legislation. For instance, Bullock says he would pass the Equality Act, which, QUOTE, “would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.” END QUOTE. He also suggests passing the LGBTQ Data Inclusion Act and the Census Equality Act, both of which are laws aimed at making sure we properly represent the number of LGBTQ Americans in this country. Now, of course, he would have to get these bills through the House and Senate, but still, that’s the starting point.

His plan would also reverse a Trump executive order that allows healthcare providers to deny services to LGBTQ Americans. Further, Bullock would allow transgender service members to serve openly in the US military. And he would create gender-neutral passports. Those are items a President could do without legislation, simply by executive order or directing agencies to adopt new policies. He also says he would direct the TSA to better handle their screening of LGBTQ travelers, which would involve, at the very least, a bunch of training. He would also ban conversion therapy, though admits that this has to happen at the state level and his role as President would be limited.

There are no cost figures or payment proposals listed. Having said that, some of the legislation he supports would itself need cost estimates first in order to actually estimate the overall cost of the plan.

Sessions may run again for Senate in Alabama

And last up today, in the rumors-that-are-probably-true department, Politico reports that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions is strongly considering a run for Senate in Alabama. In fact, he would be looking to take back his old seat, which he had to leave in order to serve as Attorney General for Trump, before being kicked out that job.

Reading from the story by James Arkin, Burgess Everett, and Jake Sherman:

“Sessions would scramble the already crowded field of Republicans seeking to take on Democratic Sen[ator] Doug Jones, who won a 2017 special election to fill the remainder of Sessions' term and is widely viewed as the most vulnerable senator on the ballot next year.
Sessions served in the Senate for two decades before being tapped by President Donald Trump to lead the Justice Department. The two had a bitter, public falling out over Sessions' decision to recuse himself from the DOJ's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Sessions, [age] 72, must decide within days whether to run: Candidates have until Nov[ember] 8[th] to qualify for the ballot.”

So, this is pretty interesting—that Senate race is gonna be a doozy no matter who runs. But that primary field already includes a bunch of notable Alabama Republicans. And it’s quite possible that President Trump would be, shall we say, less than supportive of his former Attorney General, Reading again from Politico:

“A Sessions comeback would face steep hurdles — chiefly, assuming he hasn't had a change of heart, the president. Trump castigated Sessions throughout most of his tenure, and a reprise of his Twitter assaults could quickly make a primary campaign untenable.
“There isn’t anyone who has fallen more out of favor with President Trump than Jeff Sessions. Whatever goodwill that might still exist for him among Alabama Republicans would evaporate after sustained Trump tweets," said one Republican steeped in the race who is unaffiliated with a candidate.”

Still, Sessions may persist in his run. After all, he’s got plenty of money in his old campaign account, and, you know, he’s very well-known in Alabama. He’s won this seat before, and I think he could win it again. I’ll keep you posted if he files by that November 8th deadline.

Well, that is it for one more episode of the Election Ride Home. I have been your host, Chris Higgins. You can always find me on Twitter @chrishiggins. Well, autumn is turning to winter with alarming rapidity out here in Portland. After the show I have to go turn off all the water taps outside so they don’t freeze and blow up, or whatever it is that happens when things freeze here. Portland is a strange place in that regard. We don’t know to handle snow, we’re not real sure what winter is, ice is a pure mystery, nobody carries umbrellas because that’s somehow uncool even though it’s always raining, and we persist in believing that summers are never hot and therefore air conditioning is unnecessary despite repeated evidence to the contrary. I can tell ya right now, there WILL be snow at some point during this podcast, and you WILL get to hear what it’s like when a stir-crazy Portlander has been cooped up for like a week because everything has closed and nobody knows how to drive and we’ve been eating canned beans for days. So stay tuned for that, if nothing else. As always, thanks for listening, and I will talk to y’all tomorrow.