Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest

Posted by Anthony Dimond on January 31, 2017

Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest

LEADING OFF

WI Redistricting: Late in 2016, a federal district court struck down Wisconsin’s Republican-drawn state Assembly map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. On Friday, the court followed up that decision by ordering the legislature to craft new districts for the 2018 elections by Nov. 1. Of course, those same lawmakers were responsible for creating the very maps that were struck down in the first place, so it remains to be seen how the court will treat any remedial plans that legislators come up with, but this latest ruling represents progress in a case that’s crucial for redistricting reform.
Wisconsin is one of the most gerrymandered states in the country: Democrats won the statewide popular vote for the Assembly in 2012, but the GOP’s maps helped them maintain their majority. New maps could upend that. But even more importantly, this ruling might also have much broader implications, because a likely appeal to the Supreme Court could set the stage for a national precedent constraining partisan gerrymandering.
An earlier Supreme Court ruling called Vieth v. Jubelirer previously held that partisan gerrymandering could be unconstitutional. But in that case, Justice Anthony Kennedy, as the deciding vote, refused to strike down the particular map in question for lack of a manageable standard to determine when impermissible partisan gerrymandering takes place.
The plaintiffs in Wisconsin, however, have sought to overcome that problem by proposing one such standard called the “efficiency gap” that would examine how many votes get “wasted” in each election. Under this test, if one party routinely wins landslide victories in a few seats while the other party wins much more modest yet secure margins in the vast majority of districts, it could signify a gerrymander that has gone so far as to infringe upon the rights of voters to free speech and equal protection.
While the federal district court did not rely solely on the plaintiffs’ “efficiency gap” in reaching its decision, the opinion appears to have been precisely designed with Kennedy’s Vieth ruling in mind. Should plaintiffs ultimately succeed in persuading the Supreme Court’s perennial swing justice to finally set forth a standard to judge when partisan gerrymandering crosses the line, courts could begin striking down redistricting plans across the nation and at all levels. Republicans have gerrymandered 55 percent of congressional districts and most state legislatures nationwide, so such a decision could have extremely far-reaching consequences.

GUBERNATORIAL

MI-Gov: The upcoming 2018 GOP primary has looked like a duel between Attorney General Bill Schuette, who was a prominent Trump supporter during the presidential campaign, and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who is an ally of termed-out Gov. Rick Snyder. However, physician Jim Hines (not to be confused with Connecticut Democratic Rep. Jim Himes) is the only notable Republican who has actually kicked off a campaign so far.
Hines starts out with almost no name-recognition, though he claims he’s willing to send “millions” of his own money to his campaign. State Sen. Patrick Colbeck, who is close to tea partiers, also is considering, while Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller, who recently left the U.S. House, hasn’t ruled it out. On the Democratic side, ex-state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer is currently the only credible candidate running, though Rep. Dan Kildee is considering.
MN-Gov: Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek had reportedly been considering a run for governor, and now for the first time he’s publicly confirmed his interest. In an email to supporters, Stanek, a Republican, says that he “continue[s] to evaluate the race” but then asked for contributions to his sheriff’s campaign, saying it would help him “prepare” for a gubernatorial bid.
It appears that Stanek could transfer funds from one account to the other, and that’s certainly standard procedure in a lot of elections (for instance, it happens all the time when a member of the House runs for Senate). But it’s a bit of an awkward ask, since normally you don’t make it so obvious that you’re looking for a promotion while you continue to solicit donations for your current job. Stanek would be up for re-election next year, and the governor’s race is taking place at the exact same time, so obviously Stanek has to choose between the two.
Stanek could also face serious problems with Republican voters, especially at the state GOP convention, when many nominations are hashed out among activist delegates who prefer purer strains of conservatism. Stanek has long touted his bipartisan appeal, and it would likely serve him well in a general election. But at a speech to last year’s convention, he insisted that Republicans should “get rid of the party test and the ‘not conservative enough’ message,” which is not the kind of thing delegates usually like to hear.
Stanek could bypass the convention and choose to contest the primary, but even then, he’d still have to face a lot of hardcore right-wing voters. And with a ton of other prominent Republicans considering bids of their own, Republican voters in Minnesota will definitely have more strident options to choose from.

HOUSE

SC-05: Despite his tax problems, GOP Rep. Mick Mulvaney is unfortunately still likely to be confirmed as Trump’s head of the Office of Management and Budget. Trump carried Mulvaney’s upstate House seat 57-39, and the GOP nominee should have little trouble winning the likely special election. State Rep. Ralph Norman announced last month that he’d run if Mulvaney resigns, and two more Republicans have joined him in the emerging race.
Sheri Few is a prominent state opponent of Common Core educational standards, and she took a close third place in the 2014 primary for superintendent of education. (Few says she carried the 5th District during that race.) The other new contender is family law attorney Kris Wampler. Several other Republicans are also considering, and we should see more action once Mulvaney resigns.

LEGISLATIVE

WI State Senate, WI State Assembly: A federal court recently struck down Wisconsin’s GOP-drawn state Assembly map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander (see our WI Redistricting item) and ordered the legislature to draw a new one for 2018. Daily Kos Elections has calculated the 2016 presidential results for Wisconsin’s current state legislative districts—including both the Assembly lines that were just invalidated as well as the state Senate map, which still stands—to get an idea of just how GOP-friendly these maps are. The answer, unsurprisingly, is that they’re very gerrymandered.
In 2012, Obama defeated Romney 53-46 statewide, but only carried 16 of the state’s 33 Senate seats and 43 of its 99 Assembly districts. Trump, meanwhile, won the state by just 1 point, but ran away with an amazing 23 Senate seats and 63 Assembly seats. (Trump traded two Assembly seats that Romney won for nine Obama districts in the chamber.) In other words, by winning statewide by just a 48-47 margin, Trump carried 70 percent of the Senate and 64 percent of the Assembly. That’s insane.
Another way to look at this is to sort each seat in each chamber by Trump’s margin of victory over Clinton and see how the seat in the middle—known as the median seat—voted. Trump carried the median Senate seat 53-42 and took the median Assembly seat 52-42. That means that, under the current maps, Badger State Democrats would need to carry a ton of red turf to even have a chance at seizing a bare majority, no easy proposition.
As you’d expect, Senate Republicans hold a considerable majority—20 to 13, with three Democrats representing Trump seats. Two of those Democrats, Janet Bewley and Kathleen Vinehout, won in 2014 and will be up next year. Bewley’s northern Wisconsin SD-25 went from 56-43 Obama all the way to 52-43 Trump, while Vinehout’s Eau Claire-area SD-31 swung from 55-44 Obama to 49-45 Trump. State Sen. Dave Hansen managed to win last year 51-49 as his constituents were backing Trump 53-42; four years before, his Green Bay SD-30 backed Obama 52-47. He won’t go before voters again until 2020, though.
The GOP holds two other state Senate seats that swung from Obama to Trump. The southwestern SD-17 went from 57-42 all the way to 52-43 Trump, while the Appleton-based SD-19 went from an extremely narrow 49.16-49.15 Obama win to 50-43 Trump; both seats are up in midterm years. The only potentially bright spot for Team Blue was the suburban Milwaukee SD-05, which went from 56-43 Romney to just 48-47 Trump; GOP state Sen. Leah Vukmir, who represents the seat, is next up in 2018.
The entire Assembly, meanwhile, is up every two years, and the GOP now has a 64-35 advantage in the chamber following November’s elections. Two Democrats hold Trump seats, while three Republicans sit Clinton districts. AD-23 in the Milwaukee suburbs was one of the few seats where there was a large swing towards Team Blue: While Romney won 57-41, Clinton carried it 50-45. However, GOP Assemblyman Jim Ott won re-election without any opposition. The other Romney/Clinton seat was AD-14, also in suburban Milwaukee, which went from 57-43 Romney to 49-45 Clinton; GOP Assemblyman Dale Kooyenga still won re-election by a clear 57-43. The reddest Democratic-held seat is AD-94 around La Crosse, which swung from 52-47 Obama to 49.0-45.5 Trump; Democratic incumbent Steve Doyle, however, still won re-election 53-47.
The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, and James Lambert.
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Last modified on January 31, 2017

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