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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Lest Democrats get too optimistic about their great victory in the Wisconsin Supreme Court election, David Daley, author of “Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count and Unrigged: How Americans Are Battling Back to Save Democracy” brings the bad news at The Guardian: “The lack of anything resembling a basic, functioning democracy in an American state placed outsized importance on Tuesday’s state supreme court election, won decisively by liberal Janet Protasiewicz. Her victory flipped what had been a 4-3 conservative majority on a court that not only aided and abetted the newest Republican gerrymander, but only narrowly declined a Trumpian gambit to toss out 220,000 votes from Democratic-leaning counties after the state’s tight 2020 election….The stakes of this race were huge. There’s a good reason why this election shattered records for the most expensive state supreme court race ever. There will be an immediate effort to bring new litigation to un-gerrymander the state’s toxic legislative map. The 1849 anti-abortion law will be challenged before a court that is now friendly to reproductive rights. It will be more difficult for Republicans to use Wisconsin courts in 2024 to subvert presidential election results in a state where the outcome could determine the nation’s leader….Nevertheless, democracy has not been restored in Wisconsin and the threat has not receded. No one should be under any delusion that Wisconsin Republicans, so accustomed to ruling with impunity, will operate any differently. They don’t have to change. On Tuesday, just as voters statewide tipped the court to progressives, a special election for a crucial state senate seat went Republican, ensuring a Republican supermajority. Republicans have already threatened that they might impeach liberal justices, including Protasiewicz….It is dreary to be cynical the day after a hard-won victory that activists worked many years to secure. Yet it is hard not to look at Wisconsin and see Charlie Brown and the football once more. Democrats spend a decade playing by the rules and executing a 12-point plan to undo the after-effects of the 2010 redistricting, step by careful step. And if Democrats win, Republicans use their gerrymanders to take away their power or make some pretend doctrine and take it to their equally unearned and illegitimate supermajority on the US supreme court….One outcome of the news from Wisconsin is that it might finally be clear to everyone that, in today’s America, judges have become little more than robed partisans. But it needs to become equally clear that without a national fix for gerrymandering and structural reform to the US supreme court, that hope in Wisconsin – and perhaps your state next – will be little more than fool’s gold.”

Are references to the Republicans’ “War on Democracy” overstated? Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch doesn’t think so, and he makes a compelling case in his article, “GOP wages an asymmetrical war on democracy because it can’t get the votes.” Bunch references the “sour grapes” comments of the conservative candidate who lost the Wisconsin Supreme Court election, and then notes that “the GOP majority in the Wisconsin legislature are — and this is hard to believe — already talking about impeaching Protasiewicz even before she takes the oath of office. A new state senator who won a special election to give Republicans a supermajority in Madison said he’d “seriously consider” impeaching the new justice, citing the flimsy pretext of her record as a circuit judge in “failing” Milwaukee.” Also, “Anyone doubting Republicans’ impeachment bluster in Wisconsin could take a look around to Nashville, Tenn., where white GOP lawmakers stunned the nation by expelling two Black colleagues and disenfranchising their roughly 140,000 predominantly African American constituents because the men had, from the floor of the Capitol, joined a thousand or so young people protesting gun violence….” Bunch also cites “a flurry of moves including state takeovers of Democratic school boards in large red-state cities like Houston and legislation in states from Georgia to Missouri aiming to sharply curtail power and potentially remove progressive DAs elected by urban voters, such as the impeachment of Philadelphia’s twice-elected prosecutor Larry Krasner. Even Congress got in on the act with legislation to nullify a sweeping criminal justice overhaul that Washington, D.C.’s, majority-Black city council had approved 12-1.” Bunch also notes, “What’s more, this political counterrevolution in legislative corridors is taking place right as the conservative movement’s grand project of the last half-century — a ruthless, multimillion-dollar crusade to install unaccountable, lifetime right-wing judges across the federal bench — is coming to full fruition. Good Friday’s decision by Amarillo, Texas-based federal Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Donald Trump appointee rooted in ultra-conservative networks, seeking to undo approval of the abortion drug mifepristone after 23 years on the market is a huge end run around democracy in a nation where a majority of voters support abortion rights. Conservatives routinely file lawsuits in Amarillo because Kacsmaryk is that district’s lone judge.”

Bunch also references the Justice Clarence Thomas scandal, Trump’s arraignment and the January 6th riot and writes, “Democrats are waging conventional warfare on the political frontlines — at the ballot box, trying to get votes with the power of their ideas — and in much of America they appear to be winning. It happened on Tuesday, with the coalition that produced the Protasiewicz landslide in Wisconsin, and with Chicago voters rejecting the reactionary, cop-union conservatism of Paul Vallas to elect progressive upstart Brandon Johnson as their new mayor. But then, it’s happened on the bigger stage since 1992, as Democrats have won the national popular vote in seven of eight presidential elections, as the United States grows more diverse and less in thrall to the conservative hierarchies around race, gender, sexuality, and intolerance…. Republicans are responding with an asymmetrical civil war against democracy, constantly looking for the weak points to deploy their IEDs of autocracy, determined to blow up the American Experiment if that’s what it takes to retain power by any means necessary. Their tactics are working well, unfortunately. Darth Vader’s Death Star had just one opening to exploit, but U.S. democracy has many — gerrymandering, the filibuster, the Electoral College, the undemocratic makeup of the U.S. Senate, statehouse power plays against home rule for Black or brown or progressive-minded communities, a take-no-prisoners hijacking of the judiciary. The only shock of Thursday’s next-level expulsion of two duly-elected Black lawmakers in Nashville was the proof that — as Republican ideas become more unpopular — there is no bottom to how low this movement will go….And yet there is also reason for great hope. America’s young people — the ones who left their classroom last week and overran the state capitol in Nashville to plead for real action against gun violence, the ones fighting book bans in their schools and speaking out for radical action on climate — are the bravest and boldest generation this nation has seen in some time. Their moral authority, and their rising power at the ballot box from Eau Claire to Memphis, is why a decrepit GOP is lashing out. History will surely remember what happened in Tennessee as an affront to democracy — and the last throes of a dying movement.”

You probably won’t be too surprised to learn that “According to one scholar’s research on democracy in the US, Tennessee is indeed the least democratic state in the entire country.” That’s “democratic” with a small “d.” The report, by Zach Beauchamp at Vox continues, “The research here comes from University of Washington political science professor Jake Grumbach, who wrote a 2022 paper (later expanded into a book) developing the first-ever numerical system for ranking the health of democracy in all 50 US states….Grumbach’s State Democracy Index (SDI) grades each state on a series of metrics — like the extent to which a state is gerrymandered at the federal level, whether felons can vote, and the like — and then combines the assessments to give each state an overall score from -3 (worst) to 2 (best).” It is a 5-year old study, conducted in 2018. Nonetheless, “Tennessee’s low score in 2018 has a lot to do with its egregious partisan gerrymanders at both the state and federal level — a problem that only got worse in the post-2020 census redistricting cycle. Research from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project shows that there is not a single competitive seat in the state senate — Democrats are so efficiently packed in a handful of strongly Democratic districts that Republicans have a near-guaranteed super-supermajority (over 80 percent of seats!) in the statehouse’s upper chamber.” Beauchamp provides a map indicating that “Tennessee is by far the lightest-colored state on the 2018 map — meaning it has the lowest score of any state in the country….It’s not exactly clear, from Grumbach’s research, why Tennessee is particularly anti-democratic. But what his research does show is that it’s not isolated: The state is part of a general trend where democracy has degraded in Republican-controlled states.” All of which helps explain why talk of boycotts against Tennessee is increasing. The Republicans who just gutted free speech and democracy and blocked gun safety reform in the Volunteer State may end up costing TN many millions in convention and tourist revenues.

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