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State Legislative Races Are About More Than Bench Building

Wisconsin state Sen. Chris Larson

Writing for Bloomberg today, Joshua Greene noted that the one thing that can save Herschel Walker in Georgia is the intense polarization in American politics— and if party identification can override the walking horror show that Herschel Walker is, believe me, it’s the way most Americans who even bother to vote down ballot pick their candidates. John Sides, Chris Tausanovitch and Lynn Vavreck, in their new book, The Bitter End: The 2020 Presidential Campaign And The Challenge To American Democracy, wrote that regardless of news, partisanship is now so entrenched and wide-ranging that it quickly subsumes pretty much every new event that comes along.”

Scott Comegys is running in a reddish rural Wayne County district in central New York and he told me this morning that “While most people don't want to get into the weeds about election law, they do understand that their right to vote is under attack by right wing extremists. That attack, coupled with attacks on reproductive rights, marriage rights, and a host of other issues, is a fight much closer to home than previously imagined, making it more important than ever to pay attention to state house races. The extreme right wing party set its sights on these races a while ago and used simple fear mongering messaging to win seats. The progressive side in New York State has been responding and succeeding with moving into the rural districts where the Progressive movement has strong roots and really stressing the importance of moving forwards rather than backwards. It's a simple message of hope, but one that is more effective than going through the weeds.”

On Monday, the NY Times turned the spotlight on the campaigns down-ballot for state legislatures and why control of those bodies is especially important now. This is the Blue America ActBlue page for progressive legislature candidates we have endorsed. Nick Corasaniti noted that “the struggle for the Michigan Senate, as well as clashes for control of several other narrowly divided chambers in battleground states, have taken on outsize importance at a time when state legislatures are ever more powerful. With Congress often deadlocked and conservatives dominating the Supreme Court, state governments increasingly steer the direction of voting laws, abortion access, gun policy, public health, education and other issues dominating the lives of Americans. The Supreme Court could soon add federal elections to that list. The justices are expected to decide whether to grant nearly unfettered authority over such elections to state legislatures— a legal argument known as the independent state legislature theory. If the court does so, many Democrats believe, state legislatures could have a pathway to overrule the popular vote in presidential elections by refusing to certify the results and instead sending their own slates of electors.”

Republicans have complete control over legislatures inn states that have a total of 307 electoral votes— 37 more than needed to win a presidential election. They hold majorities in several battleground states, meaning that if the Supreme Court endorsed the legal theory, a close presidential election could be overturned if just a few states assigned alternate slates of electors.
Democrats’ chances of bringing Republicans’ total below 270 are narrow: They would need to flip the Michigan Senate or the Arizona Senate, and then one chamber in both Pennsylvania and New Hampshire in 2024, in addition to defending the chambers the party currently controls.
Democrats and Republicans have set their sights on a half a dozen states where state legislatures— or at least a single chamber— could flip in November. Democrats hope to wrest back one of the chambers in Michigan and the Arizona Senate, and flip the Minnesota Senate. Republicans aim to win back the Minnesota House of Representatives and take control of one chamber, or both, in the Maine, Colorado and Nevada legislatures. They are also targeting Oregon and Washington.
An avalanche of money has flowed into these races. The Republican State Leadership Committee, the party’s campaign arm for state legislative races, has regularly set new fund-raising records, raising $71 million this cycle. The group’s Democratic counterpart has also broken fund-raising records, raising $45 million. Outside groups have spent heavily, too: The States Project, a Democratic super PAC, has pledged to invest nearly $60 million in five states.
The television airwaves, rarely a place where state legislative candidates go to war, have been flooded with advertising on the races. More than $100 million has been spent nationwide since July, an increase of $20 million over the same period in 2020, according to AdImpact, a media tracking firm.
Democrats are finding, however, that motivating voters on an issue as esoteric as the independent state legislature theory is not an easy task.

State Senator Chris Larson, one of the most progressive legislators in his state told us this morning that "Wisconsin has been ground zero in the attempt to smother out the principles of democracy and rule by the people. Republican politicians, feeling embolded by the worst gerrymandering in the country, openly brag about blocking wildly popular policies like marijuana legalization, access to safe, legal abortions, affordable healthcare, and funding our public schools. Instead, they are worried more about being attacked by Donald Trump and his endless attempts to relitigate the 2020 elections he lost by 7 million votes than they are about serving the needs of our state. But after the extremist U.S. Supreme Court used the Shadow Docket to shoot down somewhat fairer maps in March, our maps have gotten even worse putting a veto-proof majority within reach, even as our state continues to be split 50/50. To get there, Republicans just need one more seat in the state Senate and five in the state Assembly. For the sake of our future and the future of American democracy, it's essential we hold on to every one of those seats. If not, the 126 bills Tony Evers vetoed would become law. Those range from everything to making it impossible to run a public school classroom to making it even harder to vote in Wisconsin. We are fighting back and we must win."

…”The economy remains the issue that voters are most concerned about in their daily lives, and is the issue that will decide the battle for state legislatures in November,” said Andrew Romeo, the communications director for the Republican State Leadership Committee. The group’s internal polling shows that inflation and the cost of living are the No. 1 priority in every state surveyed.
The issues defining each election vary widely by district. Some of them, like roads, school funding and water, are hyperlocal— subjects that rarely drive a congressional or statewide race.
…In Saginaw, a city that sits at the thumb joint of Michigan’s famous mitten shape, Kristen McDonald Rivet, a Democrat running in a highly competitive State Senate race, was clear about the issues driving her contest.
“Very few people talk to you about the state of the democracy,” she told volunteers and staff members on Wednesday at the Saginaw County Democratic Party’s headquarters as they prepared for an afternoon of knocking on doors. “What they’re going to talk to you about is how there really aren’t any high-wage jobs here. And there’s not. Seventy-five percent of the jobs in the region are low-wage. And that is a big issue in Saginaw Township. We have a lot of union workers.”
…While Republicans concentrate on the economy, Democrats are hoping that the backlash to the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade can help their party in state legislative races, too.
“Where are you on a woman’s right to chose?” A man named Mike asked Darrin Camilleri, a Democratic state representative running for State Senate in the southeastern suburbs of Detroit, as the lawmaker stood on his stoop.
“Well, I’m pro-choice,” Camilleri responded, “and very proudly …”
Mike cut him off. “Well, you’re getting my vote then,” he said. “Easy enough.”
As he walked down the driveway, Camilleri remarked: “That happens all the time. All the time.”
The national pressure of the showdown for the Michigan Senate has weighed on some of the candidates, many of whom did not expect the spotlight of national news coverage or the weight of the democracy issue to define their fall campaigns.
After walking an entire street, [Democratic candidate for state Senate in suburban Detroit Veronica] Klinefelt, leaned against the hood of her car, resting a leather boot against the fender.
“Nobody’s going to care or remember who Veronica Klinefelt is 20 years from now,” she said. “I talk about that. But what they will remember is what happened during this time. If the small-d democracy changes dramatically, they’ll never forget that. And so if I fail, and because of that, we don’t have protection in the Legislature, that’s something that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.”

While the establishment focuses on mainstream issues of pro-choice and guns, much more is happening at the kitchen table. Inflation continues to impact families and in the state of Illinois, discussions of progressive policies are on the table. Last year, Illinois passed historical legislation in ending cash bail, passing an aggressive climate bill, and even expanding voting rights and access. Now Republicans are using scare tactics to try and undo the new cash bail laws set to begin Jan 1st. Fossil Fuel continues to fight back against the new Climate Equable Jobs Act pointing to California and their brown outs. Illinois law makers want to continue expanding voting rights for individuals incarcerated but will they have the votes? A state still riddled with corruption and ethics issues makes it easy to scare voters. An exceptional candidate Blue America has endorsed, Rachel Ventura, running for State Senate told us that “voters are moved by people understanding their issues and honestly representing them. That means being bold and not taking corporate pac dollars. Having an economy that works for everyone and a shot at a quality life cannot be underestimated. Making sure everyone’s rights are protected and all votes are counted crosses party lines. This is what moves people to the polls.” Now... if you click on this thermometer above, you can contribute to any or all of the Blue America-endorsed progressive candidates for state legislature.

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