The Republicans Are Giving up on Democracy

There’s no better place to look to see how freaked out the Republicans are than the state of Wisconsin. Gov. Scott Walker enjoys majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. The GOP holds 18 of 33 state Senate seats and 63 of 99 state Assembly seats. The Senate majority is admittedly narrow but wouldn’t change with the loss of a single seat. Nonetheless, after Walker created one vacancy in the Senate and another in the Assembly by appointing the incumbents to serve in his administration, he refused to schedule special elections to fill the seats.

There was a very specific event that caused him to make this decision.

…Walker has been reluctant to call the special elections after Democrats won another vacant seat in a heavily Republican district earlier this year. In that district, which covers several counties in northwest Wisconsin, Trump won by 17 points in 2016, raising alarm bells among Republicans. Walker said in a tweet that the election should serve as a “wake-up call” for the GOP.

The two districts in question are similar.

The two legislative districts — a state Senate district south of Green Bay and a state Assembly district north of Madison — have been vacant for months, after the incumbents quit to take jobs in Walker’s administration. Both are heavily Republican districts that favored President Trump by 18 points and 14 points, respectively, in 2016.

Walker was unwilling to risk losing these heavily Republican seats even though they would not change the balance of power in Madison. But his arguments did not prevail in court.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) will call special elections to fill two vacant legislative seats after two courts ruled against his efforts to delay and eventually cancel those elections…

…Walker’s lawyers had argued that holding special elections would amount to a waste of taxpayer money, because the legislature will have concluded their sessions for the year by the time new legislators are elected. They also said state law allows Walker to avoid calling special elections to fill vacancies created in non-election years.

A Dane County circuit judge appointed by Walker rejected the latter argument. Both the Dane County judge and an appeals court judge shut down the former argument, ordering Walker to comply by today’s deadline.

Before Walker acquiesced to the courts late yesterday afternoon, he first floated a really incredible idea. He asked the appeals court to give him enough time to comply with their order that he could call a special session of the state legislature and change the law so that he would not be compelled to call for the special elections.

Walker faced a court-ordered deadline of noon on Thursday to call the special elections. He had asked an appeals court to delay the deadline by eight days, to give the legislature time to return to Madison to rewrite state election law and make the initial court order moot.

This is becoming a pattern for the Republicans. After the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the state’s congressional districts were too gerrymandered and violated the state Constitution, the GOP seriously contemplated impeaching all the Democrats who had been elected to the bench. Something similar and even more extreme is going on in North Carolina.

RALEIGH, N.C. — In Washington, efforts by this state’s Republicans to cement their political dominance have taken a drubbing this month. On May 15, the Supreme Court struck down a North Carolina elections law that a federal appeals court said had been designed “with almost surgical precision” to depress black voter turnout. A week later, the court threw out maps of two congressional districts that it said sought to limit black voters’ clout.

And it could get worse: Gerrymandering challenges to other congressional and state legislative districts also are headed for the justices.

But if North Carolina Republicans have been chastened in Washington, there is scant evidence of it here in the state capital. Quite the opposite: Hours after the court nullified the elections law, for example, party officials said they would simply write another.

Here’s a list of some of the ways the Republican legislature in North Carolina has been abusing its power.

“What we’re seeing in North Carolina is an effort at political entrenchment that is unparalleled,” said Allison Riggs, a senior staff lawyer at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a Durham advocacy group that sued Republican leaders over the election law. “It requires a complete disregard for the will of the voters and political participation, and a disregard for the independence of the judiciary.”

After a toxic election campaign, the veto-proof Republican majorities in the State House and State Senate moved to defang Mr. Cooper even before he took office. A special session in December stripped the governor of most power to appoint state employees and university trustees, choose a cabinet without legislative approval and install majorities on state and local election boards. The latter move was stayed, pending a trial.

Now the legislators are taking aim at the state judicial system. In December, after voters elected a Democratic majority to the nominally nonpartisan State Supreme Court, the legislature expanded the jurisdiction of the Republican-led Court of Appeals and made the legal path toward other Supreme Court hearings more tortuous. Last month, Republicans voted to shrink the Court of Appeals by barring replacement of the next three retiring judges, denying Mr. Cooper a chance to nominate successors.

In March, a state commission charged with improving the state’s courts urged the legislature to scrap the requirement that judges win election to the bench, saying it forced candidates to seek contributions from people who appeared before them.

Eight days later, the legislature voted to change lower-court elections from nonpartisan to partisan affairs, requiring nearly 400 judges to run under party labels in a bid to put more Republican loyalists on the bench. (The legislators had earlier made appeals and Supreme Court elections partisan.) Two Republican legislators filed a bill to split Charlotte’s Democratic-leaning Mecklenburg County judicial district into three new ones that would give Republicans a better shot at victory.

“It’s straight-up political,” one of the sponsors, Senator Jeff Tarte of suburban Charlotte, told The News & Observer of Raleigh.

You can see that there’s a preference to hold elections when the GOP thinks it will benefit them. But that’s the only time they’re interested in elections. The only unifying principle here is to pursue power and to deny it to the Democrats, and they continue to seek every angle even though they are getting slapped down by courts at every stage. They have plans for that, too.

I think the best way to look at this is to imagine what it would look like if the Republicans were not stopped by the courts and instead got their way. The legal system would cease to exist as we know it. Judges that ruled against the GOP would be replaced through a variety of means, depending on the state. Unwelcome rulings would be dealt with by rewriting the law to make what was illegal yesterday legal tomorrow. Democratic governors would be stripped of all their powers and districts down to the school boards would be redrawn to favor the Republicans. Vacancies in the legislature would be left vacant if they have any chance of being filled by Democrats, but seats that favor Republicans would be filled immediately. Civil rights enforcement would not exist and black populations would either be corralled or split up and weakened. All manner of voter disenfranchisement would become legal and the new norm in our elections.

The Democrats aren’t sitting still for this. They’re making it easier for people to vote wherever they have the power to do so. For example, in Washington state the legislature just passed automatic registration, Election Day registration, pre-registration for 16 & 17-year-olds, and a state Voting Rights Act. Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee signed these reforms into law last week.

At a bill signing ceremony in Tukwila, Inslee called it a historic day. And the Democrat contrasted Washington to states that have passed voter ID laws.

“In 20 other states, there have been venal, evil efforts to suppress voters, to suppress the ability of people to get to the ballot box,” Inslee said. “I’m proud in our state we’re making it easier to vote, not harder. That’s what Washington state is about.”

Maybe too much is said about swing voters who seem more and more not to actually exist. But I think most people are not overly political and while they may lean right or lean left, they don’t want a political and legal system based on the exercise of raw power. It ought to mean something to them that the Democrats are trying to increase civic participation in our elections and that the Republicans are using a huge percentage of their energy and resources devising ways to game the system so that voters have no say.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.