The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Daniel Donner, and Cara Zelaya, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
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● Houston, TX Mayor: Houston City Councilman Robert Gallegos, who would be the Bayou City's first-ever Latino mayor, announced Thursday that he was joining this November's nonpartisan primary to succeed termed-out incumbent Sylvester Turner, but an even more prominent Democrat also appears to be eyeing the race. An unreleased poll from earlier this month tested Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee as a possible contender, and while she hasn't said anything publicly about running, longtime political writer Charles Kuffner says her campaign is indeed surveying the race.
Kuffner writes that he learned this because he himself was sampled, and he made sure to ask who was behind the poll at the very end. The filing deadline isn't until late August, and a prominent figure like Jackson Lee may be able to afford to wait a while before deciding if she wants to get in; Jackson Lee would not need to sacrifice her safely blue House seat, though, if she decided to seek the post this year. The field may expand no matter what the congresswoman does, as the Houston Chronicle's Dylan McGuinness says that bond investor Gilbert Garcia, who is the former head of the local public transit authority METRO, is "expected" to run himself.
Gallegos, for his part, is the only gay member of the City Council, and his win would make Houston the largest city to ever elect a gay Latino mayor; Gallegos would also be the city's second-ever LGBTQ leader after Annise Parker, who served from 2010 to 2016. The city councilman has just $134,000 on hand in his campaign account, though, and he acknowledges, "I'm going to be spending a lot of time making [fundraising] calls."
Four other serious candidates were already running: former City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards, former Harris County interim clerk Chris Hollins, attorney Lee Kaplan, and state Sen. John Whitmire. Edwards, Hollins, and Kaplan each have about $1 million to spend. However, no one knows yet how much of Whitmire's $10.1 million war chest, which includes money he raised to run for the state legislature, he'll be able to put to use in this race. A runoff would take place should no one earn a majority in November.
P.S. While either Gallegos or Garcia would be Houston's first Latino mayor, they wouldn't quite be its inaugural Hispanic leader. McGuinness notes that Joseph Pastoriza, whose parents were Spanish immigrants, was elected in 1917; Pastoriza died a few months later, and no other Hispanic politicians have won since.
● NC Redistricting: The North Carolina Supreme Court announced on Friday that it would hold oral arguments on March 14 and 15 in two voting rights cases it just agreed to rehear. A week earlier, the court's new Republican majority said it would revisit rulings made just two months prior in lawsuits that struck down gerrymandered congressional and legislative maps as well as a discriminatory voter ID law passed by GOP lawmakers. The court's two remaining Democratic justices wrote a scathing dissent at the time blasting the move as a "display of raw partisanship," noting that the court had only granted rehearings in just two cases out of 214 over the past 30 years.
● CA-Sen: The Washington Post reports that Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee plans to announce a Senate bid by the end of February. While Lee didn't confirm she'd run, she said in a statement, "Currently, there are no Black Women in the U.S. Senate, and there have only been two in our almost 250-year history. Our voices are sorely missed in the Senate."
● PA-Sen: Democratic Sen. John Fetterman's office said Friday that he'd been discharged from the hospital after tests didn't find any signs of a stroke or seizure, and that he'd be returning to work Monday.
● LA-Gov: State Democratic Party chair Katie Bernhardt said Friday that she'd decided not to join this year's race for governor, a declaration that came a few weeks after she starred in a super PAC ad that seemed to be aimed at increasing her name recognition ahead of a campaign. That appearance roiled several of her fellow Democrats, though, and the party's vice chair resigned in protest.
● NC-Gov: Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said Thursday that she was closing the investigation into her fellow Democrat, Attorney General Josh Stein, over a 2020 campaign ad that his defeated opponent argued was libel. Freeman's announcement came one day after a federal appeals court issued a favorable ruling for Stein, who is the party's frontrunner in next year's race for governor.
Stein in 2020 ran an ad against Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O'Neill accusing the Republican of failing to test thousands of rape kits. Stein narrowly won re-election, and O'Neill later responded by filing a complaint that cited an obscure 1931 law that makes it a misdemeanor to knowingly run false election ads against an opponent. Stein, who says he stands by that commercial's accuracy, also defended himself on free speech grounds, and a three-judge appeals panel unanimously agreed Wednesday that the 1931 law likely was unconstitutional.
● CA-47: Activist and former attorney Joanna Weiss has entered the race for Southern California's 47th Congressional District, joining three other notable Democrats and one Republican in the contest. Weiss hasn't sought office before, but she runs an organization called Women for American Values and Ethics that supported several Orange County Democrats who ran for the House last year, including Rep. Katie Porter, whose decision to run for Senate has left this district open.
● FL-13: The Washington Post published a detailed new report on Friday cataloging the multiple ways in which Florida Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, a far-right freshman who opposed Kevin McCarthy for 11 speakership ballots, has apparently lied about her background.
The Post writes that Luna, who is the first Mexican American woman to represent her state, "described herself as alternately Middle Eastern, Jewish or Eastern European" when she was in the Air Force a little more than a decade ago. "She would really change who she was based on what fit the situation best at the time," said her former roommate Brittany Brooks.
Luna, who identifies as a Christian, has used her supposed Jewish ancestry to shield allies like Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from charges of antisemitism even though several relatives told the Post that, not only was the congresswoman raised Catholic, but her grandfather had served in Nazi Germany's armed forces.
"MTG did endorse me, and I was raised as a Messianic Jew by my father," Luna told Jewish Insider just before Election Day, adding, "I am also a small fraction Ashkenazi. If she were antisemitic, why did she endorse me." Mainstream Jewish denominations do not recognize "Messianic Jews," including organizations like "Jews for Jesus," as Jewish, and the Post's report did not confirm any Jewish heritage on Luna's part.
Rather, Luna's mother described the congresswoman's late father, George Mayerhofer, as a "Christian that embraced the Messianic faith," while extended family members said they believed he was a Catholic. Luna's campaign biography says that Mayerhofer "spent time in and out of incarceration" while they lived in California through her teenage years, and she mostly communicated with him "through letters to jail and collect calls." However, the paper couldn't find any record of him being charged with any felony or serving any prison time in the state.
The article also digs into Luna's 2019 assertion that she survived a 4 A.M. "home invasion" while in the military. Brooks, though, said the only relevant incident she could recall was a break-in that happened when neither of them were home.
Luna, who refused to speak to the paper, responded to the story by tweeting, "Holy shit the Washington post just tried to claim my dad was never incarcerated, left out comments from my mom, said I was a registered Democrat, and did not report a convo they had with a former roommate, and interviewed 'family' I don't talk to." (The paper initially reported she'd registered to vote as a Democrat in 2017 while living in Washington state, a detail it corrected Friday afternoon; the update explained, "Washington state only requires voters to declare their party affiliation when they cast a ballot in a presidential primary.") She went on to share a tweet from an Air Force colleague claiming that Brooks was lying about the break-in.
Luna unsuccessfully campaigned against Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist in 2020, but she won the race to succeed him last year after the GOP's new gerrymander transformed Florida's 13th District from a 51-47 Biden constituency to one Trump would have taken 53-46. The DCCC, notably, felt so pessimistic about Democrat Eric Lynn's prospects against her in 2022 that it did not release an opposition research document about Luna.
Lynn and his allies, including a super PAC funded by his cousin, attacked Luna's ardent opposition to abortion rights, but they did not focus on her apparent lies about her past. Lynn could not overcome the difficult lean of the revamped district, as well as the GOP's strong showing across the state, and Luna went on to win this St. Petersburg-area seat 53-45.
● NY-22: On Thursday, Manlius Town Councilor Katelyn Kriesel became the first Democrat to announce a campaign against Republican Rep. Brandon Williams, a freshman who will be defending a Syracuse-based seat that Biden took 53-45. The National Journal reported the following day that 2022 nominee Francis Conole, who lost to Williams 50-49 last year, had decided not to run, information that came from an unnamed "Democratic strategist close to the campaign."
● WI Supreme Court: Progressive Judge Janet Protasiewicz is airing her first TV attack ad ahead of the Feb. 21 primary for Wisconsin's open Supreme Court seat, hitting both of her conservative opponents in the same spot. The ad begins by defending Protasiewicz, who recently has been the target of negative ads, saying she's "spent 25 years as a prosecutor locking up dangerous criminals," then pivots to criticize work her rivals performed as defense attorneys (one of our least favorite tactics).
"Extremist Jennifer Dorow? As a private attorney, she got rich defending predators for child sex crimes and pornography," says the narrator as an archival screenshot of her former law firm's website appears, showing a list of "child sex crime accusations" that the firm offered to defend against. "Dan Kelly?" the voiceover continues. "He defended child molesters posing as youth ministers." Protasiewicz's campaign says that its total statewide media buy now stands at $1.25 million, up from $1 million just a few days earlier.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Chicago, IL Mayor: WTTW News reported Thursday evening that former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, who is one of the frontrunners in this month's nonpartisan primary for mayor, has long listed the suburb of Palos Heights as his primary residence rather than the city of Chicago. It's too late for anyone to try to use this information to get Vallas, who called the report "malicious" and "untrue," ejected from the Feb. 28 ballot, but his opponents are hoping the story will do him some damage at a crucial time.
Reporter Paris Schutz explains that Vallas, who is one of the eight candidates trying to unseat Mayor Lori Lightfoot, moved to an apartment in Chicago in 2017 two years before his first unsuccessful mayoral bid, and he relocated to another place in the city's Bridgeport neighborhood last year. However, he continued to list the Palos Heights home, which he's owned with his wife since 2009, as the location for his consulting business, and he also identified it as his address when he made a donation last year to now-Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias.
The Vallas campaign said that the location on the Giannoulias contribution was a mistake that would be fixed, and it defended his residency in Chicago. Vallas' camp said his wife, Sharron Vallas, does live in Palos Heights to care for each of their parents, and that the candidate visits "when his schedule permits." The Cook County Assessor's Office said Friday that, in response to media inquiries, it had investigated whether the couple should have received their Palos Heights homestead exemption and concluded that they were eligible because Sharron Vallas "is a primary resident at the home."
That's unlikely to appease Paul Vallas' critics, though. Indeed, Schutz on Friday retweeted a post arguing, "Every single family photo Vallas has posted on social media over the last year has been taken in what appears to be a large suburban home, not a 950 sq ft Bridgeport apartment."
All of this comes as two polls from two opposing factions both show Vallas grabbing one of the two spots for the likely April 4 general election, though the surveys disagree on most other details. First up is a Lightfoot internal from GBAO, with its numbers from late January in parenthesis:
Mayor Lori Lightfoot: 24 (25)
former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas: 20 (22)
Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson: 15 (9)
Wealthy perennial candidate Willie Wilson: 14 (11)
Rep. Chuy García: 13 (18)
The survey shows 7% undecided, while the remaining four candidates split the balance.
Lightfoot made it clear last month she wanted to go up against Vallas, declaring, "[F]olks, I would love to have Paul Vallas as my runoff challenger." The mayor has previewed what strategy she'd use if she gets her wish with digital ads showing Vallas in 2009 calling himself "more of a Republican than a Democrat now," and she's also hit him for accepting an endorsement from the pro-Trump head of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police. Vallas, like all the candidates, identifies as a Democrat.
However, M3 Strategies' new poll for Americans for a Safer and Better Tomorrow, a group that has run ads against Lightfoot but doesn't appear to have endorsed anyone yet, has a different take on the race. The firm finds her in a tough fight to make it to round two in a contest where 11% are still uncommitted, though it shows her position improving since mid-January:
Vallas: 31 (26)
Lightfoot: 17 (10)
Johnson: 16 (12)
García: 13 (19)
Wilson: 7 (9)
While both GBAO and M3 offer different reads on the race, they're in agreement that Johnson is making gains as García is losing altitude. A recent media poll from Mason-Dixon, though, had the congressman in front with 20% as Vallas edged out Lightfoot 18-17; Wilson and Johnson were at 12% and 11%, respectively.
García, for his part, has unveiled endorsements from fellow Rep. Mike Quigley and former Gov. Pat Quinn, who both considered running for mayor themselves last year. The congressman's new ad, meanwhile, briefly goes after Lightfoot on crime while also reminding the audience that García was an ally of the late Mayor Harold Washington.