The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from Daniel Donner, David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert and David Beard.
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● OH Ballot: Ohio Republicans passed a constitutional amendment in the state Senate on Wednesday that would make it harder for voters to amend the state constitution in the future, and the state House is likely to follow suit soon. The amendment itself must go before voters for their approval before it can become law.
- 60% support to pass new amendments. Amendments currently need just a simple majority to pass in Ohio and all but a few other states. Republicans want to raise that threshold in order to make it easier to defeat progressive policies in this red-leaning state.
- The GOP's aim: preserve their abortion ban and gerrymanders. A top sponsor was caught telling his colleagues that the purpose of the higher threshold is to thwart voter-backed efforts to enshrine abortion rights into the constitution and to create a new independent redistricting commission.
- Republicans want an August election—when turnout will be low. Just months ago, Republicans eliminated regular August elections, but now they want a one-time election this summer for voters to weigh in on their amendment. The goal: pass the new amendment so that it can take effect before a potential November vote on abortion.
Read more about how the GOP's proposal would also make it tougher for voters to place amendments on the ballot—and why voters might reject it.
● America could learn a lot from how other countries elect their leaders! Political science professor Matthew Shugart joins us on this week's episode of The Downballot to explain how a variety of electoral systems around the world operate, as well as his thoughts on which might work well here—and actually improve our democracy. Shugart gets into the weeds on proportional voting, single transferable vote, "decoy lists," and much more. If those terms are new to you, you'll definitely want to listen!
Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also discuss the collapse of an effort by the Montana GOP to rig the 2024 Senate election by changing the rules for just that one race, and why New York's top court, which is finally back at full strength, could ultimately lead to a more favorable congressional map for Democrats next year.
New episodes of The Downballot come out every Thursday morning. You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts to make sure you never miss a show, and you'll find a transcript of this week's episode right here by noon Eastern Time.
● MT-Sen: A committee in the GOP dominated state House on Wednesday tabled the bill to adopt a top-two primary system for the 2024 Senate race, a move the Associated Press' Matthew Brown says likely means it won't be taken up before the session ends May 10. However, Democratic state Rep. Kelly Kortum isn't convinced that the proposal, which is aimed at weakening Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, won't be revived before then.
Kortum instead warned, "I saw some shenanigans last session that just made my jaw drop to the floor." Indeed, the Independent Record's Sam Wilson writes, "[T]he waning days of the session are often ripe for last-minute procedural maneuvers used to resurrect legislation or rewrite bills still working through the process."
The bill passed the state Senate earlier this month, and the New York Times recently reported that Montana's junior senator, NRSC chair Steve Daines, was pressuring legislators to support it. However, 11 of the 12 Republicans on the House State Administration Committee joined their six Democratic colleagues Wednesday in tabling the bill. The only one who spoke ahead of that vote was GOP state Rep. Greg Frazer, who said, "I have had a lot of my folks from back home reach out to me and ask me to vote no on this—a lot more than what I thought, it's actually been pretty interesting."
● NM-Sen: While Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich said in October that he was "putting all the pieces together" to seek a third term, Inside Elections' Nathan Gonzales writes that it's still unclear if he'll run.
It would still be a surprise if the 51-year-old left office, though. Local political observer Joe Monahan has relayed that, while there's speculation that the senator could retire so he could focus on a 2026 campaign for governor, "No one expected that to happen and now Heinrich appears closer to making official his run for a third six year term." The incumbent also raised $1.1 million for the first quarter of the year, which doesn't indicate that he's looking to depart D.C.
● TX-Sen: Gilbert Garcia writes in the San Antonio Express-News that, not only is Democratic state Sen. Roland Gutierrez considering a campaign against Republican incumbent Ted Cruz, two unnamed people "say he is nearly certain" to run. However, Garcia adds that any kickoff likely wouldn't take place until after the legislative session ends May 29.
Gutierrez represents a San Antonio-based seat that includes Uvalde, and one of Garcia's sources says that last year's school massacre, and the GOP legislature's subsequent refusal to take up gun safety legislation, has had a huge impact on him. "I think it's changed his service completely," this person said, adding, "This has really focused him on those who have been left behind by their government in the most egregious way."
Most of the talk about this race up until now has revolved around Democratic Rep. Colin Allred, who is also reportedly mulling a campaign against Cruz but hasn't confirmed his interest. The congressman, who represents a safe seat under the GOP's new gerrymander, raised $520,000 during the first quarter of 2023, and he ended it with $2.2 million he could use for a Senate bid should he run statewide. Cruz, meanwhile, hauled in $1.3 million and ended last month with $3.3 million.
● WV-Sen: An unnamed GOP strategist tells Politico that Gov. Jim Justice has indeed decided to run, and that his perennially imminent campaign announcement likely will occur sometime this month. The conservative group One Nation, which is an affiliate of the Senate Leadership Fund, meanwhile is spending over $1 million on ads attacking Democratic incumbent Joe Manchin over his vote last year for the Inflation Reduction Act.
● KY-Gov: To the surprise of absolutely no one, new fundraising reports reveal that almost all of the money used to support former Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft in next month's GOP primary has come from her or her husband, coal billionaire Joe Craft. The Courier-Journal writes that candidate herself provided her campaign with $7 million from Jan. 3 to April 16, while Joe Craft threw down $1.5 million of the $1.8 million that's gone to fund Commonwealth PAC.
Kelly Craft said Wednesday, "I have not been coordinating with Commonwealth PAC, so I couldn't tell you who's been funding it," though the head of the state Registry of Election Finance said Joe Craft's involvement "certainly raises concerns about potential coordination, and will be reviewed by the Registry." The former ambassador, who raised little from donors, finished Sunday with only $440,000 on hand, though she likely can self-fund much more if she wants.
The same cannot be said for her main intra-party foe, Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who raised only $400,000 during this period and had $590,000 banked. Cameron's allies at Bluegrass Freedom Action, though, took in $1.7 million: Almost all of that came from The Concord Group, the dark money organization previously known as the Judicial Crisis Network. The PAC recently aired its first anti-Craft spot, while Cameron is out with a commercial touting his endorsements from Donald Trump and law enforcement groups.
While the battle between Cameron and Craft has dominated the airwaves, a few other Republicans are also competing in the May 16 primary. Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles raised only $270,000 during the opening months of the year, though his $900,000 war chest is actually larger than any of his intra-party foes. Somerset Mayor Alan Keck was well behind with $110,000 raised and $50,000 on hand, while Auditor Mike Harmon was all but bankrupt with just $14,000 available. And don't expect the auditor to get a late surge of donors, as the Courier-Journal says he's raised $85,000 total since he launched in July of 2021.
There's also suspended attorney Eric Deters, who self-funded almost all of his $570,000 haul but had less than $10,000 left. Deters, whom Medium Buying says has spent $140,000 on ads, last month pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors related to allegations that he chased his nephew around with a truck and sent harassing messages to his sister-in-law, but he's insisted this does "not affect, (in) any way, shape or form, my ability to be elected governor."
The person all these Republicans are hoping to take on this fall, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, has been stocking up ahead of his uncompetitive primary. The governor took in $1.4 million during this period, and he had $5.9 million on hand as of Sunday.
● LA-Gov: Campaign finance reports are in covering the period from Jan. 1 through April 7, and far-right Attorney General Jeff Landry and his allies continue to hold a huge advantage over his opponents in the October all-party primary. We've rounded out the candidate numbers below:
- Attorney General Jeff Landry (R): $2.1 million raised, $6.3 million cash on hand
- former state Chamber of Commerce head Stephen Waguespack (R): $920,000 raised, $890,000 cash on hand
- former state Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson (D): $580,000 raised, $550,000 cash on hand
- Treasurer John Schroder (R): $430,000 raised, $2.4 million cash on hand
- State Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R): $210,000 raised, $660,000 cash on hand
- Attorney Hunter Lundy (I): $160,000 raised, additional $500,000 self-funded, $1.8 million cash on hand
- State Rep. Richard Nelson (R): $130,000 raised, $280,000 cash on hand
Waguespack and Landry so far are also the only contenders who have well-funded super PACs on their side. Waguespack's allies at Delta Good Hands and Reboot Louisiana together have about $2.2 million available, with a significant portion of that coming from national groups that don't disclose their donors.
The pro-Landry Cajun PAC II, meanwhile, had $1.7 million to spend. (The original Cajun PAC was set up just after Landry was elected to his one term in the House in 2010 to aid federal candidates.) The state Republican Party, which is supporting the attorney general, also had over $1.5 million to spend, though it's not clear how much it plans to deploy for him.
Landry himself is taking advantage of his resource advantage to air his first TV ad of the race, which AdImpact says is running for $98,000, where he decries how the "criminal justice system is broken." No one will mistake the Republican for a reformer, though, as he goes on, "When DA's fail to prosecute, when judges fail to act, when police are handcuffed instead of the criminals, enough is enough." The only other contender who has been on television is Schroder: The Louisiana Illuminator says that he's spent $500,000 on media this year, with 85% of that going to TV.
● CA-12: Businessman Tim Sanchez, a Navy veteran who would be the first Latino to represent the Bay Area in the House, announced Wednesday that he would run for the dark blue East Bay seat held by his fellow Democrat, Senate candidate Barbara Lee. The only other notable Democrat in the race so far is BART board member Lateefah Simon, who raised $300,000 in her opening quarter and ended last month with $250,000 banked.
● CA-27: Democrat Franky Carrillo, who spent two decades in prison after being falsely convicted for murder and now serves on the Los Angeles County Probation Oversight Commission, announced Wednesday that he'd be challenging GOP Rep. Mike Garcia. Carrillo, whose experience was documented in the Netflix series The Innocence Files, joins former Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides in the top-two primary to take on Garcia in a northern Los Angeles County constituency that Biden carried 55-43.
Carrillo used his kickoff video to tell the audience how he was sentenced to life in prison in the early 1990s at age 16 after he was wrongly accused of taking part in a fatal drive-by shooting, which led to a 20-year quest to clear his name. Carrillo details how, while he eventually succeeded in 2011, he learned, "There are people who abuse their power and benefit from the system. Then there's the rest of us." He continues, "We play by the rules and get screwed by the same exact system" as special interests "get exactly what they want."
Carrillo launched his bid almost two months after Whitesides entered the race, and the fellow Democrat finished March with $980,000 on hand after self-funding a little more than half of his opening haul. Carrillo himself filed FEC paperwork in early March, but Inside Elections says his announcement was delayed after he switched campaign consultants. Garcia, meanwhile, finished last month with $720,000 in the bank―a figure that includes a $2,000 contribution from the infamous Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.
● NY Court of Appeals: The New York state Senate on Tuesday confirmed Rowan Wilson to serve as chief justice of the state's highest court one day before it approved Caitlin Halligan to replace him as an associate judge, and the dual confirmations mean that the seven-member Court of Appeals is at full capacity for the first time since Chief Judge Janet DiFiore unexpectedly resigned last August. The ascension of Wilson, a liberal who is the Court of Appeals' first Black chief judge, and Halligan will almost certainly shift the body to the left, though no one's sure by how much.
DiFiore and three other judges until last year formed the conservative wing of the court, with Wilson and Jenny Rivera being in the progressive minority and Shirley Troutman not clearly belonging to either faction. However, New York Focus' Sam Mellins notes that Anthony Cannataro has sided with the liberals on several cases since DiFiore left despite previously always voting with her.
Halligan, who is a former state solicitor general, does not have a judicial record to scrutinize, though, and she could well prove to be a swing vote on important issues like redistricting. Law professor Vincent Bonventre, however, noted that Barack Obama had unsuccessfully nominated Halligan for a federal judgeship and called this "a pretty darn good sign that Obama, or those who do the vetting for him, were confident that she was a liberal."
Mayors and County Leaders
● Indianapolis, IN Mayor: If state Rep. Robin Shackleford is going to deny renomination to Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett in the May 2 Democratic primary, she's going to need to overcome a massive financial disadvantage to do it. Hogsett, who is seeking a third term, outraised Shackleford $690,000 to $60,000 during the first quarter, and he finished with a $4 million to $50,000 cash on hand edge; three other Democrats are also in, but they brought in essentially nothing.
Shackleford, who would be both the first woman and African American to hold this post, has argued that, while she supports Hogsett's efforts to improve downtown Indianapolis, he has ignored other neighborhoods badly in need. The state representative, who has been an intra-party critic of the local Democratic establishment, has also declared that the incumbent has done a poor job addressing public safety. Hogsett, for his part, says that the city has made great gains under him despite the pandemic.
The Democratic nominee will be the heavy favorite in the November general election to lead a community that Joe Biden carried 63-34, but Republicans do have a self-funder in the form of businessman Jefferson Shreve. Shreve, who has also been emphasizing crime, has thrown down $2 million of his own money, which is vastly more than the $90,000 that IndyPolitics.org publisher Abdul-Hakim Shabazz has raised.