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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● FL Ballot: Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and a coalition of other organizations are launching an effort to place a constitutional amendment on Florida's ballot next year that would both undo the six-week abortion ban that Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law last month and allow the procedure to take place up to 24 weeks into a pregnancy. However, not only would this proposal need to win 60% of the vote in order to pass, supporters need to clear multiple hurdles to get on the ballot in the first place.
First, abortion rights advocates need to turn in about 892,000 valid signatures by Feb. 1, a figure that represents 8% of the total number of votes cast in the state's last presidential election. That's not all, though, because Florida law further requires that organizers hit this target by collecting 8% of the districtwide vote from at least half of the state's 28 congressional districts, a task that got tougher after DeSantis pushed through an aggressive gerrymander last year.
Florida Republicans have also enacted laws making it tougher to collect petitions, including one rule that makes it illegal to pay people based on the number of signatures they gather—something that experts say has doubled the cost of qualifying for the ballot. The conservative state Supreme Court presents yet another obstacle as well, as its members have prevented proposed amendments from reaching the ballot. In 2021, notably, the high court blocked two different amendments to allow the use of recreational marijuana after ruling that the proposals were confusingly worded.
If pro-choice groups overcome all of these impediments and reach the 2024 ballot, though, the amendment may be able to win the three-fifths supermajority it would need to prevail. Supporters have pointed to a March survey from the University of North Florida that found that only 22% of registered voters backed "a ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy in Florida, with no exceptions for rape or incest," while 75% were against the idea.
● Austin, TX Ballot: Voters in Texas' capital city overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to strengthen the local Office of Police Oversight on Saturday, while they gave the thumbs down to a rival initiative backed by Austin's police union that would have essentially maintained the status quo. Proposition A passed 79-21, while Proposition B failed by an almost identical 80-20 margin. Both proposed ordinances were titled the "Austin Police Oversight Act," though Prop. B was only placed on the ballot months after the opposing measure first qualified.
However, it remains to be seen just how much of Prop. A will actually go into effect. Texas' Republican-run state Senate recently approved a bill to prevent civilian entities like the OPO from investigating officers' behavior, and the state House will now consider the legislation. The head of the police union, the Austin Police Association, has also argued that there are parts of the ordinance that already violate state law, including a portion giving the OPO "[d]irect access, without hindrance, to relevant department personnel and department records."
Contract negotiations between the city and the APA, which stalled earlier this year as the city council waited on the results of this election, will also impact what happens next. Almost anything approved in the contract would take precedence over city ordinances, though Prop. A's backers argued before Saturday that a decisive win would place them in a much stronger negotiating position. "Prop A's APOA is like a procurement rule for police contracts, which the city does all the time," said an official from Equity Austin, which was the main supporter for the ballot campaign. "We can still bargain with the police association, but we must do it with these rules."
● San Antonio, TX Ballot: Voters in San Antonio rejected a wide-ranging amendment to reform the city charter by a 72-28 margin after local officials warned state law would render it largely unenforceable and the city's police union spent almost $2 million to sink it. San Antonio's Proposition A would have forbidden the police from enforcing laws that criminalize either abortion or "low-level marijuana possession," and it would have also barred them from employing chokeholds or no-knock warrants.
Detractors focused much of their ire on another portion that would have required officers cite and release suspects for certain misdemeanor offenses, such as the theft of property worth less than $750. Mayor Ron Nirenberg, a liberal-leaning independent who won reelection Saturday by a 61-22 margin over his nearest opponent, argued, "Cite and release has always had officer discretion. Prop. A effectively removes officer discretion, and again, theft and property damage are not victimless crimes." The measure's backers struggled to push back and spent only about a tenth as much as their opponents.
● AZ-Sen: Democrats relishing a comeback for Blake Masters may be disappointed, as unnamed sources tell the conservative website The Dispatch that the GOP's disastrous 2022 Senate nominee is unlikely to go up against his former ticket-mate, Kari Lake, should the not-governor wage her own anticipated campaign. Masters, though, insists, "Any decision I might make to run for any office in the future will depend upon a number of factors, not just one person."
The story also says that party strategists doubt Karrin Taylor Robson, who narrowly lost to Lake in last year's GOP primary for governor, is really interested in running for Senate, with one saying on the record, "She wants to be governor." However, one of Robson's allies insists "she hasn't made any decisions" about 2024. A Lake spokesperson, meanwhile, says he's "99% sure" his boss will campaign for the seat currently held by Kyrsten Sinema, who has yet to announce her own re-election plans.
● KY-Gov: Attorney General Daniel Cameron's backers at Bluegrass Freedom Action are airing a spot in eastern Kentucky touting his endorsement from Donald Trump, and new campaign finance reports underscore just how much he needs the super PAC to keep pro-Cameron messaging on the airwaves ahead of the May 16 Republican primary.
The attorney general finished May 1 with only $340,000 in the bank, compared to the $1.2 million that his self-funding rival, former U.N. Ambassador Kelly Craft, had at her disposal. But BFA, which is in turn funded by a dark-money organization called the Concord Fund, still had $750,000 available. Cameron raised just over $80,000 from April 16 to May 1, while BFA took in $810,000 in those two weeks. Craft, though, poured in a much larger $2.25 million from her own wallet, which brings her total personal investment to about $9.3 million.
Craft's husband, coal billionaire Joe Craft, previously gave $1.5 million to support a different organization backing his wife, the Commonwealth PAC, but the group didn't report taking in any new money during this period and had little left to spend. The candidate has insisted she didn't know her spouse was financing the PAC, though the head of the state Registry of Election Finance said last month that Joe Craft's involvement "certainly raises concerns about potential coordination, and will be reviewed by the Registry."
The two rivals are continuing to attack one another while ignoring other primary contenders, a situation that Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles is hoping to take advantage of. Quarles, who has pitched himself as a positive alternative to his two main opponents, went up with his first spot in late April, and while he raised only around $30,000 during the most recent period, he had $460,000 left for the rest of the campaign. The commissioner, who has not received any significant outside support, has been trying to appeal to rural voters. "It's been 20 years since we've had a governor from rural Kentucky," he's told supporters. "Just get the farm vote out for me, don't forget."
Only Quarles, though, appears positioned to benefit should voters sour on the frontrunners. Somerset Mayor Alan Keck had a mere $35,000 available for the rest of the campaign, while Auditor Mike Harmon and suspended attorney Eric Deters each had less than $15,000 left. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, for his part, continues to stock up ahead of what will be an expensive general election fight. The incumbent raised $350,000 from April 16 through May 1 and finished with $6.1 million in the bank.
● LA-Gov: The main super PAC backing Stephen Waguespack has launched a $1.75 million TV ad campaign to boost the first-time Republican candidate's name recognition well ahead of October's all-party primary. In a spot devoid of red meat, Reboot Louisiana touts Waguespack, who recently stepped down as head of the state's Chamber of Commerce affiliate, as a "pro-law enforcement" leader who is not a politician. (Sorry, but anyone who runs for office is by definition a politician whether or not they've held office before.)
The expensive buy comes weeks after two of Waguespack's intra-party foes, Treasurer John Schroder and Attorney General Jeff Landry, began running ads of their own. The development is notable, given that Louisiana's campaign season historically gets off to a late start. In fact, LaPolitics' Jeremy Alford writes that it's "unique" to see multiple gubernatorial candidates or their allies on the air this early. Alford says that a single candidate in past cycles has sometimes debuted ads months before their rivals, but races for governor typically don't get fully engaged until "late summer or around Labor Day"—something that's very much not happening this time around.
● MI-10: Inside Elections' Erin Covey relays that Democratic state Sen. Kevin Hertel is considering taking on freshman Republican Rep. John James in a seat Donald Trump took just 50-49, a bid that comes as his brother, former state Sen. Curtis Hertel, is also reportedly mulling a run one district away in the open 7th.
A win for Kevin Hertel, though, would necessitate a special election in a 52-47 Trump constituency that the Democrat captured by just over 300 votes last year; Democrats currently hold a 20-18 majority in the chamber, with Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist able to break ties for the party. (Michigan's Senate is only up in midterms and members serve four-year terms.)
Covey also confirms that 2022 nominee Carl Marlinga is "preparing for a rematch" with James, following his unexpectedly close 48.8-48.3 loss last year. A local Democratic elected official said in February that Marlinga was telling fellow Democrats he would run, but we'd heard nothing else about his plans until now. Covey adds that while former Rep. Andy Levin, who badly lost last year's primary in the 11th District to fellow incumbent Haley Stevens, hasn't closed the door on a bid against James, her sources doubt he'll do it.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Jacksonville, FL Mayor: A PAC backing Democrat Donna Deegan in the nonpartisan May 16 general election is airing a spot in which Nat Glover, whose 1995 win made him Jacksonville's first Black sheriff since Reconstruction, defends her against Republican Daniel Davis' attacks. While Glover, who left office in 2003, does not specifically mention the GOP ads going after Deegan for attending Black Lives Matter demonstrations, the former sheriff tells the audience, "Police accountability is essential. We all want safe schools and neighborhoods." He continues, "I will not remain quiet and allow this city to go back to the 'us versus them' era."
● Philadelphia, PA Mayor: Former City Council member Cherelle Parker's allies at Philadelphians For Our Future have launched the first negative TV ad anyone's directed at former City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart in the May 16 Democratic primary, as well as a separate spot going after both former Council colleague Allan Domb and businessman Jeff Brown. So far, the PAC, which is largely funded by building trades unions, hasn't aired spots targeting the fifth major candidate, former City Council member Helen Gym, though she's been on the receiving end of another group's attack ads. The Philadelphia Inquirer notes Parker is also now the only serious contender who hasn't been singled out in any negative TV spots.
The new anti-Rhynhart ad charges that when she was then-Mayor Michael Nutter's treasurer during the Great Recession, the "city failed to pay vendors on time" and "closed pools and libraries." (The libraries stayed open after a judge ruled they couldn't be shuttered without City Council approval.) Rhynhart has defended herself from similar criticisms leveled by Gym at a debate by saying she was implementing Nutter's directives rather than her own.
The other ad casts Domb and Brown, who have spent more than anyone else in the race, as self-funders "trying to buy the mayor's office" who've each aided "anti-choice Republican politicians." The Inquirer's Anna Orso says that, while Brown has almost exclusively contributed to Democrats, he did donate $1,500 to then-Republican Sen. Pat Toomey in 2013. Domb, for his part, has donated to the National Association of Realtors' PAC, which has long supported candidates from both parties.
Prosecutors and Sheriffs
● St. Louis, MO Circuit Attorney: Democratic incumbent Kim Gardner announced on Thursday that she'd resign as St. Louis' top prosecutor on June 1 to stop Missouri's GOP-dominated legislature from approving a bill that would have dramatically weakened her office by allowing the governor to appoint a special prosecutor for violent crimes. Her departure may not stop them, though, as state House Republicans responded by calling for their counterparts in the upper chamber join them in passing the legislation.
Gardner's 2016 victory made her the first Black person to hold this post, and she pledged to use it to pursue criminal justice reforms. During her time in office, she often clashed with police unions and the Republican-controlled state government over her policies, and Attorney General Andrew Bailey has been trying to oust her through judicial proceedings for allegedly failing to do her job.
Gardner's critics have accused her of running an understaffed office and being slow to prosecute cases, and they're not all Republicans: St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, a fellow Democrat, said earlier this year said Gardner had "lost the trust of the people" over a high-profile incident in which a man with nearly 100 bond violations was charged with driving the speeding car that cost a teenager both her legs. Things got worse for Gardner one day before her departure announcement when the Riverfront Times reported she'd been taking nursing classes, which Bailey was apparently preparing to use as evidence that she was neglecting her responsibilities.
It will be up to GOP Gov. Mike Parson to appoint Gardner's successor to a post that's next on the ballot in 2024. The governor says he'll work with Jones to decide on a replacement, though there's nothing stopping him from choosing a Republican in this dark blue city.
● Where Are They Now?: Former North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn pleaded guilty on Friday to a third-degree misdemeanor charge for bringing a loaded gun into the Charlotte airport last year and was ordered to pay a $250 fine. Cawthorn, who said he'd forgotten he was carrying the weapon in his backpack, lost the GOP primary to now-Rep. Chuck Edwards the month after the incident, and he moved to Florida right after he left Congress in January.
● Where Are They Now?: A jury on Thursday acquitted former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who was the 2018 Democratic nominee for governor of Florida, on charges that he lied to the FBI during an investigation into local corruption. However, it failed to reach a verdict on charges that he and co-defendant Sharon Lettman-Hicks illegally siphoned off campaign money for their own uses. (Lettman-Hicks was only indicted in the latter matter.) Prosecutors say they plan to seek a new trial on the counts where the jury deadlocked.