The Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from the Daily Kos Elections team.
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● AR Ballot: Arkansas organizers seeking to repeal a bill promoted by Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders that purports to ban critical race theory in public schools got the go-ahead Monday to begin qualifying a referendum for next year's ballot. However, a separate law passed by Republicans earlier this year will make the task of collecting signatures to place the measure on the ballot much more difficult, though a pending legal challenge could strike those new hurdles down.
Sanders made national news in March when she signed the LEARNS Act, which she declared meant that "all forms of racism and leftist indoctrination in our schools will be outlawed." Among other things, the bill bans teaching students about "gender identity, sexual orientation, and sexual reproduction" before fifth grade. It also bars any discussion of critical race theory—without actually defining the term. (It's an academic framework for analyzing systemic racism, but the phrase is frequently brandished by conservatives to describe any conversation on race they find objectionable.)
The act also provides vouchers to help pay for students to attend private schools or be homeschooled, which opponents have charged would aid wealthy parents while undermining the public school system.
Nonetheless, the legislation overwhelmingly passed both chambers of the GOP-dominated legislature. State Rep. Jim Wooten, a former public school teacher who was one of the few Republicans to vote "no," argued that the bill sailed through due to a combination of sycophancy and fear. "I would say that 50% of them are trying to get close to the governor," he said of his colleagues, "and the other 50% are afraid of her."
A state judge recently barred the law from going into effect on a temporary basis, but Republican Attorney General Tim Griffin has asked the state Supreme Court to overturn that decision. And given the high court's conservative bent, opponents of the LEARNS Act are seeking a more permanent solution.
Under the state constitution, citizens unhappy with a law passed by legislators have the option of sending what's known as a "veto referendum" before voters, with a simple majority vote needed to repeal the legislation in question. Anyone looking to qualify such a referendum must gather petitions from about 54,000 voters, a figure that represents 6% of the ballots cast in the most recent gubernatorial election.
But there's a strict deadline: Signatures must be collected in the 90 days following the end of the legislative session in which the targeted legislation passes. This year, that clock began ticking on May 1, but Griffin had prevented the organization challenging Sanders' new law, Citizens for Arkansas Public Education and Students, from moving forward until now.
While CAPES had begun preparations many months ago, Griffin rejected its first two proposed ballot measures for what he claimed was "misleading" summary language. Finally, on Monday, Griffin accepted a new version with a summary stretching to almost 8,200 words, more than 10 times the length of the original.
In a letter to organizers, Griffin opined that their summary "essentially cuts and pastes from nearly every section of the LEARNS Act" and that he therefore "cannot conclude that it is misleading." However, he cautioned that the state Supreme Court "has repeatedly warned sponsors of statewide measures about their ballot titles' length and complexity," though he noted that, when it comes to veto referendums, opponents can't control the length of the legislation voters will be asked to weigh in on.
Thanks to Griffin's delay, CAPES now has less than two months to collect petitions, which are due by July 31. Republicans have also sought to make the collection process much harder. In addition to the statewide signature requirement, the constitution specifies that organizers must gather signatures equal to 3% of the vote in the last election for governor in at least 15 counties. That's already a significant burden for any progressive measure: Just eight of the state's 75 counties voted for Joe Biden in 2020, meaning that activists must seek out supporters on conservative turf.
But that wasn't enough for Republicans, who passed a bill in March ramping up that requirement to 50 counties. Even if organizers were to target just the "bluest" counties in the state, that would include places like Van Buren County, which voted for Donald Trump by a 77-20 landslide.
Voting rights advocates charge that this effort to make the geographic distribution requirement more onerous violates the state constitution, which they say represents a ceiling rather than a floor, which can only be altered by a constitutional amendment. In fact, less than three years ago, Republicans did try to amend the constitution to triple the number of counties required to 45, but voters soundly rejected that effort by double digits.
Undaunted, CAPES issued a statement following Griffin's decision saying it was "excited to move forward." If organizers can overcome the obstacles arrayed before them and qualify the referendum, then their task will shift to convincing voters to support the repeal effort. No public polling yet exists on the matter, and ballot measures are typically challenging to survey accurately, but it's likely we can expect a major battle if the referendum does indeed go before voters next year.
● MD-Sen: Maryland Matters reports that an unreleased Democratic primary poll conducted by Dynata included Baltimore Orioles chairman and CEO John Angelos, who is the son of owner Peter Angelos, as an option. The site was unable to reach the younger Angelos or one of his attorneys to ask if he was behind the survey.
● NV-Sen: The Nevada Globe reports that Jeffrey Ross Gunter, who had a turbulent tenure as Trump's ambassador to Iceland from 2019 to 2021, is considering seeking the GOP nod to face Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen. Gunter did not directly confirm his interest, saying instead, "I continue to assess the role I can play in furthering the Make America Great Again agenda and delivering an America First and Nevada First victory in this must-win seat in 2024."
Gunter, who works as a dermatologist, was a Trump donor during and after the 2016 elections, and the administration went on to make him ambassador to a country he'd never visited. He made news in 2020 in what's usually a low-profile post, though, when sources told CBS he was "paranoid" about his safety and wanted a gun and a "stab-proof vest" even though there was no indication he was in danger. An Office of the Inspector General report later said he'd been responsible for a "threatening and intimidating environment."
● DE-Gov: New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer on Tuesday became the first notable candidate to launch a bid to succeed termed-out Democratic Gov. John Carney, but he'll likely face opposition in what would only be the second competitive Democratic primary for this office in four decades.
A Delaware Online article published over the weekend wrote that there was plenty of chatter that Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long could also join the contest to succeed Carney, though she doesn't appear to have said anything publicly yet. Delaware Business Times also mentions Attorney General Kathy Jennings as an option, while Treasurer Colleen Davis recently didn't rule out campaigns for governor, Senate, or House. Democrats have held this post since the 1992 election, and no serious Republicans have shown any interest in trying to break that streak this cycle.
Meyer, unlike those would-be rivals, is not a statewide elected official, though he leads a county that cast about 60% of the votes in last year's party primary. (One of his constituents is Joe Biden, who was a member of the County Council when he won his Senate seat in 1972.) Meyer won that job as a first-time candidate in 2016 after challenging veteran incumbent Tom Gordon in the primary and questioning his ethics, a strategy that resulted in a 52-48 upset. The new executive, who easily won the general election, soon developed a bitter relationship with the local police union, which accused him of trying to undermine the county police chief's authority.
In 2020 the incumbent overcame the union's opposition to win renomination 57-43 ahead of an uncontested general election. Meyer the following year ordered the county to release bodycam footage of a fatal police shooting, which Delaware Online says was the first time it had ever done so. Meyer, who like Carney is barred from seeking reelection again, had $1 million available earlier this year for his new campaign.
He'll likely need a whole lot more because, while Delaware is one of the least-populated states in the nation, over three-quarters of its residents live within the pricey Philadelphia media market. (The balance watch TV coming out of Salisbury, Maryland.) However, while the First State over the last several years has hosted some competitive Democratic primaries for offices like U.S. House and auditor, contested nomination fights for governor have been few and far between.
One of the last ones occurred in 1984 when former state Supreme Court Justice William Quillen defeated former Gov. Sherman Tribbitt, though he was rewarded in the general with a double-digit loss to Republican Mike Castle. (Quillen's daughter, Tracey Carney, is Delaware's current First Lady.) Democrats didn't have a serious fight again until 2008 when Carney, who was lieutenant governor at the time, competed against Treasurer Jack Markell for the right to succeed termed-out incumbent Ruth Ann Minner. Markell pulled off a surprise 51-49 victory after an expensive contest, while Carney returned to statewide office two years later by winning the state's lone House seat.
Everyone expected the primary to replace Markell to be an easy win for former Attorney General Beau Biden, but things instead went into a holding pattern after he died in 2015 following his battle with brain cancer. Carney eventually entered the 2016 race and this time earned the nomination without opposition ahead of two easy general election victories.
● NH-Gov: Republican incumbent Chris Sununu told WMUR Monday that he'll decide "this summer" if he'll seek what would be a historic fifth two-year term, a declaration that came the same day he said he wouldn't be running for president after all. (Summer, for those keeping track, starts June 21 and ends Sept. 23.) This could mean a long wait for everyone including former state Senate President Chuck Morse, who has said he'd run if his fellow Republican stepped aside. A consultant for Morse, who narrowly lost last year's U.S. Senate primary, reiterated to the Boston Globe that his client would continue to get ready for a campaign until Sununu "makes his intentions known."
● NY-17: Politico has obtained a month-old internal from the Democratic firm EMC Research for a pair of progressive groups, End Citizens United and Let America Vote, that shows GOP incumbent Mike Lawler edging out former Rep. Mondaire Jones 50-48. The 300-person sample, which is exactly the minimum we require for inclusion in the Digest, also favors Joe Biden over Donald Trump 50-48, which would be a big comedown from the president's 54-44 victory here in 2020.
The memo does not mention local school board trustee Liz Gereghty, who launched her campaign soon after this survey was completed, and neither sponsor has endorsed anyone. Gereghty, who is the sister of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, is the only notable Democrat in the running, though that will likely change soon. Politico writes that Jones "plans" to jump in sometime this summer and has already brought on a campaign manager.
● RI-01: State Rep. Nathan Biah on Monday announced that he was ending his congressional campaign and would instead run in the upcoming special election to succeed his fellow Democrat, the late state Sen. Maryellen Goodwin. Biah is the first candidate to exit the busy September Democratic primary to replace former Rep. David Cicilline.
● UT-02: Former state Rep. Becky Edwards this week filed FEC paperwork for a campaign to succeed her fellow Republican, outgoing Rep. Chris Stewart, though it remains to be seen when the special will take place.
State law currently requires specials to coincide with regularly scheduled election dates, which would mean a primary on Nov. 7 and a general in March of next year. State House Majority Leader Mike Schultz said over the weekend that state Republicans are talking about holding a special legislative session next week to shorten this timeline or to fund both contests for earlier dates, though he added that they need to learn when Stewart will be resigning. The congressman, for his part, has only says he plans to quit sometime in September.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Bucks County, PA Board of Commissioners: Democratic incumbents Diane Marseglia and Bob Harvie had jointly released an internal from Global Strategy Group that shows them narrowly holding their seats in a tight November general election, a result that would keep the party in control of this populous and competitive county outside of Philadelphia. Marseglia and Republican Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo grab 42% and 41%, respectively, while Harvie edges out county Controller Pamela Van Blunk 39-36 for the crucial third seat.
As we've written before, each party may nominate up to two candidates for the three countywide spots, so there will be a 2-1 split no matter what: The question is which party will get the vital second seat they need to control the body. The answer was always the GOP from 1983 through 2015, but Marseglia and Harvie's wins four years ago finally put Democrats in power.
● Nashville, TN Mayor: The real estate development group NAIOP Nashville has released a survey of the Aug. 3 nonpartisan primary from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, and it finds no candidate earning more than 10% of the vote two months out:
- Council member Freddie O'Connell: 10
- State Sen. Jeff Yarbro: 9
- State Sen. Heidi Campbell: 8
- former economic development chief Matt Wiltshire: 8
- Council member Sharon Hurt: 7
- GOP strategist Alice Rolli: 4
- former AllianceBernstein executive Jim Gingrich: 3
- Someone else: 6
- Not Sure: 45
The poll, which NAIOP Nashville says it commissioned "as a public service to voters in Metro Nashville," did not include Davidson County Property Assessor Vivian Wilhoite and four other candidates as options. In the all-but-certain event that no one takes a majority, a runoff would take place Sept. 14.
The only other poll we've seen of this contest came last month from the GOP pollster Victory Phones on behalf of Tennesseans for Student Success, a pro-charter schools group that doesn't appear to be supporting anyone, and it offered a different take on the race. Campbell led with 22% as Yarbro edged out O'Connell 17-16 for second, with Hurt far back at 7%. Rolli, who also scored 4%, is the only contender who identifies as a Republican in this dark blue city.
The Nashville Banner says that just two contenders, Gingrich and Wiltshire, are spending heavily on ads right now, with the two deploying a total of $700,000 last month. A recent offering from Wiltshire calls for "investing in our neighborhoods," while Gingrich pledges he has "a plan to manage growth and make Nashville more liveable."