The role of the states in shaping our nation is being examined more closely in the aftermath of the 2020 election. My most recent piece in Salon highlights the importance of states in protecting and enhancing voting rights.
This article expands on the arguments in Fighting Gridlock: How States Shape the Nation and Our Lives, now available from University of Virginia Press.
Control of the country begins in the states, especially in two areas—redistricting and voting. Democrats and Republicans have both employed redistricting to their benefit, but following President Obama’s victory in 2008, technological advances permitted Republicans who controlled the majority of state legislatures to draw district lines for dramatic advantage. GOP legislators then enacted a wide variety of voter suppression measures under the guise of preventing fraud, a justification consistently undercut by the facts. These actions are detailed in my upcoming book, Fighting Political Gridlock: How States Shape Our Nation and Our Lives (University of Virginia Press, Sept. 2021).
Voter suppression and hyper partisan redistricting have been debated considerably and justifiably criticized. And these initiatives have frequently been struck down by the courts. The Virginia GOP’s 2011 redistricting, for example, was overturned as an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. Beyond these two approaches, a much more insidious strategy is now underway in several states, one which threatens to undermine the legitimacy of our elections and the democratic process itself.
Since Trump’s defeat, Republicans in certain key states have used their control of legislatures and certain media outlets to keep alive “the big lie” that election was stolen from the former president. In several states that Biden won, this has taken the form of so-called audits of the election conducted by third parties, who often have few credentials and have shown difficulties with quality control to protect the ballots that they are supposed to review. Audits have their place and are frequently used by states to ensure that voting systems and equipment operated properly. In fact, Georgia used such an audit in the weeks following the November election. They are typically operated by state election officials. The recent call for audits have more to do with politics than with electoral improvement.
Today, Trump supporters are pushing third party reviews. In Arizona, the target is vote-rich Maricopa County. Despite state officials having conducted both an additional hand-count of the ballots and a special forensic audit that found no fraud, the GOP-led Senate wanted their own inquiry, and enlisted a group called “Cyber Ninjas,” whose chief executive has been discussing “voter fraud” since the 2020 ballots were counted. When state Secretary of State Katie Hobbs criticized the review as “nothing more than a political stunt,” the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee voted to strip her of her ability to “defend election lawsuits,” including any that might be brought as the result of the Ninja conclusions.
Not to be denied, Georgia Republicans have pushed a similar process. Despite three state audits, including a hand recount, and the assertions of Republican (and Trump voter) Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger that his office failed to find as “systemic fraud,” a number of lawsuits requesting new audits have been filed. Last week, a judge granted one group of plaintiffs the ability to review 145,000 absentee ballots from Fulton County. This process will have court-imposed safeguards not found in Arizona, but it nonetheless perpetuates the idea that the election was illegitimate.
These efforts are having an effect. A recent survey of Georgia voters reported that 76 percent of Republicans believe that Biden’s win was the result of fraud.
Importance of our Primary
Fortunately, we do not have this problem in Virginia. Our state offices are held by Democrats, our elections are fair and clean, and our legislature is controlled by Democrats who will not buy into the “big lie.” But this all could change. Elections have consequences, and so nominating the right people in the June 8 primary is key to keeping Virginia in democratic hands. My choices are the following:
Terry McAuliffe for Governor
I served with Gov. McAuliffe during his first term when he was handicapped by a Republican legislature. McAuliffe was—and remains—a fighter for democrat values. He vetoed efforts to restrict reproductive rights and make guns easier to get. He was outspoken in his support of LGBTQ rights. As evidence of his fortitude, when the state Supreme Court prevented McAuliffe from restoring en masse the rights of 173,000 felons who served their sentences, he did not give up, and decided instead to personally sign every one of 173,000 certificates — individually. That is commitment! Finally, he brought more economic investment to the Commonwealth than any governor in history and set the stage for the recruitment of Amazon’s HQ2 headquarters to Virginia. As we emerge from this difficult pandemic, it is more important than ever to have a firm hand with experience on the levers of economic development so that opportunities are expanded for all Virginians.
Hala Ayala for Lieutenant Governor
Hala is a member of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and a cyber security expert. And she is also a team player, a significant quality because one role of the LG is to break ties in the Senate. Just compare her record of supporting Democratic caucus priorities to those against whom she is running. When a major energy bill was passed in 2020 that committed Virginia to a “clean energy economy”, Hala joined House Dems in support. One of her House colleagues running against her voted no. Hala stood with House Democrats on redistricting reform; that same opponent went his own way. Hala assembled her campaign funds overwhelming from Virginia; the same opponent has received the vast majority of his from out-of-state donors. These are but some of the reasons why Hala has been endorsed by twice as House Democrats than any of her opponents. Like me, they served with her, and know she can be trusted to support the Democratic team when times get tough, when one vote by the LG can determine the success or failure of major policy.
Mark Herring for Attorney General
Mark has been a forceful and effective advocate for progressive causes since he was elected to this position in 2013. He supported marriage equality before it was fashionable to do so. He joined with other Attorneys General to push consumer rights litigation that brought millions of dollars to the Commonwealth. He was not afraid to confront Dominion about utility rates and supports strong regulation of the utility. He engaged in the legal debates about gun safety, criticizing the emerging 2nd Amendment sanctuary movement by issuing an opinion stating that such resolutions passed by many local governments had “no legal force.” When President Trump imposed a travel ban in 2017 to curtail immigration, Herring joined attorneys general to combat it. And when the national archivist suggested that Virginia’s adoption of the ERA might not be enough to include it in the US Constitution, Herring immediately filed a federal lawsuit to compel the measure’s inclusion. When a person is doing such a great job, there is no good reason for him to be retired.
DON’T FORGET TO VOTE
The pace of change in the Virginia General Assembly since Democrats took control of both the House and the Senate in 2020 has been nothing short of breathtaking. In two short years, we have seen action to
- Ratify the ERA, the 38th state to do so.
- Eliminate the requirement of producing a photo ID to vote.
- Remove restrictions on abortion that had previously been enacted by Republicans.
- Pass a LGBTQ nondiscrimination bill.
- Enact major energy and climate change measures to reduce carbon emissions.
- Increase the minimum wage.
- Enact gun safety legislation.
- Allow collective bargaining rights for some public employees.
- Repeal the Death Penalty, the first southern state to do so.
- Legalize small amounts of recreational marijuana.
- Increase accountability for improper police activity.
- Increase support for our teachers and schools.
These are big changes, but there have been other new laws that will also have a positive impact on the lives of Virginians. I recently wrote about one such measure (HB 2147), in the Washington Post. Offered by House Appropriations Chair Luke Torian and called “Virginia Saves,” the bill will create state-facilitated IRAs for workers in companies where they are not presently offered. Read more.
I am pleased to announce that the University of Virginia Press has set a September 7 publication date for my book, Fighting Gridlock: How States Shape the Nation and Our Lives. From voting rights to education, state policies not only greatly impact our lives, but dictate, through election law, much of what occurs in Washington. This book tells the story of so many initiatives occurring at the state level. Senator Mark Warner was very gracious to pen the preface. For more information and to pre-order books, please click here.
I am also completing another project detailing my experiences over the last 14 years in Richmond. It is tentatively called Bellwether: Virginia’s Political Transformation for Red to Blue, 2006-2020. More on that soon.
Endorsements: I am pleased to support Terry McAuliffe for Governor, Hala Ayala for Lieutenant Governor, and Mark Herring for Attorney General in the upcoming primary. My reasons are listed here.
As always, I appreciate your reading this material, and hope to see you as we emerge from the pandemic.
The Democratic primary is June 8. But voting is already underway, and it is important for Democrats to take a close look at all the candidates and make a choice that will best serve Virginia over the next four years. [Read more…]