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Morning Digest: Colorado just released a new congressional map. We’re not covering it

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Procedures vary in every state, but as a rule, the redistricting process is long, messy, and iterative. Whether handled by a commission, the legislature, or the courts, it’s common to see many proposals introduced and debated. Even as they advance—whether through a vote on a legislative committee, a submission by a court-appointed expert, a proposal from a commission, or any other means—they can always be amended and adjusted along the way, and often are. And of course, even a map passed by lawmakers can be vetoed by a hostile governor, just as a map approved by a court can get overturned on appeal.

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One salient example from a decade ago comes from South Carolina, where bitter GOP infighting nearly resulted in redistricting getting punted to the courts despite the fact that Republicans controlled the legislature and the governorship. A split between the upper and lower chambers saw dissident Senate Republicans join with Democrats to pass a completely different congressional map from the version their counterparts in the House had signed off on, and for a while the standoff seemed insoluble.

After a weeks-long stalemate, though, the rebels finally caved after one leader decided he preferred voting for a map he disliked instead of letting federal judges draw the lines. (As David Jarman wrote at the time, there was “no word on what type of horse’s head was placed in his bed to help him arrive at this decision.”) It was a fascinating illustration of how things can go haywire even in a state under one-party rule, but it also shows why it pays to be cautious before devoting a lot of time and energy to analyzing a map that may never actually be used, especially for a small outfit like Daily Kos Elections.

Things are even more complicated this year, thanks to delays in the production of the granular census data necessary to produce maps with equal-sized districts that comply with the constitutional requirement of “one person, one vote.” The Census Bureau says it will provide this data by Aug. 16, which means that any maps produced before that point are reliant on population estimates, making them vulnerable to court challenges. To insulate such maps from these sorts of challenges, states will have to revise them after receiving the new data—including those that have already passed into law, like the legislative plans in Oklahoma and Illinois.

Rest assured, we will be covering the entire redistricting process thoroughly, with even more fine-grained coverage in our weekly newsletter, the Voting Rights Roundup. But this is most definitely a marathon and not a sprint: In the previous redistricting cycle, the last congressional map wasn’t finalized until June of 2012, when Kansas brought up the caboose (thanks, once more, to Republican disarray). If that precedent holds, the conclusion could be a year away—and that’s not counting the inevitable litigation that will follow. So, as Nathan says, take a deep breath and get ready for the long haul. We will be there the whole way.

Senate

WI-Sen: We haven’t heard much from Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes about a potential Senate bid since he first publicly expressed interest in January, but he still seems very keen to run. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel notes that he recently hired a prominent political consultant and has also been making more official appearances. Barnes, a former state representative, was elected on a ticket with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in 2018 and would be Wisconsin’s first Black senator.

Governors

MI-Gov: Fox asked former Detroit Police Chief James Craig this week when he expected to make up his mind whether he’d seek the Republican nod, to which he responded, “I’m optimistic, hopefully within a few weeks I should be making a statement on the decision.”

NY-Gov: On Thursday, Attorney General Tish James refused to give a direct answer when reporters asked if she’d rule out a campaign for the Democratic nomination. She instead replied, “The politics stops at the door of the office of attorney general.” When reporter Jimmy Vielkind pointed out that James was literally standing outside the door of the office of attorney general, she laughed and added, “The door of the Capitol.”

James also declined to say when she’d be finished investigating the many allegations that have been leveled against Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, saying her probe “will conclude when it concludes.”

VA-Gov: Republican Glenn Youngkin’s vast personal fortune means that he can afford to stay on TV from now until November, and he’s making the most of that advantage. The Washington Post reports that Youngkin has spent $2 million on TV and radio spots since he won the GOP nominating convention in early May; Democrat Terry McAuliffe, meanwhile, has restricted himself to digital advertising since his primary victory a little more than two weeks ago.

Youngkin campaigned for the GOP nod by touting himself as an ardent Trumpist, but unsurprisingly, he’s adopted far different messaging since then. Youngkin’s newest spot has him asking, “In our communities, in our houses of worship, right here at work, does anyone really care what political party we belong to?”

House

IA-02: Iowa Starting Line writes that Democratic state Rep. Christina Bohannan’s name has been “making the rounds recently” as a potential opponent for Republican Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, though there’s no word on Bohannan’s interest.

Miller-Meeks won an open seat race last year by all of 6 votes as Donald Trump was carrying this southeastern Iowa seat 51-47, but Team Red’s complete control of state government gives legislators the chance to draw up a friendlier district for her next year. Under state law, a nonpartisan agency proposes maps to the state legislature, but while lawmakers have always adopted them, the GOP now can simply reject the agency’s proposals and implement their own gerrymanders.

NY-22: Former Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi said Thursday that he would not wage a third campaign against Republican Claudia Tenney next year. Brindisi unseated Tenney during the 2018 blue wave but ultimately lost their rematch last year by 109 votes after months of uncertainty.

This seat, which contains Binghamton, Utica, and Rome, backed Donald Trump 55-43, but Tenney’s underwhelming performance could leave her vulnerable even if state Democrats don’t take full advantage of their ability to bypass the state’s new bipartisan redistricting commission to draw up their own maps.

Attorneys General

AZ-AG: Former Arizona Corporation Commission Chair Kris Mayes announced this week that she would seek the Democratic nomination for state attorney general, a GOP-held open seat. Mayes joins state Rep. Diego Rodriguez in the primary.

Mayes worked as Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano’s communication director in 2003 even though she was a registered Republican, and she was later appointed to the Arizona Corporation Commission, the powerful body that regulates utilities. Mayes went on to win statewide races for that office as a Republican, and she left the post at the end of 2010 due to term limits. Mayes says she re-registered as a Democrat in 2019.

Grab Bag

Where Are They Now?: President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that he was nominating former Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, a fellow Democrat, to serve as U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.


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Georgia congressman refuses to back off claim that Jan. 6 was a ‘normal tourist visit’

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“Watching the TV footage of those who entered the Capitol and walked through Statuary Hall showed people in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes, taking videos and pictures. You know, if you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from January the 6th, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit,” Clyde’s statement said.

“Those are your words,” Raskin continued. After being called out for his words, Clyde— who could have easily apologized for his ignorance and belittling of the violent experience many face— defended his statement. 

“And I stand by that exact statement, as I said it,” Clyde said.

But Clyde’s statements comparing rioters to tourists isn’t the only problematic thing the congressman defended. Clyde also defended his vote against honoring the Capitol Police and D.C. Police officers who risked their lives defending the Capitol by awarding them medals.

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The heated exchange follows the officers’ testimonies heard earlier in the day by the select committee. During the hearing, several lawmakers asked the officers to make comparisons between the rioters and normal tourists visiting the Capitol. 

As he recalled his experience defending the Capitol, one officer, Metropolitan Police Department Officer Daniel Hodges, repeatedly referred to the rioters as “terrorists.” When asked why he used this specific term, Hodges read directly from the U.S. code for domestic terrorism to justify why he called the Capitol rioters “terrorists.”

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Before calling out Clyde for comparing the rioters to tourists, Raskin asked Clyde if he had watched that morning’s hearing. 

Clyde at first attempted to dodge the question, saying that “It’s absolutely irrelevant to this amendment right here.” But Raskin continued to push him, arguing that Clyde “refuses to say whether or not he heard the Capitol officers who risked their lives and have experienced traumatic medical injuries.”

After quoting Clyde’s statement and having him confirm that he still stood by what he said, Raskin addressed the dangers of calling a “medieval mob” a group of “tourists.”

“I spent several hours today, with millions of Americans, watching sworn police officers testify about their battle to defend our lives, the members of the House and the senators. And they took issue, not with, let’s put your statement aside, because you think that you’ve been misinterpreted by people, but they’re taking issue with an internet meme that the people here were just tourists, it was a normal day, and they were saying they weren’t tourists. They were terrorists,” Raskin said. Raskin added that “lots of people online believed your statement that it was a normal tourist visit.”

But despite the fact that Raskin read his statement aloud word for word and Clyde accepted it as the truth, Clyde was unable to handle the consequences of his words and grew angry, claiming Raskin was misquoting him. He alleged he never called those who breached the Capitol “tourists.”

“That is not my statement!” Clyde said. “I’m not responsible for an internet meme, okay?” Clyde continued. He then claimed that Raskin was attempting to make the meeting “another January 6th hearing.”

While Clyde didn’t confirm whether or not he saw the hearing, it’s no surprise many Republican lawmakers didn’t tune in. It’s been months since the violent Capitol insurrection, yet many GOP officials fail to acknowledge the role they played in the event (and continue to play) by downplaying its reality. They need to be held accountable, just like those who stormed the Capitol itself.


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Luis Grijalva’s DACA status put halt to his Olympic dreams. A last-minute approval has changed that

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Grijalva and Jessica Smith Bobadilla, his attorney, “were unsure whether immigration officials would be able to grant Grijalva permission on time, but on Monday, he got cleared to travel after weeks of uncertainty,” CNN reported. Advance parole, the process that allows some DACA recipients to travel internationally for employment, humanitarian, or educational purposes, can take as long as 90 days to get approved, she told CNN.

They said they put together “a very detailed” application, then traveled to a USCIS in Phoenix to continue pleading their case. “Tomorrow morning I will be marching down the USCIS office in Phoenix to make one last effort in gaining an advance parole that allows me to leave the country and be able to return safely,” he wrote in an Instagram post the day before. Following the good news Monday, he told The New York Times“[i]t’s just a lot of emotions—excitement, just really happy.”

But even though he’s lived here since he was a baby and has excelled in American competitions and American schools (including winning a full scholarship to Northern Arizona University), Grijalva will be competing with the Guatemalan running team in Tokyo. CNN reports “he couldn’t represent the US in the Olympics for several reasons, including his immigration status.” The Times reported that the time Grijalva finished at last month’s NCAA race is a national record in Guatemala.

“It would be pretty special to represent Guatemala at the Olympics,” he said in that report. “To be able to represent my parents and my roots—that was where I started.” In his Instagram post the day before traveling to the Phoenix USCIS office, Grijalva had also said he was seeking “to be a voice and represent over 600,000 Dreamers like me.”

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The only thing Grijalva should have been worrying about right now was the competition itself, yet his immigration status would have ended his Olympic dreams for now if the last-minute approval hadn’t come through. But even that process is on shaky ground: When DACA was killed by the previous administration in 2017, so was advance parole. While it was forced to reinstate the program under court order last year, a federal judge this month has halted new applications for now. The lives of Grijalva and many others will continue to be in limbo until there’s permanent relief.

Democrats right now have the best chance in years to pass a pathway to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants, as well as temporary status holders and essential workers. Just this week, more than 80 mayors across nearly 30 states issued a call to President Joe Biden and legislators to pass legalization through the budget reconciliation process, writing that “it’s time for Congress to act.”

“It is a failure of our government not to move forward in passing comprehensive immigration reform,” Tucson mayor and letter signatory Regina Romero said during a press call this week. “Now, we have the chance to pass a comprehensive plan for those who stepped up to support our country during the pandemic while contributing to our economy. For more than two decades, Congress has failed to act and now is the perfect opportunity through reconciliation.”

“I’ve been here for 21 years, some ways I feel as American as anybody else who was born here but just that having that birthright, that being born here, just takes away so many opportunities for myself but also for everyone else who’s on DACA,” Grijalva said according to CNN.


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New energy data shows solar and wind rising as ‘King Coal’ continues an epic crash

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That chart comes from a report issued by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Wednesday morning. And it looks like this:

Renewable sources replace coal as the nation’s second largest source of electricity.

The headline here is certainly worth celebrating: Renewable sources of energy are now the second-largest source of electricity in America, generating 21% of the total. It’s not actually the first time this has happened; back in 1950 when the agency first began, hydro power was the nation’s No. 2 source of electricity. But there are only so many places that can be, or should be, dammed to produce electricity and unfortunately, coal is abundant. The next 60 years were the Age of Coal, with that most destructive of fossil fuels growing ever more dominant. 

But what’s happened since 2005 is genuinely amazing. King Coal was toppled from his throne in a revolution that was one part natural gas fracking and one part increasingly cheap wind and solar. And this is the first time that the EIA has placed production from renewables above that of coal.

The reason natural gas grew so rapidly over the last two decades is easy to describe. Gas is easily used in the same kind of steam-cycle power production as coal, but it has several advantages. First, gas need not be stored in huge stockpiles on the ground—stockpiles that are subject to both weathering and to spontaneously catching fire. Second, burning gas produces a lot of CO2, but in terms of other byproducts, it’s almost infinitely cleaner than coal so there’s no need for expensive “scrubbers” that eliminate things such as the sulfur dioxide from coal that causes acid rain. Third, gas doesn’t leave behind tons of ash that has to be stored in great eroding mounds or slurry pools that constantly threaten to flood the area in toxic sludge.

But more important than any of that, gas plants can be small. Utilities can create gas generators of almost every size, and simply add more when needed. Coal plants range from merely huge to absolutely titanic, and the economies of coal make it difficult to scale them up or down.

So why didn’t companies use gas to begin with? Because before the mid-1990s, the price of natural gas varied widely. That made gas suitable for building small “peaking” plants that could handle extra demand on those days when the grid was at maximum demand, but left cheaper coal to carry the main demand. It was only after fracking became widespread and the price of gas stabilized at a rate that made it competitive with coal that the big switchover began.

What’s striking about the renewables line on the chart is how fast it doesn’t grow until about 2005. That line reflects mostly more hydro power, small-scale solar, and an irregular trickle of wind projects over the span of decades. It’s not until prices for both wind and solar became cost-competitive with coal that things started to change quickly. The decades in which annual changes in renewables could be measured in a fraction of a percentage point charge abruptly into a steady rise, and the rate of that rise is increasing. 

By 2018, the cost of building new solar or wind power from scratch had reached a point where it was less than the cost of simply maintaining an existing coal plant, even ignoring the cost of coal. That’s a powerful incentive to switch. Even as Donald Trump was talking about how he was going to “save” the coal industry, it was plummeting in a near freefall, shedding both capacity and workers.

Overall, what the chart shows is just this: Things can change. With the right motivations, they can change quickly. The one problem with this chart is that it might tempt everyone to just sit back and let the market handle it. After all, the last two decades show that gigawatts of production can change almost overnight when dollars are on the line.

Only there are reasons that the government still has to shove, and shove hard, to make things move rapidly enough and in the right direction.

  • Gas is cheap. Thanks to fracking, there is an absolute glut of natural gas—so much that at several points, all the storage facilities in the nation have been nearly choked with the stuff. How long will fracking allow fields from Texas to North Dakota to Pennsylvania to continue producing at a record pace? No one knows. But right now the use of natural gas is still increasing. That means more CO2 and more spilled methane. 
  • Innovation needs to come home. When Republicans fume about Chinese solar panels, they’re at least half right. Part of the price reduction for solar has come through availability of cheap panels manufactured mostly in China or India. The U.S. continues to make breakthroughs in solar cell efficiency, but needs help in turning those improvements into an industry that sees American panels being shipped around the world.
  • Inequity is a market inevitability. Left to itself, the market will gradually close out coal plants and create more renewables. But it will also leave behind ecological disasters. Coal is a dying extraction industry. What such industries leave behind are unreclaimed lands, crumbling plants, and communities in ruin. Government intervention is absolutely necessary if this failing industry is going to be ushered out the door in a way that gives workers and the surrounding areas a soft landing rather than seeing coal executives wave bye-bye beneath golden parachutes. And the government needs to pay particular attention to both cleaning up and providing jobs to communities of color, which are often right in the zones of heaviest pollution.
  • It’s not fast enough. The chart shows the energy industry can change more quickly than anyone believed. Now it has to change faster. We don’t have more decades to make this transition, not when every wasted year represents more of that drought, fire, and flood we mentioned back at the beginning.

The abrupt change in America’s energy mix should be good news to everyone. Even if much of that production has switched to natural gas, it shows that enormous change is possible. 

Now let’s make it happen again. Faster.


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