CD8 Lineup

For those not keeping score at home, here’s the current - dizzying - state of play in CD8. By the end of the week, it may total 10 candidates.

Declared: Kumar Barve, Ana Sol Gutierrez, Will Jawando, Kathleen Matthews, Jamie Raskin

Announced: Valerie Ervin, Liz Matory

Rumored: Josh Rales, Jeff Waldstreicher (letting us know tomorrow?)

And for an even ten, I’ve heard that there’s yet another candidate waiting in the wings but I haven’t been able to pry the name out of anyone yet. Y’all will be the first to know after I do.

Dude, You’re Not Helping

The process of persuading voters to support a candidate for office is, particularly at this early point in the various 2016 campaigns, a delicate one - more art than science. While the goal is ultimately to persuade as wide a swath of voters as possible, at this early point one critical goal of congressional and Senate candidates (either directly or through surrogates) is to persuade the “influencers” and “opinion makers” to support the candidate. Voters are for the most part just not that tuned in just yet, nor will they be for many months.

Being so close to D.C., Maryland (and even more so, Montgomery County) is full of these influencers. Leaders of think tanks, policy and advocacy organizations, and political geeks of all stripes (God bless them, they read my blog) are a significant part of our communities. Persuading these folks to get behind a candidate is not easy - they’re smart, savvy and not easily swayed by propaganda. 

So it was with a great deal of shock and amazement that I saw a Facebook post this weekend by Tony Varona, inquiring, HUAC-style, whether Elizabeth Birch, former board chair of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, and more recently the executive director of the Human Rights Campaign for a decade, was in fact supporting Kathleen Matthews over Jamie Raskin in CD8.

You see at the bottom Birch’s incredulous response, which is precisely the same as mine. Calling out anyone publicly in this manner demonstrates exceedingly questionable judgment - but questioning the civil rights bona fides of someone like Elizabeth Birch is just bizarre. And to do it on the very day of the Supreme Court’s historic  marriage equality decision is simply astounding. If Tony Varona wanted to alienate and anger Elizabeth Birch, he couldn’t have succeeded more fully and completely than he did here. He’s not helping his cause, and he’s not helping his candidate.

Moreover, Varona is not just some guy who happens to be a Raskin supporter. He’s Jamie’s colleague at the Washington College of Law at American University (my alma mater, as it happens), associate dean for faculty and academic affairs. He ought to know better. More interesting tidbits as I research further - Varona was general counsel to HRC for fully half of Elizabeth Birch’s tenure as executive director. In other words, they were colleagues and Birch was Varona’s boss. Wow.

Side note: this fixation that some have with Kathleen Matthews’ contribution to Roy Blunt is waaaaay overblown. I’m not saying it’s a good thing, but to make a single contribution out of over $60,000 in total contributions a disqualifying event is quite frankly kind of silly. But each to his own, I suppose.

There’s a lot of effective ways to persuade someone to support your preferred candidate for office in this situation. This is definitely not one of them.

The End of Equality MD?

This has been rumored for months, but today comes an email that acknowledges the impending demise of once-great LGBT organization Equality Maryland.

The Board of Directors of Equality Maryland and its Foundation reluctantly announced today that, as a result of declining revenues, it is taking action to either reduce operations next month, or cease operations. Despite continued policy advocacy and educational programming, funding sources for the organization have dwindled in recent years following victories on such major issues as marriage equality and a transgender-inclusive anti-discrimination law.

The email also reveals a fact that was undisclosed until today. Executive Director Carrie Evans was supposedly laid off on June 5, although no statement to this effect was ever made at the time and the organization has continued to raise money from donors unaware of Equality Maryland’s dire financial circumstances - until today.

The entire Equality Maryland email is below. It appears that very soon we’ll be saying RIP to Equality Maryland. I’ll choose to celebrate the former leadership of the group by Dan Furmansky and later Morgan Meneses-Sheets.


New Overtime Rules

The Obama Administration will this week announce long awaited new regulations  that will provide increased overtime pay to approximately five million workers. 

President Obama said Monday that he wants to require overtime pay for salaried workers who make up to $50,400 a year, a proposal that the White House estimates will cover nearly 5 million workers.

The changes would go into effect in 2016 and would replace current overtime regulations, which require overtime pay for salaried workers making less than $23,660 a year. “Right now too many Americans are working long days for less pay than they deserve,” Obama wrote in a Huffington Post op-ed announcing the proposal. “That’s partly because we’ve failed to update overtime regulations for years.”

Tomorrow Is June 30

Public service reminder - the next two weeks are going to be like Christmas in July. New candidates and FEC reports to unwrap, oh boy. All I need now is a tree (and a menorah) and I will be a happy blogger.

Any leaks, rumors, whispers, predictions, expectations, reports or the like that you don’t give to me first, I’m going to pout. Just putting that out there now so we’re all clear on this. I WANT PRESENTS.

ICYMI: Dildos or ISIS Flag? CNN Can’t Decide

Ovee the weekend, CNN aired what has to be regarded as one of the most bizarre reports ever in the history of bizarre cable journalism. Sunday night, John Oliver gave the issue the serious treatment it so richly deserves. Money quote:

For more than seven spectacular minutes CNN had [the flag] on screen, even calling one of the terrorism experts to figure out why ISIS might be marching with the gay community through London. Which did seem surprising. It’s a full day later now and they still have not addressed that mistake on air. Probably because it would be just too embarrassing to have a professional journalist say, ‘I’m sorry, despite working at CNN, it seems I don’t know what a dildo looks like. I don’t know.’


More Positive Supreme Court News

The Supreme Court has been a source of a lot of good news - not on everything - and just within the past half hour comes more, this time on access to abortion in Texas.

The Supreme Court issued a brief, two paragraph order on Monday permitting Texas abortion clinics that are endangered by state law requiring them to comply with onerous regulations or else shut down to remain open. The order stays a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which imposed broad limits on the women’s right to choose an abortion within that circuit.

The Court’s order is temporary and offers no direct insight into how the Court will decide this case on the merits. It provides that the clinics’ application for a stay of the Fifth Circuit’s decision is granted “pending the timely filing and disposition of a petition” asking the Court to review the case on the merits. The Court adds that, should this petition be denied, the stay will automatically terminate. Otherwise, the stay “shall terminate upon the issuance of the judgment of this Court.”

While the substance of the order offers little insight into how the Court will ultimately decide this case, the final sentence of the order does: “The Chief Justice, Justice Scalia, Justice Thomas, and Justice Alito would deny the application.” Notably absent from this list of dissenting justices is Justice Anthony Kennedy, a conservative who typically votes with his fellow conservatives in abortion cases, but who has also refused to overrule Roe v. Wade outright.

The fact that the four liberals voted to grant cert is crucial - on abortion cases in recent years, it had usually been the conservatives seeking to create bad law, and the liberals rarely voting to take new cases in fear of precisely the same outcome. Here, Justice Kennedy was with the liberals in agreeing to take the case, which means there is a very good chance that he sees the Texas regulations as going too far in the direction of overruling Roe v. Wade. More important than what I think is that Sotomsyor, Kagan, Breyer and Ginsburg obviously believe the same thing - otherwise, their vote to grant cert was foolhardy and counterproductive. We shall see.

Independent Redistricting Upheld

Not as good a day at the Supreme Court today as Friday (only one out of three decisions went the right way), but the one was very significant. In a moderately surprising development, Justice Anthony Kennedy again sided with the four liberal justices to uphold Arizona’s independent redistricting commission.

The commission was originally adopted by state voters via the initiative process in 2000, specifically to address partisan gerrymandering in the redistricting process. In 2012, following the commission’s redistricting plan for both congressional and state legislative districts, the state legislature sued, claiming that by stripping the legislature of its redistricting prerogatives, the voters of Arizona ran afoul of the Elections Clause of the Constitution, which states that:

The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Con­ gress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations . . . . Art. I, §4, cl. 1.

The Supreme Court today, in a 5-4 decision, opinion by the Notorious RBG, held that the creation by the voters of an independent commission to create congressional districts did not violate the above constitutional provision.

The people of Arizona turned to the initiative to curb the practice of gerrymandering and, thereby, to ensure that Members of Congress would have “an habitual recollection of their dependence on the people.” The Federalist No. 57, at 350 (J. Madison). In so acting, Arizona voters sought to restore “the core principle of republican government,” namely, “that the voters should choose their representa­ tives, not the other way around.” Berman, Managing Gerrymandering, 83 Texas L. Rev. 781 (2005). The Elec­ tions Clause does not hinder that endeavor.

Any state - even those, like Maryland, that do not have the power of initiative, and thus require affirmative legislative action - that seeks to create an independent or bipartisan redistricting commission, can now do so secure in the knowledge then it will not be subject to constitutional challenge.

In Maryland, it would take a constitutional amendment passed by the General Assembly and then approval by the voters. I’ve advocated for such a process for years. Today’s decision should be a spur to such efforts. Let’s see what if anything happens.