“The Ballenger Report” predicted last year that Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer would escape after commiting ‘campaign finance murder,’ and, sure enough, now she has.
A group that ran ads last summer featuring Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer clearly violated the Michigan Campaign Finance Act — even newly-elected Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, like Whitmer a Democrat, has admitted that.
But, unsurprisingly, Benson last week gave the Whitmer campaign only a measly $37,500 fine after the organization got away with spending some $2 million in TV ads to defeat Whitmer’s two primary campaign challengers, Abdul El-Sayed and Shri Thanedar. The “settlement” was part of a “conciliation agreement” between Benson’s state Elections Division and the Whitmer-affiliated Build a Better Michigan (BBM) campaign, which was allowed to escape without admitting any culpability whatsoever.
The meager fine represents only 2% of the total amount spent illegally by lobbyist Mark Burton, who ran BBM and is now Whitmer’s chief strategist in the governor’s office. A similar violation in 2014 by a Republican-affiliated group in support of a Republican candidate resulted in penalties administered by then-Secretary of State Ruth Johnson (now a Republican state senator) that matched the amount illegally spent. Such a penalty for BBM would near $2 million.
“Jocelyn Benson (has) managed to pull every tooth from Michigan’s campaign finance law, to save Gretchen Whitmer and her chief strategist millions of dollars in fines and fees,” said Tony Daunt, director of the GOP-affiliated Michigan Freedom Fund. “Benson has declared that violations of Michigan campaign finance law will essentially go unpunished. Her behavior is partisan, and it is corrupt.”
But The Ballenger Report told you this would happen, back on July 23, 2018. In fact, even this Report underestimated the extent to which Whitmer and BBM would get away with “campaign finance murder.” Here is what we published at that time, in its entirety:
“Timing is everything, and the Gretchen Whitmer for Governor campaign evidently believes it can run out the clock on complaints that it is trashing Michigan’s campaign finance laws.
How else to explain a decision by a mysterious “dark money” group coordinating with Whitmer to spend at least $2 million between now and the Aug. 7 primary even if it means that, LATER, after this year’s elections are over, Whitmer and her campaign are willing to pay some $4 million in fines? After all, by then she’ll be governor and any campaign finance malfeasance will be overlooked or forgotten, or it will be easy to raise money to pay the penalty.
In this year’s Democratic Party gubernatorial primary, a soft-money 527 non-profit called Build a Better Michigan (BBM) has been broadcasting a 30-second ad featuring Whitmer, who appears in the ad and speaks directly into the camera. The ad is supposedly an “issue ad” like such ads run for Mark Schauer by the Democratic Governors Assn during the 2014 gubernatorial campaign. Sounds innocuous? Uh-oh! The ad superimposes the graphic “Gretchen Whitmer Candidate for Governor.” That makes it what is called “express advocacy.” Just putting “Candidate” before “for Governor” does not somehow exempt it from the charge that it is “express advocacy.”
So what are “express advocacy” ads? They are NOT what are called “issue ads,” meaning ads that do not contain words of express advocacy. Issue ads do not contain words of express advocacy for a particular candidate or cause, and therefore issue ads can be paid for using corporate or labor union funds WITHOUT public disclosure of the contributors.
That’s not what the BBM ads are. They are “express advocacy” ads for Gretchen Whitmer as a candidate for Governor. By the way, what IS BBM? It’s a Michigan non-profit corporation whose mailing address is 700 13th Street, NW, Suite 600, in Washington, D.C. 20005. Its directors and officers are Mark Burton, listed as director and president (Burton was chief of staff for Whitmer when she was Senate Minority Leader). A woman named Suzanne Shkreli, who was the defeated Democratic nominee against incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop (R-MI-8) two years ago, is listed as director and treasurer. Former state Senator Tupac Hunter (D-Detroit) is listed as a director and BBM secretary. He was the Democratic Minority Floor Leader when Whitmer was the Dems’ senate leader. In fact, if you’re looking for a plausible Democratic running mate as Lieutenant Gov. with Whitmer this coming November, he’s your man, along with ex-state legislator Buzz Thomas (D-Detroit).
The difference between issue and express advocacy ads began with the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Buckley vs. Valeo in 1976. That decision said that only “express advocacy” communications can be regulated, not advertisements centered on “issues.”
The high court’s decision contained a famous “footnote 52” that listed eight words or phrases that illustrated “express advocacy.” Those words were “vote for,” “vote against,” “elect,” “defeat,” “support,” “reject,” “cast your ballot for,” or a phrase to the effect of “(Whitmer) for (Governor).” Footnote 52 was intended to provide examples of speech that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the speaker was advocating for the election of a candidate or the passage or defeat of a ballot measure.
The court felt that limiting campaign finance laws to speech using express advocacy was necessary to avoid a “chilling effect” on speech about issues that are protected under the First Amendment.
In Michigan, the 1976 decision came into play four years ago when a technician in error added the words “for State Senate” into the graphics for TV ads for two Republican candidates for the state Senate, Ken Horn and Dale Zorn. Neither Horn nor Zorn spoke directly into the camera in the ads. The ads were supposed to be issue ads, but because of the technician’s error they instantly became advocacy ads. When the errors were discovered, the ads stopped and the ads were pulled from the stations. Campaign finance complaints were filed by the candidates’ Democratic opponents against the ad’s sponsor — the Michigan Jobs and Labor Foundation (MJLF) — because the ads had violated various sections of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act stemming from the 1976 Buckley decision. The MJLF was forced to sign a conciliation agreement with Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, a Republican, and fined $17,696.60, which was the civil levy equal to the cost of the two media buys that ran before the ads were pulled.
Flash forward to two weeks ago, when the Whitmer campaign began running its “Build a Better Michigan” ads while making essentially the same mistake that the MJLF made on behalf of Horn and Zorn in 2014.
Two complaints have now been filed against BBW — one by the Michigan Republican Party, the other by the Michigan Freedom Fund. However, BBW, unlike the MJLF in 2014, has made no effort to mitigate its violation by either pulling the ad or re-editing it in the studio to remove the offending “Gretchen Whitmer Candidate for Governor” graphic. Instead, BBM has doubled down — it continues its $2 million+ ad buy for Whitmer.
Is there any penalty for this? Yes, a fine equal to the $2 million buy could be imposed by the Secretary of State if she finds a violation of the MCFA has occurred and follows the 2014 MJLF precedent. Whitmer could be vulnerable to the same fine personally. This would be the highest civil penalty ever assessed under the MCFA in its entire history. How would Whitmer and her campaign pay off such a fine?
No problem. Ruth Johnson probably won’t respond to the complaints until September or October. Then BBM could be expected to take the matter into court and string the verdict out till after the election — an election Whitmer would have won using “funny money.” And the Democrats could also expect that a new Secretary of State, Democrat Jocelyn Benson, would be in office and not as eager as Johnson to apply justice.
Another example of trying to run out the clock? BBM is a soft money 527 organization that tells the Internal Revenue Service (Form 8871) that it is not regulated by either the Federal Election Commission (FEC) or any state disclosure agency (in Michigan, that would be the Secretary of State). BBM had a July 15 filing deadline with the IRS to disclose its contributions of $200 or more, or its expenditures of $500 or more. But BBM claimed it could not file its disclosure report (Form 8872) electronically, because it had not been issued a PIN number by the IRS. So BBM says it sent its report by snail mail U.S. Postal Service (what about Federal Express or UPS?), which may cause a “delay” in the report being posted on the IRS website (like, not until after the Aug. 7 primary election?)
Finally, the Whitmer campaign gave in to pressure from its critics on Monday, releasing voluntarily the list of BBM contributors. Prominent on the list were the Teamsters’ DRIVE committee, Emily’s List, UAW CAP, the Philip A. Hart Democratic Club and the Progressive Advocacy Trust.
Too bad one of Whitmer’s primary opponents, Abdul El-Sayed, who tried ineffectively to make an issue of Whitmer’s campaign finance shenanigans in the Democrats’ last gubernatorial debate, was either too timid or too ignorant of campaign finance law to press his case to what might have been a meaningful conclusion.
Now Whitmer and her BBM, with which she’s clearly in collusion, will continue to run their ads to the detriment of her Democratic opponents, El-Sayed and Shri Thanedar, over the next two weeks — and she’ll probably never have to pay the price.”
Well, she did — $37,500.
On the banks of the Red Cedar, the various tribes are celebrating the departure of John Engler as Michigan State University President. They regard it as a win and I suppose it is. Former Governor Engler resigned following the capture of the MSU Board of Trustees by a Democratic Party majority in the November 2018 elections.
Now there’s a second head on the pikes to celebrate: Bob Young, the former Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, let go by MSU Acting President Satish Udpa. Young was appointed Vice-President and General Counsel by John Engler. His dumping—like Engler’s—should surprise no one. Engler was never going to be MSU President for a long, mellow reign. Wrong man, wrong job.
John Engler isn’t the college President type, not today. He was brought in for emergency surgery on a patient bleeding out before our eyes. The convicted rapist Larry Nasser, and the blind eye the University turned to him for years, had put MSU in a total crisis. The victims were many, the lawsuit liability was horrifying, and the reaction to all of the above threatened to shut down the entire institution.
Engler was the doctor you call when no one else can handle it. You’ve seen the movies on TV: The tough-talking, no b.s. guy who takes charge. He strolls into the emergency room knocking ash off his cigar, hands his beer to the police chief, gives the lady District Attorney a bag of solution to hold up, bends over the patient, and says, “Can I get some goddam light here?”
That’s John Engler.
Cleaning up the rotten spots of the University and its departments without damaging the innocent ones was job one. Job one-and-a-half was ending the lawsuits that could have easily bankrupted the University. As it is, the half a billion-dollar settlement is no freebie. There are those who say this does not matter; that the only “justice” demands unlimited liability. Some of that is argued by Plaintiffs’ attorneys, which is their proper job.
But Michigan State University belongs to the people of the State of Michigan, and there’s a state interest in seeing it continue. Besides, can you ever totally make whole a young woman who was raped by her doctor? Where’s the cut off? Not an easy question. Engler got things done for $500 million. Plaintiffs and their lawyers protested, understandably. But, they did settle.
However, once the emergency room genius stabilizes the patient, he grins, pockets a check, and heads back to wherever he came from. Today’s university presidents are mainly plausible figureheads and fund raisers who just preside over vast institutions they really don’t control. They try and keep the crazycakes, hothouse flowers that grow in college towns at least semi-out of the headlines, schmooze the legislature and donors and watch their major sports franchises. The President doesn’t tell the Marxist faculty in the departments what to do, nor the Athletic Director. No, they weakly acquiesce to creeping illiberalism from kiddie “Red Guards.”
Does this sound like John Engler?
But even if he’d be the greatest MSU President since John Hannah, he’d never get to do it. Why? The Democrats hate him. He beat them every time, and they want revenge. Once they got control of the Board, it was “sayonara!” Yes, it is just that simple. Memories are long on the donkey-side. As soon as the 2018 elections handed the Board of Trustees majority to the Dems, Engler knew this full well and grabbed the first train out of Dodge before the new Sheriffs could shoot him for resisting arrest.
Same deal for Bob Young. You’d think a former Chief Justice would be a legal asset for MSU, especially one with strong Capitol ties and relationships. One who had just saved your institution from a possibly bottomless legal liability. Nope. The Democratic Party has never forgiven Young for leading the Supreme Court to decide cases based on the law, rather than dictates from Solidarity House or wherever the Michigan Education Association has its offices these days. “Death penalty, Sir!”
So now you know how the game of “Campus Thrones” is played. Michigan State is Democrat Country, and don’t you forget it! Don’t cry for John Engler or Bob Young; both are smart veterans who knew the score going in. Michigan State University is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party. Watch for news from the Sensitivity Stasi. Which should be irrelevant but, of course, it isn’t.
Unless, of course, the Spartans go to the Final Four or the Rose Bowl. Then all is forgiven. Trust me.
–Chuck Moss, MSU, James Madison Class of 1975
teaches Political Science at Oakland University and serves on the Board of the Regional Transportation Authority. He was elected to represent the 40th District in the Michigan House and was appointed Chairman of the all-important Appropriations Committee, responsible for the entire state budget. Prior to politics, Chuck was political columnist for the DETROIT NEWS, and has hosted talk shows for radio and television.
No, not the maps that may be redrawn for the 2020 election if things don’t go well for Michigan Republicans in a federal district court this month.
Rather, the new maps that will be drawn up for Michigan’s Congressional and legislative districts by a new independent commission following the U.S. 2020 Census. These new maps would go into effect for the 2022 election and extend over the next decade.
In the Nov. 6, 2018, general election, voters in Michigan overwhelmingly approved an amendment to their state constitution to remove the power of the state legislature to draw Legislative and Congressional district boundaries. The vote was a victory for those seeking to end gerrymandering, but it’s only the beginning of a process.
The Michigan Information & Research Service (MIRS) newsletter interviewed students at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, as well as the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, who argued that Michigan’s new redistricting commission “should draw their lines in public with an eye toward ‘fairness in the process,’ not just the outcome.”
“Focus on what the map does — not how it looks,” the Princeton report reads. “Remember that a nice-looking map is not necessarily the best map. Use good visualization to see how communities of interest and political boundaries fit into the process.”
The students researched the best ways for the future redistricting commissioners to carry out their duties. The major findings included, according to a press release earlier this week:
– Hiring bipartisan or nonpartisan staff to build trust with the public
– Draw example maps that show that a wide range of partisan outcomes is possible. An evenhanded approach is necessary to ensure partisan fairness.
– Representation of communities of interest is stressed. Avoid bias against political parties.
– Ignore how the lines will impact the incumbent serving in that district, whether it strengthens or weakens re-election chances.
“Establishment of a citizen commission can play a large role in re-establishing trust in government,” said Professor Sam WANG, director of the Princeton Gerrymandering Project. “The students and my research group worked hard to combine law, policy, and quantitative analysis in order to eliminate a bug in democracy. This is a high-quality report, and I hope it will help Michiganders draw maps to represent their many communities and avoid pitfalls along the way.”
Nancy Wang, president of Voters Not Politicians (VNP), the organization that masterminded and carried out the successful Ballot Proposal 2 last year, said of the Princeton students’ project: “We appreciate the time and thought the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, Professor Wang, and the entire team put into this valuable resource.We are committed to making sure that the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission succeeds in drawing maps in a fair, impartial and transparent way. These recommendations will help Michigan’s first Citizen Commission hit the ground running.”
Second-year Master in Public Affairs students at the Woodrow Wilson School apply their talents in policy workshops for clients around the world. Students in this class include former NGO workers, U.S. and Australian Treasury officials, and a state government budget official.
by Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Feb. 4, 2019
The U.S. Supreme Court through Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Monday denied a Republican request to delay the trial, set to start at 9 a.m. at the Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse in Detroit.
Attorneys for Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield, state Rep. Aaron Miller and several congressional Republicans had sought postponement as the Supreme Court considers separate gerrymandering cases out of Maryland and North Carolina.
Plaintiffs in the Michigan case on Saturday disclosed a series of new emails that could bolster their claims that maps approved by the Republican-led Legislature in 2011 intentionally diluted the power of Democratic voters to benefit GOP politicians.
GOP mapmakers focused on helping Walberg by making his district more Republican, according to one exchange plaintiffs are asking the federal court to admit as evidence at trial.
“No question the new (3rd) district is a bit less GOP, but not so much that it is in jeopardy of going south on us,” Timmer wrote. “It was intended that the new 3rd would become slightly less Republican in order for the Walberg seat to become slightly more so.”
Walberg was first elected to the U.S. House in 2006 but narrowly lost his seat to Democrat Mark Schauer in 2008. He narrowly won re-election over Schauer in 2010 before his district was reconfigured.
Timmer told Murley he had sent the email to “one of our allies who was working to convince Justin Amash to be reasonable…”
Previously released emails showed Amash had raised concerns during the 2011 redistricting process. The congressman in October told The Detroit News he had been “trying to prevent what I viewed as a political gerrymander.”
Redrawn map worried Amash
The libertarian-leaning lawmaker from Cascade Township is the only member of Michigan’s GOP congressional delegation who is not fighting the federal lawsuit filed on behalf of the League of Women Voters and a series of Democrats.
Amash told The News he was particularly wary of early 2011 draft maps that proposed splitting up Grand Rapids, an increasingly Democratic city, and the final version of the map that did split up his home of Kent County in what he called an “unnatural” way.
“Congressman Walberg’s focus then, as it is now, was serving his constituents,” said Dan Kotman.
In a separate June 2011 email previously disclosed in court, GOP strategist Greg McNeilly told Timmer that Amash was “concerned with Calhoun,” referencing the county southeast of Kent that includes Battle Creek.
“I took it to mean that adding recently former Congressman Mark Schauer into his district was a concern,” Timmer said last year in a sworn deposition.
Schauer, who helped launch the National Democratic Redistricting Committee in 2016 but no longer works as an adviser for the group, said Monday he is “not surprised” that mapmakers tried to make Walberg’s district more Republican for 2012.
“I think it was part of a systematic Republican strategy that started in 2010 all across the country,” he said. “It doesn’t feel good to be a victim of that, but it certainly confirms what I felt at the time.”
Plaintiff attorneys are attempting to admit several new documents before the trial begins Tuesday morning. The lawsuit seeks to force changes to GOP-drawn districts prior to the 2020 elections. A voter-approved independent redistricting commission will map new lines for 2022 and beyond.
Federal judges on Friday rejected a proposed settlement between plaintiffs and Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson that would have forced reconfiguration of at least 11 state House districts.
The new emails suggest Michigan mapmakers were sharing proposals with national GOP leaders as they drew current congressional districts. Timmer sent several files to the National Republican Congressional Committee on May 27, 2011, according to one message.
Early on in the process, GOP attorney Eric Doster told local redistricting officials he had spoken with Dale Oldham of the Republican National Committee, who wanted Michigan mapmakers to call Tom Hofeller, the national party’s redistricting coordinator.
Documents obtained from the GOP mapmakers include a “redistricting essentials” memo from Hofeller, Oldham and other RNC officials.
The memo directed state mapmakers to prepare election history data to incorporate into redistricting databases and offered training on advanced mapping software. The RNC also also warned that states were likely to face lawsuits over their completed maps.
“You should already have a legal strategy and access to experienced redistricting counsel,” the memo said. It urged state-level Republicans to “avoid misstatements in public or emails,” suggesting they stick to “simple” explanations, such as “We want a FAIR process that follows all the requirements of the law.”
Supreme Court considerations
Republicans in the state House, Senate and Congress had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to delay the Michigan trial ahead of late March oral arguments in the North Carolina and Maryland cases.
The High Court could rule on “precisely” the same issues in dispute in the Michigan case, “namely, whether such redistricting disputes are justifiable and, if so, what legal and factual standards courts must apply when resolving those disputes,” GOP attorneys said in their initial request.
In a Monday follow-up, Republicans urged justices not to allow Democrats “to abuse the power of the judiciary by wasting significant resources, engaging in political grandstanding, violating legislative and First Amendment privileges, and attempting to embarrass political foes via a public trial in this matter.”
Benson, who inherited the case after taking office in January and is no longer defending the GOP maps, asked the Supreme Court to allow the Michigan trial to begin. Postponing the case would work against the public interest, her attorneys argued.
“As the time until the 2020 election cycle grows shorter, the challenges of completing a remedial redistricting process and implementing a new set of maps inversely grows larger,” Benson’s attorneys said.
Plaintiffs echoed that argument, telling the Supreme Court that delaying the trial “could well mean the voters never getting the relief they are after — a reapportionment of Michigan’s legislative districts in time for the 2020 election.”
A new Republican group called Voters Not Donors is among those urging the Supreme Court to delay the trial and contends Benson is unfit to represent the state as a defendant after attempting to negotiate a failed settlement.
Plaintiff attorney Mark Brewer donated $500 to her campaign in 2017, and five of 11 named plaintiffs in the case also contributed to Benson’s 2010 or 2018 campaigns, according to the group associated with longtime GOP strategist Stu Sandler.
“Voters Not Donors does not take a position on whether Michigan’s Legislature unconstitutionally gerrymandered Michigan’s voting districts based on partisan politics,” attorney John Bursch wrote in a Supreme Court filing. “But the Benson-Brewer settlement agreement leaves little doubt that partisan politics is driving the litigation now.”
Benson has downplayed Brewer’s contribution. The federal court on Friday ruled she could not settle the case without the blessing of Michigan’s Republican-led Legislature.
Benson, who has expressed a belief that current political boundaries were drawn in violation of the state and federal constitutions, said Friday that she respects the court’s decision.
“As the state’s chief election officer, I will continue efforts to resolve this lawsuit in the best interests of all voters and in compliance with constitutional requirements,” Benson said in a statement.
A newly-formed group calling itself Voters Not Donors (VND) is backing a legal request of the U.S. Supreme Court to stay a trial to determine whether Michigan’s Congressional and legislative maps have been gerrymandered and must be thrown out.
VNP claims that any such trial has been “tainted by the hyper-partisan and unethical actions of Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson,” according to the group’s spokesman, longtime Republican Party political operative Stu Sandler.
The trial, which will begin on Tuesday (Feb. 5) without intervention by the Court, is the result of a lawsuit brought by the League of Women Voters and its attorney, former Michigan Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer, against Michigan’s previous Secretary of State, who before Jan. 1 was Republican Ruth Johnson.
Sandler and VND argue that Benson, who assumed office a month ago, immediately forfeited her ability to credibly participate in the trial after she convened secret “settlement” meetings with Democratic plaintiffs while excluding legally recognized Republican intervenors in the case.
Last Friday, a United States District Court denied
Benson’s proposed settlement in part because of her participation in such secret meetings, contends VND. According to the legal brief, Benson’s “secret settlement talks also represented multiple staggering conflicts of interest.” Both the plaintiff’s attorney, Mark Brewer, and five of the 11 named plaintiffs in the case – William Grasha, Donna Farris, Diana Ketola, Jon LaSalle, and U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib — are Jocelyn Benson campaign contributors.
VND complains that Brewer has also been identified in media reports as Benson’s political mentor and the individual who
induced her to enter politics. As a result of Benson’s secret negotiations, VND charges, Brewer stands to receive millions of dollars in legal fees, rewarded for his “coaching” and campaign contributions with a seven-figure windfall at the expense of Michigan taxpayers.
“Jocelyn Benson has irredeemably demolished her ability to credibly
participate in this trial,” said Stu Sandler. “Michigan voters
deserve a Secretary of State willing to defend their best interests and oversee fair elections – not a partisan who has demonstrated time and again that her only real interest is rigging elections, rewarding her campaign contributors with huge paydays and secret
Early next year, Iowans will take to the caucuses, leading the nation out of the blocks in picking the next president of the United States.
The Democrats posted solid results in the November 2018 midterm races. Closer to home, it was good for the Democrats but not great as the Republicans enjoyed Gov. Kim Reynolds being re-elected in Iowa, split six statewide races and continued to widen their margin in the Iowa Senate (and the U.S. Senate). The accomplishments, both domestic and foreign, of President Donald Trump in the period after the midterm election until the ending of the federal government shutdown this month have him positioned well against the rest of the pack for next November.
Domestically, Trump has history, the electoral map based on the 2018 results, and a compelling economic growth story working in favor of his re-election, with Iowa critical not just for going first, but for possibly providing the crucial margin of victory.
The electoral map based on the 2018 elections is also promising for Trump.
Based on those results, Arizona and Iowa go Democratic in 2020, causing Trump to lose by the electoral vote margin from these two states. Since 1952, Arizona has gone Republican all but one time; and never this century. The one time Arizona went for a Democrat, in 1996, it was due to Ross Perot draining nearly 8 percent of the votes from the Republican.Trump won more votes in Arizona in 2016 than any presidential candidate in history, including when native Senators John McCain and Barry Goldwater were on the ticket for The White House. It is tough to imagine Trump losing Arizona in 2020.
That same case can be made for Iowa in 2020 based on the Republican wave of the last decade in the state.
In 2009, two-thirds of the Iowa Senate was Democratic. Now two-thirds of it is Republican. The GOP again increased its margin in 2018. Reynolds won her first full term in office. Of the 43 presidential elections in Iowa, it has been carried by the red party 29 times. In 2016, Trump received more votes in Iowa for president than any Republican in history.
As a state, Iowa is at its crest. US News & World Report picked Iowa as the best state in America to live in 2018. Cited were its top ranking in infrastructure and broadband access, No. 3 for health care, No. 4 for opportunity, No. 5 for education and No. 9 for quality of life. This helps explain why the population of Iowa has increased by nearly 110,000 since 2010.
Under Trump, the economic performance of the United States is also peaking. The stock market is up and energy prices have fallen. The Dow was under 18,000 in November 2016. Now it is close to 25,000. Oil has fallen double digits recently with America becoming a net oil exporter in November 2018 for the first time in 75 years. At 3.7%, unemployment is at its lowest in the United States since 1969 with robust job growth. Trump has been successful in reducing the amount of regulations on businesses imposed by the federal government.
In the short term, the federal government shutdown was certainly no victory for Trump. His base has held firm on the matter of support for him, though. U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Ia.), up for re-election in 2020, declared last month that, “They are inadmissible, they are illegal immigrants. And its not just about our southern borders. It is about every community, every town here in the United States. No Trump backer expects him to commit political suicide. But they know that he will fight back for them. He certainly proved that during the shutdown. Whoever the Democrats nominate next year now has Nancy Pelosi as his or her running mate along with her 7-day “excursion” to Europe during the shutdown that Trump refused to let her take on an American military aircraft as he wanted her to stay in DC and work with him to resolve the matter.
Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen wrote about the shutdown that, “Trump openly embraced compromise. The Democrats rejected it.”
Trump goes by his own rules in politics and it is difficult to imagine anyone coming out ahead against these attacks in a campaign. As to how well Pelosi plays before the American people, she was Speaker of the House when the Democrats lost a record 63 seats in 2010. Her most appealing campaign pledge to her own party in being selected as Speaker again after the November election was that she would step down after four years. That is hardly a vote of confidence in what she offers as a spokesperson for the Democrats. Don’t expect either for a Democrat to select her as a running mate in 2020 as she is a mega-wealthy, ultra-liberal career politician who never set foot in a public school, hails from San Francisco and turns 80 in March 2020. But you can certainly count on Trump making it seem that she is on the ticket thanks to her actions during the shutdown.
Jonathan Yates worked for members of Congress and state legislators, both Democrats and Republicans. He taught “The Politics of Sports” at the University of Iowa as an adjunct.
by Jonathan Oosting,
The Detroit News
Feb. 3, 2019
Benson does not have the authority to enter into the proposed consent decree without the blessing of the Michigan Legislature, the federal judges said Friday in a ruling rejecting the deal, which would have required reconfiguration of at least 11 state House seats for 2020 elections.
A trial in the high-stakes case is set to start Tuesday, but the U.S. Supreme Court could still intervene. GOP attorneys are attempting to delay the case, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Friday asked parties wishing to weigh in to do so by Monday at 11 a.m., a sign the High Court is considering the request.
The suit was filed on behalf of the League of Women Voters and a series of Democrats who allege that congressional and legislative district boundaries approved by the Legislature in 2011 were designed to benefit Republican candidates.
Instead, the court could decide whether there is evidence to prove claims Republicans intentionally “packed” and “cracked” voters into certain districts.
Benson and plaintiffs had argued their proposed settlement was similar to a case out of Florida that the U.S. Supreme Court approved.
But in that case, the Florida Senate and House “explicitly consented to the relief contained in the consent decree,” Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Eric Clay wrote on behalf of the panel, which includes District Court judges Denise Page Hood and Gordon Quist.
Attorneys for GOP state House Speaker Lee Chatfield, Rep. Aaron Miller and several congressional Republicans had filed motions opposing the settlement. The court on Friday also granted a motion for the Republican-led state Senate to intervene in the case.
Clay rejected arguments from Benson and plaintiffs that they could enter into a settlement because of a Michigan Supreme Court ruling giving the Attorney General’s office broad authority to sue and settle state litigation with “binding effect on Michigan’s political subdivisions.”
The proposed settlement “would invalidate maps approved and enacted by the Michigan Legislature,” Clay wrote. “And the Michigan Constitution gives the Michigan Legislature, not any political subdivision, authority to ‘enact laws to regulate the time, place and manner of all… elections.'”
An attorney for the plaintiffs was not available, but Benson said she respects the court’s decision.
“As the state’s chief election officer, I will continue efforts to resolve this lawsuit in the best interests of all voters and in compliance with constitutional requirements,” Benson said in a statement.
Michigan Republicans have denied overt political bias in the district maps, but emails between map makers revealed as part of the federal case have included several partisan references and commentary on the prospects of maintaining GOP power.
Former Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, a Republican, had defended the 2011 maps, but Benson inherited the case after taking office Jan. 1 and quickly reversed course. While the settlement would have been limited in scope, the lawsuit challenges 34 congressional, state House and Senate districts.
Republican attorneys had asked to delay the trial pending the outcome of alleged gerrymandering cases from Maryland and North Carolina the Supreme Court is set to take up, with oral arguments in late March.
The three-judge panel also denied those requests, saying all parties to the case “failed to articulate sufficiently compelling justifications” for delaying the trial, but the Supreme Court is weighing a similar request.
Michigan voters in November approved creation of an independent redistricting commission that will draw new political boundaries for 2022 elections and beyond. State law had allowed the Legislature to control that process every 10 years.
by Jonathan Oosting,
The Detroit News
January 25, 2019
Lansing — Michigan Republicans are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hit pause on a federal lawsuit alleging GOP gerrymandering, a move that could disrupt a settlement agreement announced Friday by Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.
Benson’s deal with plaintiffs would require Michigan to redraw at least 11 state House districts. It would likely force a recalibration of an unknown number of surrounding districts as well.
But attorneys for Republican lawmakers are asking the nation’s highest court to intervene and delay any action in the suit until justices consider arguments in similar gerrymandering cases out of North Carolina and Maryland they are expected to take up in March.
“The Supreme Court will be ruling soon on the exact issues presented in this case, and this afternoon we asked the United States Supreme Court to stay this entire proceeding,” attorney Charlie Spies told The Detroit News by email.
State House Speaker Lee Chatfield of Levering, Rep. Aaron Miller of Sturgis and several congressional Republicans directed their request to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a Democratic nominee.
The new districts would only apply for the 2020 elections. Voters last fall approved the creation of a citizen redistricting commission that will draw maps for 2022 and beyond.
As part of the deal with Benson, which would require approval by a three-judge panel overseeing the case, plaintiffs agreed to drop challenges to congressional and state Senate districts, along with four other state House Districts.
The 11 state House districts targeted in the agreement “represent some of the most egregious examples of the unconstitutional attempts by past legislators to draw legislative districts in an effort to rig the partisan outcomes of elections,” Benson told reporters at a Friday briefing.
Several neighboring districts would likely need to be redrawn as well, but “that’s going to be a question for the Legislature,” Benson said.
The Michigan gerrymandering case is currently scheduled to go to trial Feb. 5. In their application to the U.S. Supreme Court, GOP attorneys suggested federal judges are aware of settlement talks but made clear they do not plan to delay the trial for “any reason.”
Plaintiff attorneys submitted the proposed settlement Friday afternoon in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.
“The next step is whether the court will accept it, and we’ll go from there,” Benson said.
Benson: Deal avoids ‘upheaval’
The Detroit Democrat said she pushed plaintiffs to drop congressional and state Senate district challenges to minimize “upheaval.” But the deal still reflects her view that gerrymandering occurred in a way that violated the constitutional mandate of “one person, one vote.”
Benson has been the subject of considerable GOP scorn the past week after signaling her intent to settle the federal lawsuit brought by the League of Women Voters, a group of Democratic voters and attorney Mark Brewer, former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party.
Michigan Republican Party spokesman Tony Zammit blasted the deal, saying Benson “has shown she cannot be impartial in this case, and therefore she must be replaced as it’s defendant.” Former Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, a Republican, had defended the GOP maps.
Benson denied partisan motivation for settling the case she inherited after taking office this month, suggesting she did not want to waste taxpayer resources fighting a case she believes the state would lose. The deal would give the Republican-led Legislature the first opportunity to redraw the state House lines, subject to judicial review.
“It does not matter to me who or what parties drew the districts,” Benson said. “What matters to me is whether they were drawn to circumvent the will of the voters.”
The proposed consent decree would require the state to redraw state House districts 24, 32, 51, 55, 60, 63, 76, 91, 92, 94 and 95. Six of those seats are currently held by Republicans and five are controlled by Democrats. Republicans currently represent 58 of 110 state House districts, a six-seat majority.
“The Democrats know it will be nearly impossible to redraw these 11 districts without affecting countless others causing electoral chaos,” Zammit said. “Worse yet, outdated 10-year-old data will be utilized to draw the new lines which will not accurately reflect the demographics of our state.”
The deal does not dictate how the Republican-led Legislature should redraw the state House districts, but it encourages them to do so in “transparent proceedings open to the public.”
The 11 targeted districts include two Republican-held seats in Metro Detroit, both in Macomb County, currently represented by Rep. Steve Marino of Harrison Township and Pamela Hornberger of Chesterfield Township.
None of the settlement districts are north of Mount Pleasant, meaning seats in the northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula where Republicans are dominant are unlikely to be affected.
The federal court would be responsible for establishing a deadline for the redrawn state House maps and determining how it would judge the partisan fairness of the proposed districts.
Brewer ties blasted
Republican lawmakers have denied overt political bias in the district boundaries they approved in 2011, but emails between map makers revealed in the federal case have included partisan references and commentary on the prospects of maintaining GOP power.
Benson told reporters she expected Republican opposition to the settlement despite its limited nature, which means state senators just elected to four-year terms would not need to run for re-election in 2020.
“I think no matter what decision I made in this case, someone was going to be upset, whether we went to trial or whether we settled or not,” she said.
Republicans have blasted Benson for connections to Brewer, the former state Democratic party chairman who donated $500 to her campaign and is a lead attorney for plaintiffs in the case.
Earlier this week, the Michigan GOP accused Benson and Brewer of trying to orchestrate “the greatest partisan power grab in Michigan history,” and attorneys for Republican lawmakers asked court permission to demand their communications donating back to 2017.
Benson noted she raised more than $1 million for her campaign and received donations from both Republicans and Democrats.
“If anyone giving me $500 can influence a decision I made when you raise that much money from thousands of people, then we’re in trouble,” she said. “And so that’s certainly not the case here.”
The settlement does not require any state payments to cover the cost of plaintiff attorneys but makes clear that the parties could agree to award fees at a later date.
“How much money are the taxpayers of Michigan going to be paying Mark Brewer’s law firm in this case?” Zammit said.