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Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam battle to lead the only Southern state Hillary Clinton carried
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
RICHMOND (CFP) — Virginians decide Tuesday whether to raise their Democratic lieutenant governor to the state’s top job or turn the reins over to a senior operative from George W. Bush’s White House.
The lone off-year governor’s race in the South pits Ed Gillespie, a Bush aide and former head of the Republican National Committee, against Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, a pediatrician who has spent the past decade in state politics.
In addition to the marquee governor’s race, statewide races for lieutenant governor and attorney general are on the ballot, and energized Democrats are trying to flip a slew of state House seats to gain bragging rights heading into the 2018 midterms.
Polls across the commonwealth open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.
Of seven non-partisan public polls conducted since October 29 in the governor’s race, six showed results within the margin of error, making the results statistically insignificant. Just one poll, from Quinnipiac University, showed Northam with a lead of at least 1.2 percent outside the margin of error.
However, that Quinniapiac poll showed Gillespie had made up substantial ground against Northam in the final week of the campaign, particularly among independents, among whom the difference between the candidates was statistically insignificant.
Conspicuously absent from the race — President Donald Trump, who was never invited to cross the Potomac to campaign with Gillespie, although Vice President Mike Pence did make an appearance on his behalf. Trump did, however, endorse Gillespie on Twitter.
Virginia was the only Southern state that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, due in part to her stronger-than-usual showing the Republican-leaning Washington, D.C. suburbs in the northern part of the state. So the Gillespie campaign had to thread a difficult needle of not galvanizing anti-Trump voters by campaigning with the president, while at the same time not antagonizing ardent Trump supporters in more conservative parts of the state.
Indeed, the potency of the Trump brand among the Republican base nearly took Gillespie down in June when, despite being a prohibitive favorite, he almost lost the party’s primary to Corey Stewart, Trump’s one-time state campaign manager.
Stewart, who is running for the U.S. Senate in 2018, told Politico that Trump supporters were “bewildered” and “offended” by Gillespie’s decision to distance himself from Trump, predicting that it would hurt Gillespie by discouraging the president’s supporters from turning out.
Northam, in turn, has tried to hang Trump around Gillespie’s neck, running a TV ad during the final weekend of the campaign accusing the GOP nominee of figuratively “standing right next” to the president, even if literally he had not.
Northam, 58, joined the U.S. Army to complete his medical training after graduating from the Virginia Military Institute and has worked as a pediatric neurologist at a children’s hospital in Norfolk since 1992. He has admitted to voting for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 before he became active in state politics, saying that he had been “underinformed” at the time.
In 2007, he was elected as a Democrat to the Virginia Senate, representing a district that included parts of Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore. In 2013, he became lieutenant governor, running alongside incumbent Governor Terry McAuliffe, who, under state law, can’t run for a second consecutive term.
Northam was challenged in the primary by former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello, who tried to counter Northam’s establishment support by mobilizing Bernie Sanders supporters. In the end, Northam won by 12 points, though he has continued to face criticism from his left flank during the campaign for supporting two controversial gas pipeline projects and opposing the establishment of sanctuary cities in Virginia.
After working as Bush’s communications director in the 2000 campaign, Gillespie, 56, started a lobbying firm in Washington and was elected chairman of the RNC in 2003. He went back to the White House in 2007 as a counselor to the president and served until the end of Bush’s second term in 2009.
In 2014, Gillespie challenged Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Warner. Though Warner’s seat was considered safe, Gillespie came within 18,000 votes of beating him, in what would have been the biggest upset of the 2014 campaign.
In the lieutenant governor’s race, Republican State Senator Jill Vogel, from Fauquier County west of Washington, is facing Democrat Justin Fairfax, an attorney and former federal prosecutor who lives in surburban Fairfax.
A controversy erupted in the closing days of the campaign when Northam’s campaign dropped Fairfax, who is African-American, from a direct mail piece sent to voters because of his opposition to the two pipeline projects Northam supports.
Critics called his exclusion racist, a charge that Northam’s camp denied. But the flap could have consequences for a race in which Northam will need strong African-American support to win.
In the race for attorney general, the incumbent Democrat, Mark Herring, is being challenged by Republican John Adams, a Richmond lawyer who once clerked for conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
In addition to the three statewide races, 100 seats in Virginia’s House of Delegates, the lower house of the legislature, are up for grabs. Despite Virginia’s status as a swing state in presidential politics, Republicans currently hold 66 seats, to just 34 for Democrats.
However, Democrats are contesting 88 of those seats in 2017, including challenges in 17 Republican-held seats that Clinton carried in 2016. So the results in Virginia are likely to be viewed as a bellweather for what might happen in 2018, particularly if Democrats make gains in suburban districts near Washington and Richmond.
State Senate seats are not up in Virginia this year; Republicans control the Senate, 21 to 19.
Decision could affect current challenge in Texas and future GOP efforts to pack black voters into districts
By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling striking down the congressional map approved by North Carolina lawmakers after the 2010 census because it relied too heavily on racial considerations in drawing the new lines.
The May 22 ruling will have little impact in North Carolina because lines were already redrawn after the state lost the case in the lower court. But in the long term, it could limit the ability of Republican majorities in Southern statehouses to pack black voters into a small number of districts, thereby maximizing the number of safe GOP seats.
It could also have an impact on pending litigation in Texas, where the U.S. House map is being challenged by Latino and Democratic groups over alleged racial gerrymandering.
After the high court’s ruling, a federal judge in San Antonio overseeing the case asked Texas’s lawyers to consider whether legislators might “voluntarily” meet in special session to consider changes to the state’s map. There was no immediate response from state leaders.
The case in North Carolina was the high court’s latest attempt to resolve the tension between the 14th Amendment, which forbids using race as the primary consideration in drawing political lines, and the Voting Rights Act, which requires legislators in most Southern states to maximize the potential of minority voters to elect candidates of their choice.
At issue were the 1st and 12th districts, which were changed substantially after the 2010 census as part of an effort to make the state’s districts equal in population, as required by earlier Supreme Court rulings.
Under the new lines, the black voting age population in the 1st District rose from 48.6 percent to 52.7 percent, largely by adding majority-black areas of Durham into the district. The black voting age population in the 12th District also rose from 43.8 percent to 50.7 percent, which was done by replacing existing white voters with black voters not previously in the district.
The state had defended the changes by arguing they were made to comply with the Voting Rights Act. But the Supreme Court’s majority opinion, authored by Justice Elena Kagan, rejected that argument, noting that both seats had already been represented by African-American Democrats without the addition of more black voters.
Kagan wrote that the Voting Rights Act “gave North Carolina no good reason to reshuffle voters because of their race.”
Kagan was joined in the opinion by her fellow liberal justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer, along with conservative Clarence Thomas, the only African-American on the court.
Three other conservatives justices — Samuel Alito, John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy — agreed with the majority that the 1st District had been impermissibly drawn but disagreed about the validity of the 12th District. The court’s newest justice, Neil Gorsuch, did not take part in the case.
After losing the case at U.S. District court, North Carolina’s legislature redrew the state’s entire map, which was used in the 2016 elections. African-American incumbents in the 1st and 12th districts — G.K. Butterfield and Alma Adams — both won, although Adams was forced to move to Charlotte and run in new territory after her home in Greensboro was drawn out of her previous district.
The new map did not change the political balance in the state’s congressional delegation, which remained at nine Republicans and three Democrats. Its only significant effect was forcing two Republican incumbents — George Holding and Renee Ellmers — to run against each other. Holding won.
Over the last 30 years, as Republicans have taken control of state legislatures across the South, majority black districts created to comply with the Voting Rights Act have sent African-American representatives to Congress, in many cases for the first time since Reconstruction.
However, the packing of black voters into these districts have reduced black voting age populations in surrounding districts, making them more Republican. One result has been that white Democrats, who were once the mainstay of Southern congressional delegations, have all but disappeared.
Only six Southern states — Florida, Texas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia — are currently represented by any white Democrats. And out of 40 Southern Democratic representatives in Congress, only 15 are non-Latino whites, compared with 20 African Americans and five Latinos.
Out of 109 Republicans representing the region, 105 are white, three are Latino and just one, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, is African-American.
Texas, where the congressional map is currently being challenged, presents a particular wrinkle in application of the Voting Rights Act because it contains large concentrations of both African-American and Latino voters.
While black voters tend to be strong, partisan Democrats, Latino voters are somewhat less so, which makes it difficult to advance the argument that lines are being drawn for political reasons, which is legal, rather than for racial considerations, which is not.