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Louisiana voters will decide governor’s race in Saturday runoff

Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards is facing Republican Eddie Rispone in quest for second term

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

BATON ROUGE (CFP) — Voters in Louisiana will decide who will hold the state’s governorship for the next four years in a Saturday runoff, with Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards trying to win re-election over Republican Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone.

A win by Edwards in deep red Louisiana would give Democrats victories in two out of three Southern governor’s races this year, handing an embarrassing defeat to Republicans and President Donald Trump, who came to the Pelican State Thursday to campaign for Rispone for the third time.

“You’ve gotta give me a big win, please. OK?” Trump told a crowd in Bossier City, where he said Edwards “double-crossed you and you can never trust him. He will never vote for us.”

Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards will face Republican Eddie Rispone in Nov. 12 runoff

During the first round of voting in October, Edwards took 47 percent of the vote to 27 percent for Rispone. Since then, Rispone has been trying to close the gap by unifying the Republican vote, which he split with the third place finisher, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham.

Under Louisiana’s “jungle” primary system, candidates from all parties run together in the same contest, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the runoff if no one gets an outright majority.

Public polling in the governor’s race showed neither candidate with a statistically significant lead, pointing to a likely close result on Saturday.

One other statewide office will be on the ballot Saturday, the secretary of state’s race, where Republican incumbent Kyle Ardoin will face Democrat Gwen Collins-Greenup in a rematch of a 2018 special election won by Ardoin.

Edwards, 53, is one of just three Democratic governors in the South, along with North Carolina’s Roy Cooper and Virginia’s Ralph Northam. But unlike Northam and Cooper, Edwards has positioned himself as a conservative Democrat who opposes legal abortion and gun control, both of which have played well in Louisiana.

As a result, national Democrats, including the large crop of 2020 White House contenders, have conspicuously avoided campaigning on his behalf, although former President Barack Obama did make a robocall for the governor in the first round of the primary.

In 2015, Edwards claimed the governorship by defeating Republican U.S. Senator David Vitter, who was bogged down by personal scandals and the unpopularity of the outgoing GOP governor, Bobby Jindal.

Edwards signature achievements in office have been expanding Medicaid, over Republican objections, and dealing with a budget shortfall he inherited from Jindal.

However, the tax increases imposed to deal with the budget have become fodder for his Republican opponents, who say the new taxes have driven business out of the state.

Rispone, 70, owns an industrial contracting company that has made him one of Louisiana’s richest men. While he has long been a major GOP donor, this is his first race for political office, and he poured in more than $10 million of his own money to surge past Abraham into second place in the first round of voting.

Republicans have pulled out all the stops for Rispone in the runoff, with the Republican National Committee committing more than $2 million to the race. Trump, who carried Louisiana by 20 points in 2016, has visited three times, and Vice President Mike Pence has also campaigned on Rispone’s behalf.

Louisiana’s governor’s race is the last contest on the 2019 election calendar and comes less than two weeks after Kentucky’s Republican governor, Matt Bevin, was defeated for re-election by Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, despite Trump campaigning on Bevin’s behalf.

Republicans had more success in Mississippi, where Republican Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves won the governorship over Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood.

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Louisiana Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards aiming for knockout in Saturday’s jungle primary

Trump making election-eve visit to Lake Charles to rally Republicans and force Edwards into a runoff

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

BATON ROUGE (CFP) — Unless pre-election polls are seriously off the mark, Louisiana’s Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards will come out on top when the votes are counted in Saturday’s primary election.

So the two questions to be answered Saturday are whether Edwards can knock out both of his Republican challengers by clearing 50 percent of the vote and, if he doesn’t, which of the two leading Republicans he will face in a November runoff.

Governor John Bel Edwards

In Louisiana’s “jungle” primary, candidates from all parties run together in the same contest, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the runoff if no one gets an outright majority. Polls have put Edwards within striking distance of that mark, which would be a significant embarrassment for the GOP in the very conservative Pelican State.

In the clearest sign of Republicans’ concern about the outcome, President Donald Trump is holding a rally in Lake Charles on Friday night, even though he has not taken sides in the battle for second place between U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham from Alto and Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone.

Both Abraham and Rispone, who have sparred with each other and with Edwards during the campaign, have welcomed the president’s visit for what Trump termed “a big Republican rally” designed to leverage his popularity into forcing Edwards into a runoff against a single GOP challenger.

Edwards is one of just three Democratic governors in the South, along with North Carolina’s Roy Cooper and Virginia’s Ralph Northam. But unlike Northam and Cooper, Edwards has positioned himself as a conservative Democrat who opposes legal abortion and gun control, both of which have played well in Louisiana.

As a result, national Democrats, including the large crop of 2020 White House contenders, have conspicuously avoided campaigning on his behalf.

In 2015, Edwards claimed the governorship by defeating Republican U.S. Senator David Vitter, who was bogged down by personal scandals and the unpopularity of the outgoing GOP governor, Bobby Jindal.

Edwards signature achievements in office have been expanding Medicaid, over Republican objections, and dealing with a budget shortfall he inherited from Jindal. However, the tax increases imposed to deal with the budget have become fodder for his Republican opponents, who say the new taxes have driven business out of the state.

A Morning Consult poll in June put Edwards’s job approval rating at 47 percent, compared to 33 percent who disapproved.

Abraham, 65, who is both a veterinarian and medical doctor, is in his third term in Congress representing the 5th District, which covers the northeastern corner of the state.

Rispone, 70, owns a building company that has made him one of Louisiana’s richest men. While he has long been a major GOP donor, this is his first race for political office, and he has poured in more than $10 million of his own money.

Other elected Republicans, including both U.S. senators and most of the House delegation, have stayed on the sidelines in the race between Abraham and Rispone. Both Vice President Mike Pence and Donald Trump Jr. have held rallies in Louisiana that both candidates attended.

In addition to Louisiana, two other Southern states will hold governor’s races this year, Kentucky and Mississippi.

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Legal abortion has become fault line in Kentucky’s Democratic primary for governor

State Rep. Rocky Adkins breaks with much of his party by supporting bill banning most abortions after a heartbeat is detected

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

LOUISVILLE (CFP) — Rocky Adkins, the former Democratic leader of the Kentucky House, is among America’s rarest political species — a Democrat who opposes legal abortion. And that stance has become a clear fault line in the Democratic race for governor.

Kentucky State Rep. Rocky Adkins

Adkins is running in the May 20 primary against two Democrats who support legal abortion — Attorney General Andy Beshear and former State Auditor Adam Edelen — and the issue has taken on prominence not usually found in Democratic intra-party skirmishes.

“I am pro-life,” said Adkins, who represents a rural House district in eastern Kentucky, said during a recent debate. “You express the views of your constituents that you represent in the legislature for your votes, and that’s what I’ve tried to do.”

Adkins is a member of the legislature’s Pro-Life Caucus. Earlier this year, he was one of 10 Democrats in the House who voted for Kentucky’s “heartbeat bill,” which would ban most abortions once the baby’s heartbeat can be detected.

That measure was signed into law by the man these Democrats all hope to replace, Republican Governor Matt Bevin, who has made his opposition to abortion a feature of his re-election campaign.

Edelen has denounced the new law as “an experiment by the radical right to eliminate this protection for women.” Beshear, who describes himself as “pro-choice,” has refused as attorney general to defend the new law against a legal challenge.

When the issue came up in a recent debate, Beshear observed that “the only person who is excited we’re having this conversation is Matt Bevin. This is all he’s going to talk about in the general election.”

A Pew Research Center study found that 57 percent of Kentuckians thought abortion should be illegal in most cases, while only 36 percent supported legal abortion. Only four states — Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and West Virginia — are more pro-life.

Pew also found less support for abortion among people living in rural areas than in cities or suburbs. Edelen is from Lexington and Beshear is from Louisiville; Adkins is from Sandy Hook, population 600.

However, the issue of abortion cuts across Democratic politics in Kentucky in a way not seen in much of the rest of the country. When the heartbeat bill came up in the House earlier this year, only a minority of the Democratic caucus actively opposed the measure. Nineteen Democrats voted no, 10 voted yes — and 10 absented themselves rather than cast a vote.

The abortion crosscurrents are also visible in the Democratic race for governor.  Beshear’s running mate, Jacqueline Coleman, described herself as a “pro-life Democrat” when she ran for the legislature in 2014 from a rural seat, though she now says she supports a woman’s right to choose an abortion. By contrast, Adkins’s running mate, Stephanie Horne, who is from Louisville, supports legal abortion.

Edelen and his running mate, Gill Holland, both support legal abortion, which Edelen has been using in the campaign to draw a contrast with Beshear and Adkins.

While the general election politics in Kentucky would clearly favor a candidate who doesn’t support legal abortion, Democratic primary politics are perhaps another matter. Adkins has not emphasized the issue during the campaign, has said he would “follow the Constitution” and has tied his opposition to abortion to his support for pre-K funding and bills to strengthen adoption and foster care.

“I’ve also said that we need to put warm food on the table and a roof over these babies’ heads when they’re born,” Adkins said.

Should Adkins triumph in the primary and then win the general election, he would join Louisiana Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards, who is running for re-election this fall, as the only Southern governors who oppose legal abortion.

Mississippi Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood, who is also running for governor in 2019, is also an abortion opponent.

The two other Southern Democratic governors, Roy Cooper in North Carolina and Ralph Northam in Virginia, both support legal abortion.

Cooper recently vetoed a bill that would have made it a crime for abortion doctors to kill babies born alive during an abortion procedure, saying a new law was not necessary.

Northam last year supported a bill that would have made it easier for women to obtain abortions in the third trimester, which failed to gain approval in the legislature.

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North Carolina Republican U.S. Rep. Walter Jones dies at 76

Death will trigger a special election in the state’s 3rd U.S. House district

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

GREENVILLE, North Carolina (CFP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, a libertarian maverick who frequently bucked his party’s leadership and became a vocal opponent of sending U.S. troops into foreign wars, has died at the age of 76.

Jones, who had been granted a leave of absence from the House in December due to ill health, died on his birthday Sunday at a hospice in Greenville, according to his office. He had entered the hospice in late January when he health took a downward turn after breaking a hip.

U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-North Carolina

“Congressman Jones will long be remembered for his honesty, faith and integrity. He was never afraid to take a principled stand.” said a statement from his office issued upon his death. “Some may not have agreed with him, but all recognized that he did what he thought was right.”

His funeral is scheduled for Thursday afternoon in Greenville.

Jones’s death will trigger a special election in North Carolina’s 3rd District, which takes in a wide swath of the eastern part of the state along the Atlantic Coast, including the Outer Banks.

After serving a decade in the North Carolina House as a Democrat, Jones was elected to Congress in 1994 as a Republican. His father, Walter Jones Sr., served as a Democratic member of Congress for 26 years before his death in 1992.

Together, father and son served a total of 50 years in the House, starting in 1967.

In 2003, the younger Jones, a strong supporter of the Iraq War, famously introduced a resolution to change the name of French fries to “freedom fries” in the House cafeteria after the French government voted against the U.S. invasion at the United Nations.

But as casualties mounted and no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, Jones became a vocal critic of the war, saying Congress had been misled by faulty intelligence.

He then introduced legislation to try to force the Bush administration to bring the troops home — a stance that went down less than well in a district that is home to both the Fort Bragg Army base and Camp Lejeune Marine base.

But Jones saw off a primary challenge in 2008 and continued to be a frequent thorn in the side of Republican leaders. In 2011, Jones was stripped of his seat on the House Financial Services Committee after voting against a budget proposal pushed by his party leadership.

More recently, Jones signed on to a letter calling on Congress to obtain and examine President Donald Trump’s income tax returns, and he called for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election after Nunes discussed the investigation with White House officials.

Due to his health issues, Jones had already announced that he would not seek re-election in 2020, opening up the 3rd District seat, which leans Republican. He did not face Democratic opposition in 2018.

Governor Roy Cooper has not yet set the date of the special election to fill the vacancy. Each party will hold a primary, followed by a general election between the two winners.

The 3rd District seat is one of two North Carolina seats that are now open. In the 9th District, state elections officials have refused to certify the results in the November race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready because of allegations of absentee ballot fraud.

The State Board of Elections will convene  February 18 to hear evidence in the case, which could lead to a new election.

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North Carolina lawmakers allow GOP to ditch Mark Harris if disputed U.S. House race is rerun

Harris confirms he hired political operative at center of absentee ballot investigation but says he was unaware of illegal activity

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CHARLOTTE (CFP) — The Republican-controlled North Carolina legislature has voted to require party primaries if state elections officials order a rerun of the disputed 9th District U.S. House race — a move that would allow the GOP to ditch Mark Harris, their current nominee who is at the center of an absentee voting scandal.

Mark Harris

In another development, Harris — in his first interview since the scandal broke — told Charlotte TV station WTVB that he personally made the decision to hire McRae Dowless, the Bladen County political operative at the center of an investigation by the State Board of Elections. But he said he did not know Dowless was doing anything illegal.

The state board, which has refused to certify Harris’s unofficial 905-vote lead over Democrat Dan McCready, will hold an evidentiary hearing on the election dispute on January 11, which means that Harris is unlikely to be seated when the new Congress convenes on January 3.

Harris told WBTV that he decided to hire Dowless after narrowly losing a Republican primary for the 9th District seat in 2016, in which an opponent who hired Dowless had a strong performance among absentee voters in Bladen, a rural outpost at the eastern end of the district.

“I remember looking at that and going, ‘Wow, that’s unusual,'” Harris said.

Harris said the services Dowless offered included canvassing people to fill out absentee ballot requests and then helping them cast and mail in their ballots — not collecting and returning ballots for them, which is illegal in North Carolina.

“I remember (Dowless) saying specifically that they were not to take a ballot. They were not to touch a ballot,” Harris said, noting that Dowless had been “vouched for by a number of other leaders down there.”

“I had no reason to think that what he was doing was illegal,” Harris said.

The state board refused to certify the election after evidence surfaced that Dowless and workers that he hired had collected ballots during the November vote. Bladen County also had an unusually high number of absentee ballot requests, and Harris carried the absentee vote by 24 percentage points.

Dowless has not spoken publicly about the allegations but has denied any wrongdoing to local media.

Harris said the board’s refusal to certify the election was “frustrating” plans to set up his congressional offices and get committee assignments.

“It’s been very frustrating because I’ve been elected to serve the 9th District, and I don’t feel like the 9th District is getting served,” he said.

In his interview, Harris did not directly criticize GOP legislative leaders for moving to force a new primary. But he did say, “I certainly don’t feel the circling of the wagons around Harris the way I see the Democrats circling the wagons around McCready.”

The bill passed December 13 by the legislature would require Democratic and Republican primaries if a rerun of the 9th District election is ordered. Had the law not been changed, Republicans would have been stuck with Harris as their nominee, raising concerns about losing the seat to McCready in the wake of the investigation.

McCready, who conceded to Harris on election night, has withdrawn his concession and is now raising money for a rematch.

Also possibly waiting in the wings for Harris in Republican primary is the man who now holds the seat, U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, whom Harris defeated by just 828 votes in the May primary after taking 96 percent of the absentee vote in Bladen — results that have come under renewed scrutiny since the state board’s refusal to certify the general election results.

The bill mandating a primary — contained in a larger package of election reforms passed during a lame duck legislative session — is awaiting Democratic Governor Roy Cooper’s signature. If Cooper vetoes the bill, Republicans would have the votes to override him.

Because of Democratic gains in November, Republicans will only hold veto-proof majorities until January, when the new legislature takes office.

Harris, 52, a Baptist pastor and prominent religious conservative activist, is making his third bid for political office, after losing a U.S. Senate race in 2014 and the 9th District race in 2016.

McCready, 34, a former Marine officer and Iraq War veteran, is making his political debut.

The 9th District takes in eight counties stretching from the suburbs of Charlotte east toward Fayetteville.

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Federal judges strike down North Carolina’s U.S. House map over gerrymandering

Ruling could have an impact on other Southern states with partisan maps

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RALEIGH (CFP) – In an unprecedented decision, a panel of three federal judges has struck down North Carolina’s U.S. House map, ruling that Republican lawmakers unconstitutionally diluted the voting strength of Democrats by gerrymandering the map for political reasons.

The panel’s majority opinion said partisan gerrymandering – a common political practice in many U.S. states – violates a “core principle of republican government” that “voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.”

The January 9 ruling gives state lawmakers just 20 days to redraw the map; if they don’t, a new map will be redrawn by a special master appointed by the court. However, GOP legislative leaders are vowing to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could leave the current map in place until the appeal can be heard.

If the Supreme Court doesn’t issue a stay, significant chaos will be injected into the Tar Heel State’s 2018 election, with qualifying for candidates supposed to begin Feb. 28 for a May 8 primary.

The ruling marked the first time that a federal court has stuck down a congressional map for being gerrymandered for political, rather than racial, reasons. However, U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering similar cases involving state legislative districts in Wisconsin and Maryland that could set a precedent.

The judicial panel in the North Carolina case found unanimously that the map violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution and ruled 2-1 that it also violated the free speech rights of Democrats.

Should the ruling in North Carolina be upheld on appeal, it could have significant effects in other Southern states where Republican state legislative majorities have gerrymandered maps to their advantage, particularly Florida, Virginia and Texas.

Democrats cheered the ruling, which could help them make a dent in the GOP’s 10-to-3 advantage in North Carolina’s congressional delegation. But Republicans accused the judges of “waging a personal, partisan war” against the state GOP.

Ironically, what may have sunk the North Carolina map was the explicit admission by GOP lawmakers back in 2016 that they were drawing lines to maximize the number of Republican-friendly seats – an admission made to overcome objections to a previous map struck down for improperly using racial considerations.

After the map was redrawn in 2016, several incumbent lawmakers were forced to run in new territory and one, former U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, didn’t survive after she was forced to run against another incumbent in a Republican primary. However, the new map did not change the overall party composition in the state’s House delegation.

The 2016 map has allowed Republicans to hold on 77 percent of the state’s congressional seats, even though election results have been closely divided between the parties in recent statewide and presidential elections.

Donald Trump carried North Carolina by just 4 points in 2016, as Democrat Roy Cooper squeaked into the governorship by a margin of less than 1 percent.

The redistricting case was heard by James Wynn, a judge on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; W. Earl Britt, a senior U.S. District Court judge in Raleigh; and William Osteen Jr., a U.S. District Court judge in Greensboro.

Wynn and Britt were appointed by Democratic presidents; Osteen, who dissented from part of the ruling while concurring in striking down the map, is a Republican appointee.

North Carolina legislators pass compromise ending trangendered bathroom ban

But compromise measure prevents cities from passing protections for LGBTQ people

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

RALEIGH (CFP) — After a year of turmoil and economic boycotts, North Carolina legislators have passed a compromise bill that rolls back HB2, a law which prohibited transgendered people from using restrooms in public facilities that didn’t conform with their their birth gender.

However, the bill hammered out by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper and leaders of the Republican-controlled legislature also forbids local jurisdictions in North Carolina from passing non-discrimination ordinances protecting LGBTQ people until at least 2020, a compromise that left LGBTQ advocates seething.

“Lawmakers and Governor Cooper have failed to resolve the problems with HB2 by doubling down on discrimination,” said Chris Sgro executive director of Equality NC. “Once again, the North Carolina General Assembly has enshrined discrimination into North Carolina law.”

“Lawmakers must reject this disgraceful backroom deal that uses the rights of LGBT people as a bargaining chip,” said Sarah Gillooly, policy director for the ACLU of North Carolina. “It is shameful that legislative leaders and North Carolina’s governor are once again rushing through a discriminatory anti-LGBT measure without proper vetting or an opportunity for public input.”

The bill to repeal HB 2 passed March 30, less than 12 hours after the compromise between Cooper and legislative leaders was unveiled. The House approved the repeal 70 to 48; the Senate, 32 to 16.

Cooper, who as attorney general refused to defend HB2 when it was challenged in court, campaigned for governor in 2016 on a pledge to repeal the law. Just a week before the compromise was reached, Equality NC was lauding Cooper for insisting on full repeal.

Attorney General Roy Cooper

In a statement issued after the repeal bill was unveiled, the governor conceded that it was a compromise from the outright repeal initially sought.

“It’s not a perfect deal, but it repeals House Bill 2 and begins to repair our reputation,” Cooper said.

The compromise bill was passed the same day that the NCAA was to decide whether to remove all of its events from North Carolina until 2022 in protest of the transgendered bathroom exclusion.

HB2 was pushed through the GOP-controlled legislature in March 2016 in reaction to the decision by the Charlotte City Council to pass a human rights ordinance protecting LGBTQ people, which included the right of transgendered people to use restrooms and locker rooms that comport with their gender identity, rather than their birth gender.

The new law set off a firestorm of controversy. The NBA, ACC and NCAA all pulled events from the state, and a number of businesses halted plans to relocate or expand there.

The governor at the time, Republican Pat McCrory, bore the brunt of the nationwide backlash to the law. Last November, he was the only Republican governor to lose his seat, in a campaign dominated by the HB2 controversy.

Under the repeal measure, local jurisdictions would no longer be able to regulate use of bathroom facilities in public buildings, as Charlotte tried to do. Only the legislature could enact such regulations, but, after repeal of HB 2, no regulations currently exist. In essence, while transgendered people would not specifically be barred from using facilities that comport with their gender identity, they would also not have a legal right to do so.

However, the second part of the repeal bill prevents Charlotte or any other jurisdiction in North Carolina from passing LGBTQ anti-discrimination measure for the next three years.

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