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U.S. Supreme Court lets congressional maps stand in Texas, North Carolina

Rulings may leave current maps will be in place until after reapportionment in 2021

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Republican legislators in Texas and North Carolina have both dodged a bullet after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to invalidate congressional maps in both states that lower courts had struck down as illegally gerrymandered.

In the Texas case, the justices rejected a claim that state legislators impermissibly used race to draw electoral maps. In the North Carolina case, they vacated a lower court decision holding that the state’s map unconstitutionally diluted the voting strength of Democrats and ordered the case to be reconsidered.

The high court’s June 25 decisions mean that neither state is likely to face a court-ordered redraw in this election cycle. And while the North Carolina case could be reconsidered for the 2020 election, the ruling in the Texas case likely means that the current map will be used until after new maps are drawn in 2021, based on the results of the 2020 census.

In their decison in the Texas case, the justices ruled 5-to-4 that a lower court erred in finding back in 2017 that a congressional map and state House maps adopted in 2013 should be struck down because they were impermissibly drawn using racial considerations. The Supreme Court had put that ruling on hold while it considered the state’s appeal.

The two congressional districts involved in the lawsuit were the 27th District, which stretches along the Gulf Coast from Corpus Christi toward Houston, and the 35th District, which covers parts of Austin and San Antonio linked by a narrow strip of land.

The lower court’s objection to the 27th District was the GOP-controlled legislature reduced the Latino population from 70 percent to around 50 percent. The objection to the 35 District was that legislators used race to create a district that is more than 70 percent Latino and African American, reducing minority populations in surrounding districts.

The 27th District, currently vacant, has been held by Republicans since it was redrawn. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a white Democrat from Austin, represents the 35th District.

In his majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said the evidence offered by the plaintiffs “is plainly insufficient to prove that the 2013 Legislature acted in bad faith and engaged in intentional discrimination.” The justices did uphold a ruling that a Texas House district in Fort Worth was an impermissible racial gerrymander.

But in her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the court’s decision means minority voters in Texas “will continue to be underrepresented in the political process.”

“Those voters must return to the polls in 2018 and 2020 with the knowledge that their ability to exercise meaningfully their right to vote has been burdened by the manipulation of district lines specifically designed to target their communities and minimize their political will,” she wrote.

In the North Carolina case, the justices vacated a 2018 ruling by a three-judge panel that the congressional map adopted by Republican legislators in 2016 was unconstitutional because it diluted the voting strength of Democrats — the first time that a federal court had ever struck down a congressional map on the grounds of political, rather than racial, gerrymandering.

The Supreme Court had also put that ruling on hold while it considered an appeal.

The Tar Heel State’s map had been redrawn in 2016 after a previous map had been struck down for improperly using racial considerations. GOP lawmakers freely admitted that they were drawing lines to maximize the number of Republican-friendly seats, which the lower court found was evidence of unconstitutional partisan taint.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to North Carolina to be reconsidered in light of a ruling earlier this year in case involving a partisan gerrymander in Wisconsin. In that case, the high court sidestepped the question of whether drawing maps that favor one party over another can be found unconstitutional, returning the case to a lower court on narrow jurisdictional grounds.

The court’s order did not indicate how, or if, justices were split on the merits of the case.

While North Carolina is divided fairly evenly in presidential races and has a Democratic governor, Republicans hold a commanding 10-to-3 margin in the U.S. House delegation.

Texas, which leans more Republican, has 24 Republicans and 11 Democrats in its delegation, with one seat vacant.

U.S. House Primary Wrap: Democrats pick female Marine fighter pilot for targeted seat in Kentucky

Voters in Georgia, Arkansas and Texas also pick party nominees for House seats that could help decide balance of power

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

LEXINGTON, Kentucky (CFP) — In a year in which women candidates have been making noise nationally, Amy McGrath has made her own statement in Kentucky’s Bluegrass country by winning the Democratic nomination for a U.S. House seat over a candidate recruited by party leaders in Washington.

Meanwhile, in other May 22 primaries in Georgia, Arkansas and Texas, Democrats narrowed the fields in races for seven GOP-held seats that are being targeted in November, while Texas Republicans picked nominees in four open seats that are expected to stay in Republican hands.

In central Kentucky’s 6th District, which includes Lexington and Frankfort, McGrath took 48 percent of the vote to 40 percent for Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who had been recruited for the race by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Kentucky does not have primary runoffs, so McGrath won the nomination with a plurality and will now face GOP U.S. Rep. Andy Barr in November.

Democratic U.S. House nominee Amy McGrath

Declaring victory with her supporters in Richmond, McGrath — a retired Marine Corps fighter pilot whose call sign was “Krusty” — said “what happened tonight is amazing.”

“Six months ago, political pundits and establishment insiders didn’t think we could pull this off,” she said. “What those insiders maybe still don’t know is how this happened. Well, I know how it happened. It’s because you all care about the future of our country.”

McGrath began her campaign in August 2017 with a video in which she told how, as a young girl growing up in Kentucky, she decided she wanted to be a fighter pilot but discovered that women were not allowed to serve in combat. She then wrote letters to members of Congress in which she asked why she was barred from serving, including a letter to Kentucky U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, which she said was never answered.

After the ban was lifted, McGrath enrolled in the U.S. Naval Academy and served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine Corps aviator before retiring at the rank of lieutenant colonel.

McGrath’s video went viral, triggering a wave of contributions to her long-shot campaign. She now raised almost $2 million in her quest to unseat Barr, who is seeking his fourth term.

Another positive sign for McGrath: More than 100,000 Democrats turned out to vote in the primary, compared to just 49,000 Republicans in a district President Donald Trump carried by 15 points in 2016. However, GOP turnout also lagged behind Democratic turnout in 2016, when Barr took 61 percent.

Meanwhile, in Kentucky’s 3rd District in metro Louisville, Republicans nominated Vickie Glisson, a Louisville attorney who headed the state health department, to face U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, who has drawn the particular ire of Republicans nationally with his strong criticism of Trump, including introducing articles of impeachment.

In Georgia, the House races receiving the most attention are in the 6th and 7th districts, where Republican incumbents are seen as possibly vulnerable in districts that President Donald Trump won by narrow margins in 2016.

In the 6th District, in Atlanta’s northern suburbs, where Republican U.S. Rep. Karen Handel won her seat in 2017 after a hard-fought and hugely expensive special election, Democrats have narrowed their field to Lucy McBath, a gun control activist from Cobb County, and Kevin Abel, a Sandy Springs businessman, who will compete in a July 24 runoff.

McBath’s son, Jordan Davis, was shot and killed in 2012 by a man at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida, over a dispute over loud hip-hop music. His case became part of the nationwide campaign against deadly violence aimed at young African-American men. The shooter, Michael David Dunn, was later convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole.

Handel’s chances of keeping the seat — in a district Trump only carried by just 1.5 points — improved when the man she defeated in the special election, Democrat Jon Ossoff, decided against a rematch.

In the 7th District, in northwest metro Atlanta, Democrats Carolyn Bordeaux and David Kim advanced to the runoff for the right to face Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall in November.

Bordeaux, from Suwanee, is a professor at Georgia State University and former budget analyst for the Georgia Senate. Kim, from Duluth, is the son of Korean immigrants who owns a company that provides tutoring for students. If elected, he would become Georgia’s first Asian-American congressman, running in a district with a growing Asian population.

While Woodall took 60 percent of the vote in the 7th District in 2016, Trump only won by 6 points, putting the seat within the realm of possibility for Democrats.

Arkansas-SQIn Arkansas, the House race drawing the most attention is the 2nd District in metro Little Rock, where Democrats believe they might have a shot at ousting GOP U.S. Rep. French Hill if a national Democratic wave develops.

The Democratic nominee will be State Rep. Clarke Tucker of Little Rock, who won the primary without a runoff.

While Hill won re-election by 11 points in 2016, the 2nd District is the least Republican district in the state, anchored by Pulaski County, which Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. Trump won the district by less than 10 points.

In Texas, Democrats have picked nominees in four targeted U.S. House seats now in Republican hands that Democrats have hopes of flipping in the fall.

In the 7th District, in metro Houston, attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher defeated liberal activist Laura Moser for the right to take on Republican U.S. John Culberson, in a district Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. Fletcher had been backed by the DCCC against Moser, who was seen by Democratic leaders as too liberal for the district.

In the 21st District, which stretches from Austin to San Antonio and takes in part of the Texas Hill Country, Republican Chip Roy will face Democrat Joseph Kosper for the seat now held by retiring U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, a district which Trump carried by 10 points.

Roy served as chief of staff for U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. Kosper is a former U.S. Army officer and technology entrepreneur.

In the 23rd District — the largest Texas district geographically, sprawling from the suburbs of San Antonio to near El Paso — Democrats picked Gina Ortiz Jones to take on incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Will Hurd in November. Clinton also carried this majority-Latino swing district, which has changed hands four times in the last 12 years.

Jones is a former military intelligence officer who worked as a U.S. trade representative in the Obama administration. If elected, she would be the first open lesbian, Iraq War veteran and Filipino American to represent Texas in Washington.

In the 32nd District, in metro Dallas, former NFL player Colin Allred defeated businesswoman Lillian Salerno and will now face Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, who is trying to keep a traditionally Republican seat in a district that Clinton also carried. Allred, a civil rights attorney, played five seasons in the NFL for the Tennessee Titans before his career ended after a neck injury.

Also in Texas, the fields have been set in four other open GOP-held districts that Republicans will be favored to keep in November:

Barton decided not to seek re-election after after a nude selfie he had exchanged with a woman with whom he was having a consensual extramarital relationship wound up on social media.

Farenthold resigned after news reports that $84,000 in taxpayer dollars had been used to pay a settlement to a former female staffer who alleged that she suffered sexual harassment from Farenthold and another male staffer. The congressman denied the harassment allegations, while conceding that a lax management style in his Washington office created a “decidedly unprofessional” work environment.

A special election is being held in June to fill the remainder of Farenthold’s current term, with Cloud, Holguin and seven other candidates on the ballot.

Texas U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold won’t run in 2018 after questions about harassment settlement with employee

Farenthold denies wrongdoing but blames political inexperience for allowing “unprofessional” work environment

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas has announced he won’t seek re-election in 2018 in the wake of revelations about his use of taxpayer dollars to settle a sexual harassment claim made by a former employee, which he said has become a “political distraction.”

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas

In a statement posted to Facebook on December 14, Farenthold insisted that the sexual harassment charges made against him by his former communications director, Lauren Greene, are false, but he conceded that his lax management style in his Washington office created a “decidedly unprofessional” work environment — a  situation he blamed on his lack of political experience after being elected in 2010.

“I had no idea how to run a congressional office and, as a result, I allowed a workplace culture to take root in my office that was too permissive and decidedly unprofessional,” Fahrenthold said. “It accommodated destructive gossip, offhand comments, off-color jokes and behavior that in general that was less than professional.”

“And I allowed the personal stress of the job to manifest itself in angry outbursts and, too often, a failure to treat people with the respect that they deserved,” he said. “Clearly, that was wrong. It is not how I was raised, it’s not who I am, and for that situation, I am profoundly sorry,” he said.

In  2014, Greene, sued Farenthold for gender discrimination, sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment, alleging that she was fired after complaining about sexually suggestive comments made to her by the congressman and another male staffer. The Office of Congressional Ethics investigated and cleared Farenthold, and he reached a mediated out-of-court settlement with Greene in 2015.

Farenthold’s decision not to seek re-election came two weeks after after Politico reported that the $84,000 paid to settle that case came from the Office of Compliance, a federal agency that handles sexual harassment complaints by congressional staffers. The congressman then announced that he would take out a personal loan to reimburse the government for the settlement.

In his Facebook video, Farenthold said he planned to make “meaningful changes” in the operation of his congressional office.

“I owe that to everyone — my constituents, my family, and this institution,” he said.

Farenthold, 55, was elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010 to represent the 27th District, which sprawls across the Texas Gulf Coast between Corpus Christi and Houston. He was already facing a 2018 primary challenge from Michael Cloud, the Republican chairman in Victoria County. After the Politico story was published, Bech Bruun resigned from his post as chairman of the Texas Water Development Board to enter the GOP race.

Farenthold is the eighth member of Texas’s 36-member congressional delegation to forego re-election in 2018, joining Republicans Joe Barton, Ted Poe, Sam Johnson, Jeb Hensarling and Lamar Smith and Democrats Beto O’Rourke and Gene Green.

All except O’Rourke are leaving Congress; he is running for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Republican Ted Cruz.

Texas U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold promises to repay taxpayer money used to settle sexual harassment suit

Report: Former spokeswoman who accused Farenthold of creating a hostile work environment received $84,000

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (CFP) — U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas says he will take out a personal loan to repay $84,000 in taxpayer dollars used to settle a claim with a former staffer who sued him for sexual harassment, even though he continues to deny the underlying allegations and insists he only used tax dollars because he was required to do so.

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas

“I want to be clear that I didn’t do anything wrong, but I also don’t want the taxpayers to be on the hook for this,” Farenthold told Corpus Christi TV station KRIS.

In  2014, Farenthold’s former communications director, Lauren Greene, sued him for gender discrimination, sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment, alleging that she was fired after complaining about sexually suggestive comments made to her by the congressman and another male staffer.

The Office of Congressional Ethics cleared Farenthold, and he reached a mediated out-of-court settlement with Greene in 2015. He was re-elected in 2016 after the charges and the settlement had been publicly disclosed.

However, the settlement came under renewed scrutiny after Politico reported on December 1 that the money paid to Greene came from the Office of Compliance, a federal agency that handles sexual harassment complaints by congressional staffers.

Farenthold had initially issued a statement saying he couldn’t comment on the settlement because of a confidentiality agreement, but he later told KRIS that he believed he was required to pay Greene with Office of Compliance money, although he now says he will “hand a check” to House Speaker Paul Ryan to reimburse the government.

Farenthold, 55, was elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010 to represent the 27th District, which sprawls across the Texas Gulf Coast between Corpus Christi and Houston. OpenSecrets.org, which tracks the financial assets of members of Congress based on their financial disclosure reports, estimated Farenthold’s net worth at $6 million in 2016.

The revelations about Farenthold have been an unwelcome distraction for House Republicans, who have been pressing for the resignation of Democratic U.S. Rep. John Conyers of Michigan for settling a sexual harassment lawsuit with money taken out of his House office budget.

Even before the details surrounding the details of Farenthold’s settlement came to light, he was already being challenged in the GOP primary by Michael Cloud, the Republican chairman in Victoria County. After the Politico story was published, Bech Bruun, chairman of the Texas Water Development Board, told the Texas Tribune that he was also considering challenging Farenthold and that “it is a sad day when an elected official uses taxpayer money to settle a claim of sexual harassment.”

Texas’s unusually early March primary means that the filing deadline for party primaries is December 11. In addition, the 27th is one of three Texas U.S. House districts struck down in March by a panel of federal judges for improper gerrymandering of Latino voters, which could result in changes being made to the district before next year’s congressional elections.

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