Each day, the DLCC’s experts comb through statehouse political news across the country to stay on top of the latest developments. Here are five stories that may have flown under your radar this week.
New York Democrat Todd Kaminsky has won a key state Senate special election against Republican Chris McGrath. Kaminsky’s victory makes him the 32nd Democrat elected to the 63-seat chamber. The seat had previously been held by Republican Dean Skelos, who resigned after a corruption scandal. The victory comes after a strong, coordinated effort of Democratic leaders. President Barack Obama contributed a robo-call to the campaign, Governor Andrew Cuomo supported Kaminsky with his endorsement, and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul appeared at a campaign event for Kaminsky on Monday. The win greatly strengthens Democrats’ position heading into the critical 2016 elections.
Republican and supposedly pro-life Maine Governor Paul LePage suggested Wednesday that it was not in Maine’s interest to prevent deaths due to drug overdoses. He vetoed legislation that would have increased access to the heroin overdose antidote naloxone by allowing it to be provided by pharmacists without prescription. More than 30 other states already allow access it. In his veto, Governor LePage argued that the drug “does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose.” More than 200 people died from heroin overdoses in Maine just last year, and this is not the first time LePage has displayed a callous approach to the epidemic. In January, he warned that drug dealers with “names like D-Money” come to Maine and “impregnate young white” girls before going home to other states. Michael Tyler, the Democratic National Committee Director of African American Media, condemned the remarks as racist.
The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of a Virginia transgender student seeking to use the restroom for the gender that he identified with. The ruling concluded that the decision of the boy’s school district to bar the student from bathrooms for men was discriminatory under the 1972 Title IX Act. This decision is the first time that a federal court has ever found transgender individuals to be protected from discrimination by this legislation. It strikes a blow against conservative Republicans who have fought hard to exclude the transgender community from anti-discrimination legal protections. The ruling comes as the nation is focused on legislation pushed by Republican controlled state legislatures that would bar transgender individuals from using the bathroom of the gender that they identify with. In particular, the North Carolina “bathroom bill” has attracted protests from advocacy groups and businesses alike.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe demonstrated the huge changes possible for states with Democratic leadership by restoring the voting rights of 200,000 convicted felons through executive order. This move circumvents a provision in the Virginia state constitution originating from post-Civil War era attempts at disenfranchising black voters. Until the signing of the order, many African-Americans in the state had remained without the right to vote because of a felony conviction and had to go through a difficult legal process of reobtaining it. Republicans did not share in the enthusiasm for this expansion of the right to vote, accusing Governor McAuliffe of violating the necessary “limits” on the democratic rights of felons and simply trying to attract voters. University of Virginia Law Professor A.E. Dick Howard supported the legality of McAuliffe’s action, claiming that the executive order was firmly within the legal bounds of his office. The move by Governor McAuliffe is encouraging news after Republicans in other states worked to limit voting rights. Recently, Republican Governor Matt Bevin in Kentucky rescinded an executive order by Democratic Governor Steven L. Beshear to restore voting rights to felons.
The Supreme Court has upheld an Arizona legislative map that was drawn to maintain the power of minority voters. In 2014, a group of tea party activists challenged the district maps, drawn in 2010 by the Arizona's Independent Election Commission, alleging that the map packed too many Republican voters into too few districts. However, the Commission defended its actions by arguing that the district lines reflected concerns over the proper state representation of racial minorities required under the federal Voting Rights Act. The defeat in court is a significant blow to Republicans, who had already lost a previous court case at the Supreme Court challenging the very legality of redistricting commissions such as Arizona’s. However, it is a huge victory for the principle of racial equality in state legislatures.