Tag Archives: kansas

What parts of congress to watch

One of the most fascinating moments in Sunday’s debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was this exchange, concerning the checks and balances that glue together our federal government:

CLINTON: Well, here we go again. I’ve been in favor of getting rid of carried interest for years, starting when I was a senator from New York. But that’s not the point here.

TRUMP: Why didn’t you do it? Why didn’t you do it?


CLINTON: Because I was a senator with a Republican president.

TRUMP: Oh, really?

CLINTON: I will be the president and we will get it done. That’s exactly right.

TRUMP: You could have done it, if you were an effective — if you were an effective senator, you could have done it. If you were an effective senator, you could have done it. But you were not an effective senator.


CLINTON: You know, under our Constitution, presidents have something called veto power. Look, he has now said repeatedly, “30 years this and 30 years that.” So let me talk about my 30 years in public service. I’m very glad to do so.

It gives us a stark contrast between the two of them, and their comparatively normative political approach and Jacksonian strongman theory of politics respectively. But it also serves as a reminder that try as they might neither candidate would really be capable of governing alone. They’re not running for a dictatorial position, just a key linchpin in a bigger political system. So, who else should we watch in the coming weeks?


The Democrats face a steeper climb than the Republicans in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, given that they have to make up for lost seats from the 2014 midterm election and consolidate large enough supermajorities to overcome procedural blocks – namely the Senate’s filibuster.

Luckily for them, however, in several Republican-held seats they now can run something of a double-hitter against those GOP incumbents. Several Republican-run state governments have been embroiled in serious scandals or become nationally embarrassing over the course of the same election year as the national nomination of Donald Trump for president. Republican-leaning voters are in many corners of the country divided as to which candidates to support. What’s more, the competition between national figures within the Party has left many of them with contradictory queues in terms of how to vote.

These dynamics play out in similar ways in various parts of the country. In Kansas, there’s Governor Brownback’s Republican state administration which has bankrupted basic state services. In Michigan, it’s that Governor Rick Snyder (R) is implicated in mass water contamination. Likewise, in Maine Republican governor Paul LePage seemingly says a new outrageous thing each day.

In four, key, Republican-held congressional districts in those states, the GOP has a slight advantage given that most voters are White and suburban-dwelling, but the compounded scandals have chipped away at their lead. The effect has made KS-02, MI-06, MI-07, and ME-02 all unexpectedly more competitive than originally perceived because of how toxic the Republican Party has become in those places.


I wrote quite a bit about this dynamic often overlooked in the national press in the last presidential cycle, in 2012. As national politics are coalesced around a pluralistic and urban Democratic Party and a nationalistic and rural Republican Party, the electoral map in California has fallen into a predictable pattern of by and large a blue coast and a red interior. With more congressional districts than any other state, it’s both a block of vital votes in the House that can’t be ignored and something of a microcosm of national political trajectories. When a party does well nationally that blue-red divide tends to shift within California locally.

In 2012, that meant a consolidation of the coast as almost entirely Democrat-held and an expansion into more contested seats right along the dividing line. Two of the districts I covered specifically in that year seem relevant again, with Democrat Ami Bera in CA-07 yet again desperately trying to maintain a blue outpost deep within redder territory and Republican Jeff Denham in CA-10 likewise trying to stave off the steady march of Democrats from the sea to the Sierras.

Further south, however, three other races seem to present interesting tests of this red-blue competition as well. In CA-24, along the southern central coast, Democrat Lois Capps is stepping down, leaving an open seat in one of the more White, rural, and centrist portions of the coast. That poses a question of just how durable Democratic holds on the coast necessarily are.

Meanwhile, in CA-25, Republican Stephen Knight is the last congressional GOP office-holder in any part of Los Angeles county. In a district that is now majority minority, his reelection bid cuts to the core problems faced by elected Republicans – both in California and nationally. Finally, in CA-49, Republican Darryl Issa is running to keep one of the few remaining coastal outposts of the California Republican Party. Can he keep it? Or has an endorsement of Donald Trump been too much even for him?


Even with those and other districts in which scandals and demographic transitions give Democrats at least a fighting chance, more seats must flip to change party dominance in Congress. If this proves to be a wave year, and it may very well be, there’s scattered rural districts around the country which seem poised to jump – but it’s not clear in what direction. Angry at an increasingly wide cultural gap and less enthused given the particularly anemic economic recovery, voters in these places seem ready to sabotage the Republican Party by going for Trump, but also ripe for a Sanders-style democratic socialism.

In PA-16 and VA-05, Republican lawmakers may have set themselves up for failure under these types of electoral conditions. Both are suburban-rural and White majority districts, designed to help boost the number of Republican-held districts in their states overall. That type of electoral math has great dividends when the electorate remains predictable, but populist sentiment has prompted voters to behave in ways that many party elites found baffling. While both districts are Republican-leaning, their current GOP representatives are not seeking reelection, adding yet another dose of unpredictability.

Many of those same underlying conditions rear their head in NH-01, but there’s an additional surreal flavor. Arguably one of the most unstable districts in the country, it’s alternated between Democrat Carol Shea-Porter and Republican Frank Guinta as representatives since 2006. In the past few election cycles, neither has held it for more than one of the congressional terms (which only last two years). They’re the two major party candidates this year once again. While the district leans right, and with a more rural and White composition it feels quite Republican, Shea-Porter has historically won it each recent year there’s been a presidential race. This election will test that pattern.

Among these types of districts, NY-19 stands out as defined less by dissatisfaction with the Republican Party and attraction to a type of political agitation more at home among the Democrats. It noticeably has more consistently leaned to the left of these other districts in both national and local races. This year, Zephyr Teachout who previously ran to the left of Andrew Cuomo for New York Governor, will try to capture the Hudson Valley area seat by running a Sanders-type Democratic campaign emphasizing economic equality and opportunity. Combined with yet another Republican incumbent not up for election, this is yet another test about how the Democratic Party might be able to reclaim support ceded for many decades to cross-over vote to the Republicans.


You’ll note, that all of these places to look at are congressional districts, not Senate seats, like what Clinton held. That’s because the Senate seems to be approaching heat death. For months now, the most likely outcome of the Senate races has appeared to be a deadlocked 50-50 division, with the Vice President casting the tie-breaking vote. So much for looking back to the house for an answer to where policy comes from. Maybe it’s buried in a classically overlooked spot on the Presidential ticket.

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Bloody Kansas

TW: racism, nativism, heterosexism

In the past few months, the southern Great Plains have become something of a flashpoint in US politics, although not with the level of violence seen prior to the US Civil War. Recently, the issue hasn’t been whether Kansas should enter the union as a free or slave state, but rather over whether the validity of indigenous governments and populations in Kansas and Oklahoma supersedes or is subject to the (White-dominated) Kansas and Oklahoma state governments.

In Oklahoma, the issue has come to light as a result of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes’ joint government choosing to recognize same-gender marriages, leading to three widely reported marriage. Through the sovereign tribal government, the members of those marriages are entitled to federal marital benefits. At least, they should be, but Oklahoma State Representative Sally Kern has insisted otherwise, arguing that it is “sad” that the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes’ laws don’t “recognize what 75 percent of the voters of Oklahoma declared” which conveniently missing the point that as a sovereign tribe, Oklahoman law is moot. Technically speaking those tribes are “domestic dependent nations” which are only subject to regulation by the federal government – as a sort of quasi-vassal to the United States, not Oklahoma or any other US state.

(The most recent couple to marry under the auspices of the tribe, Jason Pickel [L] and Darren Black Bear [R], from the above link.)

In an odd way, the quarrel isn’t actually about marriage law, since Oklahoma is not (and neither is Kansas) a state that is among those refusing to recognize the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). That granted same-gender couples federally-guaranteed marriage rights and at least within US military contexts full-faith-and-credit, meaning that their marriage under (say) Massachusetts law will be recognized in federal offices across the country. Oklahoma is not behaving in the manner seemingly reserved for states that previously attempted to secede (and, Indiana, the odd one out). The matter that Kern is working with to further her heterosexist opinion is her (inaccurate) belief that Oklahoman law should at least to some degree determine the laws of sovereign indigenous governments within the territory of Oklahoma.

This past Spring, something similar rocked Kansas, where Kansas State Representative Ponka-We Victors, an indigenous woman, responded to anti-immigrant rhetoric by stating that she saw the Whites who dominate Kansas state politics as “illegal immigrants” who had jeopardized the way of life for indigenous people across the continent. In short, she flipped the script and challenged the White, Kansan Secretary of State to prove his validity as a state official within the context of him using devaluing language, like “illegal”.

In the southern Great Plains, it seems that over the course of the past year many prominent political figures have begun challenging the unusual legal status of indigenous governments – both from the perspective that they may be more valid governments than the states set up by (primarily White) settlers as part of American expansionism and from those who view those state governments as more valid than tribal ones. Things may be changing in that corner of the United States in a way that might force all residents of the US to rethink the odd legal status of indigenous peoples and their political rights within our borders.

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The struggle: some of it is forgotten, but some is erased

Jonathan Chait over at New York Mag actually has a pretty excellent piece on what seems to be the trajectory of marriage equality in this country. It does seem likely that eventually it will become policy in many of the states and tolerated at the federal level – which for many queer families would end key policies to misrecognizing or ignoring their kinship structures. The need of many queer families for access to right of attorney, the ability to select a next of kin, and easier management of custodial rights is clear.

But Chait, like many commentators, seems to treat that as the whole of the struggle for queer liberation, and frames his work as examining how quickly amnesia of the battles fought for just those policy corrections has set in, with Republicans and conservatives claiming that they were on the side of queer families all along. That’s merely one dimension of the problem. There is a problem with declaring the struggle complete with legal equality becoming available in some states without federal barriers to it. What that signals is a belief that queer families outside of the few states (which admittedly have about three fourths of the population of the US) with marriage equality don’t matter or count.

Beyond that, however, that suggests that partial reform on this single policy “completes” the struggle. Nevermind if Kansas wants to round up HIV positive people. Nevermind if a broad swathe of the country lacks housing or employment protections for queer people. Nevermind the higher rates of homelessness that still plague queer youth. And absolutely don’t worry whether misleading use of acronyms like LGBT* is going to convince bystanders to those communities’ struggles that the needs of transgender and genderqueer people have been addressed by partially instituting marriage equality.

(States in purple bar housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, those in blue for only sexual orientation. The majority of the country fails to protect from either.)

In short, the heterosexists are already forgetting where they stood during the fights for marriage equality, much as they have with regards to the Civil Rights Movement. But they’re also declaring heterosexism “over” so that issues that are more complex than easily identifiable inequalities under the law are easily ignored, much like racist criminalization and other forms of racism more complex than literally unequal legal standing remain today in this “post-racial” country.

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The gendered component of medical misinformation

TW: misogyny, abortion, coercive restrictions on bodily autonomy

As flu season descends upon us, everyone seems to be preparing for the almost inevitable pseudo-scientific nonsense about the vaccines being a terrible trick of some sort. Lost amid those and other criticisms of scientifically groundless claims, however are a few that are not just whispered rumors, but actual state policy. For instance, five states in the US have written it into their laws that doctors are legally obligated to provide written warnings to their patients that include statements that abortion increases the risk of developing breast cancer. The fact that there’s no link between having an abortion and experiencing breast cancer is apparently irrelevant (see page 23 for details).

(Thankfully at least one image going around Facebook is trying to inform people. If only the same sort of energy went into debunking abortion laws that went into the endless online debates about vaccines. From here.)

So the next time you hear  the conversation shift towards baseless medical hearsay, be sure to at least inform the bystanders that there’s no there there. And that counts double in cases where the government is on the side of misinforming women so as to coerce their decisions about their bodies. This goes double if you live in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Mississippi, or Alaska, where these laws are already on the books.

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