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Manchin: No Coal, No Deal

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-Coal) is apparently running for reelection in 2024. And his platform is clear: I singlehandedly saved the coal industry. That will play well in West Virginia, but not so well in most other states, other than maybe Kentucky. But given how crucial his vote is, whatever Joe wants, Joe gets. Joe wants to scrap that part of the budget reconciliation bill that will pay power companies to replace coal-fired electricity plants with solar, wind, hydro, and nuclear plants. So grudgingly, Democrats are rewriting the bill to remove that provision. In a small way, this new requirement Manchin just threw out (killing the Clean Energy Performance Program) helps cut the bill from $3.5 trillion to something closer to $1.5 trillion, another Manchin requirement. Sometimes you can't tell which Joe is president, and thus the most powerful person in the country, without a program.

Although Democrats are very disappointed, since making electric power generation clean is the most important part of the bill's effort to slow down climate change, Manchin is not against other ways of mitigating climate change (as long as they don't reduce coal usage). He is ok with installing more electric charging stations, updating the power grid, and clean-energy tax credits. After all, electric cars can run on electricity generated by burning coal. While Manchin's ploy will forestall the inevitable end of the coal era by a couple of years, every power company sees the handwriting on the wall and none of them is ever going to build another coal-fired plant because they have to last 40-50 years, by which time coal won't even be economically competitive anymore. In fact, it's not economically competitive now. So, the main effect of Manchin's demand is just to slow down the decommissioning of existing coal-fired power plants.

One argument that Manchin made that is at least plausible is that he doesn't want to use taxpayer dollars to pay private companies to do what they are already doing for economic reasons (moving toward sustainable energy). Another argument in his favor is that aside from defending the biggest (actually, the only) industry in his state, he is chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, so national energy policy really is his legitimate domain. Manchin is also a supporter of carbon capture, which would mitigate the greenhouse effect of burning coal by capturing the carbon emitted and burying it underground. Unfortunately, that is simply too expensive to do at scale and might not work in the long run if the carbon leaks out in 50 years.

When Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) got "wind" of Manchin's demand, he decided to take a poke at Manchin. He wrote an op-ed explaining why Medicare is important for working families. And he didn't write it for The New York Times or The Washington Post. He wrote it for the biggest newspaper in West Virginia, The Charleston Gazette-Mail. The good news is that Manchin read it. The bad news is that he said: "This isn't the first time an out-of-stater has tried to tell West Virginians what is best for them despite having no relationship to our state." The smart money is betting on Manchin telling Sanders to butt out next time the two meet.

In theory, at least, Manchin defending his state's biggest industry is at least as legitimate as then-senator Joe Lieberman singlehandedly killing off the public option to the ACA in 2009 (because many of the big private insurance companies are in his state). Each senator represents a specific state and is sort of expected to look out for his or her constituents' interests, which Manchin is doing and is quite open about (unlike Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-AZ, who is playing hide-and-seek now).

But there might be another—less honorable—reason Manchin is defending coal so vigorously. He owns stock valued at between $1 million and $5 million in Enersystems, a coal brokerage firm he founded in 1988. Last year he received dividends of $491,949 from that stock, according to his Senate disclosure form. It's not exactly a conflict of interest since doing what is best for him personally is also the best thing (in the short term) for West Virginia. Still, it is kind of icky. If he were to sell the stock and then demand that the reconciliation bill fund construction of the largest solar panel factory in the world to be constructed in Charleston, he would get it in there instantly and improve the long-term prospects of his state. But no one factory could replace all the coal mining jobs, so he won't budge.

All of this said, you might think that he gets all his campaign donations from the coal industry, but that doesn't appear to be the case. Open Secrets reports that in the past four years his top campaign sources are the securities industry, lawyers, retired people, real estate firms, and oil/gas, in that order. None of his top contributors were from energy companies. However, his efforts to stop the Democrats from pushing their climate change agenda is also paying dividends for him. In Q3 of 2021, he raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars from donors in the energy industry who normally back Republicans. The lesson here is that senators' votes are a balancing act between the needs of the country, the party, the senators' home states and, quite often, the senator's campaign bank account and their own bank account. (V)

Does Biden Care about Democracy?

When Joe Biden got his current job, he listed four crises he had to deal with: the coronavirus, the economy, climate change, and racial equity. Notably missing from the list was any mention of saving democracy or voting rights, which are probably more important than any of the above. After all, if Republican-controlled state legislatures can freely pass laws making sure their party wins all future elections, then whatever changes Biden makes in his four key areas can be easily reversed the next time Republicans are in power nationally. If democracy goes the way of the dodo, none of the changes Biden wants will last very long. Voting rights activists think that Biden is being very shortsighted by not making the passage of H.R. 1, H.R. 4, or even Joe Manchin's watered down "Freedom to Vote Act" one of his top priorities.

Biden's top priority now is getting the soft infrastructure bill through the Senate, but presidents are supposed to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. Many of Biden's allies are dismayed, especially because during his campaign, Biden made saving democracy a key issue. Now it is on the back burner. Damon Hewitt, the executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said: "I think the pulpit could be bullier." NAACP President Derrick Johnson was less forgiving, saying that Biden's lack of interest in voting rights is "appalling." Johnson also said: "I have heard from many of my colleagues and members that the lack of priority around voting rights will be the undoing of the legacy for this presidency." In other words, unless democracy is ensured, whatever Biden accomplishes will be undone as soon as the Republicans have the power to do it, which could be as soon as 2025. Remember that Donald Trump's main legislative goal was to undo everything that Barack Obama did. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to envision President Ron DeSantis' top goal being to erase everything Biden did.

Many pro-democracy groups are what they call "anxiously optimistic," meaning that they hope Biden will eventually get around to trying to save democracy after he is done with infrastructure, but they are upset at his lack of interest and results now. Even Democratic politicians are worried. Hillary Clinton recently sent out this tweet on the subject:

I fear Democrats still aren't taking this threat sufficiently seriously.

— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) October 13, 2021

Biden argues that he is working on the problem, saying that he asked Kamala Harris to add it to her list of responsibilities. He also noted that the Justice Dept. has doubled its voting rights enforcement staff and that he refused to invoke executive privilege to help Donald Trump stop Congress from investigating the Jan. 6 coup attempt.

Voting-rights advocates want Biden to pressure AG Merrick Garland on the subject, but Biden has said that having the president put pressure on the AG is a threat to democracy, and not the cure, so he won't do it. Inside the administration there are people who say that Biden sincerely believes that if he delivers on infrastructure, people will like it and vote Democratic. But many of these people also realize that even if people like the results, that won't help in 2022 if Republican state legislatures have made voting too onerous, especially in heavily Democratic areas (e.g., by making people wait in line for 10 hours in order to vote). They are also worried about laws that allow state legislatures to take control of the voting process and the counting of the votes away from state and local officials whose job is to safeguard elections. As of the end of September, 19 states had already enacted 33 laws that make voting more difficult. These will be undone only through federal action.

The main bottleneck to passing Joe Manchin's "Freedom to Vote Act," which Manchin approves of (but so does Stacey Abrams), is the filibuster. The bill will come up for a vote this week and Republicans have said they will kill it with a symbolic filibuster. After that happens, Biden needs to talk to Manchin and make a tough call. Biden could propose to leave coal alone (and provide more pork for West Virginia than Sen. Joni Ernst, R-IA, could castrate in 10 years) in exchange for Manchin agreeing to make the Republicans actually go full Jimmy Stewart and read the Bible or the phone book on the Senate floor until they physically drop. Making that tradeoff—saving democracy but not saving the planet—will be extremely painful for Biden, but unless he saves democracy, Republicans will get and hold power in a few years and reverse whatever he achieves now. Nobody said being president was easy. (V)

Texas Is Working on an Even Worse Law

The Texas Law (S.B. 8) allowing private citizens to sue anyone who aided or abetted an abortion after 6 weeks is small potatoes compared to what the Texas legislature is working on now. The new bill, S.B. 47, would allow losing (or even winning) candidates, county and state party chairs, and groups supporting or opposing ballot initiatives to force investigations and audits potentially years after an election. Donald Trump has demanded an audit of the Texas results, despite his winning the state by 630,000 votes. Just imagine what would happen in a race like IA-02, which Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks won by six votes out of nearly 400,000 votes cast.

The bill, which has already passed the Texas state Senate, would allow candidates and party chairs to call for investigations and audits by simply stating that they thought there was an "irregularity." No specific claims or evidence are required to start the process. The investigations and audits would be funded by the taxpayers. Trump strongly supports the bill, which is why it is being fast-tracked through the legislature.

If the law passes, then when a candidate or party chair "thinks" there is an irregularity, he or she informs the county clerk, who has 20 days to respond. If the plaintiff is not satisfied, the county has to try again. Both investigations are at the county's expense. If the plaintiff still isn't satisfied, the case goes to the Texas secretary of state, who is appointed by the governor. The secretary can either rule outright or start an audit (also paid for by the county). Precisely what constitutes an audit is not spelled out in the bill. It would be up to the secretary to decide what to do. Because the counties have to foot the costs, relatively poor Democratic counties along the Mexican border might simply give the plaintiffs what they want (e.g., reversing an election) rather than go broke auditing.

Another thing that is not spelled out is whether a candidate is limited to requesting an audit of his or her own race. Could a winning state senator force an audit of a presidential race? Also an issue is that there is no statute of limitations. Texas law requires election records to be maintained for 22 months. What happens if someone files a request 24 months after an election, after all the ballots and records have been destroyed? One thing the bill is clear about is that it establishes a committee to ensure compliance with the law. Members are appointed by the lieutenant governor and speaker of the state House. They are free to appoint only members of their respective parties. Currently both officials are Republicans.

Sarah Walker, executive director of the nonpartisan group Secure Democracy, said: "It was the single most concerning bill I have seen all this legislative session." Republican Trey Grayson, a former Kentucky secretary of state and opponent of the bill, said: "You know, this is kind of an off-year, we don't have a lot of elections, but if there's close races, people are just gonna approach it differently because what's going to happen is your supporters are going to expect it." Getting an election right is very important, but in the past challenges stopped after an election was certified. Not anymore. If the Texas bill passes, it could be the model for other states where Republicans have the trifecta. The "business model" for the Republican Party used to be trying to get more votes than the Democrats. Now it is more about trying to limit who can and cannot vote, and if that doesn't get it done, then changing the election results after the counting has been completed.

James Slattery, a lawyer working for the Texas Civil Rights Project, is worried that since there is no penalty for demanding an audit in bad faith, many people are going to try and for really bad reasons. Steph Gómez, the associate director of Common Cause Texas, said in an interview that the audits would cause chaos and further distrust in elections.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, is aware of the bill and is holding hearings on the spread of state-level audits. She said their ultimate aim is "to lay the groundwork for new laws that make it harder for Americans to cast their ballots, but easier for dishonest officials to overturn the results of elections they don't like." (V)

Peter Thiel Wants to Be the New Sheldon Adelson

As big Republican donors like Sheldon Adelson and David Koch die off, they are being replaced by new ones, who in some cases are even more right-wing than the old ones. Billionaire Peter Thiel is definitely stepping up to finance the Trumpist wing of the Republican Party in a way that Trump himself refuses to do. In some ways, Thiel makes Trump look like a moderate.

This year alone, Thiel has dropped over $20 million to support two far-right Senate candidates, Blake Masters in Arizona and J.D. Vance in Ohio. He is also pumping money into the Wyoming House race in an attempt to unseat Rep Liz Cheney (R-WY). And this isn't even an election year. Just wait until next year. He clearly wants to become the patron saint of the Trumpists. His primary focus is making sure that Trumpism outlasts Trump himself.

In a way, Thiel may be a blessing in disguise for the Democrats. Masters is running against the much-better-known Arizona AG Mark Brnovich for the right to oppose Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) in the 2022 general election. Since Brnovich has already won statewide election in Arizona and the far-right Masters has never run for public office before, Masters is probably the weaker candidate, no matter how much money Thiel throws at him. Similarly, if Vance, who has never run for office before, knocks off former two-term state treasurer Josh Mandel, the Republicans will be saddled with a newbie who has a certain amount of baggage. He is currently Trumpier than Trump (which will inspire Democrats to get out and vote), but formerly called Trump "cultural heroin" (which might just appear in the Democratic candidate's ads and inspire Republicans to skip this election). He also has a track record of saying that people in Appalachia are getting what they deserve, which may not play well in a state with a 300-mile-long border with West Virginia and Kentucky. Vance also called the Jan. 6 rioters "super peaceful."

Thiel is also supporting Joe Kent (R), who is challenging Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), who voted to impeach Trump. Kent also wants the state of Washington to have an Arizona-style audit of the 2020 election. Interestingly enough, Thiel did not donate to Trump himself in 2020 because he views Trump as incompetent. He wants a competent version of Trump instead.

Thiel is also close to Steve Bannon and Rebekah Mercer. In fact, the $1.25 million he gave to Trump in 2016 was routed through Mercer's super PAC. In a way, Thiel is worse than Adelson, who really had only one issue: support of Israel, which most Republicans do automatically. Other than that, Adelson wasn't terribly ideological. The Koch brothers were ideological, but the ideology is libertarianism and free markets, which most Republicans also support. Thiel is trying to remake the Republican Party in Trump's image, which is more about white grievance than any other recognizable ideology, and as such is more dangerous to democracy than the old-style big donors. (V)

Nevada GOP Is at War with Itself

Last year, Trumpists took over the Republican leadership in Clark County, NV (Las Vegas), which threw the Party into chaos. One group is officially recognized by the state party but another group controls the website. The controlling group has ties to the Proud Boys, who helped stage the attempted coup on Jan. 6.

Now the chaos has spread statewide with a spate of lawsuits, claims, counterclaims, and resignations. The meltdown could hurt Republicans' chances of knocking off Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) in this swing state that Joe Biden won by only 2 points.

Last week, several Party officials in Washoe County (Reno) quit amid an uprising of pro-Trump activists. Over in Carson City, which is its own county, former state controller Ron Knecht resigned from a leadership position and torched the Party on the way out the door. Amy Tarkanian, the former GOP state chair said: "Oh my God. It's really embarrassing, just as a whole."

The state Party needs to elect new officers and it is practically open civil war within the Party. A faction led by Stephen Silberkraus, the political director of a group that is trying to block the reelection of the current Party leadership, said of the current leadership: "They just go for the throat and do what they want to do." The animosity between Silberkraus and the state chair erupted earlier this year after the state Party voted to censure Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske (R) for failing to investigate Donald Trump's baseless accusations of election fraud. The current Party chairman, Michael McDonald, is a Trump ally. The national GOP didn't bother to write a 2020 campaign platform. It just said: "We want whatever Donald Trump wants." In contrast, the Nevada Republican Party, under McDonald's leadership, did write a 2020 platform. If you want to see what an actual Trumpist platform might look like, take a look. It's only 360 lines and some are blank (to separate clauses). (V)

Divorce Case Could Affect Control of the Senate

The Democrats' best Senate pick-up opportunity is the Pennsylvania seat from which Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) is retiring. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D-PA) and Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA) are duking it out for the nomination (along with several minor candidates), but either one would be the favorite in the general election. The strongest Republican candidate (until now) is decorated Army Ranger and 2020 losing House candidate Sean Parnell, who has been endorsed by Donald Trump. Unfortunately for him, Parnell is currently involved in a nasty divorce and custody battle. He recently asked a judge for an order that would bar his estranged wife, Laurie, from publicly discussing the two protection-from-abuse orders that were issued against Parnell in 2017 and 2018, respectively. The judge said: "Nope," although he was careful to order information that could possibly harm their three children to remain under seal.

The last thing Parnell needs now is an angry, estranged wife doing media interviews telling how he abused her and why she successfully got restraining orders from a judge. Even before any such interviews are given, Parnell's main competitor for the GOP nomination, real estate developer Jeff Bartos, is attacking Parnell as unelectable on account of the PFA orders. Parnell has been calling Bartos a liar. If Laurie Parnell decides to give a couple of interviews, it probably is not going to help Parnell much. It probably won't help Trump's image much either.

Will Parnell's wife go public? Well, her lawyer said: "The powerful and influential are not entitled to special treatment and they should not be permitted to silence others." If she does sit for an interview, a question that might just come up is: "What did he do that resulted in a judge issuing two protective orders?" It's her call whether she does this or not. Factors that might influence her decision are (1) what her lawyer advises her with respect to the custody trial scheduled for next month and (2) how much some media outlet is prepared to pay her for an exclusive interview. Candidate Parnell features his children prominently in his campaign ads and if his behavior that led to the protective orders somehow relates to them, it could blow him out of the water. But unless Laurie goes public, the voters won't know what happened. That said, voters are rather prone to filling in blanks that are not filled in for them, so we could reach a point where Parnell himself has to tell the story, if he decides the truth is less damning that the assumptions that people are making. (V)

Black Democrats Are Pulling in Lots of Cash

It used to be that Black candidates for office had a huge problem raising money. Those days appear to be over as Black candidates in this cycle are doing great, especially in the South. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) raised a staggering $9.5 million in Q3. His likely opponent, Herschel Walker, collected $3.8 million in only 5 weeks. Rep. Val Demings (D-FL), who is challenging Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), brought in $8.5 million. Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC) also did very well in the fundraising department, pulling in $8.4 million. It helps to be a strong candidate in a high-profile race, but it is increasingly clear that good Black candidates can be quite competitive, even in the deep South.

Even less-well-known Black candidates are doing surprisingly well. Former North Carolina Supreme Court justice Cheri Beasley raised $1.5 million for her Senate race (for an open seat) and Charles Booker got a haul of $1.7 million in Kentucky for his Senate race against Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). But the effect also seems to hold outside the South. Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D-WI), who is running for the Senate, raised $1.1 million, more than his wealthy white opponents, who had to loan their campaigns money to match him.

Many of the Black candidates are benefiting from the images of successful (and sometimes unsuccessful) Black candidates who captured national attention. Barack Obama and Kamala Harris are two obvious examples, but Warnock and Stacey Abrams in Georgia also are high on the list. Abrams is nothing short of amazing. She lost her gubernatorial run to now-governor Brian Kemp (R-GA) in 2018 but has raised over $100 million since then for her expected 2022 rematch. If she can outspend Kemp at the same time Donald Trump is trying to defeat him, she might have a better shot at it next year.

All the Black Democrats running are checking in with DNC chairman Jaime Harrison, who is Black and who raised well over $100 million in his losing race against Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in 2020. Everybody is asking: "How did you do it?" If he is truthful, he would say: "Try to run against a Republican that out-of-state Democrats hate with a passion." That does work sometimes (e.g., in the Booker vs. Paul race in Kentucky), but in open-seat races (like the North Carolina Senate race) that advice doesn't help. Still, Harrison will certainly advise all candidates to build a grassroots donor base and establish themselves on social media, which is cheaper than television advertising. He might also consider sharing (part of) his own donor list with promising Democrats.

But keep in mind, dollars are not votes. If they were, Sens. Steve Bullock (MT), Theresa Greenfield (IA), Harrison (SC), and Sara Gideon (ME) would be making Joe Manchin completely irrelevant. (V)

The Battle of Richmond Is Starting

No, this is not the final skirmish of the Civil War. It is part of the battle for governor of Virginia, in an increasingly tight race. Northern Virginia is deep blue. Southern Virginia and Western Virginia are deep red. But Richmond, its suburbs, and central Virginia are up for grabs and could well determine whether Terry McAuliffe (D) gets his old job back or if Glenn Youngkin (R) gets it. Although the Virginia gubernatorial race is not really that predictive of the next year's midterms, many people think it is, so winning has tremendous psychological value for the victorious party.

The Democrats see McAuliffe slipping, so they are sending in the cavalry. Jill Biden campaigned with him on Friday. Stacey Abrams helped out yesterday. Barack Obama is coming next weekend. Kamala Harris also has plans to show up for the former governor. All of them are encouraging Democrats to vote early. A Fox News poll released last week had McAuliffe ahead 51% to 46% but polls also show Republicans to be more enthusiastic about voting. McAuliffe knows that and has mourned the loss of Donald Trump as a boogeyman to drive turnout. For this reason, he keeps trying to paint his opponent, Glenn Youngkin, as a Trump puppet.

Trump himself bolstered McAuliffe's case last week at a rally headlined by conservative radio personality John Fredericks and Steve Bannon. Trump phoned in and praised Youngkin while other attendees praised the Jan. 6th rioters. The day after, Youngkin, sensing the damage, tried to distance himself from the event. In particular, at the event, the crowd pledged allegiance to a flag that was used in the coup attempt, but Youngkin said that was "weird and wrong."

Youngkin is also focusing on Richmond, He recently held a "bring a friend to vote" rally in Chesterfield County, just south of Richmond. The county was long Republican, but Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) won it by a few hundred votes in 2017. Biden won it by 7 points, the first Democrat to win it since Harry Truman.

The gubernatorial race isn't the only big one in Virginia in this cycle. In 2022, VA-07 will also be a huge battleground. It runs along the Potomac, from north of Arlington to south of Lorton. The district is R+6 but Blue Dog Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) won it twice by fewer than 2 points. Republicans will make a big effort to get it back next year. (V)

Will Illinois Democrats Get Too Greedy?

We have repeatedly talked about the choice gerrymanderers have: Be greedy or be safe. So far, Republicans seem to have chosen "safe"—that is, make the districts that they currently hold unwinnable for Democrats for the next 10 years, rather than trying to flip existing districts and get more seats.

Democrats have the trifecta and the power to gerrymander in only two big states, and both of those seem to be going for broke. In New York, Democrats control the process for the first time in ages and they are hoping to squeeze an extra 4-5 seats out of the map, despite the state losing one seat. Now it's Illinois' turn, and although the legislature is not about to change "Land of Lincoln" to "Land of Obama," the partisanship is running high. Currently the House delegation is 13D, 5R and the state is losing a seat. So will it go to 13D, 4R? Nope. The proposed map would be 14D, 3R, but national Democrats want it to be 15D, 2R, which would put some Democratic seats at risk and lead to extremely weird districts. The national Democrats feel that they have to take risks to offset the gains Republicans are making due to reapportionment (e.g., Florida +1, Montana +1, and Texas +2).

The map proposed by the state legislature is shown below on the left and the one the national Democrats seem to prefer is on the right.

Proposed district maps for Illinois; the new one
has a lot of those 'Goofy kicking Donald Duck'-type districts.

The problem with being greedy is that such maps give the party drawing the map a small edge in many districts, rather than a big edge in fewer districts. As a consequence, Republicans Adam Kinzinger and Rodney Davis have a chance to hang on. Their districts in the state map will be tougher than last time, but not hopeless. One person who is quite unhappy with the proposed state map is Rep. Marie Newman (D-IL). Her district was D+6; now it is much more competitive. Democrats are assuming the power of incumbency will help her, so they put some of her Democrats in an adjacent district.

If 2022 is a wave year for the Republicans, both state and national Democrats will be sorry they got so greedy. They could possibly lose half a dozen seats. This is the gamble they are taking in hopes of picking up a couple of new seats to offset what Texas is doing.

The map on the right above was made by Zach Koutsky, a long-time Democratic operative who worked with national Democrats. It is even more convoluted than the state legislature's map. Look at the yellow district in the south and the purple district that includes the Democratic strongholds of Champaign and Bloomington. This isn't just Goofy kicking Donald Duck; it's a whole Disney movie's worth of characters committing various acts of violence.

Both of these are just trial balloons. There will be much discussion going forward before the final map emerges. The main issue, however, will still be whether to draw a 13D, 4R map and be 99% sure of getting 13 Democrats, a 14D, 3R map and have a pretty decent shot at 14 seats unless there is a Republican wave, or shoot the moon and try for 15D, 2R, with the downside of losing maybe six seats in a Republican wave. This is where cartography, statistics, and politics collide. (V)

Republicans May Have Found the Formula for Attracting Young Women

Two demographic groups that are strongly Democratic are women and young people. Young women are especially hard for Republicans to attract, but they may have found a way to get at least some of them: mothers. A group called Moms for Liberty is focused on parental rights—something of interest to young mothers—especially the "right" of parents to have their children not wear masks in school and the right to harass school boards about this. From there, the flow into Republican politics is easy.

Moms for Liberty chapters have spread all over the country, with 135 chapters in 35 states, and have branched out into other issues. A chapter in Tennessee objected to a textbook with a photo of two seahorses mating. One in Indian River County, FL, objected to fourth graders learning to spell "quarantine." But masks are still central. A chapter in Suffolk County, NY, has described masks as "segregation" and urged children to rip theirs off.

Garry Shiffrin of the Brevard Association of School Administrators said that Moms for Liberty is the most disruptive group he has seen in 50 years of working in education. Anthony Colucci, president of the Brevard Federation of Teachers, said that Moms for Liberty has turned school board meetings into "The Jerry Springer Show" and has made it impossible to serve the best interests of the children. He said: "I can be sitting in a meeting minding my own business, and they turn around and scream at me that I am a commie and teachers want to see all kids fail."

Christian Ziegler, vice chairman of the Florida Republican Party, credits Moms for Liberty for bringing in new Republican voters. The GOP is now about to pass the Democrats in terms of new voter registration for the first time ever, in part due to Moms for Liberty. He also expects the group to work to reelect Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) next year. He said: "I have been trying for a dozen years to get 20- and 30-year-old females involved with the Republican Party, and it was a heavy lift to get that demographic. But now Moms for Liberty has done it for me."

At a recent meeting of the Brevard County Moms for Liberty, the moms groaned when they learned that children are being taught that .gov Websites can be trusted, and booed when they discovered that elementary school students are learning about climate change. They were also upset that children were being taught about discrimination. They wanted to know why conservative Black leaders like Dr. Ben Carson are not being discussed. For example, the children could be told that when Carson got COVID-19 and was desperately ill, he ignored his extensive medical training and took homeopathic oleander extract on the advice of that noted physician, Mike "MyPillow" Lindell, even though the FDA had already rejected the treatment as useless. Only when Donald Trump got him an experimental antibody treatment did Carson recover.

Alternatively, another high-profile Black leader who could be studied is 2012 presidential candidate Herman Cain, who was accused of sexual harassment by multiple women. He denied all the allegations but dropped out of the race immediately anyway. In June 2020 he resurfaced at Donald Trump's Tulsa rally without a mask because he didn't believe the coronavirus was worth the inconvenience. He contracted COVID-19, was hospitalized for it, and died of it a month later.

A few weeks ago, The Washington Post obtained documents that show that many grassroots conservative groups opposed to mask requirements in school, teaching gender identity, and critical race theory are being funded by Republican megadonors such as the Koch network. When the co-founder of Moms for Liberty, Tina Descovich, was asked if the group had received any of that money, she just laughed and said they were funded by individual $50 memberships and sale of these T-shirts:

We do not co-parent with the government t-shirt

Descovich said that the overarching goal of the group is to have a parent in a Moms for Liberty t-shirt show up at every school board and county commission meeting from now until the end of time. (V)

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