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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Politics Meets Football in Iowa
      •  Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here
      •  Meadows Loses a Big One
      •  The Pre-game Show Is about to Start
      •  Politics Makes Strange Bedfellows
      •  Haley Discovers Her Inner Hypocrite
      •  Abortions Are Up in Blue Neighbors of Red States
      •  Nancy's In
      •  Hello Donald, It's Me, Kristi
      •  The Pennsylvania State House Is Up for Grabs
      •  Another Judge Goes Rogue

Politics Meets Football in Iowa

On Saturday, politics and football collided in Ames, IA. The nominal reason for going there was a college football game between the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Iowa State Cyclones. But that was overshadowed by the presence of both Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) at the game. It was similar to the Iowa State Fair encounter 3 weeks ago, yet different.

For starters, Trump sat in a glass enclosed VIP box in the stadium, allowing the man-of-the-people to avoid the people. In contrast, DeSantis, who doesn't like people, sat in the regular stands next to Gov. Kim Reynolds (R-IA). He did pose for selfies when asked (especially when a major media outlet was there to observe it), so he's learning. He's also courting Reynolds and has visited her many times already this year. When asked whom he was rooting for, he declined to answer, knowing that Reynolds is a graduate of Iowa State but that plenty of Hawkeyes fans were there, too. Oh, and they vote.

The also-runs in the campaign, Vivek Ramaswamy and Asa Hutchinson, stayed in the parking lot and attended the tailgate party there. Gov. Doug Burgum (R-ND) also showed up—on a scooter, as a consequence of his foolishly playing basketball the day before the Republican debate and tearing his Achilles tendon. That is an omen. His campaign is totally pointless, so he might as well scoot.

When Trump entered the Jack Trice Stadium, he got both cheers and boos. A plane dragging a banner reading "Where's Melania?" flew overhead. Indeed, Melania wasn't there. In fact, she hasn't been on the campaign trail at all this year. Two people wearing inflatable costumes satirizing Trump and Anthony Fauci wandered around so people could take selfies with them.

Although Trump won Iowa by 8 points in 2020, Ames, the home of Iowa State, and Iowa City, the home of the University of Iowa, are both solidly blue cities.

The attacks started before the game. DeSantis' super PAC ran a digital ad that was intended to pop up on phones during the game. It criticized Trump for supporting the idea of transgender women competing in the Miss America Pageant. Trump didn't directly criticize DeSantis, but he did do some retail politicking, which DeSantis hates. On his way to the stadium Trump stopped at the Alpha Gamma Rho frat house and passed out autographed footballs with his name printed on them. He also flipped hamburgers at the grill there. See, he's a regular frat rat, one of the boys.

Not that any of the assembled politicians cared, but Iowa beat Iowa State 20-13. Well, Reynolds probably cared, but none of the others. (V)

Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here

The original sign saying that wasn't in Iowa, but it applies in the Hawkeye State, nonetheless. Most of the time, teams competing in the Super Bowl or the World Series don't say: "We're not going to win, but we think we can come in as a strong second. We'll be satisfied with that." Ditto politics.

But Ron DeSantis is not your garden-variety politician. His campaign spokesman said this weekend that a "strong second-place showing" in Iowa would be fine and dandy. In other words, they are admitting that they can't win Iowa even though the Governor is blitzing the state—again.

Could DeSantis win the nomination by coming in second everywhere? Probably not, because many of the Republican primaries are winner-take-all. There are no booby prizes, even if the prizes are sometimes won by boobs. Not to mention that talking about coming in second will be demoralizing to big donors, who like to come in first, not second. For a campaign that has been flailing for months, it is a serious admission of defeat. Confident campaigns don't announce that coming in second is fine with them.

DeSantis isn't the only one who is pessimistic about his chances. Kim Reynolds has refused to endorse anyone—until she gets a better feel for who is going to win. Her endorsement could help DeSantis, but does not appear to be forthcoming. She probably also thinks he will come in second. Doug Gross, chief of staff for former Iowa governor Terry Branstad, said: "DeSantis is fading fast, and people are looking for an alternative right now. There's still a majority of folks looking for someone else, but it's not going to be DeSantis." If this keeps up, soon DeSantis will be saying that a third-place finish would be excellent. (V)

Meadows Loses a Big One

Mark Meadows got too ambitious. He was a congressman from a safe district in North Carolina and could have stayed in Congress forever. But he got a chance to be at the center of power as chief of staff for a president who had little interest in governing. That gave him enormous influence, but it also made him a partner with Donald Trump in multiple (alleged) crimes. Now the chickens are coming home to roost. Meadows has been indicted in Georgia. He has an excellent chance of ending up in prison.

In the Georgia case, Meadows had an idea: Get the case moved to federal court and then claim that the crimes were committed as part of his job. Also, in a trial, a federal case would pull jurors from a more Republican-friendly pool. Alas for him, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones was having no part of it. It took Jones only a week to hear testimony, decide what to do, and write up his ruling. Meadows will be tried in state court, not federal court, and so claiming he was just doing his job won't work. Meadows will appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, so he still has a chance, but a meager one.

Meadows took a real risk by testifying for 4 hours. He didn't do a good job. In particular, he failed to explain how setting up the infamous phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger was government work (in which case, it is allowed) as opposed to campaign work (in which case, it is not allowed). That could weigh heavily on the appeals court.

Meadows isn't the only one of the 19 Georgia defendants who would prefer a trial in federal court. The three fake electors indicted also want to move their cases to federal court. The chances of any of these people getting their cases moved to federal court is basically zero. After all, Meadows did actually work for the federal government, so his case made at least a little bit of sense, even if the judge was not impressed. He certainly won't be impressed by the others.

Indictee Jeffrey Clark—the Justice Dept. environmental lawyer Trump wanted to name acting attorney general but was dissuaded from doing when the entire top of the Justice Dept. threatened to resign if he did—also wants to move his case to federal court. It will be tough for Clark to explain how his role in trying to overturn the election was somehow part of his job of saving the spotted owl.

There is one other defendant who also worked for the federal government: Donald Trump. For Trump, moving to federal court would also be more favorable, even though he would still be accused of violating state law, not federal law. That means even if he were convicted in federal court, he wouldn't be able to pardon himself if he becomes president. Again, given the judge's ruling in Meadows' case, the chance of Trump's case being moved to federal court is microscopic. His argument has the same weaknesses that Meadows' does, and on top of that, some of his chicanery took place after Jan. 20, 2021. Hard to argue the post-Jan. 20 stuff was part of Trump's job, since he didn't have the job anymore.

For Trump, there is another issue at play not true of Meadows: The Georgia trial will be televised. If it begins before the 2024 election, there will be a parade of witnesses against Trump telling stories on television that might convince some independents that even though Joe Biden is old, Trump is a menace to democracy. If Trump somehow beats the odds and gets his case to federal court, it will not be televised. Trump hasn't formally requested to move his case yet, but he still has several weeks to do so, and has filed paperwork saying he is considering it.

Jones' ruling, if sustained by the appeals court, is a win for Fulton County D.A. Fani Willis. She will then get to play a home game rather than an away game. Not only does she get a friendlier jury pool (Trump won only 26% of the vote in Fulton County), but she knows all the Fulton County judges and how to approach them. She also knows the state rules and procedures better than she knows the federal ones. (V)

The Pre-game Show Is about to Start

The courts move slowly, but they do move. Donald Trump has been indicted in four jurisdictions (D.C., Florida, Georgia, and New York). The dates have been set in some of them, but all are subject to change, partly in response to motions by the prosecution or defense and partly simply to avoid any overlap. In any high-profile trial, there are many pretrial motions. That show will start to occur big time this week, although there were a few somewhat relevant motions and decisions last week. Note that some of the motions and decisions may be under seal, at the discretion of the judge. That means they won't be made public until later, if ever. Here is a brief rundown of the state of play in each case.

  • D.C.: Last week, Enrique Tarrio, former leader of the right-wing vigilante group Proud Boys, got popped for 22 years, the longest sentence in the Jan. 6 coup attempt so far. In general, the bigger the fish, the longer the sentence. There is one fish even bigger than Tarrio and he probably can't be happy about the implications of Tarrio's sentence and the strength of the DoJ's case. Also ominous for the Big Fish is that Tarrio wasn't at the Capitol on Jan. 6, so that is not a requirement for a conviction and long sentence. Even more ominous is that the grand jury is still meeting, indicating that the investigation is ongoing and there could be more indictments or superseding indictments. In addition, Judge Tanya Chutkan has warned Trump to shut up about the case and not post defamatory things about her, the prosecutors, or potential witnesses. He just keeps doing it, anyway. Her patience may run out in which case she could revoke Trump's bail or set it much higher. Theoretically, she could reset the trial date earlier than March 4, but that is very unlikely.

  • Florida: One person relevant to the bathroom documents case, Yuscil Taveras, formally flipped last week. He signed an agreement to help the prosecution in return for not being prosecuted himself. He was the I.T. guy at Mar-a-Lago and was ordered to destroy the surveillance videos. He refused. His testimony could be crucial because it goes to the heart of the case: Did Trump know that he had broken the law? Ordering evidence to be destroyed is not only a crime in itself, but is testimony to the fact that he knew full well that what he was doing was illegal. People who think what they are doing is legal don't order other people to destroy evidence. His testimony in the trial could convince the jury that Trump knowingly and willfully tried to cover up his crime, a crucial point for the prosecution.

    This week the lawyers will wrangle over—the lawyers. Some of the relevant people are sharing lawyers paid for by one of Trump's super PACs. That is a problem because a lawyer can't ethically call one of his clients to testify against another one of his clients. So some of the lawyers may need to be replaced. But finding new lawyers admitted to the Florida bar who are willing to take on some of the people involved in the Mar-a-Lago case may not be easy. Also relevant is who will pay them since some of the people who need them aren't rich. Having Trump pay for them is legal but very iffy since he is not exactly a disinterested party.

  • Georgia: Last week, Judge Robert McBurney unsealed papers showing that the Fulton County special grand jury recommended indicting Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and former Georgia senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, but D.A. Fani Willis declined to indict them, as is her right. Also, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones rejected a motion from Mark Meadows to move the case from state court to federal court. Trump could try that this week, but he will almost certainly fail as well (see above). Prosecutors have said they plan to call 150 witnesses in the sprawling RICO case, so the case could go on forever. The judge could set a starting date this week, mindful of the D.C. case that will begin on March 4 and is expected to last 6-8 weeks. He knows that the feds get priority, so he could pick May or June, although the Florida case is tentatively scheduled for May. The Georgia and Florida judges may need to get on the phone to work this out.

    Also relevant is that Judge Scott McAfee has already ruled that two of the 19 defendants, Kenneth "The Cheese" Chesebro and Sidney Powell, will go on trial together on Oct. 23. But four more of the 19 have also asked for a speedy trial. McAfee could lump them in with Chesebro and Powell this week. He clearly wants to move along. That trial will be televised. He knows there are going to be a boatload of motions, so he is going to hold a hearing every week to listen to them.

  • New York: Nothing to see here. Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg knows he is the low man on the totem pole here and will let the other judges do their thing and then go to court to fill in any gaps in the schedule. Also relevant in New York is that another judge, Lewis Kaplan, ruled that Trump defamed E. Jean Carroll a second time and will empanel a jury to decide on damages later this year or early next year. The jury could award her $50 million or more if it wants to. The sky's the limit. A massive award could upset Trump so much that it knocks him off his apropos and makes him say something stupid that hurts him in one of the criminal cases (or causes Carroll to sue him a third time).

Those are the known unknowns, but with four criminal cases and two civil cases (Carroll's and Letitia James') also out there, there are plenty of unknown unknowns as well. (V)

Politics Makes Strange Bedfellows

Democrats have a new best friend. Yup. With apologies to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Senator Addison Mitchell "Mitch" McConnell III is now every Democrat's favorite Republican. For years, Democrats hated the crafty minority leader and one-time Republican majority leader. You know, the guy who refused to hold a confirmation hearing for Merrick Garland because there was an election in 9 months and the people should decide. And then 4 years later rammed Amy Coney Barrett through a week before another election because he could. The guy who cooked up massive tax cut bills in the dead of night and then forced a vote on them even before Republican senators could read them. Yeah, that guy.

Now, at 81, his health is iffy. Maybe he is seriously ill, maybe not. Some people are pre-emptively calling for him to resign. Republican people, that is. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said: "I'm very glad to see McConnell back" after the senator returned to the Senate after undergoing some medical testing to try to figure out why he freezes for 20-30 seconds from time to time. Schumer actually meant it, despite his many run-ins with McConnell in past years.

Schumer's reaction is threefold. First, McConnell is de facto the leader of the sane Republicans—that is, the ones who don't worship at the feet of Donald Trump. On issues from avoiding a government shutdown to helping Ukraine fend off Russia to impeaching Joe Biden, McConnell and Schumer are on the same side, usually with Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) on the other side. So on some of the big issues, McConnell actually agrees with the Democrats and disagrees with many Republicans.

Second, McConnell is very good at herding the cats. When he wants something, Senate Republicans line up behind him, even if they personally don't like it. So Schumer knows that if McConnell makes a deal with him, he will deliver the votes. In contrast, if House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) makes a deal with McCarthy, he knows that McCarthy's word means nothing and he might well weasel out of it if the Freedom Caucus applies pressure to him.

Third, better the devil known than the devil unknown. If McConnell were to resign as minority leader—or resign from the Senate altogether—nobody knows who would get his job. It could be one of the Senate Johns (Barrasso, WY; Cornyn, TX; or Thune, SD) but it could be a wild card like Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who would be as bad as McCarthy. Also, a new leader, even a sane one, would not have the authority and gravitas right off the bat to keep all his members in line.

This newfound friendship puts McConnell in a tricky situation. While he is happy to work with Schumer behind the scenes on issues where they agree, he can't be seen as too chummy with Schumer or the far right, which never liked him, will pounce and make his life miserable. He is on the spot and his fragile health doesn't help at all. (V)

Haley Discovers Her Inner Hypocrite

Ever since Roe v. Wade bit the dust, Republicans have been struggling to find a position on abortion that doesn't hugely antagonize about two-thirds of the voters and yet keeps their base happy. Nikki Haley thinks she has found the magic formula. She says the Republicans lack 60 seats in the Senate to break a filibuster, so as president she couldn't do anything on the issue, next question, please. The next question ought to be: "Suppose the Republicans pick up two seats in the Senate and hold the House. Then they abolish the filibuster and pass a nationwide ban of all abortions, except maybe to save the life of the mother. Would you sign or veto it?" But no one has asked that of her and she would probably desperately evade the question if asked. This way she can go around saying: "I'm pro-life" and she thinks she won't scare women. Jennifer Nassour, the former head of the Massachusetts Republican Party (yes, Virginia, the MAGOP exists), said: "She's the only leader who can take such a divisive issue and bring everyone together on it." Excuse us? She can say that there aren't 60 Republicans in the Senate now and everyone is happy? We think not.

Unfortunately for Haley, she has a track record that is a wee bit different than what she is saying now. In 2005, as a state representative, she voted for a bill that would grant a zygote full constitutional rights and due process. That would mean that intentionally killing a zygote would be murder, a zygote could inherit property (under the Uniform Gifts to Minors Act), and a zygote would need a passport to travel internationally to prevent every pregnant woman from being guilty of human trafficking. Imagine immigration or customs officials saying: "Excuse me, ma'am, but do you happen to be pregnant?" We prefer not to imagine it. The bill didn't pass, so in 2009, she sponsored another bill that would declare that life (and personhood) begins when the sperm makes it into the egg. This is a definition that some Christians use, but not all. Other religions have other ideas. Judaism, for example, says that life begins when the baby takes its first breath outside the mother. Before that, the fetus is simply part of the mother, like her heart. Needless to say, the bill Haley sponsored would also make aborting a zygote or fetus murder. It might even make a miscarriage manslaughter, if the mother did something that might have caused the miscarriage, like playing basketball (with Doug Burgum?).

When speaking to the Susan B. Anthony anti-abortion group this past April on the trail, Haley said: "I voted for every pro-life bill that came before me." After becoming governor, she backed a bill that would grant a fetus that survived an abortion the right to full life-saving medical care. She also signed a bill banning insurance companies from covering abortion under their standard policies, even if they just want to make their policies more attractive to potential customers (i.e., for business reasons). She also signed a 20-week abortion law whose backers said this was the first step to banning all abortions in America.

In short, Haley's current "compromise" position of "there aren't 60 votes, so next question, please," is an attempt to hide her true position (which she obviously knows very well) from the voters. Given her past actions, there is little doubt that if Congress passed a bill banning (almost) all abortions, as president she would sign it. But her hope is that the Republican base accepts her passing the buck to the Democrats and the Senate, and then votes for her in the general election if she gets the nomination. We very much doubt this will work. (V)

Abortions Are Up in Blue Neighbors of Red States

While we are on the subject of abortions (which we seem to be very often, when we are not writing about the various legal troubles Donald Trump, Mark Meadows, and Rudy Giuliani are in), how about this? Many states have now banned (almost) all abortions. So looking at abortions in states adjacent to them gives some perspective. Are the laws stopping abortions, or just moving them around? Data from the Guttmacher Institute for the first half of 2023 are revealing.

The numbers say that abortions increased in every state that protected the procedure, but the increase was most pronounced in Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, South Carolina, and Washington. All of these states border one or more states that have severely curtailed the procedure. In Illinois, for example, the number is up 69% compared to 2020. Illinois borders five states where abortion is greatly restricted, so this increase is not much of a surprise. New Mexico, which has a long border with Texas, saw a jump of 220%. There may also have been some women coming in from Arizona, where abortion is illegal after 16 weeks of pregnancy. There is no time limit in New Mexico.

Isaac Maddow-Zimet, the lead researcher on the study, said: "I would say the scale of it is... striking. You know, it represents real people who have to travel to seek care. That travel often implies significant financial costs. It often implies significant logistical costs. And not everybody is going to be able to bear those costs."

The implications of this are clear. Women in a state where abortion is banned and who have the money to travel out of state to get one, do so. So the ban mostly affects poor women and women in states far from a state that allows abortion. In practice, women in the Deep South are the most affected. All states outside the Deep South either allow abortions up to 15 weeks or border a state that does. Hence all the interest by state legislatures in red states to make traveling out of state to get an abortion a crime. These laws have not yet been tested in court, but any person indicted for helping a woman travel out of state to get an abortion is surely going to bring up the fact in court that only Congress can regulate interstate commerce. (V)

Nancy's In

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will be nearly 87 at the end of her next term and nobody is telling her she is too old to run again, so... she is going to run again. Her district, CA-11, which covers most of San Francisco, is D+37, so there isn't a lot of suspense about whether she will win, even if she was 107. Is she running because she needs the $174,000 salary? Not really. She and her husband are worth north of $100 million. She has been a loyal Democrat basically since she was born. Her father was a Democratic congressman from Maryland and later mayor of Baltimore. Her brother was also mayor of Baltimore. She knows that even though she is not Speaker of the House anymore, she is enormously valuable to the Democratic Party, both as a strategist and as a prodigious fundraiser. She has raised $1.6 billion since she joined the Party leadership 20 years ago. She knows that even as a backbencher (but a speaker emerita is never really a backbencher) she can help the Democrats in many ways. Besides, she is in good health and has politics in her blood. So, she is going for another term.

Just before announcing her run, she sat for an interview with Politico. She is worried about democracy in America and wants to help the Democrats win the trifecta in 2024. But another concern is more local than national. California's power in Congress is receding, with both Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries being New Yorkers and not at all shy about it. She is also concerned with the power balance within California. The Bay Area's influence within California is waning, what with former San Francisco mayor and current senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) being only semi-functional and her successor almost certainly being someone from Southern California (either Rep. Adam Schiff or Rep Katie Porter). Other Bay Area heavyweights now gone from the scene are former senator Barbara Boxer; former governor Jerry Brown; former Reps. Phil, John, and Sala Burton; and former assembly speaker Willie Brown. Pelosi is the only one left, other than VP Kamala Harris, so she is hanging in there as long as she can. (V)

Hello Donald, It's Me, Kristi

Pretend Arizona governor Kari Lake camped out at Mar-a-Lago for several weeks earlier this year in the hopes of convincing Donald Trump to put her on the ticket with him. But she is not the only one who wants a job said not to be worth a bucket of warm p**s. Gov. Kristi Noem (R-SD) would be happy to get out of South Dakota and move to D.C., even if her job description would simply be: Call up the White House every morning at 8 a.m. to see if the president is still alive, and if so, take the day off. Her other main option after her term is up is to run for the Senate. However, both South Dakota senators, Mike Rounds and John Thune, are likely to be around for many years in the future. So it is basically veep or bust for her.

On Friday, Noem announced her candidacy for the vice presidency by introducing Trump at a rally by saying: "He is the leader, the fighter that our country needs. He has my full and complete endorsement for President of the United States of America." Her endorsement was accompanied by this sign:

The sign says: 'Kristi Noem endorses Donald Trump'

Noem isn't the first sitting governor to endorse Trump. Republican Govs. Mike Dunleavy (AK), Jim Justice (WV), and Henry McMaster (SC) beat her to it, but none of them are plausible veeps and Noem is. The only other plausible high-profile female officeholders to endorse Trump so far are Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and neither of them seems to be openly campaigning for the job. Blackburn is not the sharpest knife in the drawer and memories of Sarah Palin still linger in some murky corners of the GOP. Stefanik is young, charismatic, a Harvard graduate (= not stupid) and an opportunist first class. The only problem is that she'd have to give up her safe House seat to run for veep, so she might turn down an offer. Becoming the first female Republican House speaker is a more realistic career goal for her. If you want a list of all the people who have endorsed Trump so far, here it is. There are about 400 of them, including current and former politicians at all levels, plus business leaders, actors, musicians, sports figures, and miscellaneous activists. Because surely the only question that people ask themselves before voting for president is: "Which horse does Brett Favre like?"

In his speech, Trump went over old themes. For example, he said: "They're just destroying our country. And if we don't take it back—if we don't take it back in '24, I really believe we're not going to have a country left." Also he referenced his four indictments by saying: "I'm being indicted for you." It's not exactly: "Christ died for your sins," but we're in that ballpark. Evangelicals in the crowd surely understood it, so he didn't have to explain himself to them. That is a good thing because it makes no sense. If Trump had decided not to run, would "they" have indicted the 7,000 attendees for conspiring to overturn an election and hiding secret defense documents? (V)

The Pennsylvania State House Is Up for Grabs

Normally, we don't pay a lot of attention to special elections in the summer for state House races, but a week from tomorrow there is an important one in HD-21 in Western Pennsylvania. Currently the Pennsylvania state House is exactly split 101D, 101R, with one vacancy. That is the one on the ballot next week. Whichever party wins the special election will control the state House. Republicans control the state Senate 28 to 22, so if the Republican wins the special election, the GOP will control the state legislature and can pass any bill it wants to. However, Gov. Josh Shapiro (D-PA) will veto many of them. But some bills, like budget bills, must eventually pass, so full control of the legislature will give the Republicans a lot of leverage. On the other hand, if the Democrat wins the special election, the two chambers will have to compromise to get any bill to Shapiro's desk. So the HD-21 special election is actually quite important.

The special election arose because former state Rep. Sara Innamorato (D)—a young (37) white progressive Democrat—resigned earlier this year to run for Allegheny County executive. The district comprises parts of Pittsburgh. It also contains two nearby townships and two boroughs, all just north of the Allegheny River. In Pennsylvania, a borough is a municipality smaller than a city. There are 956 of them in Pennsylvania. Townships are unincorporated areas outside the cities and boroughs. Democrats have a substantial voter registration edge in HD-21, but turnout in special elections is generally low, so it matters who shows up to vote next week.

The Democrat is Lindsay Powell (32). She is Black. After getting her masters degree, she was a Fulbright Scholar teaching English in Malaysia. When she came back to the U.S. she was an intern with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and then a staffer working on constituent services for Chuck Schumer. Later she had a stint as a legislative fellow working in the office of Hakeem Jeffries. She works for a nonprofit and is on the board of the Urban Redevelopment Authority. After working for and with politicians for a few years, she decided to become one herself. Her issues are social justice and equity.

The Republican nominee is Erin Connolly Autenreith (65). She is white. She is a real estate saleswoman and also runs a singles group for people over 40. Her big issue is education. She supports taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools. She doesn't want to take a position on abortion and says there should be a referendum on it. Why is a real estate agent running for the state House? Well, both of her parents were politicians. Her father was mayor of a small town (pop. 6,000). Her mother was on a borough council.

Due to the lean of the district, any Democrat is theoretically the favorite, but the people most likely to vote for an older white woman are also the most likely to show up for a low-profile special election. The people most likely to support Powell (young Black voters) are the least likely to show up for a low-profile election. So anything is possible. (V)

Another Judge Goes Rogue

There have been numerous examples of late of a low-level judge upending long-standing state or national practices. For example, in 2021, U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez threw out California's 30-year-old ban on assault weapons. In April of this year, Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in a one-judge district in Texas banned the abortion pill nationally. There are plenty of other cases where some random low-level judge threw out a state or federal law or regulatory decision he didn't happen to like. These cases always get appealed and typically end up in the Supreme Court.

The latest example is a ruling last week by Yavapai County Superior Court Judge John Napper that the method of signature verification used for absentee ballots in much of Arizona is illegal. This is extremely important in this swing state because often two-thirds of the votes are by absentee ballot. Arizona has a long history of voting by mail, so this is not some flash in the pan due to the pandemic.

Napper ruled that the signatures on the envelopes containing the ballots must be compared to the signature on the voter's registration form. Although that sounds logical, in practice many older voters filled out their registration form 20, 30, 40, or even 50 years ago. Signatures change over that period of time. Parkinson's and other diseases can make signatures change. Names even change as voters get married or divorced. Signatures from decades ago might not even be available anymore to compare to the signature on the envelope.

As a practical matter, election officials in many counties use more recent signatures as the base signature to compare to what is on the envelope. For example, a signature on a driver's license or Medicaid application from 3 years ago is probably better than one on a registration from 50 years ago. The guide produced by the Secretary of State allows local election officials to use more recent official documents when that is likely to be more accurate than a very old registration signature. But the judge said NO CAN DO. The ruling isn't final yet, but it is certain to be appealed when it is.

As a sidebar, (Z) once dealt with this exact situation. He opened an account at a prominent national bank, one that later became famous for creating fake accounts for its customers, in his first year of college. Then, something like 25 years later, he needed the bank to approve something called a medallion signature, which is a much more stringent version of having something notarized. The bank staff pulled up the signature from the early 1990s and insisted that (Z) match it, despite his signature having evolved significantly. You can only get medallion verification from an institution you have a longstanding relationship with, so they were the only game in town. Consequently, (Z) was put in the odd position of, in effect, trying to forge his own signature.

Anyhow, if Napper's ruling holds, thousands of otherwise valid absentee ballots will be thrown out in 2024 due to a mismatch between the signature on the envelope and a possibly very old one on the registration form, assuming it can be found. If the decision is ultimately sustained by the Arizona Supreme Court, it could tilt the 2024 election in Arizona to the Republicans, since Democrats use absentee voting more than Republicans.

Normally County Superior Courts in Arizona handle felony prosecutions, civil cases over $10,000, probate matters, and divorces. Making major changes to how elections are conducted isn't usually on their plate. Usually that is up to the state legislature and secretary of state. Maybe it would be better if low-level judges stuck to putting criminals in prison, distributing inheritances, and dissolving marriages. But here we are (again). (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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