There is big news out of Pennsylvania again on today's BradCast, concerning the upcoming 2018 mid-term elections. And it appears to be very good news indeed for Democrats. [Audio link to show is posted at bottom of article.]
But first up, Donald Trump announced on Tuesday that he is directing the Dept. of Justice to propose new regulations that, if adopted, would ban the sale of so-called bump stock devices that turn semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic machine guns. That, nearly four months after such devices were used in the massacre that killed 58 concert-goers and wounded some 500 others on the Las Vegas Strip in a matter of minutes in October, and less than one week since a 19-year old gunman killed 17 at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, without using a bump-stock, on his legally purchased AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle. The process Trump called for will take months and likely face legal challenges, if it ever results in any such devices being banned for sale. Congress could ban them today, if they wished to. Republicans supported by the NRA however, do not.
At the same time, as we discuss today, it is easier in many states to purchase an AR-15 or similar weapon than it is to cast a vote, including in Florida. While an ID is needed to both register and then to cast a ballot at the polls on Election Day in the Sunshine State, an unlimited number of semi-automatic rifles can be purchased there without any ID or background check at all. And, unlike voter registration in FL, gun sales can be carried out online, completely anonymously, even as GOP lawmakers in the state have made it harder and harder to both register and vote in the state in recent years.
Next, following up on a story we covered in detail on Friday's show, regarding fake news sites (actual fake news sites!) set up to look like real ones by Republican officials across the country to support Republican candidates and attack Democrats. The Executive Director of the Maine Republican Party has now admitted that he is behind the anonymously-run Maine Examiner site which, last December, falsely claimed leaked emails of the Democratic candidate for mayor in Maine's second largest city called voters a "bunch of racists". Days later, after the fake news story took off, that candidate, Ben Chin, is said to have lost his election by just 145 votes to the Republican. While many are worried about Russians posing as Americans to post attacks on social media in support of Republicans and attacking Democrats --- using fake claims about "voter fraud" taken directly from GOP outlets like Fox 'News' and Breitbart --- this new scheme by GOP officials (from coast to coast) to create fake news websites in support of Republican candidates should be very troubling for Dems in advance of the 2018 mid-terms.
But, there is some better news today for Democrats in Pennsylvania where, after the Republican-controlled state legislature failed to draw "fair and equal" U.S. House maps, as ordered by the State Supreme Court, the Court itself released its own map to be used in the 2018 election. The commonwealth's primaries are set for May, with candidates beginning their signature gathering process in days.
The new map follows a finding by the state's high court in January that the map drawn by the GOP-controlled legislature in 2011 was an unlawful partisan gerrymander under the state constitution. The previous map resulted in Democrats holding just 5 of the state's 18 U.S. House seats election after election, in what is otherwise a largely 50/50 state (with nearly half a million more registered Democrats than Republicans.)
We're joined today to discuss the new map, and what it is likely to mean for Democrats, Republicans and the rest of the country where many other partisan gerrymanders will still remain in effect this year, by redistricting expert BRIAN AMOS of the University of Florida. Amos, a PH.D. candidate specializing in the intersection of geography and politics, served as an analyst for the Florida team that was the first in the nation to successfully challenge a Republican drawn district plan in state court on partisan gerrymandering grounds.
Amos details the expected effect of the new PA map, drawn up by the court and released on Monday, which is expected to result in at least 3 or 4 more Democrats in the U.S. House, even though Trump won in 10 of the new districts in 2016, while Hillary Clinton won only 8 of them.
We also discuss the geographical and political challenges (and opportunities) of drawing maps that are fair to voters of all parties, when those maps are drawn up by partisan legislatures. That's become even more of a problem, not just after the GOP's REDMAP Project to take over state legislatures before the 2010 Census so they could draw the new maps in 2011, but also because of the geological self-sorting that is taking place, as Dems tend huddle in more urban areas, while Republicans spread out in rural districts.
"Democrats tend to live in densely Democratic areas --- cities --- whereas Republicans tend to live in areas that are a bit more balanced, like 60% Republican, 40% Democrat," Amos explains. "So the arguments tends to be that, if we have to draw geographic districts, it's harder to spread out those Democrats across districts in order to make an even balance. In a lot of cases I think you'll see something like what we saw from the court's map, where it's as fair as you can get, but it's still 10-8 [in favor of Republicans.]"
The outcome could have been better for Republicans in PA, Amos explains, they could have put their own map forward that was more fair. But, he says, "they got too greedy." State Republicans are still vowing to challenge the new map in some federal court or another, but experts suggest that may be very difficult, given that this was a state court ruling.
For his part, Amos, though not an attorney, tells me that "when the state fails to pass a map, then somebody has to step in and that's always been the courts. So maybe they'll find some friendly federal court somewhere, but it seems like a stretch." Meanwhile, as recent federal court rulings finding unlawful partisan gerrymandering carried out in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Texas, Maryland and elsewhere are currently on hold at the U.S. Supreme Court, "we're all waiting on Justice Kennedy," says Amos. But that ruling --- sadly, for those of us who believe in fairer elections --- is not expected until June, likely too late to effect the 2018 mid-terms.
Finally, Desi Doyen joins us for our 9th Anniversary Green News Report, as the Trump Administration's EPA and Dept. of Energy face new trouble from the courts and the Inspector General. And we reminisce about the vastly difficult political landscape that existed 9 years ago, when we began the GNR, and when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, but were unable to pass cap and trade legislation to put a price on the release of carbon pollution, in hopes of mitigating our current and worsening climate crisis.
Thank you, from Desi and myself, to those of you who have stopped by BradBlog.com/Donate to help us continue the GNR into our 10th year! For some reason, ExxonMobil will still not cough up any sponsorship funds for us, even though we talk about them all the time!...
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