“We are in a constitutional crisis,” House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) told reporters on May 8 after the committee voted along partisan lines to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress. Barr refused to testify before the committee and refused to turn over the full, unredacted report from special counsel Robert Mueller, to which the congressional committee is constitutionally entitled, in direct defiance of a congressional subpoena.
In fact, as if trigger-happy for a High Noon gunslinger showdown, President Donald Trump has escalated the direct confrontation with Congress by asserting executive privilege over Mueller’s report and ordering a blatant defiance of all subpoenas. Some politicos expect Trump to defy court orders, too.
It is unclear if Trump knows or understands that American democracy relies on adherence to the rule of law and the system of oversight with checks and balances being observed by all three branches of government—the executive, the legislative and the judicial. Trump seems determined to shun that precious system as he careens his authoritarian ship of state, manned by a cult-struck Republican crew, toward dictatorship where he is above the law.
Meanwhile, with American democracy at stake and the hubs of power in the nation’s capital stymied by dissention and division, perhaps the only place to turn for a remedy is to the American voters.
But there’s a catch: Republicans are still in control of 30 state legislatures while Democrats control 18, an increase from 14 before the election. Republicans control both the governorship and are the majority in 21 states, while Democrats have majority control in 14 states, including California.
Enter the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee with the mission of flipping those GOP state legislatures. “Diversity is key to our success at the DLCC. One of our secret weapons against Republicans. We’re proud to have helped elect almost 100 out-LGBTQ legislators,” says Matt Harringer, the DLCC’s out National Press Secretary. “In 2018, we had 145 LGBTQ candidates; 92 won (63 percent). That’s up from 85 candidates in 2016. We have more than 2,000 women candidates (twice as many as Republicans); more than 1,000 people of color (four times as many as Republicans),” adding that the DLCC works closely with the Victory Fund, noting the dually endorsed candidates.
“Looking at the electoral landscape, obviously we can make progress as Democrats in the House and pass things like the Equality Act, but the Senate is still Republican controlled so it’s going to be difficult to get that through the Senate. And the Supreme Court is very conservative. Where we can see real progress is in the states,” says Jessica Post, DLCC Executive Director who, with Harringer, met recently with the Los Angeles Blade at The Abbey in West Hollywood.
“There are a number of states where we still don’t have equality or gender identity protections, and many of those states are at the top of our target list. Places like Arizona, where we’re two seats away from flipping the Arizona House, three seats away from flipping the Arizona State Senate. We see that as a real possibility,” she says. “That’s a place where they don’t even have favorable laws around adoption.”
“The truth is state legislatures are fundamental to democracy,” says Post. “If we think about how we’re ever going to win back the United States Senate or the presidency, we also have to make sure that we have better voting rights in the states. We have to make sure that we’re putting these fundamental building blocks by winning back legislatures. If we ever want to win back the United States Senate we have to improve the voting laws in these states.”
One major reason to be concerned about flipping state legislatures in the super significant 2020 election year, especially given the current constitutional crisis, is the issue of redistricting.
“The census will be done in 2021. The people that are elected in 2020 will control redistricting,” says Post. “So if we want a sustainable majority in the United States House, and not just a rental, we have to make sure that there are fair districts.” Democratic control of the House now is “a rented majority. We don’t own it. We’re renting it.”
In addition to flipping state legislatures to save democracy from authoritarianism made easier through redistricted cult-Republican majorities, DLCC is working to protect the wins Democrats now have—including LGBT seats.
For instance, Colorado Republicans are running a bigoted recall campaign against LGBTQ Rep. Rochelle Galindo, a Latinx lesbian, who won by the largest number of votes in her District 50’s history in 2018,” says Harringer.
However, she is facing a huge recall effort organized by Pastor Steve Grant, who has called Galindo a “homosexual pervert.” He has received pledges of support from state Republicans and the oil and gas industry has pledged up to $300,000.
“They want her out,” says Post. The Colorado Legislature is now a Democratic majority with out Gov. Jared Polis as governor and passed a lot of progressive bills.
So Republicans see Galindo’s seat as a soft target because it was a tough seat to win. “It’s in Greely, so north of Boulder, the mountains, rural,” says Post, “so it was a huge win.”
The pastor/Republican coalition apparently sees her seat as “low-hanging fruit,” since she’s a woman, a lesbian. So they are willing to spend $300,000 to collect less than 6,000 signatures by June 3.
If the recall goes on the ballot, “it’ll be $1.7 million to protect her,” says Post.
The DLCC is supporting an anti-recall campaign, having invested $50,000 to prevent the recall. Polis is planning fundraisers to help—but he’s the subject of a recall effort, too, says Post.
It’s important for progressives and the LGBT community to take a stand and protect her, says Harringer. “Not just for Californians, but specifically for the LGBTQ community here, which is one of the biggest and leading in the country— putting a stake in the ground and showing that when there’s a recall effort that’s explicitly anti-LGBTQ and bigoted, like this one is, that we’ll stand up for our own in other areas.”
In fact, California lawmakers are already working with DLCC to help other states.
“We’ve worked really closely with the California Legislature. They’ve gotten involved with DLCC. They’re helping to fundraise for a couple of reasons. One they always say, ‘California is America before America is America,’” says Post.
Who says that?
“Anybody in the California Legislature that you’ll ask—like Speaker Anthony Rendon,” she says. “One thing that they’re really interested in doing is making sure that they’re coordinating on public policy, especially on things like climate, with some of these other states. The other thing is they’re concerned about redistricting. They don’t feel like California is getting their fair share back from the federal government. They have to spend a lot of California resources suing the Trump administration.”
Post notes that the legislature is funding all the lawsuits against the Trump administration being brought by Attorney General Xavier Becerra. The Legislature had to create a California Endangered Species Act because of the “backslide at the federal level.”
And, Post says, “California legislators have gotten very involved with us at DLCC to try to help flip other state legislatures for redistricting to be able to enhance California’s position, but also to make sure that stronger public policies are being passed in the states.” Legislators realize “they’re in a strong position, they’re surrounded by well-resourced progressives so they’re interested in helping states like Michigan, Minnesota and Montana, which may not have the same.”
“California, for sure, is first priority for everyone, but they see the big picture, which is helpful,” says Harringer. “It’s very much like party building, sharing best practices. We are able to bring people together and share what’s working in California to say how to do it there.”
“If I was a Californian right now,” Post says, “I would be thinking to myself: ‘we live in this incredible state where we’ve made a lot of public policy progress. But the rights that I have as a Californian or as an LGBTQ Californian, those rights are not enjoyed by people in border states like Arizona or in other states across the country. What are the things that I can do to bring the progress that we have to them?’”
It’s an interesting point: in a constitutional crisis—what can “We, the People,” do to help? Find out more at www.dlcc.org.