● LA-Gov: LaPolitics reports that former GOP Rep. John Fleming is considering joining the 2019 contest to take on Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards. Fleming, who currently serves as an assistant deputy secretary in Trump‘s Department of Health and Human Services, has not yet said anything publicly about his interest, and he reportedly has no timeline for deciding. Rep. Ralph Abraham and wealthy businessman Eddie Rispone currently have the GOP side to themselves in the October jungle primary, though LaPolitics adds that state Sen. Sharon Hewitt will decide “soon.”
Fleming represented a Shreveport-area northwestern Louisiana congressional district from the 2008 election until he unsuccessfully ran for the Senate in 2016. During his eight years in the House, Fleming was a favorite of anti-establishment groups like the radical anti-tax Club for Growth. He was also an ardent opponent of abortion rights, so much so that in 2011, he shared an article from The Onion on Facebook titled “Planned Parenthood Opens $8 Billion Abortionplex.” The congressman was very much not aware that this was satire: He added the message, “More on Planned Parenthood, abortion by the wholesale.”
Fleming decided to take his fight against the Abortionplex statewide in 2016 by running for an open Senate seat. However, Fleming struggled to stand out in a crowded race, and he ended up taking fifth place in the jungle primary with 11 percent of the vote.
● ND-Gov: Former Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp recently teased an announcement for this week, and sure enough, it’s not about any future political plans. Instead, Heitkamp will become a CNBC contributor.
● CA-29: On Monday, a woman who filed a lawsuit last year alleging that Democratic Rep. Tony Cardenas had sexually assaulted her when she was 16 came forward for the first time, identifying herself as Angela Villela Chavez, now 28. Chavez says she’s asking the House to begin an ethics investigation, but as the Los Angeles Times‘ Sarah Wire notes, “Anyone can request an ethics investigation into a member of Congress, but few such requests lead to action on Capitol Hill.”
Last year, when Chavez’s accusations first surfaced, Nancy Pelosi asked the House Ethics Committee to investigate the matter, apparently at Cardenas’ behest, though it’s not clear whether any such inquiry has been opened. Since the alleged events would have taken place in 2007, putting them at a point in time that would normally be outside the committee’s jurisdiction, it’s possible it may not be able to look into the issue.
● CO-04: Rep. Ken Buck has finally acknowledged that he’s seeking to chair the Colorado Republican Party, and he says that he doesn’t plan to resign from the House should he win the post at the March 30 party vote. Buck instead argued that it would be good for the party’s fundraising if he led them from Congress, saying it would give them access to more national money.
● NC-03: This week, retired Marine Phil Law announced he would seek the GOP nod to succeed retiring Republican Rep. Walter Jones. Law lost the 2016 primary to Jones 65-20, but he did better two years later. Jones won that contest with 43 percent of the vote, while Law edged Craven County Commissioner Scott Dacey 29-28 for second place; Law spent a total of $88,000 on his campaign compared to Dacey’s $579,000, so this was a surprisingly strong result.
Villalba was relatively moderate during his six years in state government, and he unsuccessfully pushed for legislation that would have banned employers from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation or identity. Villalba also infuriated anti-vaxxers for introducing a failed bill to eliminate nonmedical “conscience exemptions” for vaccinations in public schools. However, he also did support a bill to ban “sanctuary cities,” even after a provision was added back in that would allow peace officers to question the immigration status of people they’d detained.
In 2018, Villalba faced a serious primary challenge from Lisa Luby Ryan, who was strongly supported by anti-vaxxer groups. Villalba was also one of several relatively moderate Republicans targeted for defeat by the well-funded tea party-aligned group Empower Texans. Villalba ended up losing renomination to Ryan 53-47, but she went on to badly lose in November. After his defeat, Villalba called for impeaching Donald Trump.
Villalba is the eighth candidate to enter the race, and the Dallas Observer writes that he’s likely to be the last. However, the filing deadline isn’t until Feb. 15, so there’s still time for someone else to step up. All the candidates will face off on one nonpartisan ballot on May 4, and if no one wins a majority of the vote, there would be a runoff June 8.
● Houston, TX Mayor: On Monday, former Kemah Mayor Bill King, a conservative businessman who identifies as an independent, confirmed he would seek a rematch with Democratic Mayor Sylvester Turner this year. King had filed paperwork for another bid last month and said at the time that he was “leaning heavily” toward trying again, so this news was hardly a surprise. Back in 2015, Turner defeated King just 51-49, though the mayor will have the power of incumbency this time.
Prominent attorney and Texas A&M Regent Tony Buzbee is also in. All the candidates will face off on one nonpartisan ballot on Nov. 6, and if no one takes a majority, there would be a runoff in December.
● New York: Hallelujah! In a day we thought might never come, New York’s newly Democratic-controlled legislature just passed a sweeping set of long-awaited voting rights reforms that will make it much easier to vote. Stephen Wolf has a complete roundup of all the measures, which include creating an early voting period for the first time and constitutional amendments to allow same-day registration and no-excuse absentee voting. The one we want to focus on, though, for the purposes of the Digest is a bill that finally ends New York’s unique (and uniquely awful) dual-primary system.
This arrangement has been in place since 2012, when a federal judge ordered the state to move its federal primaries from September to June in order to comply with a federal law requiring ballots be sent to military and overseas voters at least 45 days before Election Day. Because this federal law doesn’t affect state elections, the judge left the September state-level primaries untouched, though he encouraged lawmakers to consolidate the two dates.
Democrats in the Assembly had long pressed for a single June primary and had passed legislation to that effect, but Republicans in the state Senate had always blocked it, likely for cynical incumbent-protection reasons. Following the 2018 blue wave, though, Democrats now have a giant 39-24 majority in the Senate, and they’re using their new-found power to turn the Empire State from progressive laggard to progressive leader.
As a result, New York will now have just one primary for all races on the fourth Tuesday in June, starting this year, just as soon as Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs the legislation, which he’s all but certain to do. In 2020, the next year there will be federal elections, that primary will take place on June 23 (though there will likely be a separate presidential primary). This change will mean less expense for the state, and should also lead to higher turnout—a long overdue double win for good governance.
● Where Are They Now?: Former Alabama Rep. Jo Bonner, a Republican who represented the Mobile area from 2003 until he resigned in 2013 to take a job with the University of Alabama, will be returning to politics as Gov. Kay Ivey’s new chief of staff. Bonner is the third former House member who recently signed on as a senior aide to a current elected official. Arizona Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick hired Ron Barber to be the district director for the Tucson seat he’d represented from 2012 to 2015, while freshman GOP Rep. John Rose of Tennessee brought on board Van Hilleary, who left Congress in 2003, as his chief of staff.
Meanwhile in the Sunshine State, Florida Democrat Mary Barzee Flores lost her 2018 bid against GOP Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart 60-40, but she’s getting an important post in state government. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only Democrat to win statewide last year, announced that Barzee Flores would be her deputy commissioner for consumer affairs, a job whose duties include overseeing Florida’s concealed weapons permitting program. Barzee Flores is a gun safety advocate and NRA critic.
This is an especially important post considering what happened under now-former GOP Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. Last year, while Putnam was unsuccessfully running for governor, the Tampa Bay Times reported that his office failed to properly conduct full background checks on concealed-weapons permits for more than a year, which led to at least 291 people wrongly getting approved. Other reports soon came to light that pointed to widespread problems with permitting under Putnam, a self-proclaimed “proud NRA sellout.” Putnam himself also boasted about how much easier he’d made it to acquire a concealed-weapons permit.