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When Republicans Support Democrats

Do cross-party endorsements signal a fracturing GOP? Plus, a Democrat may lose after half a century, how justices gain political advantage and not knowing when to say "when."

Illinois GOP Congressman Adam Kinzinger
Illinois GOP Congressman Adam Kinzinger (TNS)
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When Republicans Support Democrats: Adam Kinzinger is an Illinois Republican probably best known for being one of 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Donald Trump as he was leaving the presidency last year, as well as being one of two Republicans serving on the Jan. 6 Committee. In that sense, maybe it’s not a huge surprise that he’s endorsed a half-dozen Democrats. "Now more than ever, it’s critical we elect leaders up and down the ballot who are loyal to the Constitution and willing to be a bulwark for democracy – regardless of their political party affiliation," Kinzinger said.

Kinzinger’s cross-party support is part of a mini trend this year of Republicans endorsing Democratic candidates. This weekend, a group of Arizona Republicans endorsed Katie Hobbs, the Democratic nominee for governor. A group of about three dozen “Republicans for Whitmer,” including veterans of past GOP administrations, announced their support for Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan. Laura Kelly, the Democratic governor of Kansas, has similarly drawn support from dozens of Republicans – including former U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, who was once the boss of Kelly’s opponent Derek Schmidt.

Probably these endorsements won’t matter much. Few endorsements do. But these particular endorsements speak to something else, namely fracturing within the GOP. “I do think there’s a real fault line running through the Republican Party right now,” says Geoffrey Kabaservice, vice president of political studies at the Niskanen Center, a centrist think tank. “It comes down not to moderates vs. conservatives. This is really traditional Reaganite conservatives against Trumpian populists.”

There have been Never Trumpers ever since Trump made his presidential campaign official. There’s still some argument about whether Trump is the party’s strongest potential nominee in 2024, and also about the ways he’s changed the party. Following Ronald Reagan’s presidency during the 1980s, Republicans favored a small-government approach. Now, convinced that other institutions have been captured by the left – Hollywood, universities, even their traditional allies in corporate America – some “national conservative” Republicans want to expand and employ government as the primary tool to achieve their ends.

“Every other institution has gone woke, so we have to use government to smash enemies,” says Kabaservice, author of Rule and Ruin, a book about how moderates lost out to conservatives within the GOP, summarizing this approach.

Last month, Arizona GOP Gov. Doug Ducey gave a speech, perhaps not coincidentally at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, warning about the direction the party is taking. “I believe a dangerous strain of big government activism has taken hold, and for liberty’s sake we need to fight it with every fiber in our beings,” Ducey said. “A good many small-government conservatives have morphed into bullies – people who are very comfortable using government power to tell companies and people how to lead their lives.”

Ducey is getting a lot of good press as he prepares to leave office. National Affairs recently called him “the most successful governor in the United States today.” But Ducey is term-limited and opted not to run for the Senate, calculating, like some other Republican governors, that he would have to overcome Trumpier opponents.

Hobbs, the Democrat seeking to succeed Ducey, has support from local Republicans, Kinzinger and Wyoming GOP Rep. Liz Cheney. Ducey himself called GOP nominee Kari Lake a “fake” and campaigned against her in the primary. But Ducey has endorsed Lake against Hobbs.

Not all Republicans are happy about their nominees this year, and some are dubious about the party’s entire direction. Some will end up leaving the party. But most will get on board rather than risk giving power to Democrats.
 Tom Miller, at the microphone, speaks at an event in 2002 alongside Richard Blumenthal, then the attorney general of Connecticut
Tom Miller, at the microphone, speaks at an event in 2002 alongside Richard Blumenthal, then the attorney general of Connecticut (TNS)
Democrat May Lose After Half a Century: Brenna Bird was just two years old when Tom Miller took office as attorney general of Iowa back in 1979. She might be the one to bring his long career to an end. A poll released last week showed Bird, the Guthrie County attorney, leading Miller, 45.7 percent to 42.6 percent.

Iowans are certainly OK with politicians having long tenures. Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley is seeking his eighth term this year, while Michael Fitzgerald has served as state treasurer since 1983. But Miller’s number might finally be up this year. GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds – a shoo-in for re-election in November – blocked Miller from joining about two-thirds of anti-Trump lawsuits filed by other Democratic AGs during his presidency and has called for Miller’s defeat this year.

“Tom is facing a tough environment in a year that generally doesn’t look good for Democrats,” says Dennis Goldford, a political scientist at Drake University. “He’s a comfortable old shoe in an era when people want shoes with spikes in them.”

Miller ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1990 – Democrats back then thought he was too moderate – but he has served as attorney general for 40 of the last 44 years. He was at the vanguard of a new generation of state AGs who became de facto national regulators of major industries, notably the massive tobacco settlement of 1998. (This summer, Miller sued tobacco companies for $133 million in withheld payments.)

Iowa was a purple state throughout most of Miller’s tenure but the state has grown increasingly red. Democrats controlled the state Senate as recently as 2016, but Republicans now hold 32 of the 50 seats in that chamber. One of Bird’s major campaign promises is that she’ll join the chorus of Republican AGs frequently suing the Biden administration.

Miller’s career presents no scandal and there’s no question about his competence. It’s just that most Iowans are voting Republican, so it shouldn’t be a surprise if the longtime Democrat goes down to defeat. “He’s caught in a political environment that’s not of his own making,” Goldford says. “He’s an attorney general of the old school in an age that has graduated.”

How Justices Gain Political Advantage: Max Baer, the chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, died on Sept. 30. His death at age 74 came just a couple of weeks after the chief justices in Illinois and Michigan each announced their retirements and not long after the chief judge in New York stepped down.

This flurry of sudden turnover at the top ranks of the judiciary may be nothing more than coincidence. It will clearly have effects, though, with control of the Michigan state Supreme Court, for example, at stake in this year’s elections. The departures also highlight something that’s been little noticed about judicial power.

Nearly half the states elect their supreme court justices. In a lot of those states, new justices get lucky, appointed to fill well-timed vacancies and then getting to run with all the advantages of incumbency in what remain low-profile elections for most voters. Fully a third of justices appointed to fill interim vacancies in recent years faced no opponent when they sought re-election. In Georgia, Minnesota and North Dakota, every single justice now sitting on the supreme court was initially appointed to the job.

It's not hard to make the case that it’s a better practice to appoint justices rather than have them run for office and become beholden to donors. And it makes sense to have governors fill vacancies as a stopgap, since special elections held in states that require them are ignored by most voters.

But if you are going to hold elections, candidates shouldn’t routinely be given such enormous head starts. Especially judges, who should know how to play fair.

“To me, the thing that’s just kind of troubling is that when this happens so often, it feels like judges might be sidestepping the procedures that are supposed to be used to have some choice in who replaces them,” says Michael Nelson, who specializes in judicial politics at Penn State University.

Former Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez
Former Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez (TNS)
Not Knowing When to Say When: One of the things that’s puzzled me through many years of watching politicians is why sometimes they just don’t know when to head for the exit. There comes a point when a scandal becomes too big to ride out, people in your own party are telling you to go and everybody else can see that a fork’s been stuck in you. And yet, many still refuse to resign.

What brings this to mind, of course, is the Los Angeles City Council. Nury Martinez, the erstwhile council president, did resign, but she did so in slow motion. On a newly leaked tape of a conversation about redistricting held last year between Martinez, City Council members Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León, and Ron Herrera, the head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, Martinez used a Spanish term for “little monkey” in reference to the Black child of another council member, describing him as a political prop, and called Oaxacan immigrants “little, short dark people” and “so ugly.”

She faced calls for her resignation from the White House to L.A. residents who disrupted council meetings on both Tuesday and Wednesday. On Monday, Martinez announced she would give up her leadership position as council president. On Tuesday, she said she was taking a leave of absence. Finally, on Wednesday she issued a statement announcing her resignation, although she still failed to apologize (except to her staff) and sounded less than fully contrite.

"To all the little Latina girls across the city — I hope I've inspired you to dream beyond that which you can see," Martinez wrote.

Aside from derogatory and offensive remarks, the conversation turned on using redistricting to preserve power for themselves and Latino allies, while limiting Black representation. Herrera stepped down from his union post on Monday, but de León and Cedillo, two longtime L.A. power players, face calls to resign. (Cedillo lost his council in a primary, while de León fell short in this year’s mayoral race).

Meanwhile, the fallout continues. California Attorney General Rob Bonta said he will launch an investigation into redistricting in L.A. for potential violations of the Voting Rights Act. The council was meant to take up a proposal to strip redistricting duties from the council at Wednesday’s canceled meeting, which was sponsored by Council Member Nithya Raman, described on the leaked tape as “not an ally.” That remark, at least, was accurate.

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Alan Greenblatt is the editor of Governing. He can be found on Twitter at @AlanGreenblatt.
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