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On this week's takeout-ordering, working-from home weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorensen ponders what the GOP is doing while you manage your anxiety; (Th)ink looks at a way in which the United States is, rather unfortunately, approaching No. 1 in the world; This Modern World takes a look at Life in the Coronaverse; Apoca Clips keeps score of all the action; and Red Meat enjoys some convenience-store hot dogs, because why in the hell not?

Published in Comics

On this week's record-breaking weekly Independent comics page: The K Chronicles takes a tongue-in-cheek look at Christmas in SoCal; This Modern World looks at GOP "reality"; Jen Sorensen waits for technology to solve climate change; Apoca Clips brings us the latest adventures of Captain Rudy; and Red Meat looks back fondly on school gymnastics.

Published in Comics

A former California Republican leader left the party this week, the latest GOP defection in what’s become a trend among Trump-era moderates.

Assemblyman Chad Mayes re-registered without party preference, becoming the second California lawmaker this year to leave the Republican party. Assemblyman Brian Maienschein became a Democrat in January, and California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye left the GOP late last year.

Their departures reflect the clash of two diverging forces: President Donald Trump is pulling the Republican Party to the right as California voters are increasingly moving to the left. Less than 24 percent of California voters are registered Republicans. A greater share, like Mayes now, are registered as political independents. Democrats hold every statewide office and historically huge majorities in the Legislature. With Mayes’ switch, Republicans now hold just 23 percent of legislative seats.

“It’s frustrating to watch Republicans defend whatever it is the president does. It’s also frustrating to watch Democrats attack virtually everything the president does, instead of thinking, ‘Is this a good policy or not a good policy?’” said Mayes, of Yucca Valley. His District 42 includes much of the Coachella Valley.

“At some point you go, ‘It doesn’t make a lot of sense for me to keep banging my head against the wall.’”

As Assembly Republican leader, Mayes tried to make the minority relevant by embracing a moderate vision for the GOP. He urged fellow Republicans to drop opposition to social policies such as gay marriage and abortion, and instead focus on environmental stewardship and poverty alleviation. He took his caucus to tour a homeless shelter and worked with Democrats to pass landmark legislation combating climate change. But he also angered Republicans with that cooperation, and was forced to resign his leadership post in 2017.

As the Republican party veers right and founders in California, Mayes has been working with Arnold Schwarzenegger to build up an organization for moderate Republicans called New Way California. Mayes said he wasn’t sure how leaving the party will impact New Way. The group will meet to discuss its direction, he said, which could mean no longer focusing on Republicans.

It’s not unheard of for California legislators to switch parties, but two leaving the same party in the same year appears to be unprecedented, said legislative historian Alex Vassar.

However, Mayes leaves the GOP in tandem with voters in his Palm Springs area desert district. When he was first elected in 2014, 41 percent of voters there were Republicans—a 7-point advantage over Democrats. Today, the parties are neck in neck, each holding a 35 percent share of registered voters.

Republicans will likely field a candidate to run against Mayes next year, the Riverside County Republican Party Chair told The Desert Sun. And state party leaders seemed determined to exact revenge after endorsing Mayes’ reelection just a few weeks ago.

“Chad has let the Republican Party down just as he let down the voters of California,” the state party’s Board of Directors said in a statement. “We are confident that a Republican will win that seat in November.”

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics

I suppose I can’t not write about Sharpie-gate, as much as I’d rather not. After all, of the myriad episodes that have defined the Trump administration’s idiocracy, few have reached this peak of stupidity.

On Saturday, Aug. 31, with Hurricane Dorian bearing down on the U.S., President Trump warned that it posed a serious risk to Alabama, though forecasters had days earlier said Alabama was out of danger. The next day, after receiving calls from worried residents, the Birmingham office of the National Weather Service tweeted that Alabama would “NOT see any impacts from the hurricane.”

For reasons best left to a psychologist, Trump refused to let it go. He spent the next week obsessing over it, insisting that he was right and the NWS experts (and the media that covered them) were wrong and fake. By Wednesday, he was in the Oval Office with a hurricane forecast from Aug. 29, altered by a hand-drawn Sharpie to include Alabama in the storm’s projected path. By Friday night—after the storm had left the North Carolina coast, and we were still talking about this—the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a statement “correcting” the NWS tweet from a week earlier and backing the president. (The justification: One model showed a tiny chance of tropical-storm-force winds in a sliver of Alabama.)

By Saturday, Sept. 7, The Washington Post had reported that, the day after Trump’s Alabama flub, the NOAA sent a directive to NWS meteorologists ordering them not to contradict the president, even though he was wrong, and they were right, and part of their job is to correct misinformation. NOAA sent a similar directive after the Sharpie display.

“I have never been so embarrassed,” the head of the NWS union tweeted Friday.

So say we all, pal.

Under different circumstances—say, if he were hosting a reality TV show—the president’s pathetically pathological need to be right and his lackeys’ compulsion to assuage his fragile ego might be amusing. But this is real life, where undermining the credibility of the government’s information during a disaster puts lives at risk.

This is part of a larger problem, of course. On Friday, Sept. 6, Business Insider reported that “aides and confidants are concerned about his mental state after days of erratic behavior and wild outbursts.” According to one former White House official: “His mood changes from one minute to the next based on some headline or tweet, and the next thing you know, his entire schedule gets tossed out the window because he’s losing his shit.”

In the UK, when Trump-lite Prime Minister Boris Johnson tried to go around Parliament to facilitate a disastrous no-deal Brexit, defections within his own party blocked him and then prevented him from calling snap elections. Country was more important than party. Here, administration officials have shown no such spine, even on matters as banal as Sharpie-gate. The higher the stakes—and the more unhinged Trump becomes—the more dangerous that gets.

Plenty of ink has been spilled explaining how we got here—how, since the civil rights movement, the Republican Party’s embrace of white racial grievance and the cultivation of authoritarianism in its pursuit of power have destroyed liberal democracy’s guardrails, allowing a pernicious oaf like Trump into the Oval Office. But we shouldn’t overlook the behind-the-scenes roles played by men like Thomas Hofeller, who made the radicalization of the GOP possible.

Hofeller, who died last year, was a Republican redistricting consultant, a number-cruncher who helped gerrymander congressional and legislative districts all over the country, most famously in North Carolina, where his work has been subject to numerous lawsuits. The districts he helped draw in 2011 were struck down as racial gerrymanders. The congressional districts he helped draw to replace them were then struck down as partisan gerrymanders, though earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that partisan gerrymandering was constitutional.

But last week, a state court struck down the redrawn legislative districts, ruling that extreme partisan gerrymandering violated the state Constitution. This followed a lawsuit Common Cause filed in 2018, after North Carolina Democrats won more votes for state House and Senate, but Republicans emerged with strong majorities. Facing a Democratic-controlled state Supreme Court, Republican lawmakers declined an appeal, meaning North Carolina could see its first fair election in a decade next year.

This is where it gets fun: Much to Republicans’ chagrin, Hofeller’s daughter had turned over thousands of his files to Common Cause. On Friday, Sept. 6, The New Yorker reported their contents. As you’d expect, they showed that Hofeller compiled “intensely detailed” data on race, as well as things like whether college students were likely to have the state-required ID to vote. 

He got particularly deep in the weeds at North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro, the nation’s largest historically black college. Hofeller used dorm-level data to draw congressional districts that literally bisected the campus, ensuring that Greensboro would have two Republican representatives. This, Republicans argued, was about partisan advantage, not race.

The files show that Hofeller was involved in Republican gerrymandering efforts in Arizona, Mississippi, Alabama, Virginia, Texas and Florida, and that “he was part of a Republican effort to add a citizenship question to the Census … which Hofeller believed would make it easier to pack Democrats and minorities into fewer districts, giving an advantage to Republicans.” Trump, you’ll recall, championed this cause—even after the Supreme Court turned rejected the question because the administration couldn’t be bothered to hide its political motives.

Hofeller and the Republicans who employed him contorted democracy to their own ends. But by creating ruby-red districts in which Republicans could only lose in primaries, they fostered an incentive structured that pulled the GOP further and further right, the kind of asymmetric polarization that, in short order, gave us a president who draws hurricane projections with a Sharpie and a party that whistles in democracy’s graveyard.

Contact Jeffrey C. Billman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in National/International

On this week's wet, moist and tropically humid weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorensen quizzes a Trump supporter on racism; The K Chronicles wishes people were more skeptical; This Modern World enjoys a Donald Trump Decoder Ring; Red Meat listens as Milkman Dan tells Karen a cottage cheese-tinged story; and Apoca Clips ponders Li'l Trumpy's racism.

Published in Comics

On this week's totally woke weekly Independent comics page: Apoca Clips listens to Li'l Trumpy explain the near-war with Iran; Red Meat watches some soapy sci-fi; This Modern World brings us the latest dispatch from the Stupidverse; Jen Sorensen examines things that are supposedly OK if you're a Republican; and The K Chronicles looks at responses to the aforementioned near-war with Iran.

Published in Comics

On this week's recyclable, gluten-free weekly Independent comics page: (Th)ink hands the ink over to guest cartoonist John Bolton; This Modern World looks at the fallout when Republicans all become brain-eating zombies; Jen Sorenson feels bad for old rich people who can't sell their homes; Red Meat is bummed out because Earl lost his job; and Apoca Clips listens to Sarah Huckabee Sanders' farewell press conference.

Published in Comics

On this week's environmentally friendly weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World listens in as two Republicans discuss abortion laws; Jen Sorensen shares her hopes regarding Joe Biden; (Th)ink looks at a Re-Public-an transit map; Red Meat gets excited about a hot date; and Apoca Clips asks Li'l Trumpy what he thinks about the first Republican congressman to call for impeachment.

Published in Comics

On this week's evergreen-scented weekly Independent comics page: Red Meat sends Milkman Dan's truck in for repairs; Apoca Clips quizzes Li'l Trumpy about the immigrant caravan; Jen Sorensen looks at what's not changing following the midterms; The K Chronicles has a modest proposal for coal mines; and This Modern World brings us the latest mystery for the detective-in-chief.

Published in Comics

The California Legislature, controlled by Democrats for decades, will be even bluer when the new class is sworn in. Exactly how many more Democrats have been elected is still not certain, because it takes a long time to count votes in California. But all signs point toward growing Democratic caucuses in both the Assembly and the Senate—and a supermajority that sidelines Republicans to near-irrelevancy.

That means the prevailing tension in the statehouse probably won’t be between Republicans and Democrats—but between different shades of blue. It could make for some counter-intuitive outcomes—including a Legislature that skews more toward business on some fights.

The biggest shift appears to be taking place in the state Senate, which in recent years has been the more liberal of the two houses. It is poised to tick toward the center, with two business-backed Democrats winning Los Angeles-area seats previously held by labor-friendly Dems, and two rural Democrats apparently flipping Republican-held seats in the Central Valley.

“It’s very significant,” said Marty Wilson, executive vice president of the California Chamber of Commerce, which lobbies for major business interests. “We have an opportunity to have a more profound impact on the Senate.”

Business PACs including Wilson’s poured at least $6 million into electing Democrats Susan Rubio of Baldwin Park and Bob Archuleta of Pico Rivera, who secured solid wins on election night.

Two other Democrats—Melissa Hurtado of Sanger and now-Assemblywoman Anna Caballero of Salinas—pulled ahead of their Republican opponents earlier this week in updated vote counts, apparently assuring the Senate of a Democratic supermajority. Representing Central Valley districts that stretch through California’s farm belt, the pair would bring a different perspective to the Senate Democratic caucus, which is now dominated by representatives from big cities and progressive coastal enclaves. That means not only more potential interest in water and farm policy, but also on how proposals impact inland jobs and health care.

“The issues the Central Valley and other parts of rural California face will get more attention in the caucus, because there will be more advocates on behalf of those regions,” said Bob Sanders, a Democratic political consultant who worked on campaigns for Hurtado and Caballero.

Caballero gained a track record as a business-friendly moderate during six years in the state Assembly. Democrats poured more than $4 million into her Senate race against Republican Rob Poythress for a Merced-area seat that had previously been held by Anthony Cannella, a moderate Republican. Poythress was backed by $1.9 million from the GOP.

Hurtado is a health-care advocate who sits on the Sanger City Council. Democrats spent $2.4 million to help her wrest the Fresno-area from GOP Sen. Andy Vidak of Hanford, who was helped by $428,000 from his party.

“What was different this time were the issues,” said Democratic consultant Lisa Gasperoni, who worked on Hurtado’s campaign.

Instead of focusing on water and agriculture, as most politicians do in the Central Valley, Hurtado emphasized health-care access and environmental health, Gasperoni said.

“Those issues were way more potent than I’ve ever seen them,” she said.

Wilson, whose PAC supported Vidak, said the Republican likely suffered from blowback by voters upset by President Trump.

“I think a lot of it was attributable to Trump going out there and railing on caravans,” Wilson said. “It does have a negative impact on California.”

With results still being tallied, Democrats have been cautious about declaring victory. But late ballots generally skew more liberal, so Democrats may pick up additional seats in the Assembly, where they have already flipped two.

With supermajorities in both chambers, Democrats—in theory—could pass taxes, change the state’s political ethics law, and put constitutional amendments on the ballot without any Republican support. In reality, however, it’s difficult to get all Democrats to agree on controversial proposals—a challenge that could complicate Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom’s agenda, which is ambitious, expensive and could require a tax increase. Many legislators are spooked by the successful recall this year of Democratic Sen. Josh Newman over his vote to increase the gas tax.

Still, with a union-backed governor-elect whose leanings are more progressive than Gov. Jerry Brown’s were, organized labor sees benefits to the growing number of Democrats in Sacramento, even if some of them come with backing from more conservative business interests.

“We’ve got a good situation with a very pro-worker Legislature in both chambers,” said Steve Smith, spokesman for the California Labor Federation, a union group.

But he acknowledged that with more Democrats come more factions—and disagreements that may not fall along traditional fault lines that, for example, pit environmentalists versus the oil industry. The gig economy presents new political issues that may divide Democrats next year, as tech companies will likely push to change a court ruling that limits the use of independent contractors, and labor unions work to hold it intact. Some Democrats who are progressive on environmental issues may skew more business-friendly when it comes to pressure from Silicon Valley or charter schools.

“This is not your grandfather’s labor versus business fight any more,” Smith said. “There are all kinds of layers that didn’t exist 20 years ago.”

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics

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