Democratic state gains may mean tighter gun, looser pot laws
By DAVID A. LIEB and GEOFF MULVIHILL
Monday, November 12
From New York to New Mexico, residents in a number of states can expect a leftward push for expanded health care coverage, gun control, education funding and legalized recreational marijuana as Democrats who gained new or stronger powers in the midterm elections seek to put their stamp on public policy.
While Republicans remain in charge in more states, Democrats nearly doubled the number of places where they will wield a trifecta of power over the governor’s office and both chambers of the state legislature. Democrats also broke up several Republican strongholds, forcing GOP lawmakers who have been cutting taxes and curbing union powers to deal with a new reality of a Democratic governor.
All told, Democrats gained seats in 62 of the 99 state legislative chambers, according to data provided by the National Conference of State Legislatures (Nebraska is the lone state with a single legislature). Democrats also added seven new governorships.
In New York, where a new Democratic-run Senate will provide the missing link in liberals’ political power, the expansive agenda could go beyond guns, pot and health care to also include more protections for abortion rights and higher taxes on millionaires.
“We will finally give New Yorkers the progressive leadership they have been demanding,” said Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who stands to lead the Senate when the new session begins in January.
The U.S. is a deeply divided nation politically, a fact reflected in a midterm vote that gave Democrats the U.S. House while adding to the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate. But within states, the overall outcome of the 2018 elections was a continued trend of one-party control — Democrats in some places, Republicans in others.
For the first time since 1914, there will be only one state — Minnesota — with its two legislative chambers led by different parties.
If Republican gubernatorial candidates maintain their slim leads in Florida and Georgia, Republicans will hold full control over the governor’s office and legislative chambers in 22 states compared with 14 for Democrats. Just 13 states will have a split partisan control between the governor’s office and legislature, nearly matching the 60-year low point set in 2012.
There also has been a decrease in ticket-splitting between governors and state attorneys general, with the number of such divisions expected to decline from 12 to 10 as a result of Tuesday’s elections.
“This is the most hyper-polarized, hyper-partisan time we’ve see in generations, and nobody can deny that,” said Illinois state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, a Democrat who is president of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Illinois is one of a half-dozen states where Tuesday’s election put Democrats in control of the governor’s office and legislature.
Democrat J.B. Pritzker, who ousted Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, wants to legalize and tax recreational marijuana. He also has promised to push for a constitutional amendment to replace Illinois’ flat income tax system with a progressive one that requires the wealthy to pay a greater share.
Democrats also are planning aggressive agendas in other states where they expanded their political power:
— Nevada is expected to pass a ban on bump stocks on guns as the state Legislature meets for the first time since the October 2017 mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip. Democrats also will be pushing to spend more on education, expand Medicaid coverage, raise the minimum wage and require employers to provide paid sick leave.
— In New Mexico, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth said minimum wage and teacher pay increases will be at the top of the agenda. Democrats also could overhaul the state’s approach to climate change, gun control and marijuana.
— In Colorado, Democrats are planning a renewed push to expand health coverage, adopt gun controls, boost public education funding and enhance environmental protections.
— In Maine, new Democratic Gov.-elect and Attorney General Janet Mills has vowed to finally expand Medicaid. Voters demanded that in a 2017 referendum, but the effort has been slowed by departing Republican Gov. Paul LePage.
The states shifting to Democratic dominance can look to New Jersey, which held its governor’s election in 2017 and replaced a Republican with a Democrat. With the Legislature already controlled by Democrats, the state promptly tightened gun regulations, passed a paid sick-leave requirement and restored funding to Planned Parenthood.
But it hasn’t been like Christmas every day for liberals. It took a last-day deal before the budget expired over the summer to avoid a state government shutdown as Democrats disagreed over which taxes to raise. Lawmakers have missed their own deadlines on legalizing marijuana for adults, and some advocates are upset the state has not moved faster to boost the minimum wage.
New Jersey state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat who’s been in the legislature since 1992, said there’s a big difference in legislative debates when there’s one-party control.
“It is more about details than the broader principles,” she said.
Some states that became accustomed to Republican control over the past decade also will be making adjustments.
In Wisconsin, Republican lawmakers have been privately discussing ways they could limit the rule-making powers of Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers, who narrowly defeated Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said they are looking at reconstituting boards to make sure they have equal representation.
North Carolina’s Republican-led Legislature did something similar after Democrat Roy Cooper won the governor’s race in 2016. But Cooper successfully sued over a law weakening his influence over the state elections board.
In Kansas, Democrat Laura Kelly’s election as governor immediately recasts the debate over several big fiscal issues.
She supports expanding the state’s Medicaid health coverage as encouraged by the Affordable Care Act. While bipartisan backing for that has grown, supporters had not achieved the legislative supermajorities that would have been needed to overcome the opposition of Republican Govs. Sam Brownback and Jeff Colyer.
Kelly also is pledging to reinstate an executive order barring anti-LGBT bias in state hiring and employment decisions, something Brownback rescinded in 2015.
In Michigan, Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer broke a Republican trifecta while campaigning to “fix the damn roads” and replace aging water pipes with a multibillion-dollar infrastructure plan. But tax increases or increased borrowing could be a tough sell in the Legislature, which remains under Republican control.
The next Senate majority leader, Republican Sen. Mike Shirkey, signaled that he would oppose raising Michigan’s corporate income tax and said he would fight any attempt to repeal Michigan’s right-to-work laws “with every ounce of my body.”
Republicans who control the Minnesota state Senate said they will fight Democratic Gov.-elect Tim Walz if he follows through with a proposal to raise the gas tax to pay for infrastructure improvements. A number of states have taken that step in recent years to fund road repairs. That includes states where Republicans control the legislature and governor’s office, including Indiana, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
Split power at the Minnesota Legislature also could lead to gridlock on the top issue from the election — health care. Walz campaigned on expanding one of the state’s low-income health care programs to offer a public option, but Senate Republicans have shot that down as an unworkable government takeover of health care.
Lieb reported from Jefferson City, Missouri, and Mulvihill from Cherry Hill, New Jersey. AP reporters Jim Anderson in Denver; Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin; David Eggert in Lansing, Michigan; John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas; David Klepper in Albany, New York; Morgan Lee in Albuquerque, New Mexico; John O’Connor in Springfield, Illinois; Kyle Potter in St. Paul, Minnesota; Michelle Price in Las Vegas; and Marina Villeneuve in Augusta, Maine, contributed to this report.
Follow Lieb at http://www.twitter.com/davidalieb and Mulvihill at http://www.twitter.com/geoffmulvihill
Democrats eye Trump’s tax returns but expect a long fight
By MARCY GORDON
AP Business Writer
Monday, November 12
WASHINGTON (AP) — Getting President Donald Trump’s tax returns is high on the list of Democratic priorities now that they have won the House.
By law, the leaders of tax-writing committees in the House and Senate can obtain tax returns and related information from the Internal Revenue Service. Democrats will control the House panel next year.
Yet there’s no guarantee that the Trump administration will provide the president’s returns. That sets up the possibility of a legal battle over the request that could take years to resolve.
Trump broke with political tradition in 2016 by refusing to release his income tax filings. He says he won’t release them because he’s under audit, and he claimed at a press conference this week that the filings are too complex for people to understand.
The Democrats tried and failed several times to obtain Trump’s returns as the minority party in Congress. Now, having gained some control, they see them within their grasp.
Eyes are on Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts, who is now the senior Democrat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee and will become its chairman in January.
When asked Wednesday whether the committee under his control would ask for the documents, Neal said, “Yes, I think we will.”
If the Trump administration refuses and mounts a legal challenge, Neal said, “Then I assume that there would be a court case that would go on for a period of time.”
A legal fight could potentially even stretch beyond the 2020 presidential election, suggested Andy Grewal, a professor at the University of Iowa College of Law.
Grewal has maintained that a request for Trump’s returns, if made for “purely political purposes,” may exceed the limits of Congress’ authority.
Starting with the 2016 campaign, Trump broke with political tradition by repeatedly refusing to release his income tax filings. Those filings are deemed sacredly secret for citizens, but traditionally not for presidents. Trump has said he hasn’t released them because his taxes are under audit by the IRS — even though experts and IRS officials say such audits don’t bar taxpayers from releasing their returns.
Asked about releasing his filings, Trump reaffirmed that justification during a post-election news conference Wednesday. “They’re under audit. They have been for a long time,” the president said. “They’re extremely complex. People wouldn’t understand them.”
Giving a slight opening, Trump said that if the audit was completed, “I would have an open mind to it. I would say that.” But, he added, “Nobody turns over a return when it’s under audit.”
In 2017, more than a million people signed a petition to the White House urging Trump to make the returns public.
Questions loom: Was the swaggering longtime businessman and real estate mogul really worth $10 billion when he entered the White House, as he has claimed? Are there conflicts of interest lurking? How has his global panoply of properties and other assets been valued for taxation purposes? What are the sources of his income and to whom might he be beholden as a result? Does Trump stand to gain personally from the sweeping Republican tax law enacted late last year, which he championed, and, if so, how specifically?
Among the sought-after details: Trump’s charitable giving, the type of deductions he claimed, how much he earned from his assets and what strategies he deployed to reduce his tax bill.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi declined during a press conference Wednesday to specifically address the question of Trump’s returns, saying only that Congress has “a constitutional responsibility to have oversight” and citing examples such as the government’s environmental policy that would be ripe for Congress to investigate.
The high interest — Democrats would say the urgency — in lifting the veil on Trump’s taxes ramped up last month when The New York Times published an extensive report suggesting that the Trump family cheated the IRS for decades, undervaluing reported assets and using dubious tax maneuvers and outright fraud in some cases.
A lawyer for Trump disputed the Times’ findings of possible tax fraud or evasion and said that parts of the report were “extremely inaccurate.” The newspaper said its report was based on more than 100,000 pages of financial documents, including confidential tax returns from Trump’s father and his companies.
That could spur the Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee to ask for Trump’s returns going back many years.
By law, the chairmen of the House panel, the Senate Finance Committee and the Joint Committee on Taxation can make a written request for any tax returns to the Treasury Secretary, who oversees the IRS. The law says the Treasury chief “shall furnish” the requested information to the members of the committee for them to examine behind closed doors.
The IRS, with custody of Trump’s returns, has been headed since Oct. 1 by a commissioner who worked as a private tax attorney for nearly four decades representing individuals and companies in cases before the agency. During the 2016 campaign, the commissioner, Charles Rettig, defended Trump’s refusal to release his filings. He promised at his Senate confirmation hearing to uphold the IRS’ political independence from the White House.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin “will review any request with the Treasury general counsel for legality,” the department said in a statement Thursday.
Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani has said the Democrats could have a hard time proving their demand was intended for pursuing legitimate congressional oversight, not a political scavenger hunt.
If the administration refuses to hand over the returns, the Democrat-led committee might punch back with subpoenas, move to hold officials in contempt of Congress or sue the administration. There’s no roadmap or historical precedent for the situation.
Some observers anticipate that the Trump Justice Department would file a lawsuit against the House to block release of the returns. In that case, the administration might try to prove that the Democrats’ demand was politically motivated, as Giuliani indicated.
The University of Iowa’s Grewal is among the experts who believe the administration may seek to make that case.
But Joe Thorndike, director of the tax history project at publisher Tax Analysts, says he doubts that argument could succeed. “It’s not unreasonable for a member of Congress to be concerned about the president’s tax returns,” he said.
George Yin, a professor of law and taxation at the University of Virginia who formerly was chief of staff for the Joint Committee on Taxation, asserts that Congress has the clear right to obtain and release a president’s tax returns to the public without his or her consent — provided the disclosure would be in the public interest.
Not so fast, says Ken Kies, another former chief of staff for the joint tax panel, who’s now a tax lobbyist. “I’d be really uncomfortable about that,” he said.
The federal tax code authorizes the lawmakers who obtain tax returns to file a detailed report on them to the full U.S. House, which essentially would put the information into the public domain. But lawmakers and committee staff could be subject to criminal penalties, including prison sentences, for unauthorized disclosure of tax material.
“I would never take possession of those tax returns if I were (Neal),” said Janice Mays, a former chief counsel and staff director for the Ways and Means Committee who is managing director of tax policy services at consulting firm PwC. “I would visit the IRS and inspect them there.”
Opinion: Presidents Vs. the Press
By J. Mark Powell
A White House in open warfare with the press. A president insulting a reporter to his face. Journalists denied access to press room. The White House last week? Actually, it’s the White House for at least 100 years.
The relationship between a president and the press that covers him has been rocky for well over a century, with few ups and a whole lot of downs.
Take Grover Cleveland. The only president to marry in office, he was so furious with news coverage of his honeymoon that he refused to attend the Gridiron Club’s dinner, the only president (until Barack Obama in 2009) to ever skip the annual gala since its creation in 1885.
In 1962, Look magazine carried an article by Fletcher Knebel called “Kennedy vs. the Press” that was subtitled, “Never have so few bawled out so many so often for so little, as the Kennedys battle reporters.” President Obama’s administration publicly referred to Fox News as “not a news network” and blocked it from interviews with administration officials.
And of course, journalists were prominently included in the Nixon White House’s infamous “Enemies List.”
Yet some of the nastiness moments in presidential treatment (or mistreatment) of the press came from a man famous for politically seducing reporters: Franklin D. Roosevelt.
FDR generally received glowing news coverage. But whenever he felt specific reporters were treating him unfairly, things turned ugly. And he wasn’t above engaging in knockdown, drag-out brawls with them.
Like Trump, Roosevelt was a rich New Yorker who enjoyed being the center of attention. He knew how to make news, and he was a pro at it. Which helped him enjoy an extended honeymoon with the press when he moved into the White House.
But legendary charm was wearing thin by 1934. In 1935, things deteriorated into open warfare with the press. In Roosevelt’s eyes, if a reporter wasn’t for him that meant he was against him. Tough questions about his cherished New Deal were interpreted at personal attacks. And they sometimes drew savage responses that morphed into long-term grudges.
Just how savage were they? How about this: At a 1937 White House news conference, The New York Times’ Bob Post innocently asked about reports circulating around Washington that FDR planned to seek a third term in 1940. That had never happened before, and it clearly irked FDR who became visibly upset by the question.
“Oh, my God,” FDR barked. He handed Post an invisible dunce cup and snapped, “Go into corner over there, put on the dunce cap and stand with your back to the crowd.”
Many reporters laughed, although they privately said Roosevelt had gone too far. Post was deeply, and understandably, humiliated.
Things sank to a new low at the December 18, 1942, news conference. That was when the president stunned reporters by producing an Iron Cross medal, symbol of Germany’s Third Reich, passed it to a New York Daily News reporter and told him to forward it on to John O’Donnell at the paper. O’Donnell column’s, Roosevelt said, had earned the hated Nazi symbol by giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Yet the president’s personal feud with O’Donnell didn’t end there.
O’Donnell went on to cover the fighting in Europe. When he returned Stateside in 1945, he and another reporter had their White House credentials canceled because of their “isolationist, anti-British, anti-Russian” writing. A heated argument resulted, eventually becoming public when The Philadelphia Record reported on it.Things grew so nasty it eventually took a resignation threat from Roosevelt’s press secretary to get the men’s credentials returned. Even then, FDR did it grudgingly.
What makes the current press vs. president conflict unusual is the willingness of White House reporters to engage in partisan debate with the officeholder himself. President Trump’s behavior may be a more extreme expression of previous presidential frustrations, but America has never seen a press corps so openly at combat with the commander in chief.
ABOUT THE WRITER
J. Mark Powell is a historical novelist and former broadcast journalist. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.