Big Fires Everywhere: Democratic Governors Fight to Save Swing States
Republican-controlled state legislatures are engaged in a rampage against some of our most fundamental freedoms. They have used their majorities to enact total bans on abortion, discriminate against LGBT people, allow for the concealed carry of firearms without a permit, and make it more difficult to vote. And with the recent Supreme Court rulings delivered by an unelected cohort of right-wing zealots, the radical views of the few ostensibly stand to subvert the rights of every citizen. The disastrous decisions by the nation’s highest court have blurred the lines between church and state beyond recognition, made it even easier to gain access to deadly firearms, and effectively outlawed safe abortions in at least 13 states and counting.
GOP lawmakers have been yearning to enact the most destructively restrictive legislation imaginable, and are undoubtedly now even more emboldened to force their extreme agenda on the American people. In several key states, the last line of defense against these harmful proposals is a Democratic governor’s veto. But most of these vital state leaders are in tough races this year. The following is an assessment of proposals championed by GOP state legislatures in seven states (KS, KY, LA, MI, NC, PA, and WI) where a Democrat currently holds the governor’s mansion. If these human Blue Walls fall, this is the reality people living in their states will face.
Republicans control the Kansas Legislature (Senate 29-11, House of Reps. 86-39). Democratic Governor Laura Kelly is seeking a second term in what is expected to be a tight race, as no Democrat has won a statewide election in Kansas when their party controlled the White House in the past two decades. Kelly’s most likely Republican opponent is Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who has served as the state’s top lawyer since 2011.
In 2019, a Kansas Supreme Court ruling solidified that the state’s constitution guaranteed a right to abortion. Since then, the GOP controlled legislature has been crusading against that ruling, pursuing an amendment to reverse that decision. On August 2, Kansans will vote on whether to accept the amendment, or keep the state constitution as is.
Although the right to an abortion is currently protected in Kansas, that has not stopped the GOP from proposing restrictive legislation in the event voters decide in their favor. Earlier in the 2022 legislative session, Republican lawmakers in the House introduced one of the nation’s more restrictive abortion bills, HB 2746, which would prohibit all abortion procedures, regardless of gestational age, providing exceptions only for miscarriages, stillbirths, or ectopic pregnancies. The bill also prohibits any destruction of a fertilized embryo, including common fertility procedures like in vitro fertilization. Violations would constitute a level 1 felony, the highest level of classified crime, imposing a minimum of 12 years in prison. While the bill died in committee, it will almost certainly be resurrected if the August 2 amendment is successful.
For years, Kansas has ranked among the least restrictive states in terms of regulating guns. In 2021, the legislature passed HB 2058, which allows individuals 18-20 years old to obtain a permit to carry a concealed firearm in public and recognizes concealed carry permits issued in other states to non-residents. The legislature overrode Gov. Kelly’s veto, making the bill law. Another bill, introduced in February 2022, SB 482, prohibits the state government from contracting with any company unless it certifies in writing that it does not have a practice, policy, or directive that discriminates against any firearm merchant, dealer, or trade association.
Republicans passed SB 55 in March 2021, which bans transgender girls from participating on school sports teams. Gov. Kelly vetoed the bill and an override effort failed. A nearly identical bill, SB 160, passed both chambers in March 2022. Gov. Kelly once again vetoed the bill, prompting the legislature to attempt another unsuccessful override. Lawmakers in the House also introduced HB 2210, which makes it a level 8 felony for any physician to perform or prescribe gender-affirming medical care to an individual under the age of 18.
Republicans have introduced bills aimed at restricting the ability to vote, including SB 439, which requires voters who have moved to reregister with their new address and require registrants who have not voted in four years to respond to a written notice via mail in order to remain on the voter rolls. Also, SB 445 imposes requirements on absentee ballots and HB 2054 limits who can deliver a voter’s absentee ballot to only their family member or caregiver.
In May 2022, the Kansas legislature passed HB 2332, a far-reaching compilation of voting restrictions, including limits on executive authority to modify election laws, a residential address requirement for registered voters, and enhanced criminal penalties for election tampering. Gov. Kelly vetoed the bill, but it was overridden.
Critical Race Theory & Education
Introduced in February 2022, HB 2662 gives parents the right to be informed of their child’s school curriculum and object to subjects or texts assigned or available in the library that they believe would harm their child or contradict their beliefs and values. The bill requires each county school board to develop an online portal where all information associated with a school’s curriculum and academic programs is available for parents to review. The bill also allows educators to refuse to teach subjects or concepts that contradict with their religious beliefs.
Republicans control the Kentucky General Assembly (Senate 30-8, House of Reps. 75-25). Governor Andy Beshear (D) is not up for reelection until 2023, but GOP opponents are already throwing their hats into the ring. Among those challengers is Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who gained national notoriety for his egregious handling of Breonna Taylor’s murder. He has also opposed Gov. Beshear on everything from abortion to Covid-19 restrictions.
In March 2022, the Kentucky General Assembly passed HB 3, a sweeping, 72-page bill chock full of some of the nation's most restrictive abortion provisions. In addition to prohibiting abortion past 15 weeks, with no exception for rape or incest, the bill’s new requirements for abortion providers essentially make it impossible for the only two abortion clinics in the state to remain in operation. The bill requires physicians who prescribe abortion-inducing drugs to be registered with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and to be granted admitting privileges at a hospital within the county where they are prescribing the drugs. However, the state has not set up such registry and has no immediate plans to do so. The bill also adds an additional financial burden to abortion clinics by requiring them to cremate or inter fetal remains, as opposed to disposing them as medical waste.
Gov. Beshear vetoed the bill, but a successful override by the heavily Republican-controlled legislature solidified the bill as state law. Abortion providers in the state then filed suit in federal court, challenging the law’s constitutionality. A Trump-appointed federal district court judge has since issued a temporary injunction, prohibiting enforcement of the law until the matter is fully litigated.
Despite the brief legal victory for abortion rights in terms of HB 3, the overturning of Roe v. Wade has now activated one of the nation’s most restrictive bans in Kentucky. A 2019 trigger law restricting all abortions became immediately effective following the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The law permits abortion only in cases necessary to save the mother’s life and includes no exceptions for rape and incest. Abortion providers have since sued the state to block enforcement of the law and a circuit court judge has issued a temporary restraining order to that effect. Attorney General Cameron is now petitioning the state Supreme Court to resume enforcement of the law.
While lawmakers and judges quarrel over the future of reproductive rights in Kentucky, voters will have the opportunity to weigh in as well. Like in Kansas, there is a state constitutional amendment on the ballot in November that seeks to amend the Kentucky Bill of Rights to state that there is no constitutional right to an abortion.
Kentucky has allowed permitless carry of firearms in the state since 2019, and it ranks among the weakest states in the country in terms of gun safety laws. So it should be no surprise that Republicans in the House have introduced HB 122, a bill that would lower the legal age to carry a firearm without a permit from 21 to 18 years old.
Additionally, Republicans in the House passed HB 29, which prohibits state and local government and police from enforcing, or assisting with the enforcement of, any federal bans on firearms or restrictions on ammunition. Violations would constitute a criminal act in the state.
In March 2022, the General Assembly passed SB 83, which prohibits middle and high school students from participating in sports and athletic teams that do not align with the sex indicated on their original birth certificate. The new law, originally co-sponsored by six Republican men, misogynistically forbids biological males from participating on teams designated for girls but indicates no equivalent restrictions on teams for boys. Gov. Beshear’s veto was overridden by the Republican majority.
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In February 2022, a group of House Republicans introduced HB 487, which prohibits the discussion of bigotry, revisionist history, critical social justice, or any topic that is deemed to “disparage the fundamental American value of equity” in public schools. The bill also requires each public school to maintain a website that includes a detailed list of all the books, articles, and other educational resources used throughout each class curriculum. A similar bill proposed by Republicans, HB 14, restricts the inclusion of divisive topics pertaining to race and sex from any public-school curriculum or program.
Republicans control the Louisiana Legislature (Senate 27-12, House of Reps. 68-33). Governor John Bel Edwards (D) is term-limited and cannot run again in 2023. While he serves as a buffer against the extremism of the legislature, Republicans have kept pushing their agenda.
In March 2022, Rep. Danny McCormick (R) introduced HB 813, which criminalizes all abortions as murder and defines personhood as beginning at the moment of fertilization. Any person who assists with an abortion, including a physician or a concerned family member, could be charged with murder. The bill goes even further to declare enforcement regardless of whether Roe remains the law of the land and calls for the impeachment of any judge who attempts to block it. After pro-life Gov. Edwards issued a statement firmly against the bill, it was pulled from the floor.
The aggression against women’s reproductive rights did not end there, as the GOP-controlled legislature passed two restrictive abortion bills in June 2022. SB 388 prohibits the prescription of abortion-inducing drugs by out-of-state providers and SB 342 creates harsher criminal penalties for abortion providers in violation of state law. Gov. Edwards signed both bills, which include no exceptions for rape or incest.
Like Kentucky, Louisiana has a trigger law passed in 2006 that now bans abortions in all cases except to save the mother’s life. Following the ruling in Dobbs, the Center for Reproductive Rights immediately filed a suit in state court challenging the law, and a judge issued an injunction temporarily blocking its enforcement.
In March 2021, the Louisiana Legislature passed SB 118, which allows anyone over the age of 21 who is not prohibited from possessing a gun to carry a concealed firearm without a permit. Gov. Edwards vetoed the bill. An attempt to override the governor’s veto was unsuccessful. Republicans also passed HB 597, which prohibits the state from contracting with companies that discriminate against firearm entities. Gov. Edwards vetoed that bill as well.
In March 2022, Rep. Dodie Horton (R) introduced legislation similar to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida, which prohibits teachers from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools. In May 2022, the Louisiana legislature passed SB 44, titled the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act.” The new law prohibits transgender girls from participating on school sports teams and creates a private right of action for any biological female or school employee claiming harm suffered by violators of the law. The bill became law without Gov. Edwards’ signature, admitting a veto of the legislation would have been overridden.
During the 2021 legislative session, Republicans passed a series of bills changing the state’s elections process. Gov. Edwards vetoed all of these efforts to make it more difficult for Louisianians to vote and attempts to override those vetoes were unsuccessful. SB 63 would have required absentee ballots not sent by mail to be hand-delivered to an employee at the voter registrar’s office, as opposed to being dropped in a ballot box or other receptacle. SB 224 would have required a voter’s driver’s license number or social security number to be included on all mailed absentee ballots. And HB 704 would have allowed political parties and candidates for office to designate poll watchers on Election Day that have access to every polling location where their candidacy is on the ballot in order to challenge votes.
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Rep. Raymond Garofalo (R) introduced two bills in the 2022 legislative session that would restrict the teaching of specific cultural topics in public schools. HB 1014 prohibits public schools from promoting concepts that label a particular race, religion, or ethnicity as inferior or superior, denounce merit-based selection systems as inherently oppressive, and characterize the U.S. as systemically racist. HB 747 prohibits any textbook or teaching materials that highlight a particular race, sex, or ethnicity as being inherently inferior or superior, but require instruction on Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Republicans control the Michigan Legislature (Senate 22-16, House of Reps. 55-51). Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer is running for reelection as the incumbent. Among those competing in the Republican primary on August 2 include conservative media host Tudor Dixon and a host of others who continue to tout “big lie” conspiracies about the 2020 presidential election.
Michigan is one of several states that still has a decades-old anti-abortion law on the books from before the decision in Roe v. Wade. The law, codified in 1931, criminalizes the selling, administering, or otherwise making available any drug, substance, or service that would cause a woman to have an intentional miscarriage for any other reason but to save her own life. Such “zombie” laws, which have a ghoulish ability to awaken after decades, still exist in 13 states. Governor Whitmer has been working to abolish this provision, including by filing a suit in the Michigan Supreme Court challenging it on state constitutional grounds. Democrats have also attempted to repeal the dormant law, but those measures have gotten little traction under Republican control. Now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe, the validity of the law remains unclear.
In June 2022, House Republicans introduced HB 6270, which bans abortions, except for medical emergencies, attaching criminal penalties of up to 10 years in jail. The bill also restricts the distribution of abortion inducing medications in the state, criminalizing the act as a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
In March 2021, Rep. Lana Theis (R) introduced SB 218, which requires administrators at every public high school to establish a policy that bars transgender athletes from participating in school sports.
In this legislative session, Republicans have introduced nearly 200 election-related bills, most of which call for significant new barriers to voting. Although several have passed, Gov. Whitmer has vetoed them, noting their impact on the electorate, particularly communities of color.
SB 303 and SB 304 passed together through the legislature in October 2021 and were rejected by Gov. Whitmer. SB 303 would have required a photo ID to vote, and any signature shown on the ID would have to match the one in the voter file. SB 304 would have changed polling place protocol for registered electors whose names are not included on the voter roster and/or do not present a voter registration receipt. Gov. Whitmer vetoed SB 277, which would have imposed new record-keeping requirements on the Secretary of State, as well as county and city elections. In her veto, Gov. Whitmer condemned this proposal as overly burdensome and a misuse of resources. She also vetoed HB 4528, which aimed to provide training for political parties, organizations, and citizens seeking to object to votes on Election Day.
Nevertheless, work continues in the legislature on a host of other malign election initiatives. SB 273 expands regulations for absentee ballot drop boxes, requiring recorded video monitoring. SB 275 authorizes the recording of audit proceedings and live video of counting ballots. SB 287 prohibits prepaid postage on absentee ballot envelopes. SB 309 expands the rights of poll watchers and election challengers. SB 289 requires a majority vote in the legislature to accept election-related federal funding. And Sen. Ruth Johnson (R) has proposed a resolution, SR 25, urging Congress to reject the For The People Act, which would expand voting rights.
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Introduced in June 2021 by Rep. Andrew Beeler (R) and ten co-sponsors, HB 5097 prohibits the state school board from including any form of race or gender stereotyping in their academic curriculum. A similar bill, SB 460, prohibits school curricula from including content on critical race theory, the 1619 project, or other “anti-American and racist” concepts.
Republicans control the North Carolina General Assembly (Senate 28-22, House of Reps. 69-51). The governor is Democrat Roy Cooper, whose term is not up until 2024. Like in Michigan, Republicans are signaling what they will do if they get back that office.
In February 2021, five Republicans introduced a bill declaring that life begins at fertilization. HB 158 says that every human life, including a newly conceived embryo, is protected in the same way by the laws of the state and any termination or attempted termination of life is considered first degree murder or attempted murder. Republicans also introduced a fetal heartbeat bill, HB 31, which requires physicians to test for a fetal heartbeat before performing an abortion and prohibits abortion procedures after a fetal heartbeat is detected.
While recent efforts for harsher restrictions on abortion in North Carolina have failed, GOP lawmakers have renewed their commitment to pursue additional legislation now that Roe has been overturned. In response, Gov. Cooper signed an executive order following the Dobbs decision protecting the right to abortion access in the state. The order instructs state agencies to ensure reproductive health care is protected for state employees, refuses compliance with extradition orders levied against anyone receiving reproductive care services in the state, and prohibits state agents from cooperating with investigations in other states against individuals seeking legal health care services in North Carolina.
The General Assembly voted to repeal the state’s gun permitting system in August 2021. HB 398 would have completely eliminated the requirement of obtaining a permit before purchasing a gun in the state. However, Gov. Cooper vetoed the bill. House Republicans also introduced HB 197, which allows concealed carry of a firearm by anyone over the age of 18 without a permit. Bizarrely, the bill also excludes firearms from being considered a “deadly weapon.”
Introduced in the Senate by 9 Republican cosponsors, SB 514 prohibits physicians from offering gender-affirming medical care to transgender minors, including the prescription of puberty-blocking medications. Physicians in violation would have their medical licenses revoked and could be subject to civil damages by any party who claims to be aggrieved. The bill also grants parents the right to withhold consent for any treatment intended to influence their child’s perception of sex or to treat gender nonconformity, including mental health services. SB 515 permits any physician, health care organization, or insurance provider to refuse to perform or pay for any medical services that violate their religious, moral, or ethical principles.
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In September 2021, the General Assembly passed HB 324, prohibiting the promotion of 13 “divisive concepts” around race and sex in public schools. These concepts include teaching that the United States was founded on the oppression of a particular race or sex. The legislation also requires all public schools to make curriculum, reading lists, and other descriptive educational information publicly available on their website. Gov. Cooper vetoed the bill.
In the Pennsylvania General Assembly, Republicans control both chambers (Senate 28-20, House of Reps. 112-88). Governor Tom Wolf (D) is term-limited and Josh Shapiro, the Attorney General, is the Democratic nominee. Republicans have nominated State Senator Doug Mastriano, perhaps the most extreme MAGA candidate for high office in the country.
While Gov. Wolf has vowed to veto any anti-abortion legislation brought to his desk, that has not stopped Republicans from pushing their agenda. A fetal heartbeat bill, HB 904, was introduced in the House by Rep. Stephanie Borowicz (R) in March 2021 and more than half of the Republican delegation have signed on as cosponsors. The bill makes it illegal to perform any abortion procedure after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Appallingly, the bill does not allow for any exceptions in the event of rape, incest, or to save the life of the woman. There is an identical bill, SB 378, making its way through the Senate.
In November 2021, the General Assembly passed SB 565, which removes all license and permitting requirements for the open or concealed carry of a firearm by anyone who is allowed to possess a gun and eliminates restrictions on carrying a firearm on public and private property. Gov. Wolf vetoed the legislation, reasoning that it would only exacerbate the state’s gun violence crisis. Gov. Wolf also vetoed HB 979, which would have punished local municipalities for enacting any gun law stricter than what is in place at the state level and granted individuals a private right of action to sue local governments attempting to implement gun safety regulations in their communities. It would have also included a state version of the noxious federal gun industry immunity law, eliminating a local government’s right to bring legal action against an arms manufacturer, dealer, or trade group.
Introduced in April 2021 by Rep. Barbara Gleim (R), HB 972 bans transgender girls from playing on school sports teams. It also requires athletic teams sponsored by public educational institutions to classify those teams based on biological sex as male, female, or co-ed. The bill passed both chambers of the Republican controlled legislature, but was vetoed by Gov. Wolf. A nearly identical bill, SB1191, introduced in April 2022 and co-sponsored by the GOP nominee for Pennsylvania governor, Sen. Doug Mastriano, was passed in the Senate and is currently up for consideration in the House.
Nearly every Republican-controlled state legislature in the country has introduced bills making it more difficult to vote, and Pennsylvania is no exception. The House and Senate have attempted a handful of bills that chip away at that right. Even worse are bills intended to toss out ballots that are legally cast. SB 322, introduced in March 2021, amends the procedures for counting absentee and mail-in ballots, setting arbitrary requirements on when they must be received, when they may be counted, and who may be in the room during the count. Another bill, SB 819, introduced by Sen. Mastriano, removes the authority currently vested in the Secretary of the Commonwealth over the state’s election process and establishes an Election Commission made up of commissioners who require confirmation from the legislature.
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Introduced in May 2021 by Rep. Andrew Lewis (R), HB 1332 requires teachers to make lesson plans available online, including a course syllabus and links to every textbook intended for use in the class. Governor Wolf vetoed the bill, calling it a political maneuver disguised as transparency that would burden the school system with onerous and duplicative requirements. House Republicans also introduced HB 1532, misleadingly titled the “Teaching Racial and Universal Equality Act.” The bill prohibits the teaching, promoting, or funding of “sexist and racist” concepts by any public school, government entity, or public contractor. Among the concepts banned are the idea that the United States or the state is fundamentally racist or sexist.
Republicans control the Wisconsin Legislature (Senate 21-12, State Assembly 61-38). Governor Tony Evers (D), who is in his first term, is running for re-election in November. Among the Republican challengers vying to unseat Gov. Evers are former governor Scott Walker’s lieutenant governor and a host of other pro-gun, anti-abortion candidates.
Like Michigan, Wisconsin also has a 19th century abortion law still enshrined in their state code. The law prohibits physicians from performing abortions, except when it is necessary to save the mother’s life. Violations of this law constitute a felony punishable by up to six years in prison, in addition to hefty fines. Attempts by Democratic legislators to repeal the law have so far been unsuccessful. Now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe, that “zombie” law has been revived and presumed to be enforceable. Gov. Evers, along with Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, have filed suit in state court seeking to invalidate the antiquated law. Attorney General Kaul has also declared he will not prosecute anyone in violation.
Notwithstanding the legitimacy of the “zombie” law, Republicans in the legislature were successful in passing a slew of bills that would further restrict access to abortion. SB 593, passed in October 2021, prohibits abortions based solely on the unborn child’s race, sex, or diagnosed disability. Gov. Evers’ veto of the bill withstood an override attempt. SB 503, also passed in October 2021, directs the state’s Department of Health Services to decertify private healthcare providers that perform abortions from the Medical Assistance program, which provides health services to low-income residents. Gov. Evers vetoed that bill as well.
Senate Republicans also introduced SB 797, requiring physicians to show anyone seeking an abortion a video depicting an animation or illustration of the procedure at least 24 hours before it is performed. A similar bill, AB 823, requires schools that provide health education classes to incorporate a video of an animated abortion procedure into the curriculum. A fetal heartbeat bill, SB 923, prohibiting abortion as early as six weeks was also proposed by Republicans.
The GOP has been attempting to enact permitless concealed carry in Wisconsin since last year. Introduced by seven Republican senators and co-sponsored by 24 Republican representatives, SB 619 repeals the state’s license requirement for any individual lawfully permitted to possess a firearm and carry it in a concealed way in public. While that legislation has not yet been successful, Republicans were able to pass other bills that would weaken gun safety measures in the state. SB 495 allows individuals who are licensed to carry a concealed weapon to possess a firearm on school grounds, which have been traditionally designated as gun-free zones. Gov. Evers vetoed that bill, along with SB 570, which would have provided additional legal liability protections to firearm manufacturers, distributors, and trade associations.
Republicans in the state legislature have proposed a set of bills that would restrict transgender children from participating on sports teams that align with their gender identity. SB 196 would require all K-12 schools offering athletic programs to designate teams specifically as male, female, or co-ed, and restrict participation on those teams based on a student’s assigned sex at birth. SB 195 requires the same regulations within the University of Wisconsin system.
In the summer of 2021, Republicans passed a handful of bills that would make voting more difficult and elections more scrutinized. Among these restrictive proposals includes SB 203 and SB 204, which make significant modifications to the absentee ballot process; SB 205, which changes voting procedures for residents in nursing home facilities; and SB 210, which alters the standards for election day procedures, including reducing the amount of space between election officials and observers. Gov. Evers pointedly vetoed each proposed measure, criticizing the GOP-led efforts as blatant attacks on democracy.
Critical Race Theory & Education
In January 2022, Republicans were successful in passing AB 411, a bill restricting the teaching of concepts perceived to promote race or sex stereotyping in public and charter schools and requiring those schools to post their curriculum online for parents to review. The legislation also creates a private legal action for individuals to bring suit against a school or district for alleged violations. Gov. Evers vetoed the bill.
Republican state lawmakers, now reinvigorated by the extremist, uber-conservative Supreme Court, are playing a dangerous game of leapfrog to see who can propose the most restrictive culture war legislation. They will continue this crusade – and become more determined – if they gain more power. In some states, Democratic governors have been there to stop them. We can only hope that matters when voters go to the polls.