Tag Archives: ballot

Election Day from coast to coast: Key races in every state

 

Much more is at stake on Election Day than the White House. State by state, district by district, neighborhood by neighborhood, candidates and campaigners are making their last pitch for Congress, state legislatures, governor’s offices, ballot questions, judgeships, city councils and lots more.

A nationwide look at important, interesting and occasionally odd matters that go before voters today:

ALABAMA

Alabama voters must decide on 14 statewide constitutional amendments affecting everything from funding for state parks and the age of public officeholders to beer. Yes, beer. The Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board wants to require brewers to report the name, address, age and phone number from anyone who purchases beer at one of the state’s craft breweries for off-premises consumption.

ALASKA

Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is up for re-election, and the race has drawn not one but three foes: Democrat Ray Metcalfe, independent Margaret Stock, and Joe Miller, who upset Murkowski in the 2010 GOP primary only to then lose the general election in a historic write-in campaign. This time Miller is running as a Libertarian.

ARIZONA

Eight years after losing his bid for president, Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain is running for re-election. McCain has publicly struggled with whether to support GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, who called McCain a loser and criticized him for being captured during the Vietnam War. Marijuana is on the ballot; voters could legalize the drug for recreational use by adults. Minimum wage could rise to $12 an hour by 2020 under a separate ballot measure. Metro Phoenix Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the self-proclaimed toughest sheriff in America, is fighting for his job after a criminal indictment stemming from his immigration patrols.

ARKANSAS

Arkansas could become the first Southern state to legalize medical marijuana, although a similar proposal lost by less than 30,000 votes a year ago, out of 1.3 million votes cast. Republicans are expected to hold all four of Arkansas’ U.S. House seats. Democrats are fielding a candidate in only one district.

CALIFORNIA

Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer’s retirement creates a rare open seat, and for the first time in the modern era, no Republican will be on the ballot. Thanks to California’s unusual primary system, in which the two top finishers from the June primary advance to the general election, voters will decide between two Democrats _ state Attorney General Kamala Harris and U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez. The statewide ballot has a whopping 17 propositions, the most on a single ballot since March 2000. There’s a measure to legalize recreational marijuana and one requiring porn actors to wear condoms. Voters will weigh in twice on the death penalty. One measure would repeal capital punishment while another seeks to speed up the process.

COLORADO

Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet is running for re-election against a tea party-aligned opponent, conservative Darryl Glenn, who has struggled to raise funds after national party leaders refused to endorse his candidacy. In a hotly contested House race, Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman is facing a challenge from Democratic state Sen. Morgan Carroll in suburban Denver. The chief ballot questions would allow medical aid in dying and create a universal health care system within the state.

CONNECTICUT

The five Democrats who make up the state’s U.S. House delegation face re-election, including Rosa DeLauro, the longest serving member in the group who is seeking a 14th term. Dr. William Petit, whose wife and two daughters were murdered in a 2007 home invasion, is running as a Republican for the Legislature against state Rep. Betty Boukus, an 11-term Democrat who heads the powerful House bonding subcommittee.

DELAWARE

Voters will elect a new congressional representative and a new governor, while Republicans are hoping to end years of Democratic rule in the General Assembly by regaining control of the state Senate. Democratic U.S. Rep. John Carney Jr. is making a second run for governor against Republican state Sen. Colin Bonini. Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester and Republican Hans Reigle are vying for the state’s lone U.S. House seat.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Voters in the nation’s capital will decide whether they want their city to become the 51st state. The measure, backed by Mayor Muriel Bowser, should pass easily, but that’s probably as far as it goes. Congress would need to approve any such change and Republicans are unlikely to go along with it. With registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans by 12-1 in the city, statehood would tip the balance in the U.S. Senate with two more Democrats.

FLORIDA

Florida voters will decide whether Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio gets a second term. They’ll also pick at least eight new U.S. House members after districts were redrawn to comply with the state constitution, and will cast ballots on legalizing medical marijuana. Rubio faces Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, while ex-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist hopes to revive his political career _ now as a Democrat _ in a race against Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly in a St. Petersburg-area district.

GEORGIA

Democrat Jim Barksdale and Libertarian Allen Buckley are challenging Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who seeks a third term. Barksdale, who owns an Atlanta investment firm, gave $3.5 million toward his first political campaign, but has struggled to get momentum against the well-known Isakson. Georgia voters also will decide on a constitutional amendment allowing the state to take over low-performing schools.

HAWAII

Voters in Honolulu must make two separate choices after U.S. Rep. Mark Takai died in office: Someone to fill his seat for the remaining two months of his term, and someone to represent the district for the next two years. Voter confusion could lead to two different people winning the same seat, to serve two different terms. In heavily Democratic Hawaii, the only state Senate seat held by a Republican, Sam Slom, could flip. That would make Hawaii the first state in the nation to have a one-party legislative body since 1980.

IDAHO

Republicans will dominate at the top of the ticket, leaving an open seat on Idaho’s Supreme Court as the most competitive race. Twin Falls attorney Robyn Brody and Republican state Sen. Curt McKenzie are in a tight, nonpartisan race.

ILLINOIS

Illinois is home to one of the most closely watched U.S. Senate races in the country, with Republican incumbent Mark Kirk and Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth. Kirk, a first-term senator, is considered one of the more vulnerable Republicans, and polls have indeed shown Duckworth with a comfortable lead. Wealthy Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has spent record amounts on down-ballot races in hopes of tilting the Democrat-leaning Legislature toward the GOP so he can press his own policy agenda in second half of his term.

INDIANA

With Republican Gov. Mike Pence on the national ticket as Trump’s running mate, the governor’s office is up for grabs. And this is another state with a U.S. Senate race that will be crucial to determining party control. A former governor and U.S. senator, Democrat Evan Bayh, wants to return to the Senate and faces Republican U.S. Rep. Todd Young. Democrats are hoping to gain enough seats in the General Assembly to break the current Republican stranglehold.

IOWA

Republican Charles Grassley is seeking a seventh U.S. Senate term and trying to retain a seat his party has held since 1957. Democrats are optimistic that their candidate, Patty Judge, can break that winning streak, given her previous elections to statewide office as agriculture secretary and lieutenant governor. Two of Iowa’s four U.S. House races are expected to be especially competitive.

KANSAS

Democrats are seeking to cut into Republican majorities in both houses of the Legislature and oust more allies of term-limited GOP Gov. Sam Brownback. Conservatives and abortion opponents are seeking to remove four Kansas Supreme Court justices in hopes of giving Brownback a chance to remake the court ahead of major abortion and school funding rulings.

KENTUCKY

Voters will decide whether to send Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, who made an early run for the presidency, back to Washington for a second term. His Democratic opponent is Lexington Mayor Jim Gray. Voters also will determine whether the only legislative chamber in the South still controlled by Democrats remains so. Republicans need to pick up four seats to win a majority in the Kentucky House for the first time since 1920.

LOUISIANA

Two dozen _ that’s right, two dozen _ candidates are vying for an open seat in the U.S. Senate after incumbent David Vitter decided not to seek re-election. One of them is white supremacist David Duke, who is not among the top-tier candidates in polling. Because no candidate is likely to get the 50-percent-plus-one majority needed to win outright, the top vote-getters will head to a Dec. 10 runoff that could end up determining which party gains control of the U.S. Senate for the next two years.

MAINE

Mainers will decide whether to make marijuana legal for everyone over age 21. Maine is one of nine states considering ballot questions on pot legalization for recreational or medicinal use. Another initiative would require background checks before the sale or transfer of firearms between people who aren’t licensed dealers. And one would boost the hourly minimum wage from $7.50 to $12 by 2020.

MARYLAND

Voters will pick a replacement for the popular Barbara Mikulski, who is retiring after 30 years in the U.S. Senate. U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a seven-term Democrat, is running against Kathy Szeliga, minority whip in the state House of Delegates. She has sought to portray Van Hollen as an insider of dysfunctional Washington. Baltimore will choose a new mayor.

MASSACHUSETTS

Massachusetts voters will also vote on marijuana legalization, as well as a proposed expansion of charter schools. There are a handful of congressional contests, with Democratic U.S. Reps. Richard Neal, Niki Tsongas, Joe Kennedy, Stephen Lynch and William Keating all facing challengers.

MICHIGAN

It’s the Democrats’ last shot to disrupt the GOP’s agenda or Republicans will lead the Legislature all eight years of GOP Gov. Rick Snyder’s tenure. At least a dozen GOP-held House districts _ half with incumbents, half open due to term limits _ will determine which party secures the minimum 56 seats needed. Democrats have targeted two GOP-held U.S. House districts, while two spots on the Michigan Supreme Court represent the most significant statewide races.

MINNESOTA

A trio of competitive congressional races takes top billing in Minnesota. Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan will try to fend off a rematch challenge from Republican Stewart Mills to hang on to a northeastern Minnesota district that has been a liberal stronghold for decades. The result has been one of the most expensive House elections in the country. Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen will be defending his suburban Minneapolis seat, while the two parties jostle over another suburban district that opened with a top Republican’s retirement.

All 201 state House and Senate seats are on the ballot in an election to determine legislative majorities. Voters will also decide whether to hand off legislators’ power to set their own pay to an independent council.

MISSISSIPPI

All four of Mississippi’s U.S. House members _ three Republicans and one Democrat _ are up for re-election. All are likely to prevail. Four of the nine state Supreme Court seats will also be filled, as will four of 10 seats on the state Court of Appeals.

MISSOURI

Missouri voters will decide whether to send U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt to a second term, or choose Democratic challenger Jason Kander instead. It’s a race that will help decide party control of the Senate, and polls have indicated a toss-up for months. Meanwhile, Missouri’s contentious campaign for governor has been the nation’s most expensive. Republican newcomer Eric Greitens, a former Navy SEAL, has campaigned largely on his military record, while Attorney General Chris Koster has endorsements from the Missouri Farm Bureau and National Rifle Association, which typically support Republicans.

MONTANA

Popular Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock is up for a second term in the conservative-leaning state against software entrepreneur Greg Gianforte, who spent more than $5.6 million of his own money on his campaign. Incumbent U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke is seeking to hold off a determined challenge from Democrat Denise Juneau to maintain a two-decade Republican lock on Montana’s sole House seat. Pot is also on the ballot, with a measure that would loosen many of the restrictions imposed on the state’s medical marijuana program with a 2011 state law that limited marijuana providers to three patients each.

NEBRASKA

Nebraska voters have the opportunity to reinstate the death penalty and reverse last year’s decision by the Legislature. The citizen-led ballot measure has triggered millions in campaign spending. In one of the country’s most competitive congressional races, Republicans are looking to defeat first-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Brad Ashford, who promotes himself as a champion of bipartisanship. His opponent, Don Bacon, is a retired Air Force brigadier general who is running as a Washington outsider.

NEVADA

Nevada is home to one of the most expensive U.S. Senate races in the country, featuring lots of TV ads about the seat being vacated by Democratic leader Harry Reid. The race is between U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, a Republican, and Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto, a former Nevada attorney general trying to become the first Latina U.S. senator. Recreational marijuana is also on the ballot, raising the possibility of pot shops springing up near the Las Vegas Strip.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

New Hampshire is a presidential swing state, and home to a tight U.S. Senate contest between Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte and Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan. It’s one of a half-dozen races that could help determine which party controls the Senate. Two members of the U.S. House, Republican Chris Sununu and Democrat Colin Van Ostern, are vying to replace Hassan as governor.

NEW JERSEY

One of the nastiest U.S. House races in the country this year has pitted a Republican incumbent, Rep. Scott Garrett, against Democrat Josh Gottheimer. In a district that stretches from wealthy New York City suburbs to the state’s rural northwestern corner, the two candidates have called each other liars and engaged in a war of words and accusations to rival the presidential candidates. New Jersey voters will also decide on a proposed expansion of casino gambling.

NEW MEXICO

There’s little suspense at the top of the ticket, with all three U.S. House incumbents expected to be re-elected, so Republicans are focused on defending their narrow majority in the state House. The party took over in 2014, ending 60 years of Democratic control. The criminal conviction and resignation of former Secretary of State Dianna Duran in 2015, for embezzlement and money laundering related to her gambling addiction, has opened that office. The race is between Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver and Republican state lawmaker Nora Espinoza.

NEW YORK

Voters will decide whether the Republican Party maintains control of the state Senate or Democrats secure total control of state government. The outcome is likely to come down to a handful of competitive races on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley.

NORTH CAROLINA

As a focal point in battles over transgender rights and voter ID laws, North Carolina may be the state where social and ideological divisions are the most defining this election year. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory is in a tight race against Democrat Roy Cooper, the state’s attorney general. Former state Rep. Deborah Ross is presenting a strong challenge to incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr in one of the most closely watched Senate races.

NORTH DAKOTA

As this state’s energy- and agriculture-dependent economy falters, voters will choose a new governor to lead it through increasingly troubled financial times. But with Republican Doug Burgum a heavy favorite in this reliably red state, five ballot measures may be of most interest. Among the most-watched will be a measure that would make it legal to possess up to 3 ounces of marijuana for medical purposes.

OHIO

Early on, former Gov. Ted Strickland looked like one of the Democrats’ best bets to flip a U.S. Senate seat in his party’s favor. He’s running again Republican incumbent Sen. Rob Portman. Then outside groups spent more than $50 million to beat Strickland, who also lost key union endorsements and was up against a formidable voter outreach and turnout effort by Portman. Now the seat looks pretty safe for the GOP.

OKLAHOMA

Oklahoma voters will be watching a ballot issue that targets the state’s chronically low teacher salaries and one that would enshrine the death penalty in the state constitution, even as executions remain on hold after mistakes in two recent lethal injections.

OREGON

A Republican is threatening to win statewide office for the first time in many years, in a battle for secretary of state that is the hottest in Oregon. Democrat Brad Avakian is running ads saying his GOP rival is “extreme like Trump.” Republican Dennis Richardson has racked up endorsements from numerous newspapers and even from two prominent members of Avakian’s own party.

PENNSYLVANIA

Since 1948, no Democrat has won the White House without winning Pennsylvania. There’s also a hot U.S. Senate race between Democratic challenger Katie McGinty and Republican incumbent Pat Toomey, who is among the most vulnerable Republicans as the GOP struggles to retain its majority. Spending on that campaign is on track to hit $140 million.

RHODE ISLAND

Voters in Rhode Island, a state that has seen its share of political corruption, will decide whether to expand the authority of the state’s ethics commission. They’ll also be asked whether to allow a new casino.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Republican U.S. Sen. Tim Scott , the South’s first black senator since Reconstruction, is running for his first full term. He was appointed to the seat in 2013 following the resignation of Sen. Jim DeMint, then won election to the final two years of that term. Democrat Thomas Dixon, a community activist and pastor, is challenging him. Then there’s Democrat Dimitri Cherny, whose platform includes colonizing the moon and Mars in case the Earth becomes uninhabitable. He’s challenging Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, the ex-governor whom voters sent back to Congress in 2013.

SOUTH DAKOTA

The main suspense is likely to be the fate of 10 ballot questions on topics ranging from public campaign funding to payday loan interest rates.

TENNESSEE

Democrats are hoping to chip away at vast Republican majorities in the state Legislature by focusing on urban areas, while the GOP is seeking to stamp out the last vestiges of Democratic support in rural parts of the state.

TEXAS

Texas’ only competitive congressional race looks to be the rematch between Republican U.S. Rep. Will Hurd and former Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego in a district that sprawls from San Antonio to suburban El Paso, including 800-plus miles of U.S.-Mexico borderlands. Hurd unseated Gallego in 2014. The entire Texas House also is up for election, along with 16 of the state Senate’s 31 seats. Regardless of the outcomes, both chambers will remain Republican-controlled.

UTAH

The independent campaign of Evan McMullin has made Utah suddenly relevant in presidential politics. If the former CIA operative, a Mormon, can win the state and claim its six electoral votes, it could upend Donald Trump’s chances for the White House end five decades of reliably voting for the Republican nominee.

VERMONT

This state, considered among the most liberal in the country, may well elect a Republican governor. That race pits Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, against former state Transportation Secretary Sue Minter, a Democrat.

VIRGINIA

Barbara Comstock, a first term GOP congresswoman, is trying to fend off a serious challenge from Democrat LuAnn Bennett. Trump’s unpopularity in northern Virginia has loomed large in the race, with Bennett trying to tie Comstock to the presidential nominee. In the crowded race for mayor of Richmond, the front-runner is Joe Morrissey, a former state lawmaker who went to jail for having sex with his then-17-year-old receptionist, who is now his wife

WEST VIRGINIA

Republicans are hoping to ride on the coattails of an expected strong showing for Trump, who has promised to put coal miners back to work. In the governor’s race, Democrat Jim Justice, a billionaire coal and agriculture magnate, faces Bill Cole, the state Senate president. In the state auditor’s race, Democrat Mary Ann Claytor is vying to become the first African-American statewide officeholder in West Virginia history.

WASHINGTON

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee is seeking a second term. He faces Republican Bill Bryant, a former Seattle port commissioner who says Inslee has mismanaged the state’s mental health system and failed to fund K-12 education as mandated by the state Supreme Court. Six initiatives are on the statewide ballot, including raising the minimum wage to $13.50 an hour by 2020 and imposing a carbon emission tax on certain fossil fuels.

WISCONSIN

It’s 2010 all over again in Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race. This time, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson is the incumbent and former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold is the challenger. Johnson argues that having been fired once by voters, Feingold does not deserve to be sent back. But Feingold says Johnson has not led on the issues Wisconsin voters care about and should not be given a second term.

WYOMING

Republican Liz Cheney is heavily favored to win Wyoming’s only seat in the U.S. House, which was formerly held by her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney. Her opponent, Democrat Ryan Greene, works for an oilfield services company. Wyoming voters also will decide whether to allow the state to invest potentially billions more in the stock market, changing a state law that limits investments.

Wisconsin GOP leaders break their own law to suppress black vote

And the voter suppression continues.

Gov. Scott Walker’s administration vowed to an appeals court that it would remove obstacles making it difficult for citizens to vote, even if those citizens lacked the usual required documentation, such as birth certificates. To prove it, the administration enacted a rule requiring the Department of Motor Vehicles to mail a free photo ID within six business days to anyone who goes to a DMV office to set the registration process.

But with only a month left before a close presidential election, Walker’s transportation officials are nowhere near making good on that pledge, according to an independent investigation. U.S. District Judge James Peterson, who originated the decision leading to the administration’s new rule, has launched an aggressive investigation to learn why.

The Nation and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel both reported that the advocacy group Vote Riders sent voting-rights advocates to 10 area DMV offices, where they requested photo IDs.

Most of them were not given the correct information, and at least one was flatly turned down by a clerk who said birth certificates are required, even though signs on the premises stated otherwise. Only three out of the 10 offices abided by the rules.

This DMV chicanery isn’t the first time the state’s Republican leadership has been caught flouting election law to prevent citizens from registering. Shortly after Walker and the GOP took over state government, they began enacting a series of increasingly strict laws to keep suspected Democratic voters — blacks, Latinos, students, the elderly — away from the polls. Within months of Walker’s taking office, DMV clerks were told not to offer voter IDs for free, even though the law required them to do so.

Walker also began shutting down DMV offices and eliminating staff. He curtailed the operating hours of many DMVs, making it impossible for poor people to register without taking off work.

Walker said the cuts were needed to save money. But Republicans’ efforts to disenfranchise black voters have cost the state considerably. Walker’s onslaught of controversial voter-suppression laws has prompted one costly trial after another. The legal bills are likely to have drained millions of taxpayer dollars from state coffers.

Voting in Wisconsin is already hard. Only six other states — Indiana, Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi and Kansas — have restrictions as prohibitive as Wisconsin. Yet, as we examined in our Sept. 22 issue, there is no evidence that voter fraud is a problem here or anywhere else.

There’s ample evidence — including revealing statements from backers of ID laws — that the GOP’s voting “reform” campaign seeks to keep African Americans and other likely Democratic voters away from the polls.

We applaud Judge Peterson’s commitment to get to the bottom of this current scandal. We’re counting on him to ensure there are consequences for the Walker administration’s latest despicable attack on democracy.

Voting rights is a bipartisan issue, and we urge Republican readers to join with Democrats and tell officials to stop trying to win elections by cheating. Remind them that it’s possible to win by providing responsible government to all Wisconsin citizens, no matter what their skin color or political affiliation.

They should try it sometime.

Courts, commissioners should put voters 1st as they sort out election law

Federal courts in Wisconsin and four other states recently came to the same conclusion – that restrictive voting laws do nothing to improve elections, while making it difficult or even impossible for many eligible citizens to vote.

In one of two Wisconsin rulings, federal district judge James Peterson wrote: “The Wisconsin experience demonstrates that a preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement, which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections, particularly in minority communities. To put it bluntly, Wisconsin’s strict version of voter ID law is a cure worse than the disease.”

The Wisconsin attorney general is appealing both Wisconsin rulings on their merits. No one will be surprised if there are more changes before the November 8 election.

The ruling by Peterson, in One Wisconsin Institute v. Thomsen, makes it easier to obtain a free ID. It also resets the residency requirement for voting back to 10 days (from 28), eases restrictions on student voting and absentee voting, and allows clerks once again to hold early voting in the evening and on weekends.

A separate ruling by U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman allows citizens who have difficulty obtaining an ID with reasonable effort to meet the identification requirement by signing an affidavit – but this is the injunction that has been stayed.

The League of Women Voters hopes both rulings will be upheld.

In the meantime, we advise voters to be prepared and help others prepare to ensure that every eligible citizen will be able to vote and have their ballot counted this November.

Regardless of what happens in the courts, most people will need to show an acceptable photo ID. It could take some time to obtain an ID, so if you need one you should apply right away. You can find instructions on the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin website (lwvwi.org) or the Wisconsin Elections Commission’s “Bring It to the Ballot” website (bringitwisconsin.com).

If you need to register to vote, save time by doing so before the election. Contact your municipal clerk for information. You can also register at your polling place on Election Day.

If there are election law changes to be implemented, it will fall to the newly formed Wisconsin Elections Commission to draft procedures. Fortunately the WEC staff has experts experienced in helping voters and local officials navigate changing laws. However, any procedures the WEC staff develops will have to be approved by the Commission. We urge the six newly appointed commissioners to agree on a solution which puts the interests of voters ahead of those of the party leaders who appointed them.

Elections are not about the political parties or the interest groups or even the candidates. They are about the voters. On Election Day we are all equal, each citizen with one vote regardless of race, creed, gender or economic status. This is how we the people move our country forward and make it stronger for future generations.

We hope the courts and the elections commissioners will remember to put voters first as they work out the future of Wisconsin election law.

Andrea Kaminski is executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for informed and active participation in government. The league welcomes women and men across the state as members. With 18 local Leagues in Wisconsin and 800 affiliates across the county, the League is one of the nation’s most trusted grassroots organizations. 

South Dakota campaign drives for medical marijuana

New Approach South Dakota is collecting signatures for a proposal to make medical marijuana legal.

The initiative would appear on the 2016 ballot if supporters can collect enough signatures by Nov. 9.

If the proposal appears on the 2016 ballot and is approved by the voters, it would:

• Legalize the medical use of marijuana for patients with a medical practitioner’s certification and one of several listed conditions, including cancer, AIDS/HIV, seizure disorders, PTSD, and severe pain.

• Allow patients and their caregivers to possess up to 3 ounces of cannabis and grow six plants.

• Create a licensing system to provide patients with safe access to medical cannabis, allow businesses to process, dispense and test medical cannabis products.

• Prohibit public smoking and driving under the influence of marijuana.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley faces retention bid against Rock County Circuit Judge James Daley

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley will face Rock County Circuit Judge James Daley in a race that will determine whether the conservative majority on the state’s highest court will grow.

Bradley, the 20-year incumbent who is generally viewed as part of the liberal minority, launched her re-election campaign on Jan. 6 with a news conference at the Wausau County Courthouse. Daley, a decorated war veteran with 26 years’ experience on the court, is garnering support from conservatives.

Races for the state Supreme Court are officially nonpartisan, but they have broken down along party lines in recent years, with outside groups spending heavily to influence the conservative and liberal makeup of the court.Bradley, 64, said in a statement on Jan. 6 that she’s committed to maintaining a non-partisan court “that is beholden to no special interest group large or small.”

“The people of Wisconsin deserve a justice who is tough, fair, and independent, with a proven track record of standing up for them,” Bradley said. “That’s exactly the kind of justice I’ve been for two decades.”

Daley, 67, was appointed to the circuit court in 1989 by Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson. He previously served four years as Rock County district attorney and has nearly 40 years of military service, including three years in the Marine Corps, where he earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star while serving in Vietnam.

“I look forward to a campaign which highlights the differences between my judicial philosophy and my opponent’s,” Daley said in a statement.

Justices serve 10-year terms on the seven-member Supreme Court. Bradley was first elected in 1995 and re-elected in 2005.

The Supreme Court race is the only statewide contest on the April 7 spring election ballot. Two state appeals court judges along with 63 circuit court judges will be elected across the state, along with dozens of school board members and other local offices.

A state Senate seat vacated by Republican Glenn Grothman after he was elected to Congress also will be filled. The district includes most of Washington, eastern Fond du Lac, northern Ozaukee, western Sheboygan, and southern Calumet counties.

Three Republicans had filed to run for the seat by midday on Jan. 6. Two additional Republicans, a Democrat and one independent all registered to run but had yet to submit the required paperwork before the 5 p.m. deadline.

The primary, for races with more than two candidates, is on Feb. 17.

Spring elections traditionally attract few voters and favor incumbents. But in 2008, incumbent Louis Butler lost his seat on the bench after corporate interests spent heavily on ads portraying him as working “to put criminals on the street” and accusing him of securing the release of a child molester. An ethics complaint was filed against his right-wing opponent Michael Gableman for false and misleading advertising, but the partisan court deadlocked 3 to 3 on pursuing the charges, so they were dropped.

Gableman has been accused of other ethical violations during his tenure on the court.

Bradley is a liberal-leaning judge, frequently siding with Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson. Conservatives have a four-judge majority on the court.

The court’s private deliberations have gotten heated, most notably in 2011 when Justice David Prosser put his hands around Bradley’s neck during an argument over an opinion upholding Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s law effectively ending collective bargaining for public workers. Prosser said he was making a defensive move, but charges were brought against him alleging that he violated the judicial ethics code. Bradley and four other justices recused themselves from the case, leaving the court without a quorum to move forward.

12 Wisconsin communities to vote on Citizens United repeal

Wisconsin residents in 12 localities will vote on Nov. 4 on non-binding questions asking whether to amend the U.S. Constitution to make clear that a corporation is not a person and money is not speech.

The question is on the ballot in:

• Milwaukee County

• Dunn County

• Green Bay

• Appleton

• Fond du Lac

• Neenah

• Menasha

• Ripon

• Stoughton

• Oregon

• Wausau

• Park Ridge

Already a number of Wisconsin communities have endorsed a constitutional amendment and, if all the ballot questions are approved next Tuesday, the total number in Wisconsin will reach 54.

Nationwide, 16 state legislatures and nearly 600 municipalities have backed an amendment to reverse the Citizens United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010.

“The Supreme Court changed the meaning of the 1st Amendment, and we want it changed back,” Mary Laan, the Move To Amend leader in Milwaukee County, in a news release.

“People don’t feel like they’re being represented anymore,” said Rita Pachal, a voter in Wausau. “And, in fact, they’re not. It’s all about the money now.” 

Polls show widespread disapproval of Citizens United across party lines.

“We’re talking about billionaires turning this country into a Russian-style oligarchy, where there are two dozen billionaires who buy the whole political process,” said state Sen. Dale Schultz. “We are awash in money because of Citizens United, and it puts good people in both parties in a difficult situation.”

State of Alaska defends ban on gay marriage

Citizens, not the courts, should decide whether the definition of marriage includes same-sex couples, the state of Alaska said in court papers filed late last week.

The state is defending in federal court an amendment to Alaska’s constitution that bans gay marriage.

In May, five same-sex couples — four married outside of Alaska and one unmarried couple — sued to overturn the ban approved by voters in 1998, saying it violates their rights to due process and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution. 

In a filing on Sept. 26, attorneys for the state said citizens have a fundamental right to decide whether to make changes to important institutions through the democratic process.

“The State of Alaska does not dispute that the residents of individual states have the right to change their marriage laws. … However, the State urges that residents of Alaska possess the same fundamental right to retain the traditional definition of marriage. This basic premise of democratic government should not be usurped by the judiciary absent compelling circumstances which the State respectfully urges are not present in this case,” the filing states.

The attorneys said that allowing Alaska residents to decide whether to keep the traditional definition of marriage, of being between one man and one woman, “serves the important governmental interests of supporting the democratic form of government.”

The attorneys said there is no fundamental right to same-sex marriage under the due-process clause of the U.S. Constitution. The state also argues that Alaska laws prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriages from other states or countries do not violate the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.

The state said recent court decisions across the country in support of gay marriage don’t point to a foregone conclusion in this case but to intervention by some courts into a law-making process that should be reserved for the people.

Oral arguments in the case have been set for next month.

Since last summer and the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings on same-sex marriage, there have been more than 40 advances for marriage equality in the courts and only a few losses for equality advocates.

Proposed resolution would allow vote on Citizens United in Wisconsin

The recently introduced Senate Joint Resolution 68 proposes a November ballot referendum asking Wisconsin voters whether their elected leaders should support a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United.

Citizens United is the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that cleared the way for corporations to make unlimited contributions to campaigns and have unprecedented influence in U.S. elections. The Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group described it this way: “The ruling, based on the premises that corporations have the same constitutional rights as people and that money is equivalent to speech, opened the floodgates to the corrupting influence of big money in our democracy by granting corporations the power to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence our elections.”

The referendum, though not binding, has the support of dozens of grassroots groups in the state.

“Poll after poll has shown that overwhelming majorities, including Republicans, Democrats and Independents, all stand united in the concern that big money, wealthy donors are drowning out the voices of average Americans,” said Bruce Speight, WISPIRG director. “In a democracy, the size of your wallet shouldn’t determine the strength of your voice or your right to representation. Senators should pass this resolution and give the people of Wisconsin a say in the future of our democracy.”

A report released by the WISPIRG Foundation and Demos entitled “Billion Dollar Democracy,” found that total spending on the 2012 election cycle topped $5.2 billion, with more than $1 billion coming from SuperPACs and similar groups. Nearly 60 percent of the total SuperPAC funding came from 159 people making contributions of at least $1 million.

Wisconsin has seen a similar trend in its elections.

Spending by candidates and interest groups in elections for state and federal offices totaled $391.9 million in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles — more than triple the $123.7 million spent in the 2006 and 2008 election cycles, according to a review conducted by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. 

Since the 2010 ruling on Citizens United, 16 states and more than 500 municipalities have passed resolutions opposing the decision. In Wisconsin, 14 counties and municipalities have passed resolutions.

Transgender rights law for California schools takes effect

With a law that spells out the rights of transgender students in grades K-12 now in effect in California, school districts are reviewing locker room layouts, scheduling sensitivity training for coaches, assessing who will sleep where during overnight field trips and reconsidering senior portrait dress codes.

But administrators, counselors, teachers and school board members also are watching and waiting. The law, the nation’s first requiring public schools to let children use sex-segregated facilities and participate in the gender-specific activities of their choice, could end up suspended within days of its Jan. 1 launch if a referendum to repeal it qualifies for the November ballot.

To obtain a public vote on the law, passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, a coalition of conservative groups called Privacy for All Students has collected hundreds of thousands of signatures. Counties have until Jan. 8 to verify them through random spot-checking.

Depending on how many are found to be valid, the secretary of state will approve the referendum, determine that it failed or order a review of every signature.

The California School Boards Association is acting on the assumption that the law will stand and that, even if it does not, existing state and federal anti-discrimination laws, as well as year-old California Interscholastic Federation rules under which athletes may petition to play on a sports team that does not correspond with their biological sex, already compel schools to accommodate transgender students.

The association has advised schools to handle requests on a case-by-case basis and with parental input, if possible, but to be prepared to make private changing arrangements both for students.

“We did strike a balance between the sensitivities associated with gender identity, not only for those students who experience a change in their gender status but the students who would be in the same facilities, in the same classrooms and on the same teams,” General Counsel Keith Bray said.

Parent Christy Musser said she plans to take two of her three school age children out of public schools in Southern California.

Her oldest son will remain in the high school where he is a sophomore, but Musser said her eighth-grade daughter feels so uncomfortable about a transgender student coming into the restroom or locker room that she distributed flyers about the referendum at school.

“At this time in their lives, these kids are young, innocent and are just learning about themselves and their bodies, and they don’t need to worry about boys coming in the locker room and looking at them, or vice versa,” she said.

San Diego school board president, Kevin Beiser, said those fears are unfounded. In the absence of statewide guidance, schools have been dealing with this challenge “in a very delicate, thoughtful and compassionate manner for many years,” he said.

“This idea that schools will let a student walk into whatever bathroom they want is baloney,” said Beiser, who works as a high school math teacher in a neighboring district.

The possibility that the law could be overturned worries Ashton Lee, 16, a junior at Manteca High School in the San Joaquin Valley. Born a girl, Ashton told his parents and school administrators his sophomore year that he was transgender.

But he said school officials balked when he asked to be transferred from an all-girls aerobics class to a team sports class for boys. “They didn’t understand the seriousness of the issue I was dealing with,” he said. “They treated it like a normal thing, like I didn’t like the class or was bored with the teacher.”

Ashton lobbied for the law last spring and thinks his public activism helped persuade Manteca High to acknowledge his gender identity when school resumed in August. He now is allowed to use the boy’s restrooms and locker rooms and to wear the junior ROTC uniform for male cadets.

Similar adjustments have been made for five transgender classmates.

The law’s passage “showed them this is OK, this is going to be happening in a lot of other places,” he said. “If it gets taken away, I’m kind of worried my school will be like, `Well, we don’t have to do it anymore.”

California’s law comes amid legal challenges across the country involving transgender students filing actions for the right to use facilities that match their expressed identities.

In June, the director of Colorado’s civil rights board ruled in favor of a 6-year-old transgender girl who had been prevented from using the girl’s bathroom at school. The next month, the Arcadia Unified School District in California agreed to train its staff on transgender issues to settle a complaint brought by a student prevented from staying with other boys during a school-sponsored overnight science camp.

The San Francisco Unified School District has had a policy similar to the new law since 2003. The Los Angeles Unified School District – the state’s largest – has had one since 2005. This month, the school boards in Berkeley, Sacramento and Pacifica followed suit.

Namita Brown, an Oakland lawyer who represents school districts in Northern California, said educators are less concerned about installing shower screens or having enough private restroom stalls than figuring out a way “to tone the fervor in the parent community.”

“The bottom line is districts are in this impossible place where our primary job is to offer quality education and we are suddenly facing some upset constituents,” Brown said.

Transgender student barred from seeking homecoming king crown

A western Pennsylvania school board won’t let a transgender student seek the title of homecoming king.

The Richland School Board didn’t rule on the 17-year-old senior’s request earlier this week, but simply let stand an earlier decision by school administrators, which leaves the transgender student on the ballot for homecoming queen.

“No formal action is required due to the board agreeing with the previous decision of the administration,” board solicitor Timothy Leventry said, reading from a statement.

The student’s mother, Kathy Caron, said she was disappointed by the board’s action.

“My heart sunk a little,” Kasey Caron said.

Kasey’s driver’s license has been switched from female to male, but the school board attorney has previously said that Pennsylvania law requires Kasey to undergo surgery and have his birth certificate changed to legally be considered male.

Kathy Caron also read a statement asking the school board to consider three other issues: allowing Kasey to wear the same color cap and gown as male students at graduation; adding gender identity protections to the district’s anti-bullying policy; and creating a gay-straight alliance at the high school.

Board president Michael Bodolosky said the panel would take those issues under advisement.

“I expected it to be a little more of a discussion rather than flat out telling me they’re going to take their own time,” Kasey said. “I guess I’m going to have to wait.”

Earlier this year, in the Red Lion Area School District in central Pennsylvania, a transgender student asked to be identified by his male name at graduation. That student was allowed to wear the black graduation gown worn by boys, but school officials issued a diploma in the student’s female birth name and announced the female name at commencement because the diploma is a legal document.

Kathy Caron said friends and family will continue to support Kasey.

“I love my son, and my son is the most awesome,” she said. “I couldn’t ask for anything better.”