News & Analysis of Economic, Racial, Gender Justice and More

Democrats won major victories in elections on Tuesday, most notably in snagging majorities in both of Virginia’s state houses and possibly beating an incumbent Republican governor in Kentucky. Specifically in Virginia the Democratic Party now controls 21 seats in the State Senate to the Republicans’ 19, and in the House of Delegates the party breakdown is 54 Democrats to 43 Republicans. Among the victors is a woman named Ghazala Hashmi, who beat Republican Glen Sturtevant to become the first Muslim woman to ever be elected to a state elected seat in Virginia. Hashmi is a first generation Indian immigrant who campaigned on gun control among other things. Along with two other candidates, Joshua Cole and Dan Helmer, Hashmi also backed a Green New Deal, leading climate activists to declare the issue a winning one. Democrats now control the State Senate, the House of Delegates, and the Governor’s seat in Virginia for the first time in more than 25 years.

In Kentucky, Trump loyalist Matt Bevin is refusing to concede his governor’s seat after Democrat Andy Beshear who has been the state’s Attorney General, claimed a narrow victory. According to Associated Press, “With 100% of precincts reporting, Beshear … had a lead of 5,333 votes out of more than 1.4 million counted, or a margin of less than 0.4 percentage points.” Mr. Beshear on Tuesday night hoped Bevin would accept the outcome of the vote count. Both the Virginia and Kentucky elections are being seen as a test of the Trump effect.

In Mississippi, Republicans managed to hold on to the Governor’s seat with Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves beating Attorney General Jim Hood. Reeves’ margin of victory was slimmer than expected given the large margin by which Trump won that state. Trump had also rallied for Reeves. Another major election coming up is a run-off governor’s race in Louisiana taking place in the middle of the month. President Trump plans to rally support for the Republican candidate Eddie Rispone who faces Democrat John Bel Edwards. It is not clear if Trump’s support translates into victory or is more of a political liability these days.

A number of other smaller elections took place in states and cities around the country. In Arizona, voters in Tucson rejected a plan to make their city a “sanctuary city” for immigrants. In New Jersey voters chose to regulated AirBnB rentals more tightly. New Yorkers chose a ranked choice voting system for some types of elections. In the city of Lewiston, Maine, a Somali immigrant who has survived severe Islamophobia, went on to win a seat on the city council. Safiya Khalid is only 23 and may be the youngest person to sit on that city council. And in the state of Washington voters chose to bring back affirmative action hiring policies in some public laws. Specifically in Seattle, Washington, where the retail giant Amazon poured nearly $1.5 million into city council races, the socialist city council member Kshama Sawant appears to have narrowly lost her seat to a liberal Democrat, although final vote counts will not be available for days.

In news from the impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s attempt to extort Ukraine’s leader, House Democrats have announced that the first set of public hearings will take place next week starting on Wednesday. House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff made the announcement on Wednesday morning. Schiff had stepped out of a closed door hearing with State Department official David Hale. According to AP, “People familiar with the matter say the highest-ranking career diplomat in the foreign service, David Hale, plans to say that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other senior officials determined that publicly defending ousted Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch would hurt the effort to free up U.S. military assistance to Ukraine.”

House Committees have also requested testimony from White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney who appears to be one of the architects of Trump’s Ukraine scheme. Mulvaney is unlikely to turn up. Meanwhile transcripts of testimonies from former special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, and Trump loyalist and US Ambassador to EU Gordon Sondland, were released to the public this week and show an outsize influence of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani in setting US foreign policy goals on Ukraine. According to the Washington Post, “Giuliani was cited by name more than 200 times during Sondland’s and Volker’s depositions — more than any Trump White House or Cabinet official — and described as inexplicably powerful and difficult to control.”

In other news, a federal judge has thrown out a Trump rule that would have made it easier for healthcare workers to refuse to provide some medical services on religious or moral grounds. Dubbed the “conscience rule,” Judge Paul Engelmayer called the rule “arbitrary and capricious,” and wrote, “Wherever the outermost line where persuasion gives way to coercion lies, the threat to pull all HHS [Health and Human Services] funding here crosses it.”

Hundreds of inmates in Oklahoma were released from prison this week in what may be the single largest prisoner-release in US history. The mass release was the result of a state-approved measure that reclassified drug possession and other crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. Oklahoma has had the second highest rate of incarceration of all US states, and the highest rate for locking up women prisoners.

One suspect has been arrested in the killings of 9 members of a prominent Mormon family in northern Mexico. The family members killed included 6 children and 3 women and were dual US-Mexico citizens. The suspect arrested was apparently heavily armed and holding 2 hostages.

An armed man in southern Thailand has killed at least 15 people at a security checkpoint in what is considered the most violent act in years. Eight people were killed on the spot and 7 more died at the hospital. According to the New York Times, “Since an ethnic Malay Muslim insurgency renewed its campaign against the majority Buddhist state 15 years ago, more than 7,000 people in southern Thailand have been killed counting both sides of the divide. The assault on Tuesday claimed victims from both faiths, but no one has claimed responsibility.”

And finally in Somalia, hundreds of thousands of people have been affected by massive flooding, leading the United Nations to call for international help. Among those impacted are at least 200,000 children. Al Jazeera said, “heavy rains have affected 547,000 people in Somalia and displaced 370,000 people.” There is a very real fear of lives impacted by malnutrition and disease as authorities begin to assess the damage.

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