News Roundup: Pandemic relief in sight; Fox News has a body count; Ron DeSantis sucks up

In the news today: While the hoped-for “herd immunity” is still in doubt, vaccinations are still expected to make serious headway against the COVID-19 pandemic within the next few months. But will Fox News let it happen? A U.S. Capitol police officer beaten severely by insurrectionists is still pleading with Republican lawmakers to stop downplaying the attack that led to at least five deaths. And Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis dispenses with the free press for a bill signing meant to curry Trump’s favor, because that’s the nation we live in now.

Here’s some of what you may have missed:

A series of models all make the same prediction: COVID-19 cases will take a sharp dip by July

Biden admin officially reverses policy retaliating against so-called sanctuary cities

DeSantis turns signing of Florida voter suppression bill into a Fox News-exclusive partisan circus

Fox News is playing a deadly game with its viewers, and death is winning

‘Even as I write this it brings me to tears’: Police officer Michael Fanone pens letter to Congress

From the community:

By ousting Cheney, House Republicans are laying the groundwork for nullifying the 2024 election

Attention White Republicans: How Do I Know You’re a Bigot? Because You’re Racist to Me, a White Man

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How should living museums like Colonial Williamsburg depict Black history? It’s complicated

I grew up next to Colonial Williamsburg, which is an entire town preserved to resemble the 18th century. Started by Nelson Rockefeller in the 1930s, it was created to immerse people during the founding era of our nation’s history—at least, the sanitized version. Although half the population was Black, their experience was entirely ignored. Slave quarters simply didn’t exist, and the white historical actors weren’t even allowed to mention slavery. By the early 1990s, this had changed drastically. Black history was featured much more prominently, although some argued this wasn’t necessarily a good thing.

In 1994, the museum’s all-Black Department of African American Interpretation and Presentations decided to showcase a horrible but true fact of life during this era: the slave auction. Colonial Williamsburg would be the first living history museum to re-create this type of event. It was based on historical research, and featured a freed Black farmer who tried to buy his wife’s freedom.

The portrayal received national media attention, and a crowd of more than 2,000 people showed up—many of them protesters. On one hand, critics such as the local NAACP called it crass entertainment; on the other hand, white conservatives were furious that this town would no longer just be a “celebratory” portrayal of American history.

Depicting the realities of Black history, which include many cruel chapters, clearly never crossed Rockefeller’s mind when he originally built this town. Yet it is a reality that museums across the U.S. still struggle with—especially living museums. The question of what history to present and how to present it is a challenge, and one that has, until relatively recently, been long ignored.

The challenge of integrating other people’s stories into the narrative, especially when those stories can be quite unpleasant, has led to different responses by different historical sites. 

Depiction of the arrival of the first slave ship at Fort Monroe, Virginia

Some have decided to only showcase positive stories of African Americans and other minorities, while ignoring the atrocities. Other museums, like the Whitney Plantation in Louisiana, decided to focus on the atrocities. Still others simply try to avoid the controversy all together.

Fort Monroe, Virginia, had clearly chosen the path of avoidance. This decommissioned base featured plenty of Confederate history, such as Robert E. Lee’s quarters and Confederate president Jefferson Davis’ jail cell.

Yet besides a small historical marker, the Black history at this site was ignored, and that decision wasn’t at all insignificant: in 1619, this was the site where America’s first enslaved Africans arrived.

This history was downplayed for a long time; however, a new African American superintendent, Terry Brown, was determined to change this. He started programs featuring the site’s critical history, and pushed for a large, permanent memorial at Fort Monroe, which is now in the planning stages. He also led the drive for a new exhibit at the nearby Hampton History Museum featuring the 1619 Landing.

1619 Arrival exhibit at the Hampton History Museum

Brown ensured some positive aspects of Black history at Ft. Monroe were also featured: Sergeant William Harvey Carney was stationed there, who became the first Black Medal of Honor recipient. The infamous Harriet Tubman, a trained nurse, treated wounded and sick African American soldiers at this historic site. (Tubman was also the first American female commander, of any race, to lead a U.S. military operation.)

Thirty minutes away from Ft. Monroe is Colonial Williamsburg. This living museum was emblematic of most historical sites that tended to paint prominent historical figures as unblemished heroes while whitewashing the past. By the 1990s, African American and American Indian historians were hired to give lectures and display exhibits on Black and Native American history during this time period. This helped to give a more honest and accurate portrayal of the full American story.

Very recently, Colonial Williamsburg also created a committee to explore the area’s queer history, since there were documented cases of prominent colonists who might have lived outside the norm of the time. There’s even a performance about a researched case of a relationship between two female colonists, although it isn’t featured on the museum’s website.

It’s relatively easy to do re-enactments depicting positive or neutral aspects of the history of people of color. For example, visitors can talk with free Black business owners of the time period, like Edith Cumbo.

Edith Cumbo, portrayed by historical interpreter Emily James

Visitors can also learn about Black heroic figures, like James Armistead Lafayette, the Black spy for George Washington who discovered that British Army General Cornwallis was at nearby Yorktown. This led to the Battle of Yorktown, which literally ended the Revolutionary War. Or they could listen to a re-enactment featuring Gowan Pamphlet, a Black preacher who risked everything to found one of America’s oldest Black churches.

However, it becomes more problematic depicting the more painful—and common—stories of enslaved people. Even Lafayette’s heroic story is greatly complicated by the fact that he was still a slave.

Daryl Dupree and Raven Ford were two of the few African American visitors touring the area, and they told me they were not interested at all in seeing representations of slavery. Dupree said he had no intention of watching re-enactments involving enslaved people because he didn’t need to be reminded of the horrors. “Racism is still alive and well.” Ford, his companion, didn’t object to the programming, but said she didn’t believe any performance could properly interpret the cruelty of slavery in a 30-minute play.

One of the maintenance workers who overheard our conversation had a very strong opinion against portrayals of slavery, although he declined to be named for this story since he was contracted to work for Colonial Williamsburg. He said he feared the portrayal of slavery might traumatize Black children, and added that he didn’t think that was worth the cost of “educating white children about racism.” Although he opposed most slavery re-enactments, he also said he wanted to see re-enactments of what he called “fighting Blacks,” like Nat Turner, Charles Deslondes, and others who literally fought for their freedom.

Stephen Seals, the senior manager of Colonial Williamsburg’s African American history program, explained how he would respond to what seemed to be a common sentiment against slavery re-enactments by African Americans. “First, I understand. I used to feel exactly the same way. Yet the plight of our ancestors is not about suffering, it’s about survival. These performances humanize people like me, and that helps … so I don’t get shot!

Stephen Seals, senior manager of Colonial Williamsburg’s African American history program: “These stories are about our resiliency.”

“The legacy of slavery is racism, until we understand what happened, we can’t fix what is happening.”

Seals admits it can be hard to find Black actors willing to play roles that depict slavery. Some leave, but others, like him, view it as a duty. “Why would we expect others to care about our history if we don’t care about our own history? These stories are about our resiliency, and we show why enslaving people was so very wrong.”

These kinds of re-enactments, however, can take a heavy toll on the actors. As a result, living museums like Colonial Williamsburg pay for therapy for their interpreters. Although the actors say most of their experiences are positive and help clear up some ridiculous misperceptions, and at least one has found success with a comedic web series that highlights the ignorance of some of the guests, there are hostile and downright bigoted interactions they must sometimes deal with. Cheyney McKnight, a historical interpreter and founder of Not Your Momma’s History, recounts being in tears over rude guests.

Black actors depicting slaves will get uncomfortable questions, sometimes coming from children. They are asked if they are whipped, why they get punished, or how much they cost. Although one Black actor said when he asked a child why she wanted to know about the price of a slave, the answer wasn’t what he thought. “She wanted to know so she could tell her parents to buy my freedom.”

Wetherburn’s Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. In 1994, this was the site of the re-enactment of a slave auction. Real slave auctions were held here in the late 18th century. 

Seals said that as a Black kid, he didn’t get any of his own history. He grew up in a nearby area, but admitted he never visited Colonial Williamsburg until he was hired here. Perhaps not surprisingly, Black families make up a very small percentage of the visitors. Many see it as a museum for the American mythology of our history, but Seals said one of the reasons he came here was to try and change that by integrating Black history. The one takeaway, he told me, was that he wants people like the ones I interviewed to see these performances, which always includes a question and answer session afterward. ”I want them to leave feeling a strong sense of pride about their heritage, rather than shame.”  

Some of the plays tackling the topic of slavery are metaphorical, like Thomas Jefferson having a discussion with Jupiter, his enslaved servant, over a chess game in a performance called “White Goes First.” Others, however, are much more intense. One that Seals wrote, based on a researched true story, is called “What Holds the Future?” It dramatizes the very real story of 50 African Americans who were abandoned by the last British royal governor and then sold as property by the new Patriot government.

In addition to uncomfortable interactions with the public, the actors also have to learn about the awful social dynamics of portraying their characters, such as averting their eyes when their overseers enter a room. Seals said it’s not for everyone. “We’re taught to be detached from your character. Doing these roles really tests that hypothesis.”  

Chetter Galloway, a storyteller of African and African American stories

Chetter Galloway was at the controversial slave auction back in 1994. He said the storytelling at Colonial Williamsburg helped inspire him to become a professional storyteller. He has worked as an historical interpreter at living museums such as nearby Carter’s Grove Plantation, which has had its own controversy when they rebuilt 18th-century slave quarters in the 1990s. Galloway said he also understands the uncomfortable nature of portraying enslaved individuals, but supports it if they rise to the challenge of being accurate and respectful. “The lives about the people who were enslaved are important to tell because their voices will be silenced and left unheard if no one shares their stories.”

However, people like Seals and Galloway still have their work cut out for them in changing minds. A longtime African American friend of mine, who declines to be named, still refuses to go to Colonial Williamsburg or the other nearby sites of Jamestown and Yorktown. Even after reading the passionate arguments for historical re-enactment and watching a play online, she remained unconvinced. “There is no one arguing you need to re-enact the Holocaust” she told me. She noted that the crowd in the video she watched seemed to primarily be white, bringing up the question of who these reenactments are really for.

Yet depicting slavery is just one challenge. Another point of contention among many African Americans is the fact that so much emphasis is put on slavery. Most people think of Black history as being composed of a few major events, like slavery and the 1960s civil rights movement. However, African American history is a rich tapestry that has influenced every major event in our nation’s history and every facet of American culture.

The Harlem Renaissance marked the first time that mainstream publishers and critics turned their attention seriously to African American literature, music, art, and politics. There are beautiful exhibits at several museums, like this one at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, but unfortunately, they are normally showcased only during Black History month in February.

Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Greenwood District, known as Black Wall Street

There were great historic successes, such as Black Wall Street in the early 20th century, which featured an affluent Black community with hundreds of businesses. It was destroyed by a two-day race riot from an angry white mob. It has a small memorial in Tulsa, and many people weren’t even aware that this community existed until HBO’s Watchmen series debuted in 2019.

There are multiple Black heroes in every single American war that most people haven’t heard of, including Colonel Tye, Abraham Galloway, Henry Johnson, Doris Miller, and my hometown Medal of Honor hero, Alwyn Cashe, just to name a few. Most people couldn’t name several prominent African Americans, such as the cardiologist who performed the first successful open heart surgery (Daniel Hale Williams); or the first female millionaire of any race in the U.S. (Madame C.J. Walker); or Robert Smalls, who is just awesome:

How is this not a movie yet?  There’s a movement to do just that.

One teacher, Nikki Clarke, said after her elementary students tell her what they know about Black history, which is usually slavery and civil rights, she passes out potato chips (invented by renowned chef George Crum) and lets them play with super-soakers (invented by NASA engineer Lonnie G. Johnson) so they can associate Black history with things they love.

One of the big issues discussed with Seals is the fact that Black history is treated as just that: Black history. For centuries, history has been Eurocentric, and when movements started to include other kinds of histories, they were pigeonholed as separate. There will be a month, or a chapter in a book, or a separate event that showcases “other” history. Yet in reality, all history is integrated. The African American spy who ended the Revolutionary War is an American hero story, not just a Black hero story. There might hopefully be a time soon when historical events are treated that way.

Museums have to do a lot of soul-searching. One positive example comes from a different kind of museum: an art museum. The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut, has 60,000 square feet of art; almost all of it was composed of stodgy paintings or sculptures of old, white Europeans.

Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut

The local community, now largely people of color, weren’t visiting. William R. Peelle Jr., chairman of the board of trustees, did something pretty radical. He made it his mission to connect with the local, minority residents, and he did this by replacing the entire board of the museum to be more reflective of the local community. He decided he couldn’t change the museum to connect with the locals without people of color on the board.

He said that decision came after a lot of his own “soul-searching”:

What do we need to do to be a better board? That’s not a negative. It’s an opportunity to look at governance and what we should be in our role in Hartford. Museums have to begin to have that discussion.

I wish all museums would. People want to go to places that represent them, and museums can’t connect visitors to the past if they ignore their past. Putting people of color on museum boards is critical and very beneficial.

In Richmond, Virginia, I used to visit the Museum of the Confederacy. This museum celebrated the Confederate States, which shouldn’t have been too surprising as Richmond used to be the Confederate capitol. That museum went through an entire transformation thanks to its first Black and first female CEO, Christy Coleman, who was named by Time magazine one of “31 People Changing the South.”

Christy Coleman, executive director of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation and former president and CEO of the American Civil War Center

She started at Colonial Williamsburg as an historical interpreter when she was only 17 years old, portraying a young slave named Rebecca. After completing her graduate degree in museum studies at Hampton University, she returned to Colonial Williamsburg as director for Interpretive Programs Development. She was later named CEO of the American Civil War Center in 2008 after six years as CEO of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. 

At the American Civil War Center, Coleman integrated the exhibits to tell a more complete story of the Civil War from all sides: Union and Confederate, soldiers and civilians, enslaved and free African Americans. It’s a more comprehensive experience, and one that has proven very popular with the local community.  

She admitted to being exasperated at times at people who wouldn’t acknowledge historical fact. “Coming into this job, I don’t think I fully appreciated just how much heritage memory had usurped forensic history. I mean the records are right there!” Although she said she makes herself stop and take a less exasperated approach in order to try and “help people where they are.”

Coleman was so successful she was asked to take over the Jamestown/Yorktown Foundation, which is one of the most prominent historical foundations in Virginia. She oversees both the Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. Coleman has promised to do for these museums what she did in Richmond, and tell a more complete story about our nation’s early beginnings.

Many of America’s stories are painful and difficult, but so is our history. Unfortunately, there are those who don’t want these stories to be told. Many Republican lawmakers are determined to keep whitewashing Black history. In fact, conservative southern states have enacted legislation that punish schools that focus on slavery and the legacy of white supremacism, such as presented in the “1619 Project,” claiming efforts to teach that history is “racially divisive.”

Trump responded to the 1619 Project by appointing an 18-member commission of conservatives—none of whom were historians—to present a fictional, alternative history that painted the Founding Fathers as heroes for setting “the stage for abolition.” Their report also criticized current efforts to address racial discrimination because that somehow “hurts” equality and our social fabric.

This kind of willful ignorance is why a Republican legislator fiercely defended the Three-Fifths Compromise using a completely inaccurate alternate history that it was really about ending slavery. It’s also why this legislator in Louisiana wondered out loud why schools can’t teach the “good” of slavery: 

The low point of session undoubtedly came today when Rep. Ray Garofalo said Louisiana schools need to teach the good of slavery. #Lalege

— Louisiana Democrats (@LaDemos) April 27, 2021

Martha Huckabay, a Republican official in New Orleans who served as a Trump delegate, responded to this by doubling-down on the fiction of “good slavery” and fiercely defended the institution by falsely declaring “many of the slaves loved their masters.” This false mindset is not uncommon, and proves the need for another difficult and necessary discussion on what to do with education beyond museums. We must integrate the resilient histories of minority populations into America’s school curriculums.

Most public schools aren’t even mandated to teach Native American history at all. Japanese internment camps aren’t covered in history classes. Slavery is taught, but there are textbooks being used right now that encourage children to come up with “positive” aspects of slavery. A Colorado school board taken over by conservatives wants to focus on “patriotism” while curtailing teaching about the civil rights movement because it condones ”civil disorder.” This is why school board elections are so important. 

It is possible to learn to appreciate the American experiment without the bizarre hero-worship of our founders, just as it’s possible to learn about America’s mistakes without succumbing to cynicism. Giving the complete story isn’t just good history, and it isn’t just a popular idea, it also gives people a foundation to forge a shared historical inheritance that can inspire civic responsibility. To put it another way: it makes for a better society.

I don’t pretend to know the answer of how to best engage with some of these difficult narratives, but I do know they deserve to be told; and making that effort would be better for everyone. Having minority representation on museum boards is a good step toward doing that, and better integration of their history will bring in much-needed new visitors from communities whose heritage we have ignored for far too long.

I know these changes are painful, but the hard work and emotional labor of telling these stories are already being done by people of color. The very least the rest of us could do is listen.

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This Week in Statehouse Action: May Sours edition

You know the old saw: April showers bring … well, pretty things the next month.

Except that here in the world of statehouse action, GOP-controlled legislatures keep making things pretty ugly.

But yay, it’s May! … which means that a lot of state legislatures will be wrapping their business this month or next.

Here’s what one of them in particular is getting up to before heading home.

In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has just signed sweeping new voter suppression legislation into law.

Campaign Action

Anyway, this new law is a doozy.

  • The measure imposes several new voting restrictions targeting mail voting in particular, bringing the Sunshine State in line with many others where Republicans are enacting new measures making voting more difficult after the GOP’s 2020 election losses.
    • The law restricts absentee ballot drop boxes to only being available at early voting sites during early voting hours (instead of 24/7 availability, which is kind of the whole point of having a drop box) and requires that they be staffed by election office employees.
    • It also restricts who may turn in someone else’s mail ballot on their behalf with very limited exceptions, such as for family members.
      • Trusted friends or neighbors will not be able to return someone else’s ballot, which will voting more difficult for people in areas that lack reliable postal service and access to transportation.
    • The law also eliminates a policy that allows voters to make a single request to receive an absentee ballot for all upcoming elections held within the subsequent two federal election cycles.
      • Fun fact! The policy was put in place by Republican lawmakers.
      • Instead, voters will now have to make a new request each election cycle.
    • Additionally, the law echoes one of the more obviously outrageous provisions in the Georgia voter suppression law that effectively criminalizes giving food or water to voters waiting in line to cast ballots.
      • This—combined with the provisions making vote-by-mail more difficult and directing more voter traffic to early voting locations—will increase the odds that some voters in hours-long lines just give up, go home, and not vote.
    • Finally, Florida Republicans included another power-grabbing provision in the bill reminiscent of its Georgia counterpart: The (currently and frequently Republican) governor will have the ability to appoint (Republican) replacements when local elected offices become vacant.
      • This change might seem wonky and unimportant, but it’s actually going to have a huge impact on politics in the state, as well as on local governance itself.
        • For decades now, Florida has required that lower-level officials resign their seats when they run for higher office and be replaced in special elections (rather than via appointment).
        • So now, Democrats in those local government positions—even in heavily blue constituencies—seeking an electoral promotion will essentially automatically forfeit their existing position to a GOP appointee (until at least the next election).

Speaking of sunny places where Republicans are engaging in extreme “election security” theater, let’s talk about Arizona, where Republicans in the legislature still think that Joe Biden’s narrow victory in the state somehow means that the election was “stolen.”

  • After the 2020 election, GOP-controlled Arizona Senate demanded the Maricopa County (which Biden won by more than 2 points) board of supervisors submit last fall’s ballots and voting machines to a forensic audit.
    • Republicans sent subpoenas to the county seeking access to 
      • 2.1 million ballots,
      • 385 voting machines, and
      • sensitive information including voting machine passwords and personal details on everyone who cast a ballot.
    • The Maricopa supervisors weren’t just going to hand all of that delicate material and information over, so they made a good-faith attempt to settle the matter by hiring two federally approved firms to conduct a forensic audit of the voting machines
      • … which, by the by, concluded that they’d performed impeccably.
    • But Arizona Republicans wanted another review, as though this would somehow produce a different result.
      • … and it might have, had the first firm selected for the task—Allied Security Operations Group—gotten the gig.

(And it might still, but we’ll get to that.)

So the Arizona Senate tried again.


  • While the GOP-controlled Senate promised that this recount of 2020 ballots would be “transparent,” Cyber Ninjas fought to keep its procedures secret, though it’s finally been forced to publish some documents describing its practices. 

So with all this very cool and very normal groundwork laid for this totally unnecessary and completely performative “election audit,” everything’s going fine, right?

oh extremely not

  • (Democratic) Secretary of State Katie Hobbs asked (Republican) Attorney General Mark Brnovich to investigate the Senate’s handling of the audit, noting
    • a lack of transparency regarding ballot security and
    • the fact that some of the legislature’s far-right members had apparent unfettered access to the coliseum it’s being conducted in while members of the press and other impartial election observers were being denied access.

(Brnovich isn’t doing squat, by the by.)

  • This “audit” is clearly an unaccountable shitshow, and it’s definitely not on track to be completed by the May 14 deadline by which auditors and all elections materials are contractually obliged to vacate the facility.
    • Yes, that involves moving all 2.1 million ballots and 385 voting machines somewhere else.
      • There’s no word yet on a possible secondary location for this farce.
  • Anyway, after the secretary of state and the Arizona Democratic Party filed a lawsuit against the audit for barring independent observers, the matter was settled with an agreement from the Senate and Cyber Ninjas to allow those observers and the press to access the audit.
    • And what these observers have observed points to the whole thing being … well, an unaccountable shitshow.
      • Observers from the secretary of state’s office have witnessed laptops sitting open, unlocked, and unmonitored and ballots left just sitting around on tables, totally unattended.
      • Procedures are reportedly shifting “constantly,” and workers are using different rules to count ballots.
        • Some workers are looking for watermarks that don’t exist.
        • Others are examining ballots’ weight, thickness, and folds because … seriously your guess is as good as mine.
      • And the workers themselves don’t appear to meet any standard of “unbiased,” since Republican former state Rep. Anthony Kern was spotted among the ballot counters.


  • The former GOP official acting as a “spokesman” for the audit has admitted that most of the volunteer observers recruited by the folks running the show are Republicans.
  • And now that actual independent observers are eyeballing the situation, Cyber Ninjas is requiring all of them to sign non-disclosure agreements (which, incidentally, fail to explain what information is considered confidential).
    • … which kind obviates the whole point of having independent observers

And now Biden’s Justice Department may be stepping in.

  • This week, the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division expressed its concerns in a letter that
    • Ballots, voting machines, and other election materials are no longer in the custody of actual election officials—a possible violation of federal law—and are “not being adequately safeguarded by contractors,” and
    • Plans for door-to-door canvassing intended to “confirm if valid voters actually lived” at an address and plans to ask voters about their voting history may be directed at voters of color and raise concerns of the “significant intimidating effect” such an investigation.

I mean, that’s pretty fair. If someone from a company called “Cyber Ninjas”—which I would assume was made up if I weren’t actually writing about this—showed up at my door and started demanding to know how long I’ve lived there and how I voted in past elections, I’d be legit kinda freaked out.

  • While this farce of an audit is incredibly troubling all on its own, the bigger fear is that imitations of this destructive circus pops up in other GOP-controlled states that Biden won, like New Hampshire and Georgia.

Maybe this comes to pass, maybe not, but remember: Republicans’ goals here are

  • To continue spoon-feeding lies about a “stolen election” to their Trump-loving base and
  • To create chaos and uncertainty around elections won by Democrats.

… which this shitshow in Maricopa County seems to be pulling off rather effectively tbh

Okay, time to pivot to some real data, not made-up tallies from a GOP-controlled company that sounds like it was named by a third grader.

  • Odd-numbered years are state-level election years in Virginia, and while most eyes are on the gubernatorial contest, I only moon over legislative races.

Lucky for me that all 100 House of Delegates seats are on the ballot this fall.

And maybe lucky for Democrats, too …?

Well, judge for yourself.

  • As an erudite consumer of this missive, you no doubt recall that Virginia Democrats won majority control of Virginia’s legislature for the first time in a quarter century in 2019.
  • In a … normal? world, Virginia would have already redrawn its legislative maps this year, and lawmakers would be running in those new districts this fall.
    • But nothing’s been normal for a long time, including the Census.
      • The delay in the release of 2020 Census data means that Virginia’s House candidates will be running on the same map in 2021 that was in place in 2019.
  • So my Daily Kos Elections colleagues went ahead and calculated Joe Biden’s 2020 performance in each of those 100 House seats.
    • Though we already know that
      • Biden tended to outperform down-ballot Democrats last year, and
      • Off-off-year turnout is always lower than presidential year turnout,
        • … these numbers are still useful indicators of a district’s potential performance.
        • And obviously they shouldn’t be taken as definitive benchmarks.

But the numbers are in, and they indicate some pretty positive news for Virginia Dems.

  • Under the current House map, Biden carried 60 House districts to Trump’s 40.
  • Current partisan makeup of the House is 55 Democrats/45 Republicans.
    • Every Democrat represents a seat Biden carried, while
    • Five Republicans sit in Biden seats.
  • So while Democrats are definitely playing defense to keep their majority this year (off-off-year turnout + Democrats in charge in D.C. and Richmond), they do have some pickup opportunities.

These races will be some of the country’s most-watched this year, but we’re not even past the primaries (June 8) yet, so this election is still very much taking shape.

It’s far too early to begin to speculate about outcomes, but don’t worry—that will come.

… I don’t think you were really worried that I wouldn’t talk more about Virginia this year

  • Anyway, you can dig into this and all of Daily Kos Elections’ district-level data—state legislative and U.S. House—right here.

Welp, that’s a wrap for this week. I appreciate you hanging in!

Heck, I just appreciate you.

Thanks for being here.

Thanks for … being.

You’re important.

We need you.

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Right-wing fraudsters Wohl and Burkman in big trouble as their racist emails surface

The seemingly never-ending saga of Republican fraudsters Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman continues. These two losers have not stopped hitting new lows since coming on the scene as two-bit versions of already two-bit scam artists like Donald Trump and his “garbage can orbit.” They continue to make news because even though their actions would confine most other Americans to sentence after sentence in prison, they remain relatively free to continue to defraud the American public. Their latest alleged crime stems from racist robocalls they sent to Black voters in numerous states, that spread false voting information in a clear attempt to suppress Black votes. The racist robocalls were easily traceable to Burkman and Wohl as the two men had their full names added to the end of the calls.

In October, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced charges against the 22-year-old Wohl and 54-year-old Burkman. This was followed by charges in Ohio, and a civil rights lawsuit in New York for the pair of scumbags. Guess what? New York Attorney General Letitia James added a new piece of evidence in the case against Wohl and Burkman on Thursday. According to Forbes, a series of graphics and emails exchanged between the two men make it very clear that the robocall scheme was exactly as racist as one might imagine it was. With Burkman writing, “We should send it to black neighborhoods,” and excited reactions from Wohl to “getting angry black call backs,” as proof that their idea was working well, it isn’t looking good for these two.

In Attorney General James’ motion, filed on Thursday in the U.S. Southern District Court of New York, the AG says that while “discovery is in a very preliminary stage,” there is lots of evidence for the court to consider and any attempts by Burkman and Wohl’s attorneys to expedite the process does a disservice to the charges against them that include the “violation of several federal and New York laws.” 

The robocalls, targeting Black communities, falsely claimed that voting by mail would provide police, debt collectors, and the CDC with personal information, allowing those agencies to “track down old warrants,” “collect outstanding debts,” and “track people for mandatory vaccines.” The information contained in the calls was a complete fabrication, and this voter suppression tactic was so starkly racist in its execution it makes your head spin. According to the motion, more than 85,000 robocalls went out on August 26, 2020. Of those 85,000, 5,500 of those calls went out to the New York area. 

Wohl and Burkman demonstrated a clear racial animus in carrying out their robocall campaign. For example, on August 25, 2020, the day before the robocalls were placed, Wohl emailed Burkman attaching the audio file for the call and stating that “[w]e should send it to black neighborhoods…” The next day, after the calls were sent and received by thousands of  voters, Burkman emailed to congratulate Wohl, stating that “i love these robo calls…getting angry black call backs…win or lose…the black robo was a great jw idea.”

The “jw” in that last tweet stands for little jacob wohl.

Attorney General James’ motion also points out that the very script fo the robocall is filled with Wohl and Burkman’s racism. The voice of the calls is a woman who identifies herself as Tamika Taylor.

“Tamika Taylor” bears resemblance to Tamika Palmer, the mother of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman killed by police while sleeping in her home in Louisville,  Kentucky in 2020. When Breonna Taylor’s death became an important part of the movement for Black lives and racial justice, the media often misidentified Tamika Palmer as Tamika Taylor. 

The dumbtastic duo is facing multiple lawsuits and charges in no less than three states. A judge has already ruled against the two’s attempts to separate the trials, saying that it would not violate their Fifth Amendment rights to have concurrent trials taking place for the same actions. In recent weeks, Wohl and Burkman’s attorneys sounded as confused and unorganized as their clients, with implications that they would like Donald Trump and Jeffrey Epstein’s buddy Alan Dershowitz to testify for some nebulous constitutional reason—with no evidence that Alan Dershowitz was aware of this. 

One of the serious charges Wohl and Burkman face is a violation of Section 2 of the Ku Klux Klan Act, of “two or more persons [from] conspir[ing] to prevent by force, intimidation, or threat” any “citizen who is lawfully entitled to vote, from  giving his support or advocacy in a legal manner, toward or in favor of the election of any lawfully qualified person as an elector for President or Vice President, or as a Member of Congress of the United States.” It’s an important reminder that the laws that Burkman and Wohl broke are laws put into place not only to protect our democracy from general voter fraud, but to protect our country against white supremacist KKK terrorists trying to turn our country into a white ethno-fascist state.

You can listen to the robocall sent to voters in Detroit below.

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Ohio Republican’s attempts to cover up his Zoom driving fail spectacularly

Ohio Sen. Andrew Brenner is answering some questions after video of a Zoom conference board session showed him driving around in his car while using a virtual “office” background. At issue was not simply the idea that the state senator might be multitasking during a meeting. The issue is two-pronged: Brenner was clearly trying to pretend he wasn’t driving while fiddling with his phone, and on the same day, Brenner’s Republican colleagues had just introduced a law banning the activity he was now doing.

On Monday, House Bill 283 was introduced to the Ohio legislature. The “short title” for the bill is “Prohibit driving while using electronic communications device.” The bill looks to expand a ban on texting while driving to a more “general prohibition against using an electronic wireless communications device while driving.” Brenner’s defense is that he was using the phone like an audio call and therefore is within the parameters of what is allowed by Ohio law. Unfortunately, the whole pretending he is in his office while continuously looking directly into the phone as if he is sitting in his office paying attention to a meeting belies that defense.

In video of the less than 13-minute meeting, Brenner can be seen signing in from his car. His arms are folded in front of him. He is not wearing a seat belt because he is clearly parked somewhere. Then, Brenner takes his phone down from dashboard holder he has and begins using it. (This is speculation based on the low angle, up-his-nose image we see.) Brenner disconnects from the meeting at this point. He comes back a few moments later, sitting back in his position as if nothing has changed. Brenner sees that nothing has changed in his frame and once again takes the phone off the dashboard to mess with it again. At this point he is able to finally get the background of his “virtual” office to appear around him. He sits back down and then disconnects from the meeting again. When Brenner reappears a minute or so later, he is clearly driving, a seat belt across his chest, looking both ways.

“I’m not paying attention to the video. To me, it’s like a phone call.”

—State SeN. Andrew Brenner

Up your nose

Brenner told The Columbus Dispatch: “I wasn’t distracted. I was paying attention to the driving and listening to [the meeting].” In fact, Brenner had a good excuse for not being able to sit still for the 13 minutes of meeting: “I had two meetings that were back to back that were in separate locations. And I’ve actually been on other calls, numerous calls, while driving. Phone calls for the most part but on video calls, I’m not paying attention to the video. To me, it’s like a phone call.” Hey man, we have all been there! Of course, we aren’t part of a political party that seems to never practice what it preaches.

Star Trek transport to “office”

The bill would ban any writing, reading, or sending of texts. It would ban viewing videos, taking photos, live-streaming oneself, or using phone applications while driving. The biggest change in the bill would be that for a driver older than 18, holding an electronic device while driving would now be subject to the same texting laws minors are subject to. Specifically, police would be allowed to pull you over if they see you holding a phone. As of now, Ohio police can only pull you over if they witness a moving violation; an “electronic” distraction is considered a secondary offense.

Brenner might have some amendments to add to the GOP bill.

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