Good Morning from Washington, D.C….

Following widespread falsehoods and bizarre theories  concerning compromised elections, some Republican states have created “election integrity units” ahead of this year’s midterms. One state in particular, Arizona, has been at the forefront of voter audits and election reviews. Arizona State House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a Republican, said, “We’ve invented the smoke in order to say there’s a fire.” 

In Virginia, the Republican Attorney General created an election integrity unit comprised of 20 state attorneys and investigators while Georgia recently delegated election investigation authority to the state police. In Florida, Governor DeSantis praised his new unit after the arrest of 20 people who he said had voted illegally—many of those voters say they were led to believe by election officials and voter registration groups that they were eligible. Some have questioned whether these backward-looking investigations or election units are worth the time and resources, especially after an audit in Arizona showed no evidence of wide-scale fraud.

In New York, without any additional integrity measures, an investigation surrounding illegal voting has led to the arrest of a Republican Election Commissioner. Jason Schofield is accused of requesting absentee ballots through an online portal and illegally submitting those ballots, without the approval or knowledge of those he requested the ballots on behalf of. This occurred in Rensselaer County where, in 2021, the county was sued by Attorney General Tish James for failing to provide adequate early voting sites, particularly in the county’s neighborhoods of color. In June, a Troy City Council Member was charged with identity theft in connection with casting ballots in two other people’s names in elections in 2021. The Queens District Attorney, Melinda Katz, is probing allegations of voter fraud involving absentee ballots cast in support of Assembly Member Ron Kim’s challenger Kenneth Chiu. Maybe the system works?

Less certain is whether the new body selected to replace JCOPE, the Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government, will work. It has begun approving nominations to the board and to this point, has accepted 7 nominees and rejected 3. The committee that selects nominees is made up of 15 law school deans and according to Blair Horner, Executive Director at NYPIRG watchdog group, this approach could be problematic. “They are also working for institutions that lobby state government, and the ethics agency monitors lobbying of state government, but it puts them and their institutions in a potential conflict.” Questions have also arisen whether or not former JCOPE staff and interim Executive Director Sanford Berland could continue to work for the new Commission on a temporary basis.

The new commission is already subject to a lawsuit questioning the nominating process after Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt’s pick for the commission was not approved. Senator Ortt’s nominee, Syracuse attorney Gary Lavine, has filed the lawsuit challenging a key piece of the law, and seeking a declaratory judgment that, giving a “committee of private citizens” power to confirm or veto nominees violates three articles of New York’s constitution, including one reserving that confirmation power for the state Senate. Aside from new problems, the Commission on Ethics will be tasked with fighting Andrew Cuomo over his lawsuit to retain the $5.1 million made from the sale of his book. According to Ortt, “this will be as toothless as the last commission based on what I’m seeing.”  

In the coolest news of the week, NASA successfully conducted their Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART. The mission intentionally crashed a projectile into an asteroid to knock it out of its orbit. The hope is that this mission could be replicated in the event that an asteroid threatens earth. “At its core, DART represents an unprecedented success for planetary defense, but it is also a mission of unity with a real benefit for all humanity,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “As NASA studies the cosmos and our home planet, we’re also working to protect that home, and this international collaboration turned science fiction into science fact, demonstrating one way to protect Earth.”

The recovery effort following Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico continues to lag and New York lawmakers are calling on the state and federal governments to do more. The New York City Council, led by members of Puerto Rican descent—Council Members Diana Ayala, Rafael Salamanca, Carlina Rivera, Marjorie Velázquez, Amanda Farías, Tiffany Cabán, and Alexa Avilés, as well as Council Speaker Adrienne Adams sent a letter to the White House and Congressional leadership to waive the Jones Act, allowing a British Oil tanker loitering off the coast to dock and deliver much-needed diesel fuel. Governor Hochul recently announced additional assistance from NY, including a 16-member team and over 50,000 pounds of food. The Governor was joined by a coalition of leaders, including Sen. Tim Kennedy, Secretary of State Robert Rodriguez, as well as several members of her Executive Chamber.

In Florida, the storm was worse. Hurricane Ian made landfall Wednesday afternoon in the Fort Myers area with reported wind speed exceeding 155 mph and storm surge reaching as high as 12 feet. President Biden approved Governor Ron DeSantis’ request for a major disaster declaration, giving the state access to federal money and resources as it continues to recover. DeSantis was adamant about federal money, but during his time in Congress, often voted against disaster relief, including, notably, for New York following Hurricane Sandy. While in Congress, DeSantis said providing federal assistance to New York was part of the “put it on the credit card mentality” and he ultimately voted no. 

On Thursday, the Senate voted 72-25 to pass a stop-gap funding bill to keep the government funded through December 16th. As we reported last week, a controversial permitting proposal that was attached to the government spending bill was ultimately dropped when it became clear that Schumer and Manchin lacked the votes.  The Senate is now officially in recess until after midterms, with Schumer throwing cold water on the idea that they could be brought back before then. Schumer told reporters that the next roll call votes will be on November 14thand there will be a non-voting day on October 11th to take up the defense spending bill. The lame duck session, or the time following midterm elections and before new members are sworn in, is expected to be very busy. The Senate is likely to take up bills on election reform, marriage equality, Congressional stock trading, as well as act on 44 of President Joe Biden’s Judicial nominees awaiting nomination.

Should Republicans retake control of the House, and according to Cook Political Report that possibility is looking more likely, the GOP will need to elect a Speaker. The favorite is Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy who has consolidated support among his caucus throughout the Trump years and into Biden’s presidency. The last holdout, the conservative Freedom Caucus, seems to have struck a deal with McCarthy. A challenge from the group could have spelled trouble for McCarthy and to head that off, he agreed to a series of rule changes that would empower the Freedom Caucus. The modifications would permit lawmakers to file a “motion to vacate the chair” which would allow McCarthy to be removed as Speaker following a vote among Republicans.  

Back in New York State…

It is much of the same with more debates about debates, endorsements, and some new campaign ads. Watch them here: “Kickback Kathy” from the Lee Zeldin campaign and Governor Hochul’s new ad that focuses on her quick action on gun safety after the horrific Tops massacre. 

Finally, they first came for print newspapers. Then…they came for the comics. Cartoonists and readers (and this commentator) alike fear this is the beginning of the end for daily comics in the U.S.

-Jack O’Donnell

 

 

 

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