Virginia reverses progress, Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, and Texas AG breaks law (again)
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Virginia’s new Republican attorney general, Jason Miyares, quickly enacted drastic changes to the commonwealth’s legal office, firing staff and reversing the previous administration’s decisions.
As one of his first acts in office, Miyares fired an investigator for the U.S. House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection from his day job. Tim Heaphy worked as the counsel for the University of Virginia for three years, previously served as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, and conducted an independent review of the violent Charlottesville white supremacy rally in 2017.
- When asked about firing Heaphy, Miyares said his work for the Jan. 6th Committee “had nothing to do with” his decision to fire the UVA attorney (clip). He would not discuss the reason for his firing, however.
Miyares also fired “about 30” staff members from the AG’s office in what his spokeswoman called a “restructuring”. According to Virginia Senate President Louise Lucas, this may have included “the entire civil rights division,” charged with upholding civil rights and civil liberties in the commonwealth.
Miyares launched two politically-charged investigations within hours of taking office: one into the commonwealth’s parole board and the other into Loudoun County Public Schools. “The Virginia Parole Board broke the law when they let out murders, rapists, and cop killers early on their sentences without notifying the victims,” the new AG said. Loudoun County School District is being investigated for allegedly covering up a sexual assault by one of their students. The story went viral in the right wing mediasphere last year but no evidence of an actual cover up has been made public.
Then, Miyares set his sights on vaccine policies, telling public colleges and universities in the commonwealth that they cannot require students to get the coronavirus vaccine.
Miyares withdrew Virginia’s support for abortion in Mississippi’s case before the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that Roe v. Wade was “wrongly decided,” and urged the commonwealth’s highest court to leave Governor Youngkin’s order banning K-12 mask mandates in place.
Virginia Democrats are lining up in opposition to Gov. Youngkin’s pick for secretary of natural resources: former coal lobbyist and Trump EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. Under his influence, the EPA disbanded advisory scientific boards, rolled back Clean Water Act protections, allowed toxic coal ash dumps, and rescinded the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.
- State Republicans are holding up the reappointment of State Corporation Commission Angela L. Navarro in retaliation, hoping to pressure Democrats to reverse their opposition to Wheeler.
Texas officials are fighting to keep their voter fraud theories alive, while one senate Republican testifies against his colleagues in federal court.
Top state GOP leaders are pressuring the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to reverse its December decision that limited the AG’s power to unilaterally prosecute election cases. The court ruled 8-1 that Paxton can only get involved in election cases when asked by a district or county attorney, a ruling that the AG said would give “Soros-funded district attorneys [the] sole power to decide whether election fraud has occurred in Texas.”
- In October, the first—and only—award for reporting voter fraud was given to a Democrat who identified a Republican who voted twice.
Paxton appeared on MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell’s show last week to urge the public to pressure the judges to revisit the case:
“Call them out by name,” Paxton said in an interview on the show of Mike Lindell, the My Pillow CEO and prominent Donald Trump supporter. “I mean, you can look them up. There’s eight of them that voted the wrong way. Call them, send mail, send email.”
The Travis County District Attorney’s Office determined that Paxton violated the state’s open records law by withholding communications related to his trip to DC preceding the Jan. 6 insurrection. Paxton ignored the four day deadline imposed by the DA, insisting that he hasn’t violated any law. “This is a fake controversy drummed up by hard-left local officials because they want to reignite hysteria about the attorney general’s political speech on January 6, 2020, which was not an official state activity,” his office said in a statement.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Houston) sent out unsolicited, pre-filled out mail-in ballot applications after supporting a law to ban the practice. The law, passed last year after Democrats twice boycotted the legislature, bans election officials from sending out the same applications.
Crenshaw’s mailer includes a prefilled mail-in application and instructions that tell the recipient to “simply sign, stamp, and mail” it and to “be sure to vote for Dan Crenshaw” when the ballot comes.
Meanwhile, a Texas Senator submitted a sworn statement to the District Court of Western Texas that his colleagues broke the law during the latest redistricting cycle (pdf). State Sen. Kel Seliger, who chaired the Senate’s redistricting committee last year, also filmed a video deposition that was played before the court last week.
Having participated in the 2011 and 2013 Senate Select Redistricting Committee proceedings, and having read the prior federal court decision regarding SD10, it was obvious to me that the renewed effort to dismantle SD10 violated the Voting Rights Act and U.S. Constitution.
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis continues to push culture war issues in the hopes of driving up his support for a potential 2024 White House run.
The Florida Senate Education Committee approved a bill pushed by Gov. DeSantis that would prohibit public schools and businesses from making people feel “discomfort” or “guilt” based on their race, sex, or national origin. SB148 reads, in part, “An individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, does not bear responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex. An individual should not be made to feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race.”
DeSantis also referred to CRT when he announced the proposed legislation at a media event in December, saying the proposed law would help keep CRT out of the schools and out of the workplace, calling it “state-sanctioned racism” that creates a “hostile work environment.”
A bill that would ban all discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in the classroom is speeding through the Florida Legislature. House Bill 1557, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, would prohibit lessons on LGBTQ history, oppression, and any support for LGBTQ students. Supporters argue the bill is necessary to protect parental rights.
“This would erase LGBTQ+ history and culture from lesson plans and it sends a chilling message to LGBTQ+ young people and communities,” said Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, the executive director of the national LGBTQ youth advocacy group GLSEN.
A Florida professor’s civil rights lecture for teachers was canceled amid the rightwing hysteria over critical race theory. College Professor J. Michael Butler was scheduled to deliver a seminar called “The Long Civil Rights Movement,” hosted by the nonprofit National Council for History Education, to Osceola County School District teachers.
According to NCHE executive director Grace Leatherman, district officials were particularly concerned about the seminar’s use of primary source materials, including decades-old political cartoons about the Great Migration and Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court decision that established segregation’s “separate but equal” doctrine, as well as images of contemporary civil rights protests like Colin Kaepernick kneeling on a football field.
Orange County Medical Director Dr. Raul Pino was suspended by the Florida Health Department for encouraging staff to get vaccinated and boosted for Covid-19. Pino sent an email to employees earlier this month saying that less than half had received two shots and calling them “irresponsible.” A spokesperson for the Health Dept. defended the decision to suspend Pino as protecting “personal medical choice.”
Gov. DeSantis has asked the state legislature for $5.7 million to create a dedicated police force, under his power, to investigate election fraud. If approved, the Office of Election Crimes and Security would give DeSantis his own 52-member squad of officers to apprehend anyone suspected of casting an illegal vote—unprecedented power for the executive office to wield with no oversight.