Stephanie Akin

Marijuana legalization goes mainstream with first-ever forum in Capitol complex
Event highlights growing bipartisan support for banking, farming, medical and social justice bills

The cannabis industry investors, business owners and legalization advocates had met before to discuss the legal and regulatory headaches of operating in a world that’s licensed and regulated by states but illegal under federal law.

But what made those at Tuesday’s gathering describe it as a public relations milestone was the location: inside the Capitol complex.

Republican group launches PAC to increase GOP diversity
Catalyst PAC will promote non-white, LGBTQ, or religious or ethnic minority candidates

Republicans seeking to increase their party’s diversity in Congress and challenge a media portrayal of the conservative movement as “bigoted” launched a PAC on Monday to support candidates “as diverse as our nation.”

That’s the goal that Catalyst PAC describes on a website soliciting contributions to support candidates who “look a little different from what’s thought of as the ‘traditional’ Republican.”

Supreme Court requests response from Ohio and Michigan gerrymander challengers
Justices give challengers a week to respond to requests from GOP state officials to stop court-ordered redrawing of district lines

The Supreme Court on Monday gave the challengers of congressional maps in Ohio and Michigan until May 20 to respond to requests from state officials to stop court-ordered redrawing of district lines. Lower courts found the maps were partisan gerrymanders, an issue the high court is now considering in two other cases.

Republican lawmakers and officials in both states had argued that they did not have enough time to comply with recent federal court mandates to redraw their districts by June 14 in Ohio and Aug. 1 in Michigan.

Who’s afraid of political gerrymandering?
Political Theater Podcast, Episode 71

Political gerrymandering is losing friends fast, at least in the courts. Ohio and Michigan recently got smacked by federal judges for rigging the maps in favor of Republicans. At the same time, the Supreme Court could decide next month whether Maryland and North Carolina drew unconstitutional gerrymandered maps to favor Democrats and Republicans, respectively.  Why all the interest all of a sudden in such an esoteric part of politics? CQ Roll Call campaign reporters Simone Pathé and Stephanie Akin are our guides through the maze of maps on the latest Political Theater podcast. 

More GOP women want to run for the House. But why now?
Female Republicans are stepping up to run earlier than last cycle

Stephanie Bice is a Republican from a deeply conservative state that’s only sent three women to Congress. But the election of a record-breaking number of female freshmen to the House in 2018, all but one of them Democrats, helped her decide to run for the chamber herself.

“It was a signal to all women that politics isn’t just … a man’s world,” said the Oklahoma state senator, who recently announced her candidacy for the 5th District. “It shows that women have as much of an ability to win these seats. We just need to field the candidates.”

Early strike: Progressive groups unite behind Lipinski foe in Illinois
Backing for Marie Newman comes amid tension with Democratic leaders trying to protect incumbents

Several abortion rights and progressive groups announced on Monday they are endorsing Marie Newman’s bid to oust Illinois Rep. Daniel Lipinski in next year’s primary, an unusually early and coordinated strike against one of the of the most moderate Democrats in Congress. 

The endorsements, from EMILY’s List, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood, MoveOn, and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, are among the first from major national organizations for the 2020 primaries. 

Federal court strikes down Ohio congressional map as partisan gerrymander
Republicans last year got 52 percent of the vote, won 12 of 16 districts

A federal three-judge panel on Friday struck down Ohio’s congressional map as a partisan gerrymander, providing fodder for voting rights advocates seeking a definitive Supreme Court ruling about the way electoral lines are drawn.

The ruling comes a week after a different federal court in Michigan also ordered district lines redrawn to address boundaries that unfairly benefitted one party. In both cases, the maps favored Republicans, and the decisions gave Democrats hope of making inroads in 2020.

DCCC to meet with progressives over controversial ‘blacklist’ policy
Party leaders face grassroots pressure to revise incumbent-protection policy

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Cheri Bustos, facing mounting pressure from the party's left, has agreed to a DCCC meeting with progressive groups who want her to ditch a controversial policy meant to shield incumbents from primary challenges, according to representatives from the progressive group Our Revolution. 

Bustos has so far given no public indication that the committee would relax its stance against working with consultants and other operatives who assist candidates who challenge incumbent House Democrats.

Biden’s nascent campaign racks up congressional endorsements
Backing from senators, House members likely to raise tensions with progressives seeking fresh leadership

Within hours of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s long-awaited announcement early Thursday that he would wage his third presidential campaign, he had already received endorsements from a raft of members of Congress.

By early afternoon, nods had come from Sens. Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania and Doug Jones of Alabama, as well as Reps. Tom Suozzi of New York and Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania.  

In 2020, Biden experience could turn out to be baggage
Former vice president may have to answer for positions now out of favor in party moving further left

Joe Biden entered the 2020 race for president Thursday at the top of the polls, with universal name recognition and the still-fresh sheen of his time as a popular vice president to Barack Obama.

In a video posted to his social media platforms, Biden characterized the race as a “battle for the soul of this nation.”

Former Illinois Lt. Gov. Eveyln Sanguinetti announces House run in suburban Chicago
Vying to challenge freshman Democrat Sean Casten in key 6th District

Former Illinois Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti announced Monday that she will run for the state’s 6th District, a longtime Republican stronghold captured last year by Democrat Sean Casten

“I really wanted to see Sean Casten be the voice this district needed when he won election last November,” the Republican said at a morning announcement in her hometown of Wheaton, according to a campaign press release. “Unfortunately, all we have is another politician cozying up to progressives and socialists in support of increased taxes and expanded government — when he should be fighting for the district he was sent to represent.”

Trickle-down equality: More women in Congress means less sexism for staffers
Staffers say they benefit when female lawmakers call out casual sexism on the Hill

Women in Congress have been getting attention recently for calling out casual sexism on the Hill — and female staffers say it’s making their jobs easier.

California Rep. Katie Hill told a male colleague she didn’t appreciate his sexual innuendo on the House floor. Pennsylvania Rep. Susan Wild tweeted that a different male lawmaker had tried to “mansplain” her own bill to her. And CNN reported on female lawmakers who had been greeted “Hey, beautiful” by male members of Congress, looked “up and down” by men in the hallways on Capitol Hill, or mistaken for staff members or spouses. 

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver preparing run for Senate
Would face Luján in primary for seat being vacated by Udall retirement

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver is “gearing up” for a run for the state's open Senate seat, a spokeswoman said Thursday.

She plans to make an announcement this month, said Heather Brewer, Toulouse Oliver's campaign manager for her 2018 campaign for secretary of state.   

EMILY’s List eyes Texas Senate race amid Castro speculation
Pro-abortion rights group is in talks with three potential female candidates

Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro is considering jumping into the Texas Senate race, but he might not have the primary to himself if EMILY’s List gets its way. 

The influential group, which backs female Democrats who support abortion rights, is in talks with three potential candidates: Air Force veteran MJ Hegar, who lost a House race in 2018;  Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards; and former state Sen. Wendy Davis. 

Rep. Ben Ray Luján officially announces New Mexico Senate bid
Luján is expected to be a front-runner in the race for Tom Udall’s seat

Ben Ray Luján officially announced his plans to run for the Senate Monday, ending a week of speculation over whether the New Mexico Democrat would give up his position as a rising star in House leadership for a rare shot an open seat. 

“There’s been a lot of speculation over the last week, so I wanted you to hear it directly from me,“ Luján said in a video posted to Twitter Monday morning. “I’m running to be your next United States Senator.”

There are only 4 Latino senators. Will more be joining them after 2020?
Playing field for Latino Senate candidates shifted after developments in Arizona and New Mexico

Activists looking to increase the number of Latino senators are regrouping this week after an Arizona congressman they had backed passed on a Senate run and a seat in plurality-Hispanic New Mexico opened up.

The parallel developments changed the playing field but ultimately kept alive hopes there will be more Hispanic representation in the Senate after the 2020 elections.

Nebraska abuzz about Sen. Ben Sasse’s future
The retirement of the University of Nebraska’s president sparks speculation

Nebraska’s political world has seized on the idea that Sen. Ben Sasse could be tapped to replace the departing president of the University of Nebraska, potentially creating an open seat in the solidly Republican state, according to local news reports. 

Latino Victory Fund wants to draft Ben Ray Luján for Senate in New Mexico
Influential House Democrat is among a long list of potential candidates

A political action committee that works to recruit Hispanic candidates across the country is putting its weight behind Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Luján for the newly open Senate seat in New Mexico.

The Latino Victory Fund announced its “Run, Ben Ray, Run!” digital campaign Wednesday in an exclusive release to Roll Call.

Challengers circle as Democrats work to hold key suburban Chicago seats
In changing districts, Republicans plot path to regaining longtime turf

Updated 3:36 p.m. | Illinois Rep. Lauren Underwood had been fielding questions from a mostly friendly audience at a recent town hall when she was confronted with a challenge.   

Which was worse, a man who identified himself as Robert from Woodstock, asked the freshman lawmaker — the yearbook photo showing her “Democratic colleague,” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, wearing blackface, or his position “in favor of infanticide?”

Utah bill would give primary voters less say on who appears on special election ballots
Measure is latest development in yearslong struggle over party nomination process

Utah voters would have fewer opportunities to weigh in on candidates to fill certain congressional seats under legislation that quietly passed the state Legislature this week. 

The bill, which has yet to be signed by the governor and has so far received little attention from local media, would change the process by which candidates appear on primary ballots in special elections to replace House members who resign in the middle of their terms. For those elections, only candidates nominated by delegates from either party would be able to run. Candidates would not be able to make the ballot by petitioning voters.