Outlook: Higher Education Reauthorization

The 116th Congress will pick up where the 115th left off after failing to find a compromise on student aid, federal loans, and data sharing in higher education legislation.

Negotiations between Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and ranking member, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) on a higher education overhaul stalled last spring. A House bill (H.R. 4508) was approved by the House Committee on Education and Labor but did not receive enough support among Republicans to move to the floor.

Incoming House Education and Labor Chair Bobby Scott (D-VA) also plans to make progress on higher education legislation. He and other committee members introduced legislation in July 2018 that would have expanded federal student aid and assisted states in providing tuition-free, two-year public college. The Aim Higher Act (H.R. 6543) also proposed offering students the option of debt-free in-state college. Scott has also signaled his intention to craft a bipartisan bill in the early days of the new Congress.

Policy Decisions

Democratic & Republican legislators do agree on some issues, such as making it easier for students to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Lawmakers will try to reach an agreement over how the government collects data on students. Senators introduced two bipartisan bills in the 115th Congress that would allow collecting data at the student level, rather than the institution level, which could give students more information on potential schools such as graduation and employment rates and earnings. Alexander and Foxx both oppose student-level data.

Department of Education

Democratic legislators on the House Education and Labor Committee are also planning to begin oversight of the Education Department. Scott has said that his oversight priorities are the Department’s implementation of a K-12 law ((Public Law 114-95)  the rewriting of regulation dealing with forgiving student loans in cases where colleges misled or defrauded students. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has spent a significant portion of her tenure rolling back a number of Obama administration regulations, decisions, and guidance including student loan forgiveness.


Trump Administration Prioritizing Infrastructure in Rural, GOP-Led Areas

Infrastructure projects located in Republican-represented House districts received three times as much funding from a $1.5 billion pool of federal transportation grants as those located in Democratic-led districts, according to the list of Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, or BUILD grants released for BUILD 2018.

Among the high-profile awards was $25 million toward restoring and rehabilitating the masonry arches and foundations of the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, New York’s only successful project in the competition for the discretionary grants. Conspicuously overlooked was any funding for the Gateway project to build new Hudson River tunnel and bridge crossings between New York and New Jersey in one of the nation’s busiest transportation corridors.

Congress tripled the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program’s funding to $1.5 billion in the fiscal 2018 omnibus spending law (Public Law 115-141), over White House calls to instead cut the program’s funding. The Transportation Department announced April 20 it would reconfigure the program as BUILD. The program allows states to compete for grants to fund road, rail, transit and port projects that advance national objectives. The Trump administration version also values rural investment and projects with non-federal revenue.

Roads, bridges, and other infrastructure projects in rural areas were much more likely to receive BUILD funds than transit projects, reflecting the administration’s priorities. Projects that did go to Democratic-held districts tended to benefit members of transportation or appropriations committees in the House or states with influential senators on similar committees.

Notable Projects

The 91 grants average $16 million per project. Twenty-three benefit Democratic-led districts, 64 went to Republican districts, and four were multidistrict awards.

The smallest award—$1.3 million—was one of the few public transit programs funded, construction of a maintenance facility for the North Central Regional Transit rural bus service in New Mexico.

Twelve projects received the maximum grants of $25 million, but the 23rd Congressional District of Texas, represented by Republican Will Hurd, was the lucky recipient of two awards and got a total of $50 million for two different road projects.

Other highlights include investments in projects that will lay the foundation for self-driving vehicle testing, including one in Las Vegas and another in Jacksonville, Fla. Colorado received $20 million to install fiber optics cables along 540 miles of interstate highway.

US Southwest Report – November 2018


Arizona’s First Female Senator

Democratic Representative Krysten Sinema pulled out to a 1.5%, 32,169-vote lead over Republican Martha McSally in the Arizona Senate race. Senator-elect Sinema replaces retiring Republican Senator Jeff Flake and is the first woman to represent Arizona in the Senate.

Doug Ducey Re-elected Governor

By a margin of 57% to 41%, Republican Doug Ducey has been re-elected as the Governor of Arizona over his Democratic challenger David Garcia.

Garcia, a longtime educator, had hoped to use widespread anger over the Republican state government’s failure to fund Arizona schools sufficiently to unseat the incumbent. However, Garcia fell behind in the polls early on and had a 1 in 80 chance of winning on Election Day.

In a victory speech at the Republican watch party in Paradise Valley, Ducey said he was “truly energized by the work that lies ahead. This victory would not have been possible without the support and work of so many all-stars, starting with my family,” “It means a lot to stand before you tonight and call all of you friends.”

Governor Ducey attempted to highlight improvements in the state’s economy and finances during his tenure, though he said that there is “still work to be done in K-12 education.”


Jared Polis is the next Governor

Representative Jared Polis (D-CO-02), from Boulder, handily beat Walker Stapleton, Colorado’s Republican treasurer, by nearly 52 percent to 44 percent, according to incomplete results.

“Colorado is a state that values diversity,” Polis said in a pre-Election Day interview. “We’re willing to elect people that are going to do a good job for our state regardless of their background. … I think it’s exciting to show how far the LGBT community has come that it doesn’t stand in the way of being elected to the highest office in the state.”

Constitutional Amendment to Prohibit Slavery Approved

For more than 100 years, the Colorado Constitution included a provision that prohibited slavery, however, contained an exception for slavery, or involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime. The amendment was put on the ballot with overwhelming bipartisan support from Colorado’s lawmakers. It will change Article II, Section 26 of the state’s constitution, which has stated for more than 100 years: “Slavery prohibited. There shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”

The new version will shorten that second sentence to say, “There shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude.” The Amendment was approved 65.1% (1,235,414) to 34.9% (663,370).


Rep. Michelle Lujan-Grisham is the Next Governor

In a race that saw two New Mexico Representatives relinquish their seats to vie for the opportunity to lead the state, Michelle Lujan-Grisham is the victor. “What we did tonight is send a very clear message that this is a state that’s ready to lead in so many ways,” Lujan Grisham told cheering supporters at her election night party in Albuquerque. “Gone are the days when anyone talks about New Mexico not being in first place.”
The election results will see the Democratic Party gain as many as seven seats in the state house and raise fundamental questions about the future of the Republican Party of New Mexico. All Republican candidates challenged by Democratic women were defeated, and women may now hold 31 of the 70 state House seats, a watershed moment in state politics. The first Muslim ever elected to the state house will be engineer Abbas Akhil, who unexpectedly defeated Rep. Jim Dines (Dines, R-Albuquerque).

The state House could go from a 38 to 32 majority to as much as 45-to-46 Democratic majority. The new Democratic Governor will be in place when legislative redistricting takes place in 2021.

Reports of who will hold the powerful post of chief of staff when Governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham takes office may have an answer. Lawrence Rael is considered the front-runner. Rael is a bureaucrat’s bureaucrat who has served as Chief Administrative Officer to several ABQ mayors and who is currently Chief Operating Officer for ABQ Mayor Tim Keller.

Rael is a native New Mexican who ran for the Democrat Gubernatorial primary in 2014. The Chief of Staff position will put Rael directly in the orbit of the Governor’s office. He also has the administrative experience to run the day to day affairs of state government, a skill set not readily available.

The Governor-elect has announced former New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman will lead the transition team. The Governor-elect could begin by nominating cabinet appointees who could then lead the transition for their departments but has made no job offers. The Governor-elect announced at a press conference that Bingaman will be involved in shaping policy and identifying potential cabinet picks. “We really want to send a message that we want the best and the brightest to engage with us so we can make those decisions,” Lujan Grisham said.

PRC Election Results

Democratic candidate Stephen Fischmann is the unofficial winner in the Public Regulation Commission’s southwest District 5. Fischmann’s victory could put control of the commission into the hands of a progressive regulatory bloc through alignment with Democratic commissioners Valerie Espinoza and Cynthia Hall, possibly leading to more renewable energy development in New Mexico.

Two other commissioners will also join the PRC next year. They include Republican Jefferson Byrd, who won in eastern district 2 on Tuesday to replace current Republican Commissioner Pat Lyons, and Democratic candidate Theresa Becenti-Aguilar, who will replace Democratic Commissioner Lynda Lovejoy in northwest District 4.


Mitt Romney heading to the U.S. Senate for Utah

Mitt Romney, the former Governor of Massachusetts and 2012 Republican presidential candidate, will represent Utah in the United States Senate. Romney was a leader of the ‘never Trump’ movement in 2016. Nevertheless, during his successful campaign to take over the seat of retiring Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Romney said he would be an only occasional critic of the president “when it is a matter of substantial significance.” In a clear message to the Trump Administration after the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Senator-elect tweeted “I want to thank Jeff Sessions for his service to our country as attorney general,” Romney said. “Under Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, it is imperative that the important work of the Justice Department continues, and that the Mueller investigation proceeds to its conclusion unimpeded.”

2018 Midterm Congressional Elections Summary

With few exceptions, election night on November 6, 2018 largely played out according to the topline predictions of the nation’s pollsters and forecasters. The Republican Party held on to, and increased by 3+ seats, its majority in the United States Senate. The Democratic Party flipped control of 26+ seats, enough to regain control of the House of Representatives.


Republicans flipped three seats and lost one. Republicans defeated three Democratic incumbents: Republican Mike Braun beat Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly by 10 points, Republican Josh Hawley defeated Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill by 6 points, and Republican Representative Kevin Cramer beat North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp by 10.

In Nevada, where Hillary Clinton won in 2016, Democrats got their one gain of the night when Rep. Jacky Rosen defeated Republican Sen. Dean Heller by about 4 points. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia won his race by just 4 points winning as a Democrat in the state that most supported Trump’s presidency. Republican Senator Ted Cruz defeated Democratic Representative Beto O’Rourke by less than 3 points in the Texas Senate race. In Tennessee, Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn easily dispatched Democrat Phil Bredesen by 11 points.

However, Democratic incumbents comfortably won re-election in Rust Belt states such as Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin where Trump won in 2016.

Senate races in Florida, Arizona, and Montana remain too close to call, but all three seem poised to deliver Republicans another three seats in the Senate.


After 2 years of a Republican House, Senate, White House, & Supreme Court, the Democratic Party will have a chance to lead at least one federal body, with its majority in the House now assured. In gaining that majority, Democratic candidates made substantial gains in races in Pennsylvania, Virginia, & New Jersey as well as in Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Florida, & New York, among others.

The Democratic Party had its best results in Pennsylvania thanks in large part to the state’s new Congressional map. After the PA Supreme Court found the Republican state legislature’s 2010 map to have been unconstitutionally gerrymandered in favor of Republicans, the Court redrew the district lines in time for the 2018 general election. The end result of the new map was an even 9-9 split of the commonwealth’s 18 districts, reflecting the roughly 50-50 split of statewide voters. However, in PA-01, a toss-up race closely watched by many who thought the race could be a potential flip, Republican Representative Brian Fitzpatrick was able to prevail against his Democratic challenger.

The Democratic Party also made substantial gains in VA-02, VA-07, & VA-10 where Democratic candidates Luria, Spanberger, & Wexton beat out Republican incumbents Taylor, Bratt, & Comstock. New Jersey was the other major win for the Democratic PArty, where they not only played defense in the Senate, but flipped three districts, unseating Republican incumbents in NJ-02, NJ-07, & NJ-11.

Among the upsets of the night were NY-11, where Democratic candidate Max Rose won 53 percent to 47 percent over the favorite, Republican Rep. Dan Donovan. Democratic candidate Joe Cunningham eked out a 51 percent to 49 percent win over Republican Katie Arrington in SC-01. And in the Oklahoma 5th District, Democratic candidate Kendra Horn toppled Republican Rep. Steve Russell 51 percent to 49 percent.

As of writing, approximately 30 House seats remain undecided.

7 Races in 7 Days: Florida Governor

Today in 7 Races in 7 Days, we head to Florida for the Governor’s race.

The State

The political narrative of Florida is nearly a tale of two states.  Famously a key presidential battleground, at the state level, the Sunshine State looks more like a traditional southern Republican stronghold.  With GOP majorities in the State House, State Senate and Congressional Delegation, Democrats winning statewide office should be an uphill climb.


In fact, no Democrat has been elected as Florida’s chief executive in more than 24 years, making this year’s neck and neck contest great political theater.

The Candidates

Ron DeSantis (R) – An attorney and former JAG officer with the Navy, DeSantis represented Florida’s 6th District in Congress until his resignation in September of this year.  First elected in 2012, the 6th District is rated by the Cook Political Report as R+7; a relatively safe district that makes its way south from Jacksonville, including Daytona Beach.DeSantis

A steadfast supporter of the President and his America First agenda, DeSantis was endorsed by Trump in the Republican Primary.  He has embraced his support wholeheartedly, including producing a television ad in which he is walking his children through a lesson on the Trump policies that will Make America Great Again.

Andrew Gillum (D) – The former Mayor of Tallahassee, Andrew Gillum, 39, is the first African American Democratic candidate for Governor in Florida.  Young, and unapologetically liberal, Gillum was the Bernie Sanders-endorsed candidate in a crowded Democratic Primary.Gillum

An insurgent campaign, powered by energy on the left, propelled Gillum to a victory over front runner Gwen Graham, a former Member of Congress and daughter of former Senator and Governor Bob Graham.

Gillum, if elected, would be the first African American Governor of Florida.

State of the Race

With incumbent Rick Scott term-limited and running for the U.S. Senate, Florida’s open-seat Governor’s race was always going to be a marquee contest in the 2018 midterm elections.

Even so, few would have predicted at the beginning of the year that this race could turn into a proxy fight between Trump allies and the Bernie Sanders camp.

Gillum has run his campaign on an unabashedly liberal policy platform, including a $15 per hour minimum wage, hiking state corporate tax rates to pay for expanded education funding, and calling for a federal-level Medicare-for-all healthcare plan.

DeSantis, a self-described “Conservative warrior,” is running in lock-step with President Trump and his policy platform, including opposing sanctuary cities, fighting for tax cuts, and repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Beyond the issues, each campaign has had its share of stumbling blocks.  The morning after the primaries, DeSantis came under fire for what some claimed was a racist dog whistle he used during an interview.  In discussing Gillum and his campaign, DeSantis said that Florida is headed in the right direction economically, and that we cannot afford to “monkey this up.”

As for Gillum, he and his campaign have come under scrutiny due to a corruption scandal targeting his administration in Tallahassee. While the FBI investigation has not specifically implicated Gillum, the cloud hanging over his potential involvement has been a distraction form his message on the campaign trail.

Each of the major ratings organizations has this race listed as a Toss-Up, with the exception of Nate Gonzalez at Inside Elections who is calling the race as Lean Democratic and FiveThirtyEight who is projecting a Likely Democratic victory on Election Night.

Polls in recent weeks have shown Gillum taking a slight lead, but with a race firmly within the margin of error, this will be an important race to watch.  Beyond who will reside in the Governor’s mansion in Tallahassee, the Florida Gubernatorial race could tell us a lot about what to expect in 2020.


7 Races in 7 Days: Tennessee Senate

In today’s edition of 7 Races in 7 Days, we review the United States Senate race in Tennessee.

The State

Tennessee is a state that appears to be clearly on a march to the right.  Just ten years ago, there was a Democrat in the Governor’s mansion, an evenly split State Senate, and a State House with a slim Democratic majority.  Today, Republican Bill Haslam is Governor, the State Senate is solidly Republican by a 26-5 majority and the Democrats in the State House have seen their majority shattered, with Republicans taking control by a 74-25 majority.


At the federal level, the story has largely been the same.  In 2008, Tennessee was represented in the US House by 5 Democrats and 4 Republicans.  Today, there are 7 Republican Members of Congress and just 2 Democrats.

In an era of traditionally red states taking on shades of purple, Tennessee appears to be bucking that trend.

The Candidates

Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R) – Elected to Congress in 2004, Marsha Blackburn represents the Tennessee 7th Congressional District, rated by Cook Political Report as R+18, one of the most solidly Republican districts in the country.Blackburn.jpg

In Congress, she has been a solid supporter of President Trump and his policies, going so far as to joining a letter written in support of his nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize, citing his work on the Korean Peninsula.

Proudly labeling herself a Tea Party Conservative Republican, Blackburn has taken the hard right position on each of the hot-button issues of the day.

Phil Bredesen (D) – Having served both as Mayor of Nashville and two-term governor, Phil Bredesen is a household name in Tennessee. Bredesen

Bredesen governed largely as a fiscal conservative, working with the General Assembly to pass across-the-board spending cuts, government reforms, and a campaign against drug abuse, easily winning a second term.

State of the Race

In September 2017, incumbent Senator Bob Corker announced he would not seek re-election.  Corker had been a frequent critic of President Trump, saying at one point that any Senator who is not conflicted about Trump is “either comatose or is pretty useless in their blindness.”

Corker also vowed to stay out of the race for his old Senate seat, saying that Bredesen was “a very good mayor, a very good governor, a very good businessperson” and that he has “cross-over appeal.”

Blackburn’s campaign has slammed Bredesen as someone who will go to the Senate and vote with Senator Chuck Schumer and the so-called Washington Liberal Elites.  In a rare campaign ad in this era, she features President Trump at a rally railing against Bredesen and declaring that he would be bad for Tennessee.  Blackburn’s embrace of Trump is a bet being made on the fact that the President won her home state by 26 points in 2016.

Conversely, Bredesen has run a campaign focused on his history as a coalition-builder, and as someone who has worked across the aisle to achieve a common goal.  He does not like to identify himself as a Democrat, but as someone who will do what is right for the people of Tennessee.

With combined spending from both campaigns and outside groups nearing $70M, this has shaped up to be the most expensive Senate race in the state’s history, and a key battleground in the fight for the Senate majority.

Polls have wavered back and forth within the margin of error since the beginning of the campaign, but Blackburn appears to have gained some momentum in the final weeks leading up to Election Day (despite a key endorsement of Bredesen from Taylor Swift).

All the major ratings organizations, with the exception of the Cook Political Report, currently have the race as Lean or Likely Republican.  That said, this is exactly the type of contest that could flip the other way given the right political environment on Election Day.

7 Races in 7 Days: PA 1st Congressional District

Over the next seven days, as campaigns across the country gear up for the final push to Election Day, we will be bringing you an update on key elections to watch.  We will be reviewing a mix of US Congress, US Senate, and Gubernatorial races that capture the larger political moment in which we find ourselves.

Stay tuned!

In today’s edition, we take a look at the contest in the Pennsylvania 1st Congressional District:

The District

Following a redistricting ordered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in February, the new 1st District consists of all of Bucks County and parts of Democratic-leaning central Montgomery County.PA1

Under the previous lines, the district represented by incumbent Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick went narrowly for Donald Trump in 2016.  The newly-drawn 1st District would have seen an approximately 2-point victory for Hillary Clinton.

Despite the unexpected redistricting, this seat remains a solidly swing district, rated by the Cook Political Report as an R +1 District, and it has the distinction of being one of just 26 seats nationwide won by Hillary Clinton that is currently represented by a Republican member of Congress.

The Candidates

Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R) – Incumbent Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick was elected by a comfortable margin in 2016, succeeding his brother, Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick.BKF

Fitzpatrick grew up in the Levittown section of Lower Bucks County, going on to serve as a Special Assistant United States Attorney and with the FBI as national supervisor of the Public Corruption Unit.  His time with the FBI also took him overseas during operation Iraqi Freedom, where he was embedded with U.S. Special Forces.


Scott Wallace (D) – Scott Wallace, a wealthy philanthropist and grandson of one of FDR’s Vice Presidents,  entered Bucks County politics in January of 2018, declaring his intention to run for Congress.Wallace

Wallace was raised in Central Bucks County, and has worked in various capacities both domestically and abroad.  His work includes serving as general counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, working with various non-profit organizations, and running his family’s foundation, the Wallace Global Fund.


State of the Race

The Pennsylvania 1st Congressional District is exactly the type of moderate, suburban, well-educated district upon which Democrats are hoping to build a House majority.

Congressman Fitzpatrick has run his campaign has a true moderate, voting with his party on the tax plan, but against them on issues such as climate change and, most notably, against the Republican healthcare repeal bill.  He has earned the endorsements of several traditionally Democratic-leaning groups and organizations, including the Human Society Legislative Fund, the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, and former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.

Fitzpatrick has also been a vocal critic of the President at times, speaking out against his travel ban and the separation of families at the Mexican border.  He has even gone as far to say that he did not vote for President Trump in 2016, instead writing in Mike Pence as his choice.

His campaign has attempted to paint Scott Wallace as an out-of-touch elitist, with values outside the mainstream of Bucks County politics.  Wallace’s move back to the district from Maryland at the end of 2017 has been the basis of attacks calling Wallace a “carpetbagger.”  Ads against Wallace also cite his work with  the Wallace Global Fund and causes it has supported that have been deemed too extreme for the average Bucks County voter.

In turn, the Wallace campaign has done its best to tie Fitzpatrick to the President, citing a Five Thirty Eight study which shows the Congressman has voted with President Trump over 80% of the time.  Hoping to ride a blue wave, Wallace has made it clear that, to vote for Fitzpatrick, or any Republican, is to give Donald Trump another ally in Washington.

Wallace has also largely self-funded his own campaign, a fact that he says inoculates him from undue influence from wealthy donors.

In order to see that this is a key race in the battle for the House majority, you need to look no further than the money that has been spent on both sides.  According to recent reporting, when taking into account both candidate spending, and money dropped in from outside groups, the battle for Congress in this district has been more expensive than the entire United States Senate race in Pennsylvania.

There is no doubt that this race will be a close one.  Each major ratings organization has this contest as a pure toss-up.  What happens in PA-1 just one week from today could be indicative of a larger trend nationwide, and it is certainly one to keep an eye on.