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Another Big Casino Player Enters the Ring

News and commentary in Rhode Island have focused on the battle of the two big players in our gambling market.  Casino.org reports that the dispute has attracted another interested party:

The ongoing spat between Twin River Worldwide Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:TRWH) and International Game Technology Plc (NYSE:IGT) regarding the latter’s dominance in Rhode Island’s gaming machine market has a new participant: Scientific Games Corp. (NASDAQ: SGMS).

Scientific Games, one of IGT’s primary rivals, is reportedly in talks with Twin River, the operator of Rhode Island’s two casinos, to bid for Ocean State business. …

Earlier this week, two SG lobbyists met with Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (D-RI). Mattiello has previously expressed dismay with Raimondo’s dealings with IGT, while questioning whether the governor’s proposal could hold up to legislative scrutiny.

Gambling is big business and, thanks to the government’s having claimed a monopoly, that business operates in a restrictive market that doesn’t spread out leverage very well.  Now that gambling isn’t restricted to lotteries, bingos, and isolated casino districts, the number of players will grow, but they’ll still be big, making every policy change highly political.

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The National Story for the Governor

Michael Graham, who can be credited with ramping up questions about Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s dealings with IGT and Donald Sweitzer, is out with another column asking whether the air of scandal that now lingers around her will be good for Democrats elsewhere, especially in swing states:

“[The Democratic Governor’s Association’s fundraising windfall is] great, until GOP oppo researchers in Kentucky and Louisiana start putting together DGA donations to Democrats in those states and the ethics scrap back in Rhode Island,” one national Democratic strategist told InsideSources. The strategist requested anonymity in order to speak freely about Democratic campaigns. …

Veteran Democratic strategist Jim Manley doesn’t agree that it’s a problem. “Sure, the GOP will try to make an issue out of it, but in the grand scheme of things, the 2020 election is going to come down to Donald Trump,” he told InsideSources.

And having one of the nation’s most unpopular governors as the public face of the DGA?

“Now that’s a good question,” Manley concedes.

For Rhode Islanders who believe our governor is best predicted, at this point, by her national ambitions, this is a conspicuous trend.  So far, Raimondo’s PR army has managed to get her good press nationally no matter what was going on in Rhode Island.  We’ll see how well that holds as she gets an increasingly real sense of the national stage, where not everybody who has substantial influence is more inclined to be on her side than not.

By the same token, Rhode Islanders who are frustrated with our state’s inability to address its systemic corruption can take a lesson:  Where there are competing groups, there is accountability.

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A Culture of Pay to Play

Yesterday, I suggested that IGT’s $150,000 donation to the Democratic Governor’s Association (DGA) looks kind of quid-pro-quo-ish, given that the organization’s chairwoman is Gina Raimondo, who was at the time preparing a long-term, no-bid contract for the country in her role as Rhode Island’s governor.  WPRI’s Eli Sherman now reports that this instance was actually part of a much more pervasive culture of pay to play:

IGT and Twin River Worldwide Holdings – the state’s leading gambling companies – contributed $150,000 and $100,000 to the DGA through the first half of the year, respectively. The national organization announced Wednesday it raised a record-breaking $19 million during the same period. …

… IRS records show IGT on average has contributed $159,285 each year since 2013, including $175,000 last year and $160,000 in 2017.

For Twin River, the $100,000 it contributed this year marks the first time in at least the last five years the company has given money to the DGA, according to a company spokesperson.

This inevitable mixture of politics and profit is important to keep in mind whenever government gets involved in a line of business, as it is with gambling.  The development of a pay-to-play environment becomes absolutely critical to remember when allowing a state to do as Rhode Island has been doing — involving itself deeply in economic development.  The more central government is in the economy, the more campaign donations increase in importance and the less relevant business viability or the health of the economy becomes.

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Raimondo-IGT Shows Some Campaign Finance Rules Are Good

Having posted this morning on the problem with overly aggressive campaign finance laws, I should point out the latest evidence pointing in the other direction.  This news about casino-game-company IGT’s big contribution to the Democratic Governor’s Association (DGA) shows that some level of transparency is a good thing, indeed, especially considering that the DGA has been bragging about its record fundraising under Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s leadership:

Records show that IGT donated $150,000 to the Democratic Governors Association in the last six months, while Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo was leading the group as chairwoman and former IGT Chairman Donald Sweitzer was serving as treasurer.

The contributions came while the Raimondo administration was negotiating a 20-year, no-bid Lottery contract extension with IGT. Twin River, which has led opposition to the proposed contract extension, donated $100,000 to the Democratic Governors Association on Feb. 28.

The association said Tuesday that it had broken its previous fundraising record during the first six months of the year.

Campaign finance regulations can become a way for political insiders to trip up newcomers.  They also allow activists to create the impression of improper relationships based on the likelihood of people knowing each other in a small state like Rhode Island.

That said, the governor’s bringing in a giant donation for a political organization that she leads while also preparing a long-term, no-bid deal with the donor company looks a lot like a quid pro quo.

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Education to Build Sturdier Bubbles

As Glenn Reynolds suggests, news like this isn’t exactly “startling”:

In a surprising new national survey, members of each major American political party were asked what they imagined to be the beliefs held by members of the other. The survey asked Democrats: “How many Republicans believe that racism is still a problem in America today?” Democrats guessed 50%. It’s actually 79%. The survey asked Republicans how many Democrats believe “most police are bad people”. Republicans estimated half; it’s really 15%. …

… But what’s startling is the further finding that higher education does not improve a person’s perceptions – and sometimes even hurts it. In their survey answers, highly educated Republicans were no more accurate in their ideas about Democratic opinion than poorly educated Republicans. For Democrats, the education effect was even worse: the more educated a Democrat is, according to the study, the less he or she understands the Republican worldview.

Democrats without high school diplomas are three times more likely to understand members of the opposing party than Democrats with PhDs.  That may not actually be that surprising, but one odd finding is that ignorance of the opposition’s beliefs increases as people become more politically engaged.

Of course, we should layer on the caveats.  The questions by which the study collected its data deserve scrutiny, and there could be all sorts of distinctions that might correlate with party affiliation and/or education, such that neither is really a cause of the effect.

That said, the study makes intuitive sense that corresponds with conservatives’ interpretation of modern political dynamics.  Working class Democrats are more likely to be conservative, which would give them more sympathy with Republicans; if you hold a particular political view, for example, you’ll be able to see that it isn’t implicitly racist.  Moreover, at lower levels, occupations are less likely to be a matter of choice, so perhaps those who hold them are more likely to be thrown together with people in similar circumstances who have different political affiliations.

At the same time, education has shifted toward indoctrination, which means that it teaches and prioritizes judgment, not understanding.  This, in turn, changes the nature of political engagement, as being politically active shifts away from an emphasis on addressing real problems and toward the dominance of an ideology.

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A Political Explanation for a Local Contract

Michael Graham offers a national political perspective as an explanation for the strange long-term, no-bid contract that Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo has proposed for IGT’s video slot machines:

To outsiders, the story sounds like an episode of the TV show “Scandal:” A governor with close ties to a lottery company secretly negotiates a no-bid, twenty-year, $1 billion contract, while the company’s former chairman works as her top fundraiser.

But in Rhode Island, the home of legendary political operator Buddy Cianci, some consider it business as usual.

The governor is Gina Raimondo (D-R.I.), the new head of the Democratic Governor’s Association. The corporate exec is Donald Sweitzer, who until recently was chairman of IGT Global Solutions Corporation, the company that currently has Rhode Island’s lottery and electronic gaming contract.

Beyond the shady politics, Graham emphasizes the length of the deal.  In an evolving gambling market on a rapidly changing technological landscape, can a 20-year contract even conceivably be worthwhile for taxpayers?

Andrew Cline of the Josiah Bartlett Center, a free-market think tank, adds that a 20-year contract, regardless of transparency, also raises questions about whether taxpayers are the priority in this deal.

“Setting aside the question of who the vendors are and what the contract says, the idea of any 20-year contract with the government is a problem, particularly for taxpayers,” Cline said. “It takes the pressure off the vendor to compete and improve. Give them a five-year contract and they know that they’re going to have to find ways to lower costs and improve quality if they’re going to compete.”

What are we getting in exchange for all that fiscal certainty for the company?

Naturally, in Graham’s view, it all comes down to the political ambitions of the governor, with which a guy like Sweitzer could be extremely helpful.  Given new poll results showing Raimondo to be (just barely) the second least popular governor in the country, Raimondo will need all the help she can get.

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How You Can Help Break the Union Grip that Contributed Mightily to Providence Education “Horror Show”

By now, you must have heard about the scathing Wall Street Journal editorial on the Providence school system. They didn’t hold back, and it is right in line with what our Center has been saying for years. It is a total embarrassment for teachers who truly care about educating kids.

The WSJ put blame on the powerful teachers unions as a key reason why students are not receiving the education they deserve.

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A Better Way to Cover Americans

With the State of Rhode Island writing ObamaCare into state law with this year’s budget, it’s worth noting a proposal floating around in conservative circles and the Trump Administration, as Avik Roy articulates here:

Last week, the White House finalized a new rule that allows employers to fund health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) that can be used by workers to buy their own coverage on the individual market. This subtle, technical tweak has the potential to revolutionize the private health insurance market. …

The administration estimates that as many as 800,000 employers — mostly smaller businesses — will choose this option, expanding health care choices for 11 million workers in the next decade. These employers will benefit from having fiscal certainty over their health expenditures. And workers will benefit from being able to choose their coverage and take it from job to job.

This is the health-care-market fix for which I’ve been advocating for years.  Everybody would get accounts, and employers could put money into them for their employees.  So could the government, as welfare benefits, and so could charities.  So could parents or even concerned members of a community after some surprise accident or illness for a neighbor.

At the same time, eliminate most mandatory coverages for health insurance so people for whom it makes sense can buy catastrophic coverage inexpensively.  That way everybody is covered for emergencies and nobody ever has a preexisting condition, because everybody has always had some sort of coverage.  At the same time, Americans would be better able to make health care decisions because they’d more often be paying directly for the services they receive and doing the cost-benefit analyses that people several steps removed from their situations can’t possibly do.

Of course, under such a system politicians attempting to buy votes would have to be more direct about it.  They’d be limited to transparently depositing taxpayer money into accounts instead of implicitly driving up costs in our opaque system by requiring insurers to cover certain benefits.  But in a fair analysis, a better, more-sustainable health care system that doesn’t distort the employment market is probably a little bit preferable to enabling corruption in politics.

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The Poster Boy for Progressive Privilege

Providence Journal headline: “Providence Mayor Elorza stands by staffer Regunberg after protest arrest.”  Of course he does:

Among the 18 people arrested for civil disobedience Tuesday night during a protest at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls over the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown was Aaron Regunberg, a policy advisor to Mayor Jorge Elorza.

Regunberg, a former state representative and candidate for lieutenant governor, and the others were taking part in a demonstration organized by the national Jewish youth protest movement Never Again. They were arrested for blocking vehicle access to the facility.

As far as anybody can tell, being a left-wing activist is Regunberg’s job.

By way of a review, Regunberg graduated from Brown University, an Ivy League school.  So far in his adult life, he’s been an activist, a state legislator, and a candidate for lieutenant governor (a six-figure, no-responsibility job).  During his hiatus between the campaign and attendance at Harvard Law School (more Ivy), the taxpayers of Providence and, implicitly, Rhode Island are paying the twentysomething Regunberg at a rate of $80,000 per year to be a policy advisor.

He is the poster boy for progressive privilege in Rhode Island.

That privilege includes not only the guarantee of a high salary no matter what he does, but also immunity from a semblance of representation.  The brazenness proves that Mayor Jorge Elorza has no concern about compromise or maintaining government that plausibly represents people of different views, otherwise it would matter that this employee was arrested for an ideological purpose.

If governing were the top priority, the mayor might also be concerned that one of his employees is attempting to terrify residents with the false specter of an American holocaust.

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What If Nobody Noticed the Governor’s Absence?

John DePetro points something out that one would think would be more widely mentioned:

Governor Raimondo made a loud statement by becoming the first Rhode Island Governor to blow off the Bristol July 4, Parade. Sources say the state congressional delegation were shocked Raimondo chose to skip the country’s longest running parade …

Parade organizers usually have to police the number of politicians that want to be part of the parade, and were upset Raimondo skipped it. Raimondo marched last year along with her son while gearing up for her November reelection. One parade source mentioned that even Gov. Linc Chafee always marched in Bristol despite his low poll numbers.

I’m not sure how John verified that no governor has ever missed the parade, but nonetheless, it seems notable that this one did.  It also seems notable how little remarked the absence was.  Even the state’s leading weekend political wrap-ups don’t take note.

Ordinarily, Ted Nesi’s “Nesi’s Notes” and Ian Donnis’s “TGIF” columns pick up small details of political relevance that might not have fit or been justified for full columns, and neither mentions this.  I’ve searched the local sites and, while I may have missed something, I don’t see the missing governor story anywhere.  Perhaps the Providence Journal’s “Political Scene” will cover it on Monday.

During the election, last year, the governor released a slick campaign video promoting her presence.

It’s fascinating what gets covered and what doesn’t.  While I wouldn’t go so far as to assert bias — Who knows what goes into any particular writer’s coverage decisions on a holiday weekend? — the topic is a good reminder of the leverage of the news media to shape people’s understanding of what’s going on and what’s important.

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Another Complaint Against Tiverton Council Dismissed

The Facebook spin after the Ethics Commission complaints against three Tiverton Town Council members (including me) were dismissed without investigation was that we only got away with it because we have friends on the commission.  (If you’ve watched state-level politics for a while, you may need to pause for a moment to finish laughing about that allegation before reading on.)

It will be interesting to see whether the same spin is tried against the Attorney General now that his office has joined the conspiracy:

On January 17, three members of the Tiverton Town Council – Patricia Hilton, Denise DeMedeiros, and Joseph Perry – filed an Open Meetings Act (OMA) complaint with the Rhode Island Attorney General against the other four councilors: Robert Coulter, Donna Cook, Nancy Driggs, and me, all of us members of the Tiverton Taxpayers Association (TTA). The complaint included three separate accusations, and after five months, more than $1,500 in expenses to the town, and many hours of lost time, all three counts have been dismissed. As the Attorney General’s ruling states, “we find that the Town Council did not violate the OMA.”

As I note at the second link above, this is all part of an ongoing effort to keep a disruptive Gotcha game going to color public perception.  If the people of Tiverton follow the example of the Ethics Commission and the Attorney General, review the facts, and talk to us, they’ll probably join the conspiracy, too.

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Straight Up Taxpayer Dollars for Promise of a New Treatment

After Steve Ahlquist firstbrought attention to the million dollar handout that the Rhode Island House wishes to give to Dr. Victor Pedro for his Cortical Integrative Therapy (CIT), a WPRI report covered the history of Pedro’s taxpayer funding.  One can’t help but feel that there must be more to the story:

  • Legislative leaders have long gone to bat for the doctor.
  • The executive branch has apparently made extra efforts to secure Medicaid funding for his treatments.
  • And even mild-mannered Lieutenant Governor Daniel McGee has spoken well of Pedro, including his activities in Cumberland schools back when McKee was mainly known as a mayor for that town.

Amazingly, though, nobody has yet mentioned the connection of pop star Paula Abdul, which takes an only-in-Rhode-Island turn.  Says Abdul:

I wish I’d had Cortical Integrative Therapy when I first discovered I had RSD, and I wish Dr. Pedro had been a part of my support system then like he is now.  The treatment replaces the old tapes in your head that have held onto the tapes of pain.  It helps your brain to allow for new experiences and new memories that don’t involve pain.  Think of it in terms of a computer — you’re deleting old files so you can free up more space.  I didn’t find out about Cortical Integrative Therapy until recently, and it has proved to be a life-changing treatment for my RSD.

The strange Rhode Island turn is that Abdul has another connection to Rhode Island as the long-time girlfriend of John Caprio, son of Caught in Providence star judge Frank Caprio and brother of the former treasurer and gubernatorial candidate of the same name as well as former representative David Caprio.  Various online sources also seem to indicate that Abdul has set up various businesses at 2220 Plainfield Pike in Cranston in the past.

This topic could certainly take a serious turn into political theory as an example of why government shouldn’t be in the investment and research business, why Rhode Island should end legislative grants, and why the governor should have the line-item veto.  If Pedro is an innovative practitioner of alternative medicine for the stars, he shouldn’t need government subsidies.

For this post, though, let’s just close with a sincere hope that Rhode Island’s press is sufficiently interested to unravel this entire peculiar tale.

One aspect of the abortion debate with which one really must contend is the deception of those who advocate for abortion as a right, starting with the idea that legislation to preserve women's ability to kill their unborn children in the womb is about "reproductive health care."  Reproductive of what?

Archambault’s Flip-Flop on Fetal Homicide


It seems that Senator Steven Archambault, who had been the swing vote on the RI Senate Judiciary committee on the abortion bill, agreed to support decriminalization of fetal homicide in return for nothing of substance.

The revised abortion bill that was introduced yesterday removes the killing of a preborn child during an attack on the mother from the definition of manslaughter, while explicitly adding “the termination of a pregnancy” to the definition of a serious bodily injury under Rhode Island’s felony assault law. But if you listen to Dan Yorke’s interview with RI Attorney General Peter Neronha from earlier this year, starting at about 6:50, you will hear AG Neronha say that harm to a preborn child that occurs during an assault on the mother already meets the definition of serious bodily injury, under the legal theory — acceptable to abortion supporters — that a child is an organ or member of his or her mother. (“Organ or member” is Attorney General Neronha’s description, not mine).

Based on his statements from the Dan Yorke interview and the language in the current abortion bill, the Attorney General should be asked if he believes the new section defining serious bodily injury changes anything about its definition, because it certainly seems that the amended bill makes no meaningful change to the law except for making a point of stripping preborn children of their right to life. With the transfer last night of the abortion bill from the Senate’s Judiciary Committee to the Health and Human Services committee, there are two additional days to seek this expert opinion.

As for Senator Archambault: it looks like he’s the kind of “moderate” Democrat who becomes a progressive, whenever it counts.

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The Many Ways to Shuffle Around Money and Influence

Dan McGowan’s recent Boston Globe article about Democrat Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza’s curious fundraising relationship with a local nonprofit is a excellent representation of the way things increasingly work in politics:

Because there is no state law prohibiting politicians from raising money for nonprofits, the operation appears to be legal. But it has created a “back door way” for companies to “ingratiate themselves with public officials,” said John Marion, the executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, a good-government advocacy group. …

Elorza, who was first elected in 2014 and won another four-year term last year, has raised more than $500,000 for the tourism fund, using a portion of the money to travel to places including China and New Orleans.

That’s not all.  In keeping with the practices of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo, the nonprofit is also part of a larger job network for Elorza’s political allies.  When he makes calls to solicit money for the nonprofit, Elorza goes to Campaign Finance Officers, “the consulting firm that has overseen his political fund-raising operation for five years.”  Those dots connect much more closely:

When Elorza took office, he installed three of his supporters as the sole members of the fund’s board of directors.

One of those three is Meg Clurman, who is a partner at the aforementioned Campaign Finance Officers.  One of the organization’s employees is Andrew Moore, who is also Elorza’s campaign finance director and has been paid by the Providence Tourism Fund in the past.

An important lesson from this revelation is that the very idea of campaign finance reform is wrongheaded.  Once a politician hits a certain level of money and power, the opportunities to find workarounds are too extensive.  Giving him travel money, helping to keep his allies employed, and even providing him money to spend on feel-good things through a nonprofit are all tangible benefits that donors are providing to the mayor.

Thus, laws that target more straightforward transactions disproportionately trip up only those who are trying to build momentum in order to make provide accountability through competition at the ballot box, which is where corruption ultimately has to be called to account.

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Upcoming Budget: More Privileges for Insiders or Real Help for RI Families?

With the General Assembly session nearing the end, we fully expect the new state budget to contain no meaningful remedies to the many problems that plague our state, such as high taxes across the board, high energy and healthcare costs, and onerous regulatory burdens on job-producers. In our Public Union Excesses report, we identified that there are $888 million per year in excessive collectively-bargained costs, responsible for driving up local property taxes by up to 25%.

Progressive wearing communist hammer and sickle alongside drag queen protests on Catholic holy ground.

Progressives Protest Catholic Church in Providence

As faithful Catholics left the 6:00 pm Mass on Sunday night at the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul in Providence, they met a crowd of over a hundred angry Progressive protestors. The demonstrators were there to protest against the religious tenets of the the Catholic Church. The protest came following a viral tweet from Bishop Thomas J. Tobin early Saturday morning reminding Catholics not to support the LGBTQ “Pride Month,” and warning families that the sexual displays present at “Pride” marches are especially harmful to children.

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Help Spread the Word About the Cost of Government Unions

Wow, has our report shaken up the status quo! We have done the research, and we have connected the dots. The number one driver of the Ocean State’s declining population and jobs numbers – the high property taxes we all pay – can now be directly connected to the excessive costs of government, as mandated by government union collective bargaining agreements.

Now, we are asking your support to help us spread the word.

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Political Monday with John DePetro: Labor and Abortion in Rhode Island

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, this week, was about the likely future of legislation supporting organized labor and promoting abortion, as well as the governor’s chances of spinning her performance for state and national consumption.

Open post for full audio.

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Holding the Thread on Pension Stipends

This idea of giving government retirees a stipend in years that they don’t receive cost of living adjustments (COLAs) to their pensions seems to me a much more dangerous one than it might appear on the surface:

In legislation debated in a House Finance Committee hearing Tuesday night, Reps. Robert Craven, Michael Morin (a retired firefighter), Carol McEntee and Justine Caldwell propose that “an increasing stipend″ be paid retired state employees, municipal employees and teachers or their beneficiaries in years when there is no scheduled cost-of-living adjustment. …

Starting in the year that begins Jan. 1, 2020, the legislation would have the state pay a 3% “stipend″ on the first $15,000 in pension benefits, a boost of up to $450 initially, in each year in which there is no scheduled COLA payment.

In 2022, the stipend would increase to 3% of the first $20,000 in pension benefits, up to a maximum of $600 a year, and in 2026 it would increase again to 3% of the first $25,000 in benefits, up to a maximum of $750 per year.

Starting in 2030, the proposed increases would be tied to an annual index.

The pension system is a fund into which the employee and the employer pay throughout his or her career.  The supposition is that those contributions will be enough by the time the person retires to cover his or her retirement with no further additions.  If the system is not working, adjustments should be made within the system or funding increased to the system to shore it up.

To take the approach of adding some additional direct payment to the pension plan’s members is, in principle, no different than having the state pick any group of people and start giving it money.  As a practical reality, that happens all the time — far too much — but this legislation would cross another line and destroy the principle that government shouldn’t do such things.  A lingering sense of propriety may be all that’s holding our government together at the moment, and it’s a thread that shouldn’t be cut.

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Looking for the Secret of Democrat Mayors’ Mystique

The polling group, Morning Consult, has released its first-quarter 2019 results for the approval and disapproval rates of governors across the United States.  Glancing at the feature at the top, showing the 10 most popular governors, an obvious fact might jump out at those who pay attention to politics:  They’re all Republicans.

In fact, of the 22 governors with at least 50% approval, only four are Democrats.  That means 19 Democrat governors are leading states in which fewer than half of people are willing to say they approve of  them.  That contrasts with just nine Republicans of whom the same could be said.

Rhode Island’s Democrat offering on the list, Gina Raimondo, ties with two other Democrats for third-lowest approval rating.  The tie goes away, however, when one notes that Raimondo’s disapproval rate of 50%.  Only Republican Matt Bevin, of Kentucky, outdoes that, with 52% disapproval.

That means Rhode Islanders have more reason than most to solve a mystery inherent in the numbers:  How are Democrats able to secure and hold governorships despite their unpopularity while governing?

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