Checking in on trifectas

 The Daily Brew

Welcome to the Thursday, November 14, Brew. Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Checking in on trifectas
  2. Local Elections Roundup
  3. Two state legislative seats flip party control in Nov. 5 special elections

Checking in on trifectas

Five states—Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia—held elections for either governor or one or more state legislative chambers that could have resulted in a change in trifecta control of state government. A state government trifecta exists when the governor’s party holds majorities in both houses of a state’s legislature. 

Heading into 2019, Mississippi and Kentucky were Republican trifectas, New Jersey was a Democratic trifecta, and Louisiana and Virginia were under divided government. Nationally, there were 22 Republican trifectas, 14 Democratic trifectas, and 14 states under divided government.

Kentucky and Louisiana’s post-election trifecta status has not yet been determined. Kentucky’s gubernatorial election remains uncalled. A recanvass of the statewide election results is scheduled to be completed today. Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear (D) leads Gov. Matt Bevin (R), 49.2% to 48.8%. If Beshear wins, Kentucky will have divided government. If Bevin wins, the state’s Republican trifecta will be maintained. 

Louisiana will hold a general election for governor on Saturday, Nov. 16. Republicans won enough legislative seats in October’s all-party primaries to maintain their control of both chambers of the state legislature, so the gubernatorial election alone will determine Louisiana’s trifecta status. If Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) wins, Louisiana will remain under divided government, and if challenger Eddie Rispone (R) wins, Republicans will gain a trifecta.

New Jersey and Mississippi each retained their trifectas. In New Jersey, Democrats held their majority in the General Assembly. In Mississippi, Tate Reeves (R) was elected governor, succeeding term-limited Phil Bryant (R), and Republicans held both legislative chambers.

Democrats gained a trifecta in Virginia by winning majorities in both the state Senate and the House of Delegates. Alongside Gov. Ralph Northam (D)—who was not up for election this year—Democrats will hold a trifecta once the new legislators are seated. This is Virginia’s first Democratic trifecta since 1993.

Excluding Louisiana and Kentucky, after the 2019 elections there will be 21 Republican trifectas, 15 Democratic trifectas, and 12 states under divided government.

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Local Elections Roundup 

Here are results updates from local elections held last week


Voters in Seattle decided seats in seven city council districts Nov. 5. The city’s two at-large council seats were not up for election in 2019. Three incumbents ran for re-election, and all three won. The other four races were open seats.

Five of the seven council races were won by candidates supported by two political action committees—Civic Alliance for a Progressive Economy (CAPE) and UNITE HERE!, which is affiliated with labor groups. This included two incumbents, Lisa Herbold and Kshama Sawant. 

Two races were won by candidates endorsed by the local chamber of commerce’s PAC—Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE)—including incumbent Debora Juarez. Amazon contributed $1.5 million to CASE, which endorsed candidates in each race, including challengers to Herbold and Sawant. A 2018 head tax proposal, which the council passed and subsequently repealed, met with opposition from the chamber of commerce and Amazon. New York Times technology correspondent Karen Weise wrote, “Four years ago, Amazon gave just $25,000 to the PAC.” GeekWire’s Monica Nickelsburg wrote, “It’s a sign that local politics can have a big impact on this global corporation and an example of Amazon’s newfound appetite for civic engagement at all levels of government.”

These elections saw record-breaking satellite spending of more than $4 million, which was more than 5 times the amount spent in 2015, the last time the same seven council seats were up for election.

California Local Ballot Measures

Voters in California decided 45 local ballot measures Nov. 5. According to unofficial election results, 35 of those measures were approved, eight were defeated, and two measures are still undecided.

The two measures that are too close to call—San Francisco Proposition D and Redwood City School District Proposition H—are tax measures that require a two-thirds supermajority vote to pass. San Francisco Proposition D would enact a tax on ride-share companies. Current results show it being favored by 67.7% of voters. Redwood City School District Proposition H would authorize a parcel tax in the district for 12 years. Current results show it being favored by 66.2% of voters. In both instances, provisional ballots have not been fully counted.

Below is a breakdown by topic of these 45 local measures:

  • 14 parcel tax measures — 10 approved and three defeated and one for which the outcome has not been determined,
  • nine sales tax measures — eight approved and one defeated,
  • four local hotel tax measures, all approved,
  • four measures that would make city clerks, city treasurers, or both appointed instead of elected — three approved and one defeated,
  • two marijuana tax measures — both approved,
  • two local spending limit increases — both approved,
  • two measures concerning development and land use — both approved,
  • two local business taxes, including a tax on ride-share companies in San Francisco — one approved and one for which the outcome has not been determined,
  • two measures concerning affordable housing (bonds and zoning/development regulations) — both approved,
  • a campaign finance limits and disclosure requirements measure in San Francisco — approved,
  • a vaping authorization and regulation measure in San Francisco — defeated,
  • a charter amendment in San Francisco concerning the city’s disability and aging services commission — approved,
  • a measure to increase the minimum wage for hospitality workers in Rancho Palos Verdes —  defeated.

An average of 64 local measures appeared on November ballots in the previous three odd-numbered years in California. In November 2017, voters decided 62 ballot measures that took place across 20 counties. Forty measures were approved and 22 were defeated.

Two state legislative seats flip party control in Nov. 5 special elections

In addition to statewide elections held Nov. 5, special general elections were held in 19 state legislative districts across 10 states. These races were to fill vacancies for state legislators who resigned or otherwise left office before the end of their terms in states that fill such openings using elections rather than appointment. 

Thirteen of the 19 special general elections saw no change in partisan control and two seats flipped parties—one to Democrats and one to Republicans.  In Missouri, state House District 99 was won by a Democrat after being previously held by a Republican. The special election in New Jersey state Senate District 1 was won by a Republican after being previously held by U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D), who was elected to Congress in November 2018.

One special election for a seat in the Georgia state House advanced to a Dec. 3 runoff. That seat will not change partisan control as two Republicans will meet in the runoff for a seat previously held by a Republican. Elections for three Texas state House seats advanced to runoff elections for which a date has not yet been set by Gov. Greg Abbott (R). Partisan primary elections were also held Nov. 5 for a seat in the Tennessee state House. The general election for the seat will take place December 19. 

In 2019, special elections have been held for 71 seats. Heading into those races, Democrats had previously controlled 37 of the seats while Republicans previously controlled 34. Five seats flipped from Democratic control to Republican control. Two seats flipped from Republican control to Democratic control. One seat flipped from Republican control to an independent officeholder.

In special elections between 2011 and 2018, one party (either Republicans or Democrats) saw an average net gain of four seats nationally each year. An average of 91 seats were filled through special elections in each of the past four odd-numbered years. Thirty-four state legislative special elections took place on November 7, 2017, and 20 state legislative special elections were held on November 3, 2015.

Two state legislative special elections will take place in December—in Arkansas and Tennessee. Three such elections have been scheduled so far in 2020 in three states—Arkansas, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

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