Welcome to the Wednesday, Feb. 10, Brew. Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:
- Alaska House of Representatives elects temporary speaker
- Iowa voters to decide constitutional amendment regarding firearms next year
- Checking in on 2021 state supreme court vacancies
Alaska House of Representatives elects temporary speaker
Forty-six state legislatures are currently in session. The Alaska House of Representatives has been in session since Jan. 19. But no regular business has taken place because legislators have not elected a permanent speaker or organized committees.
Partisan control of the House was uncertain after the 2020 elections, split between those favoring a Republican-led majority and those supporting a multi-party coalition. Republicans won 21 of 40 seats, but Rep. Louise Stutes (R) joined a coalition of 16 Democrats and three independents, leaving legislators split into two 20-member factions.
The Alaska House elected Josiah Patkotak (I) unanimously as temporary speaker on Feb. 4. Patkotak was elected to his first term on Nov. 3. He is presiding over the chamber until a permanent speaker is elected, taking over for Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer (R) who had filled the role of presiding officer since the legislative session began. Legislators have not submitted any nominations for a permanent speaker as of Feb. 9.
Alaska has a Republican governor, and Republicans control the state Senate, so final control of the chamber will also determine the state’s trifecta status.
The Alaska House faced a similar situation after the 2018 elections. That year, Republican-aligned candidates won 23 seats, and Democratic-aligned candidates won 17. A coalition of 15 Democrats, four Republicans, and two independents elected Bryce Edgmon (I) as House speaker on Feb. 14, 2019. Edgmon was originally elected as a Democrat but changed his party affiliation to independent before he was elected speaker. Both parties split control of key leadership positions and committees.
Iowa voters to decide constitutional amendment regarding firearms next year
Iowa voters will decide a state constitutional amendment in 2022 that says, “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” and “Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”
Both chambers of the legislature approved the measure on Jan. 28, certifying it for the next general election. The votes were along party lines, with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats opposed. To put a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment before voters, both chambers of the legislature must approve it by a simple majority in two legislative sessions. There also must be a state legislative election between the two sessions.
Amendment sponsors originally intended to pass the bill during the 2017-2018 and 2019-2020 sessions to place the question on the 2020 ballot. However, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate (R) said in January 2019 that his office failed to publish the amendment in two newspapers in each of Iowa’s congressional districts and on the legislature’s website once per month for three months, as the state constitution requires. Because the amendments passed during the 2018 legislative session were not published, sponsors had to start the amendment process from the beginning.
Forty-four states include a right to bear arms in their constitutions, some for self-defense and the defense of the state. North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia were the first to add such a right to their state constitutions in 1776. The most recent amendments were added in Alabama and Missouri in 2014 and Louisiana in 2012.
Iowa’s constitutional amendment is one of four statewide ballot measures in three states approved for the 2022 ballot.
Checking in on 2021 state supreme court vacancies
So far this year, there have been seven supreme court vacancies in the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies occurred in six states, and retirements caused all seven.
Here’s a look at the two most recently-announced vacancies, including one in Missouri that could change the partisan balance when considering the party of the governor that appointed each justice.
- Idaho Supreme Court Justice Roger Burdick is retiring on June 30. Republican Gov. Dirk Kempthorne appointed him in 2003, and voters retained him in 2004, 2010, and 2016. Burdick’s current term would have expired in January 2023. His replacement will be Republican Gov. Brad Little’s first appointment to the five-member supreme court.
- Following Burdick’s retirement, Republican governors will have appointed three justices to the supreme court, and one justice was elected in a nonpartisan election to an open seat.
- Missouri Supreme Court Justice Laura Denvir Stith is retiring on Mar. 8. Democratic Gov. Bob Holden appointed her to this position in 2001, and voters retained her in 2002 and 2014. Stith’s current term would have expired on Dec. 31, 2026. Her replacement will be Gov. Mike Parson’s (R) first nominee to the seven-member supreme court.
- Before Stith’s retirement, a Democratic governor appointed four justices on the court, and a Republican governor appointed three. After Gov. Parson appoints Stith’s replacement, the composition of the court will change—Republican governors will have appointed four justices, and Democratic governors will have appointed three.
In 2020, there were 23 supreme court vacancies in 16 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. In 2019, there were 22 vacancies in those states.