2021 saw the most state executive officials leave office early since 2012

Welcome to the Monday, January 10, Brew. 

By: Samuel Wonacott

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Thirty-nine state executive officials left office early in 2021
  2.  Top-ballot statewide elections in 2022 
  3. New Jersey’s state supreme court vacancy

39 state executives left office early last year—the most since at least 2012

When an official leaves office early we call that an irregular office change. This can happen for a variety of reasons, such as resignation, death, etc. In 2021, we identified 39 state executive officials who left office early—the most since we started tracking these changes in 2012

In 2021: 

  • 18 state executive officials resigned—including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who stepped down following allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior
  •  9 were appointed to a different office 
  • 4 left for the private sector
  • 4 left for political reasons
  • 2 retired
  • 1 died
  • 1 (Kathy Hochul) succeeded to the office of Governor of New York

Nineteen of the 39 officials were nonpartisan, while 11 were Democrats and nine were Republican. Out of all the offices vacated, attorney general, secretary of state, and public service commissioner had the most frequent resignations (each with six). The next-highest office was treasurer, with three.

Between 2012 and 2021, there were 29 irregular changes in public service commissioner offices—the most of any office. This is followed by the office of lieutenant governor, which had 19 irregular changes, and superintendent of public instruction, with 15 changes.

The three years with the most irregular office changes since 2012 followed a presidential election. We tracked 36 irregular office changes in 2013, 23 irregular office changes in 2017, and 39 irregular office changes in 2021.

Click below to read more about irregular office changes. 

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36 states hold two or more top-ballot statewide elections in 2022 

In 2022, 36 states are holding elections for two or more top-ballot statewide offices. We define those offices to include: U.S. Senate, governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and secretary of state. Twenty-six states are holding elections for governor—the top state executive position—and a U.S. Senator. 

Let’s take a look at the details:

  • 16 states are holding elections for all five top-level statewide offices.
  • 11 states are holding elections for four of the offices.
  • 5 states are holding elections for three of the offices.
  • 4 states are holding elections for two of the offices.

In 11 states with more than two top-level statewide elections, the current incumbents belong to different parties. In the table below, blue cells correspond to the Democratic Party, while red cells correspond to the Republican Party. 

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Here’s some information on New Jersey’s upcoming state supreme court vacancy

Speaking of vacancies and turnover, let’s take a closer look at State Supreme Courts. When New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Faustino J. Fernandez-Vina turns 70 on Feb. 15, he’ll hit the state’s mandatory retirement age—leading to a vacancy on the court. Governor Phil Murphy’s (D) will choose Fernandez-Vina’s replacement. So far, Murphy has nominated two justices to the seven-member supreme court. 

Governor Chris Christie (R) appointed Justice Fernandez-Vina, who officially joined the court on Nov. 19, 2013. Before beginning his tenure, Fernandez-Vina served as a legal associate and as a partner with private law firms. He received a B.A. in history from Widener University in 1974 and a J.D. from Rutgers University in 1978. After law school, Fernandez-Vina clerked for New Jersey Superior Court Judge E. Stevenson Fluharty.

States use different methods for selecting state justices. In New Jersey, the governor directly appoints state supreme court justices without the use of a nominating commission. As of Jan. 4, there are five states that use this method for selecting justices. 

There are currently four supreme court vacancies pending in three of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies are all due to  retirements. Three of the vacancies—in Maryland and Wyoming—are in states where a Republican governor appoints the replacement. One vacancy—in New Jersey—is in a state where a Democratic governor appoints the replacement. 

Click here to read more about the gubernatorial appointment of judges, or click the link below to learn more about New Jersey’s state supreme court vacancy. 

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