Author

Janie Valentine

Janie Valentine is a staff writer at Ballotpedia and can be reached at janie.valentine@ballotpedia.org.

Ballotpedia’s review of the top 10 races in 2019

Here’s what happened in the top 10 races we watched in November 2019, including races for state executive and legislative offices, municipal elections, and statewide ballot measures.
 
Governors:
 
  • Kentucky: Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear (D) defeated Gov. Matt Bevin (R) and John Hicks (L) in Kentucky’s gubernatorial election. Beshear’s victory meant that Kentucky transitioned from a Republican state government trifecta to divided government.
  • Louisiana: Incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) defeated businessman Eddie Rispone (R) in the general election for governor of Louisiana. Edwards’ win meant the state would remain under divided government. A win from Rispone would have made Louisiana a Republican trifecta.
  • Mississippi: Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) defeated state Attorney General Jim Hood (D), Bob Hickingbottom (Constitution), and David Singletary (I) in the election for governor of Mississippi. Incumbent Phil Bryant (R) was term-limited. Reeves’ win and Republican victories in the state House and Senate preserved the state’s Republican trifecta.
 
State legislatures:
 
  • Virginia House of Delegates: Democrats gained control of the Virginia House of Delegates, winning a 55-45 majority. Heading into the election, Republicans held a 51-49 majority.
  • Virginia State Senate: Democrats gained control of the Virginia State Senate, winning a 21-19 majority. Heading into the election, Republicans held a 20-19 majority with one vacancy in a seat previously held by a Republican. By winning both chambers of the legislature, Democrats gained a state government trifecta.
 
Municipal:
 
  • Mayor of Houston: Incumbent Mayor Sylvester Turner and former Texas A&M Board of Regents member Tony Buzbee will participate in a December 14 runoff election for mayor of Houston, Texas after advancing from the general election.
  • Seattle City Council: The city of Seattle, Washington, held nonpartisan general elections for seven city council districts on November 5, 2019. Four races were open, and three incumbents won re-election. The 2019 races saw a record-breaking $4.2 million in satellite spending through November 5.
 
Ballot measures:
 
  • Colorado Proposition CC: Colorado Proposition CC, the Allow State to Retain Revenue for Transportation and Education Measure, was on the ballot in Colorado as a legislatively referred state statute. It was defeated. Colorado Proposition CC would have allowed the state to retain revenue it was, at the time of the election, required to refund under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR).
  • Pennsylvania Marsy’s Law Amendment: The Pennsylvania Marsy’s Law Crime Victims Rights Amendment was on the ballot in Pennsylvania as a legislatively referred constitutional amendment. This was a measure to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to guarantee victims of crimes 15 specific rights. A majority of electors voted to approve the ballot measure. However, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court enjoined Acting Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar from certifying election results, pending a court ruling on whether the amendment violated the state constitution’s requirement that separate amendments receive separate votes.
  • Texas Proposition 4: Texas Proposition 4, the Prohibit State Income Tax on Individuals Amendment, was on the ballot in Texas as a legislatively referred constitutional amendment. The measure was approved. Texas Proposition 4 was a measure to amend the Texas Constitution to prohibit the state from levying an income tax.
 


Republicans win 68-35 majority in Louisiana House, two seats short of a veto-proof supermajority

Republicans secured a 68-35 majority with two independent members in the November 16 general election, after maintaining their majority in the Louisiana House of Representatives during the October 12 primaries. Heading into the primaries, Republicans held a 60-39 majority with five independent members and one vacancy in a seat previously held by a Republican. The 2019 elections resulted in a net gain of seven seats for Republicans and a net loss of four seats for Democrats.
 
All 105 House seats were up for election in 2019. Twenty-four of those races required general elections. As a result of the October 12 primary elections, in which candidates could win a seat outright by receiving more than 50% of the vote, 63 House seats were guaranteed to Republicans, 33 to Democrats, and one to an independent.
 
Party control of eight House seats was decided in the general election. Of those races, five were won by Republicans, two were won by Democrats, and one was won by an independent. Republican candidates would have needed to win all seven races in which they were facing a Democratic or independent candidate in order to win a 70-seat supermajority in the House. The eighth race in which party control was decided was between a Democrat and an independent. The other 16 races were between two candidates from the same party.
 
Republicans secured a supermajority in the state Senate in the October 12 primary election. With supermajorities in the House and Senate, Republicans would have had the ability to both override a gubernatorial veto and vote to place a legislatively referred constitutional amendment on the ballot.
 
These were the last elections before the state government redraws congressional and state legislative districts following the 2020 Census. If Republicans had won veto-proof majorities in both legislative chambers, they would have had control over Louisiana’s redistricting process.
 
Heading into the election, Louisiana had a divided government, which was maintained when incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) won the gubernatorial election on November 16.
 


National Democratic Redistricting Committee contributes $300,000 to Louisiana races ahead of Saturday elections

The House Democratic Campaign Committee of Louisiana reported a $100,000 contribution from the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC) in a report filed on November 2. The NDRC also contributed $100,000 each to the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee of Louisiana and Louisiana Democrats.
 
The NDRC is a 527 group chaired by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that aims to position Democrats favorably for the round of redistricting following the 2020 census. The NDRC is affiliated with the 501(c)(3) entity the National Redistricting Foundation and the 501(c)(4) entity the National Redistricting Action Fund.
 
Louisiana’s November 16 general elections are the last elections before the state government redraws congressional and state legislative districts following the 2020 census.
 
Heading into the general election on Saturday, Republicans are seven seats short of a 70-seat supermajority in the Louisiana House of Representatives after securing a supermajority in the state Senate in the October 12 primary election. With supermajorities in the House and Senate, Republicans would have the ability to override a gubernatorial veto. If Republicans win veto-proof majorities in both legislative chambers, they will have control over Louisiana’s redistricting process, regardless of the gubernatorial election’s outcome.
 
Louisiana currently has a divided government split between Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Republican state House and state Senate. Gov. Edwards and businessman Eddie Rispone (R) advanced from the October 12 primary election to face off in the general election on Saturday.
 


New York senator introduces bill to allow felons to vote while incarcerated. What are your state’s rules?

Sen. Kevin Parker (D) introduced a bill in the New York State Senate on October 30 that would allow felons to vote while incarcerated. If passed, the bill would make New York the third state allowing inmates to vote, along with Maine and Vermont.
 
Voting rights for convicted felons vary substantially from state to state. Most states automatically restore voting rights either immediately after a felon is released from prison or once the full sentence has been served, including probation or parole. In Nebraska, there is a two-year waiting period after the completion of a felony sentence before voting rights are restored. Seven states permanently disenfranchise felons who have committed certain categories of crimes, while all felons in Kentucky and Iowa are permanently disenfranchised unless rights are restored on an individual basis.
 
Parker, who represents District 21, was elected in 2002. New York has a Democratic state government trifecta, as Democrats hold the governorship and have majorities in the state Senate and the state Assembly.
 


Thirteen candidates vie for Houston ISD school board seats on Nov. 5

Four out of nine school board seats in the Houston Independent School District (HISD) are up for election on November 5. Thirteen candidates are running:
 
District II (open seat): Katherine Blueford-Daniels, Jevon German, John Gibbs Sr., Cristin Moses, and Chloe Veal are running.
District III: Incumbent Sergio Lira and Daniela Hernandez are running.
District IV (open seat): Patricia Allen, Matthew Barnes, Reagan Flowers, and Larry McKinzie are running.
District VIII: Incumbent and board president Diana Davila and Judith Cruz are running.
 
Heading into the election, the HISD school board faces the possibility of being replaced by a state-appointed board. If that happened, elected school board members would not have any power until the board was reinstated, although they would be able to participate as non-voting representatives. The state’s commissioner of education could decide to replace the HISD school board for two reasons: either as a result of a Texas Education Agency investigation into the board’s governance or as a result of poor academic performance ratings at a high school in the district.
 
Candidates running in 2019 Texas school board elections were required to file two campaign finance reports ahead of the election: one covering activity through September 26 and a second covering activity through October 26. As of October 29, the latter had not yet been made available by the district.
 
Ten of the 13 candidates reported campaign contributions through September 26.
 
In District II, Blueford-Daniels received around $17,700 in campaign contributions, German received $250, and Moses received around $800. Gibbs and Veal did not report any campaign contributions.
In District III, Hernandez reported around $26,600 in campaign contributions, and Lira reported around $6,600.
In District IV, Allen reported around $3,800 in contributions, Barnes reported around $61,000, and Flowers reported around $31,100. McKinzie did not report any campaign contributions.
In District VIII, Cruz reported around $60,000 in campaign contributions, and Davila reported $2,500.
 
As of the 2018-2019 school year, HISD was the largest school district in Texas and the seventh-largest school district in the United States, serving 209,772 students in 280 schools with a budget of $2.04 billion.
 
Early voting began on October 21 and will run through November 1.


General election for Louisiana House of Representatives will determine whether Republicans secure veto-proof majorities in House and Senate

Heading into the Nov. 16 general election, Republicans are seven seats short of a 70-seat supermajority in the Louisiana House of Representatives.
 
Louisiana has a two-round electoral system, sometimes referred to as a jungle primary or majority electoral system. All candidates, regardless of party affiliation, face off in the primary election. If a candidate receives at least 50 percent of the vote in the primary election, he or she wins outright. If no candidate reaches that threshold, a general election is held between the top two vote-getters.
 
After the Oct. 12 primary election, 63 House seats are guaranteed to Republicans, 33 to Democrats, and one to an independent. Party control of eight House seats will be decided in the general election. Republicans need to win all seven of these general elections where they are on the ballot in order to win a veto-proof House majority. Democrats can prevent a Republican supermajority in the House by winning at least one of the races in which they are facing a Republican opponent.
 
Republicans secured a supermajority in the state Senate in the primary. With supermajorities in the House and Senate, Republicans would have the ability to both override a gubernatorial veto and vote to place a legislatively referred constitutional amendment on the ballot.
 
These are also the last elections before the state government redraws congressional and state legislative districts following the 2020 census. In Louisiana, both congressional and state legislative districts are drawn by the state legislature.
 
The Louisiana gubernatorial general election will also be held on Nov. 16. Incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) and businessman Eddie Rispone (R) advanced from the primary. If Edwards wins, the state will remain under divided government. If Rispone wins, Republicans will have a state government trifecta.
 


Commission on Presidential Debates announces 2020 general election debate schedule

The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) announced the dates of three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate for the 2020 general election. The CPD has sponsored every presidential and vice presidential general election debate since 1988.
 
Presidential debates are scheduled for the following dates in 2020: September 29 at the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Indiana, October 15 at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and October 22 at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. A vice presidential debate will be held on October 7, 2020, at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
 
The debates will be 90 minutes in length and start at 9:00 p.m. ET. Additional information, such as the debate format and moderators, will be released in 2020.
 
The CPD also announced its criteria for inviting candidates to participate in these debates. Candidates will be invited if they are constitutionally eligible, provide evidence of ballot access in enough states to win an Electoral College majority, and demonstrate 15% support in national polling.
 


Plastic bag ban preemption conflict ongoing in Florida

Preemption occurs when law at a higher level of government is used to overrule authority at a lower level of government. A recent sequence of events in Florida provides an example of the conflict that can emerge between state and local governments over the idea of preemption.
 
In August 2019, the Florida Third District Court of Appeal ruled that sections of Florida law that prohibit local governments from regulating plastic bags and other packaging were constitutional. That decision reversed a ruling by the Eleventh Circuit Court that upheld the city of Coral Gables’ ban on the retail use of polystyrene, or Styrofoam, which had been approved in February 2016. The case was originally brought by the Florida Retail Federation.
 
On August 27, 2019, the Coral Gables City Commission voted to appeal the decision to the Florida Supreme Court.
 
Other local governments across Florida repealed or delayed their bans after Coral Gables lost its case, including Gainesville, Miami Beach, Palm Beach, Surfside, and Alachua County.
 
Advocates of plastic bag regulations say that reusable bags save retailers money and reduce the number of bags without recyclable materials that enter municipal recycling programs. Opponents say that comprehensive solid-waste disposal laws already cover the issues addressed by local bans in some states, plastic bags can be reused around the home rather than thrown away, and bans add an unnecessary financial burden for low-income families that would be required to buy reusable bags.
 
In 2019, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Tennessee passed legislation preempting local plastic bag bans.
 


School board elections happening amidst uncertainty in Houston, Texas

Four out of nine seats on the Houston Independent School District (HISD) board of education are up for general election on November 5, 2019. Heading into the election, the HISD school board faces the possibility of being replaced by a state-appointed board of managers. If the state appoints a board of managers, elected school board members would not have any power until the elected board was reinstated, although they could participate as non-voting representatives.
 
The state’s commissioner of education, Mike Morath, could decide to replace the HISD school board for either of two reasons: either as a result of a Texas Education Agency (TEA) investigation into the board’s governance or as a result of poor academic performance ratings at a high school in the district.
 
TEA Special Investigations Unit Director Jason Hewitt recommended in August 2019 that the state appoint a board of managers for the district. He cited the elected board’s “inability to appropriately govern, inability to operate within the scope of their authority, circumventing the authority of the superintendent, and inability to ensure proper contract procurement laws are followed.” HISD lawyers filed a lawsuit against the TEA on August 16 which claimed that school board members’ rights were violated and that allegations were not fully investigated. The lawsuit also said that a state-appointed board would violate the Civil Rights Act, since a majority of voters in the district are people of color.
 
According to preliminary ratings for the 2018-2019 school year, one HISD high school received a failing grade for the seventh year in a row. Texas House Bill 1842 requires that the commissioner of education either close a school that receives more than five consecutive failing grades or replace the district’s board of education. HISD received a waiver from state ratings for the 2017-2018 school year due to Hurricane Harvey. School board members voted to appeal the failing grade on September 5, which could delay a potential state takeover of the board.
 
As of the 2018-2019 school year, HISD was the largest school district in Texas and the seventh-largest school district in the United States, serving 209,772 students in 280 schools with a budget of $2.04 billion.
 
The last day to register to vote in this election is October 7. Early voting will run October 21 through November 1. The general election will be held November 5.
 


Half of the 50 largest cities in the U.S. have adopted local climate action plans

Half of the 50 largest cities in the U.S. by population have adopted local climate action plans. These plans include goals like community-wide and municipal operations greenhouse gas reduction and renewable energy use, mostly with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
 
Opponents say that such plans increase living costs and cause economic harm. Supporters say they are important for combating climate change and promoting public health.
 
Twenty-three of these 25 cities currently have Democratic mayors, and two cities, Miami, Florida, and San Diego, California, have Republican mayors.
 
Of the top 10 largest cities in the country, seven have adopted climate action plans: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, and San Jose. Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas are the largest cities without climate action plans, although all three cities have plans in progress.
 
Almost all of the cities with climate action plans are members of at least one climate association, such as 100 Resilient Cities, Climate Mayors, or C40 Cities.
 


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