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Mercedes Yanora

Mercedes Yanora is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

New Hampshire state Representative David Danielson dies

New Hampshire state Representative David Danielson (R) died on May 22. Danielson had represented the Hillsborough 7 district in the New Hampshire House of Representatives since 2012 and was a member of the House Finance Committee. 

Sherman Packard (R), the current state House speaker, said in a statement, “He [Danielson] worked tirelessly for his community on the Bedford Town Council, the Town Planning Board and the 10-Year Master Plan committee…He was a dedicated statesman and was serving his 5th term in the House and served as Vice Chairman of Finance Division II.”

When there is a vacancy in the New Hampshire House, a special election must be held. A town or city in the district must first make a formal request to the governor and executive council for a special election. The governor and council will act on the request within 21 days and then set the filing deadline and election dates.

This is the seventh state legislative vacancy this year caused by the death of an incumbent legislator. Kansas, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Virginia have each lost one state legislator, while Pennsylvania has lost two.

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Geri Huser begins new term as chair of Iowa Utilities Board

Geri Huser began another six-year term as chair of the Iowa Utilities Board on May 1. The Iowa Utilities Board is a three-member board in the Iowa state government, which is responsible for regulating the rates and services of electric, natural gas, and water utilities.

Governor Terry Branstad (R) originally appointed Huser to the board on May 1, 2015. Governor Kim Reynolds (R) reappointed Huser on Jan. 29 to another six-year term beginning on May 1 and ending on April 30, 2027. The governor also reappointed Huser as chair of the board. On April 28, the Iowa State Senate confirmed Huser for both the board member and chair positions. 

Huser served in the Iowa House of Representatives from 1997 to 2011, representing the 42nd District as a Democrat. While in office, she served on the Judiciary, Local Government, and Rebuild Iowa and Disaster Recovery committees. 

All 50 states have public service commissions, which are multi-member boards responsible for the regulation of utilities. Most state commissions have three seats, though some states have as many as seven seats. Public service commissioners are elected in 11 states and appointed in the other 39. Of those states that appoint public service commissioners, all but Virginia and South Carolina give that appointment power to the governor.

As of May 6, 10 states have commissions that are majority Republican, while two are majority Democrat. Of the two states that have majority-Democratic commissions, one (Illinois) consists of members appointed by the governor. 

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Hunter Roberts appointed secretary of South Dakota’s new Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources 

Hunter Roberts assumed office on April 19 as secretary of the newly-formed South Dakota Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Governor Kristi Noem (R) appointed Roberts to the position in August 2020.

The Department of Agriculture and Department of Environment and Natural Resources officially merged on April 19. Noem had announced her intention to combine the two departments last August and signed an executive order establishing the new department on Jan. 19, 2021. He had served as the state’s secretary of environment and natural resources since 2019.

Roberts was appointed interim secretary of agriculture in September 2020 and served in both roles until the departments merged in April 2021. South Dakota also has an elected state office—commissioner of school and public lands—that is responsible for supervising lands designated for educational use by the federal government.

Agriculture commissioners are elected in 12 states and appointed in 38, while natural resources commissioners are appointed in 44 states and elected in five. Of those five states, three—Arkansas, New Mexico, and South Dakota—have both an appointed and elected officeholder responsible for managing natural resources. Wyoming is the only state without a natural resources commissioner. 

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Sabina Matos sworn in as Rhode Island lieutenant governor 

The Rhode Island Senate unanimously confirmed Sabina Matos (D) as lieutenant governor on April 13. She was sworn in the following day. 

Governor Daniel McKee (D) nominated Matos as lieutenant governor on March 31. McKee resigned as lieutenant governor to be sworn in as governor on March 2, replacing Gina Raimondo (D) when she became U.S. secretary of commerce under the Biden administration.

Before serving as lieutenant governor, Matos served on the Providence City Council since 2011. She became president of the council in January 2019.

According to NBC, around 80 people applied to be the state’s lieutenant governor. After selecting Matos, McKee said, “I was looking for someone to be a true governing partner…someone who shares my commitment to supporting our 39 cities and towns and our small businesses, and that’s exactly what I found in Sabina.” Matos is the first person of color and second woman to serve as lieutenant governor of Rhode Island.    

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West Virginia enacts law creating intermediate appellate court

Governor Jim Justice (R) signed SB 275 into law on April 9 which provides guidelines for creating the West Virginia Intermediate Court of Appeals, effective June 30, 2021. Previously, West Virginia’s state courts included a state supreme court of appeals and trial courts with both general and limited jurisdiction.

According to Metro News, a 2009 judicial reform panel recommended the creation of an intermediate court. West Virginia is one of nine states without an intermediate appellate court, and the supreme court of appeals serves as the only appellate court.

As outlined in SB 275, the court will consist of three judges elected to 10-year terms. The first three judges will be appointed, with the first judicial election being held in 2024. These elections will be nonpartisan.

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Nebraska Department of Insurance Director Bruce Ramge retires

Bruce Ramge, the longest-serving Nebraska Department of Insurance director, retired on April 9. Former Gov. Dave Heineman (R) appointed him director in November 2010.

According to a press release from Gov. Pete Ricketts’ (R) office, Ramge served the department for 36 years, first joining in 1984 as an employee of the Market Conduct Division. He was then promoted to chief of market regulation in 1999, which was later followed by his appointments to deputy director and director in 2008 and 2010, respectively.

According to Nebraska’s constitution, Gov. Ricketts is responsible for appointing Ramge’s replacement with the consent of a majority of the state legislature. According to the Lincoln Journal Star, Ricketts appointed Eric Dunning to the position on April 2, with an effective start date of April 19.

The insurance commissioner is a state-level position in all 50 states. The duties of the position vary from state to state, but their general role is as a consumer protection advocate and insurance regulator. The position is elected in 11 states and appointed in 39. The office is nonpartisan in 38 states. The 12 states in which the position is partisan include the 11 states where the insurance commissioner is elected, as well as Ohio. Of the 12 states where the insurance commissioner has a partisan affiliation, the office is held by a Democrat in three and a Republican in nine.

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Representative Alcee Hastings dies from pancreatic cancer

U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) died from pancreatic cancer on April 6. He was first elected to Florida’s 23rd Congressional District in 1992 and represented it until it was redistricted as District 20 in 2012. Hastings was first elected from the 20th District in 2012. In last year’s general elections, Hastings defeated Greg Musselwhite (R), 79% to 21%.

Before being elected to Congress, Hastings was a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida from 1979 until 1989. In 1989, the U.S. Senate tried Hastings on 17 counts of perjury and bribery, finding him guilty on eight counts. The Senate voted to remove Hastings from that judgeship, but he was not disqualified from holding office in the future.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) will set a date for a special election to fill this vacancy. As of April 6, five special elections to the 117th Congress have been scheduled in the following districts:

  1. Louisiana’s 2nd and 5th Districts,
  2. New Mexico’s 1st District,
  3. Texas’ 6th District, and
  4. Ohio’s 11th District.

With Hastings’ death, the current partisan breakdown of the U.S. House is 218 Democrats, 211 Republicans, and six vacancies.   

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Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee nominates Providence City Council President Sabina Matos as lieutenant governor

Gov. Daniel McKee (D) nominated Providence City Council President Sabina Matos as lieutenant governor on March 31. McKee was responsible for choosing a new lieutenant governor after leaving the position to be sworn in as governor on March 2. McKee replaced Gina Raimondo (D) as governor when she resigned to become U.S. secretary of commerce.

Matos is the president of the Providence City Council. She was elected to the council in 2010, re-elected in 2018, and elected president in 2019. Her appointment must be confirmed by the Rhode Island State Senate.

According to NECN-TV, around 80 people applied for the position. Upon selecting Matos, McKee said, “I was looking for someone to be a true governing partner…someone who shares my commitment to supporting our 39 cities and towns and our small businesses, and that’s exactly what I found in Sabina.” If confirmed, Matos would be Rhode Island’s first lieutenant governor who is a person of color.

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Former state Rep. Ronald Ryckman appointed to the Kansas state Senate

The Republican precinct committees of Kansas Senate District 38 appointed Ronald Ryckman (R) to the state Senate on March 4. Ryckman replaces Bud Estes (R), who passed away on Feb. 13.

Since the vacancy occurred before May 1 of the second year of Estes’ term, a special election will be held in November 2022. The winner of that election will serve until Estes’ term expires in January 2025.

Before his appointment, Ryckman served in the Kansas House of Representatives from 2011 to 2017, representing District 115. He did not run for re-election to the state House in 2016. Ryckman’s son, Ron Ryckman, currently serves in the Kansas House of Representatives, representing District 78 since 2013. Ron Ryckman also serves as the speaker of the House. 

As of March 11, there have been 31 state legislative vacancies in 21 states so far this year. Fifteen of those vacancies have been filled. Ryckman is one of five Republicans to fill state legislative vacancies in 2021.

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February 2021 breakdown of state legislative party membership: 54.21% Republicans, 44.90% Democrats

According to Ballotpedia’s February partisan count of the 7,383 state legislators across the United States, 54.21% of all state legislators are Republicans and 44.90% are Democrats.

Ballotpedia tallies the partisan balance of state legislatures at the end of every month. This refers to which political party holds the majority of seats in each chamber. Republicans control 61 chambers, while Democrats hold 37. The Alaska House of Representatives is the only chamber organized under a multipartisan, power-sharing coalition.

Nationally, the state legislatures include 1,951 state senators and 5,366 state representatives. Democrats hold 866 state Senate seats—gaining two since January—and 2,449 state House seats, an increase of one. Republicans hold 4,002 of the 7,383 state legislative seats—1,085 state Senate seats (down four since January) and 2,917 state House seats, a decrease of one. Independent or third-party legislators hold 37 seats, of which 30 are state House seats and seven state Senate seats. There are 29 vacant seats.

During the month of February, Democrats saw a net increase of three seats, while Republicans saw a net decrease of five seats. Compared to February 2020, Democrats have lost eight state Senate seats (874 v. 866) and 132 state House seats (2,581 v. 2,449). For Republicans, they have gained one state Senate seat (1,084 v 1,085) and 142 state House seats (2,775 v 2,917).  

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