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Mercedes Yanora

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

WV court rules in favor of governor’s legislative appointment

On Feb. 9, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia ruled in favor of Gov. Jim Justice’s (R) appointment to the West Virginia House of Delegates District 19. 

On Jan. 22, the Wayne County Republican Executive Committee nominated Joshua Booth and two others to replace Rep. Derrick Evans (R), who resigned after being charged with entering a restricted public building and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. Gov. Justice approved the nomination and formally appointed Booth on Jan. 27.

According to West Virginia law, the executive committee of the political party that holds the seat can submit a list of three candidates to the governor in case of a vacancy. On Jan. 13, the Wayne County Republican Executive Committee sent three names to Gov. Justice: Mark Ross, Chad Shaffer, and Jay Marcum.

Justice’s chief of staff, Brian Abraham, told the committee Justice wanted a new list of names because Acting Chairman of the West Virginia Republican Executive Committee Roman Stauffer was not involved in the original nomination process. The second nomination list included Mark Ross, Chad Shaffer, and Joshua Booth. According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, after Justice formally appointed Booth on Jan. 27, the Wayne County Republican Executive Committee petitioned the state’s court of last resort “to force the governor to choose from the first list of candidates submitted, saying state law doesn’t give the governor discretion to reject the list provided by local party executive committees.” On Feb. 9, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia heard the case and ruled in favor of Gov. Justice. Booth was sworn in the following day.

As of Feb. 11, there have been 23 state legislative vacancies in 18 states this year. Eight of those vacancies have been filled, with 15 vacancies remaining. Booth is one of three Republicans to fill vacancies from 2021. 

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Arlando Teller leaves Arizona state House for Biden administration

Rep. Arlando Teller (D) resigned from the Arizona House of Representatives on Feb. 1 to join the Biden administration as deputy assistant secretary for tribal affairs at the U.S. Department of Transportation. He represented District 7 from 2019 to 2021. 

Teller most recently won re-election on Nov. 3, 2020. He was one of two candidates elected to the two-seat district, the other being Myron Tsosie (D). Upon resigning, Teller said, “It has been nothing but a pleasure — sincere pleasure working with all of you despite our disagreements, despite our party affiliation. At the end of the day, we have worked for the communities that we represent.”

According to Arizona’s Revised Statutes, state legislative vacancies are filled by the board of county supervisors. However, the political party committee of the last incumbent submits a list to the board of county supervisors who must then choose the new member from the list.

As of Feb. 8, 2021, there have been 23 state legislative vacancies in 18 states this year. Five of those vacancies have been filled, with 18 vacancies remaining. Teller’s vacancy is one of 11 Democratic vacancies to have occurred in 2021. So far, three vacancies have been filled by Democrats, while two have been filled by Republicans.

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Rep. Ronald Wright dies from complications related to COVID-19

Rep. Ronald Wright (R-Texas) passed away from complications related to coronavirus on Feb. 7. He was diagnosed with the disease on Jan. 21. Wright was first elected to Texas’ 6th Congressional District in 2018, serving until his death in 2021. 

Wright ran for re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives on Nov. 3, winning with 52.8% of the vote to Stephen Daniel’s (D) 44%. Prior to joining the U.S. House, Wright served as Tarrant County tax assessor-collector from 2011 to 2017. 

According to Article I, Section 2, Clause 4 of the U.S. Constitution, “When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies.” As of Feb. 8, two special elections to the U.S. House had been called: Louisiana’s 2nd and 5th Congressional Districts. With Wright’s death, the current partisan breakdown of the U.S. House is 221 Democrats, 210 Republicans, and four vacancies.   

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Heather Steans resigns from Illinois State Senate

Sen. Heather Steans (D) resigned from the Illinois state Senate on Jan. 31. She represented District 7 from 2008 to 2021. 

Steans ran uncontested for re-election on Nov. 3, 2020. According to ABC 7, Steans said she was resigning because “it’s time for fresh faces and new energy…I’ve benefited tremendously from the many perspectives of the people I’ve represented. We’ve made great progress together, and now it’s time to pass the baton.”

If there is a vacancy in the Senate, the Illinois Constitution mandates that the seat must be filled by appointment within 30 days after the vacancy. If a vacancy by a member of the Senate has more than 28 months remaining in the term, the appointment is interim until the next general election and in this case, a special election must be held to fill the balance of the unserved term. All other Senate vacancies should be made by appointment with the person appointed being a member of the same political party that last held the seat. The vacancy must be filled by the respective party organizations covering the legislative district. 

As of Feb. 4, 2021, there have been 22 vacancies in 17 state legislatures this year. Four of those vacancies have been filled, with 18 vacancies remaining. Stean’s vacancy is one of ten Democratic vacancies that have occurred in 2021. So far, two vacancies have been filled by Republicans, while two have been filled by Democrats.  

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January 2021 breakdown of state legislative party membership: 54.27% Republicans, 44.86% Democrats

According to Ballotpedia’s January partisan count of the 7,383 state legislators across the United States, 54.27% of all state legislators are Republicans and 44.86% are Democrats. Ballotpedia did not provide partisan counts for December 2020 because the number and partisan affiliation of state legislators fluctuated as officeholders were sworn in and out of office following the general election.

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. Prior to the general election, Republicans held a majority in 59 chambers and Democrats held a majority in 39 chambers. Alaska’s state House was the only chamber to have a power-sharing agreement between the two parties. Since the election, Republicans control 61 chambers, while Democrats hold 37. As of Jan. 29, control of Alaska’s state House remained undetermined. 

Nationally, the state legislatures include 1,953 state senators and 5,366 state representatives. Democrats hold 864 state Senate seats—losing 10 since November—and 2,448 state House seats, a loss of 117. Republicans hold 4,007 of the 7,383 state legislative seats—1,089 state Senate seats (up five since November) and 2,918 state House seats, an increase of 134. Independent or third-party legislators hold 36 seats, of which 31 are state House seats and five state Senate seats. There are 28 vacant seats.

During the month of January, Democrats saw a net change of -127 seats, while Republicans saw a net change of +139 seats. Democrats gained seats in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Georgia, while Republicans gained seats in New Hampshire, West Virginia, Ohio, South Carolina, Florida, Kentucky, Arkansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, and Nevada. Both parties gained seats in Vermont and Missouri.  

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Weber County Democrats recommend Rosemary Lesser for Utah House

On Jan. 16, the Weber County Democrats recommended Rosemary Lesser (D) to the Utah House of Representatives to represent District 10. LaWanna Shurtliff (D) formerly held the seat until her death on Dec. 30, 2020. Gov. Spencer Cox (R) approved the nomination, and Lesser was sworn in on Jan. 19. She will complete Shurtliff’s term, which was set to run from Jan. 1, 2021, to Dec. 31, 2022.  

Prior to her appointment, Lesser has served as a laborist with Ogden Clinic since 2015. She has also worked as an OB hospitalist and an obstetrician/gynecologist, both as a civilian and in the U.S. Air Force. Lesser earned a B.S. from the University of Notre Dame and an M.D. from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

According to Utah law, the governor is responsible for selecting a replacement. A liaison for the political party that last held the seat must recommend a successor to the governor and the vacancy must be filled immediately. The person who is selected to the vacant seat serves for the remainder of the unfilled term.

Utah is one of six states where the governor appoints a successor by law, but the political party holds the real power of appointment, as opposed to states where the governor is the sole appointer. The other five states are Hawaii, Idaho, Maryland, North Carolina, and West Virginia.

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Gov. Hogan appoints Marlon Amprey to Maryland House of Delegates

On Dec. 29, 2020, the Baltimore City Democratic State Central Committee nominated Marlon Amprey (D) to the Maryland House of Delegates to represent District 40. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) approved the nomination and formally appointed Amprey to the seat on Jan. 6, effective Jan. 13.  

Amprey will succeed Nick Mosby (D), who resigned in December 2020 when he was sworn in as Baltimore City Council president.

The Baltimore City Democratic State Central Committee nominated Amprey on Dec. 29 by a 4-3 vote. Amprey was one of 15 to apply for the position. Prior to his appointment, Amprey worked as an associate with the law firm Cole Schotz P.C. He has also worked as a teacher.

According to Maryland law, the governor has 30 days after a vacancy to make an appointment based on the recommendations of the political party committee that holds the vacant seat. The political party committee has up to 30 days after the vacancy to submit a list of recommended candidates to the governor. If the party committee fails to act within the 30 day deadline, the governor has 15 days to appoint a person from the political party that last held the seat.

In 2020, there were 142 state legislative vacancies in 41 states. As of Jan. 13, 121 of those vacancies have been filled. Amprey is one of 59 Democrats to fill state legislative vacancies from 2020. 

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Longtime Maryland state Senator Miller resigns

Maryland State Senator Thomas Miller Jr. (D) resigned on Dec. 23 due to health reasons. He had announced in Jan. 2019 that he had been diagnosed with cancer.

Miller had represented District 27 since 1975. He served as Senate president for 33 years—from 1987 to 2020—the longest anyone has served as Maryland Senate president, according to The Washington Post. Prior to joining the state Senate, Miller served in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1971 to 1975.  

According to Maryland law, the governor has 30 days after the vacancy to make an appointment based on the recommendations of the political party committee that holds the vacant seat. The political party committee has up to 30 days after the vacancy to submit a list of recommended candidates to the governor. If the party committee fails to act within the 30-day deadline, the governor has 15 days to appoint a person from the political party that last held the seat.   

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Kaiali’i Kahele resigns from Hawaii state Senate to join U.S. House of Representatives

Kaiali’i Kahele (D) resigned from the Hawaii state Senate on Dec. 16 after being elected to Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District. Kahele defeated Joseph Akana (R), 63% to 31%, on Nov. 3. Kahele will be sworn in to the U.S. House on Jan. 3, 2021.

Gov. David Ige (D) appointed Kahele to the District 1 seat in February 2016 to replace Gil Kahele (D), Kahele’s deceased father. Kaiali’i Kahele represented District 1 from 2016 to 2020. 

According to Hawaii law, the governor appoints a replacement within 60 days when a vacancy occurs in the state Senate. The political party that last held the vacant seat has 30 days to provide the governor with a list of three prospective candidates. The party to submit a list of prospective candidates. According to a report in Big Island Video News, “The selection body will meet electronically on Wednesday, December 23, at 6:00 p.m. to identify three names to forward on to the Governor.” 

As of Dec. 21, there have been 129 state legislative vacancies in 41 states during 2020. Ninety-seven (97) of those vacancies have been filled. Of the 129 vacancies, 71 are Republican, and 58 are Democratic. Republicans have filled 49 vacancies, while Democrats have filled 48. 

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Todd Eddins joins Hawaii Supreme Court 

Image of the Hawaii Supreme Court building in Honolulu.

Todd Eddins was sworn in to the Hawaii Supreme Court as an associate justice on Dec. 11. Founded in 1959, the Hawaii Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort and has five judgeships. Of the five current justices, Democratic governors appointed four, and a Republican governor—Linda Lingle—appointed one. 

Gov. David Ige (D) appointed Eddins on Oct. 23 to replace retired Justice Richard W. Pollack. Pollack retired on June 30 when he met the mandatory retirement age of 70. The Hawaii State Senate unanimously confirmed Eddins on Nov. 19. Before joining the court, Eddins was a judge of the O`ahu First Circuit Court from 2017 to 2020.

Hawaii’s supreme court justices are selected using the assisted appointment method of judicial selection. The Hawaii Judicial Selection Commission forwards a list of candidates to the governor, who then appoints a candidate who must then be confirmed by the Hawaii State Senate. Justices serve renewable 10-year terms, which are approved or denied by the Hawaii Judicial Selection Commission. 

Eddins was Gov. Ige’s first nomination to the Hawaii Supreme Court. Upon nominating Eddins, Gov. Ige said, “Judge Eddins has the vast knowledge and experience necessary to serve on the Hawai‘i Supreme Court. He has the respect of his peers and I know that he will be a welcome addition to the state’s highest court.”  

In 2020, there have been 23 supreme court vacancies in 16 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. One vacancy occurred when a chief justice died, one vacancy occurred when a justice was not retained, and 21 vacancies were caused by retirements. As of Dec. 14, 20 of those vacancies have been filled.  

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