Author

Rob Oldham

Rob Oldham is a staff writer at Ballotpedia and can be reached at rob.oldham@ballotpedia.org

Former U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) passes away

Thad Cochran, a Republican senator from Mississippi from 1979 to 2018, passed away on May 30, 2019. He was 81 years old.
 
Cochran resigned from the Senate on April 1, 2018, citing health concerns. He was replaced by interim Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R), who later won a November 2018 special election to serve the rest of Cochran’s term through 2020. At the time of his resignation, Cochran was the 10th longest-serving senator in U.S. history.
 
Before his election to the Senate in 1978, Cochran had served in the U.S. House since 1973. Prior to his time in public office, he worked as an attorney in Mississippi and served in the U.S. Navy.


Mississippi gubernatorial candidates report fundraising totals from first quarter of 2019

Candidates running in the Democratic and Republican primaries for Mississippi governor submitted campaign finance reports for the first quarter of 2019 (Jan. 1 through April 30).
 
Lieutenant Gov. Tate Reeves $1 million, the most of the Republican candidates, and reported $6.7 million in cash on hand. Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr., who raised $583,000 and reported $513,000 in cash on hand, followed Reeves. State Rep. Robert Foster raised $73,000 and had $18,900 in cash on hand.
 
Attorney General Jim Hood was the only Democratic candidate to raise more than $20,000. He brought in $755,000 and reported $1.2 million in cash on hand. The other Democratic candidates who reported contributions were Hinds County DA Robert Shuler Smith ($11,000), Velesha Williams ($18,000), and William Bond Compton ($1,000). Only Smith reported cash on hand with $300.
 
The primaries will be held August 6 with possible runoffs on August 27. The general election will be held November 5.
 
Click the links below to view coverage of the Democratic and Republican primaries.
 
 


Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) announces retirement after nearly three decades in Congress

U.S. Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) announced on May 4 that he would retire at the end of his term in 2020. Enzi was first elected to the Senate in 1996 and previously served in the U.S. House (1991-1996) and the Wyoming House of Representatives (1987-1991). He last won re-election in 2014, defeating his Democratic opponent by 54.8 percentage points.
 
Enzi is the fourth U.S. senator to announce his retirement ahead of the 2020 elections. Democrat Tom Udall (N.M.) and Republicans Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and Pat Roberts (Ks.) are also not seeking re-election. Six U.S. House members—three Democrats and three Republicans—have announced that they will not seek re-election or will run for another office. Fifty-five members of Congress did not seek re-election in 2018—37 Republicans and 18 Democrats.
 
Election forecasters rated Wyoming “Safe Republican” in the 2018 election cycle. Given the state’s partisan lean, the Republican primary in the race to replace Enzi will be important. During the 2018 cycle, Ballotpedia covered 10 battleground U.S. Senate primaries—two for Democratic-held seats and eight for Republican-held seats. The Republican primaries in Arizona and Utah were for seats where no incumbent was running. Three of the primaries (Delaware Democratic primary, Utah Republican primary, and Virginia Republican primary) were in seats that were not rated competitive in the general election.
 
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Maryland House of Delegates selects Adrienne Jones (D) as speaker

The Maryland House of Delegates voted 139-1 to make Adrienne Jones (D) the speaker of the house in a special session on Wednesday. She replaces Michael Busch (D), who passed away on April 7 after developing pneumonia. Busch had served as speaker since 2003 and was the longest serving speaker in Maryland history.
 
Jones, who was first elected in 1996, is the state’s first woman speaker and first black speaker. She emerged as a compromise candidate Wednesday afternoon after the Democratic caucus split between Maggie McIntosh (D) and Dereck Davis (D). According to the Washington Post, McIntosh was the more liberal candidate for speaker, and Davis was the more centrist candidate. Moreover, a majority of the 45-member Legislative Black Caucus (LBC) endorsed Davis, who is black, in a non-binding vote.
 
A candidate needed 70 votes on the floor to be elected. McIntosh won a Democratic caucus vote Wednesday, 58-40, but Republicans pledged to give Davis all of their 42 votes on the floor. Davis could have been elected by a cross-party coalition with over 70 votes if at least 28 of the 40 Democrats who supported him in caucus voted for him on the floor.
 
After the caucus vote, Democrats reconvened and unanimously decided to elevate Jones to the speakership over both declared candidates. After she was elected, Jones said, “Discussion went back and forth within our caucus in terms of who could get the [votes], and because of these two individuals that put unity of this House before their own ambition … they both came and talked with me separately that they would want me to be that person.”
 
Jones had been formally running for speaker prior to April 26, but she dropped out of the race, endorsed Davis, and called for members of the LBC to form an alliance to elect the first black speaker in state history.
 
Democrats hold a 98-42 majority in the Maryland House with Busch’s seat still vacant. The state is under divided government with Larry Hogan (R) as governor and Democratic control of the legislature.
 
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Tate Reeves launches first campaign ad in Mississippi Republican gubernatorial primary

Lieutenant Gov. Tate Reeves released the first campaign ad in Mississippi’s Republican gubernatorial primary. In the ad, Reeves said that he would help Mississippi reach its full potential by cutting regulations, lowering taxes, and training the workforce. He said Attorney General Jim Hood (D), who is running in the Democratic primary, would not help the state reach its potential.
 
Reeves faces two challengers in the August 6 primary: state Rep. Robert Foster and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. Media outlets have cast Reeves as the frontrunner due to his fundraising ($6.7 million in cash on hand as of January 1), his 15 years as a statewide officeholder, and his endorsements, including the support of sitting Gov. Phil Bryant (R). If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote on August 6, a runoff will be held August 27.
 
Foster says he is a conservative outsider who is not beholden to any groups at the state capitol. He criticized Reeves for his long tenure in office, saying, “I would like to ask [Reeves]: How many favors does he have? How many promises has he made, in order to build up a $7 million campaign fund?”
 
Waller says he would be a stronger candidate than Reeves in the general election if Hood (who has been in office since 2004) is the Democratic candidate. Waller criticizes Reeves for his opposition to increasing the state gas tax to pay for infrastructure repairs. Four former state GOP chairmen endorsed Waller and criticized Reeves for his leadership style.
 
Reeves’ campaign responded to a Mississippi Today report highlighting support for his opponents by saying, “More than 300 conservative Mississippi leaders have endorsed Tate Reeves, including the governor. That didn’t get covered by Mississippi Today because it showed the party is united not divided. Hundreds more conservatives turned out for rallies and events across the state last week. The Republican Party is going to nominate the proven conservative in this race, and that’s Tate Reeves.”
 
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Former state GOP chairs split endorsements in Mississippi gubernatorial primary

Six former chairmen of the Mississippi Republican Party have endorsed a candidate ahead of the August 6 Republican gubernatorial primary. Two former chairmen support Lieutenant Gov. Tate Reeves, who media outlets call the front runner due to his fundraising advantage and 15 years in statewide office. Four past chairmen support former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr., who has criticized Reeves for opposing a gas tax increase and the expansion of Medicaid coverage.
 
Mississippi Today reported on the following statements from Waller’s endorsers:
 
• Billy Powell, the chairman from 1993 to 1996, said, “Waller has a much more even temperament to beat [Democratic Attorney General] Jim Hood in November. What bothers me about Tate is his arrogance. He doesn’t have the tendency to really want to work with people. It’s more of a ‘my way or highway’-type position. His arrogance really turns me off.”
 
• Clark Reed, the chairman from 1966 to 1976, said, “Our infrastructure is crumbling. It’s a crime where we are. We need a gas tax increase. Everybody knows it. I think Tate’s a conservative, but he doesn’t want to seem to pull the trigger at these critical times. He’s a good man, but gosh, you’ve got to have the courage to do the things that might be risky.”
 
In response to the endorsements, Reeves’ campaign said, “More than 300 conservative Mississippi leaders have endorsed Tate Reeves, including the governor. That didn’t get covered by Mississippi Today because it showed the party is united not divided. Hundreds more conservatives turned out for rallies and events across the state last week. The Republican Party is going to nominate the proven conservative in this race, and that’s Tate Reeves.”
 
Current Gov. Phil Bryant (R), who has endorsed Reeves, said, “I am fully behind Tate Reeves as our next governor. It is time for a new, younger generation of Republicans to take up the torch of conservatism. A young leader who doesn’t believe raising taxes and expanding Obamacare are good ideas. We will win this race.”
 
Freshman state Rep. Robert Foster is also running in the gubernatorial primary. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote on August 6, the top two finishers will compete in a runoff of August 27.
 
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94 state legislative seats have flipped in special elections since 2010

Ninety-four state legislative seats have changed partisan control, or flipped, in special elections since 2010. Democrats have won 51 of these special elections, Republicans have won 37, and independent and third-party candidates have won six.
 
So far, six partisan flips have occurred in 2019—four Republican wins, one Democratic win, and one independent win.
 
The year with most flips was 2017 when 17 seats (14 Democratic wins and three Republican wins) changed party control. There were 16 flips in 2018—12 Democratic wins and four Republican wins—and 15 flips in 2015—five Democratic wins, eight Republican wins, and two third-party wins.
 
2017 and 2018 saw the largest net partisan gains in state legislative special elections as Democrats picked up 11 seats and eight seats, respectively. The largest net partisan gain favoring Republicans occurred in 2013 when they picked up five seats.
 
The states with the most flipped seats are New Hampshire and Connecticut. There have been 10 flips in New Hampshire—nine Democratic wins and one Republican win. Five of the Democratic flips in New Hampshire occurred in 2017 and 2018.
 
Connecticut has seen nine flips—one Democratic win, seven Republican wins, and one third-party win. So far in 2019, one Connecticut House seat and one Connecticut Senate seat have flipped from Democratic to Republican control.
 
About two-thirds of state legislative flips in special elections have occurred in state house seats rather than state senate seats. Since 2010, there have been 62 flips in state house seats (66.0 percent of total) and 32 flips in state senate seats (34.0 percent).
 
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From 30 hours to 2 – what you need to know about the nuclear option change this week

Earlier this week Republican leaders in the Senate used a procedural tactic known as the nuclear option to change the process for confirming judicial nominees. This is the third time the procedural tactic has been used since 2013.

Republicans cheered the change while Democrats have been critical of the tactic. But aside from the partisan mudslinging, what are the facts about this change? What will the new rules mean, and what is the data behind how we got here? What exactly happened with the nuclear option and how are Senate leaders reacting? How will this affect President Trump’s ability to fill vacancies in the federal judiciary?

Ballotpedia has answers to these questions and more below.

What happened?

On Wednesday, the Senate voted 51-48 to reduce post-cloture debate on federal district court nominees from 30 hours to two hours (circuit court judges and Supreme Court justices still have 30 hour limits). The Senate made the same change for executive branch nominees below the Cabinet level.

The two hour period begins after the Senate votes to invoke cloture—the process in which senators agree to end debate and bring a nomination or legislative act to a final vote. Cloture is often invoked to end procedural delay commonly known as a filibuster. It takes 51 votes to invoke cloture on a presidential nominee and 60 votes to invoke cloture on legislation.

What is the difference between a federal district court and a circuit court?

Federal district courts are the first level of the federal court system. Most federal criminal and civil cases originate in district courts. There are 94 district courts nationwide, with each state having between one and four associated district courts. There are 677 federal judge positions in the district court system.

Circuit courts are the intermediate appellate level of the federal court system, falling in between district courts and the Supreme Court. There are 13 circuit courts, including 11 numbered circuits which each handle appeals originating in a particular group of states. A 12th court handles appeals originating in the District of Columbia. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit handles appeals which deal with specific subject areas. There are 179 federal judge positions in the circuit court system.

What does the nuclear option actually mean?

To enact this change, Senate Republicans used a parliamentary tactic known as the nuclear option: a procedure that allows the majority party to change a Senate precedent with a simple majority vote. Without the nuclear option, changing the Senate’s standing rules requires a two-thirds vote. On Tuesday, Republicans tried to pass the change in the form of a standing resolution, but they did not receive the required 60 votes. The term nuclear option was first coined in 2003 by Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.).

To deploy the nuclear option, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) raised a point of order during the consideration of Roy Altman to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. His point of order stated that debate should be limited to two hours after cloture is invoked on a judicial nominee. After the presiding officer of the Senate ruled against McConnell’s point of order, 51 Senate Republicans–all except Susan Collins (R-Me.) and Mike Lee (R-Ut.)–voted to overrule the chair’s decision.

This was the third time the Senate has used the nuclear option to change Senate precedent for presidential nominations since 2013. Here are the other two:

  • 2013: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) changed the threshold for invoking cloture for all presidential nominees except Supreme Court justices from 60 votes to 51 votes.

  • 2017: McConnell reduced the cloture threshold for Supreme Court nominees from 60 votes to 51 votes when the Senate was considering Neil Gorsuch’s nomination.

Who was the first judge to be confirmed under the new precedent?

Altman was the first judge to be confirmed under the new precedent. Altman is the first Trump judicial nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida and brings its composition to seven Republican-appointed judges and seven Democratic-appointed judges. There are four other vacancies on the bench. Two Trump nominees who, like Altman, were nominated on May 7, 2018—Rodolfo Ruiz and Rodney Smith—are awaiting confirmation.

How many judges are awaiting confirmation?

Seventy-five of President Trump’s judicial nominees have yet to be confirmed. This figure includes 49 nominees who have been approved by the Judiciary Committee and are awaiting only a vote before the full Senate as well as 26 nominees who have yet to appear before the committee.

Of the 75 judicial nominees awaiting confirmation, 56 are nominees to district courts. Thirty-nine of those district court nominees are only awaiting a vote before the full Senate. Thirty-one of the 39 district court nominees were nominated more than six months ago. Seventeen were nominated in April 2018 or earlier.

Over the course of the Trump administration, the highest number of concurrent judicial vacancies occurred in August 2018, when there were 158 vacant judicial seats. The lowest number of concurrent vacancies was in February 2017, when 117 federal judgeships were vacant.

How many district court judges have been nominated to the federal judiciary?

Judge Altman is the 54th Trump nominee to have been confirmed to a District Court by the U.S. Senate. The District Courts with the most Trump appointees are the U.S. District Courts for the Western Districts of Pennsylvania and of Texas, which each have three Trump appointees.

Between 1933 and 2017, the average rate of successful District Court nominations was 27.4 per year. This has increased in recent years, with Bill Clinton (D) averaging 38.1 per year, George W. Bush (R) averaging 32.6 per year, and Barack Obama (D) averaging 33.5 per year. President Trump’s 54 appointments put him at an approximate rate of 24 per year.

What are the longest/oldest vacancies right now?

Judge Malcolm Howard’s seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina has been vacant the longest. Howard retired from full-time service, assuming senior status, on December 31, 2005—a 13-year vacancy. There is no pending nominee for this seat.

The second-longest vacancy is on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. Judge Janis Jack vacated the seat on June 1, 2011, when she assumed senior status. President Trump nominated David Morales to fill this seat on April 12, 2018. Morales is currently awaiting a vote in the U.S. Senate.

Which of President Trump’s nominations have been waiting the longest?

Of the 49 Trump nominees who have passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee and are awaiting a vote before the full Senate, four were nominated in 2017, 27 were nominated in the first six months of 2018, 12 were nominated in the latter six months of 2018, and six were nominated in 2019.

The four nominees who began the process in 2017 are Matthew Kacsmaryk (U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas), Ryan Holte (U.S. Court of Federal Claims), Howard Nielson (U.S. District Court for the District of Utah), and Daniel Domenico (U.S. District Court of the District of Colorado).

With the nuclear option in place, how fast will nominees be confirmed?

So how did the 30-hour post-cloture debate play out in practice? According to a CRS report last updated in 2017, “The time used in debate is counted against the 30 hours, but so too is the time consumed by quorum calls, roll call votes, parliamentary inquiries, and all other proceedings that occur while the matter under cloture is pending before the Senate.”

The report also noted that, under some circumstances, “the Senate may agree by unanimous consent that the 30 hours be considered to run continuously, even when the Senate is not actively considering the measure or even does not remain in session.”

Before the precedent changed, Adam Jentleson, a former Harry Reid staffer, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that Senate Democrats could drag out judicial confirmations to four days using the cloture process. George Washington University political scientist Sarah Binder found that the median time spent in post-cloture debate was 22 hours for judicial nominations from 2017 to 2018.

University of Georgia political scientist Tony Madonna expects the four-day confirmation period mentioned by Jentleson to decrease under the new precedent (although this could be affected by whether there is an even split in debate time between Democrats and Republicans). Madonna said it is unclear how much this change will affect the federal judiciary’s vacancy rate because some of the delay comes during the executive branch’s vetting process and before the nominations reach the Senate.

What are people saying about it?

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Senate Democrats were taking advantage of the 30-hour period to delay President Donald Trump’s nominees. In an April 1 op-ed, McConnell wrote, “The all-encompassing, systematic nature of this obstruction is not part of the Senate’s important tradition of minority rights. It is a new departure from that tradition. And this break with tradition is hurting the Senate, hamstringing our duly elected president, and denying citizens the government they elected.”

  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) criticized the change. He said, “Two hours for a lifetime appointment is unacceptable. Two hours for a lifetime appointment with huge influence on people’s lives is unacceptable. It’s ridiculous.”

  • Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V) said, “This rule today, this change, and the two that came before it in 2013 and 2017, were not meant to make this place more efficient. They were meant to take power from each and every senator.”

  • Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mt.) said, “What we’re debating here are rules that were never part of the Constitution. The Senate gets to define the rules, and the Senate can change its rules. It is a good healthy debate, and I don’t think you’re going to see a legislative filibuster change in this Congress.”

So, to summarize, here are five things you need to know:

  1. Senate Republicans used the nuclear option to shorten the amount of time that can be spent debating judicial nominees after cloture has been invoked from 30 hours to two hours. The change covers district court nominees and does not apply to circuit court or Supreme Court nominees. Federal district courts are the first level of the federal court system, while the circuit courts and the Supreme Court generally handle appeals from district courts.

  2. This was the third time the Senate has changed Senate precedent using the nuclear option since 2013. In the other two instances, the Senate worked to reduce the cloture threshold for all presidential nominees, including Supreme Court nominees, from 60 votes to 51 votes.

  3. Judge Roy Altman was the first judge confirmed under the new post-cloture debate rules. He will serve as a District Court judge in Florida.

  4. The Senate has confirmed 54 of Trump’s district court nominees so far. Fifty-six more await confirmation, including 39 who only need a vote in the full Senate. Thirty-one of the 39 were nominated more than six months ago.

  5. Political scientist Tony Madonna told Ballotpedia that the maximum period between invoking cloture on a judicial nominee and confirming that nominee will likely be reduced under the new precedent. He said the likely effects of the debate changes on the federal judiciary vacancy rate are unclear because much of the delay comes during the executive branch’s vetting process.

 

This analysis was authored by David Luchs, Rob Oldham, and Sara Reynolds.



Update on the Alaska House power-sharing arrangement

Members of the Alaska House ended a month-long leadership deadlock by electing Rep. Bryce Edgmon as speaker on February 14, 2019. Edgmon was elected by a bipartisan coalition under the condition that he establish a power-sharing arrangement where both Democrats and Republicans held positions of power.
 
The coalition that elected Edgmon speaker included all 15 House Democrats, four Republicans, and independent Daniel Ortiz. Eighteen Republicans voted against him. Edgmon, who previously served as House speaker from 2017 to 2018, was a Democrat until February 11, when he changed his party affiliation to unenrolled.
 
Under the power-sharing arrangement, there is a 25-member bipartisan majority coalition led by Edgmon (15 Democrats, eight Republicans, and two independents) and a 15-member minority led by Lance Pruitt (all Republicans). Here are the details:
  • Although Edgmon is speaker, Republicans Steve Thompson and Louise Stutes serve as majority leader and majority whip, respectively.
  • The Rules Committee, which controls the flow of legislation to the floor, is chaired by Republican Charles Kopp.
  • Of the nine standing committees, three have Democratic and Republican co-chairs (including the powerful Finance Committee) and six are Democratic-led. Of the four special committees, two are Democratic-led and two are Republican-led.
  • Of the eight Republicans serving in the majority, four voted for Edgmon, three voted against Edgmon, and one—Gary Knopp—did not participate.
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In 2018, 105 state legislative races were decided by less than 100 votes

One-hundred and five of the 6,073 state legislative races in 2018 were decided by fewer than 100 votes. Ninety-eight of these races were in state house races, and seven were in state senate races.
 
Fifty-four of the races resulted in a change in partisan control—36 favoring Democrats and 18 favoring Republicans. In the seats that did not change control, Republicans held 36 and Democrats held 15.
 
Seventy-eight of the races (74.3 percent) occurred in state legislative districts with populations of less than 25,000. Districts of this size make up 26.3 percent of all state legislative districts.
 
The New Hampshire House, which has the smallest legislative districts in the country, had 34 of the races—more than any other chamber. The Vermont House, which has the second smallest districts in the country, had eight races—the second most of all legislative chambers. The other 63 races were spread across 32 chambers. Twenty-two of these chambers had just one race.
 
One race in this analysis—Alaska House District 1—was critical for partisan control of state governments. Bart LeBon (R) defeated Kathryn Dodge (D) by one vote. His win caused a 20-20 split between Republican-led and Democratic-led coalitions in the Alaska House. Control was eventually split between the parties after a month-long period where neither party had control.


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