One year ago: Dallet and Screnock advance in first round of Wisconsin Supreme Court voting

Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of Wisconsin’s nonpartisan primary election for a seat on the state Supreme Court. Sauk County Circuit Judge Michael Screnock and Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Rebecca Dallet placed first and second in the primary, respectively, and advanced to the March 20 general election. Attorney Tim Burns placed last and was eliminated.
Although state Supreme Court elections in Wisconsin are nonpartisan, liberal and conservative groups typically coalesce around specific candidates. Incumbent Michael Gableman, a member of the court’s 5-2 conservative majority, did not seek re-election. Both Dallet and Burns ran with the support of Democratic-aligned groups and were expected to join the court’s liberal wing, while Screnock ran with the support of Republican-aligned groups and was expected to join the court’s conservative wing.
Dallet went on to beat Screnock in the April 3, 2018, election by a margin of 11 percentage points.
Another election to the Wisconsin Supreme Court will take place on April 2, 2019, between Appeals Judge Brian Hagedorn and Appeals Chief Judge Lisa Neubauer. Conservative-aligned groups in the state back Hagedorn and liberal-aligned groups back Neubauer.
Incumbent Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who was appointed to the court in 1976 by a Democratic governor, is not seeking re-election. If conservatives win this seat, it will expand their majority on the court to 5-2. If liberals retain Abrahamson’s seat, it will set up a battle for control of the court in 2020, when Dan Kelly, who was appointed to the court in 2016 by Gov. Scott Walker (R), will stand for election for the first time.

Virginia General Assembly selects next supreme court justice

On February 14, the Virginia General Assembly appointed Virginia Court of Appeals Judge Teresa M. Chafin to succeed Elizabeth McClanahan on the Virginia Supreme Court. The Senate voted 36-0 and the House voted 97-0. Chafin will join the state supreme court on September 1, 2019. Both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly have Republican majorities.

Selection of state supreme court justices in Virginia occurs through legislative selection. Judges are selected by a majority vote of the Virginia General Assembly (the combined House of Delegates and Senate). Supreme court justices serve for 12 years and are subject to reappointment to additional terms by the legislature. Virginia is one of only two states in the country, the other being South Carolina, where judges are selected this way.

Chafin began serving on the Virginia Court of Appeals in May 2012. She was a judge on the 29th Judicial Circuit from 2005 to 2012. She was also a judge on the Tazewell County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court from 2002 to 2005. Chafin received her J.D. from the University of Richmond School of Law in 1987.

She is the sister of state Sen. Ben Chafin (R-District 38). Chafin, a member of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, abstained from voting.

How does redistricting work in your state?

All 50 states will draw new congressional and state legislative district lines after the 2020 census. The manner in which redistricting occurs varies from state to state.
In most states, the legislature draws new district maps. Some states have commissions charged with producing new maps instead.
In Arizona, California, Idaho, and Washington, congressional and state legislative redistricting is performed by an independent commission. Montana and Wyoming also charge an independent commission with drawing new state legislative boundaries, but do not need to draw congressional districts as they only have one seat in the House.
In Hawaii and New Jersey, redistricting is handled by a commission made up of political figures. Arkansas, Colorado, Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania use a hybrid process where the state legislature draws congressional district maps and a political commission draws state legislative district maps.
For more information on the particulars of your state’s redistricting process, select it from the map:

Former Alaska lieutenant governor dies at 93

Former Alaska Lieutenant Governor Jack Coghill passed away on February 13, 2019. He died of natural causes at the age of 93. Coghill was living with his son, state Sen. John Coghill (R), at the time of his death.

His son said in a statement, “Dad was a firm believer in utilizing Alaska’s natural resources to build a strong economy and provide good paying jobs for Alaska. He had the same passion for Alaska, even at 93.”

The elder statesman was born in Fairbanks in 1925 and grew up working at his family’s store in Nenana. After graduating from Nenana High School, he served as a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army during WWII in the Aleutians from 1943 to 1946.

Coghill was a political leader during Alaska’s push for statehood. He was elected to the territorial House of Representatives in 1952 and served until 1957. He was one of the 55 framers of the Alaska Constitution at the 1956 convention and was the third delegate to sign the document. Former state Sen. Vic Fischer is the last surviving delegate of the convention.

Coghill went on to serve in the state Senate from 1959 to 1964 and again from 1985 to 1990. He also served as the mayor of Nenana from 1962 to 1985. In 1990, Coghill became lieutenant governor and served until 1994 with Gov. Walker Hickel.

This time four years ago: Oregon prepares for transition of power following John Kitzhaber’s resignation

At this time four years ago, Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown (D) was preparing to succeed four-term Gov. John Kitzhaber (D), who had announced his resignation on February 13 over allegations that he had been involved in influence peddling.

Kitzhaber, who was first elected in 1994 and won re-election in 1998, 2010, and 2014, had been the subject of three ethics complaints filed the previous year over conflicts of interest stemming from his fiancée Cylvia Hayes’ role as both an informal advisor and as a paid consultant. Hayes had acted as a consultant on energy and economic issues while advising Kitzhaber on the same topics.

Kitzhaber’s resignation took effect on February 18. Secretary of State Kate Brown (D) was first in the line of succession, as Oregon is one of five states without an office of lieutenant governor. Brown was elected to complete the remainder of Kitzhaber’s term in 2016 and elected to a full term in 2018.

The Oregon Government Ethics Commission investigation found that Kitzhaber had committed 10 ethics violations in a report released on February 14, 2018. Kitzhaber negotiated a settlement with the commission in which he agreed to pay $2,000 for each violation. The commission also found that Hayes had committed 22 ethics violations, with a potential fine of $5,000 for each. As of February 2019, Hayes and the commission have not reached a settlement.

Alaska House elects Bryce Edgmon speaker, ending 30 days of deadlock

Rep. Bryce Edgmon was elected as Alaska House speaker Thursday, three days after he switched his party affiliation from Democrat to unenrolled. Edgmon was House speaker from 2017 and 2018. The latest election ended a 30-day period without a majority in place in the House, the longest in state history.
The final vote was 21 to 18.
Voting for Edgmon (besides himself) were:
  1. All 15 House Democrats,
  2. independent Daniel Ortiz,
  3. and Republicans Louise Stutes, Gabrielle LeDoux, Jennifer B. Johnston, and Charles M. Kopp.
 Eighteen other House Republicans voted against Edgmon.
Johnston and Kopp had not previously supported Edgmon. They had formerly backed Republican leader David Talerico. Rep. Gary Knopp, another Republican who did not support Talerico for speaker, was not present for the vote.
Stutes and LeDoux were part of the bipartisan coalition Edgmon led from 2017 to 2018. They consistently opposed Talerico for speaker.
With a speaker in place, Democrats and Republicans are expected to share control of the House. Edgmon told the press that Kopp would serve as majority leader, Rep. Steve Thompson (R) would chair the Rules Committee, and Reps. Tammie Wilson (R) and Neal Foster (D) would co-chair the Finance Committee.

Federal judge strikes down Mississippi state senate district as violation of Voting Rights Act

On February 13, 2019, Judge Carlton W. Reeves, of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, issued an order striking down the state legislative map for Mississippi State Senate District 22.
Judge Reeves ruled that the district constituted a violation of the Voting Rights Act by denying racial minorities “an equal opportunity to participate in the political processes and to elect candidates of their choice.” In the two-page order, Reeves advised the state legislature of its right to the first opportunity to draft new maps for District 22 and any adjoining districts that might be affected as part of the redistricting process. Reeves also suggested that the legislature might extend the March 1 qualification deadline for candidates in District 22 and any other affected districts. Reeves, appointed in 2010 by Pres. Barack Obama (2013), noted that a full opinion in the case, Thomas v. Bryant, would be forthcoming.
In 2015, Eugene Clarke (R) won re-election to District 22 with 53.8 percent of the vote.
The Mississippi State Senate is one of seven legislative chambers nationwide that will conduct elections in 2019. All 52 Senate seats will be up for election. The primary is scheduled to take place on August 6, 2019. The general election will take place on November 5, 2019.

Parties select candidates for Pennsylvania special election

Two candidates were selected by their political parties to run in the special election for Pennsylvania State Senate District 37. The special election was called to fill the vacancy in District 37 after incumbent Guy Reschenthaler (R) was elected on November 6, 2018, to the United States House of Representatives to represent Pennsylvania’s 14th Congressional District. The special election is set for April 2, 2019.

In Pennsylvania, the political parties select candidates for special elections directly rather than using a primary process. The Democratic Party selected Pam Iovino, a retired U.S. Navy veteran, to run in the special election. Iovino previously sought election to the United States House of Representatives in 2018 in the special election for Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, but was not selected as the Democratic nominee.

The Republican Party selected D. Raja, a small business owner. Raja previously sought election to the Pennsylvania State Senate to represent District 37 in the 2012 general election. He won the Republican primary but was defeated in the general election by former incumbent Matthew Smith (D).

Entering the special election, the Pennsylvania State Senate consists of 29 Republicans and 21 Democrats. Prior to the general election in 2018, Republicans held 33 seats, Democrats held 16, and there was one vacancy.

Texas House special election advances to runoff after top vote-getter receives 38 percent

A special election for District 125 of the Texas House of Representatives was held on February 12. Fred Rangel (R) and Ray Lopez (D) defeated Steve Huerta (D), Coda Rayo-Garza (D), and Arthur Reyna (D). Rangel and Lopez earned 38 percent and 19 percent of the vote, respectively. The date of the runoff election has not been announced yet by Gov. Greg Abbott (R).

The seat became vacant after Justin Rodriguez (D) was appointed in January to serve as the Precinct 2 representative on the Bexar County Commissioners Court.

Entering the special election, the Texas House of Representatives had 65 Democrats, 83 Republicans, and two vacancies. Special elections were previously held in the state on January 29 in District 79 and District 145. The District 145 race is also headed to a runoff. Texas has a Republican trifecta. A state government trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and both state legislative chambers.

Georgia House special election moves to a runoff between two Republicans

A special election for District 176 of the Georgia House of Representatives was held on February 12. James Burchett (R) and Franklin Patten (R) defeated Barbara Griffin (D) and Barbara Seidman (D). Burchett and Patten earned 43.1 percent and 42.5 percent of the vote, respectively. The two candidates are competing in a runoff election on March 12.

The seat became vacant after Jason Shaw (R) was appointed to serve the remainder of H. Doug Everett’s term on the Georgia Public Service Commission, beginning January 1, 2019.

Entering the special election, the Georgia House of Representatives has 75 Democrats, 103 Republicans, and two vacancies. A special election runoff was previously held in the state on February 5 for the District 5 seat. A majority in the chamber requires 91 seats. Georgia has a Republican trifecta. A state government trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and both state legislative chambers.