New Mexico Supreme Court upholds constitutionality of closed primaries

On February 5, 2019, the New Mexico Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to the legality of closed primaries in the state. The initial suit was brought by former attorney general Paul Bardacke (D), who argued that New Mexico’s closed primary process serves private organizations (in this case, political parties) in violation of a state law prohibiting the use of public money to benefit private organizations. The state supreme court did not address this argument in its order, which summarily dismissed the challenge.
A closed primary is a type of primary election in which a voter must affiliate formally with a political party in advance of the election date in order to participate in that party’s primary. In 14 states, including New Mexico, at least one political party conducts closed primaries for congressional and state-level offices. In 11 of these states, including New Mexico, all political parties conduct closed primaries. In the 2016 presidential election cycle, political parties in 27 states utilized closed primaries and/or caucuses as part of the presidential nominating process.
In New Mexico, state supreme court justices are appointed by the governor, who selects from a list of candidates recommended by a commission. After being appointed, the justice must stand in the next partisan election in order to retain his or her seat.

Speakman wins special Democratic primary for Rhode Island seat, will face current officeholder and two others

On February 5, June Speakman defeated Richard Ruggerio in the special Democratic primary for the Rhode Island House of Representatives District 68 seat. Speakman received 73.6 percent of the vote, according to unofficial election night results. She will face William Hunt Jr. (L) and two independents, Kenneth Marshall and James McCanna III, in the special general election on March 5. No Republican candidates filed for the seat either in the special election or last November’s regular election.
On December 5, 2018, Laufton Ascencao (D) announced that he would not take the oath of office for the Rhode Island House of Representatives District 68 seat he had won the previous month. Ascencao admitted that he had lied to local Democratic town committee members about mailing out a six-page political brochure during the election. He also acknowledged creating a fake invoice statement for expenses associated with the mailer, which he said was completed but not in time for it to be published and mailed prior to the election, so there were no actual expenses incurred for it. Ascencao had won the November election with 64 percent of the vote; his only opponent was the Libertarian nominee, William Hunt Jr. His decision not to take office resulted in a special election being called.
Marshall currently holds the District 68 seat as a Democratic member. He was first elected in 2012 and re-elected in 2014 and 2016; he did not run for re-election last year after acknowledging in July 2018 that he had not reported more than $10,000 in campaign contributions. However, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea (D) decided in December 2018 that Marshall’s term would be extended until the special election had passed.
Entering the special election, the Rhode Island House of Representatives has 66 Democrats and nine Republicans. Rhode Island has a Democratic trifecta. A state government trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and both state legislative chambers.

Barton wins special runoff election for Georgia House seat

Former Calhoun Councilman Matt Barton (R) defeated attorney Jesse Vaughn (R) for the Georgia House District 5 seat in a special election runoff on February 5. The runoff came about after none of the six candidates in the special election on January 8 won more than 50 percent of the vote. Vaughn, who earned the most votes on January 8, and Barton, who placed second, advanced to the February runoff.
The special election was called in November 2018 after the death of Rep. John Meadows (R). Meadows had represented House District 5 since 2004. He died on November 12, 2018, at the age of 74, just a few days after winning re-election.
Georgia will also hold a state legislative special election on February 12 to fill the House District 176 seat. Former Rep. Jason Shaw (R), who represented the district from 2011 to 2018, was appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal (R) as the District 1 member of the Georgia Public Service Commission, beginning January 1, 2019. Four candidates–Barbara Griffin (D), Barbara Seidman (D), James Burchett (R), and Franklin Patten (R)–will face off in the special election. If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getting candidates will advance to a runoff.

What is a state government triplex?

A state government triplex is a term describing single-party control of three of a state’s highest executive offices: governor, attorney general, and secretary of state. Control of all three offices can help a party advance its governing agenda, while divided control can spark conflict within the executive branch.
Currently, there are 18 states with Republican triplexes, 17 states with Democratic triplexes, and 15 states where neither party has a triplex. In the 2018 elections, Democrats gained triplexes in Colorado, Illinois, Maine, New Mexico, and Wisconsin, while Republicans lost triplexes in Arizona, Kansas, Nevada, and North Dakota.
Republicans also gained the previously-Democratic triplex in Alaska while Democrats gained the previously-Republican triplex in Michigan.
The 15 states where neither party has a triplex include six where the governor’s party differs from the other two officials. The Democratic governors of Kansas, Louisiana, and Montana, as well as the Republican governors of Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Vermont, serve alongside an attorney general and secretary of state of the opposing party. With the exception of Kentucky, the governor’s party is in the minority in both chambers of the state legislature in each of those states.
Regularly-scheduled elections this year have the potential to change both Kentucky and Louisiana’s triplex status. All three executive offices are also on the ballot in Mississippi, where the governor and secretary of state are Republicans and the attorney general is a Democrat.

Jason Rarick (R) flips Minnesota State Senate District 11 seat in special election, Republican majority increases to three seats

Jason Rarick (R) defeated Stu Lourey (DFL) and Legal Marijuana Now candidate John Birrenbach in the special election for Minnesota State Senate District 11 on February 5. With all precincts reporting, Rarick received 52 percent of the vote to Lourey’s 46 percent.
Rarick’s win gives Republicans a three-seat majority in the Minnesota State Senate, up from the one-seat majority they held before state Sen. Tony Lourey (DFL) resigned from the District 11 seat in January.
Tony Lourey—DFL candidate Stu Lourey’s father—resigned after Governor Tim Walz (DFL) appointed him to serve as state human services commissioner, prompting the special election.
The district had been held by a Lourey since 1997. Tony Lourey was in the seat since 2007, and his mother, Becky Lourey (DFL), held the seat from 1997 to 2007. Donald Trump won the district in the 2016 presidential election by 13 points.
Before Tony Lourey’s resignation, Republicans held a 34-33 majority in the state Senate. Republicans gained that majority in the special election for Minnesota State Senate District 13 won by Jeff Howe (R) on November 6, 2018. The state Senate had been split 33-33 since May 2018, when Michelle Fischbach (R) resigned to serve as lieutenant governor.
Democrats control the governorship and the Minnesota House of Representatives. Minnesota is the only state in the U.S. with a divided legislature, meaning Republicans hold a majority in one chamber and Democrats, in the other.

California Public Utilities Commission gets new commissioner

Genevieve Shiroma joined the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC), the state body charged with regulating the state’s utility companies, on February 5. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) appointed Shiroma on January 22, 2019, to replaced Carla J. Peterman, who left the PUC in 2018. Shiroma is serving the remainder of Peterman’s term, which expires in December 2024.
Shiroma was the District 4 representative on the Sacramento Municipal Utility District in Sacramento County, California from 2014 to 2018. She has a B.S. in materials science and engineering from the University of California, Davis.
The California Public Utilities Commission regulates privately owned electric, natural gas, telecommunications, water, railroad, rail transit, and passenger transportation companies in the state. The commission’s role is quasi-executive in that it enforces regulations, quasi-legislative in that it makes them, and quasi-judicial in that it holds hearings and receives testimony on potential regulatory rulings. The commission consists of five members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. They serve staggered six-year terms with no term limits.
Public utility commissions, sometimes known as a public service commission, exist in all 50 states. The duties of the position vary from state to state, but their general role involves the regulation of utility services such as energy, telecommunications, and water. Public utility commissioners are elected in 11 states and appointed in the other 39. Of those states that appoint public service commissioners, all but Virginia give the power of appointment to the governor.

Kentucky governor to appoint state supreme court justice

Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Bill Cunningham retired on January 31, 2019. He served on the state supreme court from 2007 to 2019.
Under Kentucky law, if there is a midterm vacancy on the state supreme court, the governor appoints a successor from a list of three names provided by the Kentucky Judicial Nominating Commission. Cunningham’s replacement will be Gov. Matt Bevin’s (R) first nominee to the seven-member supreme court. He or she must be elected in 2020 to serve the remainder of Cunningham’s term, which expires in 2023.
The supreme court judicial nominating commission is made up of seven members—two attorneys elected by the Kentucky Bar Association and four citizens appointed by the governor. The chief justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court chairs the commission. The four citizens must equally represent Republicans and Democrats.
Nominating commission members must be residents of the district of the vacancy being filled. They are not permitted to hold public or political office while serving. Members serve four-year terms and are not paid for their service.
Kentucky joins Iowa, South Dakota, and Texas, as states which have a vacant seat on their state supreme courts. Three other states have announced upcoming vacancies on their state supreme courts – North Carolina, Arizona, and Virginia. Those seats will become vacant in February, March, and September, respectively.

Alaska House reaches record for period without a majority after another speaker vote

On February 5, the Alaska House matched the state record for the longest period without a majority in place, 22 days, first set in 1981. Without a majority, the House cannot conduct legislative business or appoint committees.
Republicans have a 23-16 majority (the chamber has one independent), but three Republicans—Reps. Gary Knopp, Louise Stutes, and Gabrielle LeDoux—are not aligned with the other 20 Republicans under the leadership of Rep. David Talerico. Knopp does not believe a narrow Republican majority will be effective and instead argues for a bipartisan power-sharing agreement. Stutes and LeDoux aligned with Democrats from 2017 to 2018 and have both said they want to join another bipartisan coalition.
Amid this deadlock, the House held a vote for a permanent speaker on February 5. Talerico was voted down 20-20, the same result as the last vote for speaker on January 22. In both cases, 20 Republicans voted for Talerico while 16 Democrats, Knopp, Stutes, LeDoux, and independent Daniel Ortiz voted against him. Knopp said he could possibly vote for Talerico in the future but first wanted to form a bipartisan majority with what he called “success potential.” Rep. Bryce Edgmon, the Democratic speaker from 2017 to 2018, was also nominated for permanent speaker, but he declined to be considered.
On February 4, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported that eight House members (four Republicans, three Democrats, and independent Ortiz) were working on a power-sharing arrangement similar to those used by other evenly-split state legislatures. Two members of the group, Reps. Grier Hopkins (D) and Bart LeBon (R), said they wanted to reach an agreement before February 13, the day Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s (R) budget proposal is set to be released.

Tennessee governor issues 90-day regulatory freeze

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee (R) issued Executive Order 5 on February 1, 2019, preventing state executive agencies from filing new regulations with the secretary of state’s office for 90 days.
“As part of our efforts to limit the size of state government, we are taking a close look at the regulations we are imposing on citizens and businesses in Tennessee,” said Lee in a statement. “Our goal is to make Tennessee the most job-friendly state in the country and we are working to promote job creation and a commonsense regulatory approach.”
Over the course of the 90-day regulatory freeze, the governor’s office stated that the executive branch aims to “develop a framework to better assess the costs and benefits of imposing a new regulation.” Tennessee does not currently have a cost-benefit analysis framework in place for administrative regulations, according to an analysis by the Tennessee Municipal League.
Executive agencies can seek an exemption from the governor to file emergency regulations that impact the health, safety or welfare of Tennessee residents. The order also allows pending regulations approved under Lee’s predecessor, former Governor Bill Haslam (R), to take effect as scheduled.
Haslam issued a similar regulatory freeze for 45 days in 2011.

Four states holding state legislative elections in 2019

In 2019, four states are holding regular state legislative elections: Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia. Seven chambers will be up for election. Louisiana, Mississippi, and Virginia are holding elections for both state house and state senate, but New Jersey is only holding its General Assembly elections. The next New Jersey State Senate general election will take place in 2021.
The state legislative elections in Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia will take place on November 5, and the state legislative elections in Louisiana will take place on November 16.
Entering 2019, New Jersey has a Democratic trifecta and Mississippi has a Republican trifecta. A state government trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and both state legislative chambers. Louisiana and Virginia both have divided governments with a Democratic governor and a Republican-controlled Senate and House.
Check with Ballotpedia regularly for updates on state legislative elections across the county and information on which races to watch. Also, click here for more information about state legislative special elections on the ballot in 2019.