CategoryState

Previewing 2019’s state legislative elections

State legislative offices are up for regular election in seven chambers across four states this year. General elections in Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia are scheduled for November 5, while general elections in Louisiana are set for November 16.
 
The chambers with the closest margins of partisan control are in Virginia, where Republicans hold two-seat advantages in both the state House and Senate.
 
Louisiana State Senate and House of Representatives
Louisiana’s state legislators are elected to four-year terms. Both chambers have term limits that prevent a state legislator from serving for more than three terms, or 12 years, in a particular chamber. The chambers last held elections in 2015. As of March 2019, here is the partisan balance of the chambers:
 
Senate:
  • Democrats: 14
  • Republicans: 25
House:
  • Democrats: 37
  • Republicans: 62
Louisiana is currently under divided government with a Democratic governor.
 
Mississippi State Senate and House of Representatives
Mississippi’s state legislators are elected to four-year terms. The chambers last held elections in 2015. As of March 2019, here is the partisan balance of the chambers:
 
Senate:
  • Democrats: 19
  • Republicans: 33
House:
  • Democrats: 46
  • Republicans: 73
Mississippi is currently one of 22 Republican trifectas.
 
New Jersey General Assembly
New Jersey’s state representatives are elected to two-year terms. The New Jersey General Assembly last held elections in 2017. The New Jersey State Senate is not holding elections in 2019. Senators began four-year terms after being elected in 2017. As of March 2019, here is the partisan balance of the chamber:
 
Assembly:
  • Democrats: 54
  • Republicans: 26
New Jersey is currently one of 14 Democratic trifectas.
 
Virginia State Senate and House of Delegates
Virginia’s state senators are elected to four-year terms. The Virginia State Senate last held elections in 2015. Virginia’s state representatives are elected to two-year terms. The Virginia House of Delegates last held elections in 2017. As of March 2019, here is the partisan balance of the chambers:
 
Senate:
  • Democrats: 19
  • Republicans: 21
House:
  • Democrats: 49
  • Republicans: 51
Virginia is currently under divided government with a Democratic governor.
 


Special primaries on March 26 for California Senate vacancies

On March 26, 2019, special primary elections will be held for California State Senate Districts 1 and 33. If no candidate wins a majority of the vote in the primary, a general election will take place on June 4. Candidates wishing to run in these elections were required to file by January 31.
 
The special election for District 1 was called after Ted Gaines (R) was elected to serve on the California State Board of Equalization in November 2018. Six candidates have filed for the position – two Democrats and four Republicans.
 
In District 33 of the California State Senate, Ricardo Lara (D) vacated the seat after he was elected to serve as the insurance commissioner of California in November 2018. A field of 12 candidates are vying for the seat. Of those candidates, nine are Democrats, two are Republicans, and one is a member of the Green Party.
 
These are the only California state legislative special elections called in 2019 so far. If there is a vacancy in the California State Legislature, the governor must call for a special election within 14 days of the vacancy. No special election can be held if the vacancy happens in an election year and the nominating deadline passes.
 
The California State Senate currently has 28 Democrats, 10 Republicans, and 2 vacancies. California has a Democratic trifecta. A state government trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and both state legislative chambers. Democrats gained a trifecta in California as a result of the 2010 election when they won the governor’s office.
 


Republicans keep Minnesota House seat in special election

A special election for Minnesota House of Representatives District 11B was held on March 19, 2019, to replace former incumbent Jason Rarick (R) after he was elected to the Minnesota State Senate in February 2019. Prior to joining the state Senate, Rarick served in the state House from 2015 to 2019. He first won the state House seat by defeating former incumbent Tim Faust (D) in the 2014 election.
 
Unofficial results show Republican candidate Nathan Nelson defeated Democratic candidate Tim Burkhardt with 68.4 percent of the vote. Nelson had advanced from the Republican primary on March 5 after defeating another candidate, Ayrlahn Johnson. Burkhardt did not face any primary challengers.
 
While the Republican Party flipped a state Senate seat when Rarick won his election, the state House election resulted in no partisan changes. Entering 2019, the Minnesota House of Representatives had 75 Democrats and 59 Republicans. A majority in the chamber requires 68 seats. Minnesota has a divided government, meaning no political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and both state legislative chambers.
 


Marcia Washington sworn into the Nevada State Senate

Marcia Washington (D) was sworn into the Nevada State Senate District 4 seat on March 18 to replace former Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson (D). Atkinson resigned his seat on March 5 after pleading guilty to using $250,000 in campaign funds for personal purposes.
 
Washington previously served on the Nevada State Board of Education and as a fire inspector in Clark County. She also previously worked for the Clark County School District.
 
The Clark County Commission unanimously chose Washington for the seat on March 15. She was one of 11 applicants for the position. Washington will serve the remainder of Atkinson’s term, which runs through 2020, and she has stated that she does not plan to run for a full term. Assemblywoman Dina Neal (D), who also applied for the seat, has said that she will run for the position in 2020.
 
Ten out of the Nevada State Senate’s 21 seats will be up for election in 2020. Of the 10 seats up for election, Democrats currently control seven and Republicans control three.
 
The Nevada State Senate has 13 Democrats and eight Republicans. Nevada currently has a Democratic trifecta, which is where one political party holds the governor’s office and controls both state legislative chambers. Nevada became a Democratic trifecta in 2019 when the party took control of the governor’s office.


Democrats hold Iowa State Senate seat where 2020 presidential candidates campaigned

Cedar Falls School Board member Eric Giddens (D) defeated former state Rep. Walt Rogers (R) in a special election for the District 30 seat in the Iowa State Senate. Giddens won with 57 percent of the vote to Rogers’ 42 percent.
 
The appearance of current and potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidates in the district helped this race garner national attention. At least three candidates made appearances with Giddens, while others held separate campaign events in the district or sent staff to canvass for the Democratic candidate. The district voted Democratic in the past two presidential elections. In 2012, Obama won the district by 7.4 percent. In 2016, Clinton won the district by 3.5 percent.
 
The seat became vacant after Jeff Danielson (D) resigned on February 14, 2019. Heading into the election, Republicans held a 32-17 majority in the chamber. A party needs 34 votes in the Senate in order to override a gubernatorial veto, so the outcome of this election did not impact either partisan control or veto-proof supermajority status.


Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Ellis resigns after allegations of sexual misconduct

On March 18, 2019, Rep. Brian Ellis (R) resigned his seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Ellis, who represented Pennsylvania’s 11th state House district, said the following in his resignation letter: “It is with immense gratitude to the sacrifices made by my family, the support of my constituents, and the friendship of my colleagues that I have concluded that it is in my best interests of my family, the residents of the 11th House district, and my own health that I resign from the General Assembly.”
 
Ellis was accused of sexually assaulting a state capitol employee in October 2015. Ellis allegedly offered to help an acquaintance after she fell down in a bar by taking her to his home, where he allegedly sexually assaulted her. The woman, who chose to remain anonymous, said she did not consent to any sexual acts. The Philadelphia Inquirer first published an account of the allegations on January 24, 2019. On January 25, 2019, House Republican leaders issued a statement calling for Ellis’ resignation.
 
The leaders said Ellis should focus on his family and addressing the allegations, which were under criminal investigation by the Dauphin County district attorney. They also removed Ellis from his committee leadership positions and committee assignments, pending the outcome of the investigation. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) also called for Ellis to step down.
 
Vacancies in the Pennsylvania General Assembly are filled by special election. The presiding officer of the House must call for the election. The state constitution does not establish a timetable for special legislative elections.
 
Additional reading:


Did you know? Five facts about the office of governor

The governorship is the only top-level elected executive office to exist in all 50 states. However, the powers and responsibilities of the office vary from state to state.
 
Here are five things you may not know about the office of governor:
 
1. Republicans have held a majority of the nation’s gubernatorial offices since the 2010 elections. There are currently 27 Republican governors and 23 Democratic governors. In the 2018 elections, Democrats gained seven previously-Republican governorships while Republicans gained one previously-independent governorship.
 
2. Vermont and New Hampshire have two-year gubernatorial terms. The other 48 states use four-year terms. Thirty-five states limit the governor to two terms (or eight years) in office, and eight of those impose a lifetime two-term limit like that on the presidency. Virginia prohibits governors from being elected to two consecutive terms, and the remaining 14 states have no form of term limits.
 
3. Forty-four states give the governor line-item veto authority, allowing them to veto a specific part of a bill while signing the rest into law. Indiana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Vermont do not.
 
4. Most states have an official governors’ mansion. The five states that do not are Arizona, Idaho, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Michigan is the only state to have two governors’ residences; an official mansion in Lansing and a summer home on Mackinac Island. Pennsylvania is the only state to also have an official lieutenant gubernatorial mansion.
 
5. Three states are holding elections for governor this year. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R), who were each first elected in 2015, are running for re-election. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) is prevented from running for re-election due to term limits.


Two city officials competing in Minnesota House special

The special election for District 11B of the Minnesota House of Representatives is on March 19. Hinckley City Councilman Tim Burkhardt (D) and Clover Township Board Supervisor Nathan Nelson (R) are facing off in the general election.

The seat became vacant after Jason Rarick (R) won a special election for District 11 of the Minnesota State Senate on February 5. Rarick had represented District 11B of the state House since 2015. He was re-elected in 2018 with 59.7 percent of the vote in the general election.

The Minnesota House of Representatives currently has 75 Democrats, 58 Republicans, and one vacancy. Minnesota has a divided government, and no political party holds a state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.



Kentucky governor receives shortlist for supreme court nomination

On March 13, 2019, the Kentucky Judicial Nominating Commission sent three names to Gov. Matt Bevin (R) as possible choices to fill a vacancy on the Kentucky Supreme Court. The justice Bevin selects will be his first appointment to the seven-member court.
 
The three possible nominees are:
  1. David Buckingham: Judge on the Kentucky Court of Appeals from 1997 to 2005 and judge on a circuit court from 1987 to 1996.
  2. Tyler L. Gill: Judge on a circuit court since 1995 and on a district court from 1993 to 1995.
  3. Carla Williams: Judge on a circuit court since 2004.
 
The vacancy was created by the retirement of Justice Bill Cunningham. Under state 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. The commission is made up of the chief justice of the court, two attorneys elected by the Kentucky Bar Association, and four citizens appointed by the governor equally split by political party.
 
A special election will take place in November 2019 for the remainder of Cunningham’s term, which expires in January 2023. Bevin’s replacement will serve until the winner of that election is sworn in, and may choose to run in the November special election.


Eight state legislative special elections result in no partisan flips, but ninth race headed to runoff

Nine state legislative elections were held across six states on March 12, 2019. Seven were general elections, and two—one in Georgia and one in Texas—were general runoff elections. Four elections were called due to the previous incumbent being elected to different positions, three were called due to appointments to different positions, and one each was called due to a resignation and a death. Democratic incumbents previously held six of the seats, and Republican incumbents previously held the other three seats.

The special elections in Mississippi all featured nonpartisan candidates, although regular Mississippi elections are partisan. Mississippi House Districts 32 and 71 were previously held by Democrats, and House District 101 was previously held by a Republican. Both seats previously held by Democrats were won outright in the general, but the District 101 race advanced to a general runoff after none of the five candidates received over 50 percent of the vote. The general runoff election is scheduled for April 2, 2019.

In Maine House District 124, Pennsylvania House Districts 114 and 190, and Texas House District 125, Democratic candidates were elected to replace their Democratic predecessors. Similarly, Republican candidates won election to seats previously held by Republican incumbents in Georgia House District 176 and Tennessee House District 32.

A state government trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and both state legislative chambers. Maine holds a Democratic trifecta. Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas have Republican trifectas. Pennsylvania is under divided government.

As of March 2019, 45 state legislative special elections have been scheduled or held in 18 states. Between 2011 and 2018, an average of 77 special elections took place each year.