New Mexico Supreme Court rules Governor Lujan Grisham may fine businesses for violating public health orders

On August 4, 2020, the New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the governor may legally fine businesses that violate the New Mexico Public Health Emergency Response Act.

The case came to the supreme court after several businesses filed suit in the 9th Judicial District in Curry County. The state Republican Party helped organize the complaint against the governor. The plaintiffs claimed that the power of the governor to fine businesses that violated the Emergency Response Act was not inherent to the act itself. Chief Justice Michael Vigil, writing the court’s opinion, said, “The Legislature has clearly given the governor that authority.”

In response to the supreme court’s decision, Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce said, “We are deeply disappointed in today’s Supreme Court decision… This ruling demonstrates the need to seek change at the polls this November by electing conservative judicial candidates who will help protect our freedoms and basic rights. What happens at the polls impacts what happens in our lives in New Mexico, and we must make a stand this fall on Election Day.”

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) tweeted in response to the court’s decision: “The state shouldn’t have to fine anybody…Doing the right thing in a crisis shouldn’t be something we have to argue about. But anyone endangering the lives of New Mexicans will face the consequences.”

The state supreme court may hear a similar case in the future. In July, the New Mexico Restaurant Association filed a lawsuit in a state District Court challenging the state’s authority to order establishments to close indoor dining again after briefly allowing the businesses to reopen at 50% capacity.

As of August 11, Ballotpedia has tracked 681 lawsuits filed in response to policies implemented to address the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States. Of these 681 suits, 189 have been filed in state-level courts (and 34 of those have been taken up by state supreme courts). The remaining lawsuits have been filed in the federal judiciary.

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July 2020 breakdown of state legislative party membership: 52.01% Republicans, 46.80% Democrats

July’s partisan count of the 7,383 state legislators across the United States shows 52.01% of all state legislators are Republicans and 46.80% are Democrats.

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. Republicans hold a majority in 61 chambers and Democrats hold a majority in 37 chambers. Alaska’s chamber is the only one to have a power-sharing agreement between the two parties.

The state legislatures include 1,972 state senator and 5,411 state representative offices. Republicans hold 1,077 state senate seats—4 less than in June—and 2,763 state house seats—down five seats from last month. Democrats hold 3,455 of the 7,383 state legislative seats—875 state senate seats (up two seats) and 2,580 state house seats (down four seats). Independent or third-party legislators hold 33 seats, of which 29 are state house seats and four state senate seats. There are 55 vacant seats.

For the month of July, both parties saw a decrease in state representation, with Republicans and Democrats holding .15% and .02% fewer seats, respectively.

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Mason confirmed as New Hampshire Fish and Game executive

The New Hampshire Executive Council confirmed dairy farmer Scott Mason as the New Hampshire Executive Director of Fish and Game on August 5. Governor Chris Sununu (R) initially appointed Mason on June 10 of this year.

Mason will serve a term ending in March 2024. He succeeds three-term executive director Glenn Normandeau, whose third and final term was extended from March 31, 2020, to August pending his replacement’s confirmation. The New Hampshire Fish and Game Commission voted in September 2019 not to reappoint Normandeau to the role.

As the Fish and Game executive director, Mason is tasked with overseeing the conservation and protection of fish and game and their habitats, as well as keeping the public informed about these resources. Ballotpedia covers 11 other state executive offices in New Hampshire. All of these offices except for the offices of the governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and executive council are non-partisan positions.

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Molly Gray wins Democratic lieutenant gubernatorial primary in Vermont

Molly Gray defeated Timothy Ashe, Debbie Ingram, and Brenda Siegel in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor of Vermont. With 68% of precincts reporting, Gray had received 45% of the vote. Ashe was second with 32%. Siegel and Ingram each received less than 10%.

Incumbent Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman (D/P) is running for governor, leaving the position open. Gray is an assistant attorney general. Ashe is a state senator and serves as the chamber’s president pro tempore.

The 2016 election was the first time since 2000 that Vermonters had elected a non-Republican lieutenant governor. Vermont Public Radio‘s Peter Hirschfeld, commenting about the office, wrote, “Aside from presiding over the state senate … [the] job doesn’t carry much in the way of constitutional powers. But the statewide post has been an important stepping stone for many ambitious politicians.” Vermont has had six governors since 1980, three of whom had previously served as lieutenant governor.

Zuckerman wins Democratic gubernatorial primary in Vermont

David Zuckerman won Vermont’s Democratic gubernatorial primary on August 11, 2020. With 55% of precincts reporting, he had received 44% of the vote. Rebecca Holcombe was second with 33%. Patrick Winburn and Ralph Corbo received less than 10% each.

Zuckerman is Vermont’s lieutenant governor. He previously served in the state Senate as a Progressive/Democrat from 2013 to 2017 and in the state House as a Progressive Party member from 1997 to 2011. Holcombe was Vermont’s education secretary from 2014 to 2018.

Vermont has a Republican governor and Democratic majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. It is one of 14 states with a divided government. Vermont is also one of four states that voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election and has a Republican governor in 2020. Three election forecasters rate the general election either Likely Republican or Solid Republican.

Incumbent Gov. Phil Scott (R) is seeking re-election and won the Republican primary.

Tennessee election review

Image of a red sign with the words "Polling Place" a pointing arrow.

The statewide primary for Tennessee was held on August 6, 2020. Candidates competed to advance to the general election scheduled for November 3, 2020.

Candidates ran in elections for the following offices:

U.S. Senate:

Incumbent Lamar Alexander (R) did not file for re-election, leaving the seat open. Five Democrats and 15 Republican candidates competed in partisan primaries. Unofficial results show Marquita Bradshaw (D) and Bill Hagerty (R) advanced from their respective primaries.

U.S. House:
All of Tennessee’s nine U.S. House seats are up for election this year. U.S. House District 1 incumbent Phil Roe (R) was the only representative that did not file for re-election. Three incumbents—two Democrats and one Republican—faced primary challengers. The remaining five incumbents, all Republican, did not face primary challengers. No incumbents lost their bids for re-election, according to unofficial results.
• District 1: Three Democrats and 16 Republicans competed in partisan primaries. Blair Walsingham (D) and Diana Harshbarger (R) advanced from their respective primaries.
• District 2: Incumbent Tim Burchett (R) was unopposed in the Republican primary. Renee Hoyos (D) advanced from the Democratic primary.
• District 3: Incumbent Charles J. Fleischmann (R) was unopposed in the Republican primary. Candidate Meg Gorman (D) was also unopposed in the Democratic primary.
• District 4: Incumbent Scott DesJarlais (R) defeated two challengers in the Republican primary. Christopher Hale (D) advanced from the Democratic primary.
• District 5: Incumbent Jim Cooper (D) defeated two challengers in the Democratic primary. No Republican candidates were on the ballot.
• District 6: Incumbent John Rose (R) was unopposed in the Republican primary. Candidate Christopher Finley (D) was also unopposed in the Democratic primary.
• District 7: Incumbent Mark Green (R) was unopposed in the Republican primary. Candidate Kiran Sreepada (D) was also unopposed in the Democratic primary.
• District 8:  Incumbent David Kustoff (R) was unopposed in the Republican primary. Erika Stotts Pearson (D) advanced from the Democratic primary.

• District 9: Incumbent Steve Cohen (D) defeated two challengers in the Democratic primary. Charlotte Bergmann (R) was unopposed in the Republican primary.

State Senate:
The chamber has five Democrats and 28 Republicans. Sixteen of 33 seats are up for election. A majority in the chamber requires 17 seats.

• Fifteen incumbents filed for re-election. No incumbents lost their bids for re-election, according to unofficial results.

State House:
The chamber has 26 Democrats and 73 Republicans. All 99 seats are up for election. A majority in the chamber requires 50 seats.
• Ninety-three incumbents filed for re-election. Three incumbents—James Van Huss (R-6), Matthew Hill (R-7), and Thomas R. Tillis (R-92)—were defeated in the primary, according to unofficial results.

• The District 15 race remains too close to call.

One seat on the Tennessee Court of Appeals was up for retention election. According to unofficial results, Western Section incumbent Carma Dennis McGee won her retention election. McGee will serve the remainder of an eight-year term, which is set to expire in 2024.

Ballotpedia also covered general local elections in the following areas:
• Shelby County
• Nashville
• Clarksville-Montgomery County School System
• Hamilton County School District
• Knox County School District
• Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools
• Rutherford County Schools
• Shelby County Schools

• Williamson County Schools

Entering the 2020 election, Tennessee’s U.S. congressional delegation has two Republican senators, two Democratic representatives, and seven Republican representatives. The U.S. Senate has 45 Democrats, 53 Republicans, and two independents who caucus with the Democratic Party. Only 33 out of 100 Senate seats are up for regular election and two seats are up for special election. A majority in the chamber requires 51 seats. The U.S. House has 232 Democrats, 198 Republicans, one Libertarian, and four vacancies. All 435 seats are up for election. A majority in the chamber requires 218 seats.

Tennessee has a Republican state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.

The primary is the 37th to take place in the 2020 election cycle. The next primary is on August 8 in Hawaii.

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Special election runoff to be held in Georgia Senate district

A special election runoff is being held on August 11 for District 4 of the Georgia State Senate. Republicans Scott Bohlke and Billy Hickman are facing off in the runoff. Bohlke and Hickman advanced past the June 9 primary election with 32% and 33% of the vote, respectively. The two candidates are also running in a primary runoff in the regularly-scheduled election. The winner of the primary runoff will be unopposed in the general election.

The seat became vacant after Jack Hill (R) passed away on April 6. Hill had represented District 4 since 1991.

Heading into the special election, Republicans have a 34-21 majority in the Georgia Senate with one vacancy. Georgia has a Republican state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.

As of July, 52 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2020 in 25 states. Between 2011 and 2019, an average of 77 special elections took place each year.

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Maine Supreme Judicial Court hears arguments about the role of ballot referenda in overturning state administrative agency decisions

On August 5, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court heard oral arguments in a case about whether voters may use the ballot referendum process to reverse actions taken by a state administrative agency. At issue is a ballot referendum set to appear on the November 2020 ballot that would overturn a state agency decision giving a power company permission to build a high-voltage power line.

The lawyer for Avangrid Networks, which owns the power company, argued that the “integrity of the Maine Constitution and [its] constitutional form of government” depended on the court stopping the ballot referendum. He said that it was the duty of the court to stop proponents of the ballot referendum from attempting to use the referendum process in a way that is not supported by the state constitution.

Opponents of the referendum argue that the ballot measure violates the separation of powers provision found in Article III of the Maine Constitution. They’ve argued that the measure is an attempt to use a ballot referendum to exercise executive authority by reversing an agency order, and judicial authority by overturning a related court decision.

The lawyer representing supporters of the referendum argued that the court should wait to rule on the constitutionality of the referendum until after the November 2020 election. He argued that the referendum, which would direct the behavior of the Maine Public Utilities Commission, was a legitimate use of legislative authority. He added that however the court decides, voters should be allowed to vote for or against the measure in the election.

The lawyer for the secretary of state of Maine stated that the secretary agreed, along with the challengers, that the referendum goes beyond the power of citizens to legislate under the Maine Constitution. She also stated that the court should decide the issue before the November election.

To learn more about the Maine ballot measure, see here:
Additional reading:
Link to the oral argument:

Ballotpedia study shows that no states require administrative agencies to meet higher burdens of proof in proportion to the size of monetary penalties they seek to impose

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A Ballotpedia survey of all 50 state constitutions and administrative procedure acts (APAs) revealed that no state constitutions or APAs require administrative agencies to meet higher burdens of proof in proportion to the size of monetary penalties they seek to impose following adjudication.

Agency adjudication is a quasi-judicial process that takes place in the executive branch of the state government instead of in the judicial branch. Often, the procedural protections associated with adjudication are different from those found in a traditional courtroom setting.

Adjudication proceedings include agency determinations outside of the rulemaking process that aim to resolve disputes between either agencies and private parties or between two private parties. The adjudication process results in the issuance of an adjudicative order, which serves to settle the dispute and, in some cases, may set agency policy.

States often require state agencies to base their adjudication decisions on substantial evidence. That requirement led Ballotpedia to wonder whether state agencies had higher evidentiary burdens when they sought to impose higher penalties and fines. The survey showed that no state required administrative agencies to meet higher burdens of proof in proportion to the size of monetary penalties they seek to impose.

To learn more about Ballotpedia’s survey related to procedural rights, see here:

Procedural rights: States that require agencies to meet higher burdens of proof in proportion to the size of monetary penalties they seek to impose

Want to go further? Learn more about the five pillars of the administrative state here: Administrative state

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Four states to hold state executive and legislative primaries on August 11

The statewide primary election for Connecticut, Minnesota, Vermont, and Wisconsin is on August 11, 2020. A total of 689 seats are up for election, including six state executive seats and 683 state legislative seats. Candidates are running in elections for the following offices:

• State Senate (all 36 seats)

• State House (all 151 seats)

• State Senate (all 67 seats)

• State House (all 134 seats)

• Governor
• Lieutenant Governor
• Secretary of State
• Auditor
• Attorney General
• Treasurer
• State Senate (all 30 seats)

• State House (all 150 seats)

• State Senate (16 out of 33 seats)

• State Assembly (all 99 seats)

Candidates are competing to advance to the general election scheduled for November 3, 2020.

These primaries are the 39th through the 42nd primaries to take place in the 2020 election cycle. The next statewide primary will be held on August 18 in Alaska, Florida, and Wyoming.

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