Montana Governor Steve Bullock appoints new commissioner of labor and industry

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock named Brenda Nordlund as the new acting commissioner of labor and industry on March 5. Nordlund replaced interim Commissioner Tom Lopach, who took over when Galen Hollenbaugh retired on December 31, 2019. Since Nordlund was an employee of the department and retained her status as a classified employee, she assumed the title of acting commissioner. Her term is set to expire on January 4, 2021.

The position of labor commissioner exists in all 50 states. Commissioners are tasked with various duties, which may include overseeing the fair treatment of workers, non-payment investigations, the state minimum wage, and other labor-related issues. Most labor commissioners are appointed by the governor. Salaries can range from $60,000 to $195,000. Nordlund will earn $116,480, according to state officials and the Great Falls Tribune.

Additional reading:
Brenda Nordlund
Galen Hollenbaugh
Montana state executive offices 

Missouri Democrats select new state Senate Minority Leader

Missouri State Senator Gina Walsh (D) stepped down as State Senate Minority Leader after serving in the role since 2017 on March 3. Freshman Sen. John Rizzo (D) takes her place as the Democratic leader in the state Senate.

Walsh, who represents District 13, cannot run for re-election to the state Senate this year due to term limits. Missouri state senators serve four-year terms and are limited to two terms in the chamber, or eight years total.

Rizzo is in his first term in the state Senate, representing District 11 since winning election to the seat in 2016. He previously held office in the Missouri House of Representatives and served as the House Minority Whip.

As the State Senate Minority Leader, Rizzo is the floor leader of the minority caucus. In this role, the minority leader is the principal speaker for the minority party during debates on the Senate floor and works to coordinate the party’s legislative agenda. Minority and majority leaders are often assisted by whips, whose job is to ensure that members of the chamber vote in line with their party’s priorities.

As of March 2020, the partisan composition of the Missouri State Senate is 23 Republicans, eight Democrats, and three vacancies. Republicans have held majority control of the state senate since 2002. Seventeen of the chamber’s 34 seats are up for election in 2020, including Rizzo’s.

Additional reading:
Gina Walsh
Missouri State Senate
State Senate Minority Leader
Missouri State Senate elections, 2020 

Approval rates of local bond and tax measures in California’s March 3 election lowest in at least a decade

On March 3, California voters decided 292 local ballot measures. According to results available Monday evening, at least 111 were approved, at least 146 were defeated, and the remaining measures were too close to call because of the number of ballots left to be processed.

Of the 292 total local measures, 236 (81%) were bond or tax measures:
• 121 local school bond measures (in total, $17.24 billion in local school bonds was proposed)
• 54 parcel tax measures
• 45 sales tax measures
• 7 hotel tax measures
• 5 city or county marijuana tax measures
• 4 city, county, or district bond measures

Other topics included the following:
• 10 measures on housing, zoning, land use, and development
• 10 measures on local elections and campaigns
• 5 measures on the regulation of marijuana

The 292 local measures on the ballot were the most at a primary election since at least 2010. From 2010 through 2018, primary elections were held in June rather than March. There were an average of 139 local measures on primary ballots from 2010 through 2018.

School bond measures

With Monday evening’s election results update, Ballotpedia called all but 19 of the 121 total school bond measures on the March 3 ballot:
• at least 32 (26%) were approved
• at least 70 (58%) were defeated
• 19 remain too close to call with certainty

From 2008 through 2019, the average approval rate for local school bond measures in California was 75%.

In terms of bond revenue, at least $5.511 billion (32%) was approved, at least $10.037 billion (58%) was defeated, and $1.788 billion (10%) could still go either way. In the November 2018 election, there were 151 total school bond measures proposing a total of $15.2 billion, and $14.3 billion (94%) was approved. In 2016, there were 231 local school bonds proposing a total of $31.8 billion, and $28.9 billion (91%) was approved.

Voters also appear to have rejected Proposition 13, a $15 billion statewide bond issue of general obligation bonds for school and college facilities—including $9 billion for preschool and K-12 schools, $4 billion for universities, and $2 billion for community colleges. As of Monday evening’s election results update, the measure was behind by 45.96% (3,250,570 votes) to 54.04% (3,822,718 votes), with about 2.9 million ballots left to be processed.

Local tax measures

Local parcel and sales tax measures were approved at a lower rate than the average over recent election cycles as well.

At least 16 (29.6%) of the local parcel tax measures were approved, at least 31 (57.4%) were defeated, and seven (13%) were too close to call. From 2003 through 2019, 57.5% of local parcel tax measures were approved.

At least 24 (53.3%) of the local sales taxes were approved, at least 19 (42.2%) were defeated, and two (4.4%) were too close to call. From 2014 through 2019, 76% of local sales tax measures were approved.

Additional reading:
California Proposition 13, School and College Facilities Bond (March 2020) 
School bond elections in California
Sales tax in California
Parcel tax elections in California
Hotel taxes in California 
Marijuana taxes in California

Commission sends supreme court recommendations to Georgia Gov. Kemp

The Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) recommended the following four candidates to Gov. Brian Kemp (R) for consideration to succeed retired Georgia Supreme Court Justice Robert Behnam:

    • Judge Carla W. McMillian of the Georgia Court of Appeals
    • Judge Verda Colvin of Bibb County Superior Court
    • Judge Sara Doyle of the Georgia Court of Appeals
    • Judge Shawn LaGrua of Fulton County Superior Court

Benham retired on March 1, 2020. Twenty-two candidates submitted applications to the JNC, which interviewed nine before selecting its four recommendations. The JNC consists of 18 members who are appointed by the governor.

Under Georgia law, if a vacancy appears on the Georgia Supreme Court, the position is filled by assisted appointment. The governor chooses an appointee from a list of candidates compiled by the JNC. The interim judge must run in the next general election held at least six months after the appointment, and, if confirmed by voters, he or she may finish the rest of the predecessor’s term.

Benham’s replacement will be Kemp’s first nominee to the nine-member state supreme court.

Additional reading:
Robert Benham
Georgia Supreme Court
Judicial selection in Georgia
Georgia judicial elections
Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission 

Georgia cancels state supreme court election after sitting justice announces retirement; Gov. Kemp will appoint replacement

On March 5, 2020, two aspiring candidates for Georgia Supreme Court filed suit against the state’s highest election official because the race in which they hoped to compete was taken off the ballot the day before the qualifying period began.

On February 28, 2020, Justice Keith Blackwell announced that he will be retiring from the state supreme court, and therefore will not run for reelection. Blackwell’s announcement stated that he intends to remain on the court until November 18, 2020. The justice was scheduled to stand for reelection on May 19, but his term does not end until the end of December.

Because Blackwell’s announced retirement falls before his term is over in December, Gov. Brian Kemp (R) will appoint Blackwell’s successor. Kemp conveyed that information to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), who then canceled the election.

Two aspiring candidates, John Barrow of Athens, a former Democratic congressman, and former Republican state lawmaker Beth Beskin, of Atlanta, filed lawsuits against Raffensperger, claiming that he illegally canceled the election.

Beskin said, “His seat is not vacant… We should be having qualifying for his seat right now. To cancel an election the day before qualifying, I don’t think it’s legal.”

Barrow called the canceling of the election “the ultimate act of voter suppression” and said, “They’re taking this election off the books before the event that authorizes them to do it.”

Raffensperger’s office issued a statement that said, “The Governor’s office informed the Secretary of State’s office that the Governor intended to fill the created vacancy by appointment. After speaking with the Attorney General’s office about the situation, our office determined that the most prudent course of action was to cancel qualifying for that seat.” Gov. Kemp’s spokeswoman referred all questions to the secretary of state’s office.

In his resignation letter, Blackwell said that he seeks to return to private practice to spend more time with his family. Gov. Kemp already has the opportunity to fill Justice Benham’s seat because of his retirement from office. If Gov. Kemp fills Blackwell’s seat, this will give him two appointments to the state court that will not be on the ballot until 2020.

Additional Reading:
Keith Blackwell
Judicial selection in Georgia
Brian Kemp 

South Dakota governor selects new chief of staff

On March 3, 2020, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) appointed Tony Venhuizen to serve as her chief of staff. Venhuizen is Gov. Noem’s third chief of staff in the past year. He succeeds former chief of staff Joshua Shields, who stepped down on January 1, 2020, and Herb Jones, who resigned on October 1, 2019.

A chief of staff is the lead staff member of an executive administration and is responsible for implementing the governor’s agenda. The role is both a managerial and advisory position, although specific duties vary by each administration. Typically, the gubernatorial chief of staff manages the Governor’s schedule, assists in forming and implementing a policy agenda, and oversees the governor’s staff.

Since 2017, Ballotpedia has aimed to identify and curate profiles on the chief of staff to each governor. To view a list of all gubernatorial chiefs of staff, click here.

Candidate filing period for state offices ends in six states

The major-party filing deadline to run for elected office in Montana passed on March 9. That deadline was followed up on March 10 by filing deadlines in New Mexico and Oregon. Candidates running in Idaho, Iowa, and Nevada have until March 13 to file. Prospective candidates could file for the following offices:

  • U.S. Senate seats in Idaho, Iowa, Montana, New Mexico, and Oregon
  • U.S. House seats in all six states
  • State executive offices in Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, and Oregon
  • State legislative seats in all six states
  • State supreme court seats in all six states
  • Intermediate appellate court seats in Idaho, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico, and Oregon

Ballotpedia is also covering local elections in parts of Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, and Oregon.

Primaries in Idaho and Oregon are being held on May 19. Iowa, Montana, and New Mexico are holding primaries on June 2. Nevada has its primary on June 9.

After these six filing deadlines, 21 states will have held statewide filing deadlines in the 2020 election cycle. The next statewide filing deadline is on March 16 in Maine.

Additional reading:

Six Nebraska state senators term-limited in 2020

Twenty-five of Nebraska’s 49 state senate seats are up for election in 2020. Incumbents filed for re-election in 19 of those races. In the remaining six, incumbents are ineligible to run for re-election due to term limits.

Nebraska is one of 15 states where state legislators are subject to term limits, a legal restriction on the number of terms a person may serve in a particular office. In Nebraska, state senators can serve two consecutive four-year terms for a total of eight years. After that, they must wait four years—one full term—before they can run again in that district.

All six state senators prevented from running for re-election were elected in 2012 and re-elected in 2016. They are:

  • District 9: Sara Howard (D)
  • District 11: Ernie Chambers (I)
  • District 19: Jim Scheer (R)
  • District 29: Kate Bolz (D)
  • District 31: Rick Kolowski (D)
  • District 45: Sue Crawford (D)

This is the second time that Ernie Chambers has been term-limited. Chambers represented District 11 from 1971-2009. He was ineligible to run for re-election in 2008 after serving two four-year terms following the introduction of term limits in 2000. After waiting the requisite four years, he ran in District 11 again in 2012.

Nebraska’s state senate is officially nonpartisan, which means senators are not formally affiliated with a party. To learn more about how Ballotpedia determines partisan affiliation in Nebraska’s state senate, click here. For more information about the 2020 state senate elections in Nebraska, click here.

February 2020 breakdown of state legislative party membership: 52.3% Republicans, 46.8% Democrats

February’s partisan count of the 7,383 state legislators across the United States shows 52.3% of all state legislators are Republicans and 46.8% are Democrats, which is consistent with January 2020.

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 59 chambers, and Democrats hold the majority in 39 chambers. One chamber (Alaska’s state House) has a power-sharing agreement between the two parties.

Altogether, there are 1,972 state senate and 5,411 state house offices. Republicans held 3,859 state legislative seats—1,084 state senate seats (down one seat from January) and 2,775 state house seats (up four seats from last month). Democrats held 3,455 legislative seats—874 state Senate seats (consistent with January) and 2,581 state House seats (up three from last month). Independent or third-party legislators held 34 seats. There were 35 vacant seats—a decrease of six vacancies since January.

At the time of the 2018 elections, 7,280 state legislators were affiliated with either the Republican or Democratic parties. There were 3,257 Democratic state legislators, 4,023 Republican state legislators, 35 independent or third-party state legislators, and 68 vacancies.

Additional reading:

Statewide filing deadline passes in Nebraska

On March 2, the filing deadline passed for non-incumbents to run for elected office in Nebraska. The filing deadline for incumbents previously passed on February 18. Candidates filed for the following offices:

U.S. Senator
• Incumbent Ben Sasse (R) filed to run for re-election.

U.S. House Districts 1, 2, and 3
• Every incumbent filed to run for re-election.

Nebraska State Senate (25 seats)
• The incumbent did not file to run for re-election in Districts 9, 11, 19, 29, 31, and 45.

Public Service Commissioner
• The incumbent filed to run for re-election.

State Board of Education (4 seats)
• The incumbent did not file to run for re-election for State Board of Education Districts 3 and 4.

Ballotpedia is also covering retention elections for the following judicial offices:
• Nebraska Supreme Court (2 seats)
• Nebraska Court of Appeals (2 seats)

Finally, Ballotpedia is covering local elections in the following areas:
• Lancaster County
• Omaha
• Elkhorn Public Schools
• Millard Public Schools
• Norris School District 160
• Omaha Public Schools
• Ralston Public Schools
• Waverly School District 145
• Westside Community Schools

The primary is scheduled for May 12, and the general election is scheduled for November 3, 2020.

Nebraska’s statewide filing deadline was the 14th to take place in the 2020 election cycle. The next major party statewide filing deadline is on March 6 in Georgia.

Nebraska 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, or in Nebraska’s case, the unicameral Nebraska State Senate.

Additional reading: