Democrat wins special election for Virginia House seat

Democrat Ibraheem Samirah won the February 19 special election for the District 86 seat in the Virginia House of Delegates with 59.5 percent of the vote, according to unofficial election night results. He defeated Republican Gregg Nelson and independent candidate Connie Haines Hutchinson. The candidates were selected through firehouse primaries administered by each political party.
The seat became vacant after Jennifer Boysko (D) won a special election for District 33 of the Virginia State Senate on January 8.
Entering the special election, the Virginia House of Delegates had 48 Democrats, 51 Republicans, and one vacancy. Virginia has a divided government. The governor is a Democrat, but both chambers of the state legislature are held by Republican majorities.

Special primary held for South Carolina House district

A special primary for District 14 of the South Carolina House of Representatives was held on February 19. Garrett McDaniel defeated Bobby Gregory Sr. in the Democratic primary, earning 92 percent of the vote. Stewart Jones earned 51.6 percent of the vote in the Republican primary, defeating Michael Seymour, Scott Horne, and Grant Blair. McDaniel and Jones will face off in the special election on April 23.
The seat became vacant after Michael Pitts (R) resigned for health reasons on January 3, 2019.
Entering the special election, the South Carolina House of Representatives has 44 Democrats, 79 Republicans, and one vacancy. South Carolina has a Republican trifecta. A state government trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and both state legislative chambers.

Kansas lawmaker battling cancer will resign his seat

Kansas state Rep. Greg Lewis (R) announced on February 18, 2019, that he would resign his seat, effective Friday, February 22, 2019. He is resigning after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor in December 2018.
Lewis has served in the state House representing District 113 since 2015. He was appointed to the chamber in March 2015 to replace J. Basil Dannebohm (R).
Pratt County Republicans will hold a special convention in March to select Lewis’ replacement. The replacement will complete Lewis’s term, which ends in January 2021.
Kansas is one of 14 states with a divided government. Republicans control the state Senate by a 28 to 11 margin with one independent and the state House by an 84 to 41 margin. The governor’s office is held by a Democrat, Laura Kelly.

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.