Arizona Governor Doug Ducey (R) appointed appeals judge James Beene to the Arizona Supreme Court on April 26, 2019. Beene became Ducey’s fourth appointment to the seven-member court, and the ninth state supreme court justice appointed by a governor in the country this year.
Beene replaces former Justice John Pelander, who retired on March 1. Pelander was appointed by former Gov. Jan Brewer (R) in 2009. He was retained in elections in both 2012 and 2018.
A selection committee submitted a list of five potential nominees to Ducey the same day that Pelander retired. The committee responsible for interviewing individuals and recommending potential nominees was made up of seven Republicans, three Democrats, and four independents.
Ducey is set to make another appointment to the court this fall. Chief Justice Scott Bales is retiring to take a job in the private sector on July 3. Appointed by former Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) in 2005, Bales is the last remaining member of the court to be appointed by a Democratic governor. His replacement will be Ducey’s fifth appointment to the court.
Arizona is one of 24 states in the country that use assisted appointment as their form of judicial selection for their court of last resort. Sixteen states select judges by nonpartisan election, seven use partisan elections, four have the governor appoint judges directly, and two states (South Carolina and Virginia) have the state legislature elect judges.
A special election is being held for District 64 of the Wisconsin State Assembly on April 30. Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Tip McGuire (D) and Mark Stalker (R), a former Kenosha school board member, are running in the general election.
The seat became vacant when Peter Barca (D) stepped down in January 2019 after Gov. Tony Evers (D) nominated him as secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Revenue. Barca had served in the state Assembly since 2008.
Prior to the special election, the Wisconsin State Assembly has 35 Democrats, 63 Republicans, and one vacancy. A majority in the chamber requires 50 seats. Wisconsin has a divided government, meaning no political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and both state legislative chambers.
On April 25, 2019, a three-judge panel of the United District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan ruled unanimously that 34 congressional and state legislative districts had been subject to unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering, violating Democrats’ First Amendment associational rights. The court also found that 27 of the 34 challenged districts violated the Democrats’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by diluting the impact of their votes. The challenged districts are listed below:
State Senate districts 8, 10, 11, 12, 14, 18, 22, 27, 32, and 36
State House districts 24, 32, 51, 52, 55, 60, 62, 63, 75, 76, 83, 91, 92, 94, and 95
The court enjoined the use of any challenged districts in future elections. The court also ordered that special elections be conducted in 2020 for the challenged state Senate districts and any adjoining districts whose boundaries might be affected by remedial maps. The court directed the state legislature to adopt remedial maps for the challenged districts on or before August 1, 2019.
Judge Eric Clay, appointed to the bench by President Bill Clinton (D), wrote the following in the court’s opinion and order: “Today, this Court joins the growing chorus of federal courts that have, in recent years, held that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional. We find that the Enacted Plan violates Plaintiffs’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights because it deliberately dilutes the power of their votes by placing them in districts that were intentionally drawn to ensure a particular partisan outcome in each district. The Enacted Plan also injures Plaintiffs’ First Amendment right to association by discriminating against them and their political party and subjecting them to ‘disfavored treatment by reason of their views.'” Judges Denise Hood and Gordon Quist, appointed to the bench by Presidents Clinton and George H. W. Bush (R), respectively, joined Clay’s opinion.
Charlie Spies, an attorney representing Michigan Republicans, said the following to The Detroit News: “We will likely see a stay and urge caution in drawing conclusions from this opinion, which we believe is at odds with where the Supreme Court will end up.”
All 38 seats in the Michigan State Senate were up for election in 2018 and are not scheduled to be up for election again until 2022.
Michigan is one of 14 states with divided government – both chambers of the legislature have Republican majorities while the governorship is held by Gretchen Whitmer (D).
December 22, 2017, the League of Women Voters of Michigan, along with a group of state Democrats, filed suit in federal court alleging that Michigan’s congressional and state legislative district plans represented unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders (i.e., the plaintiffs argued that the state’s district maps gave an unfair advantage to Republicans over Democrats).
December 27, 2017, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan issued an order that a three-judge panel be convened to hear the case.
February 1, 2019, the court rejected a proposed settlement in which maps for some state House districts would be redrawn in advance of the 2020 election. State Republicans petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States to delay lower court proceedings pending the high court’s rulings in Lamone v. Benisek and Rucho v. Common Cause.
February 4, 2019, Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor denied this request, clearing the way for a trial to commence on February 5, 2019.
The phrase partisan gerrymandering refers to the practice of drawing electoral district maps with the intention of favoring one political party over another. In contrast with racial gerrymandering, on which issue the Supreme Court of the United States has made rulings in the past affirming that such practices violate federal law, the high court has not, to date, made a ruling establishing clear precedent on the question of partisan gerrymandering. Two partisan gerrymandering cases – Rucho v. Common Cause and Benisek v. Lamone – are pending before the high court this term. Rulings are expected by the end of June.
Lieutenant Gov. Tate Reeves released the first campaign ad in Mississippi’s Republican gubernatorial primary. In the ad, Reeves said that he would help Mississippi reach its full potential by cutting regulations, lowering taxes, and training the workforce. He said Attorney General Jim Hood (D), who is running in the Democratic primary, would not help the state reach its potential.
Reeves faces two challengers in the August 6 primary: state Rep. Robert Foster and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. Media outlets have cast Reeves as the frontrunner due to his fundraising ($6.7 million in cash on hand as of January 1), his 15 years as a statewide officeholder, and his endorsements, including the support of sitting Gov. Phil Bryant (R). If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote on August 6, a runoff will be held August 27.
Foster says he is a conservative outsider who is not beholden to any groups at the state capitol. He criticized Reeves for his long tenure in office, saying, “I would like to ask [Reeves]: How many favors does he have? How many promises has he made, in order to build up a $7 million campaign fund?”
Waller says he would be a stronger candidate than Reeves in the general election if Hood (who has been in office since 2004) is the Democratic candidate. Waller criticizes Reeves for his opposition to increasing the state gas tax to pay for infrastructure repairs. Four former state GOP chairmen endorsed Waller and criticized Reeves for his leadership style.
Reeves’ campaign responded to a Mississippi Today report highlighting support for his opponents by saying, “More than 300 conservative Mississippi leaders have endorsed Tate Reeves, including the governor. That didn’t get covered by Mississippi Today because it showed the party is united not divided. Hundreds more conservatives turned out for rallies and events across the state last week. The Republican Party is going to nominate the proven conservative in this race, and that’s Tate Reeves.”
Kentucky Democratic gubernatorial candidates Rocky Adkins, Andy Beshear, and Adam Edelen participated in a debate at Transylvania University hosted by Hey Kentucky! and LEX18.
Daniel Desrochers of the Lexington Herald Leader described the debate as light on conflict. He wrote that the buildup to the debate “suggested there might be fireworks. It was more like sparklers.”
The primary election will take place on May 21. Geoff Young is also on the Democratic ballot but did not participate in the debate. Governor Matt Bevin faces state Rep. Robert Goforth, Ike Lawrence, and William Woods in the Republican primary election.
The general election will take place on November 5. It is one of three gubernatorial elections on the ballot this year. The others are in Louisiana and Mississippi.
Heading into the election, Kentucky is a Republican trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. Republicans control the governor’s office and both chambers of the Kentucky State Legislature. As of February 2019, there were 22 Republican trifectas, 14 Democratic trifectas, and 14 divided governments where neither party holds trifecta control.
Iowa State Representative Andy McKean changed his party affiliation from Republican to Democratic on Tuesday.
McKean said President Trump and changes in the party as a whole prompted this change. “I feel, as a Republican, that I need to be able to support the standard bearer of our party…Unfortunately, that’s something I’m unable to do,” McKean said in a news conference. He added that “the [Republican] party has veered very sharply to the right.” The Des Moines Register stated McKean had been the longest-serving Republican in the state House.
House Minority Leader Todd Prichard (D) commented on McKean’s move: “We’re pleased to have Andy’s experience and ideas as part of our discussion when we go to caucus.”
House Speaker Linda Upmeyer (R) said, “This will not distract us from moving forward with the conservative agenda that Iowans have tasked us with…As a majority of 53 strong Republicans, we are committed to completing our work and wrapping up the session.”
As of April 2019, Ballotpedia tracked 122 state legislators who have switched parties since 1994. Seventy-one lawmakers changed from Democrat to Republican, and 19 lawmakers switched from Republican to Democrat.
McKean’s switch did not change the Republican majority in the state House; the partisan balance is now 53-47. In 2016, Republicans gained a Republican trifecta in the state, meaning they hold the governor’s office and have majorities in both chambers of the state legislature.
Last week Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) signed a bill to prohibit sanctuary policies in Arkansas.
Senate Bill (SB) 411 amends Arkansas Code Title 14, Chapter 1, Subchapter 1, to include a provision prohibiting municipalities from adopting sanctuary policies. It also established that municipalities determined to be in violation of the law would be ineligible to receive state funds or grants until the policy was repealed. SB 411 defined a sanctuary policy as “an order, ordinance, or law enforcement policy, whether formally enacted or informally adopted by custom or practice” that limits municipal officials from cooperating with federal agencies to verify immigration status or from complying with federal detainer requests.
The legislation is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2020.
Hutchinson said he opposed sanctuary cities but did not “see any change in policy going forward that would be disruptive to our society.” Arkansas had no sanctuary cities as defined by the bill at the time of its passage.
Supporters of the bill said it was meant to prevent cities in Arkansas from adopting sanctuary policies. Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R) said, “This is more a proactive measure to ward off something, some city in Arkansas saying, ‘hey, we’re going to set ourselves up as a sanctuary city.'” Opponents said the bill would damage the relationship between local law enforcement and the immigrant community.
Since January 2019, 60 state legislative vacancies have been created. Thirty-seven of those vacancies have been filled through appointments or special elections. In the 23 vacancies still left to be filled, three will be filled through appointments and 20 will be filled through special elections.
Before the vacancies were created, Democrats controlled 32 of the seats and Republicans controlled the other 28. In the 37 vacancies that have been filled so far, Democrats took 21 seats, Republicans took 15 seats, and an independent took one seat. So far in 2019, six state legislative seats have changed partisan control in special elections. Four seats flipped from Democrat to Republican, one seat flipped from Republican to Democrat, and one seat flipped from Republican to independent.
The process for filling vacancies varies among the states. Twenty-five states fill state legislative vacancies through special elections, 22 states fill vacancies through appointments, and three states fill vacancies through a hybrid system that uses both appointments and special elections. The most common reasons for a state legislative vacancy include officeholders resigning, dying, leaving for a new job, being elected or appointed to a different office, or receiving a legal conviction.
Ballotpedia completes a count of the partisan balance of state legislatures at the end of every month. March’s partisan count of the 7,383 state legislators shows 52 percent of all state legislators are Republicans and 47 percent are Democrats. Republicans held 3,861 of the 7,383 state legislative seats in the country—1,082 state Senate seats and 2,779 state House seats. Democrats held 3,462 of the 7,383 state legislative seats—877 state Senate seats and 2,585 state House seats. Independent or third-party legislators held 32 seats, and 28 seats were vacant.
The Washington State Legislature sent legislation to the governor’s desk that would amend state labor union law.
On April 18, the Washington House of Representatives approved an amended version of HB1575, which the Washington State Senate adopted on April 12. This bill would declare that public employers and public-sector unions are not liable for claims involving agency fees paid to unions prior to Janus. It would repeal statutes requiring employees to join unions or pay dues as a condition of employment. It would also amend dues deduction authorization laws, allowing authorizations to be initiated via electronic, voice, or written communications. A written request to the union would be required to discontinue dues deductions.
The House voted 56-38, and the Senate voted 25-21. The votes in both chambers split largely along party lines, with most Democrats voting in favor of the bill and most Republicans voting against it. The bill now goes to Governor Jay Inslee (D).
Sen. Rebecca Saldana (D) said the following in support of the bill during floor debate: “It is a bill that aligns our current statutes with the Janus decision and clearly defines the relationship between the union and the employee.” The Washington State Labor Council (AFL-CIO) also supported the bill, making the following statement via its news service, The Stand: “The Washington State Senate on Friday approved landmark collective bargaining legislation that brings state laws into compliance with last year’s Janus decision by the U.S. Supreme Court and provides clarity and consistency for public employee union membership in Washington state.”
During floor debate, Sen. Curtis King (R) criticized the bill with respect to its position on Janus: “The Janus ruling was not an anti-union decision, it was a ruling about rights, it was a ruling about freedom. It said the individual can decide what they want to do. You cannot be forced to join a union to get a public job. It’s about freedom. That’s all it was about.” Maxford Nelsen, the Freedom Foundation’s director of labor policy, said the following in a press release: “Union-backed lawmakers in Olympia are establishing quite a track record of passing illegal and unconstitutional laws to benefit their political allies at the expense of public employees’ civil liberties.”
On June 27, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that public sector unions cannot require non-member employees to pay fees covering the costs of non-political union activities. This overturned precedent established in the 1977 case Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.
On April 18, the Nebraska State Senate approved a constitutional amendment to increase the repayment period for tax-increment financing (TIF) from 15 years to 20 years for areas where more than one-half of properties are designed as extremely blighted. The vote in the Senate was 43-2. Voters will decide whether to adopt or reject the amendment at the general election in 2020.
TIF is designed to finance economic development in an area. In Nebraska, cities and villages have the power to declare an area as substandard, blighted, and in need of redevelopment and to create a TIF district. The local government can then issue bonds to finance improvements associated with a redevelopment project. The local government can use increased tax revenue, resulting from increased property values due to development, to pay off the bonds over a 15-year period.
The ballot measure would increase the period to pay off the bonds and indebtedness from 15 years to 20 years for TIF districts designed as extremely blighted. In Nebraska, an extremely blighted area is defined as a census tract with an average unemployment rate that is 200 percent or more of the average state unemployment rate and the poverty rate is more than 20 percent.
Sen. Justin T. Wayne (D-13) was the lead sponsor of the constitutional amendment in the state Senate. Sen. Wayne said, “If we add an extra five years, it makes the financing easier for a developer when he or she is weighing their risk.” He also said the amendment was written for “areas that would not otherwise be developed.” Sen. Mike Groene (R-42) was one of two Republicans to vote against the amendment. He referred to the law defining extremely blighted, saying, “This hasn’t even been enacted more than 6 months. We’re going from enacting a law that hasn’t happened, where any city has even defined a highly-blighted area, to putting it in the constitution! Government shouldn’t work that fast. It needs to slow down a little bit. Let’s see if it actually is used.”
The constitutional amendment is the second referred to the ballot in Nebraska for 2020. The other amendment would remove language from the Nebraska Constitution that allows the use of slavery and involuntary servitude as criminal punishments.