One Alaska Supreme Court justice seeks retention in November

Alaska Supreme Court Justice Susan Carney is seeking retention on November 3, 2020. She was appointed by Gov. Bill Walker (I) in 2016.

Currently, four of the justices on the court were appointed by a Republican governor while one was appointed by an independent governor.

The governor appoints the five justices of the supreme court through a hybrid nominating commission where neither the governor nor the Alaska State Bar Association has majority control over the judicial nominating commission. The Alaska Judicial Council is made up of seven members: three lawyers (appointed by the board of governors of the Alaska Bar Association), three non-lawyer members (appointed by the governor and confirmed by a majority of the legislature in joint session), and is chaired by the chief justice of the supreme court.

New justices must face a retention election during the next general election after they serve at least three years on the bench. Justices then stand for retention every ten years with a mandatory retirement age of 70. Since 2008, justices facing retention elections have won 98% of the time. In Alaska, there has not been a single justice that lost retention during this same time frame.

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What statewide ballot measures will Florida voters decide on November 3?

The Florida ballot will feature six ballot measures in November. Four of them were put on the ballot through signature petition drives, and two were referred to the ballot by the state legislature.

The citizen initiatives cover topics including elections, voting, and minimum wage.

Amendment 1, sponsored by Florida Citizen Voters, would amend Florida Constitution to state that “only a citizen” of the U.S. who is 18 years old or older can vote in Florida. The Florida Constitution currently says “Every citizen of the United States who is at least eighteen years of age” can vote. Similar measures are on the 2020 ballot in Alabama and Colorado. All three measures are supported by Citizen Voters, Inc. North Dakota voters approved a similar measure in 2018.

Amendment 2 would increase the state’s minimum wage incrementally until reaching $15 per hour in September 2026. The measure is supported by Florida for a Fair Wage and is opposed by Save Our Jobs, Inc., also known as Amendment 2 Hurts You.

Amendment 3 would establish a top-two open primary system for state legislator, governor, and cabinet (attorney general, chief financial officer, and commissioner of agriculture) elections in Florida. All Voters Vote, Inc. is leading the campaign in support of Amendment 3. Opponents include the Democratic and Republican parties in Florida as well as groups such as the Florida AFL-CIO and the Florida NAACP.

Amendment 4 would require constitutional amendments to be approved by 60% of voters at two successive general elections to become effective. Currently in Florida, if 60% of voters approve an amendment at one general election, it becomes part of the constitution. Keep Our Constitution Clean sponsored the initiative. Opponents include the League of Women Voters of Florida.

The state legislature referred Amendments 5 and 6 to the November 3 ballot. Both measures concern property taxes.

Amendment 5, sponsored by Rep. Sam Killebrew (R), would extend the period during which a person may transfer “Save Our Homes” benefits to a new homestead property from two years to three years. Currently, if a person moves to a new home, they have two years to transfer their “Save Our Homes” benefit so that the new home is assessed at less than the actual market value. The amendment would increase that time period from two to three years. The Florida Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) determined that approval of the amendment would reduce local property taxes by $1.8 million beginning in the fiscal year 2021-22 and would eventually grow to a $10.2 million reduction annually.

Amendment 6, sponsored by Rep. Rick Roth (R), would allow a homestead property tax discount to be transferred to the surviving spouse of a deceased veteran. The discount would be in effect until the spouse remarries, sells, or otherwise disposes of the property. If the spouse sells the property and does not remarry, the spouse’s new primary residence may receive a homestead tax discount not exceeding the dollar amount from the most recent ad valorem tax roll. The amendment would take effect on January 1, 2021. Currently, the homestead property tax discount for veterans expires upon their death and is not extended to their spouses.

A total of 91 measures appeared on the Florida ballot between 1996 and 2018. Of the 91 measures, 75.82% of which were approved, and 24.18% were defeated. From 1996 to 2018, an average of between seven and eight measures appeared on the ballot during even-numbered years in Florida.

Illinois Gov. Pritzker and Citadel CEO Griffin are funding the campaigns surrounding the state’s graduated income tax ballot measure

Over $107 million has been raised for and against a constitutional amendment that would allow for a graduated income tax in Illinois. On November 3, voters will decide the constitutional amendment, which wouldn’t require a graduated income tax itself. Rather, the amendment would repeal the state constitution’s requirement that the state personal income tax is a flat rate. In 2019, the Illinois State Legislature passed a bill that would enact a graduated income tax with six brackets should voters approve the amendment.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker advocated for a graduated income tax on the campaign trail in 2018. Through October 2, Pritzker provided $56.50 million, or 96 percent, of the support campaign’s $59.00 million. “People like me should pay more and people like you should pay less,” said Pritzker.

Opponents of the constitutional amendment have organized several PACs, which together raised $58.69 million through October 2. Kenneth Griffin, CEO of the investment firm Citadel, contributed $46.75, or 96 percent, of the opposition campaign’s total funds. Griffin said a graduated income tax would mean “the continued exodus of families and businesses, loss of jobs and inevitably higher taxes on everyone.”

Pritzker and Griffin have each provided 96 percent of their respective side’s total campaign funds. On the support side, other top donors include the AARP ($674,445), the Omidyar Network ($500,000), and the National Education Association ($350,000). On the opposition side, other top donors include the Illinois Opportunity Project ($550,000), Duchossois Group Executive Chair Craig Duchossois ($200,000), and Petco Petroleum CEO Jay Bergman ($200,000).

Of the 128 statewide ballot measures in 2020, the Illinois constitutional amendment has the second-largest sum of contributions to its support and opposition campaign. In September, The Chicago Tribute reported that the Illinois constitutional amendment “is expected to be the most expensive ballot proposition debate in Illinois history.”

The most expensive in the country for 2020 is California Proposition 22, which would define app-based drivers as independent contractors. The combined support and opposition campaign contributions exceeded $200 million on October 2. Uber, Lyft, Instacart, Doordash, and Postmates provided $186.19 million to the campaign supporting Proposition 22. Opposing PACs received $13.91 million through October 2, with top funders including labor unions, such as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, SEIU-UHW West, and Service Employees International Union.

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State legislative special election runoffs to be held in Mississippi October 13

Special election runoffs are being held on October 13 for two seats in the Mississippi State Senate and two seats in the Mississippi House of Representatives. General elections took place in each district on September 22, with the top two candidates advancing to the runoff. Candidates in Mississippi state legislative special elections run without party labels on the ballot.

* In Senate District 15, Joyce Meek Yates and Bart Williams are running in the general election runoff. The seat became vacant after Gary Jackson (R) resigned on June 30. Johnson cited health concerns in his announcement that he would be retiring. He had represented District 15 since 2004.

* In Senate District 39, Jason Barrett and Bill Sones are running in the general election runoff. The seat became vacant on July 15 after Sally Doty (R) was appointed as the executive director of the Mississippi Public Utilities Staff. Doty had represented District 39 since 2012.

* In House District 37, David Chism and Lynn Wright are running in the general election runoff. The seat became vacant after the resignation of Gary Chism (R) on June 30. Chism suffered a stroke in 2017 and said that serving in the state House had become more difficult since then. He also cited his wife’s health concerns as a reason for his resignation. Chism had represented District 37 since 2000.

* In House District 66, Bob Lee Jr. and De’Keither Stamps are running in the general election runoff. The seat became vacant on July 2 after Jarvis Dortch (D) resigned to accept a position as executive director of the Mississippi chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. He had represented District 66 since 2016.

Mississippi legislators are elected to four-year terms, and elections are held in odd-numbered years. All seats in the state Senate and state House are up for election again on November 7, 2023.

Mississippi 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. Republicans control the state Senate by a 34-16 margin with two vacancies and the state House by a 73-45 margin with one independent member and three vacancies.

As of October, 59 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2020 in 27 states. Between 2011 and 2019, an average of 77 special elections took place each year.

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Democrats, Republicans each defending eight vulnerable trifectas this year

Sixteen state trifectas are vulnerable in 2020, according to Ballotpedia’s trifecta vulnerability rating system. Both major parties will be defending eight trifectas.

A state government trifecta occurs when one party holds the governorship and majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. There are currently 21 Republican trifectas and 15 Democratic trifectas. The remaining 14 states have divided governments.

Ballotpedia calculates the chances of trifectas breaking and forming by assessing the chances of each individual component changing control. We assess gubernatorial races with ratings from The Cook Political ReportInside Elections, and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball. We assess state legislatures according to the absolute number of seats up for election and the proportion of seats that would need to flip for partisan control to change. Both chambers in a state’s legislature are evaluated individually.

Ballotpedia classifies the Democratic trifectas in five states as moderately vulnerable—Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Nevada, and Oregon. Three Democratic trifectas—Delaware, Illinois, and New Mexico—are considered somewhat vulnerable.
The Republican trifecta in Florida is the only trifecta Ballotpedia rated as highly vulnerable this year. Four Republican trifectas—in Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, and West Virginia are classified as moderately vulnerable. The Republican trifectas in Ohio, South Carolina, and Texas are somewhat vulnerable.

Ballotpedia also assessed the chances of new trifectas forming in states that are currently under divided government. States that qualified as a possible Democratic trifecta pickup according to our methodology are Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, while Republicans have pickup chances in Alaska and New Hampshire. In Montana and North Carolina, both parties qualify for a pickup opportunity.

For more details and the full report, click here:

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Trujillo resigns from New Mexico House of Representatives

On Sept. 28, Rep. Jim Trujillo (D) resigned from the District 45 seat in the New Mexico House of Representatives, citing health and family reasons. Trujillo was first appointed to the seat in 2003 to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Patsy Trujillo, to whom he is not related.

Trujillo’s successor will be appointed by the Santa Fe County Commission and will serve until his term ends in January. Linda Serrato (D) and Helen Milenski (L) are running for the District 45 seat in the Nov. 3 general election. In 2018, Trujillo was unopposed for reelection to the seat.

All 70 seats in the New Mexico House of Representatives are up for election this year. Ballotpedia has identified the New Mexico House of Representatives as one of 22 state legislative battleground chambers for the 2020 cycle. With Trujillo’s resignation, the current partisan breakdown of the chamber is 45 Democrats, 24 Republicans, and one vacancy. Republicans need to win 12 more seats, or 17% of the total seats, to gain a majority in the House. Democrats will retain control of the New Mexico State House if they lose fewer than 12 net seats. New Mexico is currently one of 15 states with a Democratic trifecta.

Additional reading:
New Mexico House of Representatives elections, 2020
State legislative battleground chambers, 2020
State legislative vacancies, 2020
State government trifectas

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz recall effort under review by state supreme court

A recall effort has been filed against Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) over his mask mandate in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The Minnesota Supreme Court will now review whether the grounds for recall stated in the petition are sufficient and meet statutory requirements. Two earlier efforts to recall Walz were dismissed by the supreme court because the petitions did not meet the legal standards to recall an elected official.

The ‘’Recall Governor Tim Walz’’ group said about the recall effort, “We are hopeful that court gives this petition the fair review it deserves, as we continue fighting on behalf of all freedom loving Minnesotans. As a reminder, the recall is about justice – forcing Walz to personally answer for the tyranny he has imposed for months on end, with no end in sight.” As of October 1, 2020, Walz had not made a statement regarding the recall.

Minnesota is under a divided government. A state government trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and both state legislative chambers. Republicans control the state Senate by a 35-32 margin and Democrats control the state House by a 75-59 margin. Walz was elected as Minnesota’s governor in 2018 with 53.8% of the vote.

Eighteen gubernatorial recall efforts are currently underway in 2020. Nine of those efforts are against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D). From 2003 to 2019, Ballotpedia tracked 21 gubernatorial recall efforts. During that time, two recalls made the ballot, and one governor was successfully recalled. Former California Gov. Gray Davis (D) was recalled in 2003 and replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger (R). In 2012, former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) was retained in a recall election. The only other governor to ever be successfully recalled was former North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier (R) in 1921.

Additional reading:
Tim Walz
Gubernatorial recalls

Finalists for open Hawaii Supreme Court seat announced September 29, Gov. Ige to make selection by October 29

Hawaii’s judicial nominating commission published its list of four nominees for a state supreme court vacancy on September 29, 2020. The nominees are Judge Todd Eddins, David Forman, Judge Darolyn Lendio Heim, and Benjamin Lowenthal. Gov. David Ige (D) will appoint one of the four to the state supreme court with consent from the state Senate. Ige has 30 days to select his nominee after receiving the list.

The vacancy occurred when Justice Richard W. Pollack reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 years and retired on June 30, 2020. Pollack joined the court in 2012. His replacement will be the first nomination Gov. Ige makes to the five-member state supreme court. The most recent appointment to the court was made in 2014 by Ige’s predecessor, Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D).

In Hawaii, state supreme court justices are chosen through the assisted appointment method. Under this appointment method, Hawaii’s judicial nominating committee recommends four to six potential nominees to the governor, who chooses a nominee from the list. The governor’s nominee requires confirmation from the Hawaii State Senate. Justices serve 10-year terms. If they wish to serve additional terms, they must stand for retention before the state judicial nominating commission. 

Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia use the assisted appointment method for their courts of last resort. Seven states use gubernatorial or legislative appointments, 15 use nonpartisan elections, and six use partisan elections.

As of October 1, 2020, 21 state supreme court seats had been vacated in 2020, 10 vacancies had been filled, and 11 remained vacant.

Additional reading:
Assisted appointment (judicial selection)
Hawaii Supreme Court
Hawaii Judicial Selection Commission

What statewide ballot measures will Washington voters decide on November 3?

Voters in Washington will decide six statewide ballot measures on November 3: two binding measures and four nonbinding tax advisory questions. This year is the first presidential election year since 1928 in which the Washington ballot will not feature an Initiative to the People (ITP), a citizen-initiated state statute for which groups collect signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Referendum 90:
The only citizen-initiated measure on the 2020 ballot in Washington is Referendum 90.

The Washington State Legislature passed and the governor signed Senate Bill 5395 (SB 5395) in March 2020. SB 5395 was designed to require comprehensive sexual health education in public schools. Opponents of the bill, organized as “Parents for Safe Schools,” collected signatures to place SB 5395 on the ballot and are advocating for a reject vote on the measure, which would repeal Senate Bill 5395. A vote to approve the referendum would allow SB 5395 to go into effect.

The bill is on hold pending the result of the election.
Parents for Safe Schools said, “Reject Referendum 90. Stop the early sexualization of our kids. Materials to meet the new state standards will include graphic sexual subject matter. These are decisions that should be left to parents and local communities. … [The bill is] a costly mandate at a time when school budgets are being cut. State and local budgets are facing massive deficits which threaten funding for basic programs.”

Washington State Senator Claire Wilson (D), a sponsor of the SB 5395, said, “Some people hear the words ‘sex education’ and mistake the focus of the curriculum, which is health and safety and is age-appropriate for each grade level. This is about making sure younger children know what kind of touching is inappropriate, whether by peers or predators. It’s about helping older students recognize and resist abusive or coercive behavior.”

Senate Joint Resolution 8212:
The state legislature referred Senate Joint Resolution 8212, a constitutional amendment, to the 2020 ballot. The amendment would allow the Washington Legislature to invest the Family and Medical Leave Insurance Account and the Long-Term Care Services and Supports Trust Account into stocks or other methods of investment.

Currently, the Washington Constitution prohibits the state from investing funds into stocks or other methods of investment, limiting investment capabilities of the state to government and corporate bonds and certificates of deposit. Some other funds have been made exempt from that constitutional restriction, including the following:

  • public pension and retirements funds;
  • industrial insurance trust funds; and
  • funds that benefit individuals with developmental disabilities.

Advisory Votes 32, 33, 34, and 35:

Advisory Votes 32-35 were automatically referred to the ballot as required under Initiative 960, which was passed in 2007. I-960 requires an advisory vote to be referred to voters concerning any law passed by the legislature that creates or increases taxes or fees. The outcome of the question is nonbinding and does not result in a new, changed, or rejected law. Rather, the vote serves to advise the legislature whether or not to maintain or repeal a bill they passed.

Thirty-one advisory votes have been on the statewide ballot in Washington between 2012 and 2019. Voters voted in favor of advising the legislature to maintain 10 of the bills. In the other 21 cases, voters voted to advise the legislature to repeal the bill in question.

Twelve tax advisory votes were on the ballot in 2019. Voters voted to advise the legislature to maintain three bills and repeal the other nine.

Together, the four advisory vote questions on the 2020 ballot represent bills increasing state revenue by an estimated $2 billion over 10 years.

Summaries of the measures are below:

  • Advisory Vote 32 concerns Senate Bill 5323, which was designed to levy a tax on certain carryout bags provided by retailers.
  • Advisory Vote 33 concerns Senate Bill 5628, which was designed to levy a tax on heavy equipment rentals.
  • Advisory Vote 34 concerns Senate Bill 6492, which was designed to increase the business and occupation tax rate and reduce certain surcharges.
  • Advisory Vote 35 concerns Senate Bill 6690, which was designed to increase the business and occupation tax rate on commercial airplane manufacturers.

A total of 60 measures appeared on the statewide ballot in Washington during even years from the 18-year period between 2000 and 2018. 58% (35) were approved and 42% (25) were defeated.

Additional Reading:

Campaign contributions to California’s 12 November ballot measures exceed $500 million

In California, more than $525 million has been raised to support or oppose this year’s 12 general election ballot measures through September 19. The next campaign finance deadline—and the final one before the election—in California is October 24. So far, there are four ballot measures that have seen more than $50 million raised.

Proposition 22, which would define app-based drivers as independent contractors, is leading the pack with $194.99 million between supporters and opponents. Yes on Proposition 22 received $184.3 million from five app-based firms—Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, InstaCart, and Postmates.

In October 2019, Brandon Castillo, a spokesperson for the campaign, stated, “We’re going to spend what it takes to win. It’s been widely reported that three of the companies already shifted $90 million, but we’re still in the early phases. The bottom line is: We’re committed to passing this.”

The campaign No on Prop 22 received $10.7 million. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, SEIU-UHW West, Service Employees International Union, United Food & Commercial Workers Local 770, and United Food & Commercial Workers Western States Issues PAC—labor unions or union-affiliated committees—were the top-five donors to No on Prop 22.

Proposition 23, which would create new physician and data requirements for chronic dialysis clinics, is a continuation of the conflict between the SEIU-UHW West and dialysis businesses that also resulted in Proposition 8. In 2018, Proposition 8 was the country’s most expensive ballot measure. The SEIU-UHW West raised $6.21 million for Proposition 23 through September 19. No on 23 received $93.06 million from four dialysis firms—DaVita, Fresenius, U.S. Renal Care, and Dialysis Clinic, Inc.

Proposition 15 would require commercial and industrial properties, except those zoned as commercial agriculture, to be taxed based on their market value, rather than their purchase price. Yes on 15 received $42.9 million, including $11.76 million from the California Teachers Association. Both Chan Zuckerberg Advocacy and SEIU California State Council provided the campaign with more than $7 million each. Opponents, organized as seven political action committees, raised $29.91 million. The California Business Roundtable provided $13.36 million for the opposition campaign.

Like Proposition 23, Proposition 21 follows a similar conflict from 2018. In 2018, voters rejected Proposition 10, which would have repealed the state’s law limiting local government use of rent control. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which backed Proposition 10, is sponsoring the campaign in support of Proposition 21, an initiative to allow local governments to enact rent control on housing that was first occupied over 15 years ago. Yes on 21 received $24.01 million, including $23.94 million from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. No on Prop 21 and allied political action committees raised $41.49 million, including $6.6 million from the Essex Property Trust, $5.6 million from the California Business Roundtable, and $5.5 million from Equity Residential.

In 2018, there were 11 statewide measures on the general election ballot in California. Campaigns supporting and opposing the 11 measures received $362.6 million through the entire election cycle. In 2016, there was a total of $497 million in ballot measure campaign contributions for 18 measures.

There are still 45 days from the most recent campaign finance date (September 19) to the election on November 3, 2020, for campaigns to raise and spend funds. More than 1/3 of the total contributions raised in 2018 were received between late September and the end of the election cycle.

Campaigns supporting and opposing all 128 statewide measures on the ballot in 34 states in 2020 have raised a total of $803.7 million.

Additional reading:
Ballot measure campaign finance, 2020

This article was updated on Oct. 2 at 6:10pm to correct a typo that erroneously stated that the AIDS Healthcare Foundation is sponsoring a campaign in support of Proposition 23. It has been corrected to state that they are sponsoring a campaign in support of Proposition 21.