California Public Utilities Commission gets new commissioner

Genevieve Shiroma joined the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC), the state body charged with regulating the state’s utility companies, on February 5. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) appointed Shiroma on January 22, 2019, to replaced Carla J. Peterman, who left the PUC in 2018. Shiroma is serving the remainder of Peterman’s term, which expires in December 2024.
Shiroma was the District 4 representative on the Sacramento Municipal Utility District in Sacramento County, California from 2014 to 2018. She has a B.S. in materials science and engineering from the University of California, Davis.
The California Public Utilities Commission regulates privately owned electric, natural gas, telecommunications, water, railroad, rail transit, and passenger transportation companies in the state. The commission’s role is quasi-executive in that it enforces regulations, quasi-legislative in that it makes them, and quasi-judicial in that it holds hearings and receives testimony on potential regulatory rulings. The commission consists of five members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. They serve staggered six-year terms with no term limits.
Public utility commissions, sometimes known as a public service commission, exist in all 50 states. The duties of the position vary from state to state, but their general role involves the regulation of utility services such as energy, telecommunications, and water. Public utility commissioners are elected in 11 states and appointed in the other 39. Of those states that appoint public service commissioners, all but Virginia give the power of appointment to the governor.

Kentucky governor to appoint state supreme court justice

Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Bill Cunningham retired on January 31, 2019. He served on the state supreme court from 2007 to 2019.
Under Kentucky law, if there is a midterm vacancy on the state supreme court, the governor appoints a successor from a list of three names provided by the Kentucky Judicial Nominating Commission. Cunningham’s replacement will be Gov. Matt Bevin’s (R) first nominee to the seven-member supreme court. He or she must be elected in 2020 to serve the remainder of Cunningham’s term, which expires in 2023.
The supreme court judicial nominating commission is made up of seven members—two attorneys elected by the Kentucky Bar Association and four citizens appointed by the governor. The chief justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court chairs the commission. The four citizens must equally represent Republicans and Democrats.
Nominating commission members must be residents of the district of the vacancy being filled. They are not permitted to hold public or political office while serving. Members serve four-year terms and are not paid for their service.
Kentucky joins Iowa, South Dakota, and Texas, as states which have a vacant seat on their state supreme courts. Three other states have announced upcoming vacancies on their state supreme courts – North Carolina, Arizona, and Virginia. Those seats will become vacant in February, March, and September, respectively.

Alaska House reaches record for period without a majority after another speaker vote

On February 5, the Alaska House matched the state record for the longest period without a majority in place, 22 days, first set in 1981. Without a majority, the House cannot conduct legislative business or appoint committees.
Republicans have a 23-16 majority (the chamber has one independent), but three Republicans—Reps. Gary Knopp, Louise Stutes, and Gabrielle LeDoux—are not aligned with the other 20 Republicans under the leadership of Rep. David Talerico. Knopp does not believe a narrow Republican majority will be effective and instead argues for a bipartisan power-sharing agreement. Stutes and LeDoux aligned with Democrats from 2017 to 2018 and have both said they want to join another bipartisan coalition.
Amid this deadlock, the House held a vote for a permanent speaker on February 5. Talerico was voted down 20-20, the same result as the last vote for speaker on January 22. In both cases, 20 Republicans voted for Talerico while 16 Democrats, Knopp, Stutes, LeDoux, and independent Daniel Ortiz voted against him. Knopp said he could possibly vote for Talerico in the future but first wanted to form a bipartisan majority with what he called “success potential.” Rep. Bryce Edgmon, the Democratic speaker from 2017 to 2018, was also nominated for permanent speaker, but he declined to be considered.
On February 4, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported that eight House members (four Republicans, three Democrats, and independent Ortiz) were working on a power-sharing arrangement similar to those used by other evenly-split state legislatures. Two members of the group, Reps. Grier Hopkins (D) and Bart LeBon (R), said they wanted to reach an agreement before February 13, the day Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s (R) budget proposal is set to be released.

Tennessee governor issues 90-day regulatory freeze

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee (R) issued Executive Order 5 on February 1, 2019, preventing state executive agencies from filing new regulations with the secretary of state’s office for 90 days.
“As part of our efforts to limit the size of state government, we are taking a close look at the regulations we are imposing on citizens and businesses in Tennessee,” said Lee in a statement. “Our goal is to make Tennessee the most job-friendly state in the country and we are working to promote job creation and a commonsense regulatory approach.”
Over the course of the 90-day regulatory freeze, the governor’s office stated that the executive branch aims to “develop a framework to better assess the costs and benefits of imposing a new regulation.” Tennessee does not currently have a cost-benefit analysis framework in place for administrative regulations, according to an analysis by the Tennessee Municipal League.
Executive agencies can seek an exemption from the governor to file emergency regulations that impact the health, safety or welfare of Tennessee residents. The order also allows pending regulations approved under Lee’s predecessor, former Governor Bill Haslam (R), to take effect as scheduled.
Haslam issued a similar regulatory freeze for 45 days in 2011.

Four states holding state legislative elections in 2019

In 2019, four states are holding regular state legislative elections: Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia. Seven chambers will be up for election. Louisiana, Mississippi, and Virginia are holding elections for both state house and state senate, but New Jersey is only holding its General Assembly elections. The next New Jersey State Senate general election will take place in 2021.
The state legislative elections in Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia will take place on November 5, and the state legislative elections in Louisiana will take place on November 16.
Entering 2019, New Jersey has a Democratic trifecta and Mississippi has a Republican trifecta. A state government trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and both state legislative chambers. Louisiana and Virginia both have divided governments with a Democratic governor and a Republican-controlled Senate and House.
Check with Ballotpedia regularly for updates on state legislative elections across the county and information on which races to watch. Also, click here for more information about state legislative special elections on the ballot in 2019.

One-fourth of contested Kentucky state executive primaries since 2007 have been decided by less than 5 percent

Twenty-six percent of contested state executive primaries in the Commonwealth of Kentucky since 2007 have been decided by five percentage points or less, including four where the winner’s margin of victory was less than one percent of total votes cast.
All four of the races decided by less than one percent during this time were Republican primaries, and all of them were for open seats in the general election.
These four primaries decided by less than one percent were:
  • in 2007, the Republican primary for state treasurer was won by Melinda Wheeler by 1,107 votes, or 0.7 percent, over Lonnie Napier. In the general election that year, Todd Hollenbach (D) won the open-seat race over Wheeler.
  • in 2011, the Republican primary for secretary of state was won by Bill Johnson by 1,108 votes, or 0.8 percent, over Hilda Legg. Johnson was defeated in the open-seat contest in the general election by current Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D).
  • in 2015, Ryan Quarles won the Republican primary for agriculture commissioner by 1,429 votes, or 0.8 percent, over Richard Heath. Quarles then defeated Jean-Marie Lawson Spann (D) in the open-seat contest that November.
  • in 2015, Matt Bevin won the Republican primary for governor by 83 votes out of more than 214,000 votes cast, or 0.04 percent, over then-Agriculture Commissioner James Comer. Bevin went on to win the open-seat governor’s race over Attorney General Jack Conway (D) in November 2015.
Kentucky elects six constitutional officers every four years – governor/lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor, and commissioner of agriculture. Over the past three election cycles (2007, 2011, and 2015), 23 primaries held during this time were contested, an average of just under eight per year. In 2019, there are nine contested primary elections in Kentucky for these offices – four Republican and five Democratic – which will take place on May 21.
Click here to see a chart showing the distribution of the margin of victory in contested Kentucky state executive primaries from 2007 to 2015.

Two Georgia Republicans competing in February 5 special runoff

On January 8, Jesse Vaughn (R) and Matt Barton (R) defeated four other candidates in a special general election for the District 5 seat in the Georgia House of Representatives. Vaughn and Barton advanced to a special runoff election scheduled for February 5.
The seat was previously held by John D. Meadows III (R), who passed away on November 12, 2018. Meadows was first elected to the office in 2004. He won his last re-election bid on November 6, 2018, with more than 81 percent of the vote against challenger Brian Rosser (D). Rosser was also the only Democratic candidate to file in the special election to replace Meadows, and he finished in fifth place with less than 5 percent of the vote. Meadows ran unopposed in the 2018 Republican primary and won re-election unopposed in 2014 and 2016. He had served as the chair of the chamber’s Rules Committee.
Entering the special election, the Georgia House of Representatives has 75 Democrats, 103 Republicans, and two vacancies. Another special election is scheduled on February 12 for the District 176 seat, which was previously held by Jason Shaw (R). A majority in the chamber requires 91 seats. Georgia has a Republican trifecta. A state government trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and both state legislative chambers.

North Carolina gets new state board of elections with NC-09 investigation still pending

Gov. Roy Cooper (D) appointed three Democrats and two Republicans to the new North Carolina State Board of Elections: Stella Anderson (D), David Black (R), Jeff Carmon III (D), Bob Cordle (D), and Ken Raymond (R). Cordle was elected chairman of the board Thursday.
Reaching a conclusion in the 2018 election for North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, where there is an ongoing investigation into alleged election fraud, is the top priority of the new board. Four board votes are required to order a new election and three votes are required to certify the current returns that have Mark Harris (R) leading Dan McCready (D) by 905 votes. At least one board member must cross party lines to move forward on the race.
The board will also work to implement new voter identification requirements and evaluate voting equipment for upcoming elections.

The 1981 Alaska House has parallels to current leadership deadlock

The Alaska House of Representatives has not yet formed a majority. Twenty-one members are needed to elect a permanent House speaker, and only 20 of the chamber’s 23 Republicans are in alliance.
The history of the House shows that narrow majorities formed after lengthy bargaining periods have failed before.
In 1981, the Alaska House set the state record for the longest period without a majority in place. Democrats won 22 of 40 seats in the 1980 elections, but their members were unable to agree on the leadership of the Finance Committee. Twenty-two days after the session began, Democrats formed their majority and elected Rep. Jim Duncan (D) as speaker.
In June 1981, several Democrats unhappy with Duncan, particularly over the length of time he kept them in session, joined with Republicans to depose Duncan. They elected Rep. Joe Hayes (R) as speaker in his place. Duncan and his allies attempted to sue the new majority over the incident, but an Alaska superior court dismissed their case.
One of the unaligned Republicans today, Rep. Gary Knopp, says he will not join with other Republicans because he believes a 21-member majority would be unstable. In December 2018, he said he believed the majority would unravel in the middle of the legislative session if Rep. David Eastman (R) was among its members. The Alaska Daily News reported that Eastman was the sole “no” vote against legislation 75 times from 2017 to 2018 and that he had more solo “no” votes than all other legislators combined from 2013 to 2016. Because of this, Knopp says he wants to form a bipartisan power-sharing coalition with members from both parties.
Eastman responded to Knopp’s plans in a January 28 op-ed. He questioned whether the proposed bipartisan coalition would accurately represent the result that Alaskans voted for in 2018 when Mike Dunleavy (R) was elected governor over Mark Begich (D). Eastman originally did not align with other Republicans behind caucus leader David Talerico, saying he might want a more conservative leader. However, Eastman joined all Republicans except Knopp, Gabrielle LeDoux, and Louise Stutes in voting for Talerico as speaker on January 22. LeDoux and Stutes both caucused with Democrats from 2017 to 2018.

Minnesota State Senate District 11 special election on Tuesday

A special election in Minnesota State Senate District 11 will take place Tuesday. If state Rep. Jason Rarick (R) wins the special election, Republicans will gain a 3-seat majority in the chamber. If Stu Lourey (DFL) wins, Republicans will again hold a 1-seat majority.
Lourey, Rarick, and Legal Marijuana Now candidate John Birrenbach are running in the special election. The election was called when state Sen. Tony Lourey (DFL)—who is Stu Lourey’s father—resigned in January 2019 after Governor Tim Walz (DFL) appointed Tony Lourey to serve as human services commissioner.
The district has been represented by a Lourey since 1997. Tony Lourey was in the seat since 2007, and his mother, Becky Lourey (DFL), held the seat from 1997 to 2007. Donald Trump (R) won the district in the 2016 presidential election by 13 points.
Before Tony Lourey’s resignation, Republicans held a 34-33 majority in the state Senate. Republicans gained that majority in the special election for Minnesota State Senate District 13 won by Jeff Howe (R) on November 6, 2018. The state Senate had been split 33-33 since May 2018, when Michelle Fischbach (R) resigned to serve as lieutenant governor.
Democrats control the governorship and the Minnesota House of Representatives.