Raquel Terán assumes office as Arizona state senator, creating vacancy in state House

Raquel Terán (D) assumed office as the senator for District 30 in the Arizona state Senate on Sept. 28. The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors appointed Terán (D) to the district on Sept. 15. The seat became vacant in August when former state Sen. Tony Navarrete (D) resigned after being arrested on suspicion of sexual conduct with a minor. Terán will serve the remainder of Navarrete’s term, which was set to expire in January 2023.

At the time she was appointed, Terán was serving her second term in the Arizona House of Representatives. Terán ran for the District 30 seat in the state Senate in 2012 and was defeated by incumbent Robert Meza in the Democratic primary, 51% to 49%.

Terán’s appointment to the state Senate creates a vacancy in the state House. When a vacancy occurs in the Arizona legislature, the board of county supervisors must select a replacement. Arizona is one of seven states that fill state legislative vacancies through board of county commissioners appointment.

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Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew Strickler resigns

Matthew Strickler resigned from his position as Virginia’s Secretary of Natural Resources in September 2021. The press release announcing Strickler’s departure stated he was leaving to pursue “new opportunities where he will continue his excellent work of protecting our nation’s resources.”

Governor Ralph Northam (D) appointed Ann Jennings, Virginia’s deputy secretary of Natural and Historic Resources, as Stickler’s replacement. Jennings was sworn in on Sept. 27. 

Strickler has served as secretary for Virginia’s Department of Natural resources since 2018. He previously worked as a senior policy advisor to Democratic members of the House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources. Prior to working in the Virginia Statehouse, Strickler worked as a legislative assistant to Northam during his tenure in the Virginia State Senate. 

Virginia’s secretary of natural and historic resources is an appointed state executive position. The secretary heads the Department of Natural Resources and oversees five departments relating to the area’s natural and historical resources.

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State legislative elections in 2021 are the most contested since at least 2010

Two hundred and twenty state legislative seats are up for election on Nov. 2, 2021, in three state legislative chambers: the New Jersey State Senate and General Assembly and the Virginia House of Delegates.

According to Ballotpedia’s Annual State Legislative Competitiveness Report, state legislative elections in 2021 are the most competitive since at least 2010.

Ballotpedia’s Competitiveness Index is a standalone figure representing the general level of competition in an election cycle. It is calculated using the percentages of open seats, incumbents in contested primaries, and seats with major party competition.

The 2021 state legislative election cycle received a Competitiveness Index of 40.2, the highest on record, to date.

This increase in competitiveness was driven largely by an increase in major party competition in the Virginia House of Delegates. Major party competition refers to races where both a Democrat and Republican are contesting a seat in the general election. Of the 220 seats up for election, 205—93%—will see major party competition in November.

The New Jersey State Senate and General Assembly typically have high levels of major party competition every election cycle. In the Virginia House of Delegates, however, there are 93 contested seats in 2021 compared to 41 in 2011—a 78% difference.

The percentage of open seats—seats where the incumbent did not file for re-election—was at its lowest since at least 2013. Of the 220 incumbents, 17—7.7%—did not file for re-election: seven Democrats and ten Republicans.

The chart below shows the percentage of open seats from 2011 to 2021. This includes not only elections in New Jersey and Virginia but Louisiana and Mississippi, as well. Those states hold elections every four years in odd years immediately preceding a presidential election year (2011, 2015, 2019, etc.).

The percentage of open seats tends to dip in the years immediately following a presidential election. This is partly because states holding elections those years—New Jersey and Virginia—do not have term limits. Louisiana, on the other hand, has term limits for legislators, which dictate how long an incumbent can remain in office.

The chart below shows the raw number of open seats from each odd-year election cycle since 2011. The yellow bar represents incumbents who could not legally seek re-election due to term limits and the brown bar represents all other departures. In 2019, term-limited departures accounted for 45.6% of all open seats.

In 2021, those incumbents who filed for re-election faced contested primaries at a lower rate than in 2019, but higher than rates from the start of the decade. Since 2011, the percentage of incumbents facing contested primaries has progressively increased in odd-year election cycles.

Overall, 203 incumbents filed for re-election, 80% of whom advanced to the general election without a primary challenge. The remaining 20% represented 40 incumbents: 23 Democrats and 17 Republicans.

These contested primaries resulted in the defeats of eight incumbents: five Democrats and three Republicans. Eight defeats is a relatively high number for the three chambers holding elections in 2021. Before 2021, the highest number of incumbents defeated in primaries in a given election cycle was two.

Ahead of the general elections, 2021 is already tied for the second-most incumbents defeated in these chambers since 2011.

Use the links below to learn more about Ballotpedia’s Annual State Legislative Competitiveness including historical comparisons, chamber-specific analyses, and additional context:

With early voting underway, Virginia lieutenant gubernatorial candidates share stances on economy, other issues

Hala Ayala (D) and Winsome Sears (R) are running in the general election for lieutenant governor of Virginia on Nov. 2, 2021. Early voting began in Virginia on Sept.17 and will continue on weekdays through Oct. 29 as well as on two Saturdays, Oct.23 and 30.

The incumbent lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax (D), ran for governor of Virginia and lost in the Democratic primary on June 8, 2021. Ayala won the June 8 Democratic primary with 39.1% of the vote. Sears won the Republican nomination at the May 8 Republican convention. As of June 30, Ayala led Sears in fundraising, with $1,610,917 in total contributions to Sears’ $750,351.

In a Roanoke College poll conducted between Aug. 3 to Aug. 17, 2021, a plurality of respondents (26%) chose the economy as the most important issue. Other issues included COVID-19 (9%), race relations (7%), education (7%) and health care (6%).

Ayala, who was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 2017, has emphasized her experience in the legislature, saying she “has already helped shepherd some of the Democratic Majority’s biggest successes and knows how to get things done.” Ayala said she would “focus on an inclusive economy that ensures every Virginian can put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads” through increasing the minimum wage, investing in affordable housing, and mandating hazard pay for essential workers. Her platform also includes maintaining and expanding abortion rights and expanding access to broadband service and affordable healthcare.

Sears, a former Marine and member of the House of Delegates from 2002-2004, said her views are based on “her service to the Commonwealth and her Country, her faith, and her belief in equal opportunity for all Virginians.” She said she would “support policies that keep taxes low, reduce regulations, and promote small businesses,” and “that reduce the cost of living for Virginians,” including maintaining Virginia’s Right-to-Work Law, providing tax breaks for small businesses, and reducing state excise and income taxes. Sears also said she would work to expand veteran care centers and jobs programs and raise salaries for law enforcement workers.

The lieutenant governor serves as the president of the Virginia State Senate and may cast tie-breaking votes. The lieutenant governor is first in the line of succession to the governor; in the event the governor dies, resigns, or otherwise leaves office, the lieutenant governor becomes governor. Of the four lieutenant governors who have been elected since 2002, three were Democrats and one was a Republican. Two of them, Tim Kaine (D) and Ralph Northam (D), went on to become governor. The lieutenant governor is popularly elected every four years by a plurality and, unlike the governor, may run for re-election. Virginia is one of 17 states in which the lieutenant governor is nominated in a separate primary and elected in separate general election from the governor.

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Redistricting timeline updates: New York, North Dakota, and South Carolina continue to hold public meetings

Here’s a summary of recent redistricting timeline updates from New York, North Dakota, and South Carolina.

New York: The New York Independent Redistricting Commission announced a second round of public hearings on map proposals to be held between Oct. 20 and Nov. 23, 2021. The first deadline for the commission to submit map proposals to the legislature for approval is Jan. 1, 2022, and the second deadline is Jan. 15, 2022.

North Dakota: The North Dakota Legislative Redistricting Committee continues to hold meetings, including a meeting for public input on the partial proposed redistricting maps on September 22. Additional meetings are scheduled for September 28 and 29 at the State Capitol Building in Bismarck.

South Carolina: House Majority Leader Gary Simrill (R) announced on September 22 that the South Carolina House will return in December to approve new district maps. The House Redistricting Ad Hoc Committee continues to hold public meetings through October 4, 2021.

Arizona Rep. Aaron Lieberman resigns to focus on 2022 run for governor

Aaron Lieberman (D) announced on September 20 that he would resign his seat in the Arizona House of Representatives to focus on his 2022 campaign for governor.

Lieberman first won election to the House to represent District 28 in 2018, alongside incumbent Kelli Butler (D).

Ballotpedia has identified three Democratic candidates, five Republican candidates, and two third-party candidates who have declared for the 2022 Arizona gubernatorial election. Incumbent Doug Ducey (R) is not able to run for re-election due to term limits.

Vacancies in the Arizona legislature are filled by appointment by the board of county supervisors. The political party committee is involved in the appointment process only if the legislative district has thirty or more elected precinct committeemen.

The Arizona House of Representatives is the lower chamber of the Arizona State Legislature. Currently, there are 28 Democrats, 30 Republicans, and two vacancies in the House.

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How vacancies are filled on state supreme courts

The most common reasons for a vacancy on a state supreme court include reaching the mandatory retirement age, retiring before the end of a term, death, or appointment to another office. The process for filling vacancies on state supreme courts varies among states. In most states, the governor appointments a replacement justice, either outright or with assistance from a nominating commission. There are five primary methods used:

  • Eighteen states fill vacancies on the state supreme court through direct gubernatorial appointment.
  • Twenty-eight states fill vacancies through a gubernatorial appointment with assistance from a nominating commission.
  • Two states (South Carolina and Virginia) fill vacancies through legislative appointments.
  • In Illinois, the state supreme court nominates a replacement justice.
  • In Louisiana, voters elect a replacement in a special election.

The methods that courts use to fill vacancies do not necessarily line up with how they regularly select judges. For example, only one state uses elections to fill vacancies, while 20 states use them to regularly select judges.

Republican Greg Vital wins special election in Tennessee House district

A special election was held on Sept. 14 for District 29 of the Tennessee House of Representatives. Greg Vital (R) defeated DeAngelo Jelks (D) in the general election. Vital and Jelks earned 80% and 19.8% of the vote, respectively. Once sworn in, Vital will serve until November 2022.

The seat became vacant after the death of Mike Carter (R) on May 15. Carter had represented the district since 2012.

Republicans have a 73-26 majority in the Tennessee House. Tennessee 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.

As of September, 64 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 21 states. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year. Tennessee held 11 state legislative special elections from 2011 to 2020.

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Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria retires

Paolo DeMaria retired as Ohio’s superintendent of public instruction on Sept. 24. DeMaria was first appointed to the position in May 2016 by the Ohio State Board of Education.

DeMaria announced on July 1 that he intended to retire, saying in a statement, “It has been an honor and a privilege to serve the State Board of Education, the Ohio Department of Education, the education community and school children and the people of Ohio since June 2016 as State Superintendent, and for 30 years in various agencies of state government.”

The Board of Education selected Stephanie K. Siddens to serve as the interim superintendent until they choose a permanent replacement. 

Siddens has worked at the Ohio Department of Education since 2006. At the time she was appointed as acting superintendent, she was the senior executive director of the Center for Student Supports. She previously served as senior executive director of the Center for Curriculum and Assessment and director of the Office of Early Learning and School Readiness.

The Ohio superintendent of public instruction is an appointed state executive position in the Ohio state government. The superintendent serves as the secretary to the Board of Education and also its executive and administrative officer. The superintendent is responsible for executing the educational policies, orders, and administrative functions of the board as well as directing the work of all employees who work in the department of education.

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Redistricting proposals rejected in Nebraska; legal challenges expected to enacted maps in Ohio

Here’s a summary of the week’s noteworthy redistricting news out of Nebraska, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin:

Nebraska: On Sept. 17, the Nebraska legislature rejected Sen. Lou Ann Linehan’s (R) proposed congressional redistricting map (LB1). The legislature voted 29-17 in support of advancing the map, which was four votes short of the 33 needed to advance. Sixteen Democrats and Sen. John McCollister (R) voted against advancing the map. On Sept. 20, the Nebraska legislature also rejected Linehan’s proposed map (LB3) for legislative redistricting. The map received 27 of the 33 vote needed to advance. Seventeen Democratic legislators voted against the bill, along with McCollister.

The Lincoln Journal-Star reported on Sept. 21 that Senate Speaker Mike Hilgers (R) said he may adjourn the legislature’s special redistricting session, which is expected to end by Sept. 30, without enacting new maps. Hilgers said if new maps are not approved this month, the legislature would take up redrawing congressional and legislative district boundaries during the Senate’s regular session in January, which could force the state to delay next year’s primary elections.

Ohio: Following the enactment of state legislative maps, Gov. Mike DeWine (R) and Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R), who are members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission, said they expected legal action to challenge the maps. DeWine (R) said: “Along with the secretary of state I will vote to send this matter forward but it will not be the end of it. We know that this matter will be in court. […] What I am sure in my heart is that this committee could have come up with a bill that was much more clearly constitutional.” The commission voted to approve state legislative maps along party lines shortly after midnight on Sept. 16. Since the maps were only approved by Republican members of the commission, they will only last for four years rather than ten.

Oregon: Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek (D) announced the creation of two special legislative committees to review congressional and state legislative maps during the first day of the legislature’s special redistricting session on Sept. 20. Kotek appointed two Democrats and one Republican to the House Special Committee on Congressional Redistricting, and four Democrats and four Republicans to the House Special Committee on State Legislative Redistricting. Previously a single committee, the House Special Committee on Redistricting had the responsibility of considering both the legislative and congressional maps

Also, the Oregon Senate approved the Senate Redistricting Committee’s legislative and congressional redistricting proposals 18-11 on Sept. 20 along party lines. All 18 Democratic legislators voted to approve the maps, and 10 Republicans and one independent legislator voted against.

Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission said on Sept. 21 it would only count incarcerated individuals whose sentences expire in less than ten years at their last residence, rather than at their place of incarceration, for the purposes of redistricting. On Aug. 23, the commission voted to approve a measure that would count all incarcerated individuals at their last known address, rather than at their place of incarceration.

Wisconsin: The Wisconsin Supreme Court decided 4-3 on Sept. 22 to hear a redistricting case filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty asking the court to establish a timeline for the legislature and Gov. Tony Evers (D) to agree on new maps, and for the court draw the maps should the legislature and governor be unable to. The state supreme court said that lawsuits concerning the state’s district maps should be heard in state, rather than federal, courts, stating, “This court has long deemed redistricting challenges a proper subject for the court’s exercise of its original jurisdiction.”

On Sept. 21, a three-judge federal district court panel asked all parties to a lawsuit associated with the state’s redistricting process to submit a proposed schedule to complete a trial by the end of January so that district maps can be finalized by March 1, 2022. The lawsuit was filed by a group of plaintiffs on Aug. 13 and asks the court to set a deadline for legislators to redraw district maps. The suit also asks the court to intervene and draw maps if the deadline is not met. The panel’s opinion stated, “If history is any guide, to put it mildly, there’s at least a substantial likelihood that divided government in the state of Wisconsin will have trouble, as it has in the past, drawing its own maps.”

Federal law requires that a three-judge panel hear constitutional challenges to congressional or state legislative redistricting plans. The judges on the panel are appeals court justice Amy St. Eve, James Peterson, and Edmond Chang. St. Eve was nominated to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals by Donald Trump (R) and Chang and Peterson were nominated to the district court by Barack Obama (D).

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