Latest stories

Three state executives ineligible to run for re-election in 2019 due to term limits

Ten of the 23 state executive positions up for election in 2019 are subject to term limits. That includes all seven of Kentucky’s state executive offices on the ballot, as well as Louisiana’s governorship and Mississippi’s governorship and lieutenant governorship.
Of the 10 positions subject to term limits, three are held by incumbents who are prevented from running for re-election in 2019 due to being term-limited. These incumbents are Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D), Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant (R), and Mississippi Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves (R). All three officials were first elected in 2011 and re-elected in 2015. Reeves is running for governor in the Republican primary on August 6, 2019. Neither Grimes nor Bryant have announced future plans in politics.
Kentucky and Mississippi are both Republican trifectas. A state government trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and both state legislative chambers.
A total of 37 states have laws limiting the number of terms state executive officials can serve. In 2018, 131 of the 303 state executive positions on the ballot were subject to term limits, and 49 state executive officials were ineligible to run for re-election.
This included the following two Democratic and 11 Republican governors: Jerry Brown (D-CA), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Rick Scott (R-FL), Nathan Deal (R-GA), Paul LePage (R-ME), Rick Snyder (R-MI), Brian Sandoval (R-NV), Susana Martinez (R-NM), John Kasich (R-OH), Mary Fallin (R-OK), Dennis Daugaard (R-SD), Bill Haslam (R-TN), and Matt Mead (R-WY). Four of those 13 offices changed party hands and were won by Democrats. Those open-seat winners were Janet Mills (D) in Maine, Gretchen Whitmer (D) in Michigan, Steve Sisolak (D) in Nevada, and Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) in New Mexico.

Ohio governor signs bill prohibiting abortion after fetal heartbeat is detected

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) signed a bill into law on April 11 which bans abortions after a doctor is able to detect a fetal heartbeat-usually at about six weeks into a pregnancy. The law includes exceptions if the life of the woman is at risk, but not in cases of incest or rape. It also mandates jail time and a $20,000 fine from the State Medical Board of Ohio for physicians who violate the law.
As of March 2019, a total of 43 states prohibited abortions beginning at specific stages of pregnancy. Of these 43 states, 17 prohibited abortions beginning at the stage of fetal viability, defined in _Roe v. Wade_ as the point at which a fetus is “potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb, albeit with artificial aid.” Fourteen states prohibited abortions beginning at 20 weeks post-fertilization.

Maine special election filing deadline coming on April 18

Political parties in Maine have until April 18, 2019, to submit candidate nominations to the secretary of state for the special election in District 45 of the state House of Representatives. The special election will be held on June 11.
The special election became necessary after Dale Denno (D) resigned his seat on March 27, 2019, for health reasons. He had held the seat since 2016 and was re-elected in 2018 with 65% of the vote. The winner of the special election will finish the remainder of Denno’s term, which ends in December 2020.
In 2019, there have been 52 state legislative special elections scheduled or held so far in 20 states. So far, six partisan flips have occurred in 2019—four Republican wins, one Democratic win, and one independent win. Between 2011 and 2018, an average of 77 special elections took place each year.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) will have the chance to fill two state supreme court seats

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) will have the chance to appoint two new justices to the nine-member state supreme court. Justice Patrick Wyrick vacated his seat on April 10, 2019, when he was nominated to serve on the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. Justice John Reif announced in March that he would retire on April 30, 2019.
Under Oklahoma state law, the governor appoints a justice to the court based on a list of names submitted by the Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission.
The nominations will be Stitt’s first two appointments to the court and will immediately shift the balance of the court from a 6-3 majority of justices appointed by Democratic governors to a 5-4 majority of justices appointed by Democratic governors.
Stitt’s appointments will serve until the next general election in 2020. They will then be on the ballot for retention with current justices Tom Colbert (appointed by a Democrat) and Richard Darby (appointed by a Republican) in a set of elections that could further change the makeup of the court.
The court’s makeup before the two vacancies was:
  • John Reif (retiring) – appointed by Gov. Brad Henry (D)
  • Tom Colbert – appointed by Gov. Brad Henry (D)
  • James Edmondson – appointed by Gov. Brad Henry (D)
  • Noma Gurich – appointed by Gov. Brad Henry (D)
  • Douglas Combs – appointed by Gov. Brad Henry (D)
  • Yvonne Kauger – appointed by Gov. George Nigh (D)
  • James Winchester – appointed by Gov. Frank Keating (R)
  • Patrick Wyrick (vacant) – appointed by Gov. Mary Fallin (R)
  • Richard Darby – appointed by Gov. Mary Fallin (R)
Justices on the court represent single judicial districts and serve six-year terms. The appointed justice must come from the appropriate supreme court judicial district. If the governor does not appoint a replacement within 60 days, the chief justice is responsible for selecting a successor.
The Oklahoma Supreme court is one of two courts of last resort in Oklahoma. The supreme court is the court of last resort for civil matters and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals decides all criminal matters. Texas also has two courts of last resort. A court of last resort is the highest judicial body within a jurisdiction’s court system.
The Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission consists of 15 members: six lawyers elected by the Oklahoma Bar Association, six non-lawyers appointed by the governor, and three additional non-lawyers, who serve as at-large members. The state Senate president pro tempore and the state House speaker each choose one at-large member. A majority of commission members selects the third at-large member. Lawyers and non-lawyers serve six-year staggered terms. The at-large members serve for two years.

North Dakotans will vote on a constitutional amendment to change the State Board of Higher Education in 2020

The North Dakota legislature voted on April 8 to send the North Dakota Board of Higher Education Membership Amendment to the 2020 ballot.
The measure would amend the state constitution to do the following:
  • increase the number of members on the state’s board of higher education from eight to 15;
  • increase the length of board member terms from four years to six years;
  • require the board to have at minimum of one meeting per year with the directors of each of the education institutions overseen by the board;
  • restrict the membership of the board to exclude any state officials, legislators, and employees of the state; and
  • prohibit employees of an institution under control of the board from being members of the board for two years following the termination of such employment.
The amendment was introduced as Senate Concurrent Resolution 4016 on February 15, 2019. The state Senate approved the amendment by a vote of 29-14, with four absent or not voting, on March 7, 2019. The state House passed the measure with amendments on April 2, 2019, by a vote of 50-41. On April 8, 2019, the Senate concurred with the House’s amendments, by a vote of 27-17.
As of April 11, 2019, six constitutional amendments that would go on the 2020 ballot were approved in one chamber of the legislature and are pending approval in the other. Between 1996 and 2018, an average of six measures appeared on the ballot in North Dakota during even-numbered election years. Citizen initiatives can also be put on the North Dakota ballot in 2020. To qualify an initiative for the ballot, proponents must submit 26,904 valid signatures by July 6, 2020.
So far in 2019, 21 statewide ballot measures have been certified for the 2020 ballot in 11 states.
Aditional reading:

Gov. Tom Wolf (D) and former Mayor John Street (D) endorse in Philadelphia mayoral primary

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney (D) and challenger Anthony Williams (D) each picked up noteworthy endorsements Thursday in Philadelphia’s Democratic mayoral primary election.
Kenney, who was first elected in 2015, was endorsed by seven political figures including Gov. Tom Wolf (D) and all three of Philadelphia’s representatives to the U.S. House.
Williams, who was the runner-up in the 2015 Democratic primary, was endorsed by former Mayor John Street (D) on the same day. Street was first elected in 1999 and won re-election in 2003.
Williams and former City Controller Alan Butkovitz (D) are Kenney’s only primary challengers.
According to campaign finance reports filed Tuesday, Kenney had $655,000 cash on hand as of April 1, while Williams and Butkovitz each reported $50,000 on hand.
The winner of the May 21 primary will face attorney Billy Ciancaglini (R) and any declared nonpartisan candidates in the November 5 general election. Since Philadelphia adopted its current charter in 1951, no Republican has won a mayoral race and no incumbent seeking re-election has been defeated.
Philadelphia is the largest city in Pennsylvania and the sixth-largest nationwide by population. Twenty-six of the 100 largest cities by population will be holding mayoral elections in 2019. Five (Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, San Antonio, and Dallas) are among the 10 largest cities.
Democrats hold the mayor’s office in 18 of the cities with elections this year. Republicans and independents hold four each.

Federal Register weekly update; 2019 weekly page average tops 1,000 pages

The Federal Register is a daily journal of federal government activity that includes presidential documents, proposed and final rules, and public notices. It is a common measure of an administration’s regulatory activity.
During the week of April 8 to April 12, the number of pages in the Federal Register increased by 1,288 pages, bringing the year-to-date total to 15,082 pages. This week’s Federal Register featured a total of 551 documents, including 436 notices, four presidential documents, 45 proposed rules, and 66 final rules.
One final rule was deemed significant under E.O. 12866—meaning that it may have large impacts on the economy, environment, public health, or state or local governments. Significant actions may also conflict with presidential priorities or other agency rules.
During the same week in 2018, the number of pages in the Federal Register increased by 1,164 pages. As of April 12, the 2019 total trailed the 2018 total by 1,100 pages.
The Trump administration has added an average of 1,005 pages to the Federal Register each week in 2019 as of April 12. In 2018, the Trump administration added an average of 1,301 pages to the Federal Register each week. Over the course of the Obama administration, the Federal Register increased by an average of 1,658 pages per week.
According to government data, the Federal Register hit an all-time high of 95,894 pages in 2016.
Click here to find yearly information about additions to the Federal Register from 1936 to 2016:,_1936-2016

SCOTUS hears arguments on vulgar trademarks and the First Amendment

On April 15, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Iancu v. Brunetti.
Erik Brunetti tried registering a trademark for his clothing brand but was denied by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which said that the trademark violated the Lanham Act. The act states that a trademark can be refused when it “consists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter.”
The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board agreed with the office’s initial decision not to grant the trademark. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that denying Brunetti’s trademark violated his First Amendment right to free speech.
The director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office appealed this decision, and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
The Supreme Court also heard arguments in Emulex Corp. v. Varjabedian on the same day. Iancu v. Brunetti is one of five cases from the Federal Circuit that will be heard during the Supreme Court’s October 2018-2019 term. During the term, the court will hear a total of 75 cases.

New memo outlines White House review of independent agencies and guidance documents

The White House may soon exercise more oversight of independent agencies like the Federal Reserve Board and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). An April 11 guidance memo published by the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) establishes rules for compliance with the Congressional Review Act (CRA). It amends earlier OMB guidance for implementing the CRA published in 1999 to affirm that Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) review procedures apply to historically independent agencies. It also states that some guidance documents fall within the definition of rules subject to the CRA.
The CRA is a 1996 law that requires agencies to submit rules to Congress before they go into effect. The law allows Congress to pass a joint resolution of disapproval to block a rule. If the president signs the resolution, then the agency rule is void and the agency cannot make a similar rule in the future without explicit congressional authorization.
The guidance memo tells agencies not to publish any rules in the Federal Register or anywhere else until both OIRA determines whether the rule is major and the agency has complied with the CRA.
The CRA defines major rules as those that have or are likely to have the following features:
  • An annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more
  • A major increase in costs or prices for consumers, industries, government agencies, or geographic regions
  • Significant adverse effects on competition, employment, investment, productivity, innovation, or foreign trade competition
The memo affirms the broad scope of the CRA over administrative rules. Under Executive Order 12866, agencies have to submit any significant regulatory actions to OIRA for review. However, agencies do not submit all CRA-covered actions to OIRA. In addition to notice-and-comment rules, the new OMB memo says that agencies have to submit statements of policy and interpretive rules to OIRA and Congress. That includes guidance documents, which agencies often fail to submit for CRA review. The memo requires agencies to include a CRA compliance statement in the body of new rules, giving Congress notice that OIRA determined whether the rule was major.

In first quarter of 2019, legislatures act on donor disclosure policy

A little over three months into 2019, state legislatures nationwide have introduced 73 bills regarding donor disclosure policy in the states.
As of April 12, 34 states had seen such legislation introduced. Of these 73 bills, 34 were sponsored by Democrats and 21 by Republicans; the remainder were sponsored by bipartisan groups or committees. Of these 73 bills, 11 had been enacted, three had passed upper chambers, five had passed lower chambers, two had passed both chambers without having yet been signed into law, and three had died. The remainder were either in committee or awaiting a committee assignment.
Under federal law, nonprofits are generally only required to disclose to the public information about donors who contribute to fund campaign expenditures. State laws, however, may require more disclosure. For example, California and New York require registered nonprofits to disclose the donor data they report to the Internal Revenue Service that is not publicly released by the federal government. Other states, such as Montana and Washington, require nonprofits to publicly disclose their general supporters for engaging in speech about policy issues. In general, advocates for expanded donor disclosure provisions argue that such policies minimize the potential for fraud and establish public accountability. Meanwhile, opponents of such measures contend that disclosing to the public information about donors violates privacy rights and can inhibit charitable activity.