On January 8, 2019, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) cited the state’s Environmental Rights Amendment (ERA), passed in 1971, in an executive order establishing the GreenGov Council, which was designed to work with state agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The governor’s order wasn’t the first time that he cited the ERA when explaining a decision. In June 2017, he vetoed a bill to preempt the local regulation of plastic bags, saying the bill was inconsistent with the ERA.
Voters approved the ERA as a ballot measure on May 18, 1971. The ERA provided for state constitutional rights to clean air; clean water; and the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic, and aesthetic values of the environment. The constitutional amendment also declared the state’s natural resources as “common property of all the people, including generations yet to come” and declared the state government as the trustee of the state’s natural resources.
Courts interpreted the ERA through a three-part balancing test until 2017. The test asked whether the benefits of an action outweighed any harm to the environment. In 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected this test, with the court’s opinion saying the test stripped the ERA of its meaning. Justice Christine Donohue (D), who wrote the opinion, said the ERA established a public trust, with natural resources as the trust corpus, the state as the trustee, and the people as the beneficiaries. Justices Max Baer (D) and Thomas Saylor (R) dissented, saying the court interpreted the ERA’s description of the state as a public trust through the lens of private trust law.
State Del. Jennifer Boysko (D) defeated former state Del. Joe T. May (R) in the special election for Virginia State Senate District 33 on Tuesday. Boysko received 69.8 percent of the vote to May’s 30.1 percent.
This was the highest margin of victory in the district since 2003, when William Mims (R) ran in an uncontested race.
Incumbent Jennifer Wexton (D) won election to Virginia’s 10th Congressional District in the 2018 midterm, leaving the seat vacant.
Republicans will continue to hold a 21-19 majority in the state Senate and all 40 seats are up for election on November 5, 2019. If Democrats flip the state Senate and the State House of Delegates, where Republicans hold a 51-49 majority, Virginia will become a Democratic state trifecta.
Democrats emerged from the 2018 elections with trifecta control of 14 states—a net gain of six states.
With a new year, comes a new batch of state legislators. Thousands of legislators will be sworn into office this month. In the November 2018 general elections, 322 incumbent legislators were defeated. Including the incumbents who retired or were defeated in primaries, the 2019 legislative sessions will see 1,599 new state legislators taking their oath of office. The new legislators reflect 21.7% of all state legislators nationwide.
Today, seven states are swearing in legislators:
Three fun facts about state legislators being sworn in this term:
1) Fifteen states have term limits, accounting for 1,930 of all state legislative seats (26.1%).
2) Two legislators have been in office since the 1960s.
The longest-serving state representative, Republican Tom Craddick, began his tenure in 1969. This is his 50th year in the Texas State Legislature. He is one of two state legislators elected in the 1960s.
The other is Fred Risser, Democratic state senator from Wisconsin.
3) More than 15 percent of state legislators were elected before the year 2000:
1960s: 2 (<0.1%)
1970s: 41 (<0.1%)
1980s: 101 (1.3%)
1990s: 984 (13.3%)
The remaining 7,383 legislators (84.7%) were all elected in the 21st century.
Today, legislators in New York will be sworn in. In the state Senate, this marks a change of power from a Republican-led coalition to a Democratic majority. Although Democrats have held a numerical majority in the chamber since 2012, a faction of Democrats known as the Independent Democratic Caucus aligned with the chamber’s Republicans, helping create a coalition majority. Democrats now have 40 members in the chamber while Republicans have 23. Prior to the election, Democrats held a 32-31 numerical majority. New York was previously a Democratic trifecta from 2009 to 2010; in every other year since 1992 it has been under divided government.
New York is one of six states to change from a divided government to a Democratic trifecta as a result of the 2018 elections. It joins Democratic pickups in Colorado, Illinois, Maine, New Mexico, and Nevada. Democrats also gained ground in four other states: Kansas, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin. These states moved from Republican trifectas to divided government.
Prior to the 2018 elections, 20 percent of Americans lived under a Democratic trifecta, 48 percent under a Republican trifecta, and 31 percent under divided government. Once all lawmakers elected in 2018 are sworn in, 35 percent of Americans will live under a Democratic trifecta, 42 percent under a Republican trifecta, and 24 percent under divided government.
Last week, Chicago Alderman Ed Burke was charged with extortion. Burke has represented Chicago’s 14th Ward since 1969 and is the longest-serving alderman in the city’s history.
The FBI filed a complaint in the U.S. Northern District of Illinois court alleging that Burke attempted to use his position as alderman to solicit business for his law firm, Klaner & Burke, from a restaurant owner who was seeking permits for remodeling in 2017.
The complaint also claims that Burke illegally sought a donation for another politician from an executive of the company.
The charges came after the FBI conducted two raids of Burke’s offices, first on November 29 and again on December 13.
Burke said of the charge, “I believe that I’m not guilty of anything, and I’m trusting that when I have my day in court, that will be clear beyond a reasonable doubt.”
On Monday, Burke resigned from his position as chairman of the City Council Finance Committee. He announced that he intends to continue his re-election bid, in which he faces four challengers—Irene Corral, Jaime Guzman, Tanya Patino, and Jose Torrez.
Patino called on Burke to withdraw from the race, saying, “It’s an embarrassment to know that your alderman is doing things for his own personal gain instead of the community’s interest.”
A representative of Jose Torrez said, “We are running on a platform of transparency so we’re not going to allow this to ever have to be an issue in the 14th Ward again.”
Following are reactions from some of the 15 mayoral candidates:
Toni Preckwinkle, who is chair of the Cook County Democratic Party, removed Burke from his role as chair of the Cook County judicial slating committee, announced that she would return all money raised at a fundraiser at Burke’s house in January 2018 during her re-election bid for the Cook County Board of Supervisors, and said Burke should resign from the council.
Preckwinkle also confirmed that she received a donation from the company executive named in the charge against Burke during her Cook County re-election bid. Her lawyer said the donation in question was not accepted but that the campaign made a possible technical error in not reporting the donation and its return last year.
Gery Chico, who was endorsed by Burke, said that he would not accept support from Burke in the mayoral race. He also called on Burke to step down as finance committee chair.
Susana Mendoza called on Burke to step down from the finance committee and said it’s time for someone else to represent the 14th Ward. Bob Fioretti had called on Burke to step down as finance committee chair as well, and Bill Daley also said the ward needs a new alderman.
Paul Vallas called on Preckwinkle, Mendoza, Chico, and Daley to withdraw from the mayoral race because of connections with Burke. Vallas also proposed rotating committee chairmanships on the city council.
Willie Wilson said Preckwinkle should resign as Cook County Board president and that, as mayor, he would use a citizen advisory committee to select city council committee chairs as opposed to allowing the city council to select them.
Lori Lightfoot called for Burke to resign as finance chair following the first raid of his offices and, since the charge, said Burke should resign from the city council.
Amara Enyia stated, “A lot of the other candidates have significant ties to Alderman Burke and therefore ties to corruption, so the question Chicagoans will be asking is can we trust individuals that came out of that same establishment.” She also called for Burke to resign from city council.
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Rep. Larry Householder (R) was elected as speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives on January 7 by a coalition of 26 Republicans and 26 Democrats. Thirty-four Republicans, who hold a 61-38 majority in the chamber, voted for sitting House Speaker Ryan Smith (R). No Democrat ran for the position.
In the May 2018 Republican primaries, Smith and Householder supported opposing candidates in 20 races. Householder-backed candidates won 15, Smith-backed candidates won 3, and candidates affiliated with neither won two.
In June 2018, Smith was elected as the interim speaker after Republican Cliff Rosenberger resigned early due to an FBI investigation into his activities with lobbyists. Householder-aligned Republicans opposed Smith’s speakership bid, which he won with 44 votes in a four-way race with Democratic Leader Fred Strahorn and two other Republicans.
This will be Householder’s second stint as speaker, following a term from 2001 to 2004 after he beat Bill Harris, who was backed by outgoing Speaker Jo Ann Davidson (R). Similar to the 2018 primaries, Householder supported successful primary challengers against candidates aligned with Harris and Davidson.
Householder is one of at least six state speakers elected with support from only a minority of the majority party since 1995.
Former Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R) is one example. He was elected speaker in 2009 after the Republican majority fell to 76-74 in the 2008 elections. He unseated the sitting speaker, Tom Craddick (R), with support from 72 Democrats and 16 Republicans.
Similarly, California Assembly Democrats helped elect two Republican speakers in 1995 after Republicans won a 41-39 majority in the 1994 elections. The speakers were both opposed by a majority of the Republican caucus.
The Washington secretary of state’s office confirmed to Ballotpedia that sponsors of Initiative 1000 submitted signatures on January 4, 2019. I-1000 is an Initiative to the Legislature, a type of indirect initiated state statute, and maybe appear on the ballot for the election on November 5, 2019. Januar 4, 2019, was the deadline to submit signatures for 2019 Initiatives to the Legislature in Washington.
The measure would allow legislation and policies that use affirmative action without the use of quotas or preferential treatment. It would define affirmative action to mean the use of race, sex, ethnicity, national origin, age, disabilities, and military or veteran status as factors in determining education and employment opportunities. It would continue the state’s prohibition against preferential treatment based on certain characteristics and would define preferential treatment to mean “using race, sex, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, sexual orientation, the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability, and honorably discharged veteran or military status as the sole qualifying factor to select a lesser qualified candidate over a more qualified candidate.”
The measure would also create the Governor’s commission on diversity, equity, and inclusion, which would be responsible for ensuring compliance with the measure, and would be required to issue an annual report on the progress of state agencies in achieving the goals under the measure.
Washington voters approved I-200 on November 3, 1998. I-200, also an Initiative to the Legislature, banned preferential treatment and discrimination in public education, employment, and contracting based on “race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.” I-1000 would also add the following characteristics to that list: “age, sexual orientation, the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability, or honorably discharged veteran or military status.”
Two initiatives, I-976 and I-1000, submitted signatures by the deadline on January 4, 2019. To qualify for the 2019 ballot, 269,622 valid signatures are required.
Of 47 total Initiatives to the Legislature filed with the Washington secretary of state’s office, Ballotpedia identified three other measures with active or potentially-active efforts. All other measures were either withdrawn or abandoned by sponsors. Signatures for those three measures, detailed below, were not submitted by the deadline.
Initiative 978, which proposed to raise the minimum age to purchase firearms or ammunition to 21, with exceptions
Initiative 1002, which proposed to prohibit marijuana cultivation, processing, and sales in residential zones; and
Initiative 1003, which proposed changing special education funding requirements.
Initiative to the Legislature is the name of indirect initiated state statutes in the state of Washington. Upon signature verification, these initiatives go before the Washington Legislature at its next regular legislative session in January. The legislature must take one of three actions:
The legislature can adopt the initiative as proposed, in which case it becomes law without a vote of the people.
The legislature can reject or refuse to act on the proposed initiative, in which case the initiative must be placed on the ballot at the next state general election.
The legislature can approve an alternative to the proposed initiative, in which case both the original proposal and the legislature’s alternative must be placed on the ballot at the next state general election
On January 4, the Alaska Supreme Court upheld Bart LeBon’s (R) one-vote victory over Kathryn Dodge (D) in the Alaska House District 1 election.
The court affirmed a finding by special master Eric Aarseth that the State Division of Elections acted properly when it held a recount in the race. Dodge had appealed the recount result, arguing that several ballots were improperly counted for LeBon.
The conclusion of the legal battle in District 1 means that all 40 seats in the Alaska House have been decided—Republicans won 23, Democrats won 16, and a Democratic-aligned independent won District 36.
However, control of the chamber is not yet decided because only 19 Republicans have committed to caucusing together. Here are the four Republicans who have not committed:
• Rep. David Eastman (R) said he would likely join with other Republicans, but he might want a more conservative speaker than David Talerico (R), the caucus’ original choice.
• Rep. Gary Knopp (R) originally said he would caucus with the other Republicans, but he left the caucus in mid-December, saying that a one-member majority would be unstable. He announced his intention to form a 24-member bipartisan majority caucus with power sharing between the parties.
• Reps. Louise Stutes (R) and Gabrielle LeDoux (R) caucused with Democrats from 2017 to 2018 and signed onto a letter in late December announcing their intention to join a bipartisan coalition again.
If no majority has organized the chamber by January 15, Lieutenant Gov. Kevin Meyer (R) will preside over the chamber (or appoint a speaker pro tempore) until the House decides its organization.
If Republicans organize a majority, they will have gained trifecta control of the state in the 2018 elections. If they do not, the state will operate under divided government.
The chamber was controlled by a Democratic-led bipartisan majority caucus from 2017 to 2018 even though Republicans won 21 of 40 seats in the 2016 elections.
The Senate Judiciary Committee announced that it will hold a confirmation hearing for William Barr’s nomination to be United States Attorney General on January 15 and 16. President Donald Trump (R) announced his intent to nominate Barr to the position on December 7, 2018, and formally sent his nomination to the Senate on January 3, 2019. Barr will have to be confirmed by the Senate with a simple majority vote before taking office.
Barr served as the 77th United States Attorney General under former President George H.W. Bush (R) from 1991 to 1993. He was confirmed by a unanimous voice vote in November 1991. The previous attorney general under Trump, Jeff Sessions, was confirmed 52-47 in November 2017.
The U.S. Senate voted yesterday to confirm Democrat Geoffrey Starks as a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Under federal law, only three FCC commissioners can be from the same political party, so President Trump nominated Starks based on recommendations from Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). The FCC is an independent federal agency formed in 1934 that regulates interstate and international radio, television and other communications.
Independent federal agencies operate with some degree of autonomy from the executive branch. These agencies exist outside of the Executive Office of the President and executive departments or have top officials with protections against removal by the president or other officials. The FCC is run by five commissioners appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate to five-year terms.