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Two Cabinet-level positions remain unfilled in Biden admin

All 15 of President Joe Biden’s (D) main Cabinet secretary nominees were confirmed 61 days after he took office.

At this point in President Barack Obama’s (D) presidency—82 days after his inauguration—he still had one vacant secretary post for the Department of Health and Human Services. President Donald Trump (R) had two: the secretaries of agriculture and labor.

In addition to the main 15 Cabinet secretaries, Biden has selected eight more positions requiring Senate confirmation to be Cabinet-level in his administration. Two of those positions are still un: director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

Biden initially nominated Neera Tanden, the president of Center for American Progress, to serve as OMB director. She faced two hearings before the Senate committees on budget and homeland security and governmental affairs but never received a committee vote.

Two weeks after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and several key Republicans—Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and Mitt Romney (R-Utah)—said they would not support her confirmation, Tanden withdrew from consideration on March 2, 2021. Biden has not yet named a replacement nominee. OMB Deputy Director Shalanda Young is the acting director of the agency.

Biden formally nominated Eric Lander for OSTP director on Jan. 20. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation has not yet scheduled his confirmation hearing. If Lander is confirmed, it will be the first time a presidential science advisor is in the president’s Cabinet.

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Federal judge strikes down 5% petition requirement for minor-party and unaffiliated U.S. House candidates in Georgia

On March 29, 2021, Judge Leigh Martin May, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, struck down a Georgia law requiring minor-party and unaffiliated candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives to submit petitions signed by at least 5 percent of the district’s registered voters in order to appear on the ballot. May ruled this requirement “overburdens [voters’ and candidates’] rights to vote and to associate with their preferred political party, and so it violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.”

May contrasted the 5-percent signature requirement for U.S. House candidates with the 1-percent requirement for statewide candidates, “The [Georgia] General Assembly has deemed a 1% petition signature requirement adequate to guard against ballot crowding and frivolous candidacies on a statewide basis. It is not immediately clear why candidates for non-statewide office must clear a proportionally higher hurdle, the 5% petition signature requirement. [The state] has not offered any explanation for this disparity.” 

May has not yet ordered a remedy. She directed the plaintiffs (the Libertarian Party of Georgia) to submit a brief within three weeks on proposed remedies. The state will then have an opportunity to respond to this proposal before May issues further guidance. 

Under the 5-percent signature requirement, originally enacted in 1943, no minor-party candidate for the U.S. House has qualified for placement on the general election ballot. In 2020, minor-party or unaffiliated candidates would have needed between 19,777 and 26,539 signatures in order to qualify for the ballot (the number varies by congressional district). 

It is not clear whether the state will appeal the decision.

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Minnesota GOP to elect new chair in April

Last week, we brought you a story about conflicts within the Democratic Party of Nevada. Today, we turn to a similar event in Minnesota, where two party leaders are engaged in a race for party chair.

In April, the Republican Party of Minnesota will hold an election for party chair. Two-term incumbent Jennifer Carnahan is seeking a third term against state Senator Mark Koran (R). Approximately 340 party members from around the state will meet in a virtual convention to vote for the next chair. These party members were selected at 121 local conventions, also known as basic political operating units (BPOUs), 60 of which were directly managed by Carnahan and state party staffers. Koran has alleged that this constitutes a conflict of interest: “It’s a massive conflict of interest. Free, fair, open and transparent elections have to be the basic foundation of what we do. If you have distrust in the process, it’s difficult to get people to accept the results of those conventions.” Carnahan has denied the allegation: “There was no impropriety. … The real conflict of interest here is [Koran] trying to serve in the state Legislature and trying to run the party at the same time.”

Joe Witthuhn, a party member and Carnahan supporter who helped conduct some BPOUs, said, “If I thought she rigged even one individual vote, I would not support her anymore.” Nathan Raddatz, a party member and Koran supporter said, “The best thing would have been to pull the party out of this and let the individual districts hire somebody, to alleviate accusations of a party and the current chair rigging the election.”

The Star Tribune has described the race for chair as a crucial event in shaping the party’s prospects heading into 2022: “Whoever wins the party leadership race in April will have to immediately focus on 2022, when the governor’s office will be on the ballot, along with all 201 legislative seats. DFL Gov. Tim Walz is expected to run for a second term, but no front runner has emerged on the GOP side.”

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Newsom recall signature deadline next week

The organizers of an effort to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) have until March 17 to turn in signatures in an attempt to get the recall on the ballot. To trigger a recall election, organizers must turn in 1,495,709 signatures, which is equal to 12% of the total votes cast in the 2018 gubernatorial election. If supporters turn in enough valid signatures to trigger a recall election, the additional procedural steps dictate a recall election take place within 60 to 80 days of signature verification.

In the most recent reporting period that ended Feb. 5, the California Secretary of State had reviewed 798,310 signatures and deemed 668,202 of those valid. At the time of the report, there were still 296,147 signatures submitted that had not yet been reviewed. According to media reports, recall organizers had turned in more than 1.9 million signatures to the secretary of state’s office as of March 3.

A recall election would present voters with two questions. The first would ask whether Newsom should be recalled from the office of governor. The second would ask who should succeed Newsom if he is recalled. A majority vote is required on the first question for the governor to be recalled. Should voters approve a recall, whichever candidate receives the most votes on the second question would win outright.

Recall supporters say Newsom mishandled the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, did not do enough to address the state’s homelessness rate, and supported sanctuary city policies and water rationing. In December 2020, a spokesman for Newsom said President Donald Trump’s (R) supporters were behind the recall effort, which he also said would cost the state $100 million and distract from efforts to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine and reopen schools.

Since 1911, there have been 55 attempts to recall a California governor. The only successful recall campaign was in 2003 when voters recalled then-Gov. Gray Davis (D). Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) was chosen as Davis’ replacement.



Candy Christophe (D), Julia Letlow (R), and 10 other candidates running to represent Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District

Twelve candidates are running in a March 20 special primary election to represent Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District. The election was called to fill the vacancy left after Congressman-elect Luke Letlow (R) died in December 2020. 

The 12 candidates who filed for the seat include nine Republicans, two independents, and one Democrat. Heading into the election, Candy Christophe (D) and Julia Letlow (R) have led the field in media coverage.

Christophe has worked as a business owner and social worker. Cristophe, the only Democrat running, has an endorsement from the state Democratic Party. Her campaign platform includes addressing unemployment in the district, supporting small businesses and farmers, and investing in infrastructure.

Letlow’s professional experience includes working as a teacher and educational administrator. Her endorsers include the state Republican Party and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). Letlow said she and her late husband Luke Letlow (R) shared a vision for the district that included investing in jobs and rural development, supporting agriculture, and supporting education.

Before 2021, Louisiana’s 5th was represented by Ralph Abraham (R), who won re-election outright in the 2018 primary with 67% of the vote to Jessee Carlton Fleenor’s (D) 30%. In the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump (R) defeated Joe Biden (D) 65% to 34% in the district.

Christophe was also a candidate in the 2020 primary election. That year, Luke Letlow and Lance Harris (R) advanced to the general election with 33.1% and 16.6% of the vote, respectively. Christophe placed third with 16.4% of the vote. Luke Letlow won the general election against Harris 62% to 38%.

Under the Louisiana majority-vote system, all candidates run in a single primary election. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, the top two vote-getters advance to a general election. If necessary, the general election for this seat will take place on April 24.

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Early voting begins for Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District

Image of several stickers with the words "I voted"

Early voting begins March 6 and is open until March 13 for Louisiana’s 2021 elections, including a special election in Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District. The election takes place on March 20. Fifteen candidates are running to fill the seat left vacant when then President-elect Joe Biden (D) picked Cedric Richmond (D), who represented the district since 2011, to serve as a senior adviser to the president and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Louisiana elections use the majority vote system in which all candidates compete in the same primary. A candidate can win the election outright by receiving more than 50% of the vote. If no candidate wins more than 50%, the top two vote recipients from the primary advance to the general election, no matter their partisan affiliation. If necessary, a runoff election will be held on April 24, 2021.

There are eight Democrats, four Republicans, two Independents, and one Libertarian running for the seat. Out of this field of candidates, media attention has largely focused on Troy Carter (D), Karen Peterson (D), and Gary Chambers (D). Carter represents Louisiana State Senate District 7 and Peterson represents Louisiana State Senate District 5. Chambers is an activist and publisher from Baton Rouge.

Both Carter and Peterson emphasized their experience and careers as lawmakers. “Throughout my career I’ve remained laser focused on the simple ways to improve people’s day to day lives – like guaranteeing access to COVID-19 19 vaccine, equality pay for women, criminal justice reform and fighting for a living wage,” said Carter.

Peterson said “After Katrina hit, I told the truth, held people accountable, and fought to help our families and our businesses rebuild. And that’s what I’ll do in Congress to lead us out of this pandemic.”

Chambers, who has never run for public office, said district lawmakers have focused too heavily on New Orleans and that people in the district “want a leader that’s concerned about all people, not just a select demographic of the district.”

Democrats have represented Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District since 2000, except between 2009 and 2011, when Anh “Joseph” Cao (R) held the seat. The 2020 Cook Partisan Voter Index for Louisiana’s 2nd district was D+25, meaning that in the previous two presidential elections, this district’s results were 25 percentage points more Democratic than the national average.

A special election will also take place on March 20 in Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District.

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White House withdraws first Cabinet nominee

President Joe Biden (D) withdrew the nomination of Neera Tanden for director of the Office of Management and Budget on Tuesday after several senators, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), said they would vote against confirming her. This marks the first failed nomination of Biden’s administration.

Biden said in a statement, “I have accepted Neera Tanden’s request to withdraw her name from nomination for Director of the Office of Management and Budget. I have the utmost respect for her record of accomplishment, her experience and her counsel, and I look forward to having her serve in a role in my Administration. She will bring valuable perspective and insight to our work.”

In her withdrawal letter to Biden, Tanden said, “I appreciate how hard you and your team at the White House has worked to win my confirmation. Unfortunately, it now seems clear that there is no path forward to gain confirmation, and I do not want continued consideration of my nomination to be a distraction from your other priorities.”

The White House has not yet named a new nominee, although the following individuals are reportedly in consideration:

• Shalanda Young is a former staff director for the House Appropriations Committee. She had a confirmation hearing this week for her nomination for OMB deputy director.

• Gene Sperling was previously in consideration for the position. He was director of the National Economic Council in both the Clinton and Obama administration.

• Ann O’Leary was California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) chief of staff. O’Leary worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

• Martha Coven was the associate director for Education, Income Maintenance, and Labor in the OMB during the Obama administration. She was also involved in Biden’s search committee for the OMB.

• Sarah Bianchi was a deputy assistant to the president for economic policy in the Obama administration and is a longtime Biden policy aide.

The Senate has confirmed 13 of Biden’s Cabinet nominees, including three earlier this week:

• Miguel Cardona for secretary of education (64-33)

• Gina Raimondo for secretary of commerce (84-15)

• Cecilia Rouse for chair of the Council of Economic Advisers (95-4)

Eight other nominees are awaiting committee or confirmation votes. Eric Lander, Biden’s nominee to lead the Office of Science and Technology Policy, is awaiting a confirmation hearing.

Four Republicans have supported all 13 of Biden’s nominees so far:

• Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine)

• Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)

• Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio)

• Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah)

The following senators have voted against all or most of Biden’s nominees:

• Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) voted against 12 of the 13 nominees. The only nominee he supported was Rouse.

• Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) voted against 11 of the 13 nominees.

• Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) voted against 10 of the 13 nominees.

• Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) voted against 9 of the 13 nominees.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is the only Democrat or independent who caucuses with Democrats to vote against one of Biden’s nominees.

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St. Louis to use new mayoral primary system for first time on March 2

Image of several stickers with the words "I voted"

On March 2, St. Louis, Missouri, will hold a mayoral primary using an electoral system called approval voting for the first time in the city’s history. Candidates of all political affiliations will appear on the ballot without partisan labels and voters may choose any number of candidates to vote for. The two candidates receiving the most votes will advance to the general election on April 6. Voters approved the method through the passage of Proposition D in November 2020.

Mayor Lyda Krewson (D) is not running for re-election. Four candidates are running in the primary: 2017 mayoral candidate Andrew Jones, St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones, Aldermen President Lewis Reed, and Alderwoman Cara Spencer. Each has a partisan affiliation: A. Jones ran as a Republican in 2017, and the other three candidates have previously run for office as Democrats.

The St. Louis Post Dispatch endorsed both Spencer and Reed. T. Jones was endorsed by Saint Louis County Executive Sam Page, Democracy for America, and the state council of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Spencer was endorsed by former Mayor Vincent Schoemehl Jr. and former Aldermanic President James Shrewsbury.

Through Feb. 22, Spencer raised the most money of all the candidates ($356,000), followed by T. Jones ($333,000), Reed ($271,000), and A. Jones ($20,000).

Candidates have each made crime a key priority in this campaign. A. Jones said that the city’s violent crime problem made it harder for the city to attract new businesses and retain existing ones, so addressing crime would improve safety while also improving the city’s business climate. T. Jones said she supported restructuring the police department’s budget to reallocate funding for mental health services, job training programs, and treating substance abuse. Reed’s campaign website called for a focus on violent crime, using a strategy called focused deterrence with groups most likely to commit violent crimes. Spencer, citing her background in mathematics and modeling, said she would implement a data-driven strategy for crime reduction in the city. 

The city of St. Louis utilizes a strong mayor and city council system. In this form of municipal government, the city council serves as the city’s primary legislative body and the mayor serves as the city’s chief executive.



Alaska House of Representatives elects speaker for 2021 session

On Feb. 11, twenty-four days after the 2021 legislative session began on Jan. 19th, the Alaska House of Representatives elected a permanent speaker of the House. Members elected Rep. Louise Stutes (R) in a 21-19 vote.

Since the start of the session, House members had been divided between supporters of a Republican-led majority and those favoring a multipartisan coalition. Republicans won a 21-19 majority in the 2020 general election, but in December, Stutes joined the coalition bloc composed of 16 Democrats and three independents, leaving each faction with 20 members.

In January, Reps. Bart LeBon (R), Laddie Shaw (R), and Neal Foster (D) were nominated for the speakership, but each vote ended in an even 20-20 split. On Feb. 4th, the House unanimously elected Rep. Josiah Patkotak (I) as temporary speaker. Rep. Ben Carpenter (R) said the House Republican Caucus nominated Patkotak, who is a member of the coalition bloc, to “alleviate the Lt. Governor from his temporary responsibility as presiding officer and to move the discussion forward about finding a permanent presiding officer.”

Rep. Kelly Merrick’s (R) vote for Stutes ultimately broke the recurring tie votes. Merrick said, “Today, I voted to elect Republican Representative Louise Stutes as Speaker of the House, ending more than three weeks of deadlock and allowing the Legislature to move forward. It was by no means an easy decision to make, but it ensured that no matter how organization comes together, there will be a Republican Speaker.”

The three-week period without a House speaker is the second-longest in the state’s history. In 2018, similar divisions kept House members from electing a speaker until Feb. 14th, 2019, when a coalition of 15 Democrats, four Republicans, and two independents elected Bryce Edgmon (I) as House speaker and agreed to split other key leadership and committee positions between the two parties.

With split control of the House and Republican control of the Senate and governor’s office, Alaska’s trifecta status remains divided. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. There are currently 23 Republican trifectas, 15 Democratic trifectas, and 12 divided governments where neither party holds trifecta control. After the 2020 elections, Republicans had a net gain of two trifectas and two states under divided government became trifectas.

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Alaska House of Representatives elects temporary speaker

Forty-six state legislatures are currently in session. The Alaska House of Representatives has been in session since Jan. 19. But no regular business has taken place because legislators have not elected a permanent speaker or organized committees.

Partisan control of the House was uncertain after the 2020 elections, split between those favoring a Republican-led majority and those supporting a multi-party coalition. Republicans won 21 of 40 seats, but Rep. Louise Stutes (R) joined a coalition of 16 Democrats and three independents, leaving legislators split into two 20-member factions.

The Alaska House elected Josiah Patkotak (I) unanimously as temporary speaker on Feb. 4. Patkotak was elected to his first term on Nov. 3. He is presiding over the chamber until a permanent speaker is elected, taking over for Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer (R) who had filled the role of presiding officer since the legislative session began. Legislators have not submitted any nominations for a permanent speaker as of Feb. 9.

Alaska has a Republican governor, and Republicans control the state Senate, so final control of the chamber will also determine the state’s trifecta status.

The Alaska House faced a similar situation after the 2018 elections. That year, Republican-aligned candidates won 23 seats, and Democratic-aligned candidates won 17. A coalition of 15 Democrats, four Republicans, and two independents elected Bryce Edgmon (I) as House speaker on Feb. 14, 2019. Edgmon was originally elected as a Democrat but changed his party affiliation to independent before he was elected speaker. Both parties split control of key leadership positions and committees.