Two Democrats, Kirsten Engel and Wesley Breckenridge, resigned from their state legislatures on Sept. 8 and 10, respectively. Senator Engel represented Arizona Senate District 10 from Jan. 11, 2021, to Sept. 8, 2021, while Rep. Breckenridge represented Iowa House District 29 from 2017 to 2021.
Engel resigned to focus on her 2022 campaign for Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District. As of Sept. 10, Engel was one of three Democrats Ballotpedia identified as running in the primary. Before joining the state Senate, Engel represented Arizona House District 10 from 2017 to 2021.
Breckenridge resigned to take a job with the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy. He most recently won re-election in 2020, winning with 51.5% of the vote to Jon Dunwell’s (R) 48.4%.
Arizona is one of seven states to fill state legislative vacancies through appointments via Board of City Commissioners. Iowa is one of 25 states to fill such vacancies through special elections.
A special election is being held on Sept. 14 to fill a vacant seat in District 37 in the Iowa House of Representatives. Andrea Phillips (D) and Mike Bousselot (R) are running in the special election. Both candidates were selected to run in the special election by their respective political parties in conventions. The winner of the special election will serve until January 2023.
This Polk County-based House seat became vacant on July 29 after John Landon (R) died. He had served in the state House since 2013. He won re-election in 2020 by defeating Phillips with 53.1% of the vote.
Heading into the special election, Republicans have a 58-41 majority in the Iowa state House with one vacancy. Iowa 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 2021, 59 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 20 states. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year. Iowa held 22 state legislative special elections from 2011 to 2020.
Here’s a summary of the week’s noteworthy redistricting news from Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, and Texas.
Colorado: The Colorado Independent Redistricting Commission staff released a proposed congressional district map on Sept. 3. This is the first proposed map the commission released since the U.S. Census Bureau distributed block-level data from the 2020 census to states on Aug. 12. The commission is holding public hearings about the newly released maps during the week of Sept. 7.
The Colorado Supreme Court previously ordered on July 26 that the Commission submit final congressional redistricting plans for approval no later than Oct. 1. Colorado was apportioned eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2020 census—a net gain of one seat for the state.
Connecticut: The Connecticut General Assembly Reapportionment Committee will not create congressional and state legislative district maps by the state’s constitutional deadline of Sept. 15, according to The CT Mirror. If the deadline is not met, redistricting in Connecticut will be decided by a nine-member backup commission consisting of eight members appointed by the majority and minority leaders of each chamber of the legislature and a ninth member selected by the eight appointed commission members. Maps determined by the backup commission are not subject to legislative approval. Connecticut previously used this process in 2011 after the committee did not meet the deadline that year.
Iowa: The Iowa Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission announced it would release the first draft of proposed state legislative district maps on Sept. 16. The Iowa Constitution states that the Iowa Supreme Court is responsible for legislative redistricting if the general assembly doesn’t enact new maps before Sept. 15. In April, the Iowa Supreme Court released a statement saying that “the supreme court tentatively plans to meet its constitutional responsibility by implementing a process which permits, to the extent possible, the redistricting framework…to proceed after September 15.”
Texas: Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced on Sept. 7 that he was calling a special session of the state legislature to address redistricting and other issues beginning Sept. 20.
Two Democratic state senators filed a lawsuit in federal district court on Sept. 1 arguing that the legislature cannot legally redraw district maps during a special session since the Texas Constitution requires lawmakers to begin the process after the “first regular session after the publication of each United States decennial census.” The lawsuit asks the court to draw interim maps until the state’s next regular legislative session in January 2023.
The special general election for Iowa State House District 37 is scheduled for Sept. 14. There are currently two candidates competing for the seat. Andrea Phillips was selected in the Democratic convention, and Mike Bousselot was chosen in the Republican convention. As of Aug. 20, no third party or independent candidates had filed.
The seat became vacant on July 29 after John Landon (R) died.
The Sept. 14 election will mark the second state legislative special election in Iowa in 2021. Iowa State Senate District 41 was filled via special election on January 26 after Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R) was elected to the U.S. House. Adrian Dickey (R) won the seat.
As of August 2021, 51 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 18 states. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year.
Election officials have scheduled a special election for the District 37 seat in the Iowa House of Representatives for Sept. 14. The seat became vacant after John Landon (R) died on July 29. There is no primary, and candidates will be nominated directly by political parties.
Democrats in the Iowa House of Representatives selected Rep. Jennifer Konfrst (D-43) as the new House minority leader on June 14. Konfrst replaces Rep. Todd Prichard (D-52), who announced on June 2 that he would be stepping down as minority leader. Konfrst is the first woman to lead the Iowa House Democrats.
“I’m honored to earn the trust of my colleagues to lead our fight to ensure Iowans’ voices are heard and truly represented in Des Moines,” Konfrst said in a statement following the vote.
Konfrst was first elected to the Iowa House in 2018 and was re-elected in 2020. She had been serving as House minority whip since the start of her second term in January 2021.
The minority leader of a state house is responsible for directing the minority party strategy, assembling party members for important votes, and acting as a spokesperson for the party’s policy positions.
Geri Huser began another six-year term as chair of the Iowa Utilities Board on May 1. The Iowa Utilities Board is a three-member board in the Iowa state government, which is responsible for regulating the rates and services of electric, natural gas, and water utilities.
Governor Terry Branstad (R) originally appointed Huser to the board on May 1, 2015. Governor Kim Reynolds (R) reappointed Huser on Jan. 29 to another six-year term beginning on May 1 and ending on April 30, 2027. The governor also reappointed Huser as chair of the board. On April 28, the Iowa State Senate confirmed Huser for both the board member and chair positions.
Huser served in the Iowa House of Representatives from 1997 to 2011, representing the 42nd District as a Democrat. While in office, she served on the Judiciary, Local Government, and Rebuild Iowa and Disaster Recovery committees.
All 50 states have public service commissions, which are multi-member boards responsible for the regulation of utilities. Most state commissions have three seats, though some states have as many as seven seats. Public service commissioners are elected in 11 states and appointed in the other 39. Of those states that appoint public service commissioners, all but Virginia and South Carolina give that appointment power to the governor.
As of May 6, 10 states have commissions that are majority Republican, while two are majority Democrat. Of the two states that have majority-Democratic commissions, one (Illinois) consists of members appointed by the governor.
On Wednesday, March 31, Rita Hart (D) dropped her petition with the House Administration Committee to investigate the Nov. 3, 2020, election in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R) defeated Hart by six votes in that race. House Administration Committee Chair Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D) said the committee would suspend its investigation of the election.
After announcing the decision, Hart said that she chose to end her challenge “after many conversations with people I trust about the future of this contest.” “Despite our best efforts to have every vote counted, the reality is that the toxic campaign of political disinformation to attack this constitutional review of the closest congressional contest in 100 years has effectively silenced the voices of Iowans,” she said.
After the Nov. 3, 2020, general election, Iowa officials conducted three recounts of the results in the 2nd district. Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate (R) ordered a recount in Jasper County on Nov. 6 and then another in Lucas County on Nov. 10. On Nov. 13, Hart requested a full recount of votes in all 24 counties in the district. After this last recount, Miller-Meeks was certified as the winner by a margin of six votes on Nov. 30.
On Dec. 2, Hart announced she would contest the election with the House Administration Committee. She submitted a notice of contest on Dec. 22 that said 11 ballots were excluded due to poll worker errors and another 11 were excluded because of unsealed or damaged envelopes, having the voter’s signature in the wrong place, or being left in a drop box outside the county. Miller-Meeks was provisionally seated in the House on Jan. 3, and on Jan. 21, she filed a motion asking Congress to dismiss Hart’s challenge of the election results, saying that Hart should have pursued the matter through state procedures rather than filing a petition with the House.
On Mar. 10, the House Administration Committee voted 6-3 to consider Hart’s challenge and table Miller-Meeks’ motion to dismiss Hart’s challenge. After the decision to move forward with the investigation was announced, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) said Democrats are “literally trying to overturn a state-certified election here in Congress.” Some Democrats, such as Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips (D), said overturning the results would be a mistake. “Overturning it in the House would be even more painful for America. Just because a majority can, does not mean a majority should,” Phillips said.
Last year’s general election in Iowa’s 2nd District had the narrowest margin of victory in a U.S. House race since 1984. That year, Francis McCloskey (D) defeated Richard McIntyre (R) by four votes in Indiana’s 8th Congressional District. The House Administration Committee has dismissed most contested election cases that have come before it. According to a 2016 Congressional Research Service report, out of 107 contested election cases filed between 1933 and 2009, the candidate who contested the election won three times.
The House Administration Committee moved to consider Rita Hart’s (D) challenge of the results in last November’s election in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District March 10. The committee voted in favor of considering the challenge and tabling a motion by Hart’s opponent, Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R), to dismiss the appeal. The decision will allow Hart to present evidence in support of her petition to the committee, which will then present a full report to the House recommending who should fill the seat.
After the November general election, Iowa officials conducted three recounts of the results in the 2nd district. Secretary of State Paul Pate (R) ordered a recount in Jasper County on Nov. 6 and one in Lucas County on Nov. 10. On Nov. 13, Hart requested a full recount of votes in all 24 counties in the district. After this recount, Miller-Meeks was certified as the winner by a six-vote margin on Nov. 30.
On Dec. 2, Hart announced she would contest the election before the House Administration Committee. She submitted a notice of contest on Dec. 22 that said 11 ballots were excluded due to poll worker errors and another 11 were excluded because of unsealed or damaged envelopes, having the voter’s signature in the wrong place, or having been left in a dropbox outside the county. The notice asked the House to invalidate the state-certified results, count the ballots Hart said were excluded, and initiate a uniform hand recount in all 24 counties in the district. Miller-Meeks was provisionally seated in the House on Jan. 3, and on Jan. 21, she filed a motion asking Congress to dismiss Hart’s challenge of the election results, saying that Hart should have pursued the matter through state procedures rather than filing a petition with the House.
After the House Administration Committee announced it would move forward with the investigation, Hart said the decision helps ensure that every vote is counted: “At least twenty-two Iowans’ legally-cast ballots still have not been counted due to a string of errors. We are glad to see the House Committee on Administration taking the next step towards ensuring that every legally-cast vote is counted in this race and that all Iowans’ voices are heard. Every legal voter in this country has a right to have their ballot counted and the remedy here is clear — count the ballots,” she said. Miller-Meeks said: “In Iowa, the votes were counted, recounted, and in some cases – recounted again. Now, Rita Hart is asking democrat politicians in DC to elect her because the voters of Iowa did not.”
If the committee recommends the matter to the full House, the chamber will decide the outcome by a majority vote as provided for in Article I, Section 5, of the U.S. Constitution. Historically, most contested election cases heard by the committee were dismissed. Out of 107 contested election cases filed between 1933 and 2009, the candidate who contested the election only won three times. The November 3 election was the narrowest margin of victory in a U.S. House race since 1984, when Francis McCloskey (D) defeated Richard McIntyre (R) by four votes in Indiana’s 8th Congressional District.
On Feb. 15, Iowa public schools were required to start offering full-time, in-person instruction for all grades. Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) signed the bill enacting the mandate on Jan. 29. The bill, which passed the state House and Senate with the support of all Republicans and one Democrat, allows parents to request a hybrid or all remote option for their children. Schools can request a waiver from the requirement to provide in-person instruction from the state Department of Education based on factors such as the number of teachers quarantining because of the virus.
Previously, Iowa public schools had to provide at least half-time, in-person instruction. Gov. Reynolds issued the part-time order on July 17, 2020.
Iowa is one of five states that require schools to open at least partially for in-person instruction.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) required all public and private pre-K, elementary, and middle schools to resume full-time, in-person or hybrid (at least two in-person days every week) instruction, regardless of their county’s transmission rates, on Jan. 19.
The Florida Department of Education ordered public schools to reopen at least five days per week for all students no later than Aug. 31, 2020.
Arkansas Education Secretary Johnny Key ordered public schools to offer in-person instruction five days per week, starting no later than Aug. 26, 2020.
The Texas Education Agency required public schools to offer daily in-person instruction options, or risk losing state funding, no later than Oct. 19. The agency’s order allowed schools to stay remote for the first eight weeks of the school calendar year, which began on Aug. 24, 2020.
In Chicago, the third-largest school district in the country, the first wave of students (pre-K and special education students) returned to in-person classroom instruction on Feb. 11. The Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools reached a reopening agreement on Feb. 9. Under the plan, K-5 students will return for hybrid instruction (two days per week in-person) on March 1. Students in grades 6-8 will return on the hybrid schedule starting March 8.