Aaron von Ehlinger resigns from Idaho House of Representatives

Idaho state Representative Aaron von Ehlinger resigned on April 29 after the Idaho House Ethics and Policy Committee found his “conduct unbecoming” of a representative and voted unanimously to recommend his immediate suspension and expulsion from the House. 

Von Ehlinger said in his resignation letter, “I maintain my innocence of any wrongdoing of which I have been accused in this matter, let alone any violation of any law, rule, or policy of the state of Idaho or of this body.”

Representative Wendy Horman (R) said, “His behavior has poisoned the reputation of all of us and tarnished and discredited other elected officials who serve.”

Von Ehlinger was appointed to the Idaho House of Representatives to represent District 6A by Gov. Brad Little (R) on June 3, 2020.

If there is a vacancy in the Idaho State Legislature, the governor is responsible for appointing a replacement. The political party committee that last held the vacant seat has 15 days after the vacancy to submit a list of three recommended candidates to the governor, who selects from among those three.

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Former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan resigns

Illinois state Rep. Michael Madigan (D) announced on Feb. 18 that he would resign from the Illinois General Assembly. Madigan has been a member of the state House since 1971, representing District 22. 

“Fifty years ago, I decided to dedicate my life to public service,” Madigan said in a statement. “Simply put, I knew I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. I believed then and still do today that it is our duty as public servants to improve the lives of the most vulnerable and help hardworking people build a good life. These ideals have been the cornerstone of my work on behalf of the people of Illinois and the driving force throughout my time in the Illinois House.”

Madigan served as House speaker from 1983 until 1995, when the Republican Party gained control of the chamber, and again from 1997 to 2021. In 2017, Madigan became the longest-serving state House speaker in U.S. history. In 2021, he was not re-elected as speaker after Illinois utility company Commonwealth Edison admitted its involvement in an effort to influence Madigan to pass favorable legislation through offering jobs, contracts, and payments to his associates. Madigan was not charged with a crime and has denied any wrongdoing or knowledge of the scheme. Chris Welch (D) was elected to succeed Madigan as speaker on Jan. 13.

Vacancies in the Illinois General Assembly are filled by appointment by the party which last held the seat. Vacancies must be filled within 30 days by the respective party organizations covering the legislative district. As a member of the Cook County Democratic Party, Madigan has a role in choosing his successor.

The Illinois House of Representatives is the lower chamber of the Illinois General Assembly. With Madigan’s resignation, the partisan breakdown of the chamber will be 72 Democrats, 45 Republicans, and one vacancy. 

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Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson announces resignation

On Feb. 15, Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson announced her intention to resign, citing health and family reasons. Lawson said she will be leaving office as soon as a successor appointed by Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) is ready to take office.

“I have dedicated the last 32 years of my life to public service,” Lawson said in a statement. “I have served with all of my heart and soul. It has been an honor to serve, but it is time for me to step down. Like many Hoosiers, 2020 took a toll on me. I am resigning so I can focus on my health and my family. I will work with Governor Holcomb to ensure our next Secretary of State is up to the task and has the tools and resources to hit the ground running.”

Lawson was first appointed as secretary of state by Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) on March 16, 2012. She filled the vacancy created by the resignation of Charlie White after he was convicted of six felonies related to voter fraud. Lawson was re-elected in 2014 and 2018, defeating Democratic challengers Beth White and Jim Harper. She will resign before her term would have expired in January 2023. Her tenure of nearly nine years is the longest in the history of the office.

The Indiana secretary of state is one of five statewide, elected offices established by Indiana’s Constitution. They are responsible for maintaining state records, overseeing the state’s elections, and chartering new businesses, among other duties.

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Heather Steans resigns from Illinois State Senate

Sen. Heather Steans (D) resigned from the Illinois state Senate on Jan. 31. She represented District 7 from 2008 to 2021. 

Steans ran uncontested for re-election on Nov. 3, 2020. According to ABC 7, Steans said she was resigning because “it’s time for fresh faces and new energy…I’ve benefited tremendously from the many perspectives of the people I’ve represented. We’ve made great progress together, and now it’s time to pass the baton.”

If there is a vacancy in the Senate, the Illinois Constitution mandates that the seat must be filled by appointment within 30 days after the vacancy. If a vacancy by a member of the Senate has more than 28 months remaining in the term, the appointment is interim until the next general election and in this case, a special election must be held to fill the balance of the unserved term. All other Senate vacancies should be made by appointment with the person appointed being a member of the same political party that last held the seat. The vacancy must be filled by the respective party organizations covering the legislative district. 

As of Feb. 4, 2021, there have been 22 vacancies in 17 state legislatures this year. Four of those vacancies have been filled, with 18 vacancies remaining. Stean’s vacancy is one of ten Democratic vacancies that have occurred in 2021. So far, two vacancies have been filled by Republicans, while two have been filled by Democrats.  

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Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth to resign after error in constitutional amendment process

Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar (D) is expected to resign on February 5, 2021, after her office failed to advertise a constitutional amendment as the state constitution requires. Voters could have decided the constitutional amendment at the election on May 18, 2021, but the two-session process will need to restart. The earliest the amendment could be referred to the ballot is now May 16, 2023. 

The constitutional amendment would have created a two-year period in which persons can file civil suits arising from childhood sexual abuse that would otherwise be considered outside the statute of limitations. A 2018 grand jury report that investigated child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church recommended the two-year litigation window.

A constitutional amendment must be approved at two successive sessions of the Pennsylvania Legislature. During the 2019-2020 legislative session, both legislative chambers approved the amendment. It was reintroduced during the 2021-2022 session, and the state House re-approved it on January 27. 

The Pennsylvania Constitution (Section 1 of Article XI) required Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar (D) to publish the constitutional amendment in at least two newspapers in each of the state’s 67 counties during each of the three months before the general election following approval in the first legislative session (November 3, 2020). On February 1, 2021, the Pennsylvania Department of State announced that officials did not advertise the constitutional amendment as required. The department’s press released said, “While the department will take every step possible to expedite efforts to move this initiative forward, the failure to advertise the proposed constitutional amendment means the process to amend the constitution must now start from the beginning.” 

Gov. Tom Wolf (D), in announcing Boockvar’s resignation, said, “The delay caused by this human error will be heartbreaking for thousands of survivors of childhood sexual assault, advocates, and legislators, and I join the Department of State in apologizing to you. I share your anger and frustration that this happened, and I stand with you in your fight for justice.” State Rep. Jim Gregory (R-80), one of the amendment’s legislative cosponsors in 2019, responded, “The gravity of this ‘error’ is of the magnitude that the secretary’s resignation will not be enough for the victims. I do not want to believe that this is willful misconduct on the part of someone, but I will need to be shown that is not the case.”

Pennsylvania is not the only state to miss a constitutionally required advertisement period for a constitutional amendment in recent years. In 2019, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate (R) said that his office failed to report two constitutional amendments that the 86th Iowa General Assembly (2017-2018) approved in 2018. This meant those amendments couldn’t go on the 2020 ballot and the process had to start over. One of those amendments, a measure to add a right to firearms to the state constitution, was certified for the 2022 ballot on January 28.

Like the Pennsylvania Constitution, the Iowa Constitution required notifications of the constitutional amendments to be published at least three months before the general election following approval in the first legislative session. Unlike Pennsylvania, the Iowa Constitution doesn’t specify who needs to publish the amendment. Rather, it is set in statute. In response to the error, the Iowa Legislature passed a bill to make the state legislature, rather than the secretary of state, responsible for publishing proposed constitutional amendments passed in one legislative session.

Since the Pennsylvania Constitution specifically requires the secretary of the commonwealth to publish amendments, a constitutional amendment would be needed to pursue a similar policy change as Iowa.

Thirty-six state constitutions have a publication requirement for proposed constitutional amendments. Most require public notice prior to the election at which voters are to decide a constitutional amendment.

In six states (out of 13) with a two-session process for legislatively referred constitutional amendments, there are constitutionally mandated publication requirements in between approval in the first legislative session and the second legislative session. Those states are Iowa, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

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Longtime Maryland state Senator Miller resigns

Maryland State Senator Thomas Miller Jr. (D) resigned on Dec. 23 due to health reasons. He had announced in Jan. 2019 that he had been diagnosed with cancer.

Miller had represented District 27 since 1975. He served as Senate president for 33 years—from 1987 to 2020—the longest anyone has served as Maryland Senate president, according to The Washington Post. Prior to joining the state Senate, Miller served in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1971 to 1975.  

According to Maryland law, the governor has 30 days after the vacancy to make an appointment based on the recommendations of the political party committee that holds the vacant seat. The political party committee has up to 30 days after the vacancy to submit a list of recommended candidates to the governor. If the party committee fails to act within the 30-day deadline, the governor has 15 days to appoint a person from the political party that last held the seat.   

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Second school board member in Idaho resigns following recall effort

Philip Neuhoff resigned from his position as the Zone 4 representative on the West Ada School District board of trustees in Idaho on December 8, 2020, saying that other areas of his life needed his attention. Neuhoff is the second member of the board to resign since a recall petition was approved for circulation against all five members of the board. Former Zone 3 representative Steve Smylie resigned on October 27, saying, “When adults fight, children lose. I am proud of this district and I always will be, but no one was prepared for a pandemic, and it has turned into division.”

The recall paperwork was approved for circulation by the Ada County Clerk’s Office on October 14. Recall supporters said they were frustrated that the district had not developed a plan for students in sixth through twelfth grades to return to in-person learning full-time. The school district began the 2020-2021 school year with a week of online-only instruction in September in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. After that first week, the district allowed students in all grades to attend school in-person part-time. Elementary school students moved to full-time in-person instruction on a gradual basis.

Recall supporters have 75 days to collect signatures to recall Zone 1 representative Ed Klopfenstein, Zone 2 representative Amy Johnson, and Zone 5 representative Rene Ozuna. Approximately 1,487 signatures are needed to put a recall effort against Klopfenstein on the ballot. A total of 2,578 signatures are needed for a recall election against Johnson, and 1,403 are needed for a recall election against Ozuna. If enough signatures are submitted and verified, a recall election will be scheduled.

To remove the board members from office, the recall election must meet two thresholds:

  1. a majority of voters must cast ballots in favor of the recall
  2. the number of votes cast in favor of the recall must exceed the number of votes the board member received in his or her last election.

A 2016 recall effort in the school district removed two school board members from office, while another two resigned. Klopfenstein, Smylie, Ozuna, and Neuhoff were appointed to those vacant positions. All four were later re-elected to the board after running unopposed. Johnson was elected to the board in November 2019. She received 64.1% of the vote and defeated incumbent Mike Vuittonet.

Recall efforts against school board members started in three other school districts in Idaho in 2020. All of the efforts named their school board’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic as reasons for recall. Efforts in the Idaho Falls and Pocatello-Chubbuck school districts are still ongoing, while a recall effort against Aaron Proctor in the Whitepine School District went to the ballot on November 3. The recall election was approved with 57% of the vote, and Proctor was removed from office.

In 2019, Ballotpedia covered a total of 151 recall efforts against 230 elected officials. Of the 66 officials whose recalls made it to the ballot, 34 were recalled for a rate of 52%. That was lower than the 63% rate and 57% rate for 2018 and 2017 recalls, respectively.

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Ward resigns from Alabama state Senate

Alabama State Sen. Cam Ward (R) resigned Dec. 7 to become the director of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles. Ward was appointed to his new position by Gov. Kay Ivey (R) on Nov. 17. 

“It’s got to be the hardest job in state government,” Ward said in a phone interview. “They have a lot of issues going on. My number one issue is criminal justice reform.”

Ward’s successor in state Senate District 14 will be determined by a special election, which Ivey has set for July 13, 2021.

Ward served in the state Senate since 2010 and previously served in the state House from 2002 to 2010. He was most recently re-elected to another four-year term in 2018, defeating Democrat Jerry McDonald. This year, Ward unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the Alabama Supreme Court. Incumbent Greg Shaw defeated him in the Republican primary on March 3.

The Alabama State Senate is the upper chamber of the Alabama state legislature. With Ward’s resignation, the state Senate’s current partisan breakdown is 26 Republicans, seven Democrats, and two vacancies.

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John Nygren resigns from Wisconsin State Assembly

Rep. John Nygren (R) resigned from the Wisconsin State Assembly on Dec. 2 to pursue work in the private sector. He represented District 89 from 2007 to 2020. 

During the 2019-2020 legislative session, Nygren served on Employment Relations Committee, Joint Legislative Audit Committee, Joint Finance Committee, Joint Legislative Council Committee, Audit Committee, Employment Relations Committee, Finance Committee, and Substance Abuse and Prevention Committees. He was the co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee and chair of the Finance Committee. 

Nygren ran for re-election on Nov. 3 against Democratic candidate Karl Jaeger. Nygren was re-elected by a margin of 68.7% to 31.2%. Gov. Tony Evers (D) will call a special election to fill Nygren’s now-vacant seat. 

As of Dec. 8, there have been 121 state legislative vacancies in 40 states this year. Ninety-five of those vacancies have been filled, with 26 vacancies remaining. Nygren’s vacancy is one of 67 Republican vacancies to have occurred in 2020. So far, 48 vacancies have been filled by Republicans, while 47 have been filled by Democrats.  

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Rep. Tom Graves leaves Congress October 4

Georgia Rep. Tom Graves (R) resigned from Congress effective Sunday, Oct. 4. He announced his resignation on Sept. 11. Graves had previously announced on Dec. 5, 2019, that he would not seek re-election in 2020.

Graves issued the following statement via Twitter on Oct. 2: “Today I sent letters to Gov. Kemp & House officials to say I would be stepping down from Congress on Sunday, 10/4. It is time to begin the next season in life. I will be forever grateful for the incredible privilege of serving my country & community as a member of Congress.” Graves was first elected in 2010 in a special election.

Graves is one of 12 members of Congress to leave office early or announce resignation. Of these 12, nine are Republicans and three are Democrats. There are currently 232 Democrats, 197 Republicans, one Libertarian, and five vacancies in the U.S. House.

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