Tagstate houses

Alabama state Rep. Bill Poole resigns to become state finance director

Bill Poole (R) resigned from the Alabama House of Representatives on July 31 to accept a position as the director of the Alabama Department of Finance. Gov. Kay Ivey (R) appointed him to the position on July 16, effective Aug. 1, to replace Kelly Butler. Poole represented District 63 from 2010 to 2021. Poole was first elected to the state House on Nov. 2, 2010, and was most recently re-elected in 2018, winning 96.1% of the vote.

Vacancies in the Alabama legislature are filed by special election. If a vacancy occurs on or after Oct. 1 in the year of a regular election, the district will remain vacant until filled at the regular election. Otherwise, the governor must call for a special election if the vacancy happens before the next scheduled general election and the legislature is in session. 

As of Aug. 2, there have been 72 state legislative vacancies in 35 states this year. Fifty of those vacancies have been filled. Of the 72 vacancies, 38 were Republican and 34 were Democratic. Republicans have filled 27 vacancies, while Democrats have filled 23.

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Major party candidates selected in Pennsylvania House special election

Party executive committees for the Democratic Party and Republican Party in Lackawanna County have nominated candidates in the special election for District 113 of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Republicans nominated Dominick Manetti in an executive committee meeting on July 29. Thom Welby was nominated by the Democratic executive committee on July 1. The official filing deadline is September 13, and the special election is being held on Nov. 2. The winner of the special election will serve until November 2022.

The seat became vacant after Martin Flynn (D) won a special election for state Senate District 22 on May 18. Flynn had represented District 113 since 2012. He won re-election in 2020 with 68% of the vote.

Heading into the special election, Republicans have a 113-88 majority in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives with two vacancies. Pennsylvania has a divided government, and no political party holds a 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 July, 48 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. Pennsylvania held 44 state legislative special elections from 2011 to 2020.

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Voters to decide special Democratic primary in Ohio’s 11th Congressional District on Aug. 3

Thirteen candidates are running in the Aug. 3 special Democratic primary for Ohio’s 11th Congressional District. Former incumbent Marcia Fudge (D) vacated the seat to become secretary of housing and urban development in President Joe Biden’s (D) administration.

The Hill‘s Julia Manchester wrote that the race “has become a proxy battle for the Democratic Party establishment and national progressives,” referring to endorsements for candidates Shontel Brown and Nina Turner. Brown is on the Cuyahoga County Council. Turner is a former state senator and worked on Bernie Sanders’ 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns. 

Hillary Clinton, the Congressional Black Caucus PAC, and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) endorsed Brown. Sanders, the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) endorsed Turner. Ocasio-Cortez campaigned in Cleveland for Turner on July 24. Clyburn and Sanders are scheduled to campaign in the district for Brown and Turner, respectively, over the weekend.

Seth Richardson of Cleveland.com wrote that local endorsements don’t break down along the same dividing lines as national endorsements, citing in part Turner’s endorsements from local officials who supported Biden’s presidential primary campaign, including Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, and Brown’s share of endorsements from labor groups.

Both candidates say they have a record of delivering for the district and have the relationships needed to do so in the House. Brown emphasizes her relationship with Fudge and her support for the Biden administration. She said in a campaign ad, “For some, it’s about the limelight. For me, it’s about results.” Turner said at a debate that the district needs someone “who does have a vision, that understands being a partner does not mean being a puppet.”

Inside Elections rates the November general election Solid Democratic. 

Margo Davidson resigns from Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Margo Davidson (D) resigned from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on July 23 after state Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) filed criminal charges against Davidson on July 22. The charges included theft, solicitation to hinder apprehension, and election code violations. 

According to Politics PA, Shapiro’s office said Davidson allegedly “‘requested overnight expenses for nights she did not spend in Harrisburg and received personal reimbursements’ from the state ‘for expenses that had been paid for by her campaign,’ and that she’s also been charged for ‘failure to report campaign finance information, as well as soliciting a witness to lie during the course of the investigation.'”

In her resignation letter, Davidson said, “Today, I sadly announce my resignation and take legal responsibility for improper record keeping and reimbursement of expenses…I further take responsibility for and regret not fully participating with the investigation.” Her arraignment is scheduled for Sept. 10.

Davidson initially was elected to the state House in November 2010, defeating Maureen Carey (R), 54% to 46%. She was most recently re-elected in 2020 unopposed. 

If there is a vacancy in the Pennsylvania House, a special election must be held to fill the vacant district. As of July 26, there have been 67 state legislative vacancies across the United States this year. Of those 67, 37 are filled through special elections. 

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Oregon state Rep. Gary Leif dies

Oregon state Rep. Gary Leif (R) died on July 22, creating a vacancy in the state legislature.

County commissioners from Douglas, Jackson, and Josephine counties had originally appointed Leif to the legislature on April 30, 2018, replacing former Rep. Dallas Heard (R) upon Heard’s appointment to the Oregon Senate. Leif defeated Charles Lee (D) to win re-election to the state House in 2020, 72% to 28%. Before his appointment to the legislature, Leif served as a county commissioner in Douglas County.  

If there is a vacancy in the Oregon House, the board of county commissioners representing the vacant district must select a replacement. The board must consider three candidates who are members of the party that last controlled the district and must select a replacement within 30 days. The new representative will serve the remainder of Leif’s term, which expires in January 2023.

As of July 26, three vacancies have occurred in the Oregon House during 2021. On a national level, there have been 67 state legislative vacancies in 35 states this year. Forty-seven of those vacancies have been filled.

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Kentucky state Rep. John “Bam” Carney dies

Kentucky state Rep. John “Bam” Carney (R) died while in office on July 17, 2021, due to long-term health issues. 

Carney was first elected to represent House District 51 in 2008. He most recently won re-election in 2020, defeating Richard Steele (D) 78.6% to 21.4%. He was elected as state House majority leader in 2018 and served in that role until January 2020, when House Republicans named Rep. Steven Rudy (R) to serve as acting majority leader while Carney was ill. 

Carney was admitted to the ICU with pancreatitis in December 2019. He had spent the past year and a half in hospitals and was diagnosed with pneumonia in June 2021. He died on July 17 at age 51.

“Our hearts are broken at the loss of our friend and brother, Bam Carney. Bam was a passionate educator, an outstanding legislator, and a tremendous leader for our Commonwealth,” House Speaker David Osborne (R) said in a statement. 

Carney is the second member of the Kentucky legislature to die this month; former state Senator Tom Buford (R) died on July 6.

When a vacancy occurs in the Kentucky General Assembly, a special election must be held to fill the vacant seat. The governor must call for an election if the General Assembly is not in session. If lawmakers are in session, the presiding officer in the house where the vacancy happened calls for the election. The person elected to the seat serves for the remainder of the unexpired term. Carney’s term was set to expire on December 31, 2022.

Kentucky is one of 25 states to fill state legislative vacancies through special elections.

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Republican William Penterman wins Wisconsin Assembly special election

William Penterman (R) was elected to District 37 of the Wisconsin State Assembly in a special election held on July 13. Penterman earned 54.1% of the vote, defeating Democrat Pete Adams and independent candidate Stephen Ratzlaff Jr. Once the results are certified, Penterman will be sworn in for a term that ends in January 2023.

The seat became vacant on April 23 after John Jagler (R) was sworn into the Wisconsin State Senate. He won a special election for state Senate District 13 on April 6. Jagler had represented District 37 since 2013. He won re-election in 2020 with 56% of the vote.

Republicans will have a 61-38 majority in the Wisconsin Assembly after Penterman is sworn in. Wisconsin has a divided government, and no political party holds a 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 July, 46 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. Wisconsin held 19 state legislative special elections from 2011 to 2020.

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Texas House speaker removes Democrat who left state from leadership position

Texas House of Representatives Speaker Dade Phelan (R) announced the removal of Joseph Moody (D) from Moody’s position as speaker pro tem of the chamber on July 15. The speaker pro tem performs the duties of the speaker in his or her absence. Moody had served in the position for two sessions. Moody was one of the Democratic legislators who left the state earlier in the week causing the chamber to no longer have a quorum.

On July 12, enough members of the chamber’s Democratic caucus left the state during consideration of House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 1 to break quorum. The bills being considered were packages of voting-related legislation. Democratic legislators also walked out over similar legislation ahead of the close of the regular session on May 30, causing Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to call a special session for reconsideration.

Phelan did not issue a statement but said the removal was effective immediately. Moody issued the following statement: “The most important titles in my life will never change: Dad, Husband, El Pasoan. Nothing political has ever even cracked the top three, so nothing has changed about who I am or what my values are.”

The Texas Tribune said Moody was “one of Phelan’s top allies in the Democratic Party,” citing their work together on bills relating to the state’s criminal justice system.

Democratic state representatives in Texas leave state ahead of expected vote on voting-related legislation

On July 12, 2021, at least 51 of the 67 Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives (the number needed to break quorum) left the state for Washington D.C. ahead of expected votes on House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 1. The bills being considered are voting-related legislation including provisions related to early voting, elections officers, voter registration, and voting systems. At 10 a.m. on Tuesday, July 13, the House conducted a test vote that 80 of the 150 House members participated in, four of whom were Democrats.

Texas House Democratic Caucus Chairman Chris Turner, Mexican American Legislative Caucus Chairman Rafael Anchía (D), Texas Legislative Black Caucus Chairwoman Nicole Collier (D), Legislative Study Group Caucus Chairman Garnet Coleman (D), and Dean Senfronia Thompson (D) released a joint statement on the decision to break quorum and go to Washington D.C. saying, “Today, Texas House Democrats stand united in our decision to break quorum and refuse to let the Republican-led legislature force through dangerous legislation that would trample on Texans’ freedom to vote. We are now taking the fight to our nation’s Capitol. We are living on borrowed time in Texas. We need Congress to act now to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to protect Texans — and all Americans — from the Trump Republicans’ nationwide war on democracy.”

Governor Greg Abbott (R) responded to the walkout saying in a statement, “Texas Democrats’ decision to break a quorum of the Texas Legislature and abandon the Texas State Capitol inflicts harm on the very Texans who elected them to serve,” and that, “the Democrats must put aside partisan political games and get back to the job they were elected to do. Their constituents must not be denied these important resources simply because their elected representative refused to show up to work.”

The Texas House of Representatives requires that two-thirds of the body be present for a quorum. Democrats control 67 of the 150 House seats. This is the second walkout House Democrats have held in 2021; the first took place on May 30, when all 67 members of the Democratic caucus left the chamber during consideration of another package of voting-related legislation, Senate Bill 7. Legislators left the chamber around 10:30 p.m., leaving it without a quorum ahead of a midnight deadline for passing legislation for the session. The walkout came following a meeting between the Democratic caucus and Speaker Dade Phelan (R). Following the closure of the regular session, Gov. Abbott called a special session beginning on July 8 and lasting for up to 30 days, to take up the legislation again.

The last time there was a walkout of the Texas legislature before 2021 was in 2003 when 11 Democratic members of the Texas State Senate and 51 Democratic members of the Texas House of Representatives did not come to a scheduled legislative session to prevent the passage of a redistricting plan they claimed would have benefited Republicans. That walkout lasted for 43 days and ended when state Sen. John Whitmire (D) returned to the chamber and a quorum was reached.

There have been six other noteworthy legislative walkouts since 2000 (noteworthy walkouts are those where legislators left the state for at least a week or received significant national media attention). Four of the walkouts occurred in Oregon (2021, 2020, 2019, and 2001); one in Indiana (2011), and one in Wisconsin (2011).

The Oregon walkouts focused on proposals related to COVID-19 (2021), a bill to cap greenhouse gas emissions (2020), a cap-and-trade bill (2019), and a Congressional redistricting plan (2001). Three were conducted by Republican state senators (2021, 2020, 2019), and one by Democratic state representatives (2001). The walkouts were resolved by killing the contested legislation in 2020, 2019, and 2001; and by legislators returning to the chamber in 2021.

In 2011, walkouts over right-to-work legislation occurred in Indiana and Wisconsin. The Indiana walkout included 37 Democratic members of the House who did not attend a scheduled legislative session to prevent passage of the legislation, and ended after six weeks when the legislation was killed. The Wisconsin walkout involved 14 Democratic members of the Wisconsin State Senate who did not come to a scheduled legislative session to prevent passage of the legislation and ended after five weeks when Republicans removed fiscal provisions from the right-to-work legislation, lowering the quorum required to hold a vote. The Democrats returned three days after the legislation passed.

Noteworthy state legislative walkouts 

Click here to read House Bill 3.

Click here to read Senate Bill 1.

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