Legislative Update: AZ, CO, NM, & UT

Arizona

Gov. Ducey Names Kyl as McCain Successor

After the passing of Sen. John McCain, Gov. Doug Ducey has appointed former Sen. Jon Kyl to serve out the remainder of the late senator’s six-year term. Ducey commented at the press conference announcing his selection that “now is not the time for newcomers and not the time for on-the-job training.” Further that Kyl is a “beacon of integrity, highly regarded by people on both sides of the aisle and able to work across party lines to get results.”

Kyl, a Republican, has indicated that he is willing to serve until the end of the year, but would not comment on any timeframe afterward. If Kyl steps down at the end of the session, the governor would be required to appoint another replacement.

Court Removes Education Funding Measure from November Ballot

The Arizona Supreme Court struck down and removed Proposition 207 which would have increased income taxes for individuals making more than $150,000 finding that the description of the tax was not clear. Opponents of Prop. 207 claimed that the use of a “percentage” rather than “percentage points” increase was deceptive illustrating that the tax rate would have been increased by 76 and 98 percent increase rather than 3.46 and 4.46 percent increase. The Court found that the language “creates a significant danger of confusion or unfairness.”

Proponents of Prop. 207 claim the measure was the work of thousands of volunteers, which had the backing of the Arizona Education Association, and the state’s teachers union, now emphasize the importance of electing officials that support public education.

The intent of Prop. 207 was to increase education funding for public and charter schools in response to the years of cuts experienced since the recession. The measure could have brought in an additional $690 million to help restore the $1 billion in cuts to education by the legislature.


Colorado

Redistricting Measure on November Ballot

Colorado is taking its political boundary matters to the voters this November. Constitutional amendments Y and Z changes the way the state’s political boundaries are drawn for both the statehouse and Congress. Currently, the controlling political party at the General Assembly has much of the power to draw districts. If approved, those duties go to an independent commission.

The most controversial ballot measure would prohibit oil and gas drilling within 2,500 feet of home and schools. If approved, the proposed setback would all but ban drilling in the state which is one of the state’s largest economic drivers. Both gubernatorial candidates have voiced opposition to the initiative claiming that it goes too far. The oil and gas industry is expected to spend millions of dollars to defeat the measure which is being proposed by environmentalists.


New Mexico

Groundbreaking Lawsuit Finds New Mexico Education System Unconstitutional

First Judicial District Judge Sarah Singleton has ruled in the Yazzie v. New Mexico class action lawsuit filed in March 2014 that the state’s public education system is a “dismal failure” and violates students’ constitutional rights to a sufficient education. Plaintiffs argued that funds are distributed in arbitrary and inequitable ways that leave at-risk students without a basic education to go to college or pursue a career.

Lead Plaintiff Wilhelmina Yazzie provided examples of the inadequate funding in the Gallup-McKinley County Schools which included teachers requesting parents to donate old socks to be used to clean dry-erase boards, and an insufficient supply of textbooks for students. The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that the school district did not respond to Yazzie’s complaints for years. “All we’ve heard is ‘Sorry we can’t do that, or sorry we don’t have that, or sorry we can’t give that to your children. But it’s not a good enough excuse,” Yazzie said.

Judge Singleton ruled that the state is responsible for assuring that students receive an adequate education.


Utah

Ballot Measures Include Medical Marijuana Initiative

Utah is another state where voters will be deciding the future of the medicinal use of marijuana on the November ballot. If approved, Proposition 2 the Utah Medical Cannabis Act will allow patients, on the recommendation of a physician, obtain a medical marijuana card and to buy cannabis products from private run dispensaries sanctioned by the state. A recent poll in June indicates that 66% of voters are in favor of approving the Utah Medical Cannabis Act.

Proposition 3 asks voters to fully expand Medicaid to provide health-care coverage to 150,000 lower income Utahns. The state currently has a Medicaid waiver before the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that partially expands Medicaid while imposing work requirements on recipients. If approved, Prop. 3 will bypass the waiver process to fully expand Medicaid under the terms of the Affordable Care Act. The initiative proposes to combine $90 in state funding through a 0.15% sales tax increase of approximately $800 million in federal Medicaid funding.

Proposition 4 will create an independent, unelected redistricting commission to recommend electoral maps which then must be approved or discarded by the Legislature without amendment. Better Boundaries, the proponent of Prop. 4, said the initiative is meant to fix a broken redistricting process. “There’s an inherent conflict of interest when legislators draw their own electoral boundaries, as they have the power to choose their voters instead of voters choosing their representatives.” Opponents of the initiative claim the initiative is unconstitutional by interfering in the Legislature’s redistricting process.

Pressley Beats Veteran Capuano in Mass. Primary

Ayanna Pressley, a Boston councilwoman, defeated veteran Congressman Mike Capuano in the House Democratic primary for the 7th district in Massachusetts, AP projected, positioning Pressley to become the first black woman to serve the state in Congress.

In a race that reflected the party’s power struggle between older, white incumbents and younger, more diverse candidates, Pressley garnered 58.9% of the vote while Capuano gained 41.1%, AP reported, with 99% of precincts reporting. Pressley is backed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who defeated incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley in an N.Y. Democratic primary earlier this year.

Capuano, a 20-year House veteran, earlier conceded defeat to Pressley before AP projected the result. With no Republican running for the reliably Democratic seat, Pressley’s way is cleared for a term in office. The 7th district is overwhelmingly Democratic and takes in parts of Boston, Cambridge and Milton, plus all of Chelsea, Everett, Randolph as well as Capuano’s hometown of Somerville. It’s the state’s most racially and ethnically diverse district.

Elsewhere in Massachusetts, Geoff Diehl won the GOP Senate primary to face incumbent Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who was unopposed in her primary. Diehl, a state rep and eagle scout who served as President Trump’s Massachusetts campaign co-chair in 2016, beat rivals Beth Lindstrom, a former state consumer affairs director, and John Kingston, a former vice chairman and general counsel for Affiliated Managers Group. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the Senate seat “Solid Democrat.”

Here are other noteworthy results from Tuesday night:

  • MA-GOV: Jay Gonzalez won the Democratic primary for Governor and will face GOP incumbent Charlie Baker in the Nov. elections
  • MA-08: Incumbent Stephen Lynch won the 8th district Democratic House primary, beating challengers Brianna Wu and Christopher Voehl. No Republican is running for the seat

Primary Recap: Vermont, Wisconsin, Connecticut and Minnesota

By Peter Brath

Four states held primaries Tuesday—Vermont, Wisconsin, Connecticut and Minnesota

Wisconsin

Governor Scott Walker defeated his primary challenger with more than 90 percent of the vote. However, he may be in trouble come November. The Democratic nominee, state superintendent Tony Evers, led Walker by 13 points in a recent poll.

Evers emerged from a crowded primary with 41.7 percent of the vote, enough to beat nine opponents. Mahlon Mitchell, president of the professional fire fighters of Wisconsin, received 16.4 percent of the vote. Assemblywoman Kelda Roys picked up 12.8 percent in rural counties in the western part of the state. No other candidate received more than 10 percent of the vote.

Democratic candidates stressed the importance of beating Walker, and tried to paint themselves as the best-equipped to do so. Evers pointed to previous statewide victories for Superintendent and his experience in education, while receiving endorsements from many local politicians. Mitchell emphasized labor policy and was endorsed by the AFL-CIO and other unions. He was also endorsed by U.S Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). Roys, meanwhile, branded herself as the progressive candidate and pointed to her previous experience in politics. Her endorsements include EMILY’s List, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), among others.

The race for governor should be a close one this fall. The state has had a Republican trifecta since 2011 and voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election after not voting for a Republican candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1984. However, Democrats are energized in a state that usually has competitive elections. Taking these factors into account, both the Cook Political Report and Inside Elections rate this race as “Lean Republican.”

Minnesota

Democratic Governor Mark Dayton is retiring, and though the state has not voted Republican in a presidential election since Richard Nixon’s landslide victory in 1972, state politics have been more competitive, and are trending more Republican.

U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, state Representative Erin Murphy, and state Attorney General Lori Swanson battled for the Democratic nomination. Swanson had been leading, but Walz won with 41.6 percent, carrying much of the southern and central parts of the state. Murphy was polling in third behind Walz and Swanson, but managed to place second with 32 percent of the vote. Swanson picked up 24.5 percent. Allegations that Swanson used employees from the Attorney General’s office to do campaign work likely hurt her.

Walz is a moderate candidate with an “A” rating from the NRA, something he will have to face when trying to convince Democrats to vote for him in November. However, his centrist policies could become a big asset in a state that’s trending purple.

In the Republican primary, former Governor Tim Pawlenty was defeated by former state Representative Jeff Johnson for the Republican party nomination. Pawlenty had a sizable lead coming into the primary, as well as more campaign cash than Johnson. However, Johnson pulled off a big upset Tuesday night, beating Pawlenty 52.6 to 43.9 percent. If they can hold on to the majority in the state legislature, Republicans have an opportunity for a unified state government for the first time in 50 years.

Pawlenty focused largely on education, healthcare, and lowering taxes for the middle class in his primary campaign, but also took hard stances on illegal immigration and welfare fraud. He also earned an endorsement from head of the Minneapolis Police Union, Lieutenant Bob Kroll. Johnson branded himself as the more Trump-like candidate and received an early endorsement from Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

The Cook Political Report has given this race a “toss-up” rating while Inside Elections says it leans Democratic.

Connecticut

The deeply unpopular Democratic Governor Daniel Malloy, who has a 21-percent approval rating, is stepping down after two terms in office. Although Connecticut is a blue state, this gubernatorial election is on the GOP radar. Moreover, Republicans controlled the governor’s seat for 15 years before Malloy was inaugurated in 2011.

Of the five GOP candidates, none cracked 30 percent or sank into the single digits. Businessman and former Democrat Bob Stefanowski came out with 29.4 percent. Mark Bougton, Danbury Mayor, earned the state party’s endorsement and came in second with 21.3 percent, while former hedge fund manager David Stemerman picked up 18.3 percent of the vote, good enough for third. Trumbull Town First Selectman Tim Herbst and tech entrepreneur Steve Obsitnik finished fourth and fifth, with 17.6 and 13.4 percent, respectively.

Stefanowski has argued that Connecticut should do away with their state income tax. He’s also stressed his political network, and once called Democratic candidate Ned Lamont a plutocrat.

On the Democratic side, Lamont, a businessman and previous gubernatorial candidate, crushed mayor of Bridgeport Joseph Ganim with 81.2 percent of the vote. Lamont focused on economic messages and advocated for a $15 minimum wage, in addition to paid family and medical leave. Lamont also supported greater firearm restrictions, including a ban on the sale of high-capacity magazines, mandated registration of all existing assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, and background checks on fall firearm sales.

The Cook Political Report says this race is a toss-up while Inside Elections says it leans Democratic.

Vermont

Republican Governor Phil Scott fended off primary challenger and small business owner Keith Stern, winning 67.5 to 32.5 percent. Scott was first elected in 2016, but is up for reelection again because Vermont elect’s governors every two years.

Scott has taken major criticism for increasing gun control in the state. After raising the age limit to buy guns to 21, strengthening background checks, banning bump stocks, and putting limits on magazines, he has run into significant opposition in the gun-loving state. Despite the blowback, he’s done well against potential opponents.

Meanwhile, the Democrats have a chance to make history. Vermont Electric Cooperative CEO Christine Hallquist could become the first transgender woman to win a statewide election. She beat Navy veteran James Ehlers 48.3 to 22.1 percent.

Now, Hallquist will have to run against the governor she voted for in 2016, and will be running on a progressive platform. She supports raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, hopes to develop a plan to deliver better broadband to rural areas, and is in favor of universal healthcare.

Despite Scott’s low approval ratings, both the Cook Political Report and Inside Elections say this race is Solid Republican.

Kansas Update:

After a week of uncertainty, Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer conceded to Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who will now serve as the GOP gubernatorial candidate in November. Kobach was leading by more than 300 votes when Colyer decided to throw in the towel. Kobach is a close ally of Trump’s and headed the President’s voter fraud commission. He will face Democratic nominee Laura Kelly.

Hawaii Gubernatorial Primary Recap

By Peter Brath

Incumbent Governor David Ige defeated U.S. Representative Colleen Hanabusa in Hawaii’s Democratic primary for governor on Saturday. Ige will now face Republican state House Minority Leader Andria Tupola, a race he’ll likely win.

Ige received 51.4 percent of the vote and won Oahu, the archipelago’s most populous island and home of Honolulu. Hanabusa, who resigned from her congressional seat to run for governor, received 44.4 percent of the vote and won the island of Hawaii, the largest in the archipelago. Ige suffered in earlier polls due to his mishandling of the false ballistic missile alarm earlier this year. The governor claimed he was unable to relay the information that it was a false alarm because he forgot his Twitter password. However, more recent polls had him ahead by margins similar to what he won with on Saturday. Some have credited his quick response to the Kilauea volcano eruption that occurred in May as a catalyst for his resurgence.

Under Ige, the state approved a policy that would transition all electricity produced in Hawaii to renewable energy sources and a commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement. Ige has been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump, especially in regards to the travel ban and his repeal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). He also made early moves to tackle the homeless crisis by building and renovating state housing facilities.

Tupola won the GOP primary with a much larger margin, defeating former State Rep. and Senator John Carroll 55.5 to 35.2 percent. She will face steep odds in her attempt to become the second Republican governor in state history and break up the Democratic trifecta that’s held for eight years. Throughout the primary, Tupola stressed her community involvement and criticized Ige as being unresponsive to systemic problems, such as high living costs, a bad business environment and the homeless epidemic, among others.

Ige brought in over 124,000 votes, four times the 31,000 total votes cast for all three Republican candidates, and should have no problem winning in the general election. Both The Cook Political Report and Inside Elections have labeled this race as “Solid Democrat.”

Legislative Update: AZ, CO, NM, & UT

Arizona

McCain passes the torch of International Republican Institute

Sen. John McCain has resigned as the Chairman of the International Republican Institute, a position he has held since 1993. In his stead, Alaskan Senator Dan Sullivan will serve as McCain’s replacement. McCain intends to continue as a board member of the International Republican Institute.

The non-profit International Republican Institute works to support and strengthen “democracy in places where it is absent.”

In a letter to the board, McCain said that “Serving as Chairman has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my life.”


Colorado

Opposing Protests Make Effort to Listen to Other Side

A recent protest brought opposing positions on gun rights to the state capitol where the two groups were ready to voice their point of view. On one side of the street was a gathering of people expressing their support of the Second Amendment. The other side of the street were proponents of gun control to make sure people are safe from mass shootings.

Although the viewpoints of these groups differ, people tried to have civil discussions about the different points of view. The state capitol site was not chosen by coincidence, but the opposing groups were hoping to set an example for the people who work inside the state capitol building. Participants said that “change cannot happen on one side of the aisle.” And that legislators must “make sure that when you are making law that they represent all of the people of your state, all of the people of your area.”


New Mexico

Local Election Act Voter Impact

A substantial rewrite of New Mexico’s election law is beginning to have its impacts felt by voters, school board and town councils. The Act requires most nonpartisan local elections to be combined into one larger election on one ballot. Backers hope this will increase the number of voters who participate. Additionally, the Act requires that governments that conduct special elections, such as for bonds and tax proposals, all be conducted by mail.

There are three major implications of how the Local Election Act changes the way people vote:

  1. Fewer elections. Many school boards, town councils, and water conservation district boards all have varying election dates. The new Act will combine all these various elections onto one ballot to take place on regularly scheduled “Election Day.” One downside will be longer ballots, and that cities were not included in the Act, thus, allowing them to continue to conduct elections on different dates.
  2. Ballots will be sent in the mail. The Act specifies that all special elections will be conducted entirely by mail. A voter will receive a ballot in the mail, make their selection, and return it in the mail. Postage will already be covered. Proponents hope this will increase voter participation. Voter fraud is a heightened concern of the mail ballot objectors.
  3. Cities could adopt ranked-choice voting. Some cities have already implemented a ranked-choice system of voting – voters rate multiple candidates rather than just choosing one.

Utah

Mining Claims Questioned as Litigation Continues

Senate Democrats are demanding that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke explain how a Canadian mining company secured mining claims inside the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument when litigation is still ongoing. The litigation challenges President Trump’s authority to decrease the size of the National Monument. The lawsuits filed by environmental and wildlife groups contend that President Trump cannot reduce the monuments under a 112-year-old law.

Senator Tom Udall and 22 fellow Democrats believe President Trump’s proclamation is invalid and that any mining claims with the National monument are “illegal.”  Glacier Lake Resources, based in Canada, purchased mining rights within an area previous protected by the national monument status. Company president, Say Dhillon said in a statement that “surface exploration work will start this summer on the Colt Mesa property and drill permitting will be initiated shortly.

The Bureau of Land Management has not yet approved any new mining in the area.

August 7 Gubernatorial Primary Recap

August 7 saw primary elections in 4 states and a very tight special election in Ohio. Voters in Michigan and Kansas chose their parties’ nominees for governor, and Missourians picked their choices for what will be one of the most closely watched Senate races this fall.

Michigan
With Republican Governor Rick Snyder retiring, Michigan’s top elected office is up for grabs. Snyder has suffered mightily in approval due to the Flint water crisis, and President Trump’s approval ratings are also low in the Wolverine State. The state, which Donald Trump won in an upset victory in 2016, is still expected to be an interesting battleground site this fall.

There are a few precincts left to report, but former State Senator Gretchen Whitmer beat businessman Shri Thanedar and progressive favorite, Abdul El-Sayed. Whitmer carried 52.1% of the vote and every county, while El-Sayed took 30.3% of the vote and Thanedar, coming in last, took 17.6% of the vote. Now, Whitmer will look to break up the Republican trifecta that has lasted since Republicans won back the House and Governorship in 2010.

El-Sayed was endorsed by Senator Bernie Sanders and New York Congressional District candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Whitmer, meanwhile, brought in endorsements from a number of local politicians and unions, in addition to EMILY’s List, a PAC dedicated to electing Democratic women who support abortion rights.

Attorney General Bill Schuette emerged from Tuesday’s race victorious, garnering 50.8% of the vote against Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley, State Senator Patrick Colbeck, and doctor Jim Hines. Calley, who was endorsed by Snyder, mustered only 25.2% of the vote and 3 counties in south-central Michigan. Colbeck received 13.1% and Hines received 11%.

Schuette received endorsements from Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Calley received mainly local endorsements and Colbeck received an endorsement from Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Calley denounced Trump following the release of the Access Hollywood tapes and Schuette took advantage of that, branding himself as someone who will support the President’s agenda.

The Cook Political Report has given this race a Toss-up rating while Inside Elections gives it a Tilt Democratic rating.

Kansas
After then-Governor Sam Brownback was narrowly confirmed to be the ambassador at large for international religious freedom in January, current Governor Jeff Colyer was tapped to take his place. Now, the incumbent Governor is currently losing by 191 votes to Secretary of State Kris Kobach in a contest that is too close to call. Over the next several days, mail-in ballots will be counted and there is a possibility there will be a recount. As it stands, Kobach has 126,257 votes for 40.6% of the total ballots counted, while Colyer has 126,066 for 40.5% of the total. Support for the candidates was spread out across the state, with each candidate winning similar amounts of counties.The only other candidate to win a county was 4th place finisher and Kansas Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer. No candidate other than the front-runners garnered over 10% of the vote.

Kobach, who also headed President Trump’s voter fraud panel, was endorsed by the President on Monday in a last-minute show of support for the controversial candidate. This was a major blow to Colyer, as the two candidates spent much of the race trying to prove they were more in-line with Trump than the other. Kobach was also endorsed by Gun Owners of America. Colyer received endorsements from the National Rifle Association and former US Senate Majority Leader and former Presidential Candidate Bob Dole. Both were endorsed by pro-life group Kansas for Life.

The Democrats chose their nominee without much drama. State Senator Laura Kelly brought in 51.5 % of the vote and cruised to victory over former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and former Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Joshua Svaty, who took 20.1% and 17.5% of the vote, respectively. Kelly received broad support, while Brewer received most of this support from the Wichita area. Svaty won a number of counties in the north, but these were sparsely populated and a few saw less than 100 ballots cast.

Kelly ran heavily on education and ethics reform in the state, including adding a requirement that anyone in the state who lobbies the executive branch must register as a lobbyist, rather than just those who lobby the legislature or government agencies.
The Cook Political Report and Inside elections both give this race a Likely Republican rating.

Tennessee Gubernatorial Primary Recap

Republican Bill Lee and Democrat Karl Dean won their respective party nominations for governor Thursday night and will face off in November’s general election.

Lee, a Nashville-area businessman, was a dark horse candidate when the first polls emerged earlier this year. However, with nearly 37 percent of the vote, he defeated fellow businessman Randy Boyd and Rep. Diane Black, a central Tennessee congresswoman who had received endorsements from Vice President Mike Pence and the National Rifle Association. Meanwhile, Boyd had support from former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and every major Republican mayor in the state. While Lee lacked the high profile endorsements, he embarked on a statewide campaign that saw him visit 95 counties in 95 days where he spoke at 100 town halls.

On the Democratic side, Dean, the former mayor of Nashville, took more than 75 percent of the party vote, defeating Tennessee House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, who had nearly 20 percent. Dean out-raised Fitzhugh 15-to-1 and spent four times as much throughout the race.

In the primary for U.S. Senate, former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen and Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn will square off for the open seat vacated by Republican Bob Corker. Both Blackburn and Bredesen easily clinched their party’s nomination Thursday night.

Tennessee, which went heavily for Donald Trump in 2016, has not had more than two consecutive terms of one party’s control of the governorship since Republican Winfield Dunn broke a Democratic streak that had lasted from 1923 until 1971.

The Cook Political Report and Inside Elections have both given this race a “Likely Republican” rating. Meanwhile, both publications have categorized the senate race as “Lean Republican.”