2013 State Executive Awards
By Greg Janetka
It is with great pride and pleasure that we give to you the first annual state executive official awards! These 11 categories give a snapshot of some of the biggest stories of the year related to the top echelons of state government.Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction. And yet, not many people seemed to notice it was even happening. As Jonathan Nathan wrote in an article on Blue the Nation, "by and large, nobody did notice. I certainly didn’t. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction, much less an election to decide the officeholder in 2013."
While officially a nonpartisan position, the race pitted progressive incumbent Tony Evers against Republican Assemblyman Don Pridemore in what was essentially a battle over Gov. Scott Walker's education proposals. Pridemore supported Walker's plan to expand the use of vouchers in the state while not increasing public school spending. Meanwhile Evers, who was first elected in 2009, opposed both measures and wants to increase spending by $225 per student. Regarding school safety, Pridemore proposed allowing schools to have armed volunteers to provide security, which Evers said risks turning schools into the "wild west."Governor of Virginia often saw issues take a backseat to controversies and mudslinging. It didn't help that the race was to replace Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), who spent most of the year under a microscope for a gifts and loan scandal revolving around the dietary supplement maker Star Scientific.
In an example of just how alienated the candidates became from voters, The Daily Show compared the choice between businessman Terry McAuliffe (D) and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to that of a heart attack and cancer.
Like McDonnell, Cuccinelli's controversies centered around his acceptance of $18,893 in gifts between 2009 and 2012 from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams - something McAuliffe's campaign jumped on. While Bob McDonnell worked to return all of his received gifts totaling $125,000, Cuccinelli stated the type of gifts he received could not be returned - these included Thanksgiving dinner, flights, and vacations. Cuccinelli neglected to report some of the gifts, including the stays at Williams' house. He maintained that he had forgotten to include them and reported them as soon as an aide on his staff reminded him.
Meanwhile, Cucinelli attacked McAuliffe for his involvement with GreenTech Automotice, which came under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. McAuliffe resigned as chairman of the company in December 2012, but remained a major shareholder. The investigation had to do with a federal program which allows foreigners to receive permanent residency if they contribute at least $500,000 toward projects to create jobs within the U.S. Subsequently, $25 million in Chinese investments came to GreenTech by way of 50 greencards. In an effort to move the process along more quickly, McAuliffe started setting up meetings with officials in higher offices. McAuliffe wanted Greentech's appearance on his resume to endorse him as a jobs creator for the 2013 election, but instead the story has kept him in the controversial lime light.Attorney General of Virginia gets the award for closest race. Unofficial results on election night showed Mark Obenshain (R) leading Mark Herring (D) by less than 1,000 votes out of nearly 2.2 million cast. A week later, by the midnight deadline for local election boards to submit results to the state, Herring had taken the lead by an unofficial 164 votes. The State Board of Elections certified the results on November 25, 2013, announcing Herring had won by 165 votes.
Since the margin was equal to or less than 0.5 percent of the total vote, Obenshain was allowed to request a public-financed recount, which he did on November 27. As ballots were recounted Herring increased his lead, finally leading Obenshain to concede defeat on December 18. His victory secured the Democratic sweep of Virginia statewide races this year.
Most turnover in one office: Oklahoma Secretary of State
The appointment, however, turned out to be much shorter than Pence had wanted - less than four months later, Sawyer sent shock-waves through Indiana's political ranks when he announced his resignation, effective December 15. Sawyer cited family reasons in the letter of resignation he tendered to Gov. Pence on November 25.
Office that remained vacant the longest: Delaware Public Service Commission
The commission is currently served by four part time commissioners. The Governor of Delaware has not nominated anyone for the position, and state law requires that the open position be filled by someone who lives in the City of Wilmington. Department of state employee Matthew R. Hartigan assured that to date, the lack of a fifth commissioner has not caused any issues regarding Commission business.
Shortest lived Gov./Lt Gov ticket: FitzGerald/Kearney in Ohio
Soon after his selection, it came to light that Kearney, his wife, and the company they owned owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid federal and state taxes. The campaign tried to play down the story but more details came to light, showing the amount the Kearneys owed creeping close to $1 million. Finally, Kearney withdrew from the race on December 10. FitzGerald has not named a new running mate, saying he might do so by the end of the month or in early January.
Boldest ultimatum: Gov. Quinn refuses to pay lawmakers
On July 30, Speaker of the House Michael Madigan (D) and President of the Senate John Cullerton responded by filing a lawsuit against the governor, arguing the denial of pay was unconstitutional as it undermines the separation of powers. Ultimately, on September 26, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Neil Cohen ruled that Quinn must reinstate lawmakers' pay immediately. The judge declared Quinn's act of withholding paychecks as unconstitutional. The Legislature passed a pension deal and Quinn signed it on December 5. Many, especially labor unions, are unhappy with it and have threatened to sue.
Most anticlimactic party switch: Lincoln Chafee
With poll numbers showing his potential re-election in jeopardy, as well as his affinity for President and former Senate colleague Barack Obama, Chafee made his second party switch, formally joining the Democratic Party on May 30 of this year. Thus, Chafee was expected to seek re-election on the Democratic ticket in 2014, but announced on September 4 that he would not seek a second term.
Office with the biggest mess to clean up: Utah Attorney General
The real trouble for Swallow began soon after he took office when businessman Jeremy Johnson accused Swallow of being involved in a plan to bribe Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to make a federal investigation into Johnson's Internet marketing company disappear. That was followed by multiple complaints against Swallow filed with the Utah State Bar as well as a petition filed with the lieutenant governor's office alleging election law violations. Numerous officials of both parties asked him to resign, which he refused, leading the Utah House of Representatives to begin proceedings to investigate Swallow and consider the possibility of impeachment.
Throughout everything, Swallow maintained his innocence, but ultimately resigned effective December 3. Adding one final controversy to his tenure, by waiting until December to leave office Swallow became eligible for an annual yearly pension of approximately $12,000. He denied money had anything to do with the timing. Brian Tarbet, named as interim officeholder, was one of seven candidates who filed to be appointed permanently to the seat until a special election is held next year. While the seven diverged on a number of issues, one thing they could all agree on was that the trials and tribulations Swallow put the office through during 2013 left a huge mess that needed to be addressed as soon as possible.
State with the most irregular office changes: Indiana
Indiana Director of Agriculture Joseph Kelsay resigned to accept a new job when it became known that he would not be asked to continue in the position. Kelsay's successor, Gina Sheets, resigned in December in order to assist with an agriculture advancement project in Liberia. In July, Indiana Auditor of State Tim Berry left to assume the role of Indiana Republican Party chairman. By December, Berry's appointed replacement, State Auditor Dwayne Sawyer, abruptly resigned, citing family reasons. In September, Sean Keefer resigned as labor commissioner to become the governor's legislative director. Finally, two members of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission - Larry Landis and Kari Bennett - decided to vacate their commission posts before their term end dates. Landis announced his retirement in September, well ahead of his term's scheduled December 2015 expiration, while Bennett left her seat roughly five months early to take a new job.
- Blue the Nation, "The Wisconsin Election Everyone Forgot to Notice," October 28, 2013
- Twin Cities, "Wisconsin: Evers, Pridemore clash in education superintendent debate," March 13, 2013
- Wisconsin Radio Network, "Stark contrast in state superintendent race," March 13, 2013
- Yahoo! News, "Virginia Governor's Race a True 'Unpopularity' Contest," November 6, 2013
- Think Progress, Despite Ken Cuccinelli’s Claims, Records Show Deep Involvement In Bob McDonnell Ethics Controversy, July 10, 2013
- Newsplex, AP: Cuccinelli Says He Will Not Return Gifts From Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams, July 31, 2013
- New York Times, Hopeful’s Connections Jolt Bitter Virginia Race, August 9, 2013
- Politico, Virginia AG race: Democrat widens lead, November 13, 2013
- Washington Post, "Obenshain, Herring virtually tied in Virginia attorney general’s race; recount expected," November 6, 2013
- Washington Post, "Herring wins Virginia attorney general race, elections board announces," November 25, 2013
- Blue Virginia, "Attorney General-Elect Herring: "I look forward to serving the people of Virginia as Attorney General," November 25, 2013
- USA Today, "Virginia attorney general race heads to recount," November 27, 2013
- Washington Post, "Obenshain concedes Virginia attorney general’s race," December 18, 2013
- The Oklahoman, "Oklahoma secretary of state will step down," December 7, 2012
- Edmond Sun, "Fallin names Benge as secretary of state," October 23, 2013
- NWI Politics, "Governor seeks 'best' state auditor," July 11, 2013
- Indiana Auditor of State, "Homepage," accessed August 21, 2013
- Indiana Governor Mike Pence, "Press Release: GOVERNOR TO ATTEND SWEARING-IN OF AUDITOR DWAYNE SAWYER, CHAIR CAREER COUNCIL MEETING," August 19, 2013
- ‘’WTHR.com,’’ “Sawyer sworn in as new Indiana state auditor,” August 19, 2013
- Herald Bulletin, "Party leaders surprised by Sawyer resignation," November 28, 2013 (dead link)
- WishTV.com, "State Auditor Dwayne Sawyer resigns," November 26, 2013
- National Association of Water Companies, "DE PSC Chair to Leave," October 12, 2011
- Kristen Mathews, "Email communication with Department of State employee Matthew R. Hartigan," October 16, 2013
- Politico, "John Kasich’s Obamacare flip burns conservatives," February 4, 2013
- National Journal, "Tea Party Groups Clash With Kasich in Ohio," May 3, 2013
- Bucyrus Telegraph Forum, "Gov. candidate FitzGerald chooses Cincinnati state senator as 2014 running mate," November 20, 2013
- The Columbus Dispatch, "Eric Kearney out as Ed FitzGerald's running mate for governor's race," December 10, 2013
- "Chicago Tribune", "Quinn hits lawmakers 'in the wallet' as pension dispute simmers," July 11, 2013
- "Huffington Post", "Pat Quinn Pay Freeze: Lawmakers React After Illinois Governor Pulls Harsh -- And Maybe Illegal -- Move ," July 11, 2013
- "New York Times", "Illinois: Lawmakers May Miss Payday," July 11, 2013
- foxnews.com, "Judge says Illinois governor must reinstate lawmakers' pay," accessed September 27, 2013
- Huffington Post, "Illinois Pension Law Signed Into Law By Governor Quinn ," December 5, 2013
- Rhode Island Governor, "About" accessed November 3, 2012
- The Associated Press, "RI Gov. Chafee open to running for 2nd term as Dem," December 14, 2012
- ABC News, "RI Gov. Lincoln Chafee Won't Run for 2nd Term," September 4, 2013
- KSL.com, "Mysterious ads, slander allegations plague attorney general's race," June 21, 2012
- SFGate, "Lawyer: No charges for Utah AG in bribery probe," September 12, 2013
- KUTV, "Swallow Could Earn $12,000/Yr by Delaying Resignation ," November 26, 2013
- ‘’JC online “Gina Sheets excited about new AG job” Accessed January 24, 2012
- Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, "News release: IURC Commissioner Larry Landis Announces Plans to Retire in 2014," September 23, 2013
- Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, "News release: Commissioner Kari Bennett to leave the IURC," November 8, 2013
- Evansville Courier-Press, "Indiana utility regulator criticized over job change," November 13, 2013 (dead link)