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News about: elections, politicians and candidates at all levels of government: elections, congress, state executive officials, state legislatures, recall elections, ballot measures and school boards. You can find a full list of projects here.

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State Legislative Tracker: Trio of legislators in legal trouble

Edited by Joel Williams
This week’s tracker includes a look at three legislators in legal trouble in Kentucky, New York and Virginia.


New Mexico school board elections attract numerous educators as candidates

By Abbey Smith

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Twenty seats in the eight largest school districts by enrollment in New Mexico are up for general election on February 3, 2015. Candidates in these school board races include a number of both current and former educators, with at least eight candidates having worked as a classroom teacher or college professor. There are also multiple event and elections coordinators, college students and U.S. military veterans. Some other candidates include a business owner, a musical artist, an engineer, a children's book author and a marketing manager.

A total of 41 candidates filed to run for the 20 seats, leaving seven unopposed. One of those unopposed seats is still open, as no one filed to run for it. It will remain vacant after the election until the Farmington Municipal Schools Board of Education appoints someone to the position.

Four of those unopposed seats will automatically welcome back incumbents after the election, but two unopposed newcomers, Ramon Montano and Ryan Parra, will join the Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education, as incumbent Carl Harper withdrew from the race. Newcomers are also guaranteed to win seats on the school boards of Albuquerque Public Schools, Las Cruces Public Schools and Santa Fe Public Schools. All three of those districts had one incumbent decide not to run for re-election.

Two districts with school board elections this year are in the middle of searching for new superintendents. Both Albuquerque Public Schools and Farmington Municipal Schools saw superintendents leave their districts in the 2014-2015 school year. Janel Ryan retired from Farmington Municipal Schools in December 2014 after suffering from a heart attack the previous summer. Winston Brooks resigned from Albuquerque Public Schools in August 2014. The Albuquerque Board of Education bought out his contract with two years remaining after Brooks was involved in accusations of intimidation and retaliation.[1][2][3]


St. Joseph School District administrators placed on leave

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Learn more about the scandal in
St. Joseph School District...
The story so far
The stipend scandal
The FBI probe
The rescinded suspension
The $2 million shortfall
The secret tapes
The ousted administrators
Key figures
Superintendent Fred Czerwonka
CFO Beau Musser
HR Director Doug Flowers
Trustee Chris Danford
Trustee Dan Colgan
Background
St. Joseph School District
2014 school board election
2015 tax levy renewal
Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
Missouri State Auditor
St. Joseph Superintendent Fred Czerwonka

Czerwonka has only been in St. Joseph for two years, but controversy has dogged him from the beginning.

It was his decision to divvy up a $270,000 insurance settlement with 54 top administrators that opened the door to the raft of problems currently staring down the district.

Czerwonka has admitted to giving those administrators $5,000 stipends last spring without seeking board approval. Those secret payments earned Czerwonka a nickname: The Candy Man.

Soon after The Candy Man stipends became public at a Board of Education meeting, the FBI opened its investigation. The district has also been served with three subpoenas from a federal grand jury in Kansas City.

At the executive session, the board also met with the state auditors and reviewed the report page-by-page.

While the report hasn’t been released, those who’ve seen it say it’s scathing and reviews some district finances and operations going back to 2000.












Journalist Sam Zeff

Sam Zeff covers education for KCUR in Kansas City, Missouri. He's won a National News Emmy for investigative reporting, four National Headliner Awards and four Edward R. Murrow awards. Zeff has managed newsrooms in Minneapolis, St. Louis and Kansas City. He was educated at the University of Kansas.




The Tuesday Count: Mississippi voters to see dueling measures for the first time

Edited by Brittany Clingen

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The Mississippi Legislature made history by referring a dueling measure to the ballot in response to a citizen initiative, a move some fear will lead to voter confusion at the ballot box. In Nevada, signature requirement challenges have complicated the progress of a local measure seeking to prevent a city subsidy for the construction of a soccer stadium.

Dueling measures to appear on Mississippi ballot:
For the first time in state history, the Mississippi Legislature chose to place a competing measure on the ballot in response to an initiative from citizens that is seeking to require the state government to establish, maintain and support "an adequate and efficient system of free public schools" and give the Mississippi Chancery Courts the power to enforce the amendment's mandate if the legislature fails to do so. Initiative 42 was certified for the November 2015 ballot on December 19, 2014, after supporters successfully collected and submitted 116,570 valid signatures, approximately 9,000 more than the number required.[4]

Less than a month later, legislators countered with their own version, Alternative 42, which, upon voter approval, would require the state legislature to establish, maintain and support "an effective system of free public schools upon such conditions and limitations as the Legislature may prescribe."[5] Unlike Initiative 42, Alternate 42 does not empower the judiciary to enforce the amendment's mandate, provide for "an adequate... system of free public schools," nor inscribe a "fundamental right to educational opportunity" for each child in the Mississippi Constitution.

"With HCR9, [the Alternative 42 measure,] focus is on educational output and accomplishments, not just funding for the sake of funding. The operative word in the alternative is effective. We want schools that are accomplishing something. We want schools that are effective," said State Speaker of the House Philip Gunn (R-56).[6]

Those who support Initiative 42 - and, therefore, oppose Alternative 42 - are concerned the dueling questions will confuse voters, potentially leading both measures to defeat at the ballot box. Come November, voters will first be asked whether they prefer "either measure" or "neither measure," and then whether they prefer Initiative 42 or Alternative 42. If a simple majority prefers “either measure,” then the amendment receiving a simple majority vote will become law.[7]

The Mississippi Legislature has never proposed a competing measure to an initiative, despite having the power to do so. According to House Education Committee Chairman John Moore (R-60), 2015 will be the first time legislators utilize this power.[8]


Obama to deliver SOTU tonight, Ernst to give rebuttal

By Adam Wolf and the Congress team

President Obama

On January 20, 2015, President Barack Obama will deliver his State of the Union address (SOTU) to the 114th United States Congress at 9:00 PM EST in the U.S. House Chamber. Tonight will be the 93rd SOTU address. The United States Constitution outlines that the President "shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient."[9]

Obama is expected to discuss several issues on his administration's agenda, and as well as other issues currently facing the nation. Unlike in years past, the White House decided to outline some of the issues President Obama will discuss in advance of the address. The issues identified to be discussed include: Jobs and the Economy; Free Community College; the Affordable Healthcare Act; Net Neutrality and Affordable Internet Access; Immigration Reform; and Renewed Cuban Relations.[10] Additionally, Politico has tracked popular topics that social media users expect to see discussed by Obama.
Sen. Joni Ernst
"Global terrorism" was the most talked about subject and was discussed twice as much as the next most popular topic, "Obamacare."[11]



After Obama delivers the SOTU, Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) will deliver a rebuttal on behalf of the Republican Party. Ernst will be the 13th woman to deliver the State of the Union Address rebuttal and the sixth woman from the Republican Party to do so. The last woman to deliver a GOP rebuttal was Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington's 5th Congressional District. She delivered the rebuttal to Obama in 2013 after he was re-elected as President in 2012.[12]


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