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The Executive Summary: Change is in the air for state executive offices in Louisiana, North Dakota and Vermont

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August 23, 2012

This year's state executive candidate lists are final! Louisiana's filing period came to a close on August 17th and we have the scoop on the race for the District 2 seat on the Louisiana Public Service Commission, including a surprise resignation and subsequent candidate declaration.

But that's just the beginning. This edition of The Executive Summary also has details on a controversy that is threatening the North Dakota Public Service Commission's oversight of the state's coal industry and updates on the way Vermont's top education official is selected. In the spotlight this month are the nation's agriculture commissioners, one of whom is the longest-serving state executive official in the country.

Elections and filings

This year, 22 states are holding regularly-scheduled state executive official elections. In those elections, a total of 37 state executive seats and 57 down ballot seats are up for election. Wisconsin also held two special recall elections for Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov Rebecca Kleefisch on June 5, 2012.

Twenty-two states are holding regularly-scheduled state executive elections in 2012.

Last week, the candidate filing season came to a close as Louisiana's deadline passed on August 17th. The last state to allow its candidates to file, Louisiana will hold its primary election for statewide races on November 6, 2012, when all other states hold their general election.

Louisiana

See also: Louisiana state executive official elections, 2012

There is only one executive office up for election this year: the District 2 seat on the Louisiana Public Service Commission. The Commission is composed of five members, each of whom serves a term of six years, and that number was on the tip of everyone’s tongue on Friday. As the presumed three-candidate field swelled to six, Republican contender Ed Roy sent the press abuzz by publicly requesting a signed pledge from each individual considering a run that he or she will serve the full six years on the commission, if elected, and "not use the PSC as Stepping Stone for Governor in 2015 or before."[1] The six candidates who filed for Louisiana’s blanket primary (also known as a “top-two” primary because the top two vote-getters advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation) include four Republicans, one Democrat, and one candidate - the last to submit his qualifying materials to the Louisiana Secretary of State - with no stated party preference. Louisiana requires candidates to pay a $600 qualifying fee and a $300 state central committee fee. Candidates may submit at least 5,000 signatures, with no less than 500 signatures from each district, in lieu of fees. Incumbent James Field (R) did not seek re-election to a third term on the Louisiana Public Service Commission.[2] Here is a complete list of candidates seeking the open District 2 seat in 2012:

November 6 primary candidates:[3]

Republican PartyScott Angelle
Republican PartyEd Roy
Republican PartyErich Ponti
Republican Party Sarah Holliday
Democratic Party Forest Wright
Greg Gaubert (No Party Affiliation)
Mark your calendar
DateEvent
August 28Primary election in Arizona
August 28Primary election in Vermont
August 31Utah campaign finance reports due
September 5New Hampshire campaign finance reports due


Controversies

North Dakota Public Service Commission

Two Republican North Dakota Public Service Commissioners, Brian Kalk and Kevin Cramer, accepted a combined $16,500 from the coal industry during their latest campaign season.[4] Although the contributions were permitted by North Dakota campaign finance laws and disclosed properly by both commissioners at the time, their decision to accept the money has put the statewide agency in the center of a lawsuit that could result in the commission losing its jurisdiction over the coal industry. The two environmental organizations that initiated the federal suit cite the then-candidates acceptance of money from Texas-based business owners, whose companies are regulated by commission, as grounds for the federal government to confiscate the PSC's regulatory authority over North Dakota coal. Since the commission itself is not a party to the suit, the plaintiffs' accusations that Falk and Kramer participated in illegal campaign financing activity cannot be defended in recognition by the court. Seeking to rectify this exclusion, the PSC has filed a request to join the case under representation by Denver attorney Paul Seby. The North Dakota Attorney General’s office, led by current attorney general Wayne Stenehjem, is responsible for defending state agencies in such cases, either personally, or through the appointment of outside counsel, which is what Stenehjem arranged for the PSC.[4] The Dakota Resource Council has filed a separate federal lawsuit against the Public Service Commission itself, “claiming that the agency has been making its own interpretations of coal mining regulations without approval from the federal Office of Surface Mining.”[4] The former case addresses the federal Surface Mining and Reclamation Act, which prohibits public service commissioners from accepting gifts from companies they regulate. Now it is up to a federal judge to determine if Falk and Kramer, despite adhering to ND campaign finance laws, violated federal law vis a vis conflict of interest prohibition.[5]

Office changes

Louisiana Secretary of Natural Resources

Scott Angelle resigned his post as Louisiana Secretary of Natural Resources on August 8. While he did not initially offer a reason, the next day Angelle announced he was running for a seat on the Louisiana Public Service Commission.[6] Angelle, originally appointed to head the Department of Natural Resources by Gov. Kathleen Blanco in 2004, also served as a temporary lieutenant governor for six months in 2010. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) selected Stephen Chustz, an assistant secretary to Angelle, to take over the position as interim secretary.[7]

Vermont Secretary of Education

On August 9, Gov. Peter Shumlin - together with Stephan Morse, the chair of the Vermont Board of Education - launched a nationwide search for the first ever Vermont Secretary of Education.[8] The announcement comes three months after the Vermont State Legislature, through passage of H.440, elevated the office of Vermont Commissioner of Education to a cabinet-level position with a new name and increased responsibilities.[9]

Currently, the commissioner is hired by the state board of education, with approval of the governor, and serves at the pleasure of the board.[10] Under the new law, which will take effect January 1, 2013, the officeholder will be directly appointed by the governor. The current education commissioner, Armando Vilaseca, is supportive of the new law, describing it as “a wonderful opportunity to have the governor have a very, very strong voice in education.”[9] He has announced his intention to apply for the new post.[11]

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Featured office: Agriculture Commissioner

Quick facts about Agriculture Commissioners
  • Elected in 12 states; appointed by the governor in 38 states
  • In the 12 states where the position in an elected position, one is a Democrat and 11 are Republicans
  • Salary ranges (in 2010): $79,026 (Alabama) to $160,064 (New Mexico)

The Agriculture Commissioner is a state level position in all 50 states. The duties of the position vary from state to state, but their general role is regulation of various facets of the agriculture industry, as well as promotion of state agribusiness. Currently, there are only two ways in which for an individual assume the role of State Agriculture Commissioner -- by either being publicly elected by the people of the state through the primary/general election processes, or by being appointed by the governor.

The name and scope of the office varies with each state. While in most states the title of the position is as straightforward as Secretary or Commissioner of Agriculture, in others it has can have broader responsibilities. In Louisiana the position is called the Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry, and includes agriculture, forestry, soil and water resource management. In Mississippi, Wisconsin, Florida, and Alabama there is an emphasis on overseeing the trade, commerce, and industry aspects of the agriculture industry as well.

Gus Douglass of West Virginia is currently the only elected Democratic agriculture commissioner. He is also, incidentally, the longest-serving agriculture commissioner, having held his office for 48 of the last 52 years. First elected in 1964, Douglass took a four year hiatus between 1988 and 1992 when he made an unsuccessful bid for governor, but was re-elected to his old post in 1992. Although he is eligible for re-election this year, he announced his retirement on May 25, 2011.[12]

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