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Top 2013 state executive feuds

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December 31, 2013

By Maresa Strano

Portal:State Executive Officials

It may not have been a heavy election year for state executive officials, but 2013 proved that face-offs can take place in settings other than the campaign trail. Below is a review of the year's five most memorable power struggles, ideological disagreements and other stories of top officials at loggerheads inside the executive branch.

Cindy Hill

Hill vs. Mead

Matt Mead
Wyoming

Kicking off 2013, Governor Matt Mead (R) signed into law a recently passed House bill relegating the previously elected office state Superintendent of Public Instruction to a ceremonial position. The bill reassigned leadership over the Department of Education to the newly created position of director of education, who is appointed by the governor. Superintendent Cindy Hill was subsequently removed as head of the Department of Education and replaced by Jim Rose, an interim director appointed by Mead.

Hill quickly served Mead with a lawsuit arguing the move was unconstitutional as it violates the consent of the people and nullifies their vote.[1] The state Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments in the case on August 20, 2013.[2][3]

On January 29, 2013, Hill announced her bid to challenge Mead for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2014. She said her decision to enter the race was driven by the swell of public support she received in response to the lawsuit.[4] The position of superintendent will remain but be separate from the Department of Education.[5]

Bill Bolling

Virginia: Bolling vs. Cuccinelli

Ken Cuccinelli
Virginia

Virginia imposes the strictest term limits on its governors than any other U.S. state. No governor may serve back-to-back terms, meaning incumbent Bob McDonnell was ineligible to run for re-election this past November. Since attorneys general do not face any such restrictions, many were surprised at Ken Cuccinelli's (R) decision to run for governor rather than seek another term in that office. McDonnell had previously pledged his support for Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling as his successor- in part because Bolling refrained from challenging him for governor in 2009. If not for Cuccinelli, Bolling would have been the frontrunner for the Republican nomination.[6] The presence of Bolling's "intra-party rival" in the race, combined with the Republican Party of Virginia's move from open primary election to closed nominating convention in 2013, caused Bolling to withdraw his bid.[7][8] About the alternative of seeking re-election in 2013, Bolling stated, “Under normal circumstances, I would be open to the possibility of running for another term as lieutenant governor, but I would not be interested in running on a statewide ticket with Mr. Cuccinelli.”[9] He later said he regretted dropping out of the race as early as he did, and "tea-party darling" Cuccinelli ultimately lost to Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the November 5 general election[10]

Glenda Ritz

Indiana: Ritz vs. Pence

Mike Pence
Indiana

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz (D) caused a stir this fall when she abruptly bailed out of a meeting with the State Board of Education.[11] What ignited such a strong negative reaction in the first term officeholder was a discussion about a plan to expand the role of a new state education agency, the Center for Education and Career Innovation, created by Gov. Mike Pence (R) months earlier. "Truly, an improper motion means the motion itself interferes with statutory obligations," Ritz said of the board's motion to vote to give the agency more say in the shaping of state education policy.

Ritz, believing the plan to be in clear violation of Indiana state law, grew sufficiently frustrated by one board member's remarks that, “You are not the attorney general...We are a public entity. We have the right to vote. No chair can stop us," that she left the room, bringing progress on the issue to a screeching halt.[12]

This ongoing controversy coheres with the Ritz vs. Pence struggle for power of the State Board of Education that has become a theme of Ritz' tenure in the office thus far. As superintendent, Ritz chair's the Board; as governor, Pence appoints its members.

To provide temporal as well as structural context for the conflict, the day before she walked out, Ritz sent an op-ed to a number of media outlets asserting Pence's true agenda was to consolidate authority over the Board under the governor's office. In the op-ed, she pointedly reiterated her commitment to "strengthen the Department of Education, not have it dismantled."[12] Less than a week before it went to print, a judge ruled against Ritz in a lawsuit she had filed against the Board, claiming the panel broke the law by convening without her permission while she was out of town. In Ritz' view, the possibility of enacting a plan to increase the influence of Pence's nascent education agency in setting statewide education standards counts as yet another example of the Board skirting state law and facilitating Pence's overreach on education.[13] The resulting public focus on the matter led the Board to concede to Ritz' protestations about voting on the motion, though some members openly expressed their disappointment in her behavior.[13][14]

Ritz was elected superintendent on November 6, 2012, after a hotly contested race that ended in her narrowly ousting incumbent Republican Tony Bennett. Bennett was unanimously approved for appointment as Florida Commissioner of Education on December 12, 2012 and assumed office as commissioner on January 14, 2013, the same day Ritz was sworn in to succeed him in the Indiana office.[15][16] Bennett resigned August 1, amid revelations that, while he was still superintendent in Indiana, he tampered with a charter school's grading system in order to protect his relationship with a powerful Republican campaign donor.[17][18]

Scott Gessler

Colorado: Gessler vs. Hickenlooper

John Hickenlooper
Colorado

In July, Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler (R) sued Governor John Hickenlooper (D) to force him to set the date of the recall election of John Morse (D), President of the Colorado State Senate.

Gessler filed a writ of mandamus requesting an emergency hearing, charging Hickenlooper with failing to perform his constitutional duty to set the recall date. The Denver Post reported that Hickenlooper was waiting on the outcome of a district court hearing that would decide if he was required to set a date within the normal 60 day period following the recall petition certification in light of an ongoing legal challenge against the petition.[19][20]

Though Gessler stated in March that he would run for a second term as secretary of state when his seat comes up in 2014, he suspended his re-election campaign two months later to explore a gubernatorial bid, confirming rumors he had designs on Hickenlooper's office. He officially entered the governor race on September 17, 2013, becoming the third declared candidate in the Republican primary field - after former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo and state Sen. Greg Brophy - and setting up a possible showdown with Hickenlooper, who is seeking re-election next fall. At his campaign launch, Gessler, who has been arguably one of the governor's most outspoken critics since they took office in 2011, offered a preview of how his usual critical posture might be affected by the election competition. He called Hickenlooper the "TBD governor," and then stated, "I'm the only one who's actually won a statewide campaign, beating a Democratic incumbent...I think I can beat a Democrat incumbent again." [21][22]

Kathleen Kane

Pennsylvania: Kane vs. Corbett

Tom Corbett
Pennsylvania

A fixture of Democrat Kathleen Kane's historic campaign for Attorney General of Pennsylvania last year was criticizing former AG and current incumbent Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's handling of the three-year long investigation into Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky. Attacked for taking so much time to arrest and charge Sandusky, Corbett's past leadership over the case appeared to hurt Republicans, something on which Kane successfully capitalized and followed up after being sworn in as the state's first female attorney general on January 15.[23][24] After being in office for less than a month Kane appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the Sandusky case.[25] Also among her first acts in the position, Kane blocked Corbett's controversial bid to privatize the state lottery.

The feud escalated in July when Kane refused to enforce or defend Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriage. Attorneys general are primarily responsible for upholding state laws and serving as the state's legal counsel, although the Commonwealth Attorneys Act permits attorneys general to delegate the job of defending the state or any of its agencies in a lawsuit under special circumstances. Kane's decision to prioritize her own ideological code instead of state law alienated Corbett in addition to many members of the Republican-controlled state legislature, some of whom called for her impeachment. Kane, believing Pennsylvania's law preventing gay marriage is "wholly unconstitutional," ceded the duty of representing the state in Whitewood vs. Corbett, a legal challenge seeking to overturn the 1996 statute defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, to Corbett's office.[26][27]

Corbett indicated through press statements that her emotional judgement on the statute lacked the substance worthy of the theoretically apolitical office, and called her sincerity into question. Despite Kane being within her rights to hand off the case, Corbett retaliated against his rising rival by telling reporters he's never seen or heard of an attorney general refusing to participate in the defense of a statute's constitutionality. He implied Kane's decision, while technically legal, was nonetheless a violation of unwritten rules. "It is merely her opinion," stated Corbett, to underline a popular notion among Corbett's camp and other Kane critics that the ambitious former Lackawanna prosecutor is posturing to climb the political ladder. Her first year in the attorney general's office ended with reports Kane is seriously considering a bid for U.S. Senate in 2016, and Public Policy Polling Institute's Thanksgiving survey showed her beating current GOP incumbent U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey 46-42 in a hypothetical match-up.[28][29][30]

See also

References

  1. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named signed
  2. K2 Radio, "Hill Lawsuit Argues Education Powers," July 23, 2013
  3. The Star-Tribune, "Wyoming Gov. Mead signs superintendent bill into law; Hill sues," January 29, 2013
  4. KJAB AM Radio, Cheyanne, "Hill Announces Run for Governor in 2014," January 29, 2013
  5. Billings Gazette, "Legislature passes Wyoming school chief duties bill," January 25, 2013
  6. Richmond Times Dispatch, "Bolling on Cuccinelli: 'Nothing he does surprises me'," December 6, 2011
  7. The Washington Post, "GOP Fratricide in Virginia," December 1, 2012
  8. Washington Post, "Bill Bolling decides not to seek GOP nomination for VA governor," November 28, 2012
  9. The Roanoke Times, "Could Bolling run for governor as an independent?," November 28, 2102
  10. The Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Bolling regrets dropping out of the race so soon," April 22, 2013
  11. Chalkbeat Indiana, "Board tentions explode as Ritz walks out on meeting," November 13, 2013
  12. 12.0 12.1 The Indianapolis Star, "State Schools chief Glenda Ritz accuses Mike Pence of trying a 'complete takeover of education'," November 13, 2013
  13. 13.0 13.1 Indiana Public Media, "What State Board Members Said After Glenda Ritz Walked Out of Wednesday's Meeting," November 14, 2013
  14. Indianapolis Star, "Editorial: Glenda Ritz's walkout ill serves state, students," November 13, 2013
  15. Orlando Sentinel, "Tony Bennett applied for Fl’s school job, Indiana office says," December 3, 2012
  16. Courier Press, "Incoming education chief Glenda Ritz plans easy transition," January 13, 2013
  17. Miami Herald Florida, Amid grading controversy, Florida education chief Tony Bennett resigns, August 1, 2013
  18. Tallahassee.com, "New Fla. education commissioner followed Bush lead," January 14, 2013
  19. The Denver Post, "Scott Gessler hires private-sector attorney to force Hickenlooper to set date for recall elections," July 15, 2013
  20. KDVR, "Gessler sues Hickenlooper, wants recall election date set," July 14-15, 2013
  21. National Journal, "Hickenlooper Winning Bipartisan Praise," January 24, 2013
  22. 9news.com, "Amid flood disaster, Scott Gessler announces bid for governor," September 17, 2013
  23. Philadelphia Inquirer, "Election Results 2012," accessed November 7, 2012
  24. The Morning Call, "Kathleen Kane sworn in as Pennsylvania attorney general," January 15. 2013
  25. Onward State, "Kathleen Kane Names Special Prosecutor to Investigate Sandusky Case," February 4, 2013
  26. The Daily Pennsylvanian, "Pennsylvania same-sex marriage lawsuit develops," October 2, 2013
  27. abclocal.com, "Pennsylvania Attorney General won't defend gay marriage ban," July 11, 2013
  28. The Pittsburgh-Tribune, "Kane to Corbett: Don't tell me what to do," July 31, 2013
  29. The Philadelphia Inquirer, "Sources: A.G. Kane mulls U.S. Senate run," December 13, 2013
  30. PoliticsPA, "PPP Poll: Kane leads Toomey in 2016 Senate matchup," November 27, 2013