The Executive Summary: Change is in the air for state executive offices in Louisiana, North Dakota and Vermont
Edited by Lauren Rodgers
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.
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.
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." 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. Here is a complete list of candidates seeking the open District 2 seat in 2012:
November 6 primary candidates:
|Mark your calendar|
|August 28||Primary election in Arizona|
|August 28||Primary election in Vermont|
|August 31||Utah campaign finance reports due|
|September 5||New Hampshire campaign finance reports due|
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. 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.  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.”  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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
Currently, the commissioner is hired by the state board of education, with approval of the governor, and serves at the pleasure of the board. 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.” He has announced his intention to apply for the new post.
|Quick facts about Agriculture Commissioners|
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.
Recent news articles
- Pennsylvania voter-ID ruling imminent updated August 15
- Delaware governor signs bills providing services for the hearing and speech impaired August 14
- NJ Governor Christie Vetoes Part of Auditor Bill August 14
- Vermont Attorney General reminds voters he needs support August 13
- ‘’Ed Roy Official Campaign Website, “Press Release:Roy challenges Angelle to “full-term” pledge,” August 14, 2012
- Times Picayune, "Public Service vice chairman announces he won't seek re-election," June 1, 2012
- Louisiana Secretary of State, "Candidate Inquiry," August 17, 2012
- ‘’The Republic, “Campaign lawsuit draws ND PSC interest, commissioners say they want to salvage state coal regs,” August 9, 2012
- ‘’The Bismark Tribune, “Groups law lawsuit planned against PSC commissioners,” March 23, 2012
- ‘’KLFY, “Scott Angelle Announces PSC Candidacy, August 9, 2012
- CBS News, "La. Governor's natural resources secretary resigns," August 9, 2012
- ‘’Office of the Governor of Vermont, “Press Release: Governor Shumlin announces nationwide search for education chief,” August 9, 2012
- Vt Digger, "Shumlin: Cabinet level position gives governors a stake in education," May 3, 2012
- Vermont Statutes Online, "Title 16, Chapter 5, Section 211," accessed November 29, 2011
- ‘’WCAX.xom, “Vt. education commissioner wants to be education secretary,” August 9, 2012
- Wisconsin Ag Connection, "Long-time WV Ag commissioner to retire after 40 years," May 25, 2011