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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.

Star bookmark.png Most ignored race: WI Superintendent of Public Instruction

Being an odd-numbered year, only a handful of state executive races were on the ballot across the country. One of them was the nonpartisan race for 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."[1]

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.[2] Regarding school safety, Pridemore proposed allowing schools to have armed volunteers to provide security, which Evers said risks turning schools into the "wild west."[3]

In the end, Evers easily won re-election on April 2, defeating Pridemore by a margin of 61.1 percent to 38.7 percent.

Star bookmark.png Most mudslinging in a race: Virginia Governor

This year's battle for 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.[4]

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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] 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.

In the end, voters chose McAuliffe by a margin of 47.8 percent to 45.2 percent to lead the state for the next four years.

Star bookmark.png Closest race: Virginia Attorney General

The race for 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.[8][9] The State Board of Elections certified the results on November 25, 2013, announcing Herring had won by 165 votes.[10][11]

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.[12] 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.[13]

Star bookmark.png Most turnover in one office: Oklahoma Secretary of State

The award for most turnover in one office during the year goes to the Oklahoma Secretary of State, where four people held the office throughout 2013. The year began with Glenn Coffee, the incumbent since 2010, holding the seat. He left the office February 1 in order to return to the private sector.[14] Enter Michelle Day, the Assistant Secretary of State. She took over the job on an interim basis, serving until March 1. At that point Gov. Mary Fallin (R) named attorney and businessman Larry Parman to take over on a permanent basis. His permanent status lasted only some nine months as Fallin named him as Secretary of Commerce, which he transitioned to in November. Finally, former legislator Chris Benge was appointed as secretary of state and has served since. How long he will last is anybody's guess.[15]

Star bookmark.png Shortest term in office: Indiana Auditor of State

Elected chair of the state Republican Party, Indiana Auditor of State Tim Berry (R) resigned his seat on July 22, activating Gov. Mike Pence's gubernatorial authority to appoint an interim auditor to serve out the remainder of Berry's unexpired term.[16] Saying that he wanted to replace Berry with someone who would run for a full term in 2014, Pence named Dwayne Sawyer as Berry's successor.[17][18] Sworn-in on August 19, Sawyer became the first African-American from the Republican Party to hold statewide office in Indiana history.[19]

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.[20][21]

Star bookmark.png Office that remained vacant the longest: Delaware Public Service Commission

The award for the position that sat vacant the longest during 2013 goes to a seat on the Delaware Public Service Commission, which remained empty the entire year. In fact, the seat has been vacant since Arnetta McRae left the PSC in October 2011 to become CEO of the American Association of Blacks in Energy.[22] Thus, the seat has been vacant for over 800 days and counting.

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.[23]

Star bookmark.png Shortest lived Gov./Lt Gov ticket: FitzGerald/Kearney in Ohio

Elected by a strong conservative base, including support from tea party groups, Ohio Governor John Kasich is running for re-election in 2014. While he led the Republican sweep of statewide offices in 2010, Kasich drew the fury of conservatives in February 2013 when he announced he would expand Medicaid in the state using federal money, possibly hurting his re-election chances.[24][25] Equally alienating left-leaning voters with his conservative stances, Democrats saw the increasing potential to take the seat and looked to recruit a strong ticket to take on Kasich and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor next year. Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald stepped up for the gubernatorial slot, naming state Senator Eric Kearney as his running mate on November 20.

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.[26][27]

Star bookmark.png Boldest ultimatum: Gov. Quinn refuses to pay lawmakers

The award for boldest ultimatum of 2013 goes to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn (D) who tried to hold legislator's paychecks hostage until they passed a bill to deal with the state's $100 billion pension deficit. While the problem has been many years in the making, it came to a head on July 11 when Quinn used his line-item veto power on a budget bill to eliminate lawmakers' pay for August 1st from the budget. He also voluntarily suspended his own pay until a deal could be reached.[28][29][30]

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.[31] 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.[32]

Star bookmark.png Most anticlimactic party switch: Lincoln Chafee

Rhode Island
Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee served in the U.S. Senate as a Republican from 1999-2007. Losing his bid for re-election in 2006 to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, Chafee left the GOP in 2007. Elected to the governorship as an Independent on November 2, 2010, he became the only governor not to belong to one of the major parties when he was sworn in January 4, 2011.[33]

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.[34][35]

Star bookmark.png Office with the biggest mess to clean up: Utah Attorney General

Even before he took office in January, there were signs that John Swallow's tenure as Attorney General of Utah would be in the spotlight for negative reasons. The 2012 primary between Swallow and Sean Reyes was called "one of the dirtiest in years." Organized attacks against both candidates resulted in at least one defamation suit, from Reyes, who accused Swallow of working illegally "in concert" with the Nevada based PAC "It's Now or Never, Inc," to run a smear campaign against him.[36] That could have been passed off as politics as usual, but instead it was a harbinger of things to come.

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.[37] 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.[38] 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.

Star bookmark.png State with the most irregular office changes: Indiana

Our last award is for the state with the most irregular office changes. As of December 19, Ballotpedia had tracked 57 irregular changes in 30 states. Indiana, with seven changes, had the most.

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.[39] 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.[40][41][42]

  1. Blue the Nation, "The Wisconsin Election Everyone Forgot to Notice," October 28, 2013
  2. Twin Cities, "Wisconsin: Evers, Pridemore clash in education superintendent debate," March 13, 2013
  3. Wisconsin Radio Network, "Stark contrast in state superintendent race," March 13, 2013
  4. Yahoo! News, "Virginia Governor's Race a True 'Unpopularity' Contest," November 6, 2013
  5. Think Progress, Despite Ken Cuccinelli’s Claims, Records Show Deep Involvement In Bob McDonnell Ethics Controversy, July 10, 2013
  6. Newsplex, AP: Cuccinelli Says He Will Not Return Gifts From Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams, July 31, 2013
  7. New York Times, Hopeful’s Connections Jolt Bitter Virginia Race, August 9, 2013
  8. Politico, Virginia AG race: Democrat widens lead, November 13, 2013
  9. Washington Post, "Obenshain, Herring virtually tied in Virginia attorney general’s race; recount expected," November 6, 2013
  10. Washington Post, "Herring wins Virginia attorney general race, elections board announces," November 25, 2013
  11. Blue Virginia, "Attorney General-Elect Herring: "I look forward to serving the people of Virginia as Attorney General," November 25, 2013
  12. USA Today, "Virginia attorney general race heads to recount," November 27, 2013
  13. Washington Post, "Obenshain concedes Virginia attorney general’s race," December 18, 2013
  14. The Oklahoman, "Oklahoma secretary of state will step down," December 7, 2012
  15. Edmond Sun, "Fallin names Benge as secretary of state," October 23, 2013
  16. NWI Politics, "Governor seeks 'best' state auditor," July 11, 2013
  17. Indiana Auditor of State, "Homepage," accessed August 21, 2013
  19. ‘’WTHR.com,’’ “Sawyer sworn in as new Indiana state auditor,” August 19, 2013
  20. Herald Bulletin, "Party leaders surprised by Sawyer resignation," November 28, 2013 (dead link)
  21. WishTV.com, "State Auditor Dwayne Sawyer resigns," November 26, 2013
  22. National Association of Water Companies, "DE PSC Chair to Leave," October 12, 2011
  23. Kristen Mathews, "Email communication with Department of State employee Matthew R. Hartigan," October 16, 2013
  24. Politico, "John Kasich’s Obamacare flip burns conservatives," February 4, 2013
  25. National Journal, "Tea Party Groups Clash With Kasich in Ohio," May 3, 2013
  26. Bucyrus Telegraph Forum, "Gov. candidate FitzGerald chooses Cincinnati state senator as 2014 running mate," November 20, 2013
  27. The Columbus Dispatch, "Eric Kearney out as Ed FitzGerald's running mate for governor's race," December 10, 2013
  28. "Chicago Tribune", "Quinn hits lawmakers 'in the wallet' as pension dispute simmers," July 11, 2013
  29. "Huffington Post", "Pat Quinn Pay Freeze: Lawmakers React After Illinois Governor Pulls Harsh -- And Maybe Illegal -- Move ," July 11, 2013
  30. "New York Times", "Illinois: Lawmakers May Miss Payday," July 11, 2013
  31. foxnews.com, "Judge says Illinois governor must reinstate lawmakers' pay," accessed September 27, 2013
  32. Huffington Post, "Illinois Pension Law Signed Into Law By Governor Quinn ," December 5, 2013
  33. Rhode Island Governor, "About" accessed November 3, 2012
  34. The Associated Press, "RI Gov. Chafee open to running for 2nd term as Dem," December 14, 2012
  35. ABC News, "RI Gov. Lincoln Chafee Won't Run for 2nd Term," September 4, 2013
  36. KSL.com, "Mysterious ads, slander allegations plague attorney general's race," June 21, 2012
  37. SFGate, "Lawyer: No charges for Utah AG in bribery probe," September 12, 2013
  38. KUTV, "Swallow Could Earn $12,000/Yr by Delaying Resignation ," November 26, 2013
  39. ‘’JC online “Gina Sheets excited about new AG job” Accessed January 24, 2012
  40. Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, "News release: IURC Commissioner Larry Landis Announces Plans to Retire in 2014," September 23, 2013
  41. Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, "News release: Commissioner Kari Bennett to leave the IURC," November 8, 2013
  42. Evansville Courier-Press, "Indiana utility regulator criticized over job change," November 13, 2013 (dead link)
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