The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Daniel Donner, and Cara Zelaya, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
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● PA State House: In a pair of true surprises, moderate Democrat Mark Rozzi was elected speaker of the Pennsylvania state House Tuesday just before he announced that he’d lead the chamber as an independent.
Rozzi, who will be the first non-aligned speaker in the history of the body, defeated Republican state Rep. Carl Metzgar 115-85 after Democratic leader Joanna McClinton threw her support behind him rather than submit her own name. Following that endorsement, the entire Democratic caucus supported Rozzi, while 16 Republicans crossed over to back him. Rozzi’s win comes after two months of uncertainty about which party would lead the chamber, though few observers guessed that the answer would be neither.
Democrats, including Rozzi, won 102 of the 203 seats in the House on Nov. 8, which appeared to set them up for their first majority since the 2010 GOP wave. However, Democrats could only claim 99 members because state Rep. Tony DeLuca was re-elected a month after he died, while fellow Pittsburgh-area Democrats Summer Lee and Austin Davis resigned weeks later to prepare to assume their new roles as congresswoman and lieutenant governor, respectively. Republicans therefore began Tuesday with a 101 to 99 advantage, but no one knew if that would be enough for the party to elect a speaker.
Indeed, a deadlock appeared certain after one Republican joined the Democratic caucus in voting to adjourn during the middle of the day―a tied vote that failed because the remaining 100 Republicans were opposed. Unexpectedly, though, multiple Republicans and Democrats soon nominated Rozzi, whose name hadn’t previously been seriously mentioned. Rozzi prevailed with the support of all of the Democrats and a minority of Republicans, including Bryan Cutler, who had been speaker going into November’s elections.
So, what happens next? First, there will almost certainly be a vacant GOP-held seat before long, as state Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver is the favorite to win the Jan. 31 special election for a dark red state Senate district. Culver’s 108th House District supported Donald Trump 65-33 in 2020, but her absence could deny her party a crucial vote in the closely divided lower chamber until a special election could take place. PennLive.com says such a race likely wouldn’t take place before May 16, which is the same date as Pennsylvania's regular statewide primary.
As for the three vacant Democratic constituencies, both parties agree that a Feb. 7 special will go forward in DeLuca’s HD-32, which went for Joe Biden 62-36. In Pennsylvania special elections, the parties, rather than voters, choose nominees: Democrats have selected local party official Joe McAndrew, while Republicans are fielding pastor Clay Walker.
There’s no agreement, however, about when the contests for Lee’s and Davis’ constituencies will take place. That’s because legislative special elections are scheduled by the leader of the chamber with the vacant seat, but there was no speaker between late November, when the last session ended, and Tuesday. That duty, as a result, fell to the majority leader, and both McClinton and Cutler claimed that title in December, issuing dueling writs of election: McClinton set these two specials to also take place on Feb. 7, while Cutler picked May 16.
Cutler filed a lawsuit to block McClinton’s schedule, but the Pennsylvania Department of State is going forward with February specials right now. There’s no question that Democrats will hold Lee’s HD-34, which Biden took 80-19, but the president pulled off a smaller 58-41 win in Davis’ HD-35.
Democrats in the former district have picked Swissvale Borough Council President Abigail Salisbury, who will go up against kickboxing instructor Robert Pagane. The Democratic nominee to succeed Davis is Matt Gergely, who serves as finance director for the community of McKeesport. Local Republicans are running Don Nevills, who lost to Davis 66-34 in November; Nevills himself has said in his social media posts that the special will be Feb. 7.
P.S. Rozzi’s win makes this the second time in the 21st century that Pennsylvania Democrats successfully maneuvered to stop Republicans from taking the speakership. In 2006, Democrats likewise won a 102-101 majority, but one of their members, Thomas Caltagirone, soon announced he’d cross party lines to keep Republican John Perzel on as speaker instead of electing Democrat Bill DeWeese. DeWeese, who was speaker in 1994 when Democrats last controlled the chamber, ended up nominating Republican Dennis O'Brien rather than put his name forward; O’Brien ultimately won 105-97.
Democrats secured a workable majority the following year, and Keith McCall became the party’s first, and to date only, speaker since DeWeese. In a strange twist, DeWeese and Perzel went on to become cellmates after being convicted in separate corruption cases. Incidentally, one House Democrat heavily involved in the plan to make O'Brien speaker was Josh Shapiro, now the governor-elect of Pennsylvania.
● AZ-Sen: Doug Ducey, whose tenure as governor ended on Monday, said before Christmas he was "not running for the United States Senate" and that "it's not something I'm considering." And just like two years ago, Ducey's fellow Republicans are not taking this seemingly unequivocal statement as final: Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who is another Republican on Donald Trump's shit list, instead told The Hill, "I hope that he'll get in."
Former state Board of Regents member Karrin Taylor Robson, who narrowly lost last year's primary to succeed Ducey, may be more interested in campaigning for the Senate seat held by Democrat-turned-independent Kyrsten Sinema. Vox's Christian Paz writes that Taylor Robson "told me she is not ruling out running for statewide office again," though it's not clear if the former regent said anything about the Senate in particular.
On the Democratic side, Rep. Ruben Gallego released late-December numbers from Public Policy Polling showing a tight race whether or not Sinema runs. The survey found Republican Kari Lake, who continues to deny her loss to now-Gov. Katie Hobbs, edging out Gallego 41-40, with Sinema grabbing 13%. When the incumbent is left out, however, it's Gallego who leads Lake 48-47. The congressman has made it clear he's likely to run, while NBC reported last month that Lake is trying to recruit Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb rather than campaign herself.
The poll was conducted days before The Daily Beast's Sam Brodey reported that Sinema's office had a 37-page guide for staffers that includes tasks that "appear to go right up to the line of what Senate ethics rules allow, if not over." Among other things, Brodey writes that Sinema requires her subordinates perform personal tasks for her, including arranging massages and buying groceries on their own dime, which she later reimburses them for.
The Senate's ethics handbook, though, specifies that "staff are compensated for the purpose of assisting Senators in their official legislative and representational duties, and not for the purpose of performing personal or other non-official activities for themselves or on behalf of others." Sinema's spokesperson told Brodey that "the alleged information—sourced from anonymous quotes and a purported document I can't verify—is not in line with official guidance from Sen. Sinema's office and does not represent official policies of Sen. Sinema's office."
● IN-Sen, IN-Gov: Bellwether Research released mid-December numbers before Christmas for the 2024 GOP primaries for the Senate and governor: The firm previously worked for former Gov. Mitch Daniels, who is a prospective Senate candidate, but a Daniels consultant tells Politico's Adam Wren that this survey was done without his knowledge.
The firm tested out hypothetical Senate scenarios with and without Daniels, who just completed his tenure as president of Purdue University. We'll start with the former matchup:
former Purdue University President Mitch Daniels: 32
Rep. Jim Banks: 10
former Rep. Trey Hollingsworth: 9
Rep. Victoria Spartz: 7
Attorney General Todd Rokita: 7
Someone Else: 6
In the Daniels-free scenario, Rokita leads Banks 16-14 as Spartz and Hollingsworth grab 12% and 11%, respectively.
Spartz herself quickly publicized her own numbers from Response:AI that put Daniels in front with 35% as she and Banks deadlocked 14-14 for second. That survey placed Hollingsworth at 6% while two people who were not tested by Bellwether, 2022 House nominee Jennifer-Ruth Green and disgraced former Attorney General Curtis Hill, took 4% and 2%. Wren recently named Hill, whom we hadn't heard mentioned for Senate, as a possible candidate, though there's been no sign yet that he's thinking about campaigning.
None of the other Republicans tested in either poll are currently running for the Senate either, and Daniels' ultimate decision may deter some of them from getting in. Indeed, an unnamed person close to Spartz told Politico that she may decide not to go up against the former governor: The congresswoman, writes Wren, "declined to comment on that question, but told POLITICO she is seeking a meeting with Daniels before making her decision."
A Banks ally, though, insists his man "won't make his decision based on what others do and I think the poll numbers released by Daniels and Spartz will only embolden him to run."
Bellwether also posted numbers for the GOP race to succeed termed-out Gov. Eric Holcomb:
Sen. Mike Braun: 25
Attorney General Todd Rokita: 9
Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch: 7
former Rep. Trey Hollingsworth: 6
Businessman Eric Doden: 3
Someone Else: 9
Braun, Crouch, and Doden are currently running.
● KY-Gov: State Rep. Savannah Maddox announced days before Christmas that she was dropping out of the packed May Republican primary to face Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.
An unnamed GOP source soon told the Lexington Herald Leader they believed Maddox's departure means that Papa John's founder John Schnatter "could get in the race, since he's got the resources and with Savannah not in the race it could open up a lane." Schnatter, who resigned as board chairman in 2018 after news broke that he'd used racist language, has not taken any obvious steps toward running ahead of Friday's filing deadline.
Self-funder Kelly Craft, meanwhile, is not waiting until the field fully takes shape to go up with the first TV campaign ad of the contest, which the paper says ran for $114,000 from Dec. 27 to Jan. 3. Craft uses the message to tout her roots growing up on a farm in Barren County in the south-central party of the state, and she goes on to tout how she went on to become ambassador to the United Nations. The ad shows photos of Craft with Donald Trump, who is supporting Attorney General Daniel Cameron for the GOP nod.
● MS-Gov: The Daily Journal reported before Christmas that Secretary of State Michael Watson is indeed considering taking on Gov. Tate Reeves in this August's Republican primary. Watson and other potential contenders have until the Feb. 1 filing deadline to make up their minds, but there's one name we can already cross off. While former state Rep. Robert Foster, who took third in 2019, reportedly was thinking about another campaign over the summer, he announced last week that he'd instead run for a seat on the DeSoto County Board of Supervisors.
● NC-Gov, NC-??: The conservative Washington Examiner relayed in mid-December that former Rep. Mark Walker is considering seeking the Republican nomination for governor or to return to the House after his party crafts a new gerrymander. Walker last cycle campaigned for the Senate even though Donald Trump tried to persuade him to drop down and run for the lower chamber, but he earned just 9% of the primary vote for his stubbornness.
● MD-05: Veteran Rep. Steny Hoyer told CNN Sunday that he hadn't ruled out seeking re-election in 2024 even though he's no longer part of the Democratic leadership. "I may. I may," the incumbent said about waging another run.
● MD-08: Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin said last week that he'd "been diagnosed with Diffuse Large B Cell Lymphoma, which is a serious but curable form of cancer." Raskin added that he was "about to embark on a course of chemo-immunotherapy on an outpatient basis," and that "[p]rognosis for most people in my situation is excellent after four months of treatment." The congressman also said he planned to keep working during this time, and he was present Tuesday for the opening of the 118th Congress.
● NY-03: At this point in the George Santos saga, his entirely fictional life story is almost beside the point: When he's called on any of his lies, he just lies some more—it's pathological. But that same reckless behavior is also why the new Republican congressman-to-be is in serious legal jeopardy, at the local, state, federal, and, amazingly, international levels. And because of that, he's exceedingly unlikely to serve out a full term. So what happens if he resigns?
In short, there would be a special election, but in a break with past practice, we'd immediately know when it would take place—and it would happen quickly. Governors in New York previously had wide latitude over when to call elections to fill vacant posts, both for Congress and state legislature, and disgraced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo notoriously abused this power, frequently delaying specials when it suited him.
But in 2021, as state law expert Quinn Yeargain explains, lawmakers finally passed legislation to correct this problem, which Cuomo signed shortly before resigning. Now, Gov. Kathy Hochul would be required to call a special election within 10 days of Santos' seat becoming vacant, and that election would have to take place 70 to 80 days afterward. This law has already come into play multiple times, including for two congressional special elections that took place last year.
One thing hasn't changed, though: There still would be no primaries. Instead, as per usual, nominations for Democrats and Republicans alike would be decided by small groups of party insiders. The actual election would, however, be hotly contested. While Joe Biden would have carried New York's 3rd District, which is based on the North Shore of Long Island, by a 54-45 margin, according to our calculations, Republican Lee Zeldin almost certainly won it in last year's race for governor. Santos dispatched Democrat Robert Zimmerman 52-44 after Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi left the seat open to pursue his own unsuccessful gubernatorial bid.
● NY-17: Former Rep. Mondaire Jones told NY1 before Christmas that he was not ruling out seeking the Democratic nomination to take on the new Republican incumbent, Mike Lawler. Jones unsuccessfully decided to run in New York City last year in order to avoid a primary against DCCC Chair Sean Patrick Maloney, who himself went on to lose to Lawler, but he made it clear a future campaign would take place in the area he'd represented. "I've also learned my lesson, and that is home for me is in the Hudson Valley," Jones said.
● VA-04: Jennifer McClellan beat her fellow state senator, conservative Joe Morrissey, in an 85-14 landslide to win the Democratic nomination in the Dec. 19 firehouse primary to succeed the late Rep. Donald McEachin. McClellan should have no trouble defeating Republican nominee Leon Benjamin, who badly lost to McEachin in 2020 and 2022, in the Feb. 21 special election for this 67-32 Biden seat; McClellan's win would make her the first Black woman to represent Virginia in Congress.
● WA-03: Democrats will still have election conspiracy theorist Joe Kent to kick around this cycle, as the 2022 GOP nominee declared before Christmas, "I'm running again in 2024."
● DCCC: House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries announced ahead of Christmas that the new DCCC chair would be Rep. Suzan DelBene, who represents a Washington seat that Joe Biden carried 64-33. Jeffries' decision came weeks after House Democrats voted 166-38 to give the caucus' leader the opportunity to select the head of the DCCC rather than have the chair be elected by the full body. The new rule still requires members approve the choice, and they ratified DelBene two days after she was picked.
Attorneys General and Secretaries of State
● AZ-AG: Democrat Kris Mayes' narrow win over election denier Abe Hamadeh was affirmed after a recount concluded last week, and Mayes was sworn in as attorney general on Monday. The Democrat's margin dropped from 511 to 280 votes; most of this difference came from dark red Pinal County, which said it had initially failed to count over 500 ballots because of "human error." Hamadeh characteristically refused to accept his defeat and announced Tuesday he was "filing a 'Motion for New Trial.'"
● NY Court of Appeals: Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul nominated Hector LaSalle, an appeals court judge, to fill the vacant post of chief judge on New York's highest court just before the holidays, but her decision was immediately met with fierce resistance by state senators in her own party, 14 of whom have already publicly come out against the choice.
LaSalle, who was named to the Appellate Division by disgraced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2014, has compiled what City & State described as one of the "most conservative" records of any appellate judge in the state. Progressives have raised serious alarms over his hostility toward criminal defendants, labor unions, and especially reproductive rights: A group of law professors have pointed to a 2017 decision LaSalle signed on to that helped shield a network of so-called "crisis pregnancy centers" (which try to dissuade women from getting abortions) from an investigation by the state attorney general.
At stake is more than LaSalle's promotion, though: The seven-member top court, known as the Court of Appeals, has for several years been in the grips of a reactionary four-judge majority that has ruled against victims of police misconduct, workers seeking compensation for injuries on the job, and tenants who'd been overcharged by their landlords. Most notoriously, this quartet—all appointed by Cuomo—struck down new congressional and legislative maps passed by Democratic lawmakers last year on extremely questionable grounds and ordered that a Republican judge in upstate New York redraw them.
Leading this coalition was Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, who unexpectedly announced her resignation last year. That vacancy has given Hochul the chance to reshape the court, but instead she's tapped someone who appears poised to continue DiFiore's legacy. But while judicial confirmations in New York are normally sleepy affairs, a large number of senators—who'd be responsible for voting on LaSalle's nomination—immediately denounced the choice.
That chorus of opposition hit a crucial threshold shortly before the New Year when state Sen. Mike Gianaris, a member of leadership, became the 11th Democrat to say he would vote against LaSalle. With 42 Democrats in the 63-member upper chamber but only 28 still open to Hochul's pick, the governor would now have to rely on the support of Republicans to confirm LaSalle. None, however, have yet come out in favor.
There's no definite timeline for confirmation hearings or a vote on LaSalle's nomination, but if Hochul were to withdraw his name, she'd be able to choose from a list of six other candidates vetted by the state's Commission on Judicial Nomination. A coalition of progressive groups previously endorsed three individuals on that list while calling three others, including LaSalle, "unacceptable" (a seventh option was unrated). If instead LaSalle were voted down by the Senate, the entire process would start over again, with the commission once again reviewing potential candidates.
● WI Supreme Court: Judge Everett Mitchell, a progressive candidate for an open seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court this spring, was accused by his then-wife of sexual assault during their 2010 divorce proceeding, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Dan Bice reported on Tuesday. Mitchell was never charged with any wrongdoing and has denied the allegations, while his ex-wife, Merrin Guice Gill said her former spouse "should be evaluated on the work he has done and the work he is doing as a judge" rather than on her past accusations.
However, Guice Gill "declined to say whether she stood by the abuse allegations," telling Bice, "I'm not going to respond to that." During her divorce, Bice writes that she told the court that Mitchell had "undressed her and had sex with her without consent shortly after she took a sleeping pill" in 2007 and also provided documents showing she had informed both her therapist and a police officer about the alleged incident shortly afterwards. The accusations came up when she contacted police about a possible custody dispute involving the couple's daughter, but she declined to press charges, saying that she "was only concerned with her daughter's whereabouts."
Mitchell is one of two liberals seeking a spot on the Supreme Court, along with Judge Janet Protasiewicz. Two conservatives are also running, former Justice Dan Kelly and Judge Jennifer Dorow. All candidates will appear together on an officially nonpartisan primary ballot on Feb. 21, with the top two vote-getters advancing to an April 4 general election. The seat in question is being vacated by conservative Justice Pat Roggensack; should progressives win, they'd take control of the court from the current 4-3 conservative majority.
● AK State House: A judge ruled ahead of Christmas that far-right state Rep. David Eastman's membership in the Oath Keepers does not preclude him from serving in elected office even though the state constitution prevents anyone from holding office who "advocates, or who aids or belongs to any party or association which advocates the overthrow by force or violence of the United States."
Goriune Dudukgian, the attorney representing an Eastman constituent who sued to block him from holding office, said Tuesday his camp would not appeal. No one has formed a majority coalition in the Alaska State House in the almost two months since the election.
● NY State Senate: Democrats learned ahead of Christmas that they'd maintained a two-thirds supermajority in the upper chamber after a judge ruled that incumbent John Mannion had fended off Republican Rebecca Shiroff by 10 votes in his Syracuse-based seat. Shiroff conceded the contest, and Mannion's term began New Year's Day.
● OH State House: While Democrats are deep in the minority in the Ohio state House, the caucus joined with enough GOP members on Tuesday to elect Republican Jason Stephens as speaker over Derek Merrin, who began the day as the heavy favorite to lead the chamber. Cleveland.com's Jeremy Pelzer writes, "Stephens, while conservative, is not considered to be as far to the right as Merrin."
The GOP enjoys a 67-32 majority, so a Merrin speakership appeared likely after he won November's caucus vote against Stephens. Pelzer writes that in the ensuing weeks there were "rumblings since then about some sort of challenge to Merrin," but that "the insurgency to lift him to the speaker's chair only picked up speed starting a few days ago."
Indeed, Minority Leader Allison Russo says Democrats decided just two hours before the vote to cast their lot in with Stephens. Another 22 Republicans joined them, however, which left Merrin with only 43 votes. Russo, whose caucus supplied most of the support for the new speaker, declared that there was "no grand deal," but "there were lots of discussions about things and areas of agreement on issues." She also relays that Merrin spoke to her about getting Democratic support, which very much did not end up happening.
This is the second time in the last few years that the Democratic minority has played a key role in helping a Republican win the gavel over the candidate favored by most of the GOP caucus, though Merrin himself was on the other side of that vote. In 2019, he was one of the 26 Republicans who joined that same number of Democrats in supporting Larry Householder over Speaker Ryan Smith. Unlike four years ago, though, Smith got the backing of 11 Democrats as well as 34 GOP members.
Stephens, for his part, was appointed to the chamber later that year to succeed none other than Smith, who resigned to become president of the University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College. The victorious Householder, though, was removed as speaker in 2020 after being arrested on federal corruption charges; Householder's colleagues expelled him the following year, though Merrin voted to keep him in office.
● WI State Senate: Former state Sen. Randy Hopper ended his brief comeback campaign days after Christmas and endorsed state Rep. Dan Knodl in the Feb. 21 Republican special election primary.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Chicago, IL Mayor: The Chicago Electoral Board in late December removed two minor contenders, police officer Frederick Collins and freelance consultant Johnny Logalbo, from the Feb. 28 nonpartisan primary ballot after determining that they didn't have enough valid signatures to advance. However, challenges were dropped against activist Ja'Mal Green, Alderman Roderick Sawyer, and wealthy perennial candidate Willie Wilson, so they will be competing in what is now a nine-person race.
Prosecutors and Sheriffs
● Philadelphia, PA District Attorney: Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court ruled Friday that state House Republicans failed to demonstrate any of the legally required standards for "misbehavior in office" when they voted to impeach Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner in November. The order, though, did not say if Krasner's trial before the state Senate, which is scheduled for Jan. 18, must be called off.
● Lincoln Almond: Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Almond, a Republican who served from 1995 to 2003, died Tuesday at the age of 86. Almond, who made his name as the state's U.S. attorney, badly lost the 1978 general election to Democratic incumbent Joseph Garrahy, but he prevailed 16 years later by defeating state Sen. Myrth York in a close contest. You can find much more at WPRI's obituary.
● Where Are They Now?: Former Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy III was chosen before Christmas to serve as the State Department's special envoy for economic affairs for Northern Ireland. Kennedy, who is the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, was elected to the House in 2012 and left to unsuccessfully challenge Sen. Ed Markey in the 2020 Democratic primary.