Next Elections: Races for Legislative Leadership

By: - November 12, 2012 12:00 am

For aspiring legislative leaders, the elections aren’t over yet. Even as the final counts from last week’s votes are still being tallied, lawmakers who hope to be house speakers or senate presidents are courting their colleagues. Just like last week’s elections, those who win the legislative leadership votes will help shape the direction of state policy over the next two years.

Here are some of the states where the action already has begun:

In the Alaska Senate, Republicans turned a 10-10 tie with Democrats into a 13-7 advantage. Afterward, they picked Charlie Huggins as Senate president to replace Gary Stevens, a Republican who had led a bipartisan coalition. Under Stevens, oil tax cuts — a key goal of Governor Sean Parnell — stalled in the Senate. Now, Huggins says he’ll make them a priority.

Last Wednesday in Arizona, Republicans responded to calls by conservatives to remove Senate President Steve Pierce by voting 9-8 to replace him with Andy Biggs. Pierce had a conservative record, but has tried to focus the Senate’s attention on tax cuts and reduced regulation and away from hot-button topics like immigration (unlike his predecessor Russell Pearce). Biggs’ ability to turn the Senate in a more conservative direction may be limited, however, because Democrats trimmed Republicans’ edge in the Senate from 21-9 to 17-13.

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, a Democrat, appointed Republican Senate President David Williams, his longtime political nemesis and opponent in the 2011 governor’s race, to a judgeship last month. Republicans kept their majority in the Senate on Election Day. Now, Senate Majority Leader Robert Stivers and Bob Leeper, an Independent who chairs the Senate’s Appropriations and Revenue Committee, are competing for the job. Whoever wins will be key to deciding whether Beshear gets his longstanding wish of expanding gambling in Kentucky.

Democrats maintained their majority in the Nevada Assembly, but Marcus Conklin, who had been tabbed as the next speaker, lost. After a day of uncertainty, Democrats picked Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick as leader.

While votes are still being counted, Democrats claim they have a won a majority in the New York Senate, ending Republicans’ narrow edge. But even if that’s the case, whether a Democrat will lead the chamber is still in doubt. At most, the Democrats’ majority will be 33-30.

Four Democratic senators are members of the “Independent Democratic Conference,” which has clashed with the Democratic caucuses’ leadership. Plus, a newly elected Democrat, Simcha Felder, may be open to picking a Republican as majority leader. Governor Andrew Cuomo has worked well with Majority Leader Dean Skelos and other Senate Republicans, but should he choose to pursue new gun control laws or campaign finance reforms, having a Democrat as majority leader might help.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus is being challenged from the right by State Representative Bryan Hughes, a fellow Republican. Straus has faced criticism from some conservatives ever since he teamed up with Democrats in 2009 to oust Speaker Tom Craddick, a Republican. Some conservatives also have been disappointed at the failure of bills to crackdown on illegal immigration under Straus. FreedomWorks, the national conservative group, is supporting Hughes over Straus.

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Josh Goodman

Josh Goodman helps lead research on fiscal management and place-based economic development programs as part of Pew’s state fiscal health project. Goodman has served as a primary author for Pew studies that examine how states should evaluate tax incentives and maintain budget discipline when implementing those incentives.