The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Carolyn Fiddler, and Matt Booker, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● IL State House: A new era began in Illinois politics on Wednesday when Chris Welch won the race to replace Mike Madigan, a fellow Democrat, as speaker of the state House. Welch, whom the Chicago Tribune identifies as a Madigan ally, is the first African American to lead the chamber.
Madigan, who rose through the ranks of the late Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley's political machine, was first elected to the legislature all the way back in 1970. Madigan was elevated to the speaker's chair in 1983 and, apart from the two years the GOP was in power following the 1994 elections, he remained there ever since. In 2017, Madigan became the longest-serving state House speaker in American history.
Governors from both parties acknowledged over the decades, often to their detriment, that Madigan was the most powerful figure in state politics. Madigan also wielded plenty of influence outside the chamber: He has served as chair of the state Democratic Party since 1998, and his daughter, Lisa Madigan, was elected state attorney general in 2002.
The speaker's long stint may have blocked Lisa Madigan's further rise, though. The younger Madigan was mentioned as a potential candidate for Senate or governor for years, and for a time it seemed likely she'd challenge Gov. Pat Quinn in the 2014 Democratic primary. She decided not to enter that race, however, saying she felt it would be bad for the governor and speaker to come from the same family. Lisa Madigan ended up retiring in 2018, while her father sought and won another term as leader of the state House.
Mike Madigan also was one of the Illinois GOP's favorite targets during his decades-long tenure. Republican Bruce Rauner spent his four years as governor blaming the speaker for the state's many financial difficulties. The unpopular Rauner even argued in 2018 that voters should re-elect him because a victory for his actual Democratic opponent, J.B. Pritzker, would effectively put Madigan in charge of the state.
Rauner lost badly, but Team Red had success two years later in the 13th Congressional District with a campaign that tied Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, a Democrat who had never held office, to Madigan. Last year, the speaker was also blamed for the failure of a constitutional amendment pushed by Pritzker that would have reformed the state's tax system: The Chicago Tribune's Rick Pearson said afterwards, "Opponents, largely funded by business interests, continually raised the question of 'do you trust politicians with more tax money?'"
Madigan himself, though, appeared to have a firm hold over the speakership despite intra-party complaints about him, including over his handling of sexual harassment allegations against two of his top aides. Progressives also resented the speaker for what the Pearson described as an "autocratic style which lets members advance only a few of their bills per session."
But things took an especially bad turn for Madigan last summer when the utility giant Commonwealth Edison admitted to federal prosecutors that it had given $1.3 million to his confidants in jobs and contracts in order to influence legislation. Madigan himself has not been charged and denied knowledge of the scheme, but one of his associates was indicted in December.
Madigan retained plenty of support to the end, including from labor groups and Democrats who feared they'd struggle at the ballot box without "The Program," his vast fundraising and volunteer network. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, though, called for him to step down, and Madigan struggled to win enough support from fellow Democratic representatives to stay on as speaker. On Sunday, Madigan secured just 51 out of 73 votes in an internal party caucus, which was nine short of the number he'd need to be re-elected speaker of the 118-member chamber.
Madigan announced the following day that he was suspending his campaign for speaker, though he said he wasn't dropping out. Madigan, as Politico reported, wanted to keep his options open in case another Democrat couldn't win enough votes to replace him. That's not how things went, however: Welch entered the race afterwards and put together a large enough coalition on Wednesday to secure the speakership.
● PA-Sen: Roll Call's Bridget Bowman mentions two new Democrats as potential candidates for this open seat: Rep. Madeleine Dean, whom Speaker Nancy Pelosi named this week as one of the nine managers for Donald Trump's second impeachment, and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, who would be the state's first Black senator. Neither Dean nor Kenyatta appears to have said anything publicly about a potential bid.
● NY-01: John Feal, who is a prominent advocate for fellow Sept. 11 first responders, told Newsday this week that he was considering challenging Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin in this eastern Long Island seat. Feal, a demolition supervisor who was seriously injured at the ruins of the World Trade Center in the day after the attacks, does not appear to have run for office before. Last cycle, Feal was one of a number of locals whom Democratic leaders reportedly contacted about a potential bid against Zeldin, though he didn't end up getting in.
Feal said that, while he had been friendly with Zeldin in the past, he was furious at the congressman for objecting to the Electoral College results even after last week's terrorist mob attack on the Capitol. Feal declared, "Lee Zeldin is not loyal to the people in the first [congressional] district; he's loyal only to Donald Trump, who is a con man."
● CA-Gov: Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom is up for re-election next year in this solidly blue state, but California Republican leaders are hoping to remove him from office before then through a recall campaign.
Recall supporters told Politico last week that they'd collected two-thirds of the nearly 1.5 million signatures they need ahead of the March 17 deadline, though they'll have to gather plenty more because some petitions will inevitably be rejected. Multiple polls from last fall gave Newsom at least a 60% approval rating, but his detractors are hoping that the worsening COVID-19 crisis has damaged his standing since then.
It's quite possible that they'll get a recall question on this year's ballot regardless of whether public sentiment is with conservatives. In a new piece, recall expert Joshua Spivak writes that the Golden State has "the easiest recall to get on the ballot" of the at least 19 states that allow governors to be removed this way. (It's not clear if Virginia authorizes recalls.)
Spivak continues, "Petitioners need only to gather 12% of the votes cast in the last election (5% in every district), and they have a leisurely 160 days to do it. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, they were granted an additional 120 days." He also notes that, because California has so many ballot measures, there's already a "signature gathering industry" in place for Republicans to utilize.
If there is a recall election, voters would be given a two-part question. First, they'd be asked if they want to recall Newsom, and second, they'd be asked to select a replacement candidate. If a majority voted no on the recall question, Newsom would stay in office. However, if a majority voted to recall him, the replacement candidate with the most votes would take his seat for the remainder of his term: There would be no primary or runoff, so the new governor could be elected even if they don't come anywhere close to taking a majority of the vote.
This very process played out in 2003 against another California governor, Democrat Gray Davis. Voters opted to oust Davis by a 55-45 margin, and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger defeated 134(!) other candidates in the race to succeed him: Schwarzenegger beat Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante 49-31 while Republican Tom McClintock, who is now a member of Congress, took third with 13%. The only other governor who has ever been successfully recalled in American history is North Dakota Republican Lynn Frazier in 1921.
● Special Elections: While special elections have been sparse to start 2021, we have early previews of two upcoming races in Iowa and Maine that could prove interesting.
IA-SD-41: Last week, parties selected their nominees for the Jan. 19 race to replace Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks in this southeastern Iowa district. Miller-Meeks was elected to the House last year, defeating Democrat Rita Hart by just six votes. While Hart is currently contesting the results, Miller-Meeks resigned from her seat in the state Senate and is currently seated in the House on a provisional basis.
Mary Stewart, who was the 2018 Democratic nominee for this seat, will face Republican Adrian Dickey, a businessman. This district has experienced the same rightward trend in the Trump era that we've seen in many other rural areas, swinging from 53-45 Obama to 57-38 Trump in 2016, though Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds won by a smaller 52-45 in 2018.
Despite the shift, Republicans only narrowly prevailed in the last two midterms amid very different political climates. In 2014, a great GOP year nationally, Republican incumbent Mark Chelgren defeated Democrat Steven Siegel just 51-49, while in 2018, a year much more favorable to Democrats, Miller-Meeks actually increased that margin, defeating Stewart 52-48.
Republicans have a 31-18 advantage in this chamber with just this seat vacant.
ME-SD-14: Candidates have been selected by their parties for the March 9 race to replace former Sen. Shenna Bellows, who was inaugurated as secretary of state in December. Both sides went with former state House members: The Democrats chose Craig Hickman, while Republicans tapped William Guerrette. While this district swung from 55-43 Obama to 47-45 Trump in 2016, Bellows never had any trouble winning re-election in this Augusta-area seat.
Democrats hold a 21-13 majority in this chamber with just this seat vacant.
● Boston, MA Mayor: Boston Chief of Health and Human Services Marty Martinez did not rule out a bid for mayor when asked this week. Martinez, who is of Mexican ancestry, would be the city's first Hispanic leader, as well as its first gay mayor.