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: On the final day of Black History Month, Joanna McClinton made history of her own by becoming the first Black woman to be elected speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. McClinton, who is also the first woman to ever lead the chamber, prevailed in a 102-99 party-line vote that came minutes after Speaker Mark Rozzi announced he would step down so that his fellow Democrat could take his place.
Upon obtaining the gavel, the new speaker proclaimed, "I'm grateful for all who fought before me … so that this day was possible. It is only on their shoulders that I stand here today." In her address, she also mentioned two of her predecessors: Benjamin Franklin, the future founding father who served as speaker in 1764, and K. Leroy Irvis, a Democrat who in 1977 became the first African American to serve as speaker of any legislative chamber in America since Reconstruction.
McClinton's elevation came after a two-month delay occasioned by vacancies in three safely Democratic seats that temporarily gave Republicans a 101-99 advantage even though Democrats had, quite unexpectedly, won a 102-seat majority in November. Rozzi stepped into this vacuum and won the speakership in January with the support of 16 GOP members, but Democrats regained a formal majority with a trio of outsized special election victories on Feb. 7.
For a time, it was not clear whether Rozzi would defer to McClinton, but after he gave up the gavel on Tuesday, he made his loyalties vividly clear as he torched the Republicans who once backed him. In remarks to Spotlight PA, Rozzi said he understood at the time that the GOP was using him to stop McClinton from running the chamber but resolved that Republicans "were gonna pay for it."
"[T]he way I was elected speaker, that's a prime description of what is wrong with Harrisburg because the Republicans had a majority at that time," Rozzi said, continuing, "But they tried to manipulate, hoodwink, snooker the members of this General Assembly by electing me, thinking that I would do their bidding for them. That I would turn against my party."
Rozzi had pledged to lead the state House as an independent but infuriated Republicans when he maintained his Democratic affiliation. (He later claimed he'd only promised to consider such a switch, even though he'd publicly said that Pennsylvania would have its "first independent speaker of the House" after his ascension.) Relations turned so sour between him and one of his most prominent backers, Republican leader Bryan Cutler, that Rozzi changed the locks on the office suite Cutler had used when he was speaker.
Democrats, though, also wondered whether McClinton would replace Rozzi even before those Feb. 7 specials confirmed the party's undisputed majority in the state House for the first time since 2010. Rozzi himself said just before those contests that he wanted to remain in charge, but a few days after the specials, he announced that he'd "reassess" after his colleagues had approved an amendment to the state constitution that would allow fellow childhood survivors of sexual abuse to sue their abusers.
The chamber did just that Friday, but the matter is far from over. The GOP-run state Senate passed a single bill in January bundling the measure with two unrelated amendments pushed by conservatives in the hopes that doing so would pressure House Democrats to put all three proposals on a future statewide ballot. Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman said last week that he felt his chamber had "fulfilled and completed our commitment" to abuse survivors, and it's uncertain what will happen next, though Rozzi used his departure speech to declare, "We made it clear that no matter who you are ... justice is coming for you."
● Chicago, IL Mayor: Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas grabbed first in Tuesday’s nonpartisan primary with 34%, while Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson beat Mayor Lori Lightfoot 20-17 for the crucial second spot in the April 4 general election. (The Associated Press, which has called both runoff slots, estimates that 94% of the vote is in, so these margins may change a little.) We’ll take a closer look at how Lightfoot became the first Chicago mayor to lose re-election since 1983, as well as what’s in store for the Vallas-Johnson showdown, in our next Digest.
● MI-Sen: While Rep. Debbie Dingell hasn't said much publicly about waging a Senate bid since January, she reiterated Tuesday that she was still open to the idea even though fellow Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin is running. "I haven't said no," she told Politico, adding, "So I respect Elissa and we're all just working together. We're all focused. We have to win this."
● MT-Sen: Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke sounded reluctant to challenge Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in a Tuesday interview with CNN, though he reiterated he was still thinking about it.
"I said I would do my best and do my duty to control the budget and provide the checks and balance on appropriations," the congressman told reporter Manu Raju, adding, "I gave my word that I would do it and do my best, and running for a Senate seat … is a distraction that I think would take me away from what I said." Zinke went on, "I would say because of who I am and my name, I have time [to decide]. So I'll let the field develop, you know how it is, and then I'll make a decision after I get the budget done."
● TX-Sen: State Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa lists Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner as someone who is thinking about taking on Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, though Hinojosa didn't provide any more information about Turner's interest in his interview with the Dallas Morning News.
Most of the talk on the Democratic side has revolved around Rep. Colin Allred, whom the paper reported last week is considering. Allred hasn't expressed interest publicly, though the Texas Tribune's Patrick Svitek notes that he avoided directly answering a question about his plans in a mid-February podcast appearance. "I know what I'll do is certainly be a part of seeing Ted Cruz get beat," Allred told James Carville and Al Hunt, but he didn't say if he was looking to be the one to beat Cruz.
● LA-Gov: State House Speaker Clay Schexnayder unexpectedly revealed this week that he was considering campaigning in this October's all-party primary for governor, saying that a "lot depends" whether or not his fellow Republican, Rep. Garret Graves, runs to succeed termed-out Democrat John Bel Edwards. We also learned Tuesday that Hillar Moore, a Democrat who serves as district attorney for East Baton Rouge Parish, would sit the race out.
Schexnayder began the year preparing to run to replace GOP Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser ahead of his own long-expected bid for the top job, but those plans were thrown into disarray in early January when Nungesser announced he'd seek re-election instead. Nungesser's decision not only meant that Schexnayder wouldn't be campaigning for the office tasked with issuing the annual crawfish pardon (yep, that's a thing), it also left the term-limited speaker searching for a new post to seek.
LA Politics' Jeremy Alford reported in January that Schexnayder was being encouraged to run for Ascension Parish president, but he told Alford Monday that he was now thinking about a campaign for governor and would "make a decision soon." Schexnayder used a separate interview with Lafayette Daily Advertiser reporter Greg Hilburn to say he was waiting to see what Graves did, though no one knows when the congressman will make up his mind. Graves did say last week that his own decision would come "sometime soon," though he also indicated he believed he could wait months longer and still win.
The Republican field currently consists of Attorney General Jeff Landry, Treasurer John Schroder, state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, and state Rep. Richard Nelson. The far-right Landry has long looked like the frontrunner, and he's been trying in recent weeks to appease his many intra-party enemies.
While Nungesser famously said last year that "Jeff is not a good person," he had a different take after the two would-be rivals met in mid-February. "I was encouraged he was willing to listen to everything I had to say," the lieutenant governor told the media, adding, "It was a part of Jeff I never saw or didn’t know about before." Alford also said Monday that Landry and Graves themselves had what the congressman's team described as a "positive" gathering.
No notable Democrats have entered the race yet, but that's likely to change soon. Shawn Wilson, who would be the first African American elected statewide since Reconstruction, will step down as state transportation secretary on March 4, and NOLA.com's Tyler Bridges says his announcement could also come "as soon as next week." Bridges adds that, with Moore out of the running, "No other major Democratic candidates appear likely to run" in this conservative state ahead of the August filing deadline.
The field also includes attorney Hunter Lundy, an independent who has self-funded $1.4 million so far. Lundy is a member of the governing board of the National Association of Christian Lawmakers, a Christian Nationalist group, and has attracted relatively little attention during the campaign, though he was mentioned in a recent Rolling Stone piece about the NACL. His appearance was brief, though: Writer Tim Dickinson said, "Lundy, in a legitimate excuse for a man from Southern Louisiana, was unavailable to be interviewed due to Mardi Gras."
P.S. So what exactly is the annual crawfish pardon? Hilburn reported from the 7th annual event in Breaux Bridge, a small community near Lafayette that the state legislature proclaimed as "the Crawfish Capital of the World" in 1959. Nungesser this year bestowed the pardon onto Firmin, a crawfish Hilburn says is named for the Acadian settler Firmin Breaux, who "built the first footbridge across Bayou Teche in 1799" decades after the British expelled him and other members of his community from Nova Scotia.
"At least this little guy will be saved from ending up on someone's plate during the Crawfish Festival in May or on a restaurant tray or in a backyard boil," Nungesser said of Firmin, who will instead live in the local Lake Fausse Point State Park.
● AZ-03: Raquel Terán said Tuesday that she was stepping down as state Senate minority leader "to explore" a bid to succeed her fellow Democrat, Senate contender Ruben Gallego.
● CA-12: BART Board member Lateefah Simon on Tuesday not only became the first serious Democrat to announce a bid to succeed Senate candidate Barbara Lee, she entered the race with endorsements from a few people who had previously shown some interest in running for this dark blue East Bay seat: Assemblywoman Mia Bonta, state Sen. Nancy Skinner, and former Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. Simon, who was born legally blind and uses public transportation to get to work, was first elected in 2016 to the body that oversees the Bay Area Rapid Transit system and is its only Black member.
Simon received a MacArthur Foundation genius grant earlier in her career in 2003 for her work leading the Center for Young Women's Development, with the group commending her for "[d]irecting a distinctive program to assist troubled girls in their transition from delinquency and poverty to healthy adulthoods." She also ran the anti-recidivism youth division when Vice President Kamala Harris was San Francisco district attorney, while Gov. Gavin Newsom later appointed Simon as a policing advisor to the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training.
● MI-07: State Rep. Emily Dievendorf didn't rule out running for the swing seat that her fellow Democrat, Rep. Elissa Slotkin, is giving up to run for the Senate, telling the Lansing State Journal's Sheldon Krause, "At this point I'm focused on serving MI House District 77 and am waiting to see which viable candidates emerge as options to fill Rep. Slotkin's seat."
Dievendorf's colleague, Jennifer Conlin, didn't sound likely, though, saying, "I am grateful to have this opportunity and will continue working tirelessly on their behalf in Michigan's House of Representatives." Another Democrat, state Sen. Sam Singh, did make it clear he wouldn't be running, however. Krause also mentions state Sen. Sarah Anthony and state Reps. Angela Witwer and Kara Hope as possible Democratic contenders, while the Detroit News lists former state Sen. Curtis Hertel as well.
On the Republican side, Krause identifies state Sen. Lana Theis as a potential candidate along with five state representatives: Brian Begole, Bob Bezotte, Graham Filler, Roger Hauck, and Gina Johnsen. An advisor to former state Sen. Tom Barrett, who lost to Slotkin 52-46 last year, said Monday his client "plans to" try again and will announce sometime in the next few weeks.
● MI-10: While former Macomb County Judge Carl Marlinga doesn't appear to have said anything publicly about seeking a rematch with Republican Rep. John James following his unexpectedly close 48.8-48.3 loss last year, Marlinga seems to be telling plenty of fellow Democrats that he plans to try again. Traverse City Commissioner Mitchell Treadwell tweeted on Feb. 18 that Marlinga was telling "anyone who asked him at the convention last weekend" that he'd run.
● NY-22: Manlius Town Councilor Katelyn Kriesel ended her brief campaign against freshman Republican Rep. Brandon Williams on Monday. Kriesel was the only Democrat in the contest, though her party will be working hard to target Williams in this 53-45 Biden constituency.
● RI-01: Attorney General Peter Neronha has revealed that he won't run in the upcoming special election to succeed his fellow Democrat, outgoing Rep. David Cicilline, while WPRI's Ted Nesi says that Biden administration official Gabe Amo is interested. State House Speaker Joe Shekarchi also declared Tuesday he is "exploring all options" even though Nesi writes that political observers have expected him to sit the primary out.
No major Democrats have entered the race in the week since Cicilline unexpectedly announced that he would resign on June 1 to head a nonprofit, but Robert Walsh, whom Nesi calls a "longtime Democratic powerbroker," suggests this is just due to timing. Walsh said that Cicilline made his departure known at an awkward time when the legislature isn't in session and schools are on break.
"I'd say by a week from today we should have the names of at least one or two major contenders for the seat either announced or announcing that they're going to announce," Walsh predicted, adding, "Wasting much more time than that is a barrier to entry in itself, and a lot of names that are floating around will have to take their names out of contention to be fair to the Democratic Party."
● WI Supreme Court: AdImpact reports that Fair Courts America, a super PAC bankrolled by the Uihlein family, has now booked close to $1 million for ads attacking progressive Janet Protasiewicz, whose side had the airwaves to themselves for the first week of the general election. The opening spot, which WisPolitics.com says will start running Wednesday, utilizes one of the right's favorite attacks and argues Protasiewicz has not issued harsh enough sentences.
WisPolitics also says that Protasiewicz's allies at A Better Wisconsin Together have reserved another $518,000, which brings its total general booking to $1.3 million for TV and digital spending. One spot goes after conservative Dan Kelly for having "likened Social Security to slavery," while the other warns that he "worked for a radical anti-abortion group and is endorsed by groups who ban abortions with no exceptions for rape or incest." Protasiewicz herself has reserved or spent at least $5.4 million for the April 4 general, while Kelly has yet to go on TV.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Erie County, NY Executive: Former Grand Island Town Supervisor Nate McMurray announced Monday that he was ending his Democratic primary bid against County Executive Mark Poloncarz, a move that leaves the three-term incumbent without any serious intra-party opposition in June. McMurray, who came unexpectedly close to flipping the now-defunct 27th Congressional District in 2018 then again in a 2020 special election, published a long thread on Twitter where he went after "the party machine" for making "a legitimate primary (from someone like me) nearly impossible."
● Jacksonville, FL Mayor: The University of North Florida has released its first survey of the year of the officially nonpartisan race, and it shows Democrat Donna Deegan well-positioned to end Jacksonville's status as the largest city in America with a Republican mayor.
The school finds Deegan, who is a former local TV anchor, leading with 37% in the March 21 primary as Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce CEO Daniel Davis beats his fellow Republican, City Councilmember Al Ferraro, 20-8 for second. UNF goes on to show Deegan beating Davis 48-39 in a May general election, while she does even better against both Ferraro and another Republican, City Councilmember LeAnne Gutierrez Cumber. A mid-February survey from St. Pete Polls also had Deegan and Davis advancing, though it gave her a much wider 51-26 edge in the second round.