Acosta, the dean of Florida International University’s law school and a former federal prosecutor in Florida, was selected to head the U.S. Department of Labor a day after Trump’s first pick for the post, fast food magnate Andrew Puzder, withdrew from consideration when his Senate confirmation ran aground. Acosta, 48, a Cuban-American, previously served in the Justice Department as U.S. attorney in Miami and head of the Civil Rights Division and has also been a member of the National Labor Relations Board. If confirmed, Acosta will be the first, and so far only, Latino in the Trump cabinet. (Posted February 16)
In all, 11 Republicans, five Democrats and two independents qualified for the April 18 special election in Georgia’s 6th District, hoping to succeed Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price in the suburban Atlanta district. The GOP field includes former Secretary of State Karen Handel and two former state senators, Judson Hill and Dan Moody, as well as two candidates, Bob Gray and Bruce LeVell, who are aligning themselves with President Trump, who carried the district by a scant 1.5 points in November. Trump’s weak showing has given Democrats hope of a flip. The Democratic field includes former State Senator Ron Slotin and Jon Ossoff, a filmmaker and former congressional aide who has already raised more than $760,000 through a crowd-funding page. (Posted February 16)
A day after Jeff Sessions was confirmed to be U.S. attorney general on a mostly party-line vote, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange was picked to fill Sessions’s vacant Senate seat. However, Strange’s elevation by Governor Robert Bentley is already generating controversy because the governor will get to pick a new state attorney general to oversee an investigation into Bentley’s romantic relationship with a former staffer. Sessions was confirmed after a contentious debate in which Democrats questioned his commitment to upholding civil rights. Only one Democrat–Joe Manchin of West Virginia–voted for his confirmation. (Posted February 9)
Both the Democratic and Republican parties in Virginia are facing the same establishment-versus-insurgent battles in the upcoming governor’s primaries that characterized the 2016 presidential contest. Democratic Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam appeared to be cruising to his party’s nomination until former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello jumped into the race. On the Republican side, Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman, is being challenged by Donald Trump’s former Virginia campaign chairman, a veteran state senator and a Tea Party-aligned businessman whose campaign is led by the manager who helped take down Eric Cantor in 2014. A February 2 poll from the Wason Center for Public Policy showed Gillespie and Northam leading but most voters still undecided.
Republican Henry McMaster has taken the reins as the new governor of South Carolina, after outgoing Governor Nikki Haley’s confirmation to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. McMaster, who had served as lieutenant governor since 2011, was sworn in during a brief ceremony inside the South Carolina State House on January 24, shortly after the U.S. Senate voted 96 to 4 to confirm Haley and she resigned the governorship. McMaster, 69, a former U.S. attorney and state attorney general, has been lieutenant governor since 2015. He is expected to seek a full term as governor in 2018. (Posted January 25).
If confirmed by the Senate, Perdue, a veterinarian by training who grew up on a family farm in central Georgia, will oversee the sprawling U.S. Department of Agriculture, with more than 100,000 employees and a $140 billion budget. In addition to farm programs, the department also oversees food safety, national forests and the food stamp program that provides nutritional assistance to more than 40 million low-income Americans. Perdue, 70, served two terms as Georgia governor from 2003 to 2011. His election in 2002 marked the first time a Republican had won the state’s chief executive post since Reconstruction. (Posted January 19)
Thirteen of the 40 Southern Democrats in the U.S. House have announced that they will not take part in January 20 inauguration of Donald Trump. Lawmakers from Florida, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia are among the no-shows. All represent urban or black-majority districts that were carried by Democrat Hillary Clinton. Trump’s tweets castigating U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, for boycotting the inaugural seemed to particularly rankle some of the members opting not to attend. Trump’s reaction was denounced as “repugnant,” “ignorant,” and “insensitive and foolish.” (Posted January 18)
In his inaugural address, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper issued a call to end the Tar Heel State’s contentious politics but also vowed to repeal a bill restricting use of public restroom facilities by transgendered people. “I don’t think anyone believes that North Carolina families sit around the kitchen table every night thinking that their lives would change for the better if only the legislature would spend its time on the hot-button social issues of the day,” Cooper said in a television address after a snowstorm wiped out public inaugural events. Cooper, a Democrat, defeated incumbent Republican Governor Pat McCrory in November. (Posted January 9)
Members of the Electoral College have met at 14 Southern statehouses and, as expected, gave the overwhelming majority of the region’s electoral votes to President-elect Donald Trump, ignoring calls by anti-Trump protestors to stop his elevation to the nation’s highest office. Trump carried 165 of the South’s 180 electoral votes in the December 19 vote. The only place where Republican electors broke ranks was in Texas, where two electors cast ballots for Ohio Governor John Kasich and former Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul. Hillary Clinton won the 13 electoral votes from Virginia, which was the only Southern state she carried. (Posted December 19)
Mulvaney, an ardent proponent of deep cuts in federal spending, has been selected to be the next director of the Office of Management and Budget, which oversees administration budget plans. In the House, Mulvaney, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, has taken on his own GOP leadership over government spending, opposing a 2013 bi-partisan budget deal designed to prevent a government shutdown. Should Mulvaney be confirmed by the Senate, a special election will be triggered in the Palmetto State’s 5th District, which Mulvaney has represented since 2011. (Posted December 18)
Perry, the former Texas governor, has been nominated to head the U.S. Department of Energy, despite his scathing criticism of President-elect Donald Trump when the two men battled for the Republican presidential nomination. Perry had also pledged to eliminate the department during his two presidential campaigns, most notably in his infamous “ooops” moment during a 2011 debate when he was unable to remember Energy as one of the three departments he had pledged to abolish. Perry, 66, served 14 years as governor of Texas from 2000 to 2014, the longest tenure of any governor in state history. (Posted December 14)
The third time was the charm for State Treasurer John Kennedy, who has captured a U.S. Senate seat from Louisiana on his third attempt for the office. Kennedy, a Republican, easily swept aside Democratic Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell in the December 10 runoff, winning by a margin of 61 percent to 39 percent. Meanwhile, in the 3rd District U.S. House race, Clay Higgins, a former deputy sheriff who has been dubbed the “Cajun John Wayne” for anti-crime videos that have gone viral on the Internet, beat Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle. The GOP kept all three of the federal offices up for grabs. (Posted December 11)
Pruitt, a vocal critic of the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations on coal-fired power plants and a skeptic of climate change science, has been nominated by President-elect Donald Trump to be the agency’s next leader. The pick quickly drew fire from environmentalists, with the head of the Sierra Club likening Pruitt’s selection to “putting an arsonist in charge of fighting fires.” As attorney general, Pruitt has sued the EPA and publicly criticized what he called its “anti-fossil fuel agenda.” (Posted December 8)
Chris Suprun, a paramedic from Dallas, announced in a New York Times op-ed that he won’t vote for Donald Trump because the president-elect “shows daily he is not qualified for the office.” He said presidential electors “have the legal right and a constitutional duty to vote their conscience,” calling on them to “unify behind a Republican alternative,” such as Ohio Governor John Kasich. Texas law doesn’t require electors to vote for Trump, who carried the state, although the Texas GOP requires them to take a pledge to do so. The state’s 38 electors will meet in Austin on December 19. (Posted December 6)
Nearly a month after election day, North Carolina’s hotly contested governor’s race has finally been settled and will flip into Democratic hands. Republican Governor Pat McCrory conceded the race to Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper on December 5, after it became clear that an ongoing recount in Durham County would not overturn Cooper’s 10,263-vote lead. The Cooper-McCrory contest is the only governor’s race in the country this year that shifted the office from Republican to Democrat. (Posted December 5)
U.S. Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, who has led the charge in Congress to repeal Obamacare, has been nominated by President-elect Donald Trump to head the Department of Health and Human Services, a post that took on vast new powers under the Affordable Care Act passed in 2009. Price, 62, an orthopedic surgeon, has led the charge in Congress to repeal Obamacare, a policy Trump vowed to pursue during the campaign. His confirmation to the HHS post will trigger a special election in Georgia’s heavily Republican 6th District, which takes in upscale suburbs north of the city of Atlanta. (Posted November 29)
A Christian conservative presidential elector in Texas has resigned rather than cast a vote for Donald Trump, dismissing the president-elect as not “biblically qualified” to be president. In a blog post announcing his resignation, Art Sisneros said he could neither vote for Trump nor break a pledge he made to the Texas Republican Party to support the winner of the November 8 election. “I believe voting for Trump would bring dishonor to God,” Sisneros said. Under state law, the rest of Texas’s electors will select a replacement for Sisneros when they convene in Austin on December 19. (Posted November 28) Photo Courtesy Art Sisneros/Texas Monthly
Haley has been nominated by President-elect Donald Trump to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, despite her earlier criticism of him and endorsements of two of his Republican rivals. Although Haley has little foreign policy experience, Trump, in a statement announcing her nomination, said she “is a proven deal maker, and we look to be making plenty of deals.” Haley, 44, the daughter of Sikh immigrants from India, is the first woman ever elected as governor in South Carolina. If she is confirmed, Republican Lieutenant Governor Henry McMaster will take over the Palmetto State’s governorship. (Posted November 23)
President-elect Donald Trump has picked Sessions, who was the first senator to endorse his presidential bid, to be the nation’s next attorney general, calling him “a world-class legal mind” who is “greatly admired by legal scholars and virtually everyone who knows him.” The selection of Sessions is likely to reignite a controversy from the 1980s, when his nomination to be a federal judge in Alabama was scuttled amid accusations the he made racially insensitive comments, which he denied. If Sessions is confirmed by the Senate, his vacant seat will be filled temporarily by Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, with a special election to follow. (Posted November 18)
U.S. Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia says he is through with presidential-level politics and will not run for the Democratic nomination in 2020. Kaine made those remarks in a November 17 interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, his first in-depth interview since he and Hillary Clinton went down to defeat on November 8. “I want to run and serve in the Senate for a long time,” Kaine said. “I think the Catholic in me likes to go to the place where there is the most work to be done.” Kaine is up for re-election in Virginia in 2018. (Posted November 18)
♦By Rich Shumate, Chicken Fried Politics.com editor
Prior to the November 8 election, Democrats were publicly hopeful that they might finally be turning back Republican hegemony in the South, to the degree that pro-Hillary Clinton ads were running not only in the battleground states of Florida and North Carolina but also in reliably Republican Georgia and Texas.
Election results show that thinking was not just wishful, it was magical.
In fact, Clinton did comparatively worse in the South than Barack Obama did four years ago (which, oddly, seems to undercut the notion that the South’s resistance to Obama was based on his race.) A look at regional and state-by-state figures in the presidential race shows just how grim election night was for Southerners with a D attached to their name. (Posted November 11)