Impending Vacancies

The new Congress has not yet convened, and already we are seeing potentially five vacancies occurring in the Senate and House.

Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse (R) has already accepted a new position as president of the University of Florida. His contract has a beginning date of February 6th, so the Senator says he will resign his seat in late January. This means incoming Gov. Jim Pillen (R) will appoint a successor.

The odds-on-favorite for the post is outgoing Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R). He was a major public supporter of Mr. Pillen’s in the critically important GOP open gubernatorial primary and helped him top a field of nine Republicans including an opponent who former President Donald Trump endorsed.

Originally, Gov. Ricketts, while expressing interest in serving as a Senator, committed to not appointing himself if Sen. Sasse planned to resign before Mr. Pillen took office. Now that the resignation won’t happen until late January, the self-appointment issue becomes moot.

The new Nebraska Senator will take office upon appointment, and then face the voters in a special election concurrent with the regular 2024 election cycle. Whoever wins that electoral contest will serve the balance of Sen. Sasse’s term, which ends at the beginning of 2027. Therefore, we will see this seat come before the electorate both in 2024 and 2026. Sen. Deb Fischer’s (R) seat is also in-cycle in 2024, so both Nebraska Senate seats will be voted upon in the next election.

Earlier this week, Indiana Sen. Mike Braun (R) filed a gubernatorial campaign committee with the Secretary of State. The action does not commit Sen. Braun to running for Governor but it is a clear first step toward him doing so. The Senator promises a formal announcement possibly as soon as later this month.

There is no indication, at least during this early campaign phase, that Mr. Braun will resign the Senate seat in order to campaign full-time, but such could be an option prior to the May 2024 primary.

He may find it difficult to be in attendance for Senate votes while campaigning in what could become a heated open Republican statewide primary contest. Mr. Braun could also come under his opponents’ attack for not performing the duties to which he was elected. Therefore, seeing another appointed Senator take office could potentially come into play in about a year.

Louisiana Senator John Kennedy* (R) says he will decide after the first of the year about whether to make a run for the 2023 open Governor’s position since incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) is ineligible to seek a third term.

It is expected that Sen. Kennedy will run, especially with at least two current statewide officials indicating that they would forego a bid for Governor if the Senator enters the race.

Should Sen. Kennedy become a gubernatorial candidate, and is successful in either the October jungle primary or November runoff election, he would be in position to appoint his own successor, but only for an interim period. Under Louisiana succession law the Governor must call an immediate special election to fill the unexpired portion of the term (in this case the remaining balance would be close to five years), and that must occur within 11 weeks from the date of the Governor’s call.

In the House, the unfortunate and unexpected death of Virginia Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Richmond) leaves the Democrats short one member for the foreseeable future. Additionally, with Illinois Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D-Chicago) announcing his candidacy for the Chicago Mayor’s position means we could see another Democratic vacancy if he is successful in the early 2023 municipal election.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) has the authority to schedule the special election to replace the late 4th District Congressman, and state law allows him wide latitude. The legislative elections are occurring next year, but with the Virginia primary scheduled for June 20th, it would be surprising to see Mr. Youngkin allow the seat to remain vacant for such a long period even though it would save the state money by not having to administer a stand-alone congressional special election. If he chooses the stand-alone approach, a likely schedule might include a party nomination phase in March with a special general election in April.

The Chicago Mayor’s political calendar shows a non-partisan primary election on February 28th. Nine candidates, including incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot, have qualified for the ballot, so the primary will be a hard-fought battle. In addition to Rep. Garcia, a state Representative, Cook County Commissioner, and two Chicago Aldermen are also mayoral candidates.

Considering the credible field, it is probable that this election will go to a runoff between the top two finishers, which is scheduled for April 4th.

Therefore, assuming Gov. Youngkin schedules the McEachin special election during the March-April time frame, and if Rep. Garcia wins the Mayor’s race, it is conceivable the Democrats could be down a seat through the end of June. If Mr. Garcia does win, his House vacancy wouldn’t occur until mid-April, and that would allow Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) to schedule the replacement election during a May-June time frame.

Considering the number of changes and potential changes we are seeing occur even before the new session begins, it is likely other similar vacancy situations will evolve as we move through next year.

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