Note: This is an abridged version of the Tracker. For the full report click here.
When the Illinois State Legislature met in special session last Friday, they had two goals – address comprehensive pension reform and the matter of Rep. Derrick Smith, who had been arrested earlier this year on bribery charges. While they failed to act on the estimated $85 million pension shortfall, lawmakers did take swift action against Smith, voting 100–6 to expel him. It was the first time in over 100 years that Illinois legislators threw a fellow sitting lawmaker out of office.
On March 13, 2012, Smith, who was appointed to the seat only a year earlier, was arrested by federal agents and charged with bribery after he allegedly accepted $7,000 in return for supporting a $50,000 state grant to a day care center. Smith did not realize his deal was being struck with an undercover informant. The bribery charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years and a $250,000 fine. He was released on a $4,500 personal bond.
Smith’s 2012 primary opponent, Tom Swiss, called for Smith’s resignation and withdrawal from the primary election. Democratic leaders encouraged voters to vote for him in the primary despite his arrest, with the idea that Smith would then take himself off the ballot so the party could appoint someone else to run in November. However, after winning the primary, Smith refused to step down.
Even with his expulsion, Smith has vowed to stay on the ballot. If he wins the November 6 election, he could be sworn in again and could not be expelled a second time for the same findings. However, if he is convicted of the charges, he would be automatically removed from the legislature. Smith stated, “I am sad because my colleagues in the House saw fit to remove me from office. The bottom line is that my former colleagues did not know the whole truth, and I look forward to that day when they do.”
The only other legislator to be expelled from office was Democratic Rep. Frank Comerford back in 1905. In a speech to students at the Illinois College of Law, Comerford, likening the General Assembly to “a great public auction,” named lawmakers who were rumored to have taken bribes and detailed the money that was exchanged. Soon after he was kicked out of the House for “besmirching its good name and reputation.”
This week 4 out of 50 state legislatures – New Jersey, Ohio and California are meeting in regular session, while Massachusetts is meeting in informal session, which it will continue to do throughout the rest of the year. As of May 16, all states had convened their 2012 sessions. No states are projected to adjourn this week.
Although most states have concluded 2012 business, some states have already begun 2013 action. Drafting for 2013 has begun in Montana and North Dakota, while prefiling of legislation is going on in Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia.
In 2011, special sessions were a widespread occurrence in state legislatures. This was largely due to states’ having to complete the redistricting process for legislative and congressional districts. Overall in 2011, there were 45 special sessions in 28 states.
Since the beginning of 2012, there have been 18 special sessions in 14 states. There are no special sessions currently ongoing, with the next scheduled for August 24 in Minnesota.
2012 Legislative Elections
A total of 86 of the 99 chambers will hold state legislative elections on November 6, 2012.
1,301 (65.97%) of the country’s 1,972 state senate seats are up for election in November 2012, and 4,714 (87.12%) of the country’s 5,411 state house seats are up for election. Altogether, 6,015 (81.47%) of the country’s 7,383 state legislative seats will be up for election during the presidential election year.
- 43 of the 50 state senates are holding elections.
- 43 of the 49 state houses are holding elections.
The 6,015 seats up for election is 110 fewer than the 6,125 that were contested in 2010.
As of July 12, all signature filing deadlines have passed.
- See also: 2012 election dates
There are state legislative primaries taking place this week in one state – Wyoming.
A total of 151 state legislative incumbents have been defeated in a primary – 95 Republicans and 56 Democrats.
So far, primaries have taken place in 35 states.
States with upcoming primaries:
- August 21: Wyoming
- August 28: Alaska, Arizona, Vermont
- September 11: Delaware, New Hampshire, Rhode Island
- September 13: New York
- September 18: Massachusetts