Non-partisan U.S. Political News Reporting

FBI narrows probe in St. Joseph stipend scandal

Jul 28 2014

July 28, 2014 By Sam Zeff

St. Joseph Superintendent Fred Czerwonka, nicknamed “The Candy Man”

A federal criminal investigation into fiscal mismanagement in Missouri’s St. Joseph School District has narrowed its focus and is picking up steam, Ballotpedia.org has learned.

A second grand jury subpoena for documents shows the scope and depth of the investigations underway by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Attorney in Kansas City. The first subpoena demanded personnel records, contracts and financial data for 25 district employees going back to 2000, according to a source who has copies of the subpoenas. The grand jury also wanted board minutes, agendas and other information.

The second subpoena has narrowed the focus to 14 district employees, all top administrators. The second subpoena seeks additional financial information, including expense reports, and does not go as far back in time.

Ballotpedia.org has also learned that Todd Graves, a top white-collar criminal defense lawyer in Kansas City and a former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, has been retained by someone outside the district but who is involved in the FBI probe.

The FBI launched its investigation into the St. Joseph School District in April when it was revealed at a school board meeting that Superintendent Dr. Fred Czerwonka used a $270,000 insurance rebate to give $5,000 stipends to 54 administrators without the knowledge or approval of the board.

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Battleground Friday: Arizona’s 1st Congressional District

Jul 25 2014

In the next profile of our 2014 battleground districts, Ballotpedia is taking an in-depth look at Arizona’s 1st Congressional District‘s 2014 election.

Current incumbent: Ann Kirkpatrick (D) was first elected to the House in 2008. She then lost her re-election bid to Paul Gosar in 2010. Due to redistricting, Gosar was moved to the 4th Congressional District. Kirkpatrick ran for the newly open 1st District seat and won it back in 2012. She is one of five House Democrats who were ousted in 2010 and won back a seat in 2012.[1]

Kirkpatrick is a member of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Frontline Program. The program is designed to help protect vulnerable Democratic incumbents heading into the 2014 election.[2] According to a Washington Post article in December 2012, Kirkpatrick is one of the 10 most vulnerable incumbents in 2014.[3]

2012 MOV: Kirkpatrick won the seat in 2012 with a margin of victory of 3.7% over Jonathan Paton (R). The two candidates were separated by 9,180 votes.[4]

2014 candidates: Three Republican challengers will face off in the primary for a chance to defeat Kirkpatrick: State Reps. Adam Kwasman and Andy Tobin and businessman Gary Kiehne.[5] Kwasman was the first Republican challenger to announce his entry into the race and was endorsed by FreedomWorks for America and the Tea Party Leadership Fund.

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JP Election Brief: Runoffs, retentions and a special election

Jul 24 2014

 Georgia judicial elections wrap-up with runoff

Georgia: Georgia’s relatively early judicial elections concluded on July 22, 2014, following the state’s runoffs. The runoff elections were held to decide races in which no candidate received over 50% of the votes in the election on May 20. This year, one incumbent, David Blevins, was ousted in the runoff.

Below are the results of all the judicial runoff races.[1]

 Tennessee retention elections under scrutiny

Tennessee: Tennessee Republicans in the State House of Representatives attacked the state’s judicial retention election process in an open letter released earlier this month. The letter, which was penned by House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattannooga, and signed by seven other Republican house members, took particular aim at the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (JPEC), the appointed body tasked with making recommendations as to whether incumbent judges may be allowed to stand for an unopposed retention election.[2]

The letter quoted a Wall Street Journal article accusing the election system of having “transferred power to state bar associations while shielding the selection process from public scrutiny.” It also decried the system as “dominated by partisan politics where only a chosen few have any input into who rules the powerful judicial branch of Tennessee’s government.”[2]

House Republicans aren’t the only ones critical of the JPEC, however.

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Newcomers win three-quarters of school board seats in Georgia runoff elections

Jul 23 2014

The Georgia runoff elections saw a number of fresh faces elected to school boards across the state on July 22, 2014. Only four incumbents kept their seats, leaving nine out of the 13 seats up for election won by new candidates. The 13 seats that held runoff elections were part of nine districts across the state: Barrow, Colquitt, DeKalb, Dougherty, Fayette, HallHouston, Muscogee and Savannah-Chatham.

Out of the nine incumbents who were up for election in the runoff, only Patricia H. Anderson from Colquitt County SchoolsMichael A. Erwin and Jim McMahan from DeKalb County School District, and Brian G. Sloan from Hall County Schools were re-elected. Incumbent Karen Carter from DeKalb County School District lost to McMahon after the school board shrunk in size from nine seats to seven, pitting the two incumbents against each other.[1] Thad Mayfield, another incumbent from DeKalb County School District, lost the District 5 seat to Vickie B. Turner. Incumbent John Wells lost the Muscogee District 2 seat to challenger John F. Thomas, and Republican incumbents Randall Holland and Will Dunn from the Barrow County School System lost to challengers Debi Krause and Michael Shelley, respectively, in the Republican primary runoff.

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Republican superintendent runoff poised for recount: Georgia state executive elections review, 2014

Jul 23 2014

ATLANTA, Georgia: Former Decatur School Board Chairwoman Valarie Wilson was declared the Democratic nominee for Georgia State Superintendent of Schools over state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan late on election night, while the Republican runoff between chief academic officer for the state Department of Education Mike Buck and veteran Irwin County educator Richard Woods was too close to call. The latter contest remains a mystery as of midday of July 23.[1][2]

At 100% precincts reporting, Woods leads by 726 votes out of 397,790 cast, not accounting for provisional ballots.[3] Georgia law allows candidates to request a recount if the margin of victory is less than one percent, which in this case applies and will likely come to pass.[2]

The superintendent seat is the only open seat out of the ten state executive offices up for election in the 2014 electoral cycle. Rather than seek a second term as superintendent in 2014, first term Republican incumbent John Barge chose to run for governor. He was defeated by incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal in the Republican primary on May 20, 2014. Barge’s term expires on January 12, 2015, when he will have to cede the superintendent’s office to his elected successor.

The superintendent is charged by state law to “carry out and enforce all the rules and regulations of the State Board of Education and the laws governing the schools receiving state aid.” Additionally, he is directed to make recommendations to the board on matters related to the “welfare and efficiency” of the public school system.

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Federal Courts, Empty Benches: The Wednesday Vacancy Count 7/23/2014

Jul 23 2014

This week’s Federal Courts, Empty Benches: The Wednesday Vacancy Count includes nominations, confirmations and vacancies from July 16, 2014, to July 22, 2014. Nominations, confirmations and vacancies occurring on July 23rd will be reflected in the July 30th report. This week saw the confirmation of Ronnie L. White to the Eastern District of Missouri. His confirmation is of note due to the fact that his nomination to the same court was blocked in the 1990′s. Julie Carnes was elevated from the Northern District of Georgia to the Eleventh Circuit. The Middle District of Louisiana, the Southern District of Florida and the Central District of California gained a judge each with the confirmation of John W. deGravelles, Robin L. Rosenberg and André Birotte, Jr.

The vacancy warning level remained at blue this week after one new vacancy and five new confirmations. The vacancy percentage fell to 6.5%. There were no new nominations this week, which allowed the total number of nominees waiting for confirmation to fall to 24. The number of vacancies of Article III judges fell to 57 out of 874. A breakdown of the vacancies on each level can be found in the table below. For a more detailed look at the vacancies on the federal courts, see our Federal Court Vacancy Warning System.

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2014 elections review: Unexpected winner in Georgia Senate runoff

Jul 23 2014

In an unexpected twist, businessman David Perdue, a political newcomer and cousin of former Gov. Sonny Perdue, managed to beat out three Reps. and a former state executive for the Republican nomination in the race for the Senate seat.[1] After advancing past the primary election on May 20, 2014, beating out Phil Gingrey, Paul Broun and former secretary of state Karen Handel in the process, Perdue won out over Rep. Jack Kingston for the nomination in the Republican runoff primary election yesterday.[2] Perdue defeated Kingston 51 to 49 percent.[1][3]

The crowded field of candidates in the race for the Senate seat and three House seats narrowed to the top two candidates after the primary elections on May 20, 2014. Georgia law dictates that if no candidate receives a majority of the votes, the top two candidates were required to advance to the runoff primary.[4]

See also: United States Senate elections in Georgia, 2014

The election will fill the Senate seat currently held by retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R). Chambliss was first elected in 2002. On January 25, 2013, Chambliss announced that he was retiring at the end of his current term and would not seek re-election in 2014.[5]

The primary for the open seat was highlighted as one of the top five primaries to watch in 2014.

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The Tuesday Count: From Citizens United v. FEC to parental custody battles, diverse issues certified for November ballot

Jul 23 2014

3 certifications 121 measures for 2014

Certifications (News) Natural resources (Quick hits) Minimum wage (Spotlight)

Governor Jerry Brown (D) begrudgingly approved his party’s desire to place an advisory question on the ballot related to Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Gov. Brown did not sign the Amendment to Overturn Citizens United Ruling Question saying the legislature should not “clutter our ballots,” but permitted the measure nonetheless due to the legislature’s “commitment on this issue.”[1] Republicans, who universally voted against the measure in the legislature, argued that the measure “will waste taxpayer dollars but won’t change anything.”[2]

Following California, as well as neighboring Washington, Oregonians may establish a top-two primary system in November. The Open Primary Initiative, coming six years after the failed Measure 65, would institute a primary system where all candidates are listed together, regardless of party affiliation, and the top two finishers advance to the general election.[3]

Like top-two primary supporters in Oregon, North Dakota advocates of child custody reform are following the proverb “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Certified on July 21, the Parental Rights Initiative is expected to face a heated battle with proponents saying the issue is about equality between mothers and fathers and opponents arguing that the initiative is emphasizing parental rights over children’s rights.

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Primary runoff preview: Georgia state executive official elections, 2014

Jul 21 2014

ATLANTA, Georgia: Georgia voters faced six contested state executive primary races on May 20, two of which, the Democratic and Republican primaries for Georgia State Superintendent of Schools, prompted runoffs. Since neither field managed to produce a definitive victor—that is, no one received at least 50 percent of the primary vote—the top two vote-getters from each race must face off on July 22 to decide who will advance to the general election: state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan and former Decatur School Board Chairwoman Valarie Wilson for the Democrats;[1][2] chief academic officer for the state Department of Education Mike Buck and veteran Irwin County educator Richard Woods for the Republicans.[3]

The superintendent seat is the only open seat out of the ten state executive offices up for election in the 2014 electoral cycle. Rather than seek a second term as superintendent in 2014, Barge chose to run for governor. He was defeated by incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal in the Republican primary on May 20, 2014. Barge’s term expires on January 12, 2015, at which time he will have to cede the superintendent’s office to his elected successor.

The superintendent is charged by state law to “carry out and enforce all the rules and regulations of the State Board of Education and the laws governing the schools receiving state aid.” Additionally, he is directed to make recommendations to the board on matters related to the “welfare and efficiency” of the public school system.

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State Legislative Tracker: Redistricting controversies in two states

Jul 21 2014

This week’s tracker includes a look at the issues surrounding redistricting in Florida and Texas.

Last week, no state adjourned its legislative session. Ten states remain in session. Here is a brief look at issues making headlines across the country:

Florida: As the Tracker reported last week, the Florida State Legislature has been ordered by a federal judge to redraw the congressional map it was tasked with creating following the 2010 census due to the unconstitutionality of two districts, which were deemed to have been drawn to benefit Republicans. The timeline to complete the changes before the 2014 elections, however, remains in question. On Thursday, circuit judge Terry Lewis briefly heard from lawyers representing the legislature, Secretary of State and state election authorities; they informed him that voting had already begun ahead of the August 26 primary by means of absentee ballots, some of which were already returned by the day of the meeting. Ron Labasky, attorney for all but one of the state’s election supervisors, expressed doubt over the feasibility of redrawing this year, telling the judge, “I’m not sure how we back up and allow someone to vote again in a new district.”[1] David King, representing petitioners including the League of Women Voters, urged the legislature to work on a new map immediately, noting that the 2012 elections had been carried out with an unconstitutional map.
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