Monday, May 4, 2015

The Big, Bad, Colorful Chart That Explains State Constitutional Offices

Next election, spare a thought for the poor constitutional officers. The statewide elected officials not titled “governor” are little more than an afterthought for most election watchers, but, as I’ve argued before, they shouldn’t be: they make more policy than Congress these days, and they’re surrounded by every bit as much drama. (For an example, look no farther than the incredible fallout over Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich's suicide.) Oh yeah, and they often rise to become more than just constitutional officers.

Basically, we should keep better track of them—but, in fairness, that’s hard to do. Every state has different constitutional officers and different ways of choosing them, making the constitutional-office picture much messier than, say, the U.S. Senate. To solve that problem, I wanted a source that laid it all out visually—so I created this giant chart, also embedded at the bottom of this page. (A huge assist for this goes to Ballotpedia, where I researched all this data.)

The chart provides info on every constitutional office in the 50 states: which states have which offices (and what they’re called—a frequent local quirk); whether they are Democratic-held (blue), Republican-held (red), independent-held (yellow), vacant (gray), or nonpartisan (white); how they’re selected; and, if elected, when the next election will be. It lists the biggies—lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and treasurer—but also the underappreciated of the underappreciated: labor commissioners, school superintendents, and mine inspectors (well, mine inspector, singular)—all the "individual dudes" in state government. (Corporation commissioners, public utility commissioners, railroad commissioners, and elected members of other statewide boards aren’t included.)

The chart illustrates some really important lessons that constitutional officers can teach us. First and foremost, it is proof positive of the Republican stranglehold on state government these days; the GOP has the edge in the partisan breakdown of every single constitutional office (viewable at the bottom of the Google doc). Democrats do OK in comptroller (5–4) and insurance commissioner (6–5) races for some reason, but they get clobbered when it comes to agriculture commissioners (11–1) and, strangely, labor commissioners (3–0–1). It’s also fascinating how all partisan superintendents and land commissioners elected in presidential years (four of 'em) are Democrats, yet all partisan superintendents and land commissioners elected in midterm years (10 of 'em) are Republicans. It really goes to show how constitutional offices can serve as weather vanes for which way the political winds are blowing.

I hope you'll play around and learn a little more about these forgotten offices, and keep your eyes peeled to this blog for more coverage of constitutional offices in this off year.

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