By Jim Ellis
June 12, 2017 — It was always known that a large number of 2017-18 cycle governors’ races would be open contests, but finding several unelected incumbents running to hold their new positions is an unforeseen nuance.
In three states, and possibly soon a fourth, governors have been appointed to Trump administration positions or forced from office, thus allowing the lieutenant governor to move into the state’s top position.
South Carolina’s Nikki Haley, now UN Ambassador; Terry Branstad of Iowa becoming US Ambassador to China and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley being forced from office for misappropriation of state funds have made Henry McMaster (SC), Kim Reynolds (IA), and Kay Ivey (AL) overnight governors. While on paper and in practice this is a big advantage for the former lieutenant governors in running for the state’s top position, none of them have easy campaign roads, and not even for their respective party nominations.
Last week’s announcement from Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) that he will enter his state’s open gubernatorial contest next year may soon lead to him battling a new incumbent if on-again, off-again Washington, DC appointment rumors eventually prove true.
Speculation has abounded that President Trump will tap Gov. Sam Brownback (R-KS) for an open United Nations position, or another associated with foreign policy. Though such talk has been a subject of discussion since February and he has yet to be appointed, it is unclear if such will ever happen. Should it, however, then Secretary Kobach, oil businessman Wink Hartman, and ex-state Rep. Ed O’Malley will have to face a new sitting Republican governor, Jeff Colyer, the current lieutenant governor.
Colyer has been expected to enter the gubernatorial campaign, but with the Brownback appointment rumors still alive, at least to some extent, the lieutenant governor will simply wait to make a final political decision when it becomes clear whether he will inherit the office.
In South Carolina, new Gov. Henry McMaster (R) has yet to formally announce his intention to run for a full term, but there is little doubt that he will. But, he, like the others in similar situations, will not get a free ride in the Republican primary. He already has drawn opposition from Catherine Templeton, who Gov. Haley placed in two different cabinet positions, and former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill who actually served his time in office as a Democrat.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R), in office only since May 25, currently has seven Democratic opponents and now will likely face a primary challenge from Cedar Rapids Republican Mayor Ron Corbett. This week, the mayor said he will announce his gubernatorial campaign at the end of the month.
With Alabama Gov. Bentley being forced to resign as part of a plea bargain, Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey (R) assumed the state’s top position. Like McMaster and Reynolds, she has yet to confirm running, but it is believed that all will seek full terms.
In Gov. Ivey’s case, her delay in sending the campaign signal has led to a large number of Republicans already getting into the race. State Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan, Alabama Public Service Commission president Twinkle Cavanaugh, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Jefferson County Commissioner David Carrington, and businessman Josh Jones are all announced Republican candidates.
In addition to the new governors attempting to defend their seats, we will see a total of 18 additional races in the open category, mostly because the incumbent governors are facing state term limit laws.
The governors’ elections are of particular importance in this election cycle because it is the next winning group who will control the veto pen for the next redistricting.
With so much uncertainty in the governors’ ranks because of the large number of open seats and unelected incumbents facing stiff competition in both their primary and general election campaigns, more chaos will emerge for the coming redistricting wars in addition to the recent high court decisions that could invalidate several current maps. Therefore, the governors campaigns are of great consequence not only in the affected states, but also for the power to draw political maps for the coming decade.