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Off to the Races: Legislative Leadership Elections

By Taylor Huhn  |  November 4, 2022

Some state legislators have begun looking beyond the fall general election to the next challenge: leadership elections for 2023-24. Some have been laying the groundwork quietly for years, while others are engaged in public and competitive races. No matter how they happen, races to decide who leads each chamber might prove just as consequential as the primary and general elections themselves.

In some states, term limits—either for the legislator or the leadership position itself—determine the timing of legislative retirements. In other cases, leaders might leave to pursue other opportunities or simply decide to move on from public life.

Some Retirements Confirmed

Several notable retirements already are confirmed for 2022. It will be a year of significant change in the Oregon Legislative Assembly, starting with the announcement by Senate President Peter Courtney (D) that he will not run for reelection. His 19 consecutive years as president mark the third-longest-known streak for the leader of a state senate. In the House, Speaker Tina Kotek (D) resigned to run for governor after nine years holding the gavel. The race to replace Courtney has just begun, but House Democrats have already chosen Rep. Dan Rayfield (D) as speaker.

Regardless of the timing or the manner in which legislative leaders are selected, the races will result in changes of leadership structures in legislatures across the country

In other cases, current leaders might have no intention of leaving but face opponents in the primary, general election or within their own caucus. In the Arkansas Senate, President Pro Tempore Jimmy Hickey (R) hopes to win reelection as the chamber’s leader but faces two challengers: Sens. Bart Hester (R) and Kim Hammer (R).

The Georgia Senate will also feature a leadership contest, but it will look very different from most other leadership elections across the country. In Georgia, the Senate’s presiding officer is the lieutenant governor, who is not a senator but an independently elected constitutional officer chosen in a statewide general election. Incumbent Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan (R) has chosen not to seek reelection, and multiple candidates hope to replace him. On the Republican side, there are current Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller, Sen. Burt Jones and businesswoman Jeanne Seaver. Democratic hopefuls include Reps. Erick Allen, Renitta Shannon and Derrick Shannon, along with former prosecutor Charlie Bailey. The winners of their respective primaries on May 24 will face off in the general election in November.

Leader Selection Varies

The processes and timing used to select chamber leadership vary widely across the states, which can impact how races play out. Florida presents a unique example of timing: The House speaker for 2022-24 has already been chosen—as have the speakers for 2024-26 and 2026-28. The Florida Legislature chooses a speaker-designee from each “class” of representatives to serve as speaker during that class’ fourth and final term in office. Rep. Paul Renner (R) is slated to be the new speaker following this year’s general election.

This system, based on the rules of the majority caucus, assumes that Republicans will maintain their majority in the upcoming year and that the speaker-designees will win reelection every two years. The next race for House speaker will take place after the conclusion of the 2023 legislative session, when next year’s freshmen will determine who will be speaker in 2028.

Regardless of the timing or the manner in which legislative leaders are selected, the races will result in changes of leadership structures in legislatures across the country. Below is a list of some known leadership departures coming in 2022. The leaders who fill the shoes of those below will determine the direction of their chambers in the coming years.

Known Leadership Departures*

State Title Current Leader
Alabama House Speaker Mac McCutcheon
Alaska Senate President Peter Micciche
Arizona Senate President Karen Fann
Arizona House Speaker Russell Bowers
Arkansas Senate President Pro Tem Jimmy Hickey
Colorado‡ House Speaker Alec Garnett
Colorado† Senate President Leroy Garcia
Florida‡ Senate President Wilton Simpson
Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls
Georgia Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan
Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke
Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman
Louisiana‡ House Speaker Clay Schexnayder
Louisiana‡ Senate President Page Cortez
Maine‡ House Speaker Ryan Fecteau
Michigan‡ House Speaker Jason Wentworth
Michigan‡ Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey
Missouri‡ Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz
Missouri‡ House Speaker Rob Vescovo
Montana‡ Senate President Mark Blasdel
Montana‡ House Speaker Wylie Galt
Nebraska Speaker of the Legislature Mike Hilgers
Nevada† Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson
New Hampshire Senate President Chuck Morse
New Mexico House Speaker Brian Egolf
North Dakota Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner
North Dakota House Majority Leader Chet Pollert
Ohio‡ House Speaker Bob Cupp
Oregon† House Speaker Tina Kotek
Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney
Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tem Jake Corman
South Carolina† House Speaker Jay Lucas
South Dakota House Speaker Spencer Gosch
Vermont Senate President Becca Balint
Wyoming House Speaker Eric Barlow

*This is not an exhaustive list of legislative leadership changes that may take place this year.

†Leader has already stepped down and new leader has been elected (or will be elected). 

‡Leader is departing due to term limits. Note that the two leaders in Louisiana are currently serving their final terms, but their terms do not end until the end of 2023.

Taylor Huhn is a senior program specialist in NCSL’s Leaders and International Program.

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