Election Shifts Regulatory & Litigation Risk From Washington to State Attorneys General
In his remarkable run for the White House, billionaire real estate developer Donald J. Trump presented himself as the ultimate political outsider to leap-frog over 16 Republican primary opponents and went on to best the well-organized, well-financed campaign of Democratic Hillary Clinton on November 8. Mr. Trump is now poised to become the 45th president of the United States on January 20, 2017. And because Republicans have retained control of both the US Senate and House of Representatives, they will therefore control both political branches in Washington, DC. Because he has no political track record, itâ€™s too early to tell what specific actions Mr. Trump will take beyond the broad pronouncements he made during the campaign regarding immigration, trade, and regulation. What does seem clear, however, is that the regulation of business through federal executive agency rules will be less than what occurred during the Obama Administration, and this approach will â€œtrickle downâ€ through independent agencies as Mr. Trumpâ€™s appointees take their posts. This may be cold comfort to the business community. The state attorneys general, particularly Democrats, are independently elected and have perfected the use of â€œregulation through litigation,â€ which has its roots in the last anti-regulatory effort in Washingtonâ€”the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s. With Republicans controlling the Executive and Legislative branches at the federal level in 2017, the state attorneys general are expected to fill a predicted â€œregulatory vacuumâ€ by stepped up enforcement efforts to compensate for a slowdown in federal regulation and policy initiatives. And in some cases, this stepped-up enforcement will be nonpartisanâ€”both Democratic and Republican attorneys general can be expected to participate in multistate investigations and reviews of major law enforcement issues. While it remains to be seen how and whether the partnerships the attorneys general have developed with federal agencies (such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Federal Trade Commission, Department of Justice, Food & Drug Administration, Department of Labor, Securities and Exchange Commission) will survive the seismic change in Washington, the attorneys general have ample enforcement authority under their own consumer protection, antitrust, environmental, labor, and securities laws, and, in many instances, have the authority to enforce federal law on their own. In addition, this could impact the use of trial lawyers in some states. Should the attorneys general lack the prosecutorial resources they have previously found in federal agencies, they will find those resources readily available in contingent-fee trial lawyers ready, willing, and able to take on state enforcement, regulatory, and class action plaintiffsâ€™ work simultaneously. Moreover, if past is prologue, cash-starved states will join actions against businesses whether their attorney general is a Democrat or a Republican. The Big Five statesâ€”California (D), Florida (R), Illinois, (D), New York (D), and Texas (R)â€”have partnered, and will continue to partner, on major cases going forward.
The States Split: 28 Republicans / 22 Democrats / 1 Independent Republicans increased their majority among the attorneys general, picking up seats in Missouri and New Hampshire, and retaining the open seat in Indiana. Democrats retained open seats in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Vermont. Thirteen attorney general seats were directly or indirectly decided in this election cycle and will lead to a 28 Republican/22 Democratic/1 Independent split among attorneys general. All incumbents were re-elected on November 8. Republicans will continue to hold onto their majority established several years ago. At the same time, Republican dominance in state houses and governorships has continued, which is particularly important in determining redistricting of the US House of Representatives as well as potential state policy initiatives and regulation impacting business activities nationwide.
Impact of National Election on the States Mr. Trump prevailed in every state where Republican attorneys general either retained or picked up an attorney general post: Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Utah, and West Virginia. And although Secretary Clinton prevailed in New Hampshire, the state elected a Republican governor, and the next attorney general there will accordingly be a Republican. Only in Pennsylvania and North Carolina did a Democratic attorney general candidate survive Mr. Trumpâ€™s electoral victory. Democrats have retained attorney general posts in California, Maine, Oregon, Vermont, and Washingtonâ€”all states where Secretary Clinton prevailed.
Attorneys General Election Results Californiaâ€”Democratic Hold Attorney General Kamala Harris (D) won her US Senate race and will resign prior to assuming that seat. On December 1, Governor Jerry Brown (D) appointed 12-term Congressman Xavier Becerra (D) to complete Ms. Harrisâ€™s unexpired term, which ends in early 2019. The appointment is subject to confirmation by both houses of Californiaâ€™s Democratic-controlled legislature and will not be formally submitted for consideration by the legislature until Ms. Harris resigns. Indianaâ€”Republican Hold Four-term Elkhart County Prosecuting Attorney Curtis Hill (R) defeated retired Judge Lorenzo Arredondo (D) and will succeed Republican Attorney General Greg Zoeller. Zoeller had held the post for two terms and lost a congressional bid earlier this year. Mr. Hill has promised to create a â€œfederalism unitâ€ within the office to â€œdefend [Indiana] from the excessive overreach of the federal government,â€ especially in the areas of environmental enforcement, the Affordable Care Act, and the Second Amendment. He has pledged to make consumer protection a priority and to concentrate on cybercrimes and deceptive practices that disproportionately affect the elderly. Mr. Hill also has promised to increase â€œfood securityâ€ within his state by ensuring both the safety and affordability of food, and he has vowed to continue his predecessorâ€™s fight against substance abuse. Maineâ€”Democratic Hold The state legislature remains under Democratic control and has returned incumbent Attorney General Janet Mills to a fourth two-year term.
Missouriâ€”Republican Turnover Constitutional law professor Josh Hawley (R), who clerked for US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, defeated Democratic former Cass County Prosecutor Teresa Hensley and will succeed Chris Koster, the Democratic attorney general and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate. Mr. Hawley will be the first Republican attorney general in the state since 1993. He positioned himself as the outsider in the race, telling voters, â€œIâ€™ll stand with you, not with the Washington bureaucracy.â€ The main tenets of his campaign included â€œfighting federal overreachâ€ in the energy, agricultural, environmental, labor, and healthcare arenas; instituting lawsuit reform; prosecuting criminals; and shutting down â€œscam artists.â€ Montanaâ€”Republican Hold Attorney General Tim Fox (R) won his second term by defeating former State Senator Larry Gent (D). During his first term, Mr. Fox spent considerable resources addressing human trafficking and sexual assault, continued his Democratic predecessorâ€™s efforts to stem prescription drug abuse, and urged the US Congress to â€œstop federal agency overreach,â€ especially by opposing the Environmental Protection Agencyâ€™s Clean Power Plan and challenging President Barack Obamaâ€™s executive orders. In this election cycle, Mr. Fox pledged to continue to address human trafficking, sexual offenders, prescription drug abuse, and â€œlarge corporate scams.â€ He promised further to fight â€œpower grabsâ€ by the EPA. New Hampshireâ€”Republican Turnover Republican Chris Sununu prevailed in the governorâ€™s race and will appoint a new attorney general to succeed Democratic incumbent Joe Foster. North Carolinaâ€”Democratic Hold Former State Senator Josh Stein (D) defeated State Senator Buck Newton (R) and will succeed his former boss, Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper. House Bill 2, the stateâ€™s transgender â€œbathroom bill,â€ which Senator Newton sponsored, dominated both the gubernatorial and attorney general races. Mr. Stein, who served for eight years as the chief of Mr. Cooperâ€™s Consumer Protection Division before his election to the state senate, stressed his work on financial regulation, payday lending, privacy, and social media responsibility during his campaign. In addition, he highlighted his work as both an enforcer and legislator on clean water and energy issues. Oregonâ€”Democratic Hold Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum (D) defeated Veteransâ€™ Justice Project Director and former US Army Judge Advocate Daniel Crowe (R) to win her second term. Ms. Rosenblum has served as attorney general since June 2012, when she was appointed to fill the unexpired term of her predecessor, and was subsequently elected to her first term in November 2012. During her tenure, Ms. Rosenblum has focused her consumer protection efforts on prescription drug marketing and abuse; for-profit colleges and student debt; online security; telephone privacy; and payday lending. She highlighted these achievements during her reelection bid and also stressed her support of crime victims, prioritization of child support, and continued efforts to address elder abuse. Pennsylvaniaâ€”Democratic Hold Democrat Josh Shapiro defeated Republican John Rafferty, notwithstanding Mr. Trumpâ€™s victory in the commonwealth and the reelection of Republican Senator Pat Toomey. Mr. Shapiro is the chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners and a former state representative. The election is expected to bring stability to an attorney generalâ€™s office that has been roiled following an investigation and the July conviction of former Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Kane on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Mr. Shapiro campaigned on a platform of bringing â€œintegrityâ€ back to the office of attorney general; â€œdramatically expand[ing] the officeâ€™s consumer protection functionâ€; holding â€œbig companies and powerful interests accountableâ€ (stating that â€œit is absolutely the role of the attorney
general to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable if they are engaging in unlawful practicesâ€); promising to â€œtackle â€¦ fraud â€¦ by big banksâ€; ensuring safe drinking water by â€œholding â€¦ frackers accountableâ€; confronting the heroin epidemic; protecting seniors and other consumers from scams; and worker protections. Utahâ€”Republican Hold Republican Attorney General Sean Reyes was appointed in 2013 to fill the unexpired term of his predecessor and in 2014 was elected to complete the term of that predecessor. He was elected overwhelmingly after his Democratic opponent dropped out of the race in September. Since his appointment, Mr. Reyes has focused his enforcement efforts on online predation, prescription drug abuse, human trafficking, and encouraging the creation of a white collar crime registry. We expect him to continue his online and pharmaceutical-related enforcement priorities in his second term. Vermontâ€”Democratic Hold Three-term Chittenden County Stateâ€™s Attorney TJ Donovan (D) defeated attorney Deb Bucknam (R) and will succeed 19â€“year Democratic Attorney General Bill Sorrell, who did not run for reelection. Mr. Donovan serves as co-chair of the Governorâ€™s Criminal Justice and Substance Abuse Cabinet andâ€”as both stateâ€™s attorney and a candidateâ€”advocated for treatment on demand for drug addiction. His experience as a stateâ€™s attorney has colored his campaign themes, including â€œrestorativeâ€ justice and making public safety a â€œtop priority.â€ He has also said that civil rights, environmental regulation, consumer protection, union rights, and â€œfighting for a solution to the scourge of opiate addiction,â€ including by holding pharmaceutical companies responsible, will be among his priorities as attorney general. Washingtonâ€”Democratic Hold Democratic Attorney General Bob Ferguson was elected to his second term with no Republican opposition. Mr. Fergusonâ€™s first term was marked by an increased emphasis on consumer protection enforcement. He increased the number of attorneys devoted to consumer protection enforcement to 20 from five. His consumer protection efforts included actions against pharmaceutical, telecommunications, online, and dietary supplement companies. In addition, he brought suit against the US Department of Energy and its contractor alleging that hazardous tank vapors at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation endangered workers. West Virginiaâ€”Republican Hold Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey was reelected to his second term, defeating Democratic State Delegate Doug Reynolds in a hotly contested race. Mr. Morrisey worked during his first term to address prescription drug abuse. This included a best practices initiative to address overprescribing and over dispensing as well as suing a prescription drug distributor for â€œfailing to identify, detect, report and help stop the flood of suspicious drug ordersâ€ into West Virginia. He has expanded his officeâ€™s consumer protection capabilities and staffing and has been a leader among attorneys general in challenging the Obama Administrationâ€™s policies, including â€œstopping EPA overreach.â€ Mr. Morrisey has vowed that during his second term he will fight against â€œa tendency for some in Washington, DC, to seek to expand our federal government every chance they get.â€
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