Who leaves an office often tells as interesting a story as who wins an election. Since the 2016 presidential election, for example, many have written of the potential electoral consequences of a spike in Republican retirements in the House of Representatives. But, what do we know about other chambers? Who left office in 2019? Are there departure trends in state and local government? What other stories might these data reveal?
Look no further–we’ve built a map for that.
But, before we get to it, a few caveats. The data powering it comes from Cicero, a.k.a. Democracy’s Database. Cicero maintains information about elected officials, legislative districts, and election events for nine countries and over 45,700 officeholders.
We maintain detailed information about legislators and executives at the federal and state level as well as more than 350 cities and counties. Still, that’s not every municipality in the U.S. At least not yet. We’re working with clients, other businesses, and grant-funding institutions to achieve our goal of providing “legislative district and elected official data for every democracy in the world, at every level of government.”
Caveats aside, here is a map of U.S. officials who left office before the end of their elected term in 2019 and why:
A map showing which U.S. officials left office in 2019 and why. Departures are categorized into seven categories.
Departures are grouped into the following seven categories:
- Election or Appointment to Another Office
- Career Change or Retirement
- Health, Family, or Personal reasons; Misconduct
- Recount or Overturned Election
Click on any point on the map to find out more information about the official or officials who left office from that city.
209 people left office in 2019. Departures occurred in forty-eight states and Puerto Rico. The exceptions? Delaware and Wyoming. California topped the list of most departed officials: fifteen. This is unsurprising given both the state’s population and the skew of Cicero’s local coverage. But, Connecticut, which tied Ohio for third place (ten departures each), shows that it’s not only raw population driving these numbers.
A map showing how many officials left office before the end of their term in 2019 in each state and Puerto Rico.
Spikes in departures bookended the year. In January, forty-nine officials left office–the most in any month; likely a reflection of the large number of terms that begin then. 2019 began with the swearing in of a new U.S. Congress, and Ilhan Omar and Mark Green were among those who exited other offices to take seats in it.
In November and December, officials seemed to reevaluate their career choices. Some, such as former South Dakota State Senator Stace Nelson retired from work entirely. Others switched industries, including Vinny deMacedo (Massachusetts Senate) who took a position at Bridgewater University.
Less explainable is the small increase in departures in May. Much like the beginning and end of the year, a number of officials took other seats or changed jobs. Guy Palumbo left the Washington Senate to become a Director of Public Policy with Amazon, and Leirion Gaylor Baird vacated Lincoln, Nebraska’s City Council after winning the mayoral race.
Five officials also died that month, accounting for nearly a quarter of the twenty-one May departures. In total, seventeen officeholders lost their lives in 2019. Among the deceased were Ezequiel Santiago (Connecticut House) who died suddenly at 45 and former Oregon Senate Minority Leader Jackie Winters who died at 82 after a struggle with lung cancer.
One death–that of New Jersey Senator Tony Bucco–created two vacancies. When the Senator died in September, his son, Tony Bucco, was appointed to the seat, vacating his own spot in the New Jersey House. Three representatives, Dale Denno (Maine House) and Linda Orange (Connecticut House), and Carlo Leone (Peoria, AZ City Council) retired for health reasons before later passing away.
The most common reasons for resignations in 2019 were winning a different seat and changing careers. Together these categories accounted for 63% of the departures. The latter also includes those who left office to assume roles in cabinets or state agencies. Among them are Cisco McSorley of the New Mexico Senate, named Director of the state’s Probation and Parole Division, and Scott Ryan who resigned his seat in the Ohio House to join the administration of Governor Mike DeWine.
The numbers seem to say, in short, “Once a politician, always a politician.” The “ripple effect” one departure can create statewide illustrates this point. California provides several good examples. In early 2019, Ricardo Lara resigned his seat in the CA Senate after winning the election as the state’s Insurance Commissioner. When Lena Gonzalez won his seat in June, this led to a vacancy in her previous seat on the Long Beach City Council. Now, a new politician and first-time officeholder, Mary Zendejas, fills the Long Beach seat.
Also interesting were those who left state and federal positions to take local ones. While it seems counterintuitive to the typical career progression, a fair number of officials took this path in 2019. This includes Brandon Ellington who left the Missouri House for a seat on the Kansas City Council and Sheldon Neeley who left a Michigan House seat to assume the role of Mayor in Flint. Impending House term limits may have precipitated Ellington’s move. Neeley listed the ongoing water crisis as motivation for seeking Flint’s mayoral seat.
The price of politics
The third largest category of departures, health and other personal reasons, reveals another facet of political life.
The rapid aging of U.S. presidents due to the stress of the office is well documented. State and local politicians may not face the same magnitude of pressures, but, the number of resignations to focus on health and family indicate that these positions also take a toll. In Missouri, activist and state representative Bruce Franks cited a struggle with depression in his resignation statement. Michael McAuliffe, of the Illinois House, described regret at missing important moments in his children’s lives while discussing his departure.
Misbehavior in and out of office
Misconduct accounted for about ten percent of 2019’s resignations. Of the twenty-one officials in this category, six resigned before or just after facing criminal charges. These include Cheryl Glenn (wire fraud and bribery) and Tawanna Gaines (wire fraud) of the Maryland House of Delegates, as well as Luis Arroyo of the Illinois House (bribery).
In Pennsylvania, Movita Johnson-Harrell resigned after being charged with perjury, tampering with public funds, and theft. Ironically, Johnson-Harrell, who eventually pleaded guilty, won the seat in a special election due to misconduct. Its previous holder, Vanessa Lowery Brown, was convicted of corruption.
Sexual misconduct drove many departures in 2019. While the numbers don’t quite match the spike of resignations following the advent of the #MeToo movement from late 2017 to 2018, they do show that sexual harassment remains a persistent problem in politics.
The year began with two embattled state Senators leaving office. In Colorado, Randy Baumgardner stepped down after multiple accusations of harassment. Baumgardner had previously survived a 2018 expulsion vote, but resigned after additional allegations surfaced, citing the stress on his family. In Washington, Kevin Ranker resigned before the release of a Senate report that would find he harassed a subordinate. The behavior, originally reported in 2010, resurfaced in 2018 when the victim, Ann Larson, of the Washington State Department of Enterprise Services, decided to go public.
In Nevada, accusations against State Assemblyman Mike Sprinkle and other elected officials spurred legislative action. After Sprinkle resigned in March following claims of harassment, Assemblypersons Teresa Benitez-Thompson and Jason Frierson introduced Assembly Bill 397. Aimed at local officials who harass others on-the-job, the bill became law in July of 2019.
Among the greater trends were a number of outliers. Those whose stories don’t quite fit, but are interesting nonetheless. Let’s take a look:
- Ojeda 2020: Richard Ojeda left the West Virginia Senate in January 2019 to launch a run for U.S. President. He resigned later that month, citing a lack of significant support. Earlier this year, he announced a run for U.S. Senate.
- Higher Education: Zac Perry’s reason for leaving office was unique. He resigned his seat in the Montana House of Representatives to focus on his graduate education. Perry hopes to become a high school government and history teacher.
- Foreign Exchange: Zareh Sinanyan left his position on the Glendale City Council to work for the Armenian government. Sinanyan will serve as a liaison to the Armenian diaspora.
- Cross Country: While many officials left office due to moves, Carol Ann Witschi may have made the longest. She resigned from Renton City Council in Washington to move to North Carolina.
- Election Imperfection: Four officials left office after recounts or overturned elections. Singular among them was Chris Erwin of Georgia. He was thrown out of his Georgia State House seat in February following a recount only to win another election for it in April.
- Alder to Afghanistan: National Guardsman Jonathan Logemann of the Rockford, Illinois City Council left office in July ahead of his deployment abroad.
Democracy’s database and democracy’s stories
From a frustration with politics to a belief in term limits, the reasons politicians decided to leave office in 2019 varied greatly. Still, one can find trends–in the data, and in the functioning of our democracy. You can stay abreast of the latest news from Democracy’s Database in our monthly newsletter.
On the Cicero team, we take our commitment to gathering, maintaining, and sharing information about elections and officials seriously. Whether you’re looking to contact your elected officials, connect with your constituents, or advocate on behalf of a group or cause, Cicero data can help you tell your story.