Besides ballot initiatives and state-level races, there are some races of interest in 2017, an off year.  There are potentially five special elections.  On December 1, 2016 California Governor Jerry Brown appointed Xavier Becerra of that state’s 34th Congressional district to succeed Kamala Harris, who won her election to the US Senate, as state attorney general.  The 34th District, which encompasses parts of Los Angeles county, is a very strong Democratic district and one should not expect any change here.  California uses a top-two primary despite party general election “runoff” and thus far eleven Democrats and no Republicans have declared their candidacy to succeed Becerra.

In South Carolina, there will be a special election to fill out the term of the vacant 5th District.  The incumbent- Republican Mick Mulvaney- was chosen by Trump to be director of the OMB.  As of now, four Republicans have declared their candidacy and no Democrats and this seat is likely to be kept in the hands of the GOP.

Mike Pompeo, who is the new CIA director, vacates the 4th District seat in Kansas, another safe bet that a Republican will replace him.  Again, this is rather safe GOP territory.  Six Republicans, including former representative Todd Tiahrt, have declared their candidacy and one Democrat.

Tom Price leaves Georgia’s 6th District to assume the helm at HHS.  This may be a race to watch as it encompasses the northern suburbs of Atlanta.  Price never really had a problem winning election here, but the demographics of Georgia are changing and this will be a closely watched race.  Four Republicans and three Democrats have declared their intentions to run.

Montana’s lone House seat is vacant after Ryan Zinke accepted the job to head the Interior Department.  The exact date of the election is yet to be decided, but there will be no primary as party leaders will choose their respective nominees.  There are four Republicans and three Democrats in the mix.  Again, one needs to keep an eye on this race as Montana has a Democratic streak at times.

There is also the open Senate seat in Alabama where Jeff Sessions leaves to become US Attorney General.  However, since Sessions is confirmed and resigned from the Senate, Republican Governor Robert Bentley will appoint a successor who will then run in 2018, not this year.  The replacement is current Alabama attorney general Luther Strange.

There will be two closely watched gubernatorial races in 2017 with Virginia being perhaps the most interesting.  Virginia has a one-term-and-out limit on the Governor so current Democratic incumbent and Clinton ally Terry McAuliffe is out.  The governor’s office has had a tendency to alternate between parties since 1969.

Four years ago, McAuliffe won a close race over Ken Cuccinelli who has declined a run this year.  Instead, the betting odds are on former GOP operative Ed Gillespie to be the ultimate nominee given his surprisingly close Senate race loss in 2014.  There are three other Republicans officially in the race with another six mulling it over.  For the Democrats, current Lt. Governor Ralph Northam and former Congressman Tom Perriello are officially in with Brian Moran, the state’s director of public safety, thinking it over.

McAuliffe has a fairly decent approval rating in Virginia and if he had the opportunity to run this year, he had a decent chance of victory.  But Virginia is the only state with such a restrictive term limit provision.  Thus, every four years there is, in effect, an open race.  Anything is possible this year, but historical trends would seem to suggest that the GOP has a leg up.  Additionally, the state legislature is Republican-controlled.

That leaves New Jersey where the certifiable fat-butt Republican governor Chris Christie is term-limited.  Speaking as a resident of New Jersey, this writer says, “Good riddance.”  Six Democrats and four Republicans have declared their candidacy with some still on the sidelines thinking about it.

For the Democrats, state senator Ray Lesniak probably has the inside track at this early stage while current Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno the most likely Republican offering.  The problem for Guadagno will be adequately distancing herself from her boss- Christie- who suffers from almost record levels of low approval ratings in the state (and with good reason).

Her first attempt and one that opened a breach between her and Christie occurred over a ballot initiative in 2016 regarding the designated use of the gasoline tax.  Voters approved the measure which was backed by Christie.  He subsequently raised the gasoline tax.

There is scant polling, but that which exists thus far indicates that whoever the final candidates are, the next governor of New Jersey will be a Democrat.  The 8-year experiment with Christie at the helm has been disappointing.  Coming into office with bombast, one is left with the impression that he is all conservative talk and no action.  A perfect example is his so-called educational reform package.

First, he embraced and accepted Common Core before he realized it was politically unpopular during his ill-fated presidential run.  He then announced that the state was abandoning Common Core.  But, he retained the PARCC testing regime which directly gauges the Common Core curriculum.  Hence, it is words only because in the practical sense to do well on the PARCC, teachers must teach Common Core principles.  He claimed to be tough with the teacher’s union- the NJEA- but other than a extracting more for their pensions and health benefits in exchange for a contractual promise to fund these benefits from the state side, he reneged.  For those concessions, tenure is achieved in four years, not three now.  Big deal!  Admittance into the teaching profession has now become harder after the union got more concessions from Christie.

This writer has no problem with teachers paying more towards their pensions and health benefits.  The problem is breaking one’s promise and a contractual one at that.  The problem is speaking words, but the practical effects being quite different.  The problem is exuding a persona of toughness, but giving in on more important areas.  Christie is a fake conservative proven by the fact that he groveled before the biggest non-conservative Republican in 2016- Donald Trump.

Leaving aside the much-maligned “hug on the beach” and the Bridgegate scandal, Christie has likely damaged the Republican brand in New Jersey for a generation.  That is why this writer says “good riddance” to Christie and don’t let the door hit your fat ass on the way out.