Key Races for Federal Employees to Watch: The Results

Virginia Democratic congressional candidate Jennifer Wexton greets voters at the Clarke County School Offices in Berryville, Va., on Tuesday. Wexton beat incumbent Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock. Virginia Democratic congressional candidate Jennifer Wexton greets voters at the Clarke County School Offices in Berryville, Va., on Tuesday. Wexton beat incumbent Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock. Douglas Graham / AP

Federal employees have a lot on the line in the midterm elections, most significantly who will control the 116th Congress and chair the oversight of the executive branch. Earlier this month we looked at 10 key races that could determine who is leading the legislative branch's watchdog efforts of the Trump administration, and who has a final say on a number of civil service reforms and compensation issues sure to come up in the next two years. 

In some of those races, candidates have a long track record on public sector workforce issues. Here are the results of those races, with winners in italics (we'll update this story as new results come in): 

10) Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District: 

Randy Bryce (D) v. Bryan Steil (R)

If Democrat Randy Bryce had pulled off the upset to take over retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan’s seat, federal employee unions could have expected a new advocate. Bryce gained national attention by touting his background as a union leader for ironworkers and boasts of his organizing work aimed at blocking the efforts of Republican Gov. Scott Walker to strip the state’s public sector employees from maintaining collective bargaining rights. Bryan Steil, a former aide to Ryan, ultimately held the seat for Republicans.

9) Wisconsin Governor:

Tony Evers (D) v. Scott Walker (R)

While federal issues were not immediately in play in this race, two-term Gov. Scott Walker has been the poster boy for taking on public-sector unions. His signature victory reduced collective bargaining rights for most of the state’s employees, which led to a recall election that Walker ultimately survived. His 2016 bid for the presidency fizzled quickly, but not before he proposed taking his union reforms to the federal sector. Democrat Tony Evers, Wisconsin superintendent of public instruction, has promised to treat the state’s public employees “with respect and compassion” and opposes Walker’s reforms.

8) Florida’s 27th Congressional District:

Donna Shalala (D) v. Maria Elvira Salazar (R)

Democratic candidate Donna Shalala perhaps had the most federal executive experience of anyone running for Congress this year, as the former and longest-serving head of the Health and Human Services Department for eight years under President Clinton. Her Republican opponent is television journalist Maria Elvira Salazar. The district is home to more than 25,000 federal employees and retirees, according to the American Federation of Government Employees, which endorsed Shalala.

“I have an enormous respect for people in government, and I had the opportunity to work with some of the best who spent their careers there,” Shalala told The Washington Post in 2010. “But when I talk about the best, I'm not just talking about the [Senior Executive Service]. I'm talking about people at every level of the government.”

Shalala will now bring her federal experience to the legislative branch.

7) Arizona Senate:

Kyrsten Sinema (D) v. Martha McSally (R)

Reps. Kyrsten Sinema, D, and Martha McSally, R, are battling for the seat made open by the retirement of Republican Sen. Jeff Flake. McSally’s efforts related to the federal workforce have focused on border personnel, as she chairs the House Homeland Security Committee’s panel on the issue. She pressed Customs and Border Protection to improve its hiring capacity and has written legislation to expedite the process. Sinema, however, won AFGE’s endorsement and vowed “to ensure fair pay and good benefits for the over 30,000 federal employees in Arizona.” 

6) Florida Senate:

Bill Nelson (D) v. Rick Scott (R) *Race could be headed to a recount.

Gov. Rick Scott, R, has successfully moved from state into federal politics by unseating Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. Scott presided over trimming Florida's state workforce (not counting university, courts/justice and legislative staff) by 12 percent since first taking office and has consistently boasted of having the lowest ratio of state employees to citizens of any state in the country. Scott signed just two pay raises into law for Florida employees in his eight years in office, one of which was negated by higher contributions to retirement pensions that resulted in a net 3 percent cut. Scott also signed a law that defaults new Florida state employees into a Thrift Savings Plan-like retirement system, unless they affirmatively act within their first nine months to opt into the old pension system. A Scott spokesman recently told the Tallahassee Democrat that the governor appreciates state employees and recognizes "their achievements every day."

Nelson was seeking his fourth term before conceding to Scott. Last year, he helped craft a bipartisan compromise bill to ease the firing of misbehaving and poorly performing employees at the Veterans Affairs Department.

5) Montana Senate:

Jon Tester (D) v. Matt Rosendale (R)

Sen. Jon Tester, D, has helped pass many changes to civil service laws as they impact the Veterans Affairs Department. He serves as chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs committee and has co-authored bills to ease the firing of VA employees and increase the role of the private sector in providing veterans health care. He has pushed for increased hiring at the department and for CBP officers. He called on President Trump to rescind his executive orders aimed at weakening federal employee unions. 

4) Texas’ 23rd Congressional District:

Gina Ortiz Jones (D) v. Will Hurd (R)

Republican Rep. Will Hurd is the House’s point person for reforming the federal government’s information technology systems and cybersecurity protections. The former CIA employee chairs the IT panel on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and has helped shepherd multiple IT modernization bills through Congress. Hurd defeated Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones, also a former federal employee who has worked at the Defense Department, Defense Intelligence Agency and for the U.S. Trade Representative. The district is home to more than 86,000 federal employees and retirees.

3) North Dakota Senate:

Heidi Heitkamp (D) v. Kevin Cramer (R)

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp was perhaps the most vulnerable Democrat up for reelection this year, facing off against Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. She was also one of the most influential advocates for federal employees in the chamber, serving on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s panel on federal management. She has been critical of the Trump administration's approach to civil service reforms, including its proposal to reorganize the Office of Personnel Management.

2) Virginia 10th Congressional District:

Jennifer Wexton (D) v. Barbara Comstock (R)

In this race, Rep. Barbara Comstock, R, and State Del. Jennifer Wexton, D, were in a battle over who would be one of the top voices for federal employees in the House in one of the chamber's most hotly contested, and expensive, races. Comstock, who took over the seat in 2015 from former Rep. Frank Wolf, R, after he served for 34 years as an advocate for feds, has broken ranks with her party and President Trump on issues like the federal employee pay raise, paid family leave for civilian workers and the White House’s federal workforce executive orders. In an interview with Government Executive, Comstock criticized Wexton for not making federal employee issues a priority in her campaign and said it was important for the heavily federal employee-populated district to have Republican representation, so feds in the area have a voice in the party to push back against Trump and party leaders looking to reduce the rights and compensation of civil servants. Wexton, however, who declined to be interviewed by Government Executive, pulled out the victory.

1) Missouri Senate:

Claire McCaskill (D) v. Josh Hawley (R)

Incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., was in a toss-up race with Republican Attorney General of Missouri Josh Hawley. This race was particularly important to federal employees because McCaskill is the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Had the Senate tipped into Democratic control, she would have been the likely candidate to take over as chairman of the committee, which has direct oversight of federal employees and agency management. McCaskill has generally been an advocate for the rights of federal employees and has butted heads with the committee’s current chairman, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., on oversight of the Trump administration. McCaskill, Heitkamp and Tester have been vocal supporters of the U.S. Postal Service, which McCaskill has called critical for her largely rural state.   

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