News & Insights

What You May Not Know About the Incoming Class of New State Attorneys General


By Kristina Howard

2019's 17 new incoming state AGs represent many firsts:

  • First Jewish AG in Colorado
  • First Asian American elected to statewide office in Connecticut
  • First openly LGBTQ person elected to statewide office in Michigan
  • First African American and first Muslim elected to statewide office in Minnesota
  • First African American elected to statewide office in Nevada
  • First African American and first woman elected AG in New York

Simply put, the 2019 class of AGs is one of the most diverse ever, including five new women AGs. Another important observation about their background relates to AGs’ increasingly prominent role as policymakers. Six of the new incoming AGs (Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, and Nevada) previously served in their state legislatures and one also served in the U.S Congress (Minnesota). As former legislators, they have a keen understanding of the policymaking process and how to drive policy initiatives. In addition, two of the new AGs (Missouri and Ohio) are the sitting State Treasurer and State Auditor, respectively. As the 2019 state legislative season kicks into high gear, it is likely that these new AGs will directly and effectively engage with their respective state legislatures.

There are nearly twice as many new Democratic AGs as there are new Republican AGs (11 Democrats and 6 Republicans). This shift in the AG political landscape will likely impact the overall national enforcement environment by shaping AGs’ enforcement priorities. Many of the newly elected Democratic AGs have identified preserving the Affordable Care Act, protecting civil rights, and fighting against the Trump Administration’s regulatory rollbacks as being their main priorities. In contrast, Republican AGs have expressed their top priorities as combating excessive regulatory and enforcement actions and working with the Trump Administration to correct unconstitutional overreaches enacted during the Obama Administration. While there will be a political divide on certain issues, AGs from both sides of the aisle agree on a number of important issues, including protecting consumers’ privacy and fighting the opioid epidemic.

Looking forward, this new dimension of diversity should bring about fresh new perspectives and viewpoints regarding the evolving role of AG, as well as influence AGs’ enforcement priorities and shape how AGs approach working with the business community.

For your holiday reading pleasure, we have highlighted a few interesting facts about the new incoming class of AGs.

1. Alaska – AG Kevin Clarkson (R) has already been sworn into office. He has practiced law for more than 30 years in Alaska with a focus on constitutional issues. He speaks Spanish and has four adult children.

2. Colorado – AG-elect Phil Weiser (D) will be Colorado’s first Jewish AG. During the campaign, he explained that he draws inspiration from his Jewish heritage and faith. His grandparents survived the Holocaust and his mother was born in the Buchenwald concentration camp one day before the U.S. Army liberated the camp.

3. Connecticut – AG-elect William Tong (D) is the first Asian American to be elected to statewide office in Connecticut. Growing up, his parents owned a Chinese restaurant, where he worked alongside them before he went off to college. One of AG-elect Tong’s first priorities as AG will be creating a civil rights division in the AG’s office.

4. Delaware – AG-elect Kathy Jennings (D) is the second woman to be elected AG of Delaware. She was born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware by her single mother and grandparents. Her mother became the first college graduate of the family by earning her nursing degree when she was a young child. When AG-elect Jennings started her legal career in the Delaware Department of Justice as only one of two women in the Criminal Division’s Wilmington office. Over her career, she prosecuted hundreds of cases including successfully prosecuting Steven Pennell, a serial killer who tortured and murdered several women along Route 40. This case was the first time that DNA analysis was admitted into evidence in a Delaware Court.

5. Florida – AG-elect Ashley Moody (R), at the age of 31, became the youngest judge in Florida’s history when she was elected Circuit Court Judge of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit in Hillsborough County in 2006. AG-elect Moody is also known for serving as Florida Strawberry Festival Queen in 1993. She comes from a family of attorneys. Her grandfather is a former state legislator and Circuit Court Judge of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit, her father is an attorney and is now a federal judge, and her mother and brother are both attorneys.

6. Illinois – AG-elect Kwame Raoul’s (D) parents immigrated to the U.S. from Haiti. Prior to his election as AG, he held the Illinois State Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama when he was elected U.S. Senator for Illinois in 2004. A few years ago, AG-elect Raoul was diagnosed with prostate cancer – the same disease that took the life of his father and grandfather. Due to early detection and excellent medical care, he is a survivor today.

7. Maine – Incoming AG Aaron Frey (D) will take office after being elected to the office by a secret ballot of the state legislature. At 39 years old, Frey will be the youngest Maine AG since 34-year-old former AG James Tierney took the oath in 1981. Frey was born and raised in Bangor, Maine, and previously served three terms in the Maine House of Representatives.

8. Michigan – AG-elect Dana Nessel (D) is the first openly LGBTQ person elected to statewide office in Michigan. She lives in southeast Michigan with her wife and twin sons along with several cats. During her career as a civil rights attorney, she spearheaded a case in Michigan challenging bans on adoption and marriage for same-sex couples, which was later consolidated with Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark case legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.

9. Minnesota – AG-elect Keith Ellison (D) is the first African American and first Muslim elected to statewide office in Minnesota, and previously was the first Muslim person to be elected to the U.S. Congress. AG-elect Ellison is the third of five sons and was raised in Detroit, Michigan.

10. Missouri – Incoming AG Eric Schmitt (R) will replace AG Josh Hawley (R) who was elected to the U.S. Senate last month. He currently serves as State Treasurer. Schmitt was elected to the Missouri Senate in 2008 and became one of the youngest members ever to serve in the state's upper chamber at age 34. During his tenure, he served in Senate Leadership as Majority Caucus Chairman and was Chairman of the Jobs, Economic Development, and Local Government Committee.

11. Nevada – AG-elect Aaron Ford (D) is the first African American elected to statewide office in Nevada. He previously was the Democratic Leader of the Nevada State Senate. Prior to his legal career, AG-elect Ford taught middle and high school.

12. New York – AG-elect Letitia James (D) is the first African American and the first woman to be elected AG of New York. She currently serves as Public Advocate for the City of New York. AG-elect James was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She established the Urban Network, a coalition of African American professional organizations intended to provide scholarships for young people. AG-elect James has also served on former New York Governor Mario Cuomo’s Task Force on Diversity in the Judiciary.

13. Ohio – AG-elect Dave Yost (R) currently serves as State Auditor. While attending law school, he worked as a newspaper reporter for the former Columbus Citizen-Journal. After his career as a journalist, AG-elect Yost was a staffer for the former Mayor of Columbus and then for former Ohio Governor George Voinovich before he entered public service himself. AG-elect Yost is a talented musician who plays the guitar, piano, and bass. During the 2014 RNC National Convention, his band performed at Cleveland Grays Armory Museum.

14. Rhode Island – AG-elect Peter Neronha’s (D) paternal great-grandfather was a fisherman in Portugal, and his mother’s parents were farmers in Germany. AG-elect Neronha admires his mother’s determination and work ethic as she learned English taking night classes after spending her days working in a bakery.

15. South Dakota – AG-elect Jason Ravnsborg (R) is a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves and has been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Germany during his military career. He has been awarded the Bronze Star along with many other awards and has been honored for his service by the U.S. Congress. AG-elect Ravnsborg has had four company commands and currently serves as a battalion commander overseeing approximately 1,000 soldiers in South Dakota and Nebraska.

16. Wisconsin – AG-elect Josh Kaul (D) played on his high school’s football and baseball teams as a fullback and a first basemen, respectively. Growing up, AG-elect Kaul looked up to his mother, former Wisconsin AG Peg Lautenschlager, and his step-father, who was a police officer, and says their influence will impact how he approaches the office of AG.

17. Wyoming – Incoming AG Bridget Hill (R) was appointed by Governor-elect Mark Gordon (R) to replace AG Peter Michael (R). Hill’s professional experience includes working in the Wyoming AG’s office for eight years. Following law school, she served as a staff attorney for two Justices of the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Bookmark Cozen O’Connor’s State AG Election Tracker as your primary source for the latest news, insights, and polls on AG elections in the coming year!

Happy holidays and best wishes in 2019!