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Chris Henderson

Chris Henderson is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

Mike Kennedy sworn in to Utah State Senate

On Jan. 5, Mike Kennedy (R) was sworn in as a member of the Utah State Senate. Kennedy won a special election on Dec. 29, 2020, to fill the seat vacated by former Sen. Daniel Hemmert (R). Hemmert resigned to take a job as the executive director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development under newly elected Gov. Spencer Cox (R). 

Delegates from the Utah County Republican Party chose Kennedy to replace Hemmert in an online special election. He prevailed over Jeanette Bennett, David Shallenberger, Staci Valentine Carroll, Jon Anderson, and John St. Clair.

Kennedy previously served in the Utah House of Representatives, representing District 27 from 2013 to 2018. He left the legislature to mount an unsuccessful campaign against Sen. Mitt Romney (R) in the 2018 Republican U.S. Senate primary.

The Utah Senate is the upper chamber of the Utah Legislature. With Kennedy filling Hemmert’s seat, the current partisan breakdown of the senate is 23 Republicans and six Democrats. 

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U.S. Rep. Mitchell leaves Republican Party

U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.) announced on Dec. 14 that he was leaving the Republican Party and changing his affiliation to independent. Mitchell cited differences with the Republican Party leadership for his departure from the party. As a result of leaving the party, Mitchell’s positions on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Armed Services Committee were revoked.

In a letter to Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Mitchell said, “I believe that raw political considerations, not constitutional or voting integrity concerns, motivate many in party leadership to support the “stop the steal” efforts, which is extremely disappointing to me…as a result, I am writing to advise you both that I am withdrawing from my engagement and association with the Republican Party at both the national and state level.”

Mitchell is the second member of Michigan’s congressional delegation to leave the Republican Party during the 117th Congress. U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (L) became an independent in July 2019 and joined the Libertarian Party in April.

Mitchell was first elected to represent Michigan’s 10th Congressional District in 2016. He did not run for re-election in 2020 and will retire from Congress at the end of his term. Republican Lisa McClain will represent the district once she is sworn into office in January.

With Mitchell’s departure from the Republican Party, the current partisan breakdown of the U.S. House of Representatives is 233 Democrats, 195 Republicans, one Libertarian, and one Independent, with five vacancies.

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Ward resigns from Alabama state Senate

Alabama State Sen. Cam Ward (R) resigned Dec. 7 to become the director of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles. Ward was appointed to his new position by Gov. Kay Ivey (R) on Nov. 17. 

“It’s got to be the hardest job in state government,” Ward said in a phone interview. “They have a lot of issues going on. My number one issue is criminal justice reform.”

Ward’s successor in state Senate District 14 will be determined by a special election, which Ivey has set for July 13, 2021.

Ward served in the state Senate since 2010 and previously served in the state House from 2002 to 2010. He was most recently re-elected to another four-year term in 2018, defeating Democrat Jerry McDonald. This year, Ward unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the Alabama Supreme Court. Incumbent Greg Shaw defeated him in the Republican primary on March 3.

The Alabama State Senate is the upper chamber of the Alabama state legislature. With Ward’s resignation, the state Senate’s current partisan breakdown is 26 Republicans, seven Democrats, and two vacancies.

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Franklin Babauta appointed to Northern Mariana Islands House of Representatives

On Nov. 11, Northern Mariana Islands Governor Ralph Torres appointed Franklin Babauta to the District 1 seat in the NMI House of Representatives. The seat had been vacant since October when former NMI House Minority Leader Edwin Propst resigned due to sexual misconduct allegations. 

The Northern Mariana Islands constitution requires that legislative vacancies that occur when less than half the term remains must be filled by the candidate who won the second-highest vote total in the most recent election. Babauta ran as an independent in the 2018 election, in which he placed seventh in a race for six seats. Babauta will serve out the remainder of Propst’s term, which ends in January 2021. He did not run for election to the seat in the general election on Nov. 3. 

The Northern Mariana Islands House of Representatives is the lower house of the Northern Mariana Islands Commonwealth Legislature. All 20 seats in the chamber were up for election on Nov. 3. Prior to the election, the Republican Party held a majority in the chamber.

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Alonso Vega resigns from Puerto Rico House of Representatives 

Rep. Néstor Alonso Vega (New Progressive Party) resigned from his seat in the Puerto Rico House of Representatives on Nov. 10. Alonso Vega, who held an at-large seat in the chamber, had been arrested and indicted for allegedly increasing an employee’s salary in order to receive half of the increase in return. 

Alonso Vega had recently won re-election to his seat on Nov. 3. He is the third member of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives to resign after being arrested and charged with corruption this year, after María Charbonier Laureano and Nelson Del Valle Colón.

The Puerto Rico House of Representatives is the lower chamber of Puerto Rico’s bicameral legislature. All 51 of Puerto Rico’s House seats were up for election on Nov. 3. Prior to the election, the New Progressive Party controlled the chamber with 35 seats, while the Popular Democratic Party held 15 seats and one was held by an independent. The results of the November election are not yet final. 

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Angelica Allen-McMillan appointed as New Jersey commissioner of education

On Oct. 20, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) announced that he was appointing Angelica Allen-McMillan as the New Jersey commissioner of education. She will replace outgoing interim Commissioner Kevin Dehmer, who had served since the resignation of Lamont Repollet on July 1. Allen-McMillan will serve in an acting capacity until her confirmation by the New Jersey State Senate. 

In a press release, Murphy said, “A product of New Jersey’s public schools, Angelica has worked at all levels of education and knows exactly what our teachers and students need to succeed. She is an exemplary educator and I’m confident she is the leader we need to carry our school communities through the remainder of this pandemic and beyond.”

Allen-McMillan previously served as interim Executive County Superintendent for Morris County. She has also worked as Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education for the Newark Public Schools system, and as Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instructions in the Irvington School District.

The New Jersey commissioner of education is the chief executive school officer of New Jersey, overseeing all public schools in the state. The commissioner’s responsibilities include recommending legislative changes, producing research on education, and serving as secretary to the State Board of Education, among other duties. The commissioner is appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the state senate and serves at the pleasure of the governor. 

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SCOTUS allows Trump administration to end 2020 census count

The U.S. Supreme Court issued an order on Oct. 13 which allows the Trump administration to end the 2020 census count. SCOTUS stayed an order from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which had directed the Trump administration to continue to gather data through the end of October.

The Trump administration had argued that they must be able to conclude the count before the end of October in order to meet a Dec. 31 deadline to report the results to the president. The Justice Department had told the court that “there is virtually no prospect that the [U.S. Census] Bureau will be able to comply with the statutory deadline,” unless they were allowed to end the count.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, saying: “[T]he harms associated with an inaccurate census are avoidable and intolerable,” and that “meeting the deadline at the expense of the accuracy of the census is not a cost worth paying.”

After the order was issued, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that they would be shutting down on Oct. 15. It has also set that date as the postmark deadline for paper census forms sent by mail, and as the end date for collecting responses through phone calls and door-knocking.

Every ten years, the U.S. Census Bureau conducts a nationwide census in order to provide a comprehensive count of the population with demographic information. This information is used by the government in many ways, including for the apportionment of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and the allocation of federal funds.

Additional reading:
Supreme Court cases, October term 2020-2021
Supreme Court of the United States
United States Census Bureau
United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Sonia Sotomayor



Toomey announces he won’t run for re-election to U.S. Senate in 2022

On Oct. 5, U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) announced that he would not seek re-election to the U.S. Senate and would be retiring from Congress. Toomey also stated that he would not run for governor of Pennsylvania in 2022.

At a press conference, Toomey said, “I will not be running for reelection in 2022 and I will not be running for governor. I will serve out the remainder of my term for a little over two years that are left to the current term and after that my plan is to go back to the private sector.” While he said he had no specific plans, he said he looked forward to spending more time with his family.

Toomey was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010, defeating Joe Sestak (D) 51% to 49% for the seat previously held by Arlen Specter (D). Toomey won re-election in 2016, defeating Katie McGinty (D) 48% to 47%. Prior to his time in the Senate, Toomey represented Pennsylvania’s 15th Congressional District from 1999 to 2005.

Republicans are currently in the majority in the U.S. Senate with 53 seats. Democrats hold 45 seats and two are held by independents who caucus with the Democratic Party.

Thirty-five Senate seats are up for election in 2020. If Republicans lose no more than two seats, they will retain control of the Senate. If Democrats win four or more seats, they will gain a majority. If Republicans lose exactly three seats, whichever party wins the presidential election will have the majority, as the vice president serves as president of the Senate.

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Trujillo resigns from New Mexico House of Representatives

On Sept. 28, Rep. Jim Trujillo (D) resigned from the District 45 seat in the New Mexico House of Representatives, citing health and family reasons. Trujillo was first appointed to the seat in 2003 to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Patsy Trujillo, to whom he is not related.

Trujillo’s successor will be appointed by the Santa Fe County Commission and will serve until his term ends in January. Linda Serrato (D) and Helen Milenski (L) are running for the District 45 seat in the Nov. 3 general election. In 2018, Trujillo was unopposed for reelection to the seat.

All 70 seats in the New Mexico House of Representatives are up for election this year. Ballotpedia has identified the New Mexico House of Representatives as one of 22 state legislative battleground chambers for the 2020 cycle. With Trujillo’s resignation, the current partisan breakdown of the chamber is 45 Democrats, 24 Republicans, and one vacancy. Republicans need to win 12 more seats, or 17% of the total seats, to gain a majority in the House. Democrats will retain control of the New Mexico State House if they lose fewer than 12 net seats. New Mexico is currently one of 15 states with a Democratic trifecta.

Additional reading:
New Mexico House of Representatives elections, 2020
State legislative battleground chambers, 2020
State legislative vacancies, 2020
State government trifectas



Frostman resigns as Wisconsin Secretary of Workforce Development

Caleb Frostman resigned as secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) on September 18 at the request of Gov. Tony Evers (D). Evers said he requested Frostman’s resignation due to the long wait times Wisconsin residents experienced for unemployment benefits during the coronavirus pandemic. In a statement, Evers said, “people across our state are struggling to make ends meet, and it is unacceptable that Wisconsinites continue to wait for the support they need during these challenging times.”

Amy Pechacek will replace Frostman on an interim basis. Pechacek has served as deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections since 2019.

Frostman is a former Democratic member of the Wisconsin state Senate. He was first elected to the legislature in a June 2018 special election to succeed Frank Lasee (R). Gov. Evers first appointed Frostman to lead the Department of Workforce Development in January 2019.

According to its website, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development’s responsibilities include providing job services and training, working with employers to fill job openings, and providing assistance to those looking for employment. The secretary of the DWD is a state executive position nominated by the governor and is subject to confirmation by the Wisconsin State Senate.

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