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Mercedes Yanora

Mercedes Yanora is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

Sabina Matos sworn in as Rhode Island lieutenant governor 

The Rhode Island Senate unanimously confirmed Sabina Matos (D) as lieutenant governor on April 13. She was sworn in the following day. 

Governor Daniel McKee (D) nominated Matos as lieutenant governor on March 31. McKee resigned as lieutenant governor to be sworn in as governor on March 2, replacing Gina Raimondo (D) when she became U.S. secretary of commerce under the Biden administration.

Before serving as lieutenant governor, Matos served on the Providence City Council since 2011. She became president of the council in January 2019.

According to NBC, around 80 people applied to be the state’s lieutenant governor. After selecting Matos, McKee said, “I was looking for someone to be a true governing partner…someone who shares my commitment to supporting our 39 cities and towns and our small businesses, and that’s exactly what I found in Sabina.” Matos is the first person of color and second woman to serve as lieutenant governor of Rhode Island.    

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West Virginia enacts law creating intermediate appellate court

Governor Jim Justice (R) signed SB 275 into law on April 9 which provides guidelines for creating the West Virginia Intermediate Court of Appeals, effective June 30, 2021. Previously, West Virginia’s state courts included a state supreme court of appeals and trial courts with both general and limited jurisdiction.

According to Metro News, a 2009 judicial reform panel recommended the creation of an intermediate court. West Virginia is one of nine states without an intermediate appellate court, and the supreme court of appeals serves as the only appellate court.

As outlined in SB 275, the court will consist of three judges elected to 10-year terms. The first three judges will be appointed, with the first judicial election being held in 2024. These elections will be nonpartisan.

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Nebraska Department of Insurance Director Bruce Ramge retires

Bruce Ramge, the longest-serving Nebraska Department of Insurance director, retired on April 9. Former Gov. Dave Heineman (R) appointed him director in November 2010.

According to a press release from Gov. Pete Ricketts’ (R) office, Ramge served the department for 36 years, first joining in 1984 as an employee of the Market Conduct Division. He was then promoted to chief of market regulation in 1999, which was later followed by his appointments to deputy director and director in 2008 and 2010, respectively.

According to Nebraska’s constitution, Gov. Ricketts is responsible for appointing Ramge’s replacement with the consent of a majority of the state legislature. According to the Lincoln Journal Star, Ricketts appointed Eric Dunning to the position on April 2, with an effective start date of April 19.

The insurance commissioner is a state-level position in all 50 states. The duties of the position vary from state to state, but their general role is as a consumer protection advocate and insurance regulator. The position is elected in 11 states and appointed in 39. The office is nonpartisan in 38 states. The 12 states in which the position is partisan include the 11 states where the insurance commissioner is elected, as well as Ohio. Of the 12 states where the insurance commissioner has a partisan affiliation, the office is held by a Democrat in three and a Republican in nine.

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Representative Alcee Hastings dies from pancreatic cancer

U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) died from pancreatic cancer on April 6. He was first elected to Florida’s 23rd Congressional District in 1992 and represented it until it was redistricted as District 20 in 2012. Hastings was first elected from the 20th District in 2012. In last year’s general elections, Hastings defeated Greg Musselwhite (R), 79% to 21%.

Before being elected to Congress, Hastings was a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida from 1979 until 1989. In 1989, the U.S. Senate tried Hastings on 17 counts of perjury and bribery, finding him guilty on eight counts. The Senate voted to remove Hastings from that judgeship, but he was not disqualified from holding office in the future.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) will set a date for a special election to fill this vacancy. As of April 6, five special elections to the 117th Congress have been scheduled in the following districts:

  1. Louisiana’s 2nd and 5th Districts,
  2. New Mexico’s 1st District,
  3. Texas’ 6th District, and
  4. Ohio’s 11th District.

With Hastings’ death, the current partisan breakdown of the U.S. House is 218 Democrats, 211 Republicans, and six vacancies.   

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Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee nominates Providence City Council President Sabina Matos as lieutenant governor

Gov. Daniel McKee (D) nominated Providence City Council President Sabina Matos as lieutenant governor on March 31. McKee was responsible for choosing a new lieutenant governor after leaving the position to be sworn in as governor on March 2. McKee replaced Gina Raimondo (D) as governor when she resigned to become U.S. secretary of commerce.

Matos is the president of the Providence City Council. She was elected to the council in 2010, re-elected in 2018, and elected president in 2019. Her appointment must be confirmed by the Rhode Island State Senate.

According to NECN-TV, around 80 people applied for the position. Upon selecting Matos, McKee said, “I was looking for someone to be a true governing partner…someone who shares my commitment to supporting our 39 cities and towns and our small businesses, and that’s exactly what I found in Sabina.” If confirmed, Matos would be Rhode Island’s first lieutenant governor who is a person of color.

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Former state Rep. Ronald Ryckman appointed to the Kansas state Senate

The Republican precinct committees of Kansas Senate District 38 appointed Ronald Ryckman (R) to the state Senate on March 4. Ryckman replaces Bud Estes (R), who passed away on Feb. 13.

Since the vacancy occurred before May 1 of the second year of Estes’ term, a special election will be held in November 2022. The winner of that election will serve until Estes’ term expires in January 2025.

Before his appointment, Ryckman served in the Kansas House of Representatives from 2011 to 2017, representing District 115. He did not run for re-election to the state House in 2016. Ryckman’s son, Ron Ryckman, currently serves in the Kansas House of Representatives, representing District 78 since 2013. Ron Ryckman also serves as the speaker of the House. 

As of March 11, there have been 31 state legislative vacancies in 21 states so far this year. Fifteen of those vacancies have been filled. Ryckman is one of five Republicans to fill state legislative vacancies in 2021.

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February 2021 breakdown of state legislative party membership: 54.21% Republicans, 44.90% Democrats

According to Ballotpedia’s February partisan count of the 7,383 state legislators across the United States, 54.21% of all state legislators are Republicans and 44.90% are Democrats.

Ballotpedia tallies the partisan balance of state legislatures at the end of every month. This refers to which political party holds the majority of seats in each chamber. Republicans control 61 chambers, while Democrats hold 37. The Alaska House of Representatives is the only chamber organized under a multipartisan, power-sharing coalition.

Nationally, the state legislatures include 1,951 state senators and 5,366 state representatives. Democrats hold 866 state Senate seats—gaining two since January—and 2,449 state House seats, an increase of one. Republicans hold 4,002 of the 7,383 state legislative seats—1,085 state Senate seats (down four since January) and 2,917 state House seats, a decrease of one. Independent or third-party legislators hold 37 seats, of which 30 are state House seats and seven state Senate seats. There are 29 vacant seats.

During the month of February, Democrats saw a net increase of three seats, while Republicans saw a net decrease of five seats. Compared to February 2020, Democrats have lost eight state Senate seats (874 v. 866) and 132 state House seats (2,581 v. 2,449). For Republicans, they have gained one state Senate seat (1,084 v 1,085) and 142 state House seats (2,775 v 2,917).  

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Diego Hernandez resigns from Oregon House of Representatives 

On Feb. 21, Rep. Diego Hernandez (D) resigned from the Oregon House of Representatives. He represented District 47 from 2017 to 2021. 

On May 4, 2020, the interim House Conduct Committee in the Oregon House of Representatives opened an investigation after seven individuals accused Hernandez of verbal and physical sexual harassment and creating a hostile workplace environment.

Hernandez did not participate in the investigatory hearing and issued the following statement in response: “I have no idea what the concerns raised are or by whom. I do know that there has been an organized campaign against me recently to get me out of the office I was duly elected to and I was threatened this would happen if I didn’t resign. Due process matters, I ask that people withhold judgment until the investigation is complete.”

On May 11, Hernandez filed a tort claim against the Oregon state legislature, citing damages related to the following: “abuse of process, discrimination (gender and national origin/race) under state and federal law, aiding and abetting discrimination, bullying/mobbing, whistleblowing retaliation (ORS 659A.199, ORS 659A.203, ORS659A.206), intentional infliction of emotional distress, intentional interference with a prospective economic relationship, defamation, violation of due process under state and federal law, and other potential claims.” 

After nine months, the committee voted 4-0 to recommend expulsion to the House. Hernandez filed a lawsuit to halt further movement on the measure, but United States District Judge Ann Aiken denied judicial interference. Hernandez resigned from his seat the following day on Feb. 21.

If there is a vacancy in the Oregon Legislature, the board of county commissioners representing the vacant seat must select a replacement. This can only be done when the legislature is in session or when the vacancy happens more than 61 days before the next scheduled general election. The board must consider at least three candidates and select a person from the political party that last held the vacant seat. Persons selected to fill House seats serve for the remainder of the unexpired term.

As of the morning of Feb. 24, there have been 28 state legislative vacancies in 20 states this year. Eleven of those vacancies have been filled, with 17 vacancies remaining. Hernandez’s vacancy is one of 13 Democratic vacancies to have occurred in 2021. So far, seven vacancies have been filled by Democrats, while three have been filled by Republicans.  

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New Jersey state Senator Gerald Cardinale dies

New Jersey Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R) passed away on Feb. 20, after being hospitalized with an illness unrelated to COVID-19. The second-longest-serving New Jersey legislator, Cardinale was first elected to Senate District 39 in 1981, serving until his death. Prior to joining the state Senate, Cardinale was a member of the New Jersey General Assembly from 1980 to 1982.  

During his Senate tenure, Cardinale served as deputy majority leader (1994-2001), majority whip (1992-1993), assistant minority leader (1987-1989), and minority whip (1985-1986). He was also a district-level delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention from New Jersey. Cardinale was one of 51 delegates from New Jersey bound by state party rules to support Donald Trump at the convention. 

If there is a vacancy in the New Jersey Legislature, the vacancy will be filled by an interim appointment by the county leadership of the political party that holds the seat. The office will be on the ballot in the next general election unless the vacancy occurs within 51 days of the election. If that is the case, the appointment would stand until the following general election. This is not the case for Cardinale’s seat, which will be up for election in November 2021.

As of Feb. 23, there have been 27 state legislative vacancies in 20 states during 2021. Ten of those vacancies have been filled. Of the 27 vacancies, 15 are Republican and 12 are Democratic. Democrats have filled seven vacancies, while Republicans have filled three.  

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Arkansas state Senator Jim Hendren leaves Republican Party, becomes an independent

On Feb. 18, Arkansas state Senator Jim Hendren announced he was leaving the Republican Party to become an independent. According to a statement issued by his organization, Common Ground AR, Hendren said, “This comes after many sleepless nights; a lot of serious consideration; and it comes with sadness and disappointment. But it’s clear-eyed. I’m making this decision because my commitment to our state and our country is greater than loyalty to any political party.”

Hendren was first elected to the Arkansas state Senate District 2 as a Republican on Nov. 6, 2012. He was an at-large delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention from Arkansas, and was one of nine delegates from Arkansas bound by state party rules to support Marco Rubio at the convention. Hendren also served as state Senate president pro tempore from 2019 to 2021. 

As of Feb. 19, six current or former officeholders have switched parties in 2021. Brian Boquist (I-Oregon), Phelps Anderson (I-New Mexico), and Hendren switched from Republican to independent, Vernon Jones (R-Georgia) switched from Democratic to Republican, and Aaron Coleman (D-Kansas) and Brittney Barreras (D-New Mexico) switched from independent to Democratic (Coleman briefly left the Democratic Party to become an independent in January 2021 before switching back at the end of the month). Of the six, two are members of state Senates (Boquist and Hendren), three are members of state Houses (Coleman, Barreras, and Anderson), and one was a member of a state House (Vernon Jones). 

The map below shows the number of party switches by state. The most party switches took place in Mississippi, which had 15 state legislators switch parties since 1994. Thirteen Democrats switched to the Republican party and two Democrats became independents.

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