Tagstate senate

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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Seven candidates running in special primary election for California Senate District 30

The special primary election for California Senate District 30 is on March 2, 2021. Seven candidates are competing to advance to the general election scheduled for May 4. The filing deadline to run passed on January 7.

California holds top-two primary elections. The two candidates who receive the most votes in the primary advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation.

The special election was called after Holly Mitchell (D) left office to become the District 2 representative on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Mitchell represented District 30 in the state Senate from 2013 to 2020.

California has a Democratic state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. Democrats control the California State Senate by a margin of 30-9, with one vacancy. 

As of February 2021, 26 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 16 states. Between 2011 and 2019, an average of 77 special elections took place each year. California held 32 special elections from 2010 to 2020.

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Kansas state Senator Bud Estes dies

On Feb. 13, Kansas Sen. Bud Estes (R) died after being hospitalized with an illness. Estes was first elected to state Senate District 38 in 2016, serving until his death. Before that, Estes was a member of the Kansas House of Representatives, representing District 119 from 2013 to 2017.  

Estes ran for re-election to the Kansas Senate on Nov. 3, 2020, winning with 68.9% of the vote to Edgar Pando’s (D) 31.1%. In addition to his public service, Estes had owned a farm implementation business.

Republican precinct committee members will select Estes’ replacement, with Gov. Laura Kelly (D) officially making the appointment. Since the vacancy occurred before May 1 of the second year of Estes’ term, the appointee will serve until the next general election in November 2022. A special election will then be held for the seat, with the winner serving the remainder of Estes’ term.

As of Feb. 16., there were 28 Republicans, 11 Democrats, and one vacancy in the Kansas state Senate. Kansas has a divided government, and no political party holds a state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.  

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Doris Turner, Mike Simmons appointed to Illinois state Senate

On Feb. 6, two new state legislators were appointed to fill vacancies in the Illinois state Senate. Doris Turner (D) was appointed by the Democratic county chairs of the 48th Legislative District Committee to fill the seat formerly occupied by Andy Manar (D). Manar left office in January in order to take a position as senior advisor to Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker (D). 

At the time of her appointment, Turner served as Ward 3 Alderman for the city of Springfield, Illinois. She previously worked for the State of Illinois for 33 years, 22 of which were with the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Mike Simmons (D) was appointed by the Cook County Democratic Party committee to fill the District 7 seat left vacant by the retirement of Heather Steans (D) in January. Steans cited a need for “fresh eyes and fresh energy,” and that it was “time to pass the baton.” Simmons is the founder of Blue Sky Strategies & Co. and previously worked as a policy director for Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, and for U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL). 

When a vacancy occurs in the Illinois state Senate, the Illinois Constitution requires that it be filled by appointment by the political party that last held the seat. The new legislator must be chosen by the party organization covering the legislative district within 30 days.

The Illinois state Senate is the upper chamber of the Illinois General Assembly. With the appointments of Turner and Simmons, the current partisan breakdown of the chamber is 41 Democrats, 18 Republicans, and no vacancies.

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Heather Steans resigns from Illinois State Senate

Sen. Heather Steans (D) resigned from the Illinois state Senate on Jan. 31. She represented District 7 from 2008 to 2021. 

Steans ran uncontested for re-election on Nov. 3, 2020. According to ABC 7, Steans said she was resigning because “it’s time for fresh faces and new energy…I’ve benefited tremendously from the many perspectives of the people I’ve represented. We’ve made great progress together, and now it’s time to pass the baton.”

If there is a vacancy in the Senate, the Illinois Constitution mandates that the seat must be filled by appointment within 30 days after the vacancy. If a vacancy by a member of the Senate has more than 28 months remaining in the term, the appointment is interim until the next general election and in this case, a special election must be held to fill the balance of the unserved term. All other Senate vacancies should be made by appointment with the person appointed being a member of the same political party that last held the seat. The vacancy must be filled by the respective party organizations covering the legislative district. 

As of Feb. 4, 2021, there have been 22 vacancies in 17 state legislatures this year. Four of those vacancies have been filled, with 18 vacancies remaining. Stean’s vacancy is one of ten Democratic vacancies that have occurred in 2021. So far, two vacancies have been filled by Republicans, while two have been filled by Democrats.  

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January 2021 breakdown of state legislative party membership: 54.27% Republicans, 44.86% Democrats

According to Ballotpedia’s January partisan count of the 7,383 state legislators across the United States, 54.27% of all state legislators are Republicans and 44.86% are Democrats. Ballotpedia did not provide partisan counts for December 2020 because the number and partisan affiliation of state legislators fluctuated as officeholders were sworn in and out of office following the general election.

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. Prior to the general election, Republicans held a majority in 59 chambers and Democrats held a majority in 39 chambers. Alaska’s state House was the only chamber to have a power-sharing agreement between the two parties. Since the election, Republicans control 61 chambers, while Democrats hold 37. As of Jan. 29, control of Alaska’s state House remained undetermined. 

Nationally, the state legislatures include 1,953 state senators and 5,366 state representatives. Democrats hold 864 state Senate seats—losing 10 since November—and 2,448 state House seats, a loss of 117. Republicans hold 4,007 of the 7,383 state legislative seats—1,089 state Senate seats (up five since November) and 2,918 state House seats, an increase of 134. Independent or third-party legislators hold 36 seats, of which 31 are state House seats and five state Senate seats. There are 28 vacant seats.

During the month of January, Democrats saw a net change of -127 seats, while Republicans saw a net change of +139 seats. Democrats gained seats in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Georgia, while Republicans gained seats in New Hampshire, West Virginia, Ohio, South Carolina, Florida, Kentucky, Arkansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, and Nevada. Both parties gained seats in Vermont and Missouri.  

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19 states saw at least one party with a net gain of seats in both state legislative chambers

Following the Nov. 3, 2020, elections, there were 19 states where either Democrats, Republicans, or both had a net gain of seats in both the state House and Senate.

Democrats had a net gain in both chambers of six states, seeing their largest net gains in Connecticut, where Democrats picked up a net of six seats in the state House and two in the state Senate. The smallest net gains for Democrats were in Massachusetts and Missouri, with a net gain of three seats across both chambers in each state.

Republicans had a net gain in both chambers of 15 states with their largest in New Hampshire where they gained a net 57 seats in the state House and four in the Senate. Aside from Alaska, where control of the state House had yet to be determined as of Jan. 26, New Hampshire was the only state where control of a legislative chamber changed in the 2020 elections. Both the House and Senate flipped from Democratic to Republican control. The smallest net gains for Republicans were in Missouri and Oregon, with a net gain of one seat in both the House and Senate of each state.

Both Democrats and Republicans had net gains in Missouri and Vermont due to flipping seats that were either previously held by third party legislators or winning seats that were vacant at the time of the election.

The map below shows those states where one party had net gains in both state legislative chambers shaded red, blue, or purple to indicate party gains.

The table below lists these states and the net gains made by each party in both state legislative chambers. Democratic gains are shown on the left. Republican gains are shown on the right.

Across all chambers that held regular state legislative elections in 2020, Democrats had a net loss of 114 seats, Republicans had a net gain of 175, and third parties had a net loss of 14.

To learn more about these chambers and the number of legislators by party following the 2020 election, click here.