Tagstate senators

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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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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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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September 2020 breakdown of state legislative party membership: 52.0% Republicans, 46.8% Democrats

According to Ballotpedia’s September partisan count of the 7,383 state legislators across the United States, 52.01% of all state legislators are Republicans and 46.77% 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 hold a majority in 59 chambers and Democrats hold a majority in 39 chambers. Alaska’s chamber is the only one to have a power-sharing agreement between the two parties.

Nationally, the state legislatures include 1,972 state senators and 5,411 state representatives. Republicans hold 1,081 state Senate seats—remaining the same since August — and 2,759 state House seats — up one from last month. Democrats hold 3,453 of the 7,383 state legislative seats—874 state Senate seats (down one seat) and 2,579 state House seats (the same as last month). Independent or third-party legislators hold 34 seats, of which 30 are state House seats and four state Senate seats. There are 56 vacant seats.

In the September prior to the 2016 general election, Democrats held 821 state Senate seats (53 fewer than today) and 2,334 state House seats (a decrease of 245), while Republicans held 1,087 state Senate seats (an additional six when compared to today) and 3,017 state House seats (an increase of 258).

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