State Legislative Tracker: Incumbents dominate elections

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November 14, 2011

Edited by Greg Janetka

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This week's tracker features a spotlight on the November 8 state legislative elections in Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia as well as the general election coming up this Saturday in Louisiana.


So far this year, 45 out of 50 state legislatures have officially adjourned their regular session. However, several special sessions remain on tap for the rest of the year.[1] This week, Massachusetts is scheduled to adjourn their 2011 regular session.

Current sessions capture for the week of November 14, 2011

Regular sessions

The following 5 states remain in regular legislative sessions:

Click here to see a chart of each state's 2011 session information.

While most state legislatures are not currently in session, a number of legislators remain active this fall with redistricting hearings and meetings. Meanwhile, although most states have concluded 2011 business, some states have already begun 2012 action. Drafting for 2012 has begun in Kentucky and Maine, while prefiling of legislation is going on in Alabama, Florida, Kansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee.[2]

Special sessions

Special sessions have been a widespread occurrence in the state legislatures in 2011, in particular due to the necessity of states to conduct the redistricting of state legislative and congressional districts.

  • Nebraska continues a special session that began on November 1 to consider challenging a planned transnational oil pipeline. The State Department announced on November 10 the proposed pipeline would be delayed at least a year, leaving the rest of the special session up in the air. Legislators will decide today how the session will proceed.[3]
  • West Virginia held a special session yesterday to certify October 4 election results and swear in Gov.-elect Earl Ray Tomblin (D)[4]

So far this year, there have been 40 special sessions in 27 states.

State Legislative Tracker: A glance at state legislatures
Number of special elections this year 91
Number of special sessions this year 40
Number of states that held special sessions this year 27
Number of seats up for general election this year 578

The following states also have special sessions scheduled:

  • Washington: To begin November 28 to cut $2 billion from the budget[5]

In recess

As of November 14, 20 states' sessions are currently in mid-term recess:

  • Alaska - Mid-term recess April 18 through January 16, 2012[6]
  • California - Mid-term recess September 9 through January 4, 2012.[7]
  • Delaware - July 1, 2011 through January 10, 2012[6]
  • Georgia - Mid-term recess April 15 through January 8, 2012[6]
  • Hawaii - Mid-term recess May 6 through January 7, 2012[6]

  • Illinois - June 23 through January 12, 2012[6]
  • Iowa - Mid-term recess June 30 through January 8, 2012[6]
  • Kansas - Mid-term recess June 1 through January 8, 2012[6]
  • Maine - Mid-term recess June 30 through January 3, 2012[6]
  • Minnesota - Mid-term recess May 24 through January 23, 2012[6]

  • Tennessee - Mid-term recess May 22 through January 9, 2012[6]
  • Vermont - Mid-term recess May 7 through January 3, 2012[6]
  • Washington - Mid-term recess April 23 through January 8, 2012[6]


See also: State legislative elections, 2011
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A total of 578 seats were up for general election in state legislatures in 2011.

In this year's 2011 election cycle, all legislative primaries have been held. New Jersey held statewide primaries on June 7, 2011, Mississippi held statewide primaries on August 2, Virginia held statewide primaries on August 23, and Louisiana held statewide primaries on October 22, 2011.

General elections were held in New Jersey, Mississippi and Virginia on November 8, 2011. Louisiana's general election takes place on Saturday. Since Louisiana uses the blanket primary system, the majority of races have already been determined - a candidate winning over 50 percent in the primary wins the seat with no need for a general election. Currently, 4 Louisiana State Senate and 21 Louisiana House of Representatives races remain undecided - the top two vote getters in these races will meet in the general election.

Elections spotlight

See also: November 8, 2011 election results and Election aftermath: What you need to know about yesterday's state legislative elections

Last Tuesday a total of 434 legislative seats were up for grabs in Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia.

Democrats retained majority control of the New Jersey Senate and General Assembly while Republicans kept their hold in the Mississippi State Senate and Virginia House of Delegates. The balance of the Mississippi House of Representatives remains close but totals confirmed today that Republicans will win a majority. Republicans held onto the governorship - taking the House gives them a state government trifecta. Additionally, the Virginia State Senate resulted in a 20-20 split.

Partisan breakdown of state legislators in the three states with elections on November 8, 2011
Before November 2011 election After November 2011 election
Party Senators Representatives Total state legislators Senators Representatives Total state legislators Gain/loss legislators
70 154 224 64 135 199 -25
61 146 207 68 164 232 +25
0 2 2 0 1 1 -1
1 0 1 0 0 0 -1

Incumbents in both parties dominated the polls. Early analysis shows that 96.6 percent of incumbents who ran November 8 won re-election. Out of the 353 incumbents who ran, only 14 - 11 Democrats and 3 Republicans - were defeated. 170 incumbents faced no major party opposition, all but guaranteeing them re-election.

Incumbents defeated in 2011 legislative elections
Party Senate House Total
Democratic 5 9 14
Republican 0 6 6
TOTALS 5 15 20

The numbers tell a more nuanced story when looking at seats where an incumbent did not run. Unofficial results are that of the 84 open seats, Republicans won 62 (73.8%) of them. In 2010, Republicans won 61.9% of the open seat races.

Open Seat Winners in 2011 legislative elections
Party Senate House Total
Democratic 9 21 30
Republican 23 50 73
TOTALS 32 71 103

A total of 108 new legislators will be welcomed into state chambers. Republicans again dominated, electing 79 new legislators to Democrats' 29.

New Legislators after the 2011 legislative elections
Party Senate House Total
Democratic 9 32 41
Republican 27 66 93
TOTALS 36 98 134

Below are highlights of what happened in each state


See also: Mississippi State Senate elections, 2011 and Mississippi House of Representatives elections, 2011
  • While results are still not complete in some races, totals confirmed today that Republicans will hold a majority in the House for the first time since Reconstruction.[8]
  • 105 incumbent representatives ran for re-election. Eight (7.6%) of them - five Democrats and three Republicans - were defeated.

New Jersey

See also: New Jersey State Senate elections, 2011 and New Jersey General Assembly elections, 2011
New Jersey
  • Democrats in New Jersey held onto both chambers in the state, retaining their 24 – 16 majority in the state Senate while increasing their numbers in the General Assembly from 47–33 to 48–32.
  • A total of 98 incumbents - 36 senators and 62 representatives - ran for re-election. None of them lost.
  • According to a Wall Street Journal analysis of unofficial county results, New Jersey voters set a new record low turnout of roughly 26%. Only 1.4 million of the state's 5.2 million registered voters actually cast a ballot. The previous record was 31% in 1999.[9]
  • Out of the 120 legislative seats up, only one changed parties.


See also: Virginia State Senate elections, 2011 and Virginia House of Delegates elections, 2011
  • Republicans maintained comfortable control of the House of Delegates, while the GOP's push to take control of the Senate resulted in a split chamber, now tied 20-20.
  • 121 incumbents ran for re-election. Only four (3.3%) - all Democrats - were defeated.


See also: Louisiana State Senate elections, 2011 and Louisiana House of Representatives elections, 2011

Owing to its unique election schedule, Louisiana will hold a general election on November 19 to decide four Senate and 21 House races. The rest of the races were determined in the October 22 blanket primary. if a candidate receives more than 50% of the vote in the primary, they automatically win. If not, the top two vote-getters face off in the general election.

State Senate

There are 4 undecided races in the Louisiana State Senate that will be on the ballot in the November 19 runoff. Currently, Democrats have won 12 seats while Republicans have claimed 23 seats -- meaning the GOP is assured to retain the majority in the chamber. Of the four races remaining, three are assured to be won by Democrats and one by the GOP.

The result of the 2011 elections in Louisiana is that the partisan control will be in the Republicans favor, 24-15, for a Republican gain of 2 seats.

State House

There are 21 undecided races in the Louisiana House of Representatives that will be on the ballot in the November 19 runoff. Currently, Democrats have won 35 seats while Republicans have claimed 49 seats -- meaning the GOP is assured to retain the majority in the chamber. Of the twenty-one races remaining, six are assured to be won by Democrats and five by the GOP.

Special elections

See also: State legislative special elections, 2011 and State legislative special elections, 2012

There are no states holding special elections this week. Seven states held legislative special elections last week. Democrats took 5 of the seats and Republicans took 4, while one Independent won. Four remain undecided and are headed to a runoff.

Looking ahead

  • November 29: Alabama House District 45
  • December 6: Georgia House District 25 runoff
  • December 6: Georgia Senate District 28 runoff
  • December 6: Georgia Senate District 50 runoff
  • Mid-December (date not yet set): Texas House of Representatives District 14 runoff
  • January 10, 2012: Massachusetts Senate 2nd Suffolk and Middlesex
  • February 14, 2012: Oklahoma House District 1
  • February 28, 2012: Michigan House of Representatives District 51

Recall elections

See also: Russell Pearce recall, Arizona State Legislature (2011) and Paul Scott recall, Michigan House of Representatives (2011)

Currently, 18 states permit the recall of state officials. This year has seen a flurry of recall activity take place, most notably in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Arizona. In Wisconsin, nine state senators faced recall elections this past summer, resulting in the removal of two Republicans from office. Dozens of state legislators in Michigan were targeted for recall, but only one campaign successfully made the ballot. Two recalls took place on November 8, 2011, both of which succeeded.

  • Michigan Representative Paul Scott (R) was successfully recalled over his support for cuts to education. A special election for the seat will take place on February 28, 2012.