Senator Tom Kean Announces He will not Seek Reelection


Another casualty of the Trump era, who assented to a weaponized 2020 campaign where others of his ilk had gone quietly, and yet ultimately went the same way amid shifting demographics and sulfuric national politics, state Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. (R-21) today announced that he will not seek re-election to the State Senate.

Kean said he plans to serve out his term in the 21st legislative district as Leader of the Senate Minority Office.

“Public service will always be a part of who I am and how I live my life, but after thoughtful discussion with my family, I have decided not to seek re-election for the State Senate in the 21st legislative district,” said Kean, son of former Governor Tom Kean, Sr., who built his reputation on delicate political procedure and consensus priority.

“It has been an honor to serve these communities and I will always cherish the countless friendships and memories we have made together. I am committed to continuing a bipartisan approach as a leader throughout the remainder of this term and will work every day to deliver solutions for my constituents,”  added Kean, apparently the victim of an era in his party that lip-locked a riot-inciting Donald Trump sooner than frontend-load hard-boiled common ground.

It was an ending both ironic, ill-timed and mildly ignominious given the larger dimensions of his party and the direction of his last campaign for the scion of a respected political family first elected to the New Jersey General Assembly in 2001. He went to the senate two years later.

Though he had the obvious familial boost and brand, he struggled to find a foothold to advance his career out of Trenton, his own quest for federal office repeatedly denied and eight years of combative-by-nature Governor Chris Christie clashing with his own comparatively frail and mild-mannered mode.

Christie tried to hit the eject button on Kean after his 2013 reelection, and just before the Republican governor’s own spectacular crack-up and attempt at new life as a Trump functionary and media pundit. Christie’s political allies, themselves reanimated with Trump’s national success, resurfaced in New Jersey with hopes of a 2020 Kean victory, the ultimate New Jersey welding of brass knuckles and gentility.

It was not to be.

In his press release announcement, Kean highlighted his nomination and selection for the inaugural class of the Rodel Fellowship program by The Aspen Institute, where he finished a fellowship program for young public officials focused on ethics and responsibilities of public leadership.  He noted that he was named one of only 40 state leaders from the entire nation to be recognized as a Toll Fellow by the Council of State Governments for high achievement and service to state government.

In 2008, his peers unanimously elected him Senate Republican Leader, and they blocked Christie from replacing him with then-state Senator Kevin O’Toole (R-40) in 2013.

According to Kean’s release, “during his time in the state legislature, [he] has focused on long-term strategies for an affordable state and growing our way to a better future. He has been a champion of job creation, finding innovative solutions to grow our economy, protecting animals and clean air, and providing support for the disabled community.”

But the elimination during the era of Donald Trump of fellow moderate Republicans like Rodney Frelinghuysen and Leonard Lance, and the retirement announcement last month of Kip Bateman from the state senate (and state Senator Chris Brown’s own ferocious mulling process in LD2) highlighted his own truncated runway in the new GOP, and underscored his own heartbreaking traversed distance from mild public figure to perplexingly inaccurate shock and awe with him hiding from public view, in yet another unsuccessful scorched-earth run for Congress.

His retirement summons the inevitability of a run for his seat by Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-21), and presumably positions Kean to try to take advantage of shifting political weather to undertake his fourth run for federal office in 2022 against incumbent U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-7).

“New Jersey has no finer public servant than Tom Kean Jr, who has fought relentlessly for good government, bipartisan agreement, and policies that benefit every day New Jerseyans throughout his distinguished career,” said NJGOP Chairman Michael Lavery. “We wish him the best in whatever comes next, and thank him for his service to our state.”

Governor Phil Murphy also issued a statement in reaction to Kean’s announcement. “When he leaves office next January, Tom Kean, Jr. will have represented his North and Central Jersey constituents for 20 years in both the State Senate and Assembly. He has ably carried on the legacy of service that runs deep in his family. We wish Tom all the best as he transitions out of the State House and to a new chapter.”

Smelling blood in the district, Labor leader Eddie Donnelly, a Democrat, acknowledged taking a hard look at the seat.

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick said the NJ Legislature must stay in session this summer to take care of the state’s unaddressed issues.
Kean’s apparent successor for at least taking a crack at the LD21 senate seat, Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick repeatedly publicly distanced himself from former President Trump, unlike Kean, who seized on the 2020 presidential election to take a hail Mary shot at Congress.
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