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State Sen. Sam Thompson. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

Thompson never called Senate GOP leadership before switching parties

Scutari said no decision on Middlesex senator’s committee assignments will be made today

By David Wildstein, February 13 2023 9:48 am

When State Sen. Samuel Thompson (D-Old Bridge) arrives at the statehouse today, he’ll do so for the first time as a Democrat after switching parties and never telling Republican colleagues, some of whom he served with for more than 25 years.

“He never called,” said Senate Minority Leader Steve Oroho, who learned about the party switch from the New Jersey Globe.  “He didn’t call to tell us.”

Oroho said that the Senate Budget and Appropriations, and Education meets today, and he expects the 87-year-old legislator to sit with members of his new party.

The Republican leader also expects to fill Thompson’s committee assignments.

“He removed himself,” Oroho said.

But Senate President Nicholas Scutari said committees will stand pat for now.

“We’re not going to do anything today,” he told the New Jersey Globe.  “He’ll remain on Budget for now.”

Thompson is the lone Republican on the Senate Education Committee, which has three Democrats and one Republican.  Oroho said that State Sen. Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) was planning to attend today in place of Thompson before the panel canceled its meeting entirely.

Scutari added a Republican to the Budget and Appropriations Committee after newly-elected State Sen. Douglas Steinhardt (R-Lopatcong) requested that assignment.   His predecessor, Michael Doherty (R-Oxford), had been the second Republican on Education.

Now Scutari, who has the final say over party allocations of legislative committees, could leave Thompson in place and reduce the number of Republican seats to where they were last year.

As the top Democrat in the Senate, Scutari welcomed the newest member of his caucus.

“He’s a conservative guy,” Scutari said, acknowledging that there may be some votes where Thompson will not stand with fellow Democrats.  “He’s a decent man.”

Oroho said he will also need to move Thompson’s front-row desk on the Republican side of the aisle.

“He criticized his new caucus from that seat,” he stated.

Scutari said he expects to grant Oroho’s request for a seating change, something that could happen today.

On Friday, the sixteen Republican senators signed a letter decrying GOP primaries in four Senate races, including Thompson’s heavily Republican 12th district seat.  Old Bridge Mayor Owen Henry was challenging Thompson in the primary at the time of his party switch.

“You’ve got to be loyal to our caucus members, so we sent out the letter,” Oroho said.  “Everyone signed it, including Sam Thompson.”

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