Until the 1970’s, Assembly Speakers served a single one-year term under a system where party leadership positions were rotated annually in both houses of the Legislature. Legislators worked their way up in the rotation, usually from Assistant Whip to Whip to Assistant Leader to Leader to Speaker.
Thomas Kean (R-Livingston) became the first two-term Assembly Speaker. He was elected in advance of the 1972 session after the 39-member Assembly Republican caucus cut a deal with four Democrats from Hudson and Union counties to organize the Assembly. He spent two years as Speaker, and four years as Minority Leader after Democrats won 66 seats in the 1973 election.
Christopher Jackman (D-West New York) became person to serve four years as Speaker (he served from 1978-82), followed by similar stints by Alan Karcher (D-Sayreville) and Chuck Hardwick (R-Westfield). Jack Collins (R-Elmer) became the first person to spend six years as Speaker – the longest stint in state history.
The State Senate had a similar leadership rotation process culminating in a one-year term as Senate President until Raymond Bateman (R-Branchburg) won the post in 1970 and held it until 1973. After Democrats took the Senate in 1973, Frank “Pat” Dodd (D-West Orange) and Matthew Feldman (D-Teaneck) served two-year terms. Joseph Merlino (D-Trenton) was the first four-year Senate President, from 1978-82. Donald DiFrancesco (R-Scotch Plains) was the Senate President for ten years, from 1992 to 2002, a post that came with the opportunity to serve as Acting Governor for nearly a year. His decade in the top post is a record. Richard Codey (D-Roseland) is also a record holder: he’s been the Senate Democratic leader for the last twelve years.