NJ Dems mull limits to Christie powers

By ALEX ISENSTADT & JESSICA TAYLOR
Politico.com
December 6, 2009

Two months after Massachusetts lawmakers came under criticism for altering the state’s succession laws for partisan purposes, New Jersey Democrats have launched a similar effort designed to limit Republican Gov.-elect Chris Christie’s appointment powers in the event of a Senate vacancy.

Amid concerns about 85-year-old Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s ability to serve out his full term, which expires in 2015, a Democratic state legislative leader last week introduced a bill that would require the governor to appoint a lawmaker from the same party as the departing officeholder within 30 days of the vacancy.

The measure, if passed, stands to affect the Senate balance of power since it would guarantee that Lautenberg’s seat remains in Democratic hands in the event it becomes vacant. The temporary appointee would serve until the next regularly-scheduled general election.

Current New Jersey law provides governors the option of filling a vacant Senate seat with a candidate of their choice, regardless of party, who serves until the next general election; calling a special election; or allowing the seat to remain vacant until the next general election.

The measure drew a sharp response from Republicans—particularly Christie, the incoming governor whose appointment powers would be restricted.

“It’s garbage. It’s political lying,” Christie said at a press conference earlier this week. “There are no niceties to be put around this. This is a political power play by the party that’s losing power, and it’s wrong.”

Christie noted that Corzine himself used the current law to appoint his own replacement in January 2006 after resigning his Senate seat to assume the governorship and he urged the outgoing governor to veto any measure that changes the law.

“This bill is nothing more than a thinly-veiled Democratic power grab,” said Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for the state Republican Party. “New Jersey would be better served if Democrats spent less time on political maneuvering and more on solving our state’s considerable fiscal problems.”

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