Following news of a possible indictment, questions arise regarding the ramifications of Sen. Bob Menendez relinquishing his job soon. So far it’s only a possibility, and Menendez says he is not about to leave. Many people would regret losing his voice on immigration reform, but not so much on Iran, Cuba or some other matters. Nonetheless, he has been a reliable voter on the moderate to progressive wing of the Democratic party, and in most cases he and his NJ counterparts (Sen. Lautenberg and Sen Booker) have voted in tandem. Now we face the possibility of a new senator who might be neither a Democrat nor even moderate. Our last elected Republican senator was Clifford Case who left office 35 years ago and was succeeded by Bill Bradley.
The first step would belong to Gov. Christie who would appoint a temporary senator. The last temporary senator he appointed was the respected but close confidante Jeff Chiesa following the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg. Christie might like to appoint another close confidante, but many of them could be tainted as part of the governor’s poor performance or even under investigation – all of which reduces their likelihood of winning in a later special election. A well respected Republican with no close working ties to Christie might have the best chance of holding on to the seat.
Christie however has not shown much concern for the role of N. J. senators. He appointed Chiesa not caring that Chiesa would not run in a special election, thus strengthening the possibility that a Democrat would recapture the seat, which is what happened with Senator Cory Booker’s victory.
Christie’s main concern has always been himself and must now be his legacy. Thus he would want a sympathetic Republican to succeed him as governor. A Democrat would frequently remind voters of Christie’s failings on the economy, jobs, environment, Bridgegate, Sandy programs, Atlantic City, fair housing, Port Authority reform, judicial appointments, and so much more. A horrible thought for him to contemplate.
If Christie were to think that LG Kim Guadagno, who has some chance to become the Republican governor nominee, was not his best supporter nor a likely winner (he has largely minimized her role and ignored her) he might appoint her as the temporary senator and not care whether she later wins the spot. Such would allow him to appoint a new LG – a respected but sympathetic associate – who he thinks might have a better chance of winning the governorship and burnishing his legacy. The exposure for the new LG would be helpful in winning the race.
Appointing a temporary senator who is well respected and has a reasonable chance of holding on to the job or appointing the current LG to free up the LG position for Christie’s desired successor are just two possibilities. Given the 35 year history of Democratic sole elected occupancy of NJ senate seats, there is little reason for Christie to waste much time and effort on the senate. In the midst of his tattered and discredited policies there is every reason for him seek out and aid a friendly successor as governor.
The question of a Democratic candidate for the office is equally or more complex as numerous individuals might be interested and able to succeed in the special election. The last five Democratic senators have been congressmen (Menendez and Torricelli), a businessman (Lautenberg), a mayor (Booker) and a sports star (Bradley). It is never too early to mention who we would like to be the Democratic senatorial candidate, but we don’t know yet whether Mendez will leave office nor who will express interest in the position. Perhaps this subject is best left for another diary.