New Jerseyans of all political parties are expressing their heartfelt wishes for Governor Jon Corzine's speedy recovery today — and wondering what it means for state government over the long and short term.
Corzine remains in critical condition this morning, facing additional surgeries for injuries sustained in a serious autombole accident yesterday. Senate President Richard Codey says he is on a ventilator, and doctors say that it could be weeks before Corzine resumes his duties. He faces a long period of rehabilitation as he recovers from a femur bone broken in two places, a boken collarbone, twelve ribs, sternum, and head lacerations.
Article 5 of the New Jersey State Constitution — at least for the next 32 months — provides for the Senate President to become Acting Governor when the elected Governor in unable "to discharge the duties of the office." As Codey waits to learn more details of Corzine's path to full recovery, state political insiders are speculating as to who will run the state during the period of Corzine's incapacitation.
For Codey, this is a different situation from the last time he became Acting Governor for an extended period of time. James E. McGreevey had resigned his office, and Codey held the office without the existence of an elected Governor.
Based on past practice, the Acting Governor — meaning a legislative leader or cabinet member who assumes the office only temporarily while the elected Governor is out of town or unavailable — typically cedes the actual power of the job to the Governor's staff. That means no major policy changes, no unauthorized appointments, and no rocking the boat — although by law, Codey would be permitted to use all the powers of the office.
Essentially, this puts Corzine's Chief of Staff, Thomas Shea, and his Chief Counsel, Kenneth Zimmerman, in charge of state government — with Codey monitoring carefully.
Two immediate issues facing the Governor of New Jersey — a state budget that must be passed by June 30th to avoid another shutdown of state government, and the appointment of a Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court. Chief Justice James Zazzali reaches the mandatory retirement age of seventy on June 17 — just sixty-five days from now.