With Thomas Kean, Jr. slated to become the Senate Minority Leader next year (few insiders from either party believe control of the New Jersey Senate is in play this fall), it might be fun to see if he really is a chip off the old block.
Back in November 1971, Republicans lost control of the State Assembly; the midterm elections resulted in 41 Democrats, 38 Republicans, and one Independent (Anthony Imperiale of Newark). Rev. Howard Woodson, a Democrat from Trenton, was expected to become the state’s first African American Assembly Speaker, but Kean, who had served as Majority Leader and would have become Speaker if the GOP held control of the lower house, had different ideas.
Kean cut a now legendary deal with a group of four Hudson and Union County Democratic Assemblyman led by Jersey City’s David Friedland, and became the new Speaker.
Could Kean the younger also succeed in forming a coalition with a group of Senate Democrats to wrestle control of the State Senate away from Richard Codey?
First, that depends on how many Republicans are in the Senate. The best case scenario is that the GOP holds all eighteen seats they have now and adds Jennifer Beck in the twelfth district. That would give Kean nineteen, which means a coalition with any two anti-Codey Democratic Senators could make Kean the Senate President. But that’s not likely.
What could happen is this: Kean takes his block of Republicans – somewhere between fourteen and nineteen – and forges an alliance with another block of Democratic Senators (hypothetically, say the Norcross Gang from the South) and votes to replace Codey with another Democrat (perhaps John Adler or Steve Sweeney). Republicans could seek the same kind of deal Friedland did with Kean the elder 36 years ago – a few chairmanships for GOP Senators (although they might be foolish to believe that any committees beyond Judiciary, Appropriations and Health matter), perhaps some partisan balance on a key committee or two (Republicans could expand their clout by an evenly-divided Judiciary panel that approves judicial appointments); and maybe an agreement for Kean, as Republican leader, to get a few GOP bills of his choice posted for a vote an each session.
That’s a deal that Kean the elder would have cut in a minute – and a deal that his great-grandfather, U.S. Senator Hamilton Fish Kean, would have done in seconds.
But alas, we live in less partisan times.