Richard Bagger first showed a penchant for making a reasonable argument as an eighteen-year-old Princeton University sophomore when he testified before Assembly Judiciary Committee in support of legislation that would raise the age for carry-out alcohol sales while allowing the drinking age in bars and restaurants to remain at 18. He argued that the compromise would at least stop teenagers from being able to buy large quantities of liquor that could be distributed to underage drinkers. The sponsor of that bill was Chuck Hardwick, a freshman Assemblyman from Bagger's hometown, Westfield. Twelve years later, Hardwick backed Bagger's bid to succeed him in the Legislature.
Gov.-elect Christopher Christie announced today that the 49-year-old Bagger would serve as Co-Chairman of his transition task force on budget and tax issues.
Bagger became involved in politics at a young age, backing George H.W. Bush for President in 1980 and Thomas Kean for Governor in 1981. At age 23, as a Rutgers law student, Bagger was elected Westfield Councilman. He became Mayor six years later. When he ran for Assemblyman in 1991, he just narrowly won the Union County GOP convention against Alan Augustine, a Union County Freeholder and former Scotch Plains Mayor. Augustine joined Bagger in the Assembly a year later when he won a special election convention and they two became political allies.
After winning an Assembly seat, Bagger sought an ethics ruling about his position as an associate at McCarter & English, one of the state's largest and most prestigious law firms. Told that he might have a conflict because some of his firm's clients did business with the state, Bagger quit his job. He spent some time as a lawyer at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of New Jersey before joining Pfizer at the invitation of Hardwick, a top executive.
When Bob Franks entered the race for the 2000 Republican U.S. Senate nomination, Bagger was immediately viewed as the front runner for a seat in Congress. But with three young children at home, he decided not to run. At the time, the conventional wisdom is that he could have cleared the field for the GOP nomination; his exit cleared a path for Mike Ferguson and Thomas Kean, Jr. to run.
When Donald DiFrancesco gave up his State Senate seat to run for governor in 2001, Bagger easily moved up to the Senate. A year later, he shocked many political observers when he left the Senate to move up the corporate ladder at Pfizer; he eventually succeeded Hardwick as Worldwide Public Affairs and Policy Senior Vice President – essentially the manager of Pfizer's global government affairs operations. His departure from the Senate, at age 42, allowed Kean, Jr., who had won an Assembly seat following Augustine's death in 2001, to move to the upper house.