Ruiz may replace Turner as Senate Education Committee chair

Political problems for the state's largest teacher's union continue to mount.  After going all out for Gov.

Political problems for the state's largest teacher's union continue to mount. After going all out for Gov. Jon Corzine in the recent election, the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) knows they have a potential problem with voucher-backing charter school enthusiast Gov.-elect Christopher Christie. And in the Senate, it looks like Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark), a protégé of Newark political leader Stephen Adubato, might replace Shirley Turner (D-Lawrence) as chairman of the Education Committee. A fair assumption is that Ruiz will share Adubato's fervent support for charter schools.

Turner could wind up a casualty of the contest for Senate President; she backed incumbent Richard Codey (D-Roseland), while Ruiz supported the likely winner, Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford).

Christie's problem with the NJEA might be more than just politics – he appears to have different views on how to fix New Jersey's public school. And he might have the upper hand, especially with a potential political ally running the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sheila Oliver (D-East Orange), who is expected to become the next Assembly Speaker, has not yet indicated who she will pick as the new Assembly Education Committee Chairman. The incumbent, Joseph Cryan (D-Union), a strong NJEA supporter, is expected to vacate the post to become Majority Leader. Oliver also has strong ties to Adubato – she is the Assistant Essex County Administrator (and Ruiz is the Deputy Chief of Staff to the Essex County Executive) – but statehouse observers say that Oliver is likely to pick a new chairman who would be supportive of the teachers union, a key player in the state's Democratic base vote.

Reportedly not under consideration to head the Education Committee is Joan Voss (D-Fort Lee), who spent forty years as a public school teacher and is now vice chair of the panel. Voss, Democratic leaders say, lacks intellectual heft to take on the post. Instead, Democrats could turn to Patrick Diegnan (D-South Plainfield), a Cryan/Oliver ally and the current chairman of the Assembly Higher Education Committee. If Diegnan turns it down – the Middlesex County Democrat might want to stay where he is, considering the importance of Rutgers University to his district, the leadership might go with the highly-regarded Mila Jasey (D-South Orange), a former school board member but a Codey ally, or Paul Moriarty (D-Washington Twp.), a member of South Jersey Democratic leader George Norcross' political organization.

Moriarty could be an interesting pick, especially if State Sen. Frederick Madden (D-Washington Twp.) retires in two years and Moriarty runs for his seat. That could pit the Chairman of the Assembly Education Committee against incoming Republican Assemblyman Domenick DiCicco, who might be closer to Christie on education issues.

If Moriarty doesn't wind up at Education, the former consumer affairs reporter for a KYW-TV, the Philadelpha CBS affiliate, is a virtual lock to chair the Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee. The current chair, Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D-Camden), is not seeking re-election.

If Diegnan gets the job, watch for Pamela Lampitt (D-Cherry Hill) to get the Higher Education panel chair.

Ruiz may replace Turner as Senate Education Committee chair