Codey willing to consider new way to fill U.S. Senate vacancies, but won’t back McKeon plan

If the legislature is going to change the way the governor appoints U.S. senators in the event of a vacancy during the lame duck session, it will have to be tweaked the current legislation.

Outgoing Senate President Richard Codey (D-Roseland) said today that he will not post a bill identical to the one authored by his running mate, Assemblyman John McKeon (D-West Orange). Instead, he would prefer a compromise that would give the governor a little more leeway in filling vacancies, but less than he currently enjoys.

McKeon's bill, which has already been referred to the Assembly State Government Committee, would do away with the option of calling a special election and force the governor to appoint a senator from the same political party as the senator who just left the seat. Current state law allows the governor to appoint anyone to the seat, regardless of party.

Asked about the bill yesterday, Republican Gov-elect Christopher Christie called it "garbage" and asked that Codey not post it and Gov. Jon Corzine not sign it.

"I think it needs to be massaged, so to say. I don't know if I'd want Chris to give me the massage though. I think he'd bury his fingers in my back," said Codey.

Codey said a possible compromise would be to allow the governor to appoint whomever he wants if there's a short amount of time before the next general election, but constrain his pick to the predecessor's political party if there is a long time remaining.

"I always thought, regardless of who was governor, that you should select someone who is of the same party," said Codey. "But I've had some conversations with John about maybe if it's a short period of time before a general election could be held, that he could select whomever he wants. But it it's a longer period of time, it would have to be someone of the same."

It is possible, though highly unlikely, that the new senate leadership could put an identical bill up for a vote before Christie becomes governor. Senate Majority Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford) will take over as senate president on January 12 – one week before Christie is sworn in.

In 1982, newly-elected Republican Gov. Thomas Kean appointed Republican Nicholas Brady to replace Democrat Harrison Williams, who resigned two years after being convicted of taking bribes in the Abscam sting. Brady, who served eight months, did not run for a full six-year term and went on to become U.S. Secretary of Treasury from 1988 to 1993. Codey willing to consider new way to fill U.S. Senate vacancies, but won’t back McKeon plan