State Sen. Phil Haines (R-Springfield) finally got official word yesterday that Gov. Jon Corzine plans to nominate him as a superior court judge.
Corzine sent a notice of intent about Haines' nomination to the Secretary of the Senate yesterday, getting the ball rolling on a nomination that has been talked about since June.
Only now, Haines doesn't want it – at least not from Corzine.
In a letter he wrote today to Corzine and Senate President Richard Codey (D-Roseland), Haines politely declined the offer, holding that he did not want to be part of Corzine's controversial push through of over 180 lame duck appointees and nominees.
"I am writing today to respectfully ask that you remove my name from consideration for a judgeship at this time. While I am humbled by this nomination to the bench and thank both of you for this high honor, I am concerned by the manner in which this and other last minute nominations and appointments are being handled in Trenton.
It has long been my strongly-held personal belief that the incoming governor should not be handcuffed with lame duck political appointments that are not his own. While it has always been and continues to be a lifelong dream of mine to become a judge, I cannot in good faith accept a nomination that conflicts with my beliefs."
Had Corzine nominated Haines before the election, it would have been uncontroversial and likely would have sailed through the senate confirmation vote. But Corzine's last minute appointments and nominations have angered Gov.-elect Chris Christie, and Republicans have threatened to hold them up when possible.
To hear Republicans tell it, Haines is sacrificing his "lifelong dream" on principle. But Democrats consider it political gamesmanship.
Republicans and Democrats admit that Haines will likely be appointed by Christie some time after he takes office. And it could help Republicans to put Haines' nomination off until September, allowing them to avoid what could turn out to be a costly special election for his seat.
A source in the governor's office said that senate Republicans have urged Corzine to hold off on the Haines nomination for several weeks, fearing a special election in the 8th District next year could frustrate their efforts against freshman U.S. Rep. John Adler (D-Cherry Hill) and in a potential special election for the seat of state Sen. Diane Allen (R-Edgewater Park), who is battling an aggressive form of cancer.
"Senator Haines will be a great judge some day, and the Governor personally likes him. But to pretend this is an issue concerning nominations is comical," said the source. "The Republicans' motivations for holding off on Haines' judgeship have been made clear for weeks now."
The source said the Governor decided to go through with the nomination because he had not heard directly from Haines.
Burlington County GOP Chairman Bill Layton, however, said that his party is not worried about losing a special election in the 8th District, which is traditionally Republican.
"In 2010 we're going into an election where the Democratic congress has upside down numbers and Democratic policies are completely getting destroyed by the public,' said Layton. "We have a new Republican governor, so we have support that we've never had before to help us through these political times. So believe me, a special election is not our concern. Our concern, and I think Phil's concern, is doing the right thing."
Incoming Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford), who will preside over the upper house starting next month, gave his own assessment.
"Listen, I love Phil," he said. "I think he's a great guy, a wonderful senator, and he's going to get appointed by Chris Christie…. Phil deserves an opportunity to become a judge."