Assemblyman John McKeon (D-West Orange) said he did not think about changing the way the governor appoints U.S. senators until after Republican Chris Christie was elected to the state’s top office, but that does not make it wrong.
Asked about the bill today, Christie erupted into a jokingly self-described “rant” about its partisan nature and the diminishing of power of the governor’s office.
“I would have hoped that as Governor-elect he would have handled it in a more statesmanlike fashion,” said McKeon. “The bottom line is this: I think it’s antiquated and unfair the way we currently do it. I’ll be the first to say I didn’t much think about this until the day after the election, knowing that there’s never been a more significant time when it comes to Democratic representation.”
In the event of a vacancy, current law allows the governor to either call a special election or appoint someone to the seat to hold it until the next general election.
Christie will be sworn in next month, shortly before U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-Cliffside Park), who has five years left in his term, turns 86. Although it is left unsaid by Democrats, it is widely accepted that Lautenberg’s age is the prime motivator of the effort to change the appointment rules. New Jersey’s junior U.S. senator, Bob Menendez (D-Hoboken), turns 56 in January.
The state has not elected a Republican U.S. senator since 1972, when Clifford Case won reelection.
McKeon, who said he was not approached to draft the bill by other Democrats, said that appointing a replacement from the same party as his or her successor would be “the right thing to do,” but that he was not certain it would happen if a vacancy occurred. He added that the bill was “eminently fair” because it only required the replacement to be a member of the same party, rather than the system in place in two other states that requires the governor to pick one of three candidates proposed by the former member’s party.
“Can you imagine the amount of pressure that would come from the national party placed on the governor-elect should that circumstance develop?” he said.
“You can use all the hyperbole that he happened to use today, but this is what I feel.”