Morning News Digest: February 17, 2010

Wisniewski’s job: unite factions of a Democratic Party in a state with a GOP governor 

Few politicians envy Assemblyman John Wisniewski’s (D-Sayreville) new job as Democratic state chairman. 

It’s not just the general gripes about the position. Yes, it’s unpaid, basically thankless and hinges your reputation on your party’s electoral fortunes. But with the Democrats coming off a gubernatorial election loss, the senate having rejected gay marriage legislation and Democratic legislative leaders preparing to take on pension reform and the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH), relations are in danger of becoming fraying between the party and three core constituencies: public workers unions, minorities and the gay community. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ) 

Criticizing Democratic leadership in Washington, Lance runs again as a fiscal conservative 

Ensconced in a Hunterdon County coterie of GOP allies and underscoring his record as a fiscal conservative, U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton) formally kicked off his re-election bid this morning in the gutted and remodeled interior of the historic county courthouse where Bruno Hauptmann once went on trial for the Lindbergh baby murder. “I think the actions of leadership on the Democratic side – of (Senate Majority Leader Harry) Reid and (Speaker Nancy) Pelosi – have not been in the bipartisan tradition,” said Lance, standing at the head of the wood-paneled courtroom wife wife, Heidi, at his side. “The attitude has been, ‘We won the election, we write the bill.’ I fundamentally disagree with that philosophy.” Fronting his successful authorship of the Lance Amendment while he was a state senator, which forbids borrowing without voter approval, the socially moderate Lance referred to himself throughout the event as a fiscal conservative as he proudly noted his opposition in Congress to President Barack Obama’s $3.6 trillion budget, the $845 billion federal stimulus bill, an earmark spending bill and the public option healthcare reform bill. (Pizarro, PolitickerNJ) 

Salem GOP eyes control of Freeholder board 

A competitive race for control of the Salem County government is shaping up, with Republicans hoping to take a majority on the freeholder board for the first time in eight years. 

So far, the Republican slate is forming earlier than that of the Democrats, although by later this month, both parties will likely have a better idea of who’s going to run for what office.

Currently, Democrats have a 4-3 majority on the freeholder board. Two incumbents are up for reelection this year: Democratic Freeholder Director Lee Ware and Republican Julie Acton. The Democratic county surrogate, Nicki Burke, is also up for reelection. (Friedman, PolitickerNJ) 

Housing advocates challenge Christie ruling to stop affordable-housing council 

A housing advocacy group has challenged an executive order by Gov. Chris Christie that puts the brakes on a state affordable-housing council. The Fair Share Housing Center argued in court papers filed yesterday that Christie did not have the proper authority last week when he ordered the state Council on Affordable Housing, known as COAH, to halt its business for 90 days. “This sweeping assertion of executive power has no basis in New Jersey law and sets a dangerous precedent for the entire operation of state government,” said the suit, filed in the Appellate Division. “Christie assumed for himself and his unconfirmed cabinet member the powers that the Legislature assigned to the independent COAH board.” (Fleisher, The Record) 

Our Point of View 

Chris Christie’s decision to create a commission to explore problems with gaming, sports and entertainment should serve as a reminder that the state has no business being involved in gaming, sports and entertainment. The governor rightly calls the Meadowlands the most valuable real estate in New Jersey. Leaving aside the environmental argument, it’s close to Manhattan and enjoys proximity to major highways and a rail station. So it’s critical that he uncover some way to help the state find revenue in these swamps — but the current models aren’t the way. ( 

Study: Women underrepresented in state government 

Although more women serve in state legislatures than ever before, they are underrepresented compared with their percentage of the population, a study finds. Women constituted 54 percent of voters in the 2008 elections but only 24 percent of state legislators, according to a report from the Center for American Women and Politics, a unit of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University. In addition, after nearly 30 years of steady increases, the number of women state legislators leveled off in the past decade. The report, “Poised to Run: Women’s Pathways to the State Legislatures,” concludes more can be done by political parties, organizations and women themselves. (Ackermann, The Record) 

Funding cuts follow form

While New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie criticized his predecessor last week for using “the same worn-out tricks” to cobble together a state budget, he readily adopted hundreds of millions in spending cuts former Gov. Jon S. Corzine had proposed to close a gap in the current spending plan. Christie called a joint session of the Legislature to announce his plan for closing a midyear budget gap he says would have reached $2.2 billion by the end of the fiscal year on June 30. It includes cutting $1.6 billion in state aid to school districts, colleges and universities, hospitals, NJ Transit and more. He pulled back funds from some 375 programs in all. (Delli Santi, AP) 

Trenton: quiet today; expect plenty of noise later 

It’s a quiet Tuesday in Trenton. Don’t expect that to last long. Tomorrow Assembly Democrats will hold their first hearing on Gov. Christie’s budget cuts. They will likely spotlight some of the most controversial reductions in an attempt to paint the governor’s plan as overly harsh. Among those there to make the case will be Rocco Fiorentino, a 13-year-old from Voorhees who has often spoken out on issues affecting the blind and visually impaired and is a favorite of Assembly Budget chairman Louis Greenwald (D., Camden), who is from the same town. (Tamari, Inquirer) 

3 file for Park Ridge special election 

Three people, including two who ran for a Borough Council seat in November and a former borough chief financial officer, will run in a March 9 special election to fill the seat. Democrat Kenneth Brouwer, Republican Steven Hopper and independent Ann Kilmartin returned petitions with enough signatures to be placed on the ballot, Borough Clerk Kelley O’Donnell said Tuesday. The three-year term on the six-member Borough Council became open on Jan. 20, when Superior Court Judge Robert Wilson ordered a new election, saying the number of disqualified non-resident votes made it impossible for him to determine a winner. (Superville, The Record) 

NABC to honor former Sen. Bill Bradley

Bill Bradley, who followed a Hall of Fame basketball career by serving in the U.S. Senate, has been selected to receive the Court of Honor Award from the National Association of Basketball Coaches Foundation. Bradley, who led Princeton to a Final Four and played on two NBA championship teams with the New York Knicks, will receive the award May 17 in New York. The award is presented to someone who has roots in college basketball, values those roots, and has gone on to distinguish himself in his profession, exhibiting the highest standards of leadership. (AP) 

Ingle: State unions are still unhappy with Sweeney 

The state employee unions that heckled Sen. Steve Sweeney when he proposed pension reform three years ago still aren’t happy with such plans even though the state’s pension fund is in financial trouble. Sweeney appeared on 101.5 FM radio today with my colleague Jim Gearhart. Sweeney said the last time pension reform was a big issue unions put huge inflated plastic rats at his fund-raisers and passed out hot dogs, saying “Sweeney is a weenie.” Sweeney called that childish and he’s right. (Ingle, Gannett) 

Riordan: COAH face-off not nearly over

His life’s work is under fire, if not siege. Again. Peter O’Connor, the lawyer whose eloquent advocacy of affordable housing is enshrined in the New Jersey Supreme Court’s Mount Laurel decisions, sees a “knockout attempt” coming. So he’s already counterpunching. “A lot’s going on right now,” he says wryly, noting that the Republican governor and a bipartisan duo of legislators are pummeling away at the state’s Council on Affordable Housing (COAH). Last week, Gov. Christie issued an executive order freezing the council’s operations and proclaiming the end of the “COAH nightmare.” O’Connor’s Fair Share Housing Center filed a motion yesterday, seeking to invalidate the order. (Riordan, Inquirer) Morning News Digest: February 17, 2010