Sources say Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-East Orange) has South Jersey Democrats, Republicans and herself lined up in support of pension and health benefits reform.
But she lacks support elsewhere in the caucus and doesn’t have Essex in line, a delegation that includes her labor leader district-mate Assemblyman Tom Giblin (D-Montclair), and others uncomfortable with transgressing collective bargaining in favor of Gov. Chris Christie-backed reforms.
There’s more than the reform package at stake here, and Oliver knows it, say sources. She told caucus members she wouldn’t back a deal without the caucus behind her and right now, it’s not – a situation that threatens the speaker’s leadership status.
Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman Phil Thigpen wants to help.
“I’m going to meet with the delegation on Monday and we will resolve the differences,’ Thigpen told PolitickerNJ.com. “We will support the speaker and be united. I’d like us to be a united delegation and come to consensus.”
If Oliver can’t bring at least her home county delegation to heel, sources say the caucus could permanently lame duck her, and potentially unseat her next year in exchange for a front line opponent of the Norcross/Divincenzo/Christie axis – someone like Assembly Majority Leader Joe Cryan (D-Union), for example.
At least one Assembly caucus member described himself as deeply torn, convinced of Oliver’s sincerity in trying to represent the concerns of her caucus with the front office, but fastened to Christie’s Essex County Democratic Party allies, including County Executive Joe DiVincenzo.
As Senate Presdient Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) declared his commitment to moving ahead with the reform omnibus bill regardless of what the Assembly does, Oliver issued a statement Thursday afternoon representing lower house Democrats’ worries.
“My caucus had legitimate questions after seeing the details of this concept for the first time. Working through these concerns is reasonable and appropriate,” said the speaker. “Reforming the public worker pension and health insurance system at all levels of government to bring relief to taxpayers while respecting worker rights is my priority. I am committed to getting it done. The consequences of inaction are not an option.
“I continue striving to bring all sides toward a plan that brings taxpayer relief while protecting worker rights, and look forward to more discussions with the governor and Senate president to reach a timely agreement.”