TRENTON – This week’s events were all about laying groundwork for upcoming events: a gubernatorial race four years off, a presidential race two years away, and a battle over key legislation.
Superstorm Sandy forced cancelation of the 2012 N.J. League of Municipalities Conference, but the three-day marathon of deal-making in plain sight returned to Atlantic City this week.
For every breakout session on pavement management, code enforcement or tax caps there were political shindigs of up-and-comers or hangers-on angling to be photographed with just the right powerbroker.
It was a festival for policy wonks and party poobahs alike.
Democratic stars Senate President Steve Sweeney and Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, the two rumored front-runners for the next gubernatorial campaign from the D side of the aisle, were omnipresent.
With Gov. Chris Christie out West for the National Governors Association meeting, and with Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno on hand but not deviating from the script, it meant that overall the GOP presence was not as large-scale celebratory on the Boardwalk.
There were some key state-level Republicans to be seen – Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., and others – but overall the presence was low key compared to the Democrats’.
The state’s top GOP presence, Christie, was in Arizona taking the helm of the Republican Governors Association, and laying out a blueprint for how the GOP can win the 36 governors races coming up next year.
His presence will help bring in money, and his charisma will help sell his vision of what worked in blue-state New Jersey.
For many, he remains the symbol of bipartisan success, an antidote to what ails Washington, D.C.
His appearance this week in the Grand Canyon State was seen as a precursor to an even higher national profile.
Meanwhile, a Christie state Supreme Court nominee finally donned the robes.
The full Senate approved Camden Judge Faustino Fernandez-Vina on Monday. Wasting no time, on Tuesday he took the oath and immediately participated in hearings.
It was a long time coming. Two previous Christie nominees were unceremoniously turned aside, two others are still awaiting hearings.
But Fernandez-Vina was palatable to Democrats who reasoned that because he replaced Helen Hoens, it did not change the political balance of the court.
There was another thing that did not change: Christie’s perfect batting average of 1.000 on attempts to override vetoes.
The Senate threw up a 24-11 tally on the bid to override the veto of a bill that would have banned the practice of confinement of gestating pigs.
Sponsor Sen. Ray Lesniak requested the bill be taken down and said he would attempt another vote when, for one, Sen. Barbara Buono could be present.
The measure drew wide bipartisan support when it was approved early this year. But several Republican senators switched from yes to no when it came time to vote on the override count.
Lesniak maintains Christie’s veto is a nod to pork producers in presidential caucus state Iowa. In his veto Christie talked of how the practice of farmers managing their livelihoods should rest with the state Department of Agriculture.
Sen. Thomas Kean Jr., one of the Republicans who switched votes, talked vaguely of finding “common ground’’ between advocates and opponents.
Not that there was much doubt, but John Currie pretty much cemented his bid for a full term as chair of the Democratic State Committee.
The Democratic powers, including Senate President Steve Sweeney, Speaker-elect Vincent Prieto, and Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, all threw their support his way.
Currie heads up the Passaic County Democrats and became the compromise earlier this year after Barbara Buono’s choice of Jason O’Donnell rubbed some Democrats the wrong way.
It was apparently on a fast track to becoming law. But has it been slowed by debris on the tracks?
The tuition equality bill – the one that would allow undocumented students to pay the lower, in-state tuition rate – passed in the Senate on Monday.
Sponsor Sen. Teresa Ruiz, Senate President Steve Sweeney, and Sen. and teacher Jim Whelan delivered impassioned remarks on its behalf.
“We are opening up avenues for the next generation of leaders in this state,” Ruiz said.
But the bill still has to negotiate its way through the Assembly.
The bill has strong Republican opposition. Sen. Robert Singer warned that the Tuition Aid Grant program is not an open checkbook.
Even the Office of Legislative Services weighed in with cautionary notes about how the bill actually could hurt because tuition revenues are not budgeted state expenditures, and colleges might end up admitting more out-of-state students in order to boost revenues.
And there were whispers that Gov. Chris Christie – who publicly supported the concept during the election season – might not be as supportive of the version that cleared the Senate; that version would give the students access to financial aid.
The concept still has strong support, but the plotlines have become more interesting.