Morning Digest: Dec. 9, 2013

Martinez not interested in Christie-Martinez 2016 ticket, report says

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez wasn’t interested in being considered a vice presidential contender in 2012, and the same could be said for 2016.

At least, that’s the word according to published reports that indicate the Republican executive wouldn’t be interested in running on a ticket with Gov. Chris Christie. 

Martinez campaigned for Christie in the Garden State in the lead up to the recent election. She’s been speculated as a possible running mate choice for New Jersey’s governor if Christie mounts a White House bid. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)





Moen names to run Booker’s South Jersey Senate office

CAMDEN – William Moen, Jr. has been named to run the South Jersey office of U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D – NJ).  

Moen’s official title will be Assistant Director of Constituent Services in charge of South Jersey, according to Mo Butler, Booker’s New Jersey State Director. He will start work in his new position on Monday.  

Moen most recently served as a legislative aide for Assemblyman Angel Fuentes (D-5), where he helped draft public policy initiatives, provided community outreach and performed other services for the legislators representing 19 Camden and Gloucester County towns, including Camden City. Prior to his work as a legislative aide, Moen served as communications director for the Fifth District Office. He also worked in various capacities in state, county and municipal campaigns in New Jersey, and interned for U.S. Rep. Robert E. Andrews (D-1) and state Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-3). 

A first-generation college graduate, Moen earned a Masters degree in Public Administration from the Fels School of Government at the University of Pennsylvania, as well as a Bachelors degree in Political Science from Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey. While at Penn, Bill and his EducaPhilly teammates were university finalists in the Penn Public Policy Challenge. The team conceived a plan to bridge the language gap between the School District of Philadelphia and the city’s minority communities by creating a Spanish-speaking radio show targeting Hispanic parents of students — informing them of news, school policies and other useful information to help ensure their children’s success.  (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)





Teachers union face moment of truth

It’s designed to be an impressive show of force: Thousands of unionized teachers plan to rally Monday in cities from New York to San Francisco to “reclaim the promise of public education.”

Behind the scenes, however, teachers unions are facing tumultuous times. Long among the wealthiest and most powerful interest groups in American politics, the unions are grappling with financial, legal and public-relations challenges as they fight to retain their clout and build alliances with a public increasingly skeptical of big labor.

 “I do think it’s a moment of truth,” said Lance Alldrin, a veteran high-school teacher in Corning, Calif., who has split from his longtime union after serving for a decade as the local president.

The National Education Association has lost 230,000 members, or 7 percent, since 2009, and it’s projecting another decline this year, which will likely drop it below 3 million members. Among the culprits: teacher layoffs, the rise of non-unionized charter schools and new laws in states such as Wisconsin and Michigan freeing teachers to opt out of the union. (Simon/Politico)





Members’ Obamacare sign-up headaches

Staring down a deadline to sign up for Obamacare, some lawmakers are getting hit by technical glitches or sticker shock. Others are breezing through the website, elated by lower premiums and better health services. And at least one won’t sign up at all — opting to pay a penalty instead.

In short, the Obamacare experience is the same mixed bag on Capitol Hill as it is across the nation. (Min Kim and Haberkorn/Politico)





Senate, Assembly Democrats Disagree Over Open-Space Preservation

Parting of ways could ultimately put state’s remaining undeveloped land in jeopardy

Once again, lawmakers from the same party serving in different branches of the Legislature are on different pages when it comes to how the state should preserve open space, farmland, and historic structures.

With New Jersey virtually out of money to finance open space preservation, the Assembly and Senate appear to be pursuing different solutions to the problem in the lame duck session, which ends in early January. Neither is either getting much, if any, guidance from the governor’s office.

The potential impasse could prevent the Legislature from reaching consensus on the issue, which has long been contentious. Should it be done by enacting a long-term stable source of funding from a new or existing revenue source or by approving a stopgap bond issue that borrows the money to finance the program for a couple of years?

If no agreement is reached, it could further dry up money for towns, nonprofit organizations, and counties that rely on a state fund to set aside the dwindling amount of open space in New Jersey, a state some expect to be the first in the nation to reach buildout by the middle of this century. By some accounts, the state has approximately 1 million acres — or about 20 percent of its land mass — left undeveloped. (Johnson/NJSpotlight) 




Clean Energy Advocates Argue State Officials Not Heeding Sandy’s Warning

Administration is no-show at hearing on global warming before Assembly panel

Even after Hurricane Sandy and other extreme weather, New Jersey is not doing nearly enough to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions to prevent future storm damage, according to clean energy advocates and environmentalists.

With a new report suggesting the effects of global warming are already apparent, they argued that it is time for the Legislature to take the lead in devising strategies to cope with those changes, which a law passed seven years ago.  (Johnson/NJSpotlight) 





Pallone Says Congress Doing Nothing About Sea-Level Rise, Blames Tea Party

Nonprofit group releases survey showing NJ voters want state and federal governments to get more involved in planning for climate change.   

New Jersey voters may want the government to do more to plan for rising sea levels and climate change, but the issue is dead in the water in Congress, according to U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th).

Speaking at a conference organized by the nonprofit Clean Ocean Action, Pallone told the audience that Tea Party members in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives refuse to discuss the matter.

“Congress is doing nothing,” the Democrat said. “They can’t bring this up — if they do, they just get slapped down. We have to get this issue away from the ideology of the Tea Party and the right wing.”

Clean Ocean Action used the event — which marked more than a year of post-Sandy cleanup by almost 14,000 volunteers across the state — to release a survey showing that 96 percent of respondents believe climate change is at least a contributor to sea-level rise. (Hurdle/NJSpotlight) 








Christie prepared to rack up miles raising funds, voter support for GOP

Even though Governor Christie has dodged speculation that he’s planning to run for president in three years, saying his focus is on governing New Jersey, since he won a second term in a landslide last month, he has been outside the state nearly as much as in it.

Gov. Chris Christie talks about being the governor of New Jersey, as Cindy McCain, wife of U.S. Sen. John McCain, listens at a McCain Institute forum Nov. 22, 2013, in Phoenix.

On Thursday he was scheduled to be in Oklahoma City raising money at a birthday celebration for Gov. Mary Fallin. The next day, he headlined a rally and VIP reception in Idaho for Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter. On Wednesday, he’ll raise money at a gala for the Vermont Republican Party.

And Christie’s travels are expected to increase next year, when, as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, he crisscrosses the country raising money and supporting GOP candidates in the 36 states with gubernatorial races.

Barely a month into his new term, Christie already finds himself confronting a reality of his political life — the need to split his time between his home state and his responsibilities as head of the RGA, and as a sought-after leader whose brand of pragmatic conservatism, some believe, could propel him to a GOP presidential nomination for 2016. His absence from the state at a critical time hurt him in the past, but his landslide reelection seems to show that, so far, his travels haven’t caused any lasting damage.

Christie has said he can balance both jobs. (Hayes/The Record)    





Booker, once-famous ‘snow samaritan,’ offers again

NEWARK  — U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, who rose to fame as the mayor of Newark, N.J., by once personally shoveling residents’ snow, is offering again.

Booker, who has 1.4 million followers on Twitter, exchanged messages with a resident of Mt. Holly on Sunday, who tweeted the senator a photo of snow-covered cars next to a snow covered lawn.

The resident asked Booker in the tweet: “Can you come dig us out in Mt. Holly?”

Booker replied: “If you still need the help tomorrow. I will stop through on my way to DC.”

In a subsequent tweet, Booker sent the man his cell number before adding: “Text me if u need me. Love ur town! #SundayShoutOut to Mt. Holly! Covered in snow but still a hot town.” (Associated Press)   




D.C. Lawmakers Expected to Cut Popular Tax Break

A popular mass transit tax break, which saves the typical New Jersey commuter hundreds of dollars a year, will be cut in half at the beginning of the New Year, unless Congress acts quickly to renew it.

That seems very unlikely because of ongoing bickering and finger-pointing in the nation’s capitol.

If the tax break is cut, it will cost many Garden State commuters, who take mass transit, close to $500 a year.

“It’s an item in a long list of grievances that many Americans have with how the House of Representatives and the Senate operate,” said the Chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville).

“They haven’t taken up the simple bread and butter issue that really affects the lives of ordinary commuting Americans – that’s a travesty,” Wisniewski said. “My guess is they will ultimately get to it, but with all the other wrangling going on in Washington over debt limits and budgets and the Affordable Care Act, it’s hard to know what they’re focusing on.”

Wisniewski pointed out encouraging mass transit ridership is very important, especially for a state like New Jersey because we don’t have the ability to build additional roads.

“We don’t have any place left to put them.”

The assemblyman said it’s never clear what message is coming out of Washington, so what we need to do is make sure commuters understand that our national leaders are aware of this, that they’re on top it, that they’re going to solve the problem. (Matthau/NJ101.5) 




Lawmakers Crack Down on Online Scammers

More and more people are paying bills and doing banking online these days because it’s very convenient, but it can also be dangerous if you’re not careful because your personal and financial information is out there in a scammers playground.

A bill approved by the full New Jersey Assembly and scheduled to be considered by a Senate committee today aims to weed out the fraudsters.

“I’ve gotten and I know a lot of other people have gotten an email saying, ‘Hi, it’s your friend. I’m in trouble. Please send me money,’” explained Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex). “Most people know it’s a scam, but other people don’t and there are people who get taken advantage of and suffer financial consequences.”

The bill Coughlin co-sponsors amends the state’s criminal code to clarify that a person is guilty of the offense of criminal impersonation if the person pretends to be someone else, a bank and/or a charitable group by any means including, but not limited to, electronic communications or an Internet website.

“We’re targeting bad guys,” said Coughlin. “We’re targeting folks who take advantage of being able to hide behind the anonymity of being online. We need to prevent the bad guys from taking advantage of the anonymity that electronic devices and the Internet afford them.”

As computers and electronic communication devices have become more commonplace, banks, financial institutions, and other businesses have encouraged their customers to create their own electronic identities in order to engage in transactions electronically via the internet. (McArdle/NJ101.5) 





N.J. sprts gambling to place final bets in the U.S. Supreme Court

TRENTON — The game clock is running out on New Jersey’s attempt to legalize sports betting at casinos and horse racing tracks — something supporters say could save those struggling industries and generate hundreds of millions of tax dollars for the state.

After losing three times in federal court to the NCAA and the nation’s professional sports leagues, Gov. Chris Christie will now try his luck at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The state has until mid-February to file an appeal to the nation’s highest court, which the governor says is “the only option left.”

“Yeah, you know, I’m not going to go to the galactic Supreme Court and appeal to them,” Christie joked during a press conference last week. “Pretty much, a federal question ends at the United States Supreme Court.”

It’s the place Christie — who signed sports betting into law last year after voters approved it in a referendum — has always said the case belongs.

But persuading the justices to allow New Jersey to take its swings for sports betting is no easy task. About 10,000 petitions are filed with the Supreme Court each year, yet the justices hear arguments in just 100 or so. (Hutchins/Star-Ledger) 





N.J. senator extends his influence through ‘super PAC’

TRENTON — To voters in Elizabeth and Rahway, the fliers that came in the mail promoting board of education candidates didn’t look unusual.

But the fine print revealed something astounding. They were paid for by a Washington D.C. “super PAC” called the Committee for Economic Growth and Social Justice.

Why would a Washington group care about local board of education races in New Jersey? Because it’s tied to state Sen. Raymond Lesniak.

Lesniak (D-Union) is using a super PAC to spread his already considerable influence in New Jersey to everything from local school board elections to the upcoming mayoral race in the city of Trenton.

Super PACs can accept and spend unlimited amounts of money, as long as they don’t coordinate with the campaigns they’re benefiting. Their use has exploded at a state and national level since the Supreme Court paved the way for them in a 2010 decision. Just last week, the state Election Law Enforcement Commission said such groups pumped more than $40 million into this year’s races for governor and the Legislature.

The move into a new form of campaign finance has ethics watchdogs suspicious, and Lesniak’s political enemies crying foul. But Lesniak, who has served in the Legislature since 1978, said he’s only doing at a local level what billionaires have been doing nationally for years. (Friedman/Star-Ledger) 






 From the Back Room


Christie Port Authority appointee resigns 

The man reported to be at the center of a controversy over lane closures on the George Washington Bridge is resigning from the Port Authority, according to published reports.

David Wildstein, the agency’s director of Interstate Capital Projects, submitted his resignation letter Friday,according to The Record.

“My plan was to leave the agency at some point next year, but the Fort Lee issue has been a distraction, and I think it’s better to move on earlier,” he wrote in a letter to the agency’s Deputy Executive Director, Bill Baroni, according to the newspaper.

“I am grateful to you and Governor Christie for the opportunity to serve,” he wrote. (PolitickerNJ)





Weekend Programming wrap up

PolitickerNJ sits down this weekend with NJTV’s Michael Aron for another addition of Reporters Roundtable.

Matt Arco joins Aron and three other members on the New Jersey press corps, Melissa Hayes, David Matthau and John Schoonejongen, to discuss this week’s political news in the Garden State.

Reporters Roundtable with Michael Aron airs on NJTV Saturdays at 5:30 p.m. And Sundays at 9 a.m.

Also this weekend, PolitickerNJ columnist Jay Lassiter will appear on News 12’s Power & Politics to discuss the state’s medical marijuana program.

Power & Politics airs on News 12 each Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.  (PolitickerNJ)









Status quo in the Statehouse

Special-interest spending in the 2013 New Jersey election cycle topped $40 million, according to figures provided by the state Election Law Enforcement Commission. Overall spending set a new record of $124 million.

More than $21 million, a low number when compared to other recent contests, was spent on a landslide governor’s race. In the legislative races, more than $61 million poured out.

So what changed?

Next to nothing.

Come the middle of January, we’ll have the same governor — Republican Chris Christie — and the same makeup in the Legislature. Democrats will have a 48-32 edge in the Assembly and a 24-16 margin in the Senate.

Yes, the minimum wage will increase by a dollar an hour, but that was a relatively cheap gain when it came to campaign spending. A little less than $3 million, roughly 2.4 percent of the total, was spent by interest groups on the state’s ballot questions.

Within those big-money numbers are some lessons, the chief of which is that incumbency matters.

Out of all the gubernatorial and legislative incumbents to run, only two lost —assemblymen in Atlantic and Cumberland counties. Their two legislative districts ranked second and third in total spending, so those challengers’ victories came at a steep price. Since one was a Republican and the other a Democrat, their parties’ gains canceled each other out.

Incumbents outspent challengers $30 million to $9 million. In the governor’s race, Christie outspent his opponent, state Sen. Barbara Buono, by $13 million to $3 million. (Schoonejongen/Asbury Park Press)  Morning Digest: Dec. 9, 2013