State of the State; Gov & Legislative Races

NorthStar Strategies TrueNorth Insights

In this issue of TrueNorth, we provide insight and analysis of Governor Christie’s final State of the State Address, as well as an update on the campaigns of the Republicans and Democrats vying to replace him. We also spotlight several legislative races that are beginning to come into focus.

Christie’s Final State of the State Address

Governor Chris Christie, in his seventh and final State of the State address, laid out a plan to attack drug addiction, a crisis he said is “ripping the very fabric of our state apart.” The Governor used the bulk of his annual address to the legislature to promise to make the issue of addiction a top priority of his administration in 2017.

Christie unveiled several policy initiatives that could see quick action by the legislature, including limiting the amount of opioids doctors can initially prescribe – currently a 30-day supply – to a five day supply. The governor also called for bi-partisan legislative action to mandate health insurance coverage for the first six months of in-patient or outpatient drug rehab treatment. These two initiatives in particular are likely to face industry opposition.

Focusing on drug addiction prevention and treatment is not a new theme for Christie, who has called for and implemented a number of related programs during his two terms in office, including expanding drug courts and access to the opioid overdose antidote naloxone. Despite these measures, overdose-related deaths in New Jersey have continued to rise.

Combating drug addiction may be one of the few policy areas where the governor and legislature are able to find agreement in this election year.

Governor’s Race

Speaking of elections, New Jersey holds one of only two gubernatorial elections in 2017 (Virginia is the other) and the race to succeed Governor Chris Christie is already in full froth.

Yesterday, Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno kicked off her long-anticipated campaign for governor. Guadagno – the first Lieutenant Governor in New Jersey history – adopted the role of liaison to business during her seven years in the position. Famous for giving out her mobile number to business owners and popular for personally taking the calls, Guadagno on Tuesday promised to “make New Jersey better.” Pundits predict that Guadagno will have to dodge Chris Christie’s low approval ratings to be successful. One of her primary challengers, Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, isn’t planning to let GOP voters forget the Christie-Guadagno link, responding to the LG’s announcement by calling for a “new direction for the Republican Party and New Jersey.” Noteworthy for recently taking his name OUT of consideration is Assembly Minority Leader and moonlighting stand-up comic Jon Bramnick. The Union County Republican has been one of Christie’s closest allies in the Legislature and was once considered a potential frontrunner for the GOP nomination. If any other comedians make news about a gubernatorial run, we’ll be sure to let you know…

Democrat Phil Murphy is collecting endorsements like baseball cards and last week added US Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker to an already impressive list (you’ll recall Murphy’s maneuvering in late 2016 to lock up county lines). Assembly Transportation Committee Chair John Wisniewski is running hard and has staffed up with Bernie Sanders ex-pats. Not to be outdone, Senator Ray Lesniak, a Statehouse fixture since 1978, ended several months of pump-fakes and announced he is giving up his seat for a run at the front office.

Legislative Races Taking Focus

The battle for Drumthwacket isn’t the only race likely to produce drama in 2017 – several key legislative races are already taking shape. The main event, a race that has the potential to be an absolute slugfest, is the contest for Monmouth County’s 11th District Senate seat. Senator Jennifer Beck (R) has served in the upper chamber since 2008. Redistricting moved her to the 11th in 2012. The 2015 election saw Democrats knock out both incumbent GOP Assemblywomen. One of the architects of that upset was Monmouth County Democratic Chairman Vin Gopal, Beck’s likely general election foe. Beck has already been tagged as a loyal Christie solider by her opponent (a strategy Dems are likely to employ throughout the State this year) but for her part is touting her independence on issues like the Transportation Trust Fund where she actively opposed the agreement reached by the governor and Democratic leadership in the legislature. Gopal – who stepped down as County Chairman to run for Senate – will try to cash in on his party-building efforts over the past four years. Gopal became the youngest county party chairman in the State when he was elected to lead Monmouth Democrats in 2012.

Longtime Senator Jim Whelan (D) ended months of speculation by announcing he would not seek reelection to the 2nd District seat he’s held since 2008. The departure of the thoughtful and popular former Atlantic City mayor sets up another potentially expensive swing district battle. Democratic Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo and Republican Assemblyman Chris Brown are both expected to seek Whelan’s senate seat, and Mazzeo has already announced his candidacy. A general election match-up between Mazzeo and Brown would be a rematch from 2015 when both were seeking seats in the Assembly. That heated race may give us a preview of the anticipated 2017 contest.

Finally, the senate vacancy created by Ray Lesniak’s candidacy for governor means the possible return to Trenton of affable former assemblyman Joe Cryan. Cryan – presently Union County Sheriff – has announced his senate candidacy and has been endorsed by top Union County Democrats, including, County Chairman Jerry Green, Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage, Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, and Assemblyman Jamel Holley.

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