New Jersey’s New Governor Prepares to Take Office

On November 3, New Jersey voters elected Chris Christie (R) as the state’s 55th governor. Christie’s win marks the first time a Republican has won a statewide election in New Jersey since 1997. The Governor-elect faces a number challenges when he takes office, most notably a projected $8 billion budget deficit.

With Democrats holding a 14 seat advantage in the Assembly, and a 4 seat advantage in the Senate, Governor-elect Christie will have to secure Democratic support for his agenda. Since his election, the Governor-elect has attempted to set a tone of bipartisanship. His transition team includes several high-profile Democrats, including Woodbridge Mayor and former State Treasurer John McCormac and state Senator Sandra Cunningham.

On December 3, Governor-elect Christie announced the senior staff appointments to his Administration, each of whom has close, longstanding ties to the Governor-elect.

  • Chief of Staff: Richard Bagger (R), a 49-year-old Pfizer executive who spent a decade in the State Assembly and one year in the State Senate. Mr. Bagger headed Pfizer’s State Government Relations program.
  • Chief Counsel: Jeff Chiesa, a 44-year-old former federal prosecutor and the Executive Director of Christie’s transition team.
  • Deputy Chief of Staff: Bill Stepien, Christie’s 31-year-old campaign manager.
  • Deputy Chief Counsel: Kevin O’Dowd, a 37-year-old Assistant U.S. Attorney.

Governor-elect Christie has also nominated some key cabinet members, including Essex County Prosecutor Paula Dow (D) as attorney general. Senate leaders have said they want to expedite the nomination of Ms. Dow. Prior to working as Essex County Prosecutor, Ms. Dow served as Governor-elect Christie’s counsel in the U.S. Attorney’s office. Governor-elect Christie has also nominated Lieutenant Governor-elect Kim Guadagno (R) to serve as secretary of state.

The new Governor will also be working with new legislative leaders in both the Assembly and Senate. And, both the Governor-elect and the legislative leadership have stated that their number one priority for 2010 is closing the budget deficit. Governor-elect Christie has already reached out to the Legislature, requesting an extension on the deadline for his fiscal year 2010-2011 gubernatorial budget message. He requested the extension in order to have sufficient time to prepare his first budget after he takes office on January 19. This request unanimously passed the Senate and is expected to pass the Assembly as well. Governor-elect Christie is expected to release a number of his legislative initiatives in the budget, so the fact that the Senate unanimously passed the extension signifies a willingness to work with Christie.

More contentious has been a battle between the Governor-elect and outgoing Governor Jon Corzine (D). Since losing his reelection bid, Governor Corzine has submitted 185 nominations and appointments to boards, judgeships and other positions to the Senate for confirmation. Governor-elect Christie has expressed outrage, and has pledged to have Senate Republicans block as many of the nominations as possible. Governor Corzine and Governor-elect Christie are attempting to negotiate a settlement, but that does not seem likely. How Senate Democrats handle these nominations will be a key factor in setting the tone for the 2010-2011 legislative session.

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