Looking Ahead at Politics in New Jersey

NJTV News Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron joins Anchor Mary Alice Williams to take a look at what’s on tap in New Jersey politics for 2017.

Aron: Well, Mary Alice, the governor’s race will top the ticket of everyone’s interest. Many people are more focused on it than they have been on the presidential race already. If you had to handicap it today, I would say it’s going to be Democrat Phil Murphy against Republican Kim Guadagno — who has not even declared her candidacy yet — so we’ll have to wait and see on that. Democrat John Wisniewski and Republican Jack Ciatterelli would like to have something to say about that, and will certain this spring, and there are others, but right now it could be Murphy against Guadagno. Both are untested as political candidates. You could say that she ran for lieutenant governor twice, but she was just on the ticket with Chris Christie — you didn’t pull her name separately — and Murphy is brand new to this, so it should be interesting. The governors’ races are always interesting in New Jersey.

Williams: The Legislature, all 120 seats are up. Do you see any changes there?

Aron: Well, I don’t think there’s going to be a change in party majorities in any house. The map is just too stuck in stone and too gerrymandered, quite frankly. But there are three senators leaving office, just not standing for re-election — Kevin O’Toole, Joe Kyrillos and I have it on good authority that Jim Whelan is going to announce within the next week or so that’s he’s not standing for re-election. So that’s three open Senate seats. Not sure what’s going to happen with O’Toole’s seat. In the case of Kyrillos’ seat in Monmouth County, a Republican district, both current Assembly members Declan O’Scanlon and Amy Handlin have said, “I want that Senate seat.” There could be a collision there between two longtime colleagues. And then in Whelan’s district, which is a traditional swing district, District 2 in Atlantic City, Chris Brown, one of the incumbent Assembly members there, a Republican, says he wants to run for the seat and some Democrat will step forward as well. That one will be a hot one. That will be heavily contested. There will be a couple of contested races — District 14 and 38 are usually the two — in addition to District 2 that are in play. But again the focus will be on those three opening up Senate seats.

Williams: But you don’t see any major change in policy as a consequence?

Aron: No, I don’t think so. And going back to the governor’s race, we’ve had eight years of Republicanism in the Executive Branch, tradition would say that’s going to swing to the Democrats as well.

Williams: Let’s talk about the United States Senate. Sen. Menendez is scheduled to stand trial on corruption charges. Where does that stand right now?

Aron: The last we heard officially, the trial date was September of 2017, but Menendez is petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out the entire indictment. That Supreme Court did throw out a conviction against Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, and I think the Menendez camp is hoping that the Supreme Court would do the same in his case. That said, I just need to say that he’s done an incredibly good job of keeping his profile up while under indictment and changing the subject. His seat comes up the following year, in 2018. If he were to somehow lose it early, there would be a scramble to replace him among the Democrats, or Chris Christie could conceivably be able to appoint someone. Even so, 2018 should be interesting because he may be a convicted senator, he may have to give up his job that year. Bottom line, he’s kept his profile high.