Senate President Sweeney Talks to Press About ‘Revenge Bills’

Gov. Chris Christie seldom fails to get what he wants from the Legislature. But two bills he backed that were fast-tracked despite ferocious opposition fizzled. A measure that would have ended the requirement that legal ads be published in local newspapers was pulled. Another that would have let Christie profit from a book deal while in office died altogether. These were stunning defeats. Today State Senate President Steve Sweeney commented for the first time to NJTV News Correspondent David Cruz and other members of the press.

Sweeney: The Assembly put a couple of bills up and if they, it was his responsibility to pass them, that’s what he said he was going to do, and we would address them in the Senate if he passed them.

Cruz: That’s a little bit of a cop out, senator, because you were on this too.

Sweeney: Listen, I didn’t even discuss them in my caucus. You know, my colleagues told you we didn’t have any conversation, if it did not leave the Assembly that we would not discuss it. It’s not a cop out, it’s the truth.

Reporter: How did the book salary bill come about? Did Christie come to you about it?

Sweeney: No, [Sen. Paul] Sarlo talked about that in the committee. You know, that we said no one was happy about that bill because we were desperate to get raises for judges because we’re concerned about the quality of the type of people that are coming on the bench and be able to retain them. You know, I think Sen. Sarlo retained it. It wasn’t a perfect bill by any means, but it was one that we thought we needed to pass.

Reporter: But did Christie pitch that to you, or did you guys come back with that as a compromise?

Sweeney: I think that was a global discussion, not a pitching by me for sure.

Reporter: Both the speaker and the governor are saying that legal ads bill will be a priority for them after the holidays. Is it a priority for you?

Sweeney: Listen, we said before, depending on what the Assembly does we’ll have the discussion in the Senate. We did not have a discussion in the Senate. Both bills passed committees as you know and no action was taken. There was no discussion taken the day of the action. The speaker has said that and we’ll see what he’s going to do.

Reporter: When you think just generally about priorities for the state, why would this be, what is so important about legal ads for newspapers that this would be the top of the agenda for the Legislature?

Sweeney: I don’t know if he said it was the top of the agenda…

Reporter: He said it would be a top priority.

Sweeney: Who did? [Assemblyman Vincent] Prieto?

Reporter: Governor and Prieto was asked if it’s a top priority for him and he said yes.

Sweeney: Well, we have a lot of top priorities is all I can tell you.

Cruz: Do you have an opinion on either one of those bills?

Sweeney: Listen, I’ve said something about the book deal many times, David. I think we might be one of the only states in the country that doesn’t allow a governor to write a book. I don’t have that for a fact, but I know Gov. Cuomo wrote a book two years ago. You know, I didn’t see the issue. I understand that the governor is very unpopular and people are mad, but I also said who’s going to buy the book?

Cruz: Are you of the opinion that the newspapers are unduly profiting from legal ads?

Sweeney: I think that since the creation of the internet 20 years ago, at least 20 years ago if not 30, that you know there’s more people that read the newspapers online than they do in the newspapers.

Cruz: What about seniors and poor people?

Sweeney: Poor people don’t buy newspapers because they’re poor. You don’t make the assumption that all poor people and all seniors don’t get the internet. If you were 50 years old when the internet was born, you’re 70/75 now, so it’s not like you weren’t exposed to it. And you know, David, I hope, and this is the discussion that I had with the press, when I killed this bill back in the last session around 2010 or 2011, whenever it was, I was the one that announced we weren’t going to do it any more. And the press said we’re trying to figure a way, we’re trying to figure a way to capitalize on the internet. Well, I think you’re seeing a movement, and you see two publications now in the state — Spotlight and Politico — that don’t produce a paper newspaper. And they do a pretty good job, so I think the industry itself is at the crossroads on either they’re going find a way to profit from their product, because right now I read all the clips for free just like everyone else does and they have to find a way and I know they’re working on that way, or they’re going to have to come up with another business model.