Archive for the ‘State House’ Category

So, now that there is a somewhat nebulous bill to perhaps briefly extend the life of NJN, I have been approached numerous times  by people who say, “did you hear??!!” Six more months!!! Alright!!!!”

Forgive me, for failing to share their enthusiasm. But the fact that a possible six month reprieve engenders such excitement gives you a sense of how far the terms of this debate have shifted.

I say “possible” because the legislation to figure out NJN doesn’t technically include a funding source. Money will have to be moved around elsewhere  in order to keep this place alive.

As I have noted several times, the model here is outdated and needs to be changed. However, a transition that insures some kind of continuity would be ideal. Unfortunately, the lack of certainty has left people who work here confused and scared and that makes getting the product on the air more and more difficult each day. That is a sad state of affairs for a group of people who have devoted so much time and energy to the State’s New Jersey Network, which ultimately belongs to the people.

But there is another angle here which is worth noting. The legislators seem inclined to go along with a rapid transition, once the interested parties can figure out the new structure. They should be very cautious here. NJN covers the Legislature like a glove. There is tremendous value in that. Our coverage is comprehensive and fair. The individual bills and causes that are pushed by members may fall off sharply when NJN changes. That goes for both Republicans and Democrats.

Our Governor has often been described as a “rock star.” There is a lot of truth in that. He is able to get exposure elsewhere, including at his series of Town Hall Meetings…highlights of which are cleverly uploaded to youtube. This basically bypasses the local media by going straight to the people. The world of communications allows that today, and the Governor’s press shop has proven very adept at capitalizing on it.

Legislators with smaller bully pulpits still need local media to get exposure. And that is something to consider when the plans for NJN start to emerge.

After all, you never give away the store without at least getting a fair price.

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It’s all coming back to me now. In my younger days, people used to call really potent marijuana “kind bud.” And the stuff that someone bought quickly on a lark was simply known as “commercial weed” or “schwag.” In the debate over marijuana potency in New Jersey “schwag” has also been referred to as “dirt weed.”

Ok, glad that is clear. The recent agreement between Governor Christie and Democratic Assemblyman Reed Gusciora will keep the THC content in medical marijuana at 10%. “Good stuff” is usually 18% THC, I am told. So that means people who need medicinal marijuana will have to smoke a lot more schwag to reap the benefits of the drug. THC btw, is the psychotropic chemical that gives marijuana it’s kick. That means helping to relieve pain and suffering in chronically ill patients. It is the same ingredient that produces a “high” for college students. That “high” can best be described as euphoria, followed by a deep paranoia in which the smoker is 100% convinced that Federal Agents ( not the local police mind you, but Federal Agents! ) are about to bust in the door and haul you off to jail. That soon morphs into boredom, followed by an overwhelming desire to drink a beer, smoke a cigarette and finally order Dominoes.

Or, you know – so I’ve heard.

But getting back to the issue at hand, if patients are required to smoke a lot – oh wait, they can’t because all recipients of the drug are limited to 2 ounces a month. Hmmmm. So that means, that patients might be smoking and smoking, but not enough to ease their suffering. Critics also say that you don’t want to encourage people to smoke more of anything. Marijuana may not be as bad for your lungs as tobacco, but it’s probably still not something that people should smoke a lot of…if they can avoid it.

Anyway, such are the thoughts of Democrats who feel they may have to go ahead with the Resolution scrapping the Med Marijuana rules anyway since there was no broad agreement on some of these other points. Wait, did I only give you one point? Right. Short term memory loss, dude.

Another issue is that it would still be illegal to distribute the drug in school zones which would render most cities off-limits as distribution centers. That might wind up discriminating against certain individuals who may need or want the marijuana just as much as folks in the suburbs. After all, someone who is ailing often can’t travel that far.

Senator Nick Scutari was noticeably absent at the Gusciora-Christie announcement last Friday. Scutari says he never heard from the Administration about signing onto the agreement. Christie meantime, says he didn’t want to wait around for the Union Dem to play political games. I’m not sure who is right, since I don’t have full access to private phone records and text messages ( although I feel like I have been spending some time looking at those elsewhere lately ).

What is notable is that as of Monday, Gusciora and Scutari still hadn’t spoken after working so closely together to get this bill passed last year.

Whatever. “The Big Lebowski” is coming on in ten minutes and all will be forgotten.

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The completely underrated Mid-80’s classic involved a a cross country road trip for John Cusack. He is going to visit his friend Anthony Edwards on the West Coast who will introduce him to a college co-ed who is described as a “sure thing.” And by “introduced” they mean much more than that, but I’ll spare you the specifics ( this a family friendly blog after all! ).

The point of the movie and the roundabout way I will tie it to State House politics is this: there is no such thing as a sure thing. It is never as simple as someone makes it sound.

Last week, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver announced a deal on arbitration reform. When I say “deal” it was pretty much a deal amongst Democrats and their constituent groups since the Governor had no part of it, and subsequently reminded us of that at his own presser shortly thereafter. ( The Governor teed off on the Democrats for failing to enact the tool kit…although I might be one of the few people who thinks that they are actually not that far apart on the substance of arbitration reform. But that is for another day. )

At the same announcement, Sweeney indicated they are “very close” on civil service reform. That being the other “big game”  that needs to be successfully hunted and speared to finish the tool kit.

But one Democrat tells me that you simply cannot take away seniority. If that is the case, civil service reform won’t save all that much $. Roughly a third of all municipalaties have civil service. That is it. And if you can’t fire the guy who makes $95,000 for pushing paper ( slowly ), because he has 25 more years than the young go-getter who actually cares about his job, the argument for civil service as a catch-all for savings weakens.

This Democrat says seniority is basically a “property right.” What that means and how far courts would be willing to go to protect it remain to be seen. We are in unprecendented economic times, and many of these issues take us into into unchartered legal territory ( although the court tends to be liberal which works against those who want to challenge some of these basic assumptions now ).

Here is what we do know. Section 11A:8-1 of the civil service statute requires layoffs to occur “in inverse order of seniority.” That is the law. It could be changed by the legislature, but as we just noted that would likely be challenged in court…and any good lawyer will tell you that you never want to end up in court if you can avoid it. ( Wow. Did I just endorse back-room deals?? )

So, could civil service reform be useful without eliminating seniority? Sure it could. The 4000 to 5000 state government titles could be streamlined ( I mean, there are supposedly 17 titles for tree cutters ! ).

In fact, almost all of these tool kit items make for better government, and should be enacted. But will they actually reduce costs for towns? Some would argue that is less than a sure thing.

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Is it take 3, or take 4 now on women’s health funding? I have sorta lost count. Christie knocked $7.5 million for women’s health funding outta the budget, and Dems ( particularly women legislators ) have been trying to get it restored ever since. They have gotten no help from their women counter-parts in the Republican caucus.

Well, now it appears as though the coalition is fraying in the Dem caucus as well. After the last override, advocates decided on a new approach. they would move some money around, but split the bills in two. One bill would restore the state’s portion, the other would once again go after federal matching funds that would otherwise be lost.

Senator Weinberg signed on for the first bill, and she approached Senators Ruiz and Gill for the second one. Both lawmakers agreed to sponsor it and had their names attached to it…until yesterday when they were mysteriously withdrawn.

So, what is going on here? I have sought the reason, but have not gotten it, which has left others to speculate. Some believe that once again we are seeing the Joe D-Essex County influence here. By now, the closeness of Gill and Ruiz to the Essex machine in terms of gainful employment have been well documented. We also know about the strong alliance between those Essex Dems and Christie. Could this be an attempt by the Governor to snub this issue out once and for all?

Possibly. And while it may not prevent a vote, the Governor can certainly flex his muscle and make sure that his allies in Essex don’t help the process along. Both bills are supposed to go before committee Monday.

Is this all idle speculation??? Enquiring Minds Want to Know!!!

Programming Note: Remember those National Enquirer ads? Ah, those were the early days before magazine tabloids came to be mandatory poolside reading for the younger set.

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So, it has been many years since I have heard people devoting this much time to talking about Marijuana. Of course when I hear it now at the State House it is in a very different context.

What to do about those Med Marijuana Regs. By statute, New Jersey needs to implement the law that passed in the lame-duck session before Christie took office. But it is the Christie Administration that is now charged with building New Jersey’s program.

Advocates for patients and supporters of the bill say the Department of Health and Senior Services has made the regulations too restrictive. For example, by insisting on a low THC content in the drug, forcing Physicians to wait two years before adding new ailments as eligible for treatment and having doctors verify that all other means of treatment have been exhausted before writing a script for medicinal pot. And don’t even get me started on the whole flap about the number of distribution centers ( dude, it’s like totally overwhelming!!! ).

So, clearly there are some who believe this is Christie himself being a bit of a Difficult-A-Saurus Rex ( which is not to be confused with Puff The Magic Dragon. He-he ).

The Dems will pass a resolution putting the regs under review. The Admin then has 30 days to re-write them. If they refuse, the legislature can invalidate the rules. Does anyone see where this is headed? Yep. You guessed it…Court, which probably suits the Christie Administration just fine.

Programming Note: “Incense and Peppermints” is that ridiculous late 60″s song by that even more ridiculously named group “Strawberry Alarm Clock.” Oddly enough, the lead singer, Ed King eventually left the group and joined Lynyrd Skynyrd, which couldn’t more exemplify southern ( non-psychedelic ) 70’s rock. Those crazy musicians!!!

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Several years ago Susan Lucci hosted Saturday Night Live. This was around the time she would constantly get nominated for an Emmy, but never win. For the opening skit she walked around the SNL studios and each cast member was using his or her Emmy for some mundane purpose. One guy was hammering a nail with it, someone else was using it as a paper weight and in the climax of the scene she walks into another room and someone yells “Emmy Fight!” And they all take their multiple Emmy’s and begin hurling them at each other in a playful manner.

It was a pretty funny skit, and she was a good sport for going along with it. But it came to mind recently when questions were raised about how often Governor Christie uses Twitter and for what purposes ( alright, I’m reaching again…but you gotta admit that skit was pretty funny, right? ).

Governor Christie has fully embraced Twitter as a means of getting his message out. And that includes bantering back and forth over policy as he did two weeks ago with White Horse Strategies Democratic Consultant Joshua Henne. It was over the ARC tunnel. And a sampling is below. When people drew my attention to it ( and by the way, lots of people were talking about this ) the words “Twitter Fight” immediately jumped into my head. Kinda like when Belushi yelled “Food Fight!” in Animal House or when SNL-ers yelled “Emmy Fight.” Ok, there is the connection. Phew.

Henne: @GovChristie Isn’t it unfair how much NJ gives to fed taxes & $$ goes to other states? With ARC fed gov would pitch in. For once NJ benefits

Gov: @JoshuaHenne How do we pay for $2-5 billion in cost overruns?

Henne: @GovChristie Why do you pick+choose when to use “we just dont have the money” mantra. Example- how ya gonna pay for proposed income tax

Gov: @JoshuaHenne Talk about fast & loose! Figures came from fed DOT (as I already said) & I am now clear u have no answer on $. Typical partisan

Henne: @GovChristie I’m proud to be called a typical partisan by a bush ranger. I’ll wear that as a badge of honor.

Gov: About to enter the premiere of “The Soprano State” movie. Chronicles 7 yrs of my life chasing crooked pols around NJ. Looking forward to it.

Is Christie doing his own tweets? It certainly sounds like him. But it was these political tweets that wound up drawing criticism.

Gov: @mattmeadforgov Great job Matt. We are rooting 4 u here in NJ.

Gov: Getting ready to enter rally for Jon Runyon for Congress in Toms River. 9 days until big change in NJ CD-3!

Gov: Great rally with @CharlieBaker in Melrose, MA. Change is coming to Massachusetts in 9 days with Gov-elect Baker. Thanks Massachusetts!

Senate President Stephen Sweeney said Wednesday that it is wrong to use the Governor’s taxpayer funded Twitter account for politics.

Then of course there was the widely reported back-and-forth the Governor had with Jimmy Fallon who made some crack about only coming to New Jersey when one is lost. I am not going to reproduce that one, but you get the idea.

Here is what I would say about all of this. To begin with we are living in an unprecendented age of new communications. The boundaries are still being drawn. I have informal contacts with people over social media sites, even if I know them in a more formal setting. And everyone seems to draw their own conclusions about where those boundaries lie.

Years ago, Governors would send sharply worded letters on “Office of the Governor” stationary ( as Christie mighta down with fallon in another era ). Today, Twitter makes that much easier. It’s also less stilted and more conversational. That plays to this Governor’s strengths.

Suffice to say that I am generally of the opinion that more communications particularly on policy are a positive thing for the State. As for using it for poltical purposes…that is a little trickier. I do recall people being very unhappy about Al Gore making fundraising calls from the White House.



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Speaker Oliver is in a tight spot.  She owes her job to the Essex connection…and now those same forces are aligning against her. It may be “only a matter of time” until they really move against her. For good.

Like I said to all who would listen ten months ago when I was asked what I thought about the Speaker in waiting…she is not to be underestimated. And one of these days she is gonna tell the powers that be her answer is “no.” Her personality is not suited to taking marching orders, even when given by those who employ her.

Let’s back up a little. All last week, a long and tedious negotiation was underway to reform arbitration awards. On Thursday, Lou Greenwald, Sheila Oliver and Stephen Sweeney held press conference to announce that they had reached a deal on an arbitration bill. The Gov didn’t like it because it had no hard cap like Republican Declan O’Scanlon’s bill does. O”Scanlon and Greenwald had been meeting with Chief Counsel Jeff Chiesa to hammer out a deal everyone could live with. When those negotiations fell through, the Dems cut their own deal and went public.

On friday, I’m told that a Republican lawmaker called Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo who works hand-in-hand with Big Chief Steve Adubato from Newark’s North Ward. When this Republican gave him a bit of a hard time, Joe D hit the phones.

Fast forward to Monday’s Democratic Assembly Caucus. When Oliver tests the room to see if there are enough votes to move Greenwald’s arbitration bill the entire Essex delegation tells her “no.” Bill is shelved. The Democrats once again appear in disarray.

The unions say, “hey we were against this from the beginning…this latest crumble has got nothing to do with us.” Dems thought they had the votes, but the Gov’s reach runs deep in the county of Essex, which lived up to it’s mantra of “Essex First.”

I think it was the 80’s hit “The Breakfast Club” where Mr. Vernon warned a young Judd Nelson not to “mess with the bull” or he’ll “get the horns.” The horns are awfully sharp in Essex these days.

And while we are talking about the “Breakfast Club” let me just take a moment to vent about Emilio Estevez who was great in that movie, and was also a fantastic Kirby Kager in St. Elmo’s. But “The Mighty Ducks” franchise was truly an affront to the civilized world. He oughta be brought up on charges and tried at the Hague for crimes against humanity for those films.

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I should give you fair warning that I am about to go on one of my weird rants about Global politics. But I do promise to somehow swing this back to a relevant New Jersey angle.

Francis Fukuyama argues in “The End of History” that after The Cold War, there will no longer be an out-sized clash of ideologies. As a matter of necessity, economic liberalism will come to define relations amongst all nations. However, Charles Kupchan of Georgetown University argues that it’s not that simple. Nations competing for dwindling resources could eventually lead to new potential conflicts. In fact, at some point the United States will no longer be the world’s sole superpower, and we will return to a multi-polar world. We are currently witnessing the rise of China ( which is the obvious example ). But what is less obvious is Europe. Should the European Union get it’s act together ( and there are doubts it ever will ) their interests may not always align with those of the United States.

If the EU becomes a competing superpower, all it would take is a severe economic dispute with the US, and we could have a very serious problem on our hands. Germany after all, tried to take over the world twice ( and failed ). But it’s like they have finally figured out how to control Europe…this time through economic hegemony, rather than with tanks along the Champs Elysees. Make no mistake that Germany is sitting quite securely in the driver’s seat  as the EU transforms and evolves. But don’t worry, I’m sure members of the Obama Administration are up at night preoccupied with mapping out potential doosmday scenarios just like me. ( not really ).

Ah, the cold war was a simpler time, wasn’t it? The US controlled it’s sphere of influence, and the Soviets controlled theirs. The nations skirmished through intermediaries in Africa and Latin America but never went to war head on. Too much was at stake.

And that brings me to the Norcross/Adubato/Christie alliance. We have seen some flair-ups but for the most part the big three have avoided all out war. If that unravels, the agenda Christie is pushing flatlines. Nothing gets done and nobody wins. But as long as these guys keep their eye on the ball…even the minor skirmishes can be contained before they spiral out of control.

Whether it has been the tool kit, the Governor’s SCONJ nominee, the Schundler Subpoenas, the millionaire’s tax or any number of other minor dust-ups…the powers that be have determined that it’s not worth destroying the core alliance. I wonder how sustainable that is over the long term because as we have seen throughout history alliances rise and fall but often degenerate into full scale global conflict.

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I was recently reminded of what is easily my favorite political story of the last five years. It involves Democrat Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts candidate for Senate who was running in a special election earlier this year.

Toward the end of what was universally panned as one of the most neglected and worst run campaigns in MA Democratic political history, Coakley made some comment ( and I’m paraphrasing here ) along the lines of, “what do you expect me to do??!! stand outside Fenway Park to shake hands??!! In the cold?!! I don’t think so.”

Really. Well, we all know what happened next. Scott Brown the Playgirl centerfold went on to defeat her with his simple retort about the seat they were both seeking not belonging to Kennedy ( Teddy, who held it for about 176 years ) but to the people of the Commonwealth.

I’m reminded of this for a couple of reasons. First off, Repubs have begun a  whisper campaign that both Holt and Pallone are in trouble in their normally safe districts. That may be true. But the real danger for the Democrats is in the 3rd which we recently learned was not underestimated at all by the South J Dems. According to the implication in Jane Roh’s excellent stories…the Dems took Runyan so seriously, the created a fake Tea Party candidate to siphon off 5% of the vote…which might be just enough for Adler to win.

The 3rd is one of the three races State House people have been watching closely. the others are the 14th Legislative District and The Bergen Exec race.

Governor Christie has not been very visible in any of these. That’s not to say he is not doing what he can behind the scenes…but it is slightly odd. The 3rd is a high profile Congressional race in a year pundits are predicting a “Republican Tsunami.” The Bergen race is key to a large county that I am sure the Governor would like to win in 2013. And the 14th is the first true test of the Governor’s positions and policies in a swing district.

Here is what I have been told. Up in Bergen, Christie is still annoyed he didn’t win the county and has not been thrilled with some of the positions Kathe Donovan has taken. Meantime, At least one Dem says they are happy over in camp McNerney that Jeff Tittel of the Sierra Club has decided to be so vocal for Donovan because that might actually help The Democratic ticket in a county fed up with environmental regs.

As for the 14th…it’s a bit more of a mystery. Insiders tell me that Goodwin is up more than 10, according to internals. That might explain why Greenstein went so negative about women’s health ( the ad actually features a pink ribbon on a gravestone ). Christie may not want to rehash that debate on the campaign trail even if it’s for a fellow Repub and not himself.

Or perhaps the Governor will jump into all three with both feet in the next coupla weeks. After all, he has been jetting all around the country for fellow Republican Gov candidates in other states.

So, I guess the message is this…don’t take anything for granted. These three races are significant for the Republican party and Christie doesn’t want to be seen as the guy who goes on MSNBC but refuses to shake hands outside the local stadium.

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A caucus united can never be defeated. Especially if they are in the majority. Second time was a charm for the Senate Dems who have now subpoenaed Bret Schundler and Wireless Generation for an October 7 meeting of the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee.

Originally, Chair Barbara Buono was gonna subpoena members of the Christie Administration. However, the Gov and Sweeney cut a deal that would require the Executive Branch to turn over some documents while avoiding a constitutional you-know-what match over Exec privilege. However, Buono took a week and built support again for a resolution…this time limiting the scope of the Subpoenas. However, I am told there were still some behind the scenes machinations. The Governor appears to still be in damage control mode on this.

When Dems went into caucus to discuss the resolution, they came down to the floor ready to vote for it. However, sources say that Senator Teresa Ruiz began to waiver. Apparently, someone from the Gov’s office reached out to Joe D in Essex who urged Ruiz to abstain. However, a handful of Democrats told Ruiz that was unacceptable especially after they agreed to stay united in caucus. One insider says Senator Loretta Weinberg spoke to Ruiz sharply, warning her on the floor that she would “not be welcome in the caucus any longer” if she abstained. At least two other Democratic Senators backed Weinberg up saying to Ruiz in effect, “you can’t do that.”

In the end, Ruiz did vote for the resolution but then left the Senate Chamber “visibly upset.”

Another interesting development was on the Republican side yesterday. The two women Republican Senators – Diane Allen and Jen Beck abstained on the resolution. Beck had been summoned to Christie’s office before the vote. Some have floated the theory that Beck and Allen took an awful lot of hell for voting against the override on women’s health. Perhaps they were sending a message to the Gov’s office that they will NOT be in lockstep on everything with him, and he needs to not take them for granted.

In fact, Allen went so far as to make a speech on the floor regarding women’s health claiming there simply was no money in the budget for the $7.5 million appropriation. $7.5 million is not all that much in the grand scheme of things. After all, the budget is roughly $30 billion. But, if every penny is going to be scrutinized these days, one could certainly make a fair argument that it’s hardly chump change. But let’s not also forget that in April, The Christie Administration managed to give a $45,000 grant to the “Cake Boss” in Hoboken. That’s right, according NJ Policy Perspective, Carlo’s City hall bake Shop in Hoboken which is featured in the TLC reality show secured a grant through the state’s Business Employment Incentive Program. These are the same guys who donated Christie’s inauguration cake….and more state money may become available to the Cake Boss, depending on how they use the money. Consistency is a virtue.

For now, the Republican caucuses have remained tighter than the respective Democratic ones. But it sounds like the Dems got it together this week and now have an issue that motivates and unifies them. According to Christie, he has told his staff that in politics, everything is temporary. You gotta let the caucus know that you appreciate their support…and don’t automatically expect it.

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