Sweeney is out, but Coughlin will stay. How N.J. Legislative leadership is changing after wild election.

A stunning election will cost New Jersey Democrats a few seats in the state Legislature they have controlled for nearly 20 years and spur a leadership shakeup after voters appear to have ousted the Garden State’s most powerful state lawmaker.

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney has lost re-election the little-known Republican truck driver Edward Durr, the Associated Press projected Thursday. No political insiders predicted Durr would pose a serious threat to Sweeney, who has been the Senate president since 2010. He is the longest-serving Senate president in the state’s history and the second-most powerful elected official in New Jersey.

Democrats expect to have 24 seats in the 40-member Senate when the results are finalized, down from 25. The state Assembly, which has 80 members, will likely have anywhere from 44 to 48 Democrats, a drop from their stronghold of 52.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, will remain in head of the Legislature’s lower chamber for another term, he said Thursday. But even as he celebrated Gov. Phil Murphy’s re-election and the likelihood that Democrats will retain their hold on the Legislature, he conceded that Democrats “didn’t have the night we had hoped for.” Murphy has beaten Republican Jack Ciattarelli by a razor-thin margin, the AP declared Wednesday, though Ciattarelli has not conceded and might seek a recount.

“There was clearly a message that was sent by voters last Tuesday,” Coughlin said during a press conference at the Statehouse in Trenton on Thursday afternoon. “We’re going to sit down and figure out what that was. We need to move forward, listen more and make sure that we have an agenda that people understand is being done in their best interest.”

Coughlin said he thought infighting among Democrats at the federal level and high taxes in the state could have contributed to Democrats’ losses.

As for Sweeney’s pending loss, he said “that wasn’t based on a thorough candidate analysis, in my opinion. That was more of a movement.”

Some dow-ballot candidates were likely bolstered by an energized turnout of Republican voters who supported Ciattarelli.

It’s not yet clear who will take over Sweeney’s position. A legislative source who was not authorized to speak publicly said Thursday “there’s a lot of jockeying” for the position.

The names of Sen. Nick Scutari, D-Union, Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, and Sen. Joe Cryan, D-Union, have been floated as possible replacements. Sen. Teresa Ruiz was in line to become the next Senate majority leader before the election.

The Senate president decides what bills are voted on in the chamber and which of the governor’s nominees receive confirmation hearings, and plays a major role in shaping New Jersey’s policies.

The race for governor proved much closer than polls had predicted. Murphy was declared the winner Wednesday night, and he was up by about 40,000 votes Thursday.

Sweeney had not conceded the race when the Associated Press called it after 11 a.m. Thursday. Before the election, he was expected to be chosen by Senate Democrats for a seventh term.

“The results from Tuesday’s election continue to come in,” Sweeney said in a statement. “For instance, there were 12,000 ballots recently found in one county. While I am currently trailing in the race, we want to make sure every vote is counted. Our voters deserve that, and we will wait for the final results.”

Assemblyman Lou Greenwald, D-Camden, will remain the chamber’s majority leader, and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, D-Union, the conference leader. Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, D-Passaic, will become the speaker pro tempore as Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, D-Bergen, won a seat in the Senate.

Sen. Steven Oroho, R-Sussex, has been chosen as the Senate minority leader, while Sen. John DiMaio, R-Warren, was picked as the Assembly minority leader.

Coughlin said the Assembly Democrats are now planning an agenda for the lame duck session, the time between the election and inaugurations in January, as well as an agenda for the following two-year legislative session. He said the long-term work will focus on housing, food insecurity, education, small business and taxes.

When asked if voters’ cooling attitudes toward Democrats would shift the chamber’s priorities, Coughlin said he felt the solid majorities of Democrats in the Legislature still show their work has resonated. But he did say lawmakers would look closely at the results when planning their moves forward, and may have to look at taxes in particular.

“You always want to listen to voters and get messages they’re sending,” Coughlin said. “The truth of the matter is, the core of what we’ve done has been successful.”

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-11-05 05:31:59 -0700