New leaders, new lawmakers as NJ Legislature begins new session
TRENTON – There was significant turnover as the Legislature began its new two-year session Tuesday, including new leaders in the three top spots in the Senate for the first time in a decade or longer and new faces in 20% of the seats in the Assembly.
For the first time in a dozen years, someone other than Steve Sweeney is Senate president. Newly elected Senate President Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, an attorney and municipal prosecutor from Linden, said he wants to be a consensus builder and focus on jobs, education and a recovering economy.
“Affordability, in my opinion, is the No. 1 issue facing New Jersey,” Scutari said. “We need to work on the affordability of people to live, work and raise a family here in New Jersey.”
Scutari faced a nominal challenge for the job of Senate president. Sen. Nia Gill, D-Essex, was nominated for the post by Sen. Ron Rice, D-Essex, with both decrying a lack of historical diversity in the Senate presidency, a post held only ever held by white men.
Gill said the traditions and institutional legitimacy of the Senate have been weakened by leaders who didn’t serve all Senate colleagues fairly and advanced hasty legislation for expediency’s sake.
“We have seen the deliberative nature of this body replaced with a closed system of power, concentrated in the select hands of the few,” Gill said.
In a voice vote, the Senate overwhelmingly chose Scutari to be Senate president.
Sen. Steve Oroho, R-Sussex, is now the minority leader in the Senate, the first time since 2008 that someone other than Tom Kean Jr. has led that house’s Republicans. He is a certified financial planner from Sussex County who has served as the Republican budget officer.
“It’ll be no surprise to my colleagues in the Senate that the Senate Republicans are going to be strong advocates for restoring the Legislature as a co-equal branch of government,” Oroho said.
And Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, is now Senate majority leader, a position held for the last decade by Loretta Weinberg, who retired from the Legislature. She was appointed to the board of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield by Sweeney last Thursday.
In the Assembly, Speaker Craig Coughlin was re-elected to another term as that house’s leader.
"Elections are about the future more than the past and the public told us government isn’t grasping what matters to them most," Coughlin said. "People told us they feel vulnerable and often helpless in this turbulent and ever-changing economy. New Jerseyans told us government doesn’t appreciate the fine line between being well off and struggling that so many families juggle each day."
The Assembly minority leader is now John DiMaio, R-Warren, who replaces Jon Bramnick, who was elected to the Senate after 10 years as the minority leader.
“Services are a mile wide and an inch deep. Our residents pay the highest property taxes in the country, while the patchwork of progressive programs has made life less affordable for people both parties want to help,” DiMaio said. “The message is clear of the so-called red wave that rolled through last November. We must make New Jersey more affordable. We must lower the costs people pay in every facet of life beginning with their taxes."
The new Legislature that took office Tuesday includes six new senators and 16 new Assembly members elected to their first terms. The whole Senate and Assembly will be up for election again in 2023.
The Senate now includes 24 Democrats and 16 Republicans, a one-seat gain for the GOP.
There are six newly elected senators, though only one is new to the Statehouse: Edward Durr of Logan Township, the Republican who shockingly defeated Sweeney in the 3rd District.
The other new senators include Republicans Jean Stanfield of Westampton and Jon Bramnick of Westfield and Democrats Andrew Zwicker of South Brunswick and Gordon Johnson of Englewood, who each moved up from the Assembly. Republican Sen. Vince Polistina of Egg Harbor Township was elected to a full term but had been already appointed to the Senate last year to fill a vacancy.
The Senate now has 46 Democrats and 34 Republicans, after the GOP flipped both seats in three legislative districts – the 2nd, 3rd and 11th – in gaining six seats.
There are 11 new Assembly Republicans, including Don Guardian of Atlantic City, Clare Swift of Margate, Bethanne McCarthy Patrick of Salem, Beth Sawyer of Woolwich, Michael Torrissi Jr. of Hammonton, Brandon Umba of Medford, Marilyn Piperno of Colts Neck and Kimberly Eulner of Shrewsbury, Vicky Flynn of Holmdel, Michele Matsikoudis of New Providence and Christian Barranco of Oak Ridge.
The Democrats added five new members to their caucus, in each case holding onto a seat the party already held last session. They are Sadaf Jaffer of Montgomery, Reginald Atkins of Roselle, William Sampson of Bayonne, Shama Haider of Tenafly and Ellen Park of Englewood Cliffs.
The new legislative roster
DEMOCRATS -1 (24)
DEM gain: Zwicker LD16
DEM open-seat hold: Johnson LD37
DEM re-elected: Madden LD4, Cruz-Perez LD5, Beach LD6, Singleton LD7, Gopal LD11, Greenstein LD14, Turner LD15, Smith LD17, Diegnan LD18, Vitale LD19, Cryan LD20, Scutari LD22, Codey LD27, Rice LD28, Ruiz LD29, Cunningham LD31, Sacco LD32, Stack LD33, Gill LD34, Pou LD35, Sarlo LD36, Lagana LD38
REPUBLICANS +1 (16)
GOP gain: Durr LD3, Stanfield LD8
GOP open-seat hold: Polistina LD2, Bramnick LD21
GOP re-elected: Testa LD1, Connors LD9, Holzapfel LD10, Thompson LD12, O’Scanlon LD13, Doherty LD23, Oroho LD24, Bucco LD25, Pennacchio LD26, Singer LD30, Schepisi LD39, Corrado LD40
DEMOCRATS -6 (46)
DEM open-seat hold: Jaffer LD16, Atkins LD20, Sampson LD31, Haider LD37, Park LD37
DEM re-elected: Moriarty LD4, Mosquera LD4, Moen LD5, Spearman LD5, Greenwald LD6, Lampitt LD6, Conaway LD7, Murphy LD7, Benson LD14, DeAngelo LD14, Reynolds-Jackson LD15, Verrelli LD15, Freiman LD16, Danielsen LD17, Egan LD17, Karabinchak LD18, Stanley LD18, Coughlin LD19, Lopez LD19, Quijano LD20, Carter LD22, Kennedy LD22, McKeon LD27, Jasey LD27, Caputo LD28, Tucker LD28, Pintor Marin LD29, Speight LD29, McKnight LD31, Jimenez LD32, Mejia LD32, Chaparro LD33, Mukherji LD33, Giblin LD34, Timberlake LD34, Sumter LD35, Wimberly LD35, Schaer LD36, Calabrese LD36, Swain LD38, Tully LD38
REPUBLICANS +6 (34)
GOP gain: Guardian LD2, Swift LD2, Patrick LD3, Sawyer LD3, Piperno LD11, Eulner LD11
GOP open-seat hold: Torrissi LD8, Umba LD8, Flynn LD13, Matsikoudis LD21, Barranco LD26
GOP re-elected: McClellan LD1, Simonsen LD1, Rumpf LD9, Gove LD9, McGuckin LD10, Catalano LD10, Dancer LD12, Clifton LD12, Scharfenberger LD13, Munoz LD21, DiMaio LD23, Peterson LD23, Space LD24, Wirths LD24, Dunn LD25, Bergen LD25, Webber LD26, Kean LD30, Thomson LD30, Auth LD39, DeFuccio LD39, Rooney LD40, DePhillips LD40
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at email@example.com.