TRENTON – The first New Jersey Lieutenant Governor could be elected in November of 2009 under a bipartisan bill introduced today in the New Jersey Senate.
“It’s clear that New Jersey needs a structural improvement to its succession procedures for the Office of Governor,” said Senator Shirley K. Turner, prime Democratic sponsor of the reform legislation. “Fortunately, we’ve had two able Senate Presidents who were highly capable at filling in for departing Governors, but we can’t always count on having leaders like (current Senate President and Acting Governor) Dick Codey and (former Senate President and Acting Gov.) Don DiFrancesco.”
The new Lieutenant Governor bill would seek voter approval to change the Constitution to create a position of Lieutenant Governor. Before each general election, the gubernatorial nominee for each political party would select someone to run on his or her ticket for election as Lieutenant Governor, according to the bill, co-sponsored by Senator Henry McNamara, R-Bergen.
“The succession system in New Jersey is definitely broken when the Acting Governor is chosen by one-fortieth of the State’s voters,” Senator McNamara said, referring to voters in a legislative district of a Senate President. “We should move to fix this problem in our State Constitution and provide for a Lieutenant Governor chosen by all the people.”
The measure was introduced following a compromise accord worked out between Senate President and Acting Governor Codey and Assembly Speaker Albio Sires, D-Hudson.
Under the current succession provision of the State Constitution, the Senate President becomes Acting Governor if the elected Governor steps down from office, but retains his position as leader of the Senate.
Senate President DiFrancesco stepped in to become Acting Governor in 2001 when Governor Christie Whitman quit to become a member of the Bush cabinet and Acting Governor succeeded Governor McGreevey on Nov. 15th.
Under the Turner-McNamara bill, a Lieutenant Governor would serve as Acting Governor during brief periods when the Governor is absent or unable to serve, but would become Governor in the event of a vacancy in the Office of Governor.
In the event of simultaneous vacancies in both the Office of Governor and Lieutenant Governor, or in the event of a vacancy in the Office of Governor occurring at least 60 days before the election of the first Lieutenant Governor, the Senate President would become Governor until a new Governor and Lieutenant Governor are elected and qualify. If there is no Senate President or the Senate President declines, the Assembly Speaker would become Governor. If those scenarios came to pass, the Senate President or the Assembly Speaker would be required to first resign from the Legislature.
In addition, the bill would authorize the Governor to appoint the Lieutenant Governor to serve as the head of a State department or agency and would not require Senate confirmation to do so.
The measure will be assigned to the Senate State Government Committee for further deliberations.