Sunday, December 30, 2012

No Street Fight in New Jersey's 2013 Governor's Race

No, this is not a commercial for Newark Mayor Corey Booker (though I am a big fan of the Mayor).  Corey Booker recently announced he would not challenge incumbent Governor Chris Christie in the 2013 New Jersey Governor's Race.  His announcement brought back memories of my recent tour of duty in the Republic of Georgia (yes, the other Georgia).

While I was in Georgia, I worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development during some very interesting political times.  Georgia's capital city, Tbilisi, was holding direct elections for mayor for the very first time, as were other localities throughout the country.  Throughout the country, there were tales of dirty politics, rummors of voter intimidation, threats to candidates and shakedowns of local businesses.  Sounds a lot like a good old New Jersey election, doesn't it?

I am still not sure if it was a good idea or not, but the U.S. Embassy decided to show the Georgian people what a hotly contested municipal race in the U.S. looked like.  How?  By showing Street Fight, of course!  If you haven't seen it - you should (see clip below).

As one of the few people at the post that new anything about Mayor Booker or New Jersey politics, I was volunteered to present the video and moderate discussion in several locations around the city and the country.

Street Fight is a great story of the underdog going up against the political giant.  And showed the good and the (alleged) bad of New Jersey politics.  It features cameos of former Governor Jim McGreevey and current Governor Chris Christie, then a U.S. Attorney.  It is a great tale of dirty politics, rummors of voter intimidation, threats to candidates and shakedown of local businesses.  Sound familiar?

What did the Georgians think of Street Fight?  They all said those dirty tricks would never happen in Georgia.  Not in a former Soviet Republic.  They were upset that Booker lost, and glad to hear that he came back to become Mayor.  No one said it, but I think deep down they were glad to see their elections were not so different from a country that has been practicing democracy for over 200 years.  

I see some parallels between Mayor Booker and Georgia.  Corey Booker did not quit - obviously.  He came back and won.  He is now Mayor of Newark and prolific tweeter.  The Georgia opposition party did not quit either.  The opposition party (with some great work from k-global) formed the Georgia Dream Coalition and gained a majority in the Georgian Parliament.  Let's just hope that Bidzina Ivanishvili does not announce a run for the U.S. Senate in 2014 as well.

But since I do U.S. state government relations... What does the Mayor's announcement mean for New Jersey?  It might mean former NJ Department of Environmental Protection and current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, who recently announced her resignation effective January 21, 2013, enters the race.  It probably means a second term for Governor Christie.  But really, it means a much less interesting race without a Street Fight.

My Post Election Thoughts...

Elections are (finally) over!  We now know who is going to live in the governor's mansions and control the state houses.  As with any election, there were some surprises and interesting story lines to watch.

The big story for states ... Obama-care is here to stay (for now anyway).  States will be deciding if and how to expand Medicaid and implement health insurance exchanges without breaking state budgets.  The looming fiscal cliff could put huge strains on state budgets.  States and localities are the true government service providers (healthcare, education, public safety, emergency serivces) and rely heavily on federal dollars to provide these services.  Major cuts in federal dollars deal major blows to state and local governments.

Governors -

Most of the governor's races went as expected.  Incumbents won in Delaware, Missouri, North Dakota, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia.  Indiana's Mike Pense cruised to victory to replace a term-limited Mitch Daniels.

The competitive races truly lived up to their billing.  Governor-elect Maggie Hassan (D) defeated perennial candidate Ovide Lamontagne.  Democrats also held in Montana and Washington.  The Governor-elect Inslee (D) vs Attorney General McKenna was a great race to watch.  Many thought given the late polls that McKenna might have pulled it out, but because Washington State votes by mail he probably peaked a week too late.  In North Carolina, former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory (R) managed the only flip in the fifty states winning the seat left open by a retiring Governor Bev Perdue (D).  Gov. Louis Fortuno, a pro-statehood Republican was the only incumbent defeated, as he lost to Alejandro Garcia Padilla of the Popular Democratic Party, an anti-statehood candidate on the same day Puerto Ricans approved a pro-statehood referendum.

Attorneys General Races -

In Pennsylvania, Kathleen Granahan Kane (D) won the Attorney General's race, which could set up an investigation in to Governor Corbett's handling of the Jerry Sandusky case when he was the state's top attorney.

In West Virginia, Darrell McGraw(D) ends a 20-year run as Attorney General as he was narrowly defeated by Republican Patrick Morrisey.

Washington State went blue as out-going AG Rob McKenna (R) will be followed by Bob Ferguson.

Legislatures - 

The big news in state legislatures is the new supermajority in California.  In California, tax increases can only be approved by a two-thirds majority.  In recent sessions, that has meant that some Republicans would have to vote in favor.  That will change in January and Californians can expect to see tax increases in the near future.

Wisconsin - The Wisconsin Senate flipped majorities in the third time in two years (which is unusual considering they only hold elections every two years).  Republicans were able to retake the Senate majority that they won in 2010 and lost in the special elections of 2011 and 2012. 

The New York Senate will be led by a parliamentary-like coalition government as a few break-away Democrats will caucus with the Republicans.  This coalition seemed to work during the first two-years of the Cuomo administration and ended the chaos and disfunction that was symbolic of Albany during the Paterson administration.  Somehow Sheldon Silver looks like he will continue his leadership role as Speaker of the Assembly.

In Maine, Republican control of the legislature was short-lived as voters returned control to Democrats. Maine is unique in that the legislature "elects" the three Constitutional officers - Attorney General, Secretary of State and Treasurer.  Expect changes to come in all three offices.

New Hampshire - The country’s largest state legislature continues to see giant shifts in control.  For the third time in three elections that the New Hampshire House of Representatives has shifted control, this time back to the Democrats. Democrats also narrowed the gap in the Senate, a body they also controlled before the 2010 elections.

Arkansas Republicans control both houses of the Legislature for the first time since reconstruction, as Republicans took control of both the House and Senate.

Over all, Democrats had a good night on Election night.  Democrats netted 170 seats across the country. In addition to those mentioned, Democrats have flipped the Colorado House, both the Minnesota House and Senate and the Oregon House. In addition to wins in Arkansas and Wisconsin, Republicans were able to gain control of the Alaska State Senate.

Ballot Issues -

I am happy to say that marriage equality was a huge winner at the ballot box this year.  Marriage equality was approved by voters in Maryland, Maine, Washington and an attempt in Minnesota to ban marriage equality failed.  This was an amazing night as marriage equality was previously riding a thirty-three ballot losing streak.  To me, this should not be a political issue.  Our friends and family members are entitled to equal rights and protections under the law and more importantly should be able to celebrate their relationships with their partners.  Congratulations!