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1-13-12 Committee assignments for new 215th Legislative Session signal change and some emerging controversy
Courierpostonline.com - 'Rewards,retributions at State House as committees assigned'

Courierpostonline.com - Rewards,retributions at State House as committees assigned

5:28 AM, Jan. 13, 2012 |

TRENTON— Assemblyman John McKeon knew there was slim chance he’d survive as chairmanof the Environmental Committee after he backed Democratic leader Joe Cryan’sfailed attempt to unseat Sheila Oliver as Assembly speaker.


McKeon,also a Democrat, was right. When new committee assignments were announced lateWednesday, the South Orange attorney had been stripped of the chairmanship anddumped from the committee, despite having championed environmental issues foreight years.

“It’spretty simple,” said veteran state Sen. Ray Lesniak of Union. “In a battle forleadership, the winners usually give the key assignments to their supportersand the people who were the strongest against them under most circumstancessuffer the consequences.”

SomeNew Jersey lawmakers have received plum committee assignments for the newtwo-year legislative session. Others who openly bucked Democratic leaders havebeen relegated to the bench.

Committeeassignments give lawmakers the opportunity to shape policy in a field ofinterest. Committee chairs help drive the agendas, and therefore have a say inwhich bills get heard. Lawmakers in both houses are usually given at least onecommittee assignment they’ve asked for.

But,there’s also retribution for members perceived as renegades.

Inthe upper house, Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney replaced Barbara Buono asmajority leader and knocked her down a peg on the Legislative OversightCommittee, from chairwoman to vice chairwoman.

“It’sabout payback,” said Buono, who was a thorn in Sweeney’s side in the two yearsthey shared the Senate spotlight. “I stood up to the Senate president when Ifelt what he was doing was not serving core Democratic principles. I wear itlike a badge of honor.”

BothSweeney, an ironworker from South Jersey, and Buono, who represents portions ofMiddlesex County and leads the Democratic Party’s progressive faction, havetaken initial steps for possible future runs for statewide office, likegovernor.

Theirmost highly charged confrontation came last spring over public workers’ pensionand health benefits. Sweeney sponsored an overhaul that suspended collectivebargaining over health benefits; Buono opposed limiting public workers’bargaining power. Sweeney prevailed and his bill was signed into law

Buonoalso was pulled from the powerful Budget panel, but she says she asked to bereassigned, which the Democratic Senate office confirmed.

“That’sthe way it should be,” said Lesniak, who is in his 34th year in the Legislatureand widely seen as one of its most politically savvy members. “You want theheads of your committees to be the people you’re most comfortable with in termsof the policies you want implemented. You certainly don’t want people who areopposed to you.”

Sweeneydeclined to comment.

Cryan,who infamously knocked heads with Oliver, the Assembly’s first black femalespeaker, before trying unsuccessfully to replace her, also finds himself on theback bench as the new session begins. He’s been assigned to the Human Servicesand Law and Public Safety committees, the latter of which taps his experienceas Union County undersheriff, but he heads neither panel.

Aperson close to the speaker, who insisted on anonymity because the person isnot authorized to detail private discussions, said McKeon lost his chairmanshipnot because he backed Cryan per se, but because he subsequently lost Oliver’strust.


Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608