New Jersey has found itself in the news a lot recently. First Hurricane Sandy and Nor'easter Athena caused back-to-back mayhem. Then New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) made news with his strong post-Sandy leadership, and the revelation that he was Mitt Romney's original running mate.
In the next two years, NJ will find itself in the spotlight again as two very important elections come up.
In 2013, Christie, the popular Republican governor, is up for reelection. Over the last few years he has been extremely visible on the national stage as a top surrogate for Romney, and even before as one of the newest and most brutally honest faces of the Republican Party.
Christie currently enjoys a 53% approval rating, but that data comes a few weeks before his exceptional handling of the Hurricane Sandy aftermath, which was notable for Christie's surprisng praise for President Obama, as well as his very public denial of a photo-op to Romney just days before the election.
Christie has done an exceptional job as a moderate voice. Last year he appointed the first Asian American, and the first openly gay, African American, Republican justices to the NJ Supreme Court. Liberals applauded the foray into identity politics, which the GOP usually despises. Conservatives applauded the appointment of two exceptionally qualified candidates; so everyone went home happy.
Christie vetoed a gay marriage bill sent to him by the Democrat-controlled legislature, but as he did so, made very clear that he would support the measure if were approved via ballot referendum. This was a fair compromise position for a conservative to make in a state where a gay marriage referendum would almost certainly pass. The Democrats have drawn some fire for blocking an attempt by Republican Senator Chris Bateman from putting it on the ballot (which would mean gay marriage in NJ would probably be legal today if he had).
Barring a scandal or something terrible happening, Chris Christie's reelection next year looks strong, except for one possible curveball. Newark Mayor Cory Booker.
Cory Booker is a liberal, so I am generally opposed to him. However, he also comes from my tiny hometown of Harrington Park, NJ. Many of my teachers were at the end of their careers when I came through the school and remember Booker as a young student when they were just beginning. His name is on our grammar and high schools' Hall of Fame walls and many of my teachers in grade school spoke highly of him when he was getting noticed as a City Councilor.
Like Christie, Booker is no stranger to being moderate. Booker drew harsh words from David Axelrod when he defended Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital, and worked very well with Christie during hurricane relief efforts (where he did a great job in Newark, even at one point housing refugees in his home), and on Newark's crime and education problems.
Cory Booker even became a sort of folk hero when he resuced a woman from a burning home.
However, to deny NJ either one of these two men would harm the state as a whole. But there is a way for both of them to serve the country and the state of NJ. Chris Christie should continue as governor in 2013. He has done an excellent job and is an asset to NJ. Booker does not have the experience or expertise, yet, for such a position. He's only been a one-term mayor in Newark and had very little experience before that.
In 2014, Frank Lautenberg, 88 years old and having already retired once, should retire from the Senate. Booker should run for his position, representing NJ as our junior senator. Another possibility would be for Booker to remain as mayor of Newark for one more term, gain even more experience and truly turn that city around.
Then Booker could go for the governorship when Christie's term limits expire in 2017. This would give Booker eight years of executive experience as a governor, and put him in perfect position to go after the presidency in his 50's (generally the age to do it).
Despite Booker's popularity, a single term as mayor of Newark and little prior experience will make a 2013 campaign very tough for him, even in a liberal state like NJ. He not only does NJ a service by letting us keep Christie for four more years (not to mention Newark a service by sticking around), but helps himself as well. He would practically be guaranteed a gubernatorial win if went up against any newcomer in 2017. Likewise, Booker can also take a major leap forward in his career if Senator Lautenberg retires after this term, essentially handing him a Senate seat.
Given how effective and popular both of these politicians are, it would be ideal for them to work together, in a true show of bipartisanship, rather than divide this state with an unnecessary grab for power. Especially in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, a disaster we will still be feeling years later, NJ has been strongly united when the rest of the country was not. If done correctly, not only will both of these men have a shot at two full terms of governorship, but also both will be able to pursue the presidency as well, without stepping on each other's toes.
With Christie as governor in 2013 and running for president in 2016, alongside Booker assuming the governorship in 2017 and running for president in 2028, NJ politicians are poised to dominate the national stage for the next 20 years. But they must unite and work together. I hope they do and serve as an example of bipartisan leadership that the rest of the country can learn from and follow.