Christie sets special election to fill Lautenberg seat

Although he could have appointed a Republican to fill out the rest of the late Democrat Senator Frank Lautenberg’s term, and stand for re-election in 2014, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has decided to hold a special election this year instead.  And it’s a very special special election – it’s not even going to be held on Election Day.  Instead, it will take place on October 16, with primaries to be held August 13.

The primary reason for this unusual scheduling is that Christie himself is on the ballot in November, and doesn’t want to bring a flood of Democrat voters to the polls by holding the Senate special election at the same time.  That would be a particularly acute danger if the Democrat Senate candidate is Newark’s popular mayor, Cory Booker.  The quickie special election both protects Christie’s heavily favored re-election prospects and pretty much gives the seat to his friend Booker, who would otherwise have been facing an incumbent Republican with 18 months on the job in 2014.

This is all going to cost New Jersey taxpayers an extra $25 million or so.  State Democrats are quite understandably making hay about it, as reported by the Star-Ledger:

“The November general election date is what’s best for taxpayers and voter turnout,” Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) said.

The nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services estimated in a recent opinion obtained by The Star-Ledger that the special primary and special election would cost about $12 million each. The money would pay for the salaries of poll workers and other costs, the office said.

David Turner, spokesman for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono, said the governor made the “cynical and arrogant decision.”

“His choice made it clear that he does not care about wasting taxpayer money,” Turner said. “By holding two elections within weeks of each other, the governor will needlessly disenfranchise voters.”

[…] State Democratic Party Chairman John Wisniewski did not dismiss the possibility of a legal challenge. One problem, he said, is that the special election is just three weeks prior to the general election, which could create some logistical problems for county clerks.

“I’ve talked to county election officials, and they tell me it takes weeks to get those voting machines back in order,” Wisniewski said. “And, if there’s a legal challenge to the Senate results, that could take much longer, creating havoc.”

These criticisms put other state Republicans in a tough spot.  If they don’t speak up, they’re letting the Democrats get to their right on fiscal responsibility, which is supposed to be a GOP issue.  But if they level the same criticisms, they’ll damage Christie’s chances for re-election.  It would be a bitterly ironic end to the Governor’s storied career if he was defeated, in part, because of the tax money he spent, and inconvenience he created, setting up a special election to improve his odds in November.

“I don’t know what the cost is, and quite frankly I don’t care,” Christie declared.  “All of the people of the state of New Jersey will benefit from it.”

He said he scheduled the early election to ensure there would be primaries, because “I will not permit the insiders and a few party elites to determine who the nominee of the Republican Party and the Democratic Party will be.”

Of course, he could have accomplished that goal by appointing an interim Senator until 2014, an option he admits was “an absolutely defensible legal position,” and was reportedly the course of action urged by the national Republican Party.  But the Governor said it would have been wrong, because “the issues facing the U.S. Senate are too critically important, the decisions that need to be dealt with too vital, not to have an elected representative making those decisions who was voted on and decided on by the people of this state.”

Really?  The man who held the seat until he passed away, Democrat Frank Lautenberg, wasn’t casting a lot of votes on those decisive issues.  He missed dozens of important votes due to his illness, including the vote on Hurricane Sandy relief.  His seat would have been kept warm until 2014, when he was ready to retire.  And he insisted on a proper royal succession, grousing that Cory Booker deserved a “spanking” for expressing interest in Lautenberg’s seat with unseemly haste.

But now millions must be spent unnecessarily to set up a blindingly quick special election that will give Christie’s party no chance to build up a candidate competitive with Booker or one of the other likely Democrat aspirants, including current U.S. House representatives Frank Pallone and Rush Holt?  Why doesn’t Christie just save his taxpayers a lot of time, and money, by appointing one of the Democrats to hold the seat until 2014 and be done with it?  Something tells me all those threatened Democrat challenges against the Governor’s authority to make such interim appointments would quickly evaporate.