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Senate Democrats are considering swearing in Anthony M. Bucco immediately upon his election to the State Senate next month to highlight his decision to remain a candidate for an Assembly seat he has no intention of occupying, the New Jersey Globe has learned.
Senate President Steve Sweeney again holds all the cards on when to swear in the winner of the October 15 special election convention to replace Bucco’s father, Anthony R. Bucco (R-Boonton), who died last week.
Under Senate rules, the new Senator – presumably Bucco – can only be sworn in at a Senate session.
While the Senate is not expected to meet between October 15 and Election Day, Sweeney has the authority to schedule a quorum call on 48-hour notice.
Since Senators can literally phone it in – or even answer the quorum call by text message or e-mail – the only ones needed on the Senate floor would be a presiding officer and Bucco. Bucco could not be compelled to take the oath of office, but the imagery of him refusing to be sworn in would not be good for his own electoral future.
By forcing Bucco to take his Senate seat immediately, Sweeney would trigger a vacancy in the Assembly that starts the 35-day window to fill his seat.
More importantly for Democrats, it highlights the potential absurdity of Bucco’s request that voters re-elect him to the Assembly while actually serving in the Senate. Also noteworthy: Bucco would not be legally obligated to stay in the Senate. He could resign and return to the lower house in January, if that’s what he wants — and if the voters say it’s okay.
What’s in it for Sweeney?
Democrats think they can pick off the 25th district Senate seat in a 2020 special election, when the presidential election might max out their base vote.
Bucco’s opponent in the Assembly race, Lisa Bhimani, nearly knocked out his father two years ago, winning 48% of the vote in what has become a politically competitive district.
Democratic congressional candidates Mikie Sherrill and Tom Malinowski carried the towns in the 25th district by 9,479 votes in 2018, and Hillary Clinton won the district in 2016 by 18 votes. In 2012, Mitt Romney won the 25th by an 8,235-vote margin.
That puts Sweeney in a position to expand his Democratic majority to 27-13, one year before political cartographers meet to draw new legislative districts that will take New Jersey through 2031.
Bucco’s decision to remain in the Assembly race could potentially weaken his position as a 2020 candidate, if for no other reason that the next 41 days will wipe out his campaign warchest.
If Bucco were to lose his Assembly race, he’d be entering the Senate with poor prospects to hold the seat the following year.
Sweeney, New Jersey’s Master of the Senate, gets that.
Bhimani and her running mate, Darcy Draeger, have already said that they would not run for Senate next year.
Chris Christie circa 1995 essentially ruined the ability for someone to launch a bid for higher office weeks after being sworn in to their first one – at least for the next few generations.
Some names have already begun to surface as possible Democratic opponents to Bucco next year: Mary Dougherty and Rupande Mehta, who ran for Morris County Freeholder in 2018; and Morris Township Committeeman John Arvanites, who is also a former Mayor of Roseland and the 2012 Democratic candidate for Congress against Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen.
Dougherty and Mehta both had strong showings in their freeholder bids last year in a Morris County, which hasn’t elected a Democrat to countywide office since 1973.
A former Morristown Planning Board member and wife of the mayor, Dougherty finished third in the in the 25th district towns, 47 votes ahead of Freeholder Stephen Shaw.