It was of some moment this week when it became public news that Senator Robert Gordon would be resigning and taking up the post as Commissioner to the Board of Public Utilities. For the many in this Garden State, it is can be convincingly argued that the State Senate is where more of the political action in our State Legislature can be found. As the individual to hold the dubious (and stupid) distinction of being the only person in our State’s history to ever hold two separate tenures in the BOTH of our legislative houses (Assembly – 1996-2001 & 2002-2007–Senate – 2001-2002 & 2008-2017), I modestly speak with some experience and authority. The State Assembly has a more organic feel and invites some divergent debate, but at the end of the day, the Speaker clearly controls the tempo and demonstrates the will of the lower house. But, In the Senate, with the textured dynastic feel, the marbled pillars and ornate chambers, each of the 40 Senators operate in their own seemingly majestic and large political orbits and each have an earnest belief that they are smarter than everybody else, including the Governor. Why would anyone leave the Senate?
With a population of over 9 million residents, it is remarkably rare to be one of the 40 get to serve in our State Senate. In decades past, when I was a staffer, it was common that if you held a Senate seat, you would either die in office or be carried out on a stretcher. It was not unusual for the average Senator to have 20 to 25 years of service. Times they are a changing. You would be shocked to know that 35% of the Senators in 2009 are no longer serving in that office.
2nd- Jim Whelan
5th- Dana Redd
7th- Diane Allen
8th- Philip Haines
10th- Andrew Ciesla
11th- Sean Kean
12th- Jennifer Beck
13th- Joe Kyrillos
14th- William Baroni
18th- Barbara Buono
20th- Raymond Lesniak
23rd- Marcia Karrow
35th- John Girgenti
38th- Robert Gordon
40th- Kevin O’Toole
This trend of serving your term and moving on is catching in most corners of the State. I talk often to many current legislators (both parties) and I marvel how many are now looking to serve now and move along in a term or two. As I predicated in columns past, the composition of the Senate Class of 2022 will hardly be recognizable from the present one. Redistricting, fatigue, age, attitudinal nuance, and politics are among a few of the drivers that will cause this rapid and once inconceivable change. It is probably a safe bet that in 3 and 1/2 years from now the upper house will have over a nearly 50% turnover from its current roster.
As for Senator Gordon, I couldn’t possibly write a more appropriate ode to Bob than the one performed so gracefully this week by his wife, Gail Gordon, so I won’t try. But I do feel compelled to add a few things. I served with Bob in the Senate and consider him and Gail very good friends. Without betraying a confidence, I can tell you that Senator Gordon and I spoke a lot about the Port Authority, legislation and life after politics. YES, Virginia there is a real life after leaving the New Jersey Legislature. Right Senator Lesniak?
It is no secret that Robert is an intellectual giant and a policy maven. He reads the environmental impact reports like most of us devour twitter feeds. I want to clear up one misconception about Bob. Some say he wasn’t great at politics, I say that they are dead wrong. By definition, surviving in District 38 and winning reelection time and time again, he was a brilliant politician. He made it to the top of the Garden State political food chain and left on his own accord. Not many can say that –Bob is off to make the BPU a better place. Bob is a statesman and is well regarded by so many. He won’t be missed because the reality is he isn’t going anywhere. BPU performs a huge policy and regulatory function that will be done so well with Bob front and center.
As for future Senate leaders, I read with heightened interest the Insider NJ review of the current crop of new State Senators–a very impressive crew. Assemblyman Joe Lagana will be stepping up soon to take over as the Senator in 38. I have watched Joe in the Assembly for 5 years and have worked on bills and policy with him, watch him closely and don’t be surprised if we address him as Governor Lagana one day. The same can be said about Senators Corrado and Gopal –the future is bright for these three and the rest of the class.
Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you
What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson
Jolting Joe has left and gone away
This column originally appeared on InsiderNJ.