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Jersey Unsure: What Happens If/When Gov. Christie Resigns?

There has been a lot of speculation that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will resign as early as February next year. Senate President Steve Sweeney recently said, he has "no idea" whether Christie will leave office early, but his guess is Christie will leave before the next budget has to be passed in June 2015. So what would happen next?

According to New Jersey's constitution — see the relevant paragraphs below — the Lieutenant Governor becomes Governor. Elections then are set to be held at the next general election for a Governor and Lieutenant Governor to fill the unexpired term. They assume office immediately upon their election. In effect, if Christie were to resign in February, 2015, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno would become governor for about nine months until November. Then the governor and Lieutenant Governor winners in the General Election would serve about 26 months until a new term begins in January 2018.

My guess is that Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno as Governor will continue with most of Christie's policies. She can be just as tough as he (she was a former sheriff and prosecutor), but she lacks his "force majeure" and will have less sway over Republican legislators in the midst of their own re-election and over the general population. She will be saddled with the same budgetary problems — pen/ben contribution, a depleted infrastructure trust fund, schools fund allocation, homeowner rebates, and in general insufficient monies. She will be blamed by Dems as party to Christie's budgetary and political failures, while lacking the luster to gain overwhelming support from Republicans. Although she will get help from the Republican State Committee, she will have little time to raise her own war chest and build an effective campaign committee, while in the meantime prospective Democratic candidates are doing just that. Nonetheless, she would be a strong but not formidable Republican candidate as she has spent her time currying favor with the business community and local political leaders. Other Republicans might well challenge her, but there is no one single opponent who stands out now.

In the meantime, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop have their own bully pulpits and seem to be gearing up and positioning themselves for the run. Others have expressed guarded interest or are talked about as potential candidates, but at least for the moment might be categorized as "long shots." Either way a year from now Christie's record will be further tarnished (budget, economy, Sandy, Bridgegate, etc.) and the race will favor the Democrats.  

There are other scenarios: If for any reason Lt. Gov. Guadagno cannot or does not assume the governorship upon Christie's resignation then the position devolves upon the Senate President or if there is a vacancy in that position upon the General Assembly Speaker. If Christie were to resign within sixty days of the November 2015 general election, then the election would be the next November. If Christie were to resign in 2017, there would be no election for the unexpired term, only a November election for a full term to begin in 2018. A Democratic scenario (category: wishful thinking) might include the emergence of a strong, progressive Democratic candidate unencumbered by political and regional baggage.

What do you think would happen next?

NJ Constitution:
Article V, Section I, paragraph 9 (amended effective January 17, 2006):
"If a Lieutenant Governor becomes Governor, or in the event of simultaneous vacancies in the offices of Governor and Lieutenant Governor, a Governor and a Lieutenant Governor shall be elected to fill the unexpired terms of both offices at the next general election, unless the assumption of the office of Governor by the Lieutenant Governor, or the vacancies, as the case may be, occur within sixty days immediately preceding a general election, in which case they shall be elected at the second succeeding general election. No election to fill the unexpired terms shall be held in any year in which a Governor and Lieutenant Governor are to be elected for full terms. A Governor and Lieutenant Governor elected for unexpired terms shall assume their offices immediately upon their election."

Article V Section I paragraph 6 (amended effective January 17, 2006):
"In the event of simultaneous vacancies in both the offices of Governor and Lieutenant Governor resulting from any cause, the President of the Senate shall become Governor until a new Governor or Lieutenant Governor is elected and qualifies.  In the event that there is a vacancy in the office of Senate President, or the Senate President declines to become Governor, then the Speaker of the General Assembly shall become Governor until a new Governor or Lieutenant Governor is elected and qualifies."

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