Inquirer Editorial: A Senate election on the governor's schedule

Newark Mayor Cory Booker is considered the front-runner for the Senate seat.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker is considered the front-runner for the Senate seat. (Associated Press)
Posted: June 07, 2013

Gov. Christie's argument that New Jersey voters shouldn't have to wait a year to choose their next senator is absolutely correct. But his contention that they can't wait a few more weeks is mainly a test of the governor's remarkable ability to keep a straight face.

On Tuesday, the day after the death of U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, Christie announced that a special election to fill his seat would be held as soon as the law allowed. That sounded about right - except that the earliest possible date turned out to be Oct. 16, or three weeks before the general election in which the governor himself is running.

At an estimated cost of almost $12 million per election, Christie is spending about half a million taxpayer dollars for every day of added elected representation in the Senate. Worse, the move is certain to reduce total participation in both elections, diminishing the supposed democratic benefits.

Christie's claim that this is a worthwhile expense is not only obviously preposterous. It's also directly at odds with his recent veto of a bill to open polls early for every general election, which would have been much more meaningful to participation. He claimed that the measure would have been too expensive.

Christie is likewise contradicting his support for legislation allowing school districts to consolidate their April elections with the November general elections. In signing that bill last year, he urged school officials to take advantage of the "bright prospect for both local government savings and increased voter participation."

Of course, the governor's likely motive in scheduling a needless election is to prevent his coronation from being mucked up by Democratic Senate hopeful Cory Booker, his fellow celebrity politician. The Newark mayor's presence atop the ballot seems unlikely to threaten the governor's lopsided reelection bid against Democratic State Sen. Barbara Buono, but it could narrow his point spread. And a landslide reelection in a blue state could be a powerful part of Christie's case for the presidency in 2016.

With this decision, Christie has again incurred the wrath of the Republican establishment, which would have preferred that he take advantage of murky election laws to appoint a Republican senator through 2014. (Put in the same position, New Jersey Democrats have tended to do the same.) Such insensitivity to partisan interests is too rare today on both sides of the aisle, and it's one of Christie's more endearing qualities.

The same cannot be said of the governor's willingness to schedule the Senate election in a way that minimizes participation, maximizes cost, and makes a mockery of his professed beliefs. Yes, Christie had the courage to go against the interests of the GOP. But he lacked the integrity to go against his own.

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