Two years ago, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34) cruised to victory in her reelection campaign in the 34th Legislative District. That was not really in question. However, her tenure and future as assembly speaker was. She was able to secure the needed votes and reelected by her Democratic caucus as assembly speaker. Then-Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Cryan (D-20) was not as fortunate as Assemblyman Lou Greenwald (D-6) was elected to the majority leader post largely through the inner workings of Democrats in the southern part of the state. With Greenwald's election as majority leader, Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D-32) was elected to replace Greenwald as the Assembly Budget Chairman.
Two years later, the level of uncertainty of the future of the State Legislature has more to do with the Democratic leadership than their majority once again. Barring major changes with about a month and a half to go, status quo looks like the outcome for all races with possibly a couple surprises. Two years ago, only one seat flipped parties. Thus, the drama truly resides in how the Democratic Party will approach their leadership posts especially those in the Assembly.
Oliver ran for the U.S. Senate earlier this year but ended up coming in last place in the four way Democratic primary last month. Some might have seen that move by Oliver as partially an outlet from the Assembly and the State Legislature and potential embarrassment if she were to not be reelected assembly speaker. She has tried to quell the type of talk in addition to the overall conversation of her future as assembly speaker. To the public, she is trying to come across as confident that things will likely stay the same.
However, behind the scenes; she is surely aware of the political maneuvering taking place involving many of the same names as two years ago. Chief among them is the current majority leader. Greenwald is said to be reaching out to lawmakers to build a case for him to supplant Oliver as assembly speaker.
Greenwald is not alone though as Prieto is seeking his own support and bid to move up the power structure within his party. Greenwald and Prieto are joined by Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36) as the three men provide interesting cases for while they might be a better choice than Oliver. Greenwald would certainly have the edge among those in the southern part of the state who have held much sway the last few years ousting state Senator Richard Codey (D-27) from his post as Senate President and Democratic gubernatorial candidate and state Senator Barbara Buono (D-18) from her post as Senate Majority Leader. Oliver could be the third northern based Democrat to lose a leadership post. But with Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-3) likely to return to his leadership post, it would make it complicated to have both the senate president and assembly speaker be from the southern part of the state.
When asked about his interests in becoming assembly speaker, Greenwald has stated;
I am laser focused on returning Democrats to the Legislature. My top priority as Majority Leader and as a leader in the New Jersey Democratic party is maintaining and strengthening our Democratic majority in the Assembly. To that end, I have worked tirelessly to return 48 Democratic members to the Assembly and to expand our majority in key battleground districts. If Democrats retain control of the Assembly, as I strongly believe we will, my plan is to ask for the caucus's support for another term as Assembly Majority Leader.
It would seem that based on that, Greenwald is content to retain his current position in the Assembly. However, conversations could surely heat up leading up to November's elections and more so after them.
Oliver's role within her own party has been questioned at times the past two years. She has not always seen eye to eye with Sweeney and that has caused some friction within the Democratic Party. However, she has worked hard to gather votes and support when needed. But, would one of the three other names mentioned be a better choice for the party? That might not be the biggest factor. It might ultimately come down to how the state Senate leadership team is put together. That leadership team will likely set the tone for the geographical breakdown that would mesh best for the Assembly leadership team.
Democrats in their meetings will want to keep in mind the fact that Governor Chris Christie would likely be reelected as they keep their majority in the State Legislature. What type of leadership team will be put together to either combat Christie or work with him? Sheila Oliver certainly will be reelected but her future as assembly speaker does look like anything but guaranteed once again.