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NJ’s Elections And What They Mean Going Forward [AUDIO]

NJ Governor Chris Christie Holds Town Hall Meeting
Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images

To the surprise of no one, Democrats retained control of both houses of the legislature after yesterday’s elections.

 They are still at the helm of the State Senate and the General Assembly, but they still have to contend with Republican Governor Chris Christie too.

State Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver are expected to keep their leadership posts and they have shown a willingness to compromise with Christie on significant issues in the past such as the 2% cap on property tax increases and public employee pension and health care reforms. One political expert isn’t sure the bi-partisanship will continue unabated.

“On the Democratic side I think part of the object will be to try and run out the clock on the gubernatorial election two years from now,” explains Fairleigh Dickinson University political science professor Peter Woolley. “It’s not necessarily in their interests to promote the Governor or give him too much credit. I think there are going to be a lot of people who, on the Democratic side want to dig in their heels and wait for better fortunes in 2013.”

GOP legislators have faithfully supported Christie since he took office and Woolley thinks their unconditional backing has to continue if the Governor is going to advance his agenda which includes education reforms.

“The Republicans here can’t afford to fracture,” says Woolley. “They have to stick together. People who disagree with the Governor are just going to have to compromise and get in line. If they’re going to be able to accomplish anything, the Governor can’t be worrying about whether his own party is on his side.”

To call yesterday’s voter turnout ‘dismal’ would be a vast understatement despite the fact that all 120 seats in the legislature were up for grabs. There are several reasons for voters’ apathy according to Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

“We really can’t blame the voters here for what’s going on with turnout,” says Murray. “There are a number of issues at play here in New Jersey that cause turnout to be as low as it is. The first one and foremost is the lack of competitive elections.”

Murray also thinks New Jersey simply has too many elections. The Garden State has legislative elections in odd numbered years that are not the same year as congressional elections. School board elections are held in April. If you’re in a non-partisan town it’s a May election. Fire district elections are in February. Primaries are in June and the general elections are in November. Murray says, “By that time, who cares anymore?”

There’s may also be a Richard Nixon factor to consider.

“Turnout overall has gone down over the past generation, there’s no doubt about it regardless of what election you look at,” says Murray. “It’s clear that people have become turned off to politics. We saw that slide start in the 1970s. I think this goes back to Watergate and the sense that in some places corruption can go very deep and pervasive in government and there’s a sense that it’s not just on the fringes and maybe government doesn’t work for us.”

Murray thinks one thing is abundantly clear. He explains, “We’ve lost the kind of civic duty responsibility that a lot of people used to feel because of the trust that they had in their government. That trust is now gone.”

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