Thursday, March 25, 2010


Many people were surprised when Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver made clear that she wanted to be the next Speaker of the General Assembly when Joe Roberts retired. Most political pundits thought she was a longshot at best because Oliver seemingly toiled in relative obscurity. She proved them wrong when she mustered the necessary votes.

It what many consider her first real test, Speaker Oliver seemed to have lost the public relations battle. Monday, (3/22/10) the Assembly was scheduled to vote on public employee pension reform bills that had already unanimously passed in the State Senate. The process was stalled for hours because Oliver wanted a provision removed from one of the bills. She was concenred that allowing new hires to opt out of the pension system would futher stress the financially troubled fund.

Lawmakers, lobbyists and reporters were all asking, "Why didn't the Assembly just amend the bill last Thursday, when the Assembly Budget Committee cleared the legislation?" Many were saying Oliver was picking a fight with Governor Chris Christie that she can't win.

As it turns out, according to those in the high-level meetings, not amending bill last Thursday was a calculated move. Oliver saw amending the measure on the day of the vote as a way to avoid negative press and partisan bickering that was likely to occur if people had four days to report on and talk about the amendment. There was a concern that editorials in the Sunday newspapers would scream, "ASSEMBLY WATERS DOWN PENSION REFORM." That was a very valid concern and delaying the amendment until the day of the vote eliminated it.

Oliver may also be the first lawmaker to win a showdown with Governor Chris Christie. As the battle over the amendment was heating up Monday, Oliver met with Christie and State Senate President Steve Sweeney. Sources involved in the meeting say Christie told Oliver that he would not sign the other bills that would provide immediate savings if Oliver didn't give up on the idea of removing the "opt out" provision.

We're told Oliver instantly saw this as a bluff and told Christie that she wouldn't budge on the opt-out clause and said because they would be on his desk, if Christie didn't sign the other bills he was going to take the blame for not providing the savings. Ultimately Oliver got her way and Christie signed all three bills minutes after they arrived on his desk.


calugg said...

oooohhhh... I don't think I want to play poker with Oliver....

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