NJ's 2nd-in-Command Could Become Governor

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
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    New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno looks on as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks.

    If you own a business in New Jersey, there's a decent chance you have Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno's cellphone number.

    For the rest of the state, Guadagno is largely an unknown figure in the shadows of her charismatic and nationally known boss, Gov. Chris Christie.

    But a vote for Christie next Tuesday could be a vote for Guadagno to run the state government at least for many days of the coming four-year term.

    If Christie resigns to runs for president -- something he hasn't ruled out -- she's in line to take over as governor.

    Even if Christie doesn't run in 2016, Guadagno likely will fill in for him even more often as he becomes chairman of the Republican Governors Association next year, when 36 governorships across the country will be up for election. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is chairman this year, has been out of state on RGA business 31 days so far in 2013, according to an Associated Press tally. And this year, there are just two gubernatorial elections.

    Guadagno, meanwhile, is coy about her own political ambitions beyond serving as Christie's second-in-command.

    Asked in a brief interview after a campaign stop this week whether she might consider running for governor herself in 2017, she said, “Let's finish this one first, then we'll answer that question.”

    Guadagno, 54, a former state and federal prosecutor, was Monmouth County sheriff in 2009 when Christie asked her to be his running mate.

    After Christie won, he also appointed her secretary of state -- an office that has responsibility for a hodgepodge of state government functions, including elections, tourism, arts and culture.

    But she has been most visible in her role overseeing job creation and retention, which Christie assigned her though she had no professional business-world experience.

    She's in charge of cutting regulatory red tape, helping businesses with regulations and offering tax incentives to companies.

    The administration boasts that the state has 143,000 more private sector jobs than it did when Christie and Guadagno took office in 2010. That's true. It's also true that the state has about 80,000 fewer residents working now than in February 2008 when employment was at its pre-recession peak, and that New Jersey's unemployment rate remains more than 1 percentage point above the national figure.

    Guadagno constantly visits businesses and industry groups.

    Last month in Matawan, she told about three dozen people at a chamber of commerce luncheon about her efforts working with a privately funded group, Choose New Jersey, to recruit firms to the state.

    “God knows New York has been here enough stealing our jobs and Pennsylvania has been here enough stealing our jobs that it's fun for me to cross either rivers and fight back,” she said.

    Caren Franzini, who was executive director of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority for 18 years, said Choose New Jersey is working better than similar efforts in previous administrations because of its structure and Guadagno's “personal touch.”

    Using tax incentives, Guadagno helped persuade Panasonic USA to move to Newark instead of New York in 2011, among other deals.

    At the Matawan lunch, she gave the assembled small business leaders her personal cell number, something she often does. She said they should call her if state agencies don't help them.

    But Bill Wolfe, who now runs Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said there is a downside to her ties with businesses, particularly big firms.

    “She has quarterbacked what we call Gov. Christie's attack on environmental protection,” he said. Wolfe said Guadagno's position lets businesses have a say on regulations under consideration before they are made public, something he said could doom protections. He said it's unclear how much that happens because any meetings are not part of the public record.

    Philip Kirschner, president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said it makes sense to consult companies.

    “What you have is just like legislators do,” he said. “They call people in who know something before they put in a piece of legislation or a rule.”

    Mark Lagerkvist, an investigative reporter who blogs as New Jersey Watchdog, has been pushing for more information on action Guadagno took in 2008 as Monmouth County sheriff, when she hired a retired investigator for the county prosecutor's office to be her top aide for $87,500 annually and gave him a non-law enforcement job title that allowed him to continue to collect his $85,000 per year state pension.

    Guadagno told The Associated Press the move made sense because the aide, Michael Donovan Jr., took over for a higher-salaried officer who was returned to law-enforcement duties.

    She said state and county pension officials approved the move at the time.

    “It saved the taxpayers of Monmouth County $50,000 for the year, put a uniformed officer on the street, put a well-qualified retired law enforcement officer in his place,” she said.

     


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