TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Democrats in the New Jersey Senate picked state Sen. Nicholas Scutari on Friday to be their new leader after current President Steve Sweeney lost reelection to a Republican newcomer.
The selection is the first changing of the guard in the second most powerful spot in state government since Sweeney assumed the post more than a decade ago. Scutari's election as Senate leader was made official Friday after Democratic lawmakers met behind closed doors at the statehouse. He will assume the post at the start of the new legislative session.
Sweeney's loss shook New Jersey's political order and suggested that a GOP-leaning “red wave” — as Sweeney put it —- is crashing on the state where Democrats have 1 million more registered voters than Republicans. Still, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy won reelection by nearly 3 points over his GOP challenger, Jack Ciattarelli, and has said he will continue to pursue the progressive policy aims he adopted in his first term.
Scutari has served in the Senate since 2004 and currently leads the powerful Judiciary Committee, which oversees hearings for the governor's appointments to courts, boards and other offices across the state. He is known for championing the legalization of recreational marijuana, which he shepherded through the Legislature this year.
Sweeney said this week that he won't be fading from politics, but he stopped short of saying whether he would run again for the Senate or pursue the governorship in 2025. He remains on the legislative redistricting commission, the panel that redraws the Legislature's district lines after the U.S. census.
Democrats lost two seats in the Senate this year, including Sweeney's, but they picked up a seat in the 16th District, where Assembly member Andrew Zwicker defeated former U.S. Rep. Michael Pappas in a seat held by a retiring Republican.
Democrats will remain in control of the Legislature in the new term, which begins in January, but they will have fewer seats. In the Senate, their lead shrank to 24 from 25 seats, out of 40. In the Assembly, Republicans picked up at least four new seats and were leading in two others that the Associated Press has not called.
Scutari represents the 22nd District, which includes parts of Middlesex, Somerset and Union counties. An attorney, Scutari serves as the municipal prosecutor in Linden, Union County.
Mike Catalini, The Associated Press