Sen. Ray Lesniak Prepares to Run for New Jersey Governor after Chris Christie Leaves Office
New Jersey media sources have produced rumors that State Senator Ray Lesniak is considering a run for governor. Raymond Lesniak is known in gambling circles as a pro-gaming, pro-casino lawmaker. Now, it appears he might be preparing to run against Governor Chris Christie’s Republican successor. Due to charges of corruption, the GOP administration is seen by many as vulnerable to a challenge, despite Christie’s run for the US presidency.
A week ago, Sen. Lesniak announced he would not run for reelection for his seat in the New Jersey State Senate. It is assumed he would have won reelection easily, so people naturally thought he was considering a run for governor. During that press conference, Ray Lesniak made a kind of informal announcement he would be running for governor.
Lesniak Versus Christie’s Would-Be Successor
The announcement sets up an intriguing would-be match-up, though neither party winning would seem to hurt legalized gambling in the Garden State. Despite Chris Christie’s popularity, New Jersey is a left-leaning state and it traditionally has been a territory for liberals and Democrats.
The Republican candidate likely would be Chris Christie’s handpicked successor, which will confer upon him or her some of Christie’s popularity. That person would be expected by most to uphold most of Christie’s policies, though gambling is usually considered a “matter of conscience” for politicians.
Can Lesniak Win?
As Gov. Christie explained in the GOP debate the other night, he came to the governorship after 10 years of economic decline. The state’s financial troubles allowed for a Republican candidate to win in a traditional bastion of the Democratic Party. Christie’s job performance on the economy and during Hurricane Sandy have kept him popular, though the Bridgegate scandal has eroded his administration’s standing. Whether New Jersey’s voters would want another Republican is a matter of question.
Sen. Lesniak appears to think the time is right to retake the governship for the Democrats. Certainly, Christie and his Republican followers are distracted by his run for the Republican nomination to run for the U.S. Presidency. With no clear leader beyond the term-limited Christie, Lesniak would like to return New Jersey to the Democrats’ control.
Go Big or Go Home
At age 69, this is his last chance to be governor, it would seem. Politico termed his decision to leave his senate position as a case of “Go Big or Go Home“. Lesniak said as much at his press conference, when he said, “If I don’t run for governor, I’m not running for reelection. Forty years will be plenty for me. I need to do more and I can’t do more without being governor, so that’s why I’m running.”
Lesniak’s political career began in 1978, when he was elected to the New Jersey General Assembly. He remained an Assemblyman for 5 years, until he won a special election to replaced a State Senator who resigned his position due to scandal. For the past 32 years, Sen. Lesniak has remained in the same position.
Leader on Gambling
Over the past decade, Raymond Lesniak has been a leader on gambling issues. He championed online gambling legislation, helping to bring about the legal, licenses, regulated, and taxed online casinos and poker rooms.
Several times since 2011, Lesniak has sponsored sports betting legislation which challenged the 22-year old PASPA federal law. The US sports leagues sued New Jersey to maintain a federal ban on sportsbooks and the court cases have not gone New Jersey’s way. Currently, though, the case is being studied by the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Many experts believe this could be the best chance New Jersey has to strike down the PASPA law.
If Christie Resigned
Christie was reelected in 2013 and would not leave office until 2017. If Chris Christie resigned after having won the presidency or been appointed to a high national post, Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno would succeed him as Governor of New Jersey. In that case, Gov. Guadagno would be Lesniak’s opponent. If Christie resigned more than 60 days before the next election, then a special election would have to occur.
Ray Lesniak is currently the only candidate to be running for the Democratic nomination, though several potential candidates have been rumored to be considering a run. Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, former U.S. Ambassador to Germany and longtime New Jersey resident Philip Murphy, Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, and Senate president Stephen Sweeney. A potential match-up between Lesniak and Sweeney would be a intriguing, though both would represent a pro-gambling choice.
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