New Jersey Democrat Picks Running Mate

By John Celock

The Democratic nominee for New Jersey governor has tapped a former speaker of the state Assembly as his running mate for lieutenant governor.
Reports indicate that Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver (D-East Orange) will join gubernatorial nominee Phil Murphy on the Democratic ticket in this year’s race. Oliver, the first African-American woman to lead a legislative chamber in New Jersey history, would be the state’s second lieutenant governor and the first African-American woman to hold statewide office in the Garden State. Murphy and Oliver will face off against Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and her to be announced running mate.

Oliver, an assemblywoman since 2004, has long been mentioned as one of three women on Murphy’s short list for lieutenant governor, along with Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter (D-Paterson) and Assemblywoman Marine Caride (D-Ridgefield). Oliver served as Assembly speaker from 2010 to 2014 and was the second African-American woman to serve as a state legislative speaker in the country, following former California Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D). Bass is now a congresswoman from California.

Oliver is known as a policy focused lawmaker, with an interest in housing, social services and urban affairs. She currently serves on the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee and Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee, along with the Joint Committee on Economic Justice and Equal Employment Opportunity and the Joint Committee on Public Schools. A social worker and county government administrator professionally, Oliver is a former chairwoman of the Assembly Human Services Committee.

Oliver’s four years leading the Assembly coincided with Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) first term in office and Oliver led her chamber in working with Christie and the Democratic-led state Senate on a variety of measures including Christie’s signature property tax cap and changes to public employee benefits.

Oliver fended off an interparty challenge from then Assembly Majority Leader Joe Cryan (D-Union Township) to win a second term as speaker in 2011. Cryan later left the Assembly to serve as Union County sheriff and is now running for the state Senate.

Oliver left the speakership in 2014 after Democratic Party support for the office shifted to Democrat Vincent Prieto, as part of a deal to give a Hudson County lawmaker a leadership post. Oliver hails from Essex County. Oliver assumed the speakership as part of a similar deal that saw the Senate presidency shift from Essex County Democratic Dick Codey to Gloucester County Democrat Steve Sweeney.

New Jersey’s lieutenant governor has no constitutional function except to succeed to the governorship in the event of a vacancy or to temporarily assume the office if the governor is out of the state. The position was created by voters in 2005 and Guadagno was elected as the first lieutenant governor on a ticket with Christie in 2009.

Christie has tapped Guadagno to concurrently serve as New Jersey’s secretary of state, a position where she leads an agency handling state elections, tourism, arts and culture, record keeping and volunteerism. Guadagno has also been put in charge of economic development programs for the state. It is not known what role Murphy would plan for Oliver should they win.

Oliver is a former president of the East Orange Board of Education and a former Essex County freeholder. She is the first African-American woman to be nominated by a major party for statewide office in New Jersey history. U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D) is the only African-American to win statewide office in New Jersey history.

If elected, Oliver would become only the fourth black woman to be elected lieutenant governor in American history, following Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton (R) in 2015, former Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll (R) in 2010 and former Ohio Lt. Gov. Jeanette Bradley (R) in 2002. She would join Hamton, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Connecticut Treasurer Denise Nappier (D) as one of four black women currently holding statewide office in the U.S.

Oliver becomes the only female Democrat currently seeking statewide office in the U.S. this year and one of two women running statewide nationally. Virginia state Sen. Jill Vogel, is the Republican nominee for the Virginia lieutenant governor’s office. Virginia Democratic lieutenant governor nominee Justin Fairfax, is the only other African-American seeking statewide office this year. New Jersey and Virginia are the only states holding statewide elections this year.