INSIDERNJ In-Focus: Prieto’s Opening to Make a Gallant Last Stand for Speaker


The unpopularity in the caucus room today for the Horizon raid put forward by Governor Chris Christie with the support of South Jersey Democratic power broker George Norcross puts Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (D-19) in the cross-hairs in the broil of budget season.

As a partner of South Jersey, with other key legislators sprinkled in, Coughlin of Middlesex wants to dump Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32) and supplant him on the throne of assembly power. But the coziness of a 15% job approval-mired Christie and Norcross on the Horizon reserves raid combined with heavy resistance to the plan expressed in the caucus today makes Coughlin’s argument to lead the room as an independent voice awkward at best – and gives Prieto a chance to do a pre-half time endzone dance.

“George didn’t give out his talking points this morning,” a source told InsiderN, after learning of the strident voices that rose up against Christie’s proposal for a deal to tie the budget together with the Democrats’ school funding plan.

Only hald the seats in the caucus room were filled, but attendance represented a strong cross-section of Democratic legislators.

To date, Prieto has stumbled in his efforts to put down and crush Coughlin’s rebellion and re-relegate the south to regional status. But he’s still on his feet on the face of the South Jersey-Middlesex onslaught. Moreover, the same source speculated that this fight could give the sitting speaker traction toward being able to make his case – perhaps most significantly to Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Murphy – that the legislature needs a buffer against South Jersey domination.

Murphy minder Brendan Gill last month told InsiderNJ that the gubernatorial candidate intends to stay out of the leadership brawl. “One election at a time,” Gill said. But if – in this teetering and highly charged political atmosphere – the government shuts down because Christie and Norcross press the Horizon issue and give Prieto an opening to play the people power hero, new dynamics could emerge and require stepped up engagement by the gubernatorial candidates.

It’s volatile.


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