While this letter could very well apply to all office holders, I wrote this one specifically for the new state legislators who take the oath of office on January 9, 2018.
As per Article IV of our State Constitution, you will be sworn in on the second Tuesday of this upcoming month. As you are well versed, there are 120 legislators that are being sworn in on this special day. For some, it will be a first viewing that the public gets of the newly gathered legislature.
As someone who has taken part in his fair share of these days, I have some experience I can share with you.
As a matter of public record, I believe that I am the only individual who served two separate tenures in both the Senate and the Assembly.
January 1996 – April 2001: Assembly Majority
May 2001 – January 2002: Senate Majority
January 2002 – January 2008: Assembly Minority
January 2008 – July 2017: Senate Minority
First, don’t ever forget just how special it is to be counted as one of our state representatives. We have nearly 9 million individuals who live within the boundaries of our Garden State and you are one of the 120 to represent the 40 legislative districts – that is pretty cool!
While the swearing in is a very festive day, filled with hope and possibilities for the upcoming legislative session, it will be remembered for years to come and you should make every effort to bring family and friends. Those that have helped you get to this day should share in this special and hectic event, as few of us can forecast if we will ever be invited to the next one. Make this one count.
As you are engaged in the breakfasts, ad hoc gatherings in the hallway, swearing in and caucus meeting, be every mindful that things will be happening around you that could very well impact or mold your Trenton future.
What do I mean?
Be assured that people ‘in the know’ will be making observations about you. Fairly or not, judgments and positioning will start to take shape, as will your Trenton image.
The following will be part of the “clinical” observations:
- Did you take a big crowd down with you? That speaks to your posse and your political or family organization.
- Did you dress and carry yourself well?
- Are you a natural leader? Or follower?
- Are you a boss backed or boss created candidate?
- Are you a “self-made” elected official?
- Can you raise your own money?
- Do you have your own organization?
- Did you mix it up with the various interest groups?
- Do you foster or encourage relationships with the other party?
- How did your own party receive you?
- Which committees did you receive?
- Did you get an office or leadership position or leadership money?
- Where does your significant other work? (Not a fair question but one that will be talked about later)
- Do you have any relationship or interaction with the front office?
These are but a few of observations that will be made during the course of the day.
It may not seem fair that on the day you revel in the spoils of your November victory, judgements are being made about you but nothing in life and certainly not politics is fair – just ask your opponent from November who probably thinks they should be getting sworn in, not you.
Have fun and enjoy the ride, it could be over before you know it.
Former State Senator Kevin O’Toole (R-40) is the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.