Democrats Retain Control of New Jersey Legislature

Democrats retained control of the New Jersey Legislature on Tuesday, boosting their Senate majority by one and maintaining their Assembly advantage amid concerns over the state’s highest-in-the-nation property taxes and government corruption.

Voters rejected two of four ballot questions, including one that called for borrowing $450 million to fund stem cell research, dealing a blow to Gov. Jon S. Corzine, who had campaigned hard for the measure.

Democrats increased their Senate advantage to 23-17 despite a loss by one incumbent.

Republican Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck defeated Democratic incumbent Ellen Karcher in the 12th District that includes Mercer and Monmouth counties.

But Democrats won two South Jersey Senate seats.

Incumbent Republican Sen. Nicholas Asselta lost in the 1st District to Democratic Assemblyman Jeff Van Drew, who had 56 percent with 90 percent of the votes counted.

And incumbent Republican Sen. James “Sonny” McCullough conceded the 2nd District race to Democratic Assemblyman James Whelan. The district includes Atlantic City.

Democrats went into the day with a 50-30 Assembly advantage and appeared set to win at least 48 seats.

Republicans haven’t controlled a legislative house since 2001.

Big changes were coming no matter which party won on Tuesday.

Retirements, resignations and primary election losses mean the next Legislature will have 16 new senators and at least 27 new Assembly members.

Many races were not competitive because districts tend to tilt heavily toward one party or the other.

Senate President Richard J. Codey was enthused, noting Senate Democrats bucked a trend that has seen the governor’s party lose seats in all midterm elections but one since 1951.

“We’re thrilled about that,” said Codey, D-Essex.

Statewide, Democrats outspent Republicans by a 3-1 margin, a ratio that increased to about 5-1 in some competitive races.

The campaigns were dominated by debate over America’s highest property taxes, which average $6,330 per homeowner — twice the national average — and ethics.

Democrats recently adopted several bills aimed at controlling property taxes and increasing tax rebates, sending checks averaging $1,051 to homeowners this fall, nearly five times more than what was returned in 2006.

They also tightened ethics rules as corruption scandals touched all levels of government. Five Democratic legislators either resigned or did not seek re-election this year amid corruption investigations that inclkuded one over insurance.

Republicans contend the property tax and ethics reforms were weak and didn’t do enough to resolve the problems. They tried to rally voters against Corzine’s plan to address the state’s financial woes by increasing highway tolls. Corzine hasn’t unveiled a formal plan, saying key details remain unfinished, but Republicans charged he’s waiting until after the election to help fellow Democrats.


Associated Press writers Jeffrey Gold and Chris Newmarker in Trenton contributed to this report.