Senate panel advances nominations of new utility regulators

By: - March 21, 2023 7:08 am

Sen. Kristin Corrado questioned the timing of one of Gov. Phil Murphy's nominees to the Board of Public Utilities. (Hal Brown for New Jersey Monitor)

The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the nominations of two would-be Board of Public Utilities commissioners in split votes Monday.

Marian Abdou, managing senior counsel at NRG Energy, would replace Commissioner Dianne Solomon, a holdover from Gov. Chris Christie’s administration who has opposed portions of Gov. Phil Murphy’s energy agenda.

During a Board of Public Utilities meeting earlier this month, Solomon raised concerns about costs associated with wind energy and with the state’s push to lessen its reliance on natural gas. Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-Passaic) on Monday questioned the timing of Solomon being replaced on the board.

“One of my bigger concerns is that you were nominated — and this is no reflection on you — on the day after one of the current members was the dissenting vote, and there does seem to be a purge going on at the BPU,” Corrado told Abdou. “I think we should all be concerned about that.”

Murphy attempted to replace Solomon last year, but his then-nominee, former Republican Assemblywoman Maria Rodriguez-Gregg, failed to win necessary approval from her home county senator, Burlington County Republican Jean Stanfield.

Another Murphy nominee to the board, Christine Guhl Sadovy, the governor’s cabinet secretary and former chief of staff to Board of Public Utilities President Joe Fiordaliso, would replace Bob Gordon, a former Democratic state senator who gave up his seat to join the BPU in 2018.

Abdou and Guhl Sadovy’s nominations lacked the cross-party support for an emergency motion that would have allowed the full Senate to confirm them Monday afternoon.

An emergency requires 30 affirmative votes, and there are 25 Democrats in the Senate, only 22 of whom were in attendance Monday.

The Senate did move in an emergency fashion Monday afternoon to approve three nominees to the state Superior Court bench — Scott Arnette, Christie Bevacqua, and Jeffrey Brown — and Assemblyman Ralph Caputo’s nomination to the Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey board, a gig that will force Caputo (D-Essex) to resign from the Assembly.

Arnette and Bevacqua hail from Monmouth County and were nominated by Murphy last month. Brown is a Middlesex County resident who has awaited confirmation since September. The chamber confirmed six other judges advanced by the Judiciary Committee last week.

“The governor is confident that this highly-qualified group of judges will make substantial contributions to our state’s judiciary and looks forward to nominating more individuals, while working with the Legislature to identify new, diverse, and qualified candidates to fill the remaining vacancies,” said Natalie Hamilton, a spokesperson for the governor.

New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner last month suspended civil and divorce trials in two multi-county vicinages because of a high number of judicial vacancies. The vicinages covered Hunterdon, Sussex, Warren, Cumberland, Gloucester, and Salem counties.

Hamilton said nine of the 20 Superior Court judges awaiting confirmation by the Senate hail from one of those six counties.

Not counting the judges confirmed Monday, who have yet to be sworn in, there were 67 vacancies in the Superior Court, a spokesperson for the Judiciary said.

Sen. Tony Bucco (R-Morris) told Caputo during the judiciary committee hearing on Monday morning that he is sad to see him leave the Legislature.

“You were the first legislator to call me and invite me to lunch. You took me to a little place in Newark. We had a great lunch, and we created a great friendship over the years,” Bucco said.

Caputo, who has served in the Assembly since 2008 in addition to two terms beginning in 1968, will fill the Horizon seat held by Bergen County Democratic Chairman Paul Juliano, who resigned the position to lead the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.

The assemblyman’s resignation will create an Assembly vacancy in the 28th Legislative District, a Democratic stronghold that includes towns like Belleville and Bloomfield.

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.