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Meet Jeff Chiesa, the new senator from New Jersey
Chris Christie names a close confidant to fill the vacant Senate seat
 
Jeff Chiesa likes the Fighting Irish, the governor of New Jersey, and long walks on the beach (probably).
Jeff Chiesa likes the Fighting Irish, the governor of New Jersey, and long walks on the beach (probably). Kena Betancur/Getty Images

On Thursday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) tapped his attorney general, Jeffrey Chiesa, to fill the Senate seat vacated Monday by the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D).

"I said on Monday that I was going to select the person who I thought would be the best person to represent New Jersey between now and Oct. 16," Christie said. "During the last few days, as I've gotten to deliberate on this decision, it became clear to me that Attorney General Chiesa would be the best person to represent the people of the state of New Jersey in the United States Senate."

Chiesa will serve at least until October, when the state will hold a special election to pick a permanent replacement. (The election is quite controversial in itself.)

So who exactly is the new senator from New Jersey?

Chiesa, a Notre Dame grad with a law degree from Catholic University, is a longtime associate of Christie's. They met in the early 1990s while working at the law firm Dughi & Hewit, and the two are such good friends that a profile of Chiesa noted two prominent items in his new office: A piñata, and a picture of the governor.

When Christie went to the U.S. Attorney's office in the District of New Jersey, Chiesa followed him in 2002. Over seven years there, he led a number of high-profile public corruption cases, including one against former state Senate President John Lynch, and ultimately rose to serve as executive assistant U.S Attorney.

He's been with Christie's gubernatorial administration from the very beginning. He worked on Christie's transition team, and then served as the governor's chief counsel from January 2010 through December 2011 before being named attorney general last January. (In New Jersey, that office is an appointed rather than elected position.)

Despite the close connection, however, Christie insisted Chiesa would not be his personal mouthpiece in Congress. Christie said Thursday that if Chiesa called asking how to vote on any issue, "I'm going to hang up. He's not going to make that call, but if he does I'm going to say, 'Do what you think is right. That's what I sent you down there for.'"

On the issues, Chiesa on Thursday said he is a "conservative Republican, generally speaking." The only specific legislative issue he mentioned was border security — an interesting choice given that a contentious debate over border security is one of the biggest sticking points in the Senate's big immigration bill. However, he added he wasn't too familiar with much else on Congress' plate.

"I think the first thing we have to do is make sure the border is secure," he said. "From there, these issues are new to me."

Though a self-proclaimed conservative and registered Republican, he has bucked the party line on other issues.

He opposed reinstating the death penalty, announced that he would, as attorney general, defend the state's civil union law in court. He also oversaw a massive gun buyback program that netted some 10,000 firearms — 1,200 of them illegal — in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., massacre. Here's Chiesa, in a statement last month, offering a strong defense of that buyback program:

"It is sobering to contemplate the amount of lethal firepower that's out there in our communities just waiting to fall into the wrong hands," Chiesa said. "That is why these gun buybacks are important. The weapons we take in are melted down. They can never be stolen and used in a street crime. They can never kill a curious child. They can never turn a traffic dispute into a tragedy, and they can never claim the life of one of our brave police officers." [New Jersey Office of the Attorney General]

He has also taken a softer stance than some in his party on domestic anti-terror efforts. Following reports that the New York Police Department had secretly spied on Muslims with little if any probable cause, he attended a prayer service at a Newark mosque the NYPD had targeted.

"It is not tolerable here in New Jersey for us to have people treated differently in this state — period," he said.

Another issue Chiesa has no tolerance for: Watered-down booze. Last month, New Jersey authorities raided 29 bars and restaurants and seized some 1,000 bottles of tainted liquor as part of a year-long, undercover operation code-named Operation Swill.

"This alleged scheme is a dishonest ruse to increase profits, and it is a slap in the face of the consumer," he said. "The consumer should have the peace of mind to know that when they pay for something, they get exactly what they paid for, no exceptions.""

Though Chiesa will be an incumbent this fall and would therefore have a leg up in the special election, Christie indicated his nominee would bow out in October.

He has also earned accolades for his efforts to stamp out underage drinking and drunk driving. He once even filmed an underage drinking PSA with speedster Apolo Ohno.

 
Jon Terbush is an associate editor at TheWeek.com covering politics, sports, and other things he finds interesting. He has previously written for Talking Points Memo, Raw Story, and Business Insider.

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