Sunday, July 20, 2014

There's No Such Thing as an Off Year Election

Most Americans focus on the quadrennial Presidential election, and even there, only on the top of the ballot. By doing so, they abdicate their responsibilities as citizens and then bitch and moan about government.

Off-year elections and down-ballot positions are critically important – not just for the term of those being selected to serve, but also for years to come – especially in New Jersey where we elect our governor and legislature in odd-numbered years. Let’s take a look at past and future elections to see how they have an impact well beyond the terms of the winners.

2013: This is the Mother of All Election Screw Ups for the Democrats. After four years of mismanagement, bombast, and chicanery, Chris Christie – a Republican governor in a Democratic state – should have been more vulnerable. Yet, every viable Democrat but one decided, at best, not to run; and at worst decided to support Christie because they were afraid of the bully’s retaliation. Cory Booker, who once said he never shrank from a challenge, decided to sit this one out and opt for a Senate seat instead. Booker, whose claim to fame is running into burning buildings to save cats, decided not to use his charisma, intelligence, and political capital to save the state from four more years of economic and environmental mismanagement. Steve Sweeney, whose desire to inhabit Drumthwacket is well known, decided to wait four years and take the easier path by running for an open seat. Barbara Buono was the only Democrat with the chutzpah to challenge Christie, but the national and state Democratic parties who were reluctant to put money into a tough race summarily dismissed her and poured all their resources into the only other gubernatorial race that year.

2014: This year, with no statewide elections, attention turns to the Federal level. The retirement of Rush Holt, one of the best congressmen today, while disappointing, will have little effect on the political landscape. His sure-thing replacement, Bonnie Watson Coleman, will bring more diversity to the New Jersey congressional delegation, and her voting record will be similar to Holt’s. But there is a bellwether election in the Third District, where Republican Jon Runyan decided to hang up his congressional cleats. This is one of the few seats in the country that is flippable, and Democrat Aimee Belgard has an excellent chance to wrest control from the Tea Party influences that tarnish New Jersey politics.

Currently, Belgard is one of two Democrats on the five-member Burlington County Freeholder board. With two open seats this year, the Democrats have a chance to control the board for the first time in decades. Up until now, with only token opposition, the Republican-controlled board has become very adept at awarding no-bid contracts to their political donors, and treat the county taxpayer as their personal plaything. The importance of this “off-year” election to Burlington County voters cannot be overstated. No doubt, there are similar stories in other county races this year.

2015: In this “off-year”, the entire State Assembly is up for election. But there won’t be any surprises. Successful gerrymandering in 2010 will keep the incumbents in power unless they are tarnished by a scandal that exceeds the normal New Jersey tolerance for misdeeds.

2016: Without a statewide Senatorial election, most of the attention will be on the race to succeed Barack Obama. As we have seen in the last few years, presidential elections have tremendous impact even after the chief executive leaves office. The radical extremists that Republican presidents put on the Supreme Court years ago are a threat to marriage equality and other civil rights. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Republicans are successful in overturning the 1964 “one man, one vote” ruling, given the current Court.

Chris Christie will not be on the ballot, but will continue to position himself for a future run. Again, with gerrymandering, most of New Jersey’s congressional districts should be safe for incumbents.

2017: Another critical off-year election for New Jersey. In fact, the race for governor has already started on the Democratic side, with several contenders positioning themselves for a statewide run. And the entire legislature – Assembly and Senate – will be up for election.  But there’s more. The new governor and the legislature that will be elected in 2019 will set the stage for the decennial redistricting. If trends continue, it’s possible that New Jersey will lose one more seat in Congress, but even if we don’t, congressional and legislative districts for elections through 2021 will be greatly influenced on the outcome of those years’ elections.

Before we sent American soldiers to fight and die for Halliburton and other corporate interests, we once sent American soldiers to fight and die for our right to vote. And that fight was not limited to overseas battles. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner, among others, died so that you, I, and your neighbors could vote. We can honor their lives not just by voting, but also by getting the complacent voters that we live with more involved and participatory. 

cross-posted from

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Let’s Eliminate Another Vestige of Gender Discrimination

Discrimination based on gender identity has been around a long time, even before the days of our Founding “Fathers.” While laws have been passed to ostensibly eliminate this discrimination, actions have been slow and inconsistent. We still don’t have an Equal Rights Amendment, women are typically paid less than men, and individuals who don’t fit into the binary male/female taxonomy, but rather live somewhere along or outside that spectrum, suffer even more discrimination.

Yet, in one area of New Jersey politics, we institutionalize that discrimination. Most county political committees elect two people from each election district and party. One position is designated for a “male” and the other for a “female.” It’s time to get rid of this anachronism.

Even ignoring the issues regarding the sexual spectrum, it’s simply not a good idea to restrict holding elective office to members who identify with a particular gender. If the best people to hold those positions in a district are two men, two women, or two individuals who identify as something else, why not allow them to vie for these positions?

Facebook has acknowledged that gender identification is not binary and allows its users to self-identify across a wide spectrum. It’s time to eliminate the “male” and “female” designation in the selection and election of county committeepeople.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Governor Corbett's Priorities

There were two school tragedies in the Delaware Valley this week. Young students in Philadelphia and Mount Laurel died while at school in two separate incidents. Both deaths appear to be due to natural causes.

Like most schools, the one that was attended by the first grader in Philadelphia was suffering from budget cuts. They had cut back on the services of a school nurse by making that a part-time position. The nurse was not on duty when the youngster in the South Philadelphia school stopped breathing.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett berated the unions for pointing out this fact. He used the occasion to bash the union for “politicizing” a tragedy. Corbett has his priorities wrong. Unions exist for more than assurance of fair wages. Unions promote safe working conditions and the overall welfare of people in the work environment. It was Corbett who politicized this event.

It seems like we have tons of money to put policemen in schools to keep the children safe from guns. But there’s no money to have full-time nurses to help with children’s health and be there for emergencies? Mr. Corbett is not the only one to have his priorities out of order.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Drill, Baby, Drill

No one likes going to the dentist. But it’s smart to get periodic dental checkups and taking care of any problems. It’s something we pay for, maybe grudgingly, but most people do it.

No one enjoys paying taxes either. But most Democrats, at least, understand that, like dental checkups, paying taxes is necessary to maintain a decent quality of life.

That’s why I will never vote for candidates whose platform is simply based on reducing taxes, especially if they refuse to provide a definitive list of services that they will cut and the impact of those cuts. Among the many candidates who pursue this nonsensical approach are the two GOP candidates for Congress in New Jersey’s Third District, Steve Lonegan and Tom MacArthur.

It’s legitimate to grouse about how the current tax system is structured and how the funds are distributed. I do that all the time. I hate that my tax money goes to Chris Christie’s self-promotion, enriching his cronies like AshBritt, and to corporate welfare. I’d rather see my tax dollars invested in our children, our infrastructure, and our environment – all areas that will boost our economy in the long run. And if a candidate runs on a platform that would modestly increase taxes and gives good rationale on why that’s necessary, I would consider giving that person my vote.

Overall, taxes today are lower than they have been for the last half-century. And we are paying for decades of Republican disdain for government and jingoistic discourses on taxation. Our infrastructure is crumbling. We are not making the investments that our parents and grandparents did. I doubt that the Apollo moon-landing program (whose ancillary technology and biomedical benefits are tremendous) could have happened with the attitude that our so-called leaders have today. Nor would we have had the Interstate Highway System (a Republican initiative) that we take for granted today. Medical research is suffering, as is our environment. The long-term costs of this lack of investment will haunt generations to come.

So if a candidate espouses a knee-jerk policy of tax reduction without an honest evaluation of the consequences, I can guarantee he or she will not get my support. Life is full of trade-offs, and candidates must tell us where they stand. If they want to eat tons of candy and skip the dentist, they don’t deserve to represent us.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Christie's War on the Environment Continues

Ever since he took office, Chris Christie has been an enemy of clean air and clean water. One of his first actions as Governor was to cancel the ARC Tunnel project. Not only was that project a job creator, but when completed, it also would have made train travel into New York City more attractive, taking cars off the road and reducing pollution-spewing traffic jams.

Then, in a paean to his Koch Brothers benefactors, he pulled out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, another program that would have resulted in cleaner air and would have helped to slow down anthropogenic climate change.

Now, his administration has blocked the direct sale of electric automobiles to drivers. Tesla, a premier innovator in practical electric vehicles, has a direct-to-customer business model which bypasses auto dealerships, which I predict will eventually go the way of rotary telephones and 8-track music players.

Besides obviously damaging our environment, these actions have another common thread – they were all done unilaterally without even consulting the supposedly co-equal branch of the state legislature.

Like the bridge scandal and the AshBritt scandal and the politicization of the Supreme Court, to name a few, Christie probably didn’t do anything illegal. But his actions were based on the best interests of his cronies, not the best interests of the people of New Jersey.

Without clean air to breathe and pure water to drink, all of the other problems facing us as a society pale in comparison. Instead of promoting for-profit schools and privatization of government services, we should be promoting electric charging stations, distributed power generation, renewable energy, and 21st century updates to our transmission systems. It is imperative that the environmental champions in our legislature speak out loudly and often to inform the public about Christie’s blunders, to educate and energize citizens to advocate for the environment, and to put the brakes on Christie’s harmful activities.