Who’s UP, Who’s DOWN in NJ Politics, post-Election Edition

Wisniewski

Wisniewski

Have you recovered from your mid-term hangover, yet? Me neither. So how about a little hair of the dog then, while we recap an off-beat list of who’s up (and who’s NOT!) after an election marked by low turnout, SuperPAC money, and gerrymandering.

Assemblyman John “Wiz” Wisniewski. The Democratic assemblyman from Sayreville scored a routine win on Tuesday. But Wisniewski tops this list for his apparent mastery of New Jersey’s most recent (2011) redistricting efforts which began to bear fruit this week. First a primer: every ten years, new legislative maps are drawn to reflect changing demographics, presumably to ensure equal representation in Trenton. But redistricting (aka gerrymandering) remains the most partisan of any political exercise with both parties clamoring to redraw the map in their favor. This week’s results affirm that the democrats, led by John Wisniewski, decisively won New Jersey’s last redistricting battle.  When the map went public, Wisniewski said keep an eye on LD11 and 16 for democrats to be more competitive in coming years. Maybe not in 2013 he cautioned, but by 2015 for sure. Wiz’ prophecy rang true on election day as democrats snatched 3 of 4 seats from GOP incumbents in LD 11 and 16. We’ll have to wait until 2017 (when both Senate seats are up for grabs) to see if Dems can sweep the remaining spots. As for all this gerrymandering, I’m a lefty so I’m glad the Democrats won this decade’s map war. But there’s gotta be a better way to draw a fair legislative map than what we’re doing.

 Women in the State House. It was a mixed bag for the ladies who’ll swear in 5 newbie Assembly members in January: Pat Egan Jones (D-Camden), Joann Downey (D-Monmouth), Angela McKnight (D-Hudson), Annette Chaparro (D-Hudosn), and Gail Phoebus (R-Sussex.) To anyone who values fairness (or just woman’s perspective), the addition of five women to the General Assembly sounds like good news. But those gains are offset by the loss of four female members, all Republicans, who either chose not to run (Alison McHose) or whose reelections came up short (Mary Pat Angelini, Caroline Casagrande, and Donna Simon.) A dozen years ago, women comprised roughly a quarter of the Assembly. Today that number’s closer to one-third, (presently registering 32%.) At this rate, we’ll have gender parity in Trenton by 2040! Every election is an opportunity for the legislature to better reflect the people it serves. And if you’re the type who thinks our General Assembly should actually looks like the state of New Jersey, this week’s results were a bit of a disappointment.

Burlington County Democrats. You’d be hard pressed to find a county-wide organization with more (high) highs and even more (low) lows than the Burlington County Democrats. If it’s a presidential year, they’ll sweep. Every other year, they’re typically shut out. One year it’s a feast followed by three long years of famine. That predicable lack of continuity makes is impossible to either 1) consolidate on a good year or 2) properly regroup in the leaner times. With Assembly races toping the ticket, the BurlCo Democrats were (again) shut out with the GOP now holding all county-wide positions (plus all four state senate seats.) Registered dems outnumber GOP voters by nearly 30k, so the party’s off-year fealty is hard to accept, unless of course, you’re a republican. Chairman Joe Andl took over the Burlington County Democratic Committee in 2009 and his most notable accomplishment in those six years is leaving the BurlCo Dems $90,000 in the hole (per most recent  NJ-Elec filing.) With mounting debt and no prospects to speak of, it’s time for Chairman Andl to step aside and let someone take over the county party in time to properly sweep out the barn for the new year. With another Presidential election brewing, 2016 could be a banner year for the BurlCo Democrats. But than again, every year should be a good year for the BurlCo Dems.
George Norcross’ SuperPAC. The Norcross-aligned General Majority PAC spent $3m in LD2, another $500k in the aforementioned LD11, and (a boatload) in LD1. The largess helped Democrats poach (at least) 3 Assembly seats from the GOP. Perhaps this year’s big-dollar, shock-and-awe campaign was merely dress-rehearsal for 2017 when the full Senate and Assembly are on the ballot (and, incidentally, we’ll elect a new Governor.) Because with all that unregulated money now sloshing around New Jersey politics, it’s gonna be a shocking and awesome race to replace Chris Christie in 2017. I’ll echo an earlier sentiment (about redistricting)  and admit that as a lefty, I’m glad the Democrats won this year’s SuperPAC war. But surely there’s a better, fairer way to fund an election than this?
Democracy in New Jersey. Record low turnouts, districts custom-gerrymandered to fit the legislators, and more unregulated money that most of us could even fathom. Am I forgetting something?
Chris Christie. While the NJGOP was taking their election day drubbing, Chris Christie showed off his political genius by releasing the best viral video his team has churned out possibly ever. The clip about drug addiction showcased Christie’s rhetorical knack for connecting with two distinct audiences at once. While beguiling liberals and independents with his compassionate tone, conservatives were not-so-subtly reminded of Christie’s anti-choice bona fides. “If you’re pro-life, that means you’ve gotta be pro-life for the whole life, not just the nine months they’re in the womb,” Christie said in the video. It almost sounds refreshing until you notice the chasm between words and actual deeds. The primary pillar of Gov Christie’s addiction platform is drug courts. Per Wikipedia, drug courts are “a specialized model in which the judiciary, prosecution, defense bar, probation, law enforcement, mental health, social service, and treatment communities work together to help non-violent offenders find restoration in recovery and become productive citizens.” Sounds great? Unfortunately Chris Christie hasn’t properly funded the drug courts he’s shilling on the campaign trail! Look, I’m glad Chris Christie sees political values on focusing on America’s addiction to prescription drugs and heroin. So then why’s it so hard to get into rehab in NJ? Why won’t Chris Christie instruct his Health Commissioner to issue a standing order for Naloxone, a prescription that reverses an overdose? Why won’t NJ fund a needle exchange program to curb HIV and hepatitis rates among IV drug users? Chris Christie won’t touch that stuff because none of that is YouTube-worthy. If anything Christie’s recent viral video reminds us what we already know here in NJ: the Governor is talented as click-bait, there’s not much under the hood.
Jay Lassiter is Trenton’s original state house blogger. A liberal gadfly with a track record of success, Jay hopes to legalize marijuana in NJ in 2016. Follow him on twitter @Jay_Lass
Who’s UP, Who’s DOWN in NJ Politics, post-Election Edition