Dem legislators who walked on civil unions could face primary challenges

Watch for the progressive wing of the New Jersey Democratic Party to mull primary challenges to Democratic legislators who declined to vote in favor of legislation to legalize Civil Unions. But primary challenges to this group of Democratic legislators would be especially difficult, since all come from counties with exceptionally powerful party organizations. At the top of the list of potential targets is the Rev. Alfred Steele, the Assembly State Government Committee Chairman who is seeking a seventh term in the solidly-Democratic 35th district next year. Steele abstained on the Civil Union vote, and the conservative New Jersey Family Policy Council said that Steele will sponsor the “Equal Benefits Act” — legislation that would offer civil benefits to same-sex couples but also define marriage as being between a man and a woman. (Steele has not confirmed or denied his agreement to sponsor this bill.) Also on the possible target list is Assemblyman Joseph Egan, the Assembly Labor Committee Chairman. Egan’s political base, New Brunswick (where he has been a City Councilman since 1981), has a large gay population, and Democratic primary voters in Highland Park are considered fairly liberal. Nilsa Cruz-Perez, a Camden County Democrat, and Gary Schaer, a freshman Democrat who represents parts of Bergen, Essex and Passaic counties, where the other two Democrats to abstain on Civil Unions. Democratic State Senators Wayne Bryant, Joseph Doria and Ronald Rice also abstained on the vote. There is a strong chance that all three could lose Democratic Party support for re-election next year, but not because of Civil Unions. Bryant is reportedly under investigation by federal prosecutors, Doria has local political problems in Hudson County, and Rice is expected to be replaced at the request of Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who won 75% of the vote against Rice in the May 2006 mayoral election. Juan Melli, who runs the progressive BlueJersey.com website, agrees that Democratic legislators who failed to support Civil Unions, could face some political problems in next year’s mid-term elections. “Legislators who think it is their job to oppose equal rights for all Americans are not doing their job, and these types of politicians — regardless of their party — get primaried by people who will,” said Melli.

Dem legislators who walked on civil unions could face primary challenges