by MAX PIZARRO
TRENTON – By 3-2 vote along party lines, the Clean Elections Commission on Monday decided to designate district 14 to possibly receive public financing for the fall State Senate and Assembly campaigns.
The district is one of three the state will monitor as it determines the path forward for clean elections, which, qualify candidates who collect 400 contributions of $10 each to receive public financing.
Before Monday, the Legislature had already selected one Republican and one Democratic district to participate in clean elections this year: the 24th and the 37th respectively. But lawmakers couldn’t come to a decision regarding which of the state's six out of 40 "competitive" districts would be the best representative for a clean elections program.
The impasse forced the special Clean Elections Commission to convene in the State House Annex Monday.
In the end, the commission's decision was “as expected," in the words of Republican Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck, who's making a run for the upper house this year.
Facing a tough, well-financed Democratic incumbent senator in district 12, Beck had tried to get the commission to make her district the pilot competitive district, but lost to the bill's bi-partisan co-sponsors, Assemblyman Bill Baroni and Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein, who represent district 14.
Beck had two Republican votes on the commission, but the three Democrats — former Gov. Jim Florio, AFL-CIO rep Steve Lenox and former Democratic State Chairman Tom Byrne — and argued that because there is no incumbent in the district 14 senate race, the district provides a better testing opportunity.
Former State Sen. William Schluter, a Republican, descried the commission at its core.
“One of the criticisms of this bill is that it would have a partisan body formed to make this decision — and you’re looking at it,” Schluter said.
He explained why he believed Beck’s side offered the better argument.
“The number one target in the state is the 12th district,” said Schluter. “It is a key battleground. If district 14 is chosen, there will be tons of money poured into district 12 for the Democratic candidates.”
He said the majority party has 3.4 times the resources as the Republican Party and argued funds from other districts will be “wheeled” in to district 12 in favor of State Sen. Ellen Karcher and her slate of Democratic running mates over Beck and her team.
He said neither Baroni nor Greenstein faces a hard fight in each of their respective contests: Baroni for State Senate and Greenstein for Assembly.
Greenstein argued that clean elections would favor women candidates. Twenty-three of the 120 seats are occupied by women, Greenstein pointed out, making New Jersey 35th out of 50 states in the percentage of women in the State Legislature. Baroni emphasized that the 14th is a diverse district.
Other elected officials speaking on behalf of the 14th district were Hamilton Mayor Glen Gilmore, and Assemblyman Louis Greenwald, who co-sponsored the legislation with Baroni and Greenstein.
Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club said district 14 is a better place for the clean elections pilot program.
“The 12th is much more sprawling, and it's harder to get that synergy of volunteers,” said Tittel.
Former Assemblywoman Carol Murphy voted with Schutler in supporting the 12th.