Petty Grudges Have Real-World Policy and Economic Consequences

Thanks to Chris Christie Trenton has enough recriminations already. We don’t need it in the Senate, too. 

(Collingswood, NJ) — Our leaders in the state house, Senator Steve Sweeney and Senator Tom Kean, Jr. both deserve a timeout.  Two timeouts actually: one for their ongoing (and increasingly ugly) personal spat, and another for letting this embarrassing contretemps go public in such an unseemly manner.

They were never exactly BFFs but recently it’s gotten downright hostile.  I first noticed last fall when minority leader Kean started (lightly) talking trash.  Something about taking over as Senate President.  Adding insult to injury, Kean’s strategy went beyond snatching Sweeney’s King-of-the-Senate crown.  He actually wanted to retire Sweeney altogether with an election day defeat (that never happened.)  What made Kean’s aggressive maneuver so, well, inexplicable was A) Kean’s a milquetoast guy who sounds awkward talking trash and B) not in a gazillion years was Sweeney — of massive war chest and gerrymandered district — gonna lose on election day.  

Initial impressions: Tom Kean Jr. colored outside the lines, basically “stepped it in” and surely learned his lesson.   This would all be settled on election day when Sweeney overwhelmingly won his seat and retained control of the Senate.   Right?!

But instead of an ending, election day actually marked an escalation of the Sweeney/Kean dual. 

Election day was nearly three months ago, and things have gone from bad to worse. 

Senator Kean’s ill-conceived attempt to dethrone the Senate President revealed (again) that Kean is, for all practical purposes, a political welterweight.  But this also exposed Senate President Sweeney’s tendency toward bitter recriminations which the ungracious tenor of Sweeney’s victory speech portended:

“He has to explain to his people (why) he spent $1 million against me. I’m glad he did,’’ Sweeney said. “He has to explain to his 16 (GOP senators) why he didn’t win. When you have a phenomenon like Chris Christie winning by a near record total?’ All I know is Tom Kean said he had five (seats that the GOP could win). There were a lot of ‘predictions’ about the Senate.  I’m pretty happy.”

While relatively mild, it’s extremely rare for an election day winner to taunt his/her vanquished opponent.  But here we have our Senate leader, clearly delighting in victory while plotting his next move.  And it didn’t take long for Senator Sweeney to (begin to) exact revenge on Kean, who’s still minority leader of the Senate’s GOP caucus. 

First the name-calling. Sweeney’s tendency to refer to Kean as “Junior” is designed to insult and emasculate.  As for calling someone a “trust fund baby” – even if it is true, well, thats just plain old obnoxious.  Especially for a man sitting multimillion dollar war chest full of other people’s money like Sweeney is
Name-calling was only the beginning.  PolitickerNJ:

Sweeney cut more than $140,000 from the (GOP) leadership funding account and took control over disbursing the funds….Sweeney drastically cut funding to lawmakers loyal to Kean and increased the 2014 amounts for senators who attempted to oust him.

Now if you’re born fabulously wealthy (Kean) or have multiple fabulously wealthy political sugar daddies (Sweeney) $140,000 ain’t much.  For the rest of us, it’s real money. Especially when the $140.000 is coming from OUR POCKETBOOKS.  Sadly, that money was earmarked for constituent services, so that real losers are the poor unassuming folks who happen to live in districts represented by on Sweeney’s ever-growing shitlist


The hissing match (includes) an incident when Sweeney was angry … that Kean used a maneuver on the Senate floor to prevent one of Sweeney’s gun control bills from coming up for a vote.  Sweeney in retaliation pulled GOP-backed bills from committee agendas for a time, including one that would have helped with oversight and cleanup of a controversial landfill in a Republican district. 

“It is yet another abuse of power,’’ Kean said.  “It is impacting their ability to serve constituents.  This has never been done before.” 
To review: our Democratic senate leader won’t clean up a controversial landfill and our GOP leader ostensibly filibusters gun safety legislation purely for spite and out of personal vengeance for one another.  Which kinda makes trash-talk, name-calling, and a $140,000 smackdowns seem quaint.  And as a bonus poke in the eye, Steve Sweeney is now threatening to ignore his Kean’s input on committee assignments, a move that’s practically unprecedented.  So there’s 1) the childish name calling that’s embarrassing to watch 2) hundreds of thousands of tax payer funds being used as Sweeney’s personal private candy store and 3) committee assignments animated by petty politics and recriminations. 
That last one would have actual, you know, policy implications for all of New Jersey.  The threat that “Sweeney and Kean’s rivalry could threaten Senate business” is real: 

Escalating this fight to (the committees) would damage the Senate… The real work in Trenton is done in these committees. Each party should be able to pick its own team, to place a senator with expertise on health care on the committee that makes health policy, for example. (Further, Sweeney) could punish senators who support Kean by blocking all their bills….No Senate president should have this power over the minority party. Either the rules need to change or Sweeney needs to show restraint.

Sadly there’s no end in site for the ever-growing spat between Steven Sweeney and Tom Kean Jr. Especially since Sweeney has no incentive to ratchet down the drama.  I mean, it’s not like Sweeney needs Kean for anything.  One of the less obsequious Democrats in Trenton described Kean’s irrelevance this way: “you don’t need the minority leader to get things done when you’ve got the Senate, the speaker (of the Assembly) and the front office.”
I’ll let that last quote linger….

Here’s the message Sweeney needs to hear and is clearly not getting:  You can only spike the football so many times before you look like a (redacted.)  You’ve won this round.  Move on.  Notwithstanding the negative real-word consequences of this hissy fit, watching you bludgeon Tom Kean is like watching a man kick a puppy.  So please stop with the drama and focus on making it easier for Democrats like me to vote for you in a state-wide primary election.  Finally, hire a woman or two because there’s a testosterone imbalance in your office. 

Here’s what Kean needs to hear:  Know your station. Don’t declare open-season on your colleagues unless you have the means to back it up.  Trenton needs independent-thinkers as badly as you need an image makeover.  Seize on Chris Christie’s current drama to rebrand yourself as an independent actor. 

Jay Lassiter cut his teeth in NJ politics working to legalize gay marriage and decriminalize cannabis.  He divides his time between kissing politicians’ butts and busting their balls.  Jay lives in Cherry Hill, NJ with his common-law-husand and their Libertarian-minded Cat, “Trouble.”

Petty Grudges Have Real-World Policy and Economic Consequences