NJ Politics. What a Week!

Sometimes New Jersey politics is so larded with drama that we need to break it down into three or four vignettes. This is one of those times.

Congressman Norcross (CD1).
Congressman Norcross (CD1).
Sometimes New Jersey politics is so larded with drama that we need to break it down into three or four vignettes. This is one of those times.

When I learned that Congressman Donald Norcross’s handlers agreed to let him on a debate stage I couldn’t believe my eyes/ears! But fair play to him, Congressman Norcross finally accepted the debate challenge from his election-day rival, upstart progressive Alex Law. Generally well-funded incumbents like Norcross fancy themselves unassailable and don’t deign to debate, preferring instead to flood our mailboxes, airwaves, and phone lines with their one-sides message. I wrongly assumed Norcross would fall into that mold and forgo debating Alex Law altogether.

So what’s the deal? Does Norcross actually think he’ll lose the primary? Doubtful. Is this debate a nod to (small-d) democracy? More doubtful given his crew’s Machine-oriented sensibilities (i.e.: scheduling a debate in the waning hours of the campaign, long after vote-by-mail deadlines have passed.) What does Norcross possibly stand to gain by debating a 25-year-old anti-machine liberal who never ran for office? I suppose there’s the possibility that Norcross might clean Law’s clock. Butt that’s a stretch for an incumbent who’ll be keen to ride out the debate clock with minimal turbulence.
“I think (debate night) is going to be one of the strongest days of the entire campaign for us,” Law told PolitickerNJ. “As someone who has heard Donald Norcross address a room, I don’t think the question is whether we expect to win this debate. The question really is how dramatically will we win. When Mr. Norcross and I are put on stage next to each other the results will not be all that close.”
Snap! (But can we get some substance to go with that shade?)
“Mr. Norcross will need to counter our superior policy positions and grassroots organization while trying to defend his own record of voting with Republicans (Keystone XL, Cuba, Iran, consumer protections), taking tremendous amounts of special interest dollars, and perpetuating a horrific system of pay-to-play. No matter how much money you spend to convince the public that a bag of coal is really diamonds, at the end of the day, no one is going to be fooled.”
That’s some pretty audacious talk from a man who’s barely old enough to run for Congress. But that’s bravado you need just to get on the ballot opposite Donald Norcross and the (mostly) impregnable south Jersey democratic establishment. Democrats like Norcorss prefer their primaries as tidy as possible. And they usually don’t like debates. That’s what makes the upcoming Norcross/Law showdown such a mouth-watering proposition. “My team and I are looking forward to it,” Law added.
And so are political junkies.
So Long, Pete Barnes!
As the race to fill the vacancy created with Senator Pete Barnes’ ascension to Superior Court heats up, let’s spare a thought for the outgoing Senator who was one of the nicest guys in Trenton.
In Feb 2012, then-Assemblyman Barnes assumed the chairmanship of the Assembly Judiciary Committee. His very first hearing on his first day in charge? A controversial bill to legalize gay marriage in NJ. An armada of Catholic bishops descended on Trenton to convince the new chairman, a practicing Catholic, to kill the gay marriage bill in committee. To contravene the church’s retrograde message, Garden State Equality organized every gay Catholic they could find – self included – to lobby for equality.  Both sides were really ginned up; gays were feeling the confidence that comes with momentum and the Catholics came knowing their grip on cultural issues was waning.
“I’m praying for you all!” shouted one especially pious soul to the gays from the witness stand.
“And I’ll be thinking for you!” a gay activist shot back.
The nervous tension bubbled just beneath the surface seemingly ready to flare at moment. Meanwhile here was this rookie chairman at the helm of a very long, contentious committee hearing. Barnes had his hands full just keeping things from descending into chaos. Instead, Chairman Barnes delivered a master class in committee chairmanship; no ejections, everyone go their turn,  no one left unheard, as the bill was finally released for a full Assembly vote
“It was a very emotional day for people on both sides of the issue,” equality activist Kim Otto told PolitickerNJ. “And the grace, dignity, and fairness with which the new Chairman ran that committee hearing was a civics lesson to be proud of. I recall feeling profound respect for Barnes, partially based upon our mutual Catholic faith, which commands us toward social justice and respect for the intrinsic dignity of all people, while recognizing that marriage and family strengthen community.”
We didn’t realize it fully at the time, but this was about when the marriage debate turned decisively in favor of equality. Hopefully when Peter Barnes looks back on his first day as chairman he appreciates the historic roll his committee played in the long march towards equal marriage.
Sweeney’s 7 Shades of White
“Going forward in the future, when there is another opening we should really have to focus that we have African-American representation on the bench so the court itself is reflective of the people of this state,” said NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney after Walter Timpone was confirmed to fill a long-running NJ Supreme Court vacancy.
Sweeney seems to have forgotten the time he kiboshed Bruce Harris’ nomination and “Democratic state senators in New Jersey denied the nation’s first gay, black, Republican mayor a chance to sit on the state’s highest court, questioning his qualifications and ability to remain independent.”
The decision to maintain the court’s monochromatic composition falls squarely on Steve Sweeney who didn’t bother looping any of his non-white colleagues into the winnowing process.  NJTV: “The lone African-American on the state Senate Judiciary Committee said the nomination of Walter Timpone to the Supreme Court was Steve Sweeney’s choice.  ‘Without consultation with any of the African-Americans in the caucus and certainly without my consultation,’ said Sen. Nia Gill.”
Steve Sweeney wants to be New Jersey’s next governor. But his repeated failure to navigate the identity politics of his own party will severely hamper those efforts.
The last time Chris Christie stood on stage behind Donald Trump, Christie’s pain and humiliation were on display for the entire world to see.  Apparently Christie didn’t get the memo to STOP STANDING BEHIND TRUMP! Christie’s wife Mary Pat, herself no shrinking violent, joined her husband at Trump’s latest victory rally, dutifully taking their places alongside The Donald’s other minions. Given the governor’s fealty to Trump (and those ghastly viral images from last time) it’s no surprise that whenever Trump & Christie take the stage together, we’re paying extra close attention.
Trumps’s recent remarks following his win in New York were resplendent with the usual mean-spirited bluster. At one point, as Trump described what women voters really want, Mary Pat Christie may (or may not) have shot The Donald some serious side-eye. Some even called it an eye roll. There were memes, there were Vines, and even an iteration in super-slowmo. Now as much as I love the idea of my first lady trowing shade at the buffoon who wants to lead the GOP, i didn’t see an eye roll or even a mild case of side-eye at all.
What I did see was the most awkward NJ first lady visage since Dina McGreevy’s husband told the world he’s gay! I also saw an opportunistic lame duck Governor who’s equally comfortable playing footsies with men like Donald Trump and Steve Sweeney. So is it any wonder that Christie’s numbers are cratering?
Jay Lassiter started covering New Jersey politics in 2005 as a blogger for BlueJersey.com. After a stint as America’s first State House blogger, Jay did communication for Congressman Rob Andrews and Congressman John Adler. Jay’s best known for his work legalizing medical marijuana and gay marriage and for working to end N.J.’s death penalty. He’s on Twitter @Jay_Lass.
NJ Politics. What a Week!