The holy grail of any democracy is the ability of citizens to vote for the candidate of their choice. Some people vote on whether they agree or disagree with the candidate’s platform, but that’s not the only criterion for choosing one person over another.
People may vote for someone based on good looks, ethnicity, past movie star or athletic status, or even the spelling of his or her name. But one criterion that restricts a voter’s choice is the place where the candidate happens to live. That needs to be changed.
In this past election, citizens of the eighth legislative district were denied a choice in the state senatorial election when the Republicans successfully kicked long-time New Jersey resident Carl Lewis off the ballot because Mr. Lewis maintained residences in New Jersey and California. The courts ruled that since Mr. Lewis had voted in the Golden State, he was ineligible to hold office in the Garden State.
This decision denied the voters a choice. On the Democratic side was a man who was not only a multiple gold medalist but chaired a foundation to better the lives of children. On the GOP side was an incumbent senator who had been appointed to that post by the Republican establishment, not the voters. It would have been an interesting contest in this heavily GOP district, but the voters were not allowed to choose based on the residency laws.
Now, we’re seeing the residency battle again – this time in the fourth legislative district, where newcomer Gabriella Mosquera (along with her running mate Paul Moriarty) handily defeated Republican challengers. Mosquera’s election is being challenged by runner-up Shelley Lovett, who asserts that Mosquera did not meet the one-year residency requirement as stated in the New Jersey Constitution.
Let me say at the outset that I would not be upset if Lovett won this case in court. She is a moderate Republican and as far as I can tell, Mosquera would be a conservative Democrat. Not much difference there, and strengthening the moderate wing of the Tea Party-controlled GOP would be beneficial to the citizens of New Jersey.
But Mosquera won, and an unfavorable court decision might be necessary based on current law. The will of the voters would be ignored. This needs to be changed.
The United States Constitution requires that in order for a person to be elected to the Senate, he or she must simply be “an inhabitant” of the state to be represented on the day of election. We should amend the New Jersey Constitution to eliminate the one-year local residency requirement for legislators. If a qualified carpetbagger wants to represent me in Trenton, I should have the choice of taking his or her prior residency into account and voting accordingly.
There’s yet another residency battle brewing. Multimillionaire William Mennen is vying for the GOP seat vacated by the death of Assemblyman Pete Biondi. The election will be in November, 2012, and Mennen does not live in the district, so there’s no way he can meet the one-year requirement. But that hasn’t stopped him. He’s fighting in court to be on the Republican primary ballot against district resident William Spadea. Interestingly, Mennen is using the same constitutional arguments that ultimately failed for Carl Lewis. And while I feel that the voters of the 16th should decide, I’m glad to see Mennen spending his fortune on this fight. After all, there are some really awesome Democrats in the 16th, and I expect one of them to win the seat in November. Let the voters decide!