The history of the 5th Congressional District might lead one to think that a Democratic win there was a pipe dream. Since 1895 there have been only two Representatives who were Democrats. The most recent was Percy Stewart (1931-1933). Incumbent Republican Scott Garrett is now about to begin his tenth year. After 12 years in the General Assembly Garrett won the seat in 2002 by 59% against Democrat Anne Sumers 38%. Garrett’s substantial wins every succeeding two years with relatively little effort on his part suggest he is an invincible opponent. The history preceding Garrett, his extreme positions, votes in the House of Representatives, and the infusion of Democrats into the reconfigured 5th all indicate otherwise.
His first win in 2002 was only after two failed efforts in 1998 and 2000 against moderate Republican Congresswoman Marge Roukema, who had served for 20 years and declined to run in 2002. Roukema was preceded by the colorful Millicent Fenwick who had served for 8 years and was regarded as a moderate and progressive within her party and outspoken in favor of civil rights and the women’s movement. In effect for the preceding 28 years the district had a moderate orientation and a woman as its legislator. Then along came Garrett who voted against renewing the Voting Rights Act, expressed no interest in the women’s movement and took the district into a sharp right downward turn.
Now we have the possibility of again electing a woman in the 5th CD (in a congressional contingent which has no women) and of charting a new course for the district. With an effective Democrat candidate, Garrett can be exposed and unmasked. His wins may seem impressive but his positions are too far out of the mainstream. Since his election to Congress he has voted with the National Right to Life Committee 100% of the time on abortion legislation. He was the only member of the NJ delegation to vote against oil and gas drilling off the shore of New Jersey, restrictions on “price gouging” by oil companies, child safety locks on handguns, and emergency funding for Hurricane Katrina victims. He was one of only 33 Representatives to oppose renewing the Voting Rights Act in 2006. He urged NJ school boards to teach “intelligent design.” He voted against stem cell research. He opposed expenditure of $85.6 billion for science and research programs, granting children of illegal immigrants amnesty, and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
Although his social positions are much further to the right of his predecessors and what his constituents supported in the past, he is most vulnerable with his financial and budgetary positions which display no concern for the hard-pressed members of CD5 in the midst of tough economic times. He has voted recently against disaster relief and summer jobs, extension of federal unemployment benefits, flood insurance programs, rebates to families for energy-efficient home renovations, health and compensation fund for 9/11 first responders and funding for the Transportation-Housing and Urban Development Appropriations. In the current 112th Congress he has also voted against extension of the payroll tax holiday, incentives for the creation of jobs, and appropriations for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The fact that his positions are so far out of the mainstream and subject to attack from a strong competitor is only confirmed by his rankings from other organizations. On a scale of 0 to 100 the American Conservative Union has granted him a lifetime rating of 100. The Americans for Democratic Action in 2010 granted him a 5. The National Right to Life over the past years has rated him at 91 to 100 and Planned Parenthood consistently at 0. On budget, spending and taxes most conservative groups rate him over 90 whereas Citizens for Tax Justice which fights for middle and low-income families, requiring the wealthy to pay their fair share, closing corporate tax loopholes and adequately funding important government services rate him at 0. From Civil Liberties and Civil Rights groups his ratings are overwhelmingly under 10, and the NEA gives him a failing grade of F. For his ultraconservative rankings in these and other areas see here.
With an infusion of Democrats into the new 5th District the time is now. For too long Representative Garrett has represented his own hard line conservative principles rather than those that are in the best interest of his constituents. He is vulnerable and he must go!