As we all know our gerrymandering and redistricting process inhibits competition and rewards the status quo. Incumbents have a huge advantage. Only in two of twelve NJ districts are there serious challengers: CD 3 with Shelley Adler (D) vying for Jon Runyan’s (R) seat and in CD 7 with Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D) vying for Leonard Lance’s (R) seat. Most districts are protected as either specifically Republican or Democratic turf. This year in the two districts where there is no incumbent the turf is already strongly Democratic: CD 9 where Bill Pascrell (D) (incumbent in the old CD 8) is favored over Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (R) and CD 10 where Freeholder/Councilman Donald Payne, Jr. (D) is favored over Bayonne resident Brian Kelemen (R).
The problem can best be illustrated by the finances of individual campaigns. After the primaries and as of June 30, eight Republican and Democratic candidates reported to the Federal Elections Committee (FEC) cash on hand of less than $25,000 – a bare minimum with which to launch a congressional campaign. None are incumbents and all face a steep climb:
Candidate Cash on hand
CD 1 Gregory Horton (R) $1,173
CD 2 Cassandra Shober (D) $8,827
CD 4 Brian Froelich (D) $11,213
CD 5 Adam Gussen (D) $0
CD 6 Anna Little (R) $-11,321
CD 8 Mark Karczewski (R) $0
CD 10 Brian Kelemen (R) $0
CD 11 John Arvanites (D) $14,858
We cannot take any race for granted. As Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” Sheldon Adelson and his wife, for example, recently contributed $500,000 to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (R) in CD 9. Surprises do occur, and actions of candidates and their supporters make a difference. However, given our system, the above eight candidates have little money and few chances. The reasons are many and ugly, but it’s too bad and not the way our democracy should work.
There are organizations working to change this failing system which follows federal regulations but varies state by state in implementation. Common Cause believes redistricting should level the political playing field, not tilt it toward any party or office holder. For more information see H.R. 590: Redistricting Reform Act of 2011 and Ideas for Changes in New Jersey. Unfortunately for now, as the infamous Donald Rumsfeld might have said, “You go to the ballot box with the system you have, not the system you might want or wish to have at a later time.” So it’s up to us to make the best of it and make a difference.