Barbara Buono’s Speech Tonight at Democratic State Conference

Barbara Buono is keynote speaker at tonight’s dinner at the NJDSC 2013 state conference in Atlantic City. Here are her remarks as prepared for delivery:

It is good to be among Democratic friends and colleagues. Together, we have worked tirelessly to make New Jersey – my lifelong home – a place where everyone has the opportunity to succeed.

And we cannot stop now.

The people of New Jersey need us – Democrats – the Party of a fair shot for every man and woman and child in this state – now more than ever.

At this moment, there is too much at stake to allow those indifferent to the plight of middle and working class New Jerseyans to determine our fate.

Democrats, we’re at a watershed moment in New Jersey.

If we stand on those principles upon which this party was founded, we will move forward. But we have to remember those principles. We have to remember why we became Democrats in the first place. We have to remember who we are.

We are the party of the New Deal and the New Frontier, the party of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

We are the party of FDR and JFK, the big dreamers who weren’t afraid to shoot for the moon but never  forgot  those who struggle just to see the sun.

Fueled by compassion and emboldened by justice, we are the party that stands up for the working people who make our country strong.

That’s who we are. And now is not the time to forget it.

Today in New Jersey a radical agenda  – fueled by conservative ideology and funded by corporate interests – has those values – our values – under assault. And Governor Christie and Republicans in the Legislature are on the front lines.

While he should be thinking about what’s in our best interest here in New Jersey,  behind each and every decision Chris Christie makes is the goal of pandering to right-wing conservatives or fulfilling his own national ambitions.

How else can you explain that in New Jersey – a blue state, a progressive state, a state that hasn’t sent a Republican to the U.S. Senate in four decades – teachers, police officers and firefighters – our heroes -are vilified?

There’s no other way to explain how working folks fighting for fair representation at the bargaining table are portrayed as a drain on our system, how seniors are pitted against public workers and millionaires are put before the middle class.

Our working people, our children and our seniors – my parents always taught me to stand up and fight for them.

They’re the reason I got involved in politics in the first place.

They’re the reason I embraced the Democratic Party years ago.

But for Chris Christie, they are mere stepping stones on the road to Washington.

And, sadly, Republicans in the Legislature walk lock-step in his shadow.

Look at where that’s gotten us over the last 3 and a half years –

We have a struggling economy – more than 400,000 people out of work, an unemployment rate among the highest in the nation.

Crippling property taxes – taxes 20 percent higher than they were at the start of this Administration – hurt our homeowners and crushing loan debt devastates our young people.

The Earned Income Tax Credit – the  lifeline for the working poor  trumpeted by the likes of Ronald Reagan – has been cut.

Funding for women’s health centers? Totally eliminated.

Property tax rebates? Slashed.

Teachers and our public education system? Belittled.

And now a major push is underway to privatize public schools.

Women, families, seniors, the environment, healthcare… they’ve all become casualties in Chris Christie’s New Jersey.

I’ve lived here my whole life. And Chris Christie’s New Jersey – that’s not the real New Jersey. That’s not who we are.

But this system of shortchanging those with the least to fill the pockets of those with the most, it’s led some folks to forget.

I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with constituents, with friends, with family convinced that the middle class is dead.

Let me tell you something – as long as this party exists, the middle class is not dead.

We are the torch bearers of the middle class.

And we won’t let that flame die.

But this is the time for us to unite around our core values and ensure that our middle class does more than survive. Together, we must make sure our middle class thrives once again.

I know we can’t do this on platitudes alone.

No, it will take a long-term, strategic investment in our state – building new industries, opening up educational opportunities to everyone, rewarding a hard day’s work with equal pay and addressing the inequities in our tax system.

It won’t be easy, but  we can do it. We must do it.

Because we ARE the Democratic Party.

Now, I know there are divisions among us. I welcome and encourage the disagreements and spirited debates, inevitable within a party with such a wide array of beliefs. That diversity is the bedrock of democracy.

But for the sake of the people of  New Jersey we cannot allow our differences to define the Democratic Party.

The stakes are far too high.

Though we may not agree on all issues, we cannot forget why we are Democrats.

It is because we believe that the father who takes three buses to get to his two jobs so that he can put a roof over his family’s head deserves a living wage that increases with the cost of living.

It is because we believe that the single mother struggling to make it in the boardroom by day and the classroom at night deserves more than 78 cents for every dollar her male counterparts bring home.

It is because we know kids in Newark and Camden have the same potential as kids in Millburn and Mendham – and it’s our duty to create the schools and communities that allow them to achieve goals beyond their wildest imagination.

It is because we know that – in some way or other – we’re here because someone, at some time, believed it was important to stand up for us.

My fellow Democrats, for me, those aren’t just words. That’s my life.

See, my paternal grandparents – a man and woman who came to America from Italy speaking no English – settled in New Jersey for opportunity. My father, a high school dropout, was a Coast Guard veteran who worked every day as a union butcher until he died when I was a teenager.

It wasn’t easy after I lost my dad.

But we had Social Security death benefits and Veterans benefits to help support our family. I had grants and loans – loans at zero percent interest – to get me through Montclair State – where, back then, tuition was affordable. When I lost everything in an apartment fire as a young adult, I had food stamps to help me get back up on my feet. I know what it’s like to make a call to the welfare office.

I know that – contrary to what some may believe – a strong social safety net doesn’t drag us down – it lifts us up. It lifted me up.

And we’re here – as Democrats – because that’s what we believe – that regardless of what they earn or where they live or who they love, the people of this state need a New Jersey where equality and opportunity exist for every resident. All they need is a hand up when they fall down. All the people of this state need is a chance.

And as your Governor, knowing that New Jersey was there for me, knowing that this state made me who I am, my first priority will be making sure everybody gets one.

But I know I can’t do it alone.

We can’t just hope for a New Jersey of opportunity. We can’t just wish for a New Jersey where our public schools and public servants, our students and our middle class and working people across our state are a priority, where the public’s wellbeing is more important than corporate welfare.

We can’t just wait for it.

We have to work for it.

Our grassroots movement is strong and the new generation is crying out for a bold, united voice to put us back on a forward-looking path.

And we can do this come November.

But I’m going to need you all to talk to the folks back home.

Tell them that starting this November, we will no longer allow Chris Christie to put his ambitions before the people of New Jersey.

Tell them that the time of choosing shouting and showmanship over substance is over.

Tell them that the age of mistaking name-calling for consensus building is over.

And together, let’s put New Jersey on the road to the land of hope and opportunity and equality we all remember.  

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