While the media frenzy for the 2016 presidential election is already in full swing, there’s an election this year that arguably has more impact on New Jersey citizens. For the first time since 1999, the statewide races for the General Assembly are at the top of the ballot.
Most pundits predict little or no change in the balance of power in that chamber. The districts are gerrymandered to protect incumbents who already have a leg up on any opposition. Democrats are sure to retain control of the Assembly, aren’t they?
Complacency can be a dangerous thing. Without a governor, U.S. senator, or state senator at the top of the ticket, voter turnout – already pitiful – will be very light. If a challenger runs a credible campaign and garners enough independent and crossover votes, upsets are conceivable. Maybe not enough to change the majority, but there are a number of Democratic assembly members who may be prone to fall under the influence of anti-progressive lobbyists and power brokers that would allow Governor Christie to forward his anti-union, anti-woman agenda. It’s happened before and if the Republicans can flip a few seats, it would be that much easier for the governor (not to mention giving him bragging rights, whether or not they are earned.)
Another factor that is important in this year’s contests is that it is the penultimate election of our legislators who will have influence over the next decennial redistricting exercise – a dynamic that will set the tone for New Jersey politics for the 2020s. When it comes to electoral politics, right-wing Republicans think long-term. Democrats hardly ever do.
In addition to the General Assembly, there are several races for county freeholder in this “off-year.” Don’t think the right wing hasn’t noticed. In the last two cycles here in Burlington County, people like Karl Rove, Sheldon Adelson, and the Koch Brothers have poured in large amounts of money to influence these elections. Maybe they are trying to build a farm team to run for higher office, or maybe they’re just pushing their dirty energy agenda down to the local level. But a low turnout combined with a barrage of negative ads help their candidates.
It’s also possible that there will be several ballot issues this November. Do we want those decided by our Tea Party neighbors in a close election? Just another reason to get out the progressive vote.
So wear your Hillary button or put a Bernie bumper sticker on your car. But don’t ignore this year’s Republican threat that may become reality due to a complacent electorate. Democrats are not perfect and their actions piss me off more often than I’d like. But there are good ones out there too. They need to be re-elected. And the not so good ones need to stay too, if only to prevent a GOP takeover of the Assembly.