How the Jersey Dems’ Parochialism Hurts the Party

New Jersey’s gubernatorial race could have been an “inspirational beacon to the rest of the country and a much-needed playbook on how to move from Trump protest to electoral victory.” It won’t be. Phil Murphy’s inside baseball path to victory is one reason. But there’s more wrong with the NJ Democrats than just that. Cross-posted from the Local Knowledge Blog which you can find on Facebook as well. – Promoted by Rosi

Monday, New Jersey Gubernatorial candidate (and former ambassador) Phil Murphy endorsed NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney. For those whose eyes haven’t turned towards the gubernatorial election yet (and that’s most of NJ voters, with 57% of voters still undecided), this likely was not even a blip on the radar. For those who have watched Sweeney cut poor deal after poor deal with Gov. Christie, publicly feud with unions (including his comical accusation that unions choosing not to donate to his campaign was blackmail), and refuse to post an evidence-based bill to keep standardized testing from being used as a graduation requirement, the Senate President has come to represent a Democratic Party that is more interested in using a state-wide democratic majority to consolidate institutional power, than one seeking to push its ideals. Senator Sweeney already represents that. Ambassador Murphy’s endorsement represents the same thing. And that, is how a Democratic Party more interested in protecting its own power cuts its own candidates off at the knees.

Quite simply, that parochialism hurts the party. I understand it. From the institutional standpoint, I understand why County Democratic Committees hoard power. I understand why the national Democratic Party rallies around Tom Perez rather than Keith Ellison. And I understand why Ambassador Murphy has to endorse Senate President Sweeney. Institutions protect their interests and their members — the fact that Hillary Clinton spent a career building up the Democratic Party, donating to politicians and attending fundraisers across the country, and building infrastructure in the party counts for more within the party than Bernie Sanders who has, as often as not, criticized the party and chosen to stand outside of it. A party picks its own.

But the parochial nature of New Jersey Democrats also hurts its long-term interests and candidates. We stand at a particular moment in history, one in which everyday people are becoming engaged in politics because of national threats to things we believe in. Every meeting I go to in South Jersey is bursting at the seams with people looking for a way to get involved, to contribute, to fight.

We can imagine a world in which this is embraced. In which that energy is funneled into an open and public campaign for governor in which New Jersey becomes a beacon for the rest of the country looking for hope and energy in its resistance to abhorrent national politics.

That is not the governor’s race we’ve gotten. Now, I understand. Murphy had to play politics as it is, not as it should be. But that means we get a candidate preordained by 1) using insider baseball to ensure other candidates are not running and 2) getting “the line” through closed county committee meetings to ensure the all-important spot on the ballot and 3) making nice with the state democratic party such as Sen. Sweeney, even if it means embracing the very party infrastructure that has so often decided that energy on the left is cover to maintain power, rather than an engine for change. I could swallow this pragmatism from Hillary Clinton when we were looking at a 50-50% chance of ending up with President Donald Trump. It’s harder to embrace when it happens in a blue state, and feels like the moment is being used to retrench the party as an institution while using energy on the left as insurance.

For those who are showing up to public meetings, town halls, groups such as SURJ, Indivisible [corrected – ed.], or Our Revolution, this is the introduction to New Jersey Democrats; a gubernatorial election that depends more on party-jockeying than on its members.

Over the long term, that pushes not just progressives out of the local party, but it pushes regular citizens, people who don’t want to feel like they have to take a shower each time they meet with a Democratic operative. Worst still, it does long-term damage to Democratic candidates who have the potential to be beacons of light, not the latest person chosen by a smarmy committee.

This is not the best candidate Ambassador Murphy could be. Murphy made a prudent bet that playing insider baseball is his strongest path to being governor. And that has value, as we’ve seen over the past two terms when Gov. Christie has undermined the states’ infrastructure, finances, and urban communities. It has value over a Sen. Sweeney administration. But the caricature of Murphy — that he’s another Democrat who cared more about winning “the line” than winning hearts and minds and that he’s embracing the “progressive” label for electoral reasons while winking at establishment Democrats who are have spent years undermining progressive values — that caricature will stick. And it ultimately will limit the ability of the Democratic Party to harness the energy we see from political newcomers across the state.

The New Jersey Democratic Party, with its archaic primary process, has made it impossible for Murphy to be the change candidate and the progressive candidate. Instead, he has had to play the game as it is constructed, and become the establishment candidate and the pragmatic candidate.

That will be an improvement over what we’ve had. But this cycle, New Jersey Democrats had a chance to be more. At a time when there are few gubernatorial races and interest in politics is at an all-time high, New Jersey’s gubernatorial race could have been an inspirational beacon to the rest of the country and a much-needed playbook on how to move from Trump protest to electoral victory. Instead, it will be a national introduction to our parochial, backroom politics, and to how establishment Democrats will use Trump to consolidate institutional power rather than embrace progressive energy and turn it into an uplifting movement. That’s in no one’s long-term interest. Certainly not the Democratic Party’s.

Comments (3)

  1. Al g

    Great article and spot on. Unfortunately.

  2. FJL

    You need look no further than the ill treatment of CD2, CD3, and CD4 by the State and National organizations, to see exactly what’s wrong. Marching orders coming from certain unelected leaders in order to surrender seats and even whole districts to the R, to maintain the crooked detente, is becoming so obvious that even apolitical folks are starting to notice. It costs this party dearly in credibility when the leadership answers to the unelected bosses rather than the will of We, the People.

    Surrender politics is the watchword, and anyone who disagrees needs to put down the dixie cup full of kool-aid.

  3. John Valentine

    Excellent article you nailed it.


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