New Jersey Democrats are Embracing Progressivism (Kind of)

In New Jersey, being progressive is becoming increasingly mainstream. Governor Murphy identifies as a progressive. Senator Booker has more vocally embraced progressivism and resistance. Senator Menendez has looked to progressives to be allies in an increasingly ugly race against Bob Hugin. In South Jersey, Congressman Don Norcross has embraced a more progressive policy agenda — after years of fighting for policies more aligned with centrist democrats such as corporate tax subsidies, school choice, and even locally opposing minimum wage increases. All of this is good; it’s an example of how powerful the progressive left and its policy ideas can be, and how the progressive movement has improved the party even as its struggled to elect its own candidates. But under the hood of this progressive shift are real tensions within the progressive and Democratic communities about how to handle the coalition. This past week at the New Jersey Democratic State Conference, the progressive caucus opened up the hood for everyone to take a look.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so bizarre. Though Chairman Currie centered “progressive change” in his comments, the actual progressive caucus was fraught with a bizarre conflict. Here at Blue Jersey, we caught it on film:

Progressive Caucus of 2018 Democratic State Conference in Atlantic City

Posted by Blue Jersey on Friday, September 21, 2018

There’s a lot to discuss here, including the prominent role “the line” played in the conflict, first as an applause line, and later as the fulcrum for a conflict in which Jim Keady interrupted the panel to challenge Chairman Currie on the same issue. Currie responded, “the line is not undemocratic, it’s our system in New Jersey.”

The panel left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. It was bizarre at best and ugly at worst to have a panel full of women dominated by two men who had already spoken at length at the conference making impromptu appearances and controlling the airtime. It was frustrating for progressives looking to caucus and move forward on issues to be beaten over the head with the “unify” message — too often it seems the very real stakes of mid-term elections are actually being used as a way to silence progressives. And the progressive community was split-at-best about the tactic of yelling down party leadership to make a point about the line — there was real concern that it was counterproductive and let off the hook the two male politicians who shouldn’t have dominated a panel they weren’t a part of, but could instead complain they were the injured party.

Lost amidst the conflict was the opportunity for the progressive caucus to take more ownership over the progressive turn of the party. That’s a strategy question that has been brewing underneath Murphy’s first year as governor — when should progressives push and when should they unify? Is it good that the progressive mantle is being adopted by more New Jersey Democrats? Or are their challenges and the potential to be co-opted?

For one day, at one panel, those tensions were on display for everyone to see.

*Note: my wife, Sue Altman, is a board member of South Jersey Women for Progressive Change and was on the above panel.

Comment (1)

  1. Bertin Lefkovic

    Progressive is in the eye of the beholder. The Progressive Caucus isn’t progressive. It it progressive lipstick on a pig of a regressive organization. Their panels never have much of consequence to say and this year was no different. Some of the panelists were marginal progressives at best.

    The Keady-Currie brouhaha was the best thing that has ever happened at a Progressive Caucus meeting. It is about time that someone told Currie to his face how completely full of crap that he is.

    The best part was when Currie tried to defend Keady’s charge about some counties introducing superdelegates into their conventions to further rig the voting by saying that this was not the way that they did things in Passaic County.

    What is truly funny about what Currie said was the simple fact is that County Committeepersons in Passaic County don’t even get to vote in conventions that award the line. Their line is awarded by an Executive Committee that consists solely of Municipal Chairs.

    If the female panelists had not been interrupted by men like Currie, Keady, and Frank Pallone, who couldn’t even be bothered to answer the question that he asked, because he was more invested in his talking points, it is unclear if they would have had much more of consequence to say than the platitudes that they were throwing around.

    Like the progressive caucus itself, the women on that panel were pink lipstick on a pig. At least Currie and Keady gave the people that room a true sense of the divide between the Democratic establishment and progressive insurgents, which is the best thing that could have ever happened at a progressive caucus meeting.

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