An existing split between Burlington County Republicans over Assemblyman Joe Howarth (R-Evesham) is growing wider as time goes on, and this time, the drama’s centered around Republican County Chairman Sean Earlen.
“I was shocked to read Sean’s Feb. 8 announcement, on Facebook, that we, the Burlington County GOP, would not be supporting Joe Howarth in his re-election especially because Municipal Chairs had not been consulted (or even advised of it), and thus, the implication therewith, that the Burlington County GOP was no longer a democratic (emphasis on the small d) organization,” Easthampton Republican Municipal chairman John Adams said in email to his fellow municipal chairs in the district.
Earlen announced the county party would not lend its support to Howarth in his reelection campaign later this year. Howarth has said he would run as an off-the-line Republican.
On Monday, 11 of the 15 Burlington County municipal chairs in the district sent a letter to Earlen seeking to secure the county organization’s support for Howarth.
Adams, who was one of the 11 to sign the letter, said in his email that Earlen did not provide any justifications for his belief that Howarth attempted to follow his former running mate State Sen. Dawn Addiego’s (D-Evesham) and defect to the Democratic party.
“This is a far cry from stating there was indisputable evidence supporting the conclusion that Joe attempted to leave (or explored leaving) the GOP,” Adams said of Earlen’s statement, adding that Howarth should lose party support if he attempted to flip or explored the possibility of doing the same.
Adams said former Burlington County Freeholder Linda Hughes informed him of some of the evidence behind the county organization’s decision on Monday night, and Burlington’s Republican leaders are expected to share those details, which Adams did not divulge in his email, with municipal chairs at a meeting Tuesday night.
In an email sent Tuesday afternoon, Josh Foote, former executive director of the Burlington Republican County Committee challenging what he asserted were the claims made by those aligned with Earlen and the county’s Republican leadership.
“As someone who has been/was a part of both sides of the discussion regarding Joe, and to the facts as I know them, I can honestly say Joe did nothing wrong,” Foote said.
Foote listed five charges he said had been relayed to him: That Howarth was unreachable for two days following Addiego’s defection, that he removed Assemblyman Ryan Peters’ (R-Lumberton) chief of staff Brian Woods from his payroll, that he hired Democrats, that he wasn’t moving legislative offices and that Democrats said he attempted to switch parties.
Howarth has never denied the first charge. He has on separate and multiple occasions told the New Jersey Globe and party officials that he kept silent in the wake of Addiego’s defection because of shock and staffing issues related to the same.
Foote said Howarth removed Woods from his payroll to maintain health benefits for another staffer, Roxane Kostyk, who he said has a “serious medical issue.”
Woods, Foote said, had removed Kostyk from Peters’ payroll following Addiego’s defection.
During Howarth’s silence after Addiego switched her party affiliation, sources told the New Jersey Globe that Kostyk and fellow district eight staffers Anna Johnson, Marilyn Williamson and Jim Logue were expected to follow Howarth if he joined Addiego on the other side of the aisle.
Save Williamson, those staffers stayed on with Howarth on the Republican side. That fact provided Foote’s basis for attacking the claim that Howarth hired Democrats. Johnson, Kostyk and Logue are longtime Republicans.
Logue, in particular, is a conservative Republican political operative who has been involved in opposition research against many Democratic officeholders.
Peters and Howarth share a lease agreement with Addiego for their district office, and at the moment, they still operate out of that office.
To the last charge, multiple sources on both sides of the aisle, including Addiego, have said that Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald approached Howarth and Peters with offers to switch to the Democratic party.
Foote said Democrats also approached Republican Burlington Freeholder Latham Tiver with an offer. He also said that Howarth declined the offer, but sources have told the New Jersey Globe that the push to bring Howarth into the Democratic fold was stopped by opposition from Burlington Democrats.
“Look at it this way, if Joe was planning to switch parties, why was he still going to all the Republican events? Wouldn’t he lay low until the switch? The facts don’t add up to the narrative that is being pushed here,” Foote said. “There is no ‘smoking gun’ that has Joe actively looking to become a Democrat, and frankly if there was one, why hasn’t it been produced yet? This would have saved everyone all the drama and this would be a no brainer. Yet, here we are.”