Some conservative leaders are making a play to pull back votes from a coalition to make Nancy Muñoz the new Assembly Minority Leader, applying pressuring individual lawmakers.
Several legislators have told the New Jersey Globe that calls are coming from pro-life leaders, Second Amendment advocates, and medical freedom activists in a bid to derail her candidacy. Conservative media has also express concern over Muñoz’s moderate record.
Muñoz emerged as the top candidate on Friday after a deal with two other candidates – John DiMaio and Ned Thomson – and the addition of additional supporters – appeared to give her enough votes to clinch the slot. The Muñoz leadership team includes DiMaio as conference leader, Thomson as assistant minority leader, and Antwan McClellan as minority whip. McClellan, the New Jersey Globe confirmed, brings along his 1st district running mate, Erik Simonsen.
But some of the legislators who had been included in Muñoz’s tally are not planning to vote for her.
“I couldn’t support her because she doesn’t support any of the issues that are important to my constituents and to me,” said Erik Peterson, a Hunterdon Republican who had backed his running mate, DiMaio. “I didn’t appreciate receiving a ‘this is your leadership team’ email.
Peterson is not alone. Several Republicans, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the New Jersey Globe that they’re not ready to publicly endorse Muñoz.
Muñoz has not been able to produce statements from legislators in her coalition the way Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin did last year when they clinched new terms in their legislative leadership posts.
The only other announced candidate, Brian Bergen, criticized the process used to get Muñoz into her advantageous position.
“You can’t horse trade votes. Backroom deals don’t work,” said Bergen, a freshman Republican from Morris County. “It’s no surprise that a handful of people are trying to make decisions for the entire caucus. It’s become standard procedure. If I am leader, leadership will work for them, not the other way around.”
The idea that grassroots Republicans are trying to halt the Muñoz juggernaut doesn’t mean they’ll be successful, but it is showing that some GOP legislators want someone more who is more ideologically aggressive.
“We are the party of ideas and if you are going to be successful you have to stand for something. That’s why Nancy is having a hard time getting votes while I am gaining grassroots support from NJ Right to Life, gun rights advocates, and the medication freedom community,” Bergen said. “I don’t give up, I don’t back down, and I’m not going anywhere.”
Some of the math could hinge on the outcome of legislative races in the 2nd and 8th districts.
Senate Republicans scheduled their minority leader election for November 4, where Steve Oroho, Joseph Pennacchio and Robert Singer are competing for the post.
In addition to incumbents seeking re-election, invitations were extended by Singer for candidates in the 2nd, 8th, 11th and 16th districts.