Home>Campaigns>Morris back-and-forth continues as Ali, Lonegan argue over proposed rules

Steve Lonegan, right, with Morris County GOP Chair Laura Marie Ali when he filed petitions to run for Assembly on January 27, 2023. (Photo: Steve Lonegan).

Morris back-and-forth continues as Ali, Lonegan argue over proposed rules

Ali calls Lonegan’s attacks ‘meritless and bizarre’; Lonegan says ultimatum to agree to rules is a ‘tragedy’

By Joey Fox, February 22 2023 10:52 am

The battle over the proposed rules for this year’s Morris County Republican convention continued today, with Morris GOP chair Laura Marie Ali and State Senate candidate Steve Lonegan releasing dueling statements on election integrity and ballot secrecy.

In an email to Ali yesterday, Lonegan called for changes to the rules, saying that their lack of security “would make Hudson County Democrats blush.” In particular, he said he was concerned about the integrity of votes cast via mail-in ballot or on electronic voting machines, as well as the possibility that the ballots of individual county committeemembers could be “incidentally” revealed in the course of counting votes.

Ali, in a response issued today, refuted many of Lonegan’s concerns and said that if he had issues, he should have gone to the rules meeting in the first place.

“The MCRC Rules Committee adopted the current rules and disseminated them to all announced candidates for the convention’s endorsement on February 12, 2023,” Ali said. “The chair invited all candidates to a meeting at Morris County GOP headquarters on February 16, 2023 to discuss the rules and raise ‘[a]ny questions and concerns regarding the petitions, process, program, and/or convention.’ You did not attend the meeting.”

Ali added that while Lonegan could have had input in the rulemaking process, it’s too late now to change the rules anyways ahead of the convention.

“I will not respond to the meritless and bizarre attacks set forth in the balance of your email,” she said. “I assume these statements amount to merely overblown campaign rhetoric and that you do not intend them to be taken seriously.”

It didn’t take long for Lonegan to hit back; he released a new statement this morning complaining of a “diktat” from the Morris GOP that all candidates seeking the county line agree to the proposed rules by this morning.

“In response to my letter outlining a number of valid questions about your process – questions that have been raised across the country, about the process in other settings – you arbitrarily issued a diktat that we, the candidates, endorse your process or face being denied ballot access by 11 a.m. today,” he said. “This is a tragedy the end of which is still unclear.”

Two 24th district Assembly candidates also seeking the Morris Republican endorsement, Warren County Commissioner Jason Sarnoski and Lafayette Board of Education President Josh Aikens, echoed Lonegan’s concerns about Ali’s supposed ultimatum.

“We were explicitly threatened that if we did not sign and endorse this 9-page document, then ballot access at the convention would be denied to us,” they said in a joint statement. “This is tragic, given the lack of faith in the electoral process expressed by so many voters – especially Republican voters.”

Lonegan, Sarnoski, and Aikens all said they’d sign the rules in order to compete for the line, but Sarnoski and Aikens said they were only doing so “under duress.”

The convoluted back-and-forth is the latest chapter in what has already become a brutal primary in one of New Jersey’s most Republican districts.

In the race to succeed retiring Senate Minority Leader Steve Oroho (R-Franklin), Lonegan will face off against Assemblyman Parker Space (R-Wantage), with whom he has already traded attacks over electoral records and Confederate flag tattoos.

Aikens and Sarnoski, meanwhile, are confronting a wide-open field for the district’s two Assembly seats; their most prominent opponents are Sussex County Commissioner Dawn Fantasia and Chester Mayor Mike Inganamort. Fantasia and Inganamort have teamed up with Space on a joint ticket, while Aikens and Sarnoski have not explicitly tied themselves to any Senate candidate.

Morris County only makes up around one-quarter of the 24th district, which is based primarily in Sussex County. But Sussex Republicans don’t have a county line, so Morris will host the race’s main convention fight – and it’s shaping up to be a doozy.

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