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A.J. Oliver. (Photo: A.J. Oliver).

Pro-life Democratic chairman says he won’t quit

Guess who was campaign manager for the last pro-life Democratic U.S. Senate candidate in New Jersey?

By David Wildstein, December 08 2021 10:28 am

Morristown Democratic Municipal Chairman Aaron (A.J.) Oliver says he won’t resign his post just because he’s pro-life, believing there is room for him in a party that “prides itself on diversity, inclusion, and a heart for those who are vulnerable in society.”

The Democratic county chairman, Chip Robinson, called for his resignation on Tuesday, six weeks after many party leaders found out for the first time that Oliver was an anti-abortion activist.   They said he never told them that when he sought support as a candidate for county commissioner.

“The party should not have a purity test for its members, candidates, or leaders particularly when it comes to the issues of conscience such as abortion,” Oliver said.

In a call for his ouster, Morris Democrats cited a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to consider a case that would ban abortion in the 15th week of pregnancy, including cases of rape or incest.  That could lead to the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Oliver, an ordained Episcopal priest and Army National Guard captain,  wants Morris Democrats to follow the national Democratic Party model that creates a narrow lane for Pro-Life Democrats.

“A majority of the Whole Life issues that I advocate for prioritize helping those in need and are the pillars of Democratic policies and priorities,” said Oliver, who listed reducing maternal mortality rates and food insecurities and providing pregnancy support as the issues he works on.  “These are issues we can all agree on as Democrats.”

Instead, Oliver wants Democrats to take his record as municipal chairman into consideration.

“The mission statement of the Morristown Democrats stresses that we advocate strong economic growth, honest and accountable government, and protecting civil rights and liberties,” he said.  “I will continue to advocate for these principles as chair.”

Oliver’s pro-life positions did not hurt him in his hometown.  He won Morristown in his unsuccessful race for Morris County Commissioner, finishing nine votes behind one running mate and trailed the other by ten.

Pro-Life Democrats had a significant presence in New Jersey politics in the past – and now, where some Democratic legislators are seeking to temper the reach of the proposed Reproductive Freedom Act.

One pro-life Democrat who played a major role in New Jersey politics for 30 years was Joseph V. Doria, Jr., who served as Assembly speaker and minority leader, state senator, Bayonne mayor and Commissioner of Community Affairs under Gov. Jon Corzine during a political career that spanned from 1979 to 2009.

In the 1970s, several anti-abortion Democrats ran symbolic campaigns in Democratic primaries to capture attention to their side of the issue.  Stephen H. Foley, a Deal lawyer, challenged three-term U.S. Senator Harrison Williams in the 1976 Democratic primary under a “Pro-Life Democrat” slogan and won 15% of the vote.

Also in 1976, pro-life Democratic presidential candidate Ellen McCormick won 21,774 votes (6.3%)  in the New Jersey primary

Foley was the brother of power lawyer Adrian (Bud) Foley, a founder of the Connell Foley law firm and a major player in New Jersey Democratic circles.  Bud Foley was elected Essex County Surrogate in 1954 at age 33.  In 1966, after mulling a U.S. Senate bid against Republican Clifford Case, he instead became president of the New Jersey Constitutional Convention that year.

Steve Foley’s Senate race was managed by 23-year-old Christopher Smith, a recent Trenton State College graduate who was active in the New Jersey Right to Life movement.  Smith ran as the Republican candidate for Congress in 1978 and was elected in 1980, at age 27.  Now in his 21st term, Smith is the longest-serving congressman in New Jersey history.

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