Home>Articles>Opinion: Progressive – ‘You keep using that word. I do not think that it means what you think it means’

Bertin Lefkovic, left, with former Vermont Governor and presidential candidate Howard Dean.. Photo courtesy of Facebook.

Opinion: Progressive – ‘You keep using that word. I do not think that it means what you think it means’

By Bertin Lefkovic, January 08 2020 10:02 am


During my very short-lived candidacy for Chair of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee, I had the opportunity to speak at a recent meeting of the NJDSC Progressive Caucus where they were deciding who to endorse. The incumbent Chairman, John Currie, could not stand to be around progressives long enough to actually talk to us, so speaking in his place was the state’s resident song-and-dance-man, Governor Phil Murphy, who did his usual Hasty Pudding-inspired two-step of acrobatics and banal platitudes, speaking for over twenty minutes and saying next to nothing – about Currie’s re-election or anything else.

However, there was one moment during the Governor’s remarks that caught my attention. He was pointing out various Currie allies who were at the meeting in an attempt to divine some sense of progressivism for him via osmosis when he mentioned Saily Avelenda, the Executive Director of NJ 11th for Change and recently appointed progressive face of the Currie-Schaffer re-election “campaign” and said, “you don’t get any more progressive than her”.

It was at this moment that I was tempted to stand up and ask the Governor to hold my water (I was not drinking beer at the time). As best as I can tell, having never met Avelenda, she appears to be a very nice person and in a very short period of time has been able to attract a significant amount of attention to herself as a result of her political activism. However, it is unclear what, if anything, would define her as a progressive.

After being targeted by former Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen in a fundraising letter to her employers, a local bank, she left her job and focused all of her time and effort organizing against his re-election, which most likely led to his decision to retire rather than seek re-election last year. Her organization played a major role in helping Mikie Sherrill defeat her Republican opponent, Assemblyman Jay Webber in the general election.

There can be no doubt that in the short amount of time that she has been involved in NJ politics, she has been very successful, but helping to elect Democrats doesn’t necessarily make someone a progressive. 2018 saw several conservative to moderate Republican congresspersons in addition to Frelinghuysen, namely Frank LoBiondo, Tom MacArthur, and Leonard Lance replaced by conservative to moderate Democrats in addition to Sherill, namely Jeff Van Drew, Andy Kim, and Tom Malinowski respectively.

Replacing Republicans with Democrats generally signifies progress, although considering Van Drew’s recent decision to switch parties following his refusal to vote to impeach President Donald Trump and the ensuing rhetorical lap dance that he performed for the President in the Oval Office shortly thereafter that was so over the top that it would have made Monica Lewinsky blush, replacing LoBiondo with him was most certainly a step in the wrong direction.

Republican Congressman Scott Garrett was one of the most toxic individuals ever elected to an office, so replacing him with Josh Gottheimer in CD5 was most certainly an improvement. Recently, however, he has made a name for himself, going after progressive freshmen Congresswomen, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and other members of “The Squad” in an effort to burnish his centrist if not center-right credentials, all but declaring a holy war for the heart and soul of the Democratic caucus in the House. His behavior of late makes me wonder if we would all be better off if all Democrats were like AOC and all Republicans were like Garrett instead of having a glut of DINOs and RINOs in the middle who are all funded by the same moneyed interests representing most of our otherwise uncompetitive congressional districts. If being a Democrat and not a Republican becomes the sole defining quality of what makes an elected official and her/his supporters progressive, the word in and of itself ceases to have any meaning.

In 2016, Avelenda supported Hillary Clinton for President over Bernie Sanders, who was by far the more progressive candidate. She also supported Mikie Sherrill, who described progressive policy initiatives like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, Tuition Free College, and Student Loan Forgiveness as Soviet-style programs, over Tamara Harris, who supported these initiatives.

Avelenda supported Currie over his opponent, Essex County political machine boss, Leroy Jones, but the argument that either Currie or Jones are less or more progressive than the other is fradulent. They are both political machine bosses who run closed county party organizations that use the party line ballot to disadvantage and disenfranchise opposition candidates in primary elections and do not even allow elected county committeepersons in their counties to vote in open endorsement conventions. There have not been open elections for party leadership positions like Chair and Vice Chair in either county in decades. Leaders are chosen behind closed doors, presented to the elected county committeepersons as a fait accompli, and elected via voice vote without much, if any, vocal opposition.

As I wrote in my recent op-ed, “None of the Above – How Brewster’s Millions Inspired My NJDSC Chair Candidacy”, I entered the race for state party chair solely to give any independent-minded state committeepersons the opportunity to cast a vote for neither Currie nor Jones and prevent either candidate from being elected Chair with the hope that it would force the Governor to ask Currie to withdraw his candidacy so that he could pick someone better to run. However, Murphy, Currie, and Jones proved that this battle for the state party leadership was never about ideology and all about protecting a variety of parochial interests through the redistricting process and saving face when they cut a deal that enabled Currie to remain Chair through June 2021 and for Jones to replace him shortly thereafter.

As part of this deal, the five appointments to the legislative redistricting commission that are usually reserved for the state party chair have been divided up between Currie, Jones, the Governor, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, and Senate President Steve Sweeney, which means that one of two things are true about our so-called progressive Governor. Either he does not intend to run for re-election in 2021 and is expecting to get a golden parachute to the United States embassy in China or the World Bank or he does not care if the legislative leadership in the Assembly and Senate supports his legislative agenda. Regardless, it is clear that for Murphy this deal was all about creating a facade of victory and saving face, while ceding another decade of legislative control to George Norcross and his allies.

Throughout the “campaign” for NJDSC Chair, the only argument that advocates for Currie could make when talking to progressives was that if Currie was re-elected, he would appoint people to the legislative redistricting commission who would construct a legislative district map that would both increase the number of districts where Democrats who were allied with Murphy could win and reduce the number of districts that were represented by Democrats who were allied with Norcross, producing a legislative majority that would elect an Assembly Speaker and Senate President who are allied with Murphy instead of Norcross. This argument was proven to be fraudulent the moment that Murphy, Currie, and Jones cut their deal, because the division of appointments guaranteed that there will be at least two Democratic members of the redistricting commission who are loyal to Norcross, which will produce one of two outcomes.

The most likely outcome is that the status quo will be maintained with the five Democratic members of the legislative redistricting commission uniting to draw a legislative district map that is the same or very similar to the one that we have right now. However, another possible outcome could be that the Democratic members of the legislative redistricting commission will be divided and each side will negotiate separately with the five Republican members to create a map that is likely to contain significantly more competitive districts and open Assembly and Senate seats as a result of targeting certain Democratic incumbents either by putting them in the same district or making their districts so competitive that they choose to retire instead of risking the embarrassment of losing a re-election campaign.

That Murphy has been as feckless as he has been to date, rendering what used to be known as the most powerful Governor’s office in the country to one that is subject to the whim and will of an unelected power broker like Norcross, and his future is as uncertain as it is, leads me to wonder why progressives put any stock in him at all. The most obvious and simplistic answer is that progressives have been led to believe, correctly for the most part, but not entirely, that there is a binary choice that must be made between Murphy and Norcross. By virtue of Norcross being bad by default, which he is, anybody who opposes him is good by default. Unfortunately, reality is never that simple, especially in the game of thrones that is New Jersey politics.

The fact of the matter is that New Jersey is and has always been a political machine state, divided by several powerful Democratic fiefdoms, located in Bergen, Camden, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, and Union Counties. Camden County is the core of the larger South Jersey Norcross political empire. Before the fiefdoms united to elect Jim McGreevey Governor in 2001 and reclaim control over the legislature in 2003, the North and Central fiefdoms were united against the South Jersey fiefdoms.

However, since the 2009 legislative coup that replaced former Acting Governor and then-Senate President Richard Codey with State Senator Steve Sweeney and bypassed and relegated then-Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman to the back-bencher status that she held (until she was able to escape to the United States Congress in January 2013) in favor of then-Assemblywoman Oliver, the Norcross empire was able to ally itself with a variety of North or Central Jersey fiefdoms to maintain his control over the legislature. The first alliance was with Essex County political machine boss Steve Adubato Sr. and his chief acolyte, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo.

After then-Speaker Oliver proved to be an unreliable partner to Senate President Sweeney, the alliance was broken in favor of a new one with Hudson County political machine boss, North Bergen Mayor and State Senator Nick Sacco, and his chief acolyte, Vincent Prieto, who replaced Oliver as Speaker until he also proved to be an unreliable partner to Sweeney, and was most recently replaced as Speaker by Assemblyman Craig Coughlin as a result of the alliance between Norcross and Middlesex County political machine boss, Kevin McCabe. Over this same period of time, Norcross reach has extended even further as he is allied with Union County political machine boss, State Senator Nick Scutari, as well as numerous State Senators in Murphy-friendly counties, Bergen and Hudson, namely Senators Sandra Bolden-Cunningham, Joseph Lagana, Paul Sarlo, Brian Stack, and Loretta Weinberg, who used to be considered one of the most progressive elected officials in the state, but over the last decade has proven herself to be little more than a loyal Norcross minion. Even her recently announced effort to fight the toxic masculinity that has been a staple of New Jersey politics for far too long, resulting in countless acts of sexual harassment and violence against women over the years, is inevitably going to be tainted to a degree by her relationship with Norcross and Sweeney and framed as an extension of their battle with the Governor.

In the face of such legislative encroachments and either an inability or unwillingness on the part of the Governor and the people with whom he has surrounded himself to use the power of the bully pulpit to get the legislature to elect leaders that will support his agenda, progressives should be asking themselves if Murphy is truly committed to the progressive policy agenda on which he campaigned. As possible as it may be that Murphy is very simply a bad and weak leader, who has surrounded himself with people who have longstanding political and professional relationships with Norcross that they hope to continue to have long after Murphy has left his office, and as a result will never advise Murphy to do what is necessary to win or it is just as possible that winning has never been part of Murphy’s agenda.

Historically, the only truly impactful and progressive Democratic Governors that our state has ever had were former Governors Brendan Byrne and James Florio. The former barely survived his re-election campaign, facing an unprecedented (before or since ) contested primary challenge from eleven other candidates at least seven of which were serious after signing the state income tax into law and both the latter and the state’s Democratic legislative majority did not survive a package of tax increases that were correctly pushed by the Governor to make up for massive debts and structural deficits that were passed on to him by his predecessor, Republican Governor Thomas Kean.

This is why it is entirely possible that Murphy’s plan all along has been to advocate for progressive initiatives like marijuana legalization and a millionaires’ tax, satisfying the state’s far too easily self-satisfied progressive community, and allow his manufactured adversary, Norcross, and his acolytes in the legislative leadership, Coughlin and Sweeney, to block most, if not all, of his efforts, which keep easily agitated independent voters from being turned against him by the Republicans. Having someone like Trump as President has also helped him keep most of the state’s independent voters aligned with the Democrats.

If he is not invested in actually accomplishing anything of consequence as Governor, as I suspect, and simply wants to remain Governor so that he can continue to hasty pudding his way through his time in office, he can very easily win re-election by continuing to lose to Norcross while allowing Norcross to play the heavy. After all, how can anyone take Murphy seriously after he campaigned to ban fracking in New Jersey while simultaneously owning stock in fracking companies? To date, fracking has yet to be banned in New Jersey.

If Murphy continues to appear to fight the good fight for his progressive legislative agenda and continues to lose these fights to Norcross, Coughlin, and Sweeney, I expect that so-called progressives like Avelenda and New Jersey Working Families Alliance Executive Director, Sue Altman, will be more than happy to continue to support him in his “efforts” as neither appear to be particularly invested in accomplishing anything of consequence either and are quite satisfied with their modus operandi of activism through press conferences, selfies, and occasionally getting tossed out of a legislative hearing. Conversely, when Analilia Mejia was the NJWFA’s Executive Director, she actually fought and won tough fights for paid family leave, paid sick leave, and a $15 per hour minimum wage on behalf of New Jersey’s working poor, but Altman appears to be quite content to tilt at windmills, creating a façade of speaking truth to power, while actually being yet another cog in the larger political machine.

Proof of this is their silence in the face of the aforementioned deal struck between Currie, Jones, and Murphy. If the battle between Currie and Jones was truly for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party, how can these so-called progressives not be apoplectic at Murphy’s capitulation that will pass control over the state party organization from one political machine boss to another? This battle was always about redistricting, so if Murphy wanted to at the very least pretend to be a progressive, he could have cut a deal that distributed the legislative redistricting commission appointments similarly, but chose different, far less regressive individuals, who were just as aligned with Murphy and Norcross as Currie and Jones, without all of the baggage that Currie and Jones possess.

However, Murphy did not do this. He cut a deal that could be spun as a victory for him and allowed Currie to save face. Norcross, Coughlin, and Sweeney have allowed it to be framed this way, because they got what they needed from this deal. Spin is irrelevant to them, because they have the power.

How do these so-called progressives not feel completely played for fools? In the two decades that I have been involved in New Jersey politics, I have a long list of elected officials and party leaders who I believed to be progressive at one time or another who turned out to be frauds and I have had no qualms about admitting it when I was realized that I had been fooled. Why are they unable to make a similar admission? Is it purely due to ego and embarrassment or is it because they are more invested in being allowed to sit at the cool kids’ table than actually standing for something of consequence?

This is why, when John Currie is re-elected as NJDSC Chairman on January 11 at 10:00am at the NJDSC meeting at the East Brunswick Hilton, Altman and Avelenda will be among the cheerleaders in attendance instead of the progressives who will be protesting this embarrassment just as they will be among those cheering for Leroy Jones in June 2021 when Currie passes the torch to him. They sure as hell will not be recruiting opposition candidates for state committee in an effort to elect a progressive NJDSC Chair. Only true progressives will be doing that.

It is also somewhat confounding that Altman, who first entered the realm of progressive politics as the founder of South Jersey Women for Progressive Change, would remain as quiet as she and they have been on the controversy surrounding Katie Brennan, the Murphy for Governor campaign volunteer who was allegedly raped by Al Alvarez, a high-ranking campaign operative who later received a lucrative position in the Murphy administration and held it until Brennan went public with her allegations, which included her frustrated efforts to bring this to the attention of the Governor and others in his administration. It has been reported that the Governor even responded “we’re on it” to an email from Brennan, yet months went by before Alvarez eventually resigned after the allegations eventually went public. To date, these allegations and the ensuing investigations have failed to produce an indictment of Alvarez as prosecutors in two separate counties, Hudson and Middlesex, have declined to bring charges against him.

Why have Altman and the SJWPC been so quiet on this matter? Aside from a meek statement of support for Brennan as part of a much lengthier statement about gender equity in the legislature, there has been little to no organizing on Brennan’s behalf nor any effort to support Julie Roginsky in her crusade against nondisclosure agreements, which not only serve to hide corporate malfeasance like we have seen at places like Fox News, but may also be preventing people who have had similar experiences as Brennan or were witnesses to efforts to cover them up to be able to talk about them. For people whose main form of activism is to call poorly attended press conferences, replete with self-satisfied selfies, this should have been yet another opportunity for them to be on the steps of the statehouse demanding action.

So why no press conferences and no selfies on behalf of Brennan and Roginsky? One can only guess that Altman’s personal political agenda and her allegiances to powerful people like Murphy and Currie is more important to her than standing up for other women who have been abused by the powers that be in our state’s corrupt political system, which leads me to, once again, quote the film, “The Princess Bride”, regarding their use of the word progressive.

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Altman and Avelenda are not alone in perpetrating this fraud. There is an alphabet soup of organizations in New Jersey that exist solely to put progressive lipstick on a pig of a Democratic Party establishment from Marcia Marley’s Blue Wave New Jersey to Uyen Khuong’s Action Together New Jersey to a variety of Indivisible chapters to the myriad of other so-called progressive organizations that are less progressive and more organizations that serve only to provide a megaphone for the amplification of the egos and voices of their founders and do nothing to challenge the status quo of the corrupt politics of our state. None of them have ever supported the most progressive candidate in a primary election nor have any of them ever taken a leadership role on any progressive issue of consequence with the lone exception being the increase of the minimum wage to $15 per hour, although even with that issue, they all quickly capitulated to its delayed implementation.

In fact, as I write this article, the Democratic establishment is trying to ram through legislation during the current lame duck period that will make it much harder for progressive insurgent candidates running in 2020 to compete in primary elections that are already rigged against them because of the party line ballot. A6064 and S4306 would change the filing deadline for the June 2020 primary election from March 30 to March 16, reducing the amount of time that progressive insurgents have to collect signatures for and file their petitions by two weeks, AND allow the counting of vote-by-mail (VBM) ballots to begin one week before Election Day. As is, progressive insurgents have enough to worry about with regards to the security of our votes. Giving the party establishments, Democratic and Republican, who are aligned in more ways than they are opposed, an entire week of access to VBMs is simply asking for the outcomes of these critical primary elections to be rigged.

Have we heard anything about this from our so-called progressive leaders? Of course not! Why would they care? They are not supporting any of the progressive insurgents who are going to be running against Democratic establishment candidates this year. Avelenda made a name for herself by leading the charge to replace Frelinghuysen with Sherrill, but has not had a single word of support for the efforts to replace conservative Democrats like Josh Gottheimer and Bill Pascrell, Jr. with progressive female Democrats, Arati Kreibich and Zina Spezakis.

For all of Altman’s tough talk against the Norcross political machine, we have yet to hear her announce that she is taking on or recruiting someone to take on Donald Norcross this year. Is that because she is afraid to put her progressive credentials up against the Vice Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who is the only white Democrat in NJ’s congressional delegation who has supported Medicare for All. I am no fan of the Norcross political machine by any stretch of the imagination, but his role in that political machine aside, I would have a very hard time making an issue-based argument for Altman against Norcross.

Considering the fact that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the rest of “The Squad” voted to elect Norcross Vice Chair of the CPC, it seems reasonable to speculate that they would endorse him if he was challenged by Altman. It doesn’t help her case that earlier this year when she tried to run for County Committee, she could not get enough legitimate signatures to put herself on the ballot. If she cannot do that, how can she be expected to lead a progressive insurgency against a candidate who is backed by the toughest political machine in the state and has significantly more progressive credentials than both Gottheimer and Pascrell, Jr.?

Finally, none of them supported the most progressive Presidential candidate in 2016, Bernie Sanders, and they sure as hell will not be supporting him in 2020. If Cory Booker is able to survive the early caucuses and primary elections and has not been thrown under the bus by New Jersey’s Democratic establishment in favor of Joe Biden or Pete Buttigieg, they will be with Booker. If Booker doesn’t make it past the filing deadline, they will be with whomever Murphy and the rest of the political machine bosses back. Altman will inevitably be with Elizabeth Warren by virtue of the national Working Families organization’s questionable endorsement. Knowing how angry so many of the NJWFA leaders were over this decision, I expect that Altman will be the only one of them who will be waving the Warren flag on behalf of NJWFA with any enthusiasm.

Thus, not a single one of these so-called progressive leaders have a vested interest in the outcome of the 2020 primary elections. So why would any of them come out against this truly offensive effort on the part of the Democratic establishment to make an already unfair playing field even less fair or hold a single press conference, take a single selfie, or speak one word of criticism against their beloved Governor when he inevitably signs this legislation? The answer to this is that they will not do this, because they are not progressives. They are all cogs in the political machine.

Counterintuitively, Doris Lin, Chairwoman of the NJDSC Progressive Caucus, the one progressive leader who has the least capacity for independence by virtue of leading a caucus of the NJDSC, has proven herself to be the least ego-driven and most independent of them all. Her willingness to allow me to speak at the same NJDSC Progressive Caucus meeting as Governor Murphy and the fact that 25% of the voting-eligible caucus members either voted to endorse me or for no endorsement, which was the outcome that I was seeking, is proof of how honestly and openly she runs her organization. Anybody else in her position would have either made an excuse to prevent me from speaking at this meeting or would have lobbied the voting-eligible members to ensure that the vote was unanimous in favor of Currie.

Interestingly enough, the involvement of women like Altman, Avelenda, Khuong, Lin, and Marley, is probably the only thing that might prevent Weinberg’s aforementioned fight on behalf of women in New Jersey politics from being framed as a veiled Norcross-inspired attack on Murphy. For that very reason, however, it is my guess that Lin is the only one of them who possesses the requisite amount of guts and independence to join.

As someone who was involved with the founding of Democracy for America New Jersey, the NJDSC Progressive Caucus, and Our Revolution New Jersey, I can honestly say based on firsthand experience that the last thing that New Jersey’s progressive community needs is more progressive organizations. What we need is a single unified progressive organization that is going to provide a permanent opposition to the Democratic establishment year-in and year-out up and down the ballot at every level of government. The Good Government Coalition of New Jersey and the Take Back New Jersey Coalition can complain about the party line ballot all that it wants, but when its member organizations and their leaders support Democratic establishment candidates for elected and party leadership offices like Murphy and Currie, they do more harm than good to the progressive community’s efforts to bring truly revolutionary change to the Democratic Party and our state.

In fact, with the resources that he had at his disposal, Murphy could have been the leader that the progressive community needed when he ran for Governor in 2017. Before he muscled Fulop the four political machine bosses from North Jersey, John Currie of Passaic County, Leroy Jones of Essex County, Louis Stellato of Bergen County, and Nick Sacco of Hudson county went with him instead of Sweeney, which led to him getting the support of all of the state’s 21 county party organizations, he was the outsider candidate, who would have had to run off the line in all 21 counties with Fulop and Sweeney dividing the county party organizations between them.

Under those circumstances, if Murphy had run off the line with his own slate of Assembly, Senate, county and local candidates, he not only could have defeated both Fulop and Sweeney, but his downballot candidates could have won many of their races as well, changing the nature of Democratic Party politics forever. Unfortunately, having surrounded himself with the array of party insiders that he did, that kind of revolutionary approach to NJ politics was never going to happen. Instead, Murphy aligned himself with the likes of John Currie and Nick Sacco, who are just as bad in every imaginable way as Leroy Jones and George Norcross. The only thing that differentiates Norcross from every other political machine boss in the state is that he is more effective than the others are, which is why he has been able to use and discard them as needed over the better part of the last two decades.

Thus, from Murphy’s perspective, the ideological spectrum of the Democratic Party ranges from the fake progressive organizations that support him, representing the party’s “left-wing”, the political machine bosses who support him, representing the party’s “center”, and the Norcross-aligned political machine bosses who oppose him, representing the party’s “right-wing”, even though there is virtually no ideological difference between the political machine bosses who oppose him and those who support him and very little ideological difference between any of the state’s political machine bosses and the leadersfake progressive organizations that claim to oppose them. As far as Murphy and the rest of the Democratic establishment are concerned, the 38% of the Democratic Party’s primary election voter universe that voted for Bernie Sanders in 2016 and the 52% that voted for someone other than Murphy in 2017 do not exist.

If this word, “progressive” is ever going to mean anything, then the people who use it to describe themselves and others have to be willing to stand up for something other than their personal political agendas and allegiances. If Altman, Avelenda, Khuong, Marley, and others like them truly want to be recognized as progressive leaders, then they have to be willing to stand up against more than just convenient and ephemeral bogeymen like George Norcross and Rodney Frelinghuysen, because if they are unwilling or unable to recognize that people like Currie and Sacco are just as bad for our democracy and our democratic process as people like Jones and Norcross and a Democratic Congressperson like Mikie Sherrill does not have a markedly better position or record on core progressive issues like Medicare for All, Green New Deal, Tuition Free College, and Student Loan Forgiveness than her predecessor, Rodney Frelinghuysen, they are not progressives. They are nothing less or more than establishment Democratic sheep in progressive wolves’ clothing.

For far too long, far too many establishment Democrats have been able to get away with calling themselves progressive by solely supporting a woman’s right to an abortion and same-sex marriage, while being terrible on economic and environmental justice issues. That might be a reasonable barometer in a crimson red state in the Deep South, but in a cobalt blue state like New Jersey, abortion and marriage equality are issues that should be the standard for all Democrats, not a progressive fig leaf.
Even an issue like marijuana legalization has been completely corrupted by cannabusiness profiteers who are singularly focused on making a buck and do not give a damn about the most critical components of this fight; decriminalization, expungement, and a marketplace that allows for both regulated dispensaries, of which 50% or more should be state-owned, following the NH liquor store model and requiring the employment of former nonviolent drug offenders, and an unregulated street trade, ensuring that local police forces do not become hired muscle for cannabusiness profiteers.

Recognizing that there are many different kinds of progressives; economic justice, environmental justice, racial justice, and social justice, and it is reasonable to have different priorities with regards to our issues of concern, we also need to have some degree of perspective regarding the issues that are most critical at a particular time as well as those who impact the largest number of people. Using those yardsticks, progressives should agree that economic justice issues like Medicare for All, Tuition Free College, and Student Loan Forgiveness and environmental justice issues like the Green New Deal should be our highest priorities.

Even if we put those issues aside for a moment, progressives must recognize that here in New Jersey the one issue that is more critical than any other is the failed state of our democracy and democratic process. However, recognizing this requires us to recognize that all political machines and all political machine bosses; not just the ones in our backyards or the ones who appear to be the most onerous; are bad.

All pigs on the farm are equal, but some are more equal than others. Just because George Norcross was the greediest of all of the pigs who fed at the EDA trough does not mean that he was the only one. We have to ask ourselves, if he did not exist, which of the many other greedy pigs in this state would have immediately taken his place at the trough? One less greedy pig at the trough just means more slop for other greedy pigs like John Currie and Nick Sacco.

Murphy often defends his fecklessness by arguing that the perfect should not be the enemy of the good, but that logic cuts both ways. The imperfect should not be an obstacle to the essential. If Murphy and his acolytes that are leading these so-called progressive groups truly want to identify as progressives and be a part of the fight in New Jersey to make our government and politics at every level more progressive, they should start by doing right by Katie Brennan.

In addition to joining the aforementioned Weinberg commission, they should demand that everyone who worked on Murphy’s election campaign and administration, who signed Non-Disclosure Agreements, receive legal documentation, releasing them from these NDAs so that they can testify to anything that they know about what happened to her as well any other women who had similar experiences as well as any effort to cover them up. They should also mobilize their extensive email lists and social media groups on Brennan’s behalf to help get her the justice that she deserves. If that means that Murphy has to expose any role that he might have played in the cover up and cannot run for re-election in 2021, so be it. Doing the right thing is rarely, if ever, easy and often requires some degree of personal sacrifice.

They should also be willing to work together with other progressives to break all of the political machines that control the governments and politics of our state and take a leadership role in advocating for a lengthy list of progressive issues, including but not limited to:

New Jersey Family Care for All

Tuition-Free (2-YEAR AND 4-YEAR) Public College and University FOR ALL

Increase the Minimum Wage to $15 (RIGHT NOW INSTEAD OF 2024).

Decriminalize and Legalize Adult-Use Marijuana – Allow both regulated dispensaries (no fewer than 50% and as many as 100% of which must be state-owned, following the NH liquor store model, employing former nonviolent drug offenders) and an unregulated street trade, preventing local police from becoming hired muscle for cannabusiness profiteers.

Consolidate 600+ local governments and 600+ local school districts into 21 (or less by merging sparsely populated counties) county governments and county school districts, repurposing the savings from the dramatically reduced administrative largesse into other areas of need, including, but not limited to the hiring of more teachers.

Divest state pension fund dollars from the stock market and invest them into the purchasing of foreclosed homes from banks at a value of 10 cents on the dollar, renting them to their former owners at below market rental rates, and reselling them to their former owners at or below their dispossessed value.

Eliminate the property tax as a means of funding government and fund all government through progressive income taxes including surtaxes on millionaires, multi-millionaires, and billionaires, progressive sales taxes (tax luxury items at significantly higher rates (10-20%) than necessities (5% or less) and exempts individuals who earn less than $75K/year and families who earn less than $150K/year through the issuance of sales tax exemption cards), and wealth taxes.

Elect County Clerks who will abandon the use of the party line ballot and adopt the Salem/Sussex ballot – Altman has been quite visible and vocal on this issue, but her support for Currie as well as Murphy, who is in bed with plenty of political machine bosses who will never give up the party line ballot is inconsistent with her advocacy on this issue.

Elect County Sheriffs who will not cooperate with ICE and will not use the resources of their offices to evict renters who cannot pay their rent and sell the foreclosed homes of struggling homeowners.

Limit individual contributions to candidates for local, county, and state elected offices and boards of education to $100 with the same limit on contributions to local, county, and state party organizations, CPCs, PACs, and 501c4s and ban all corporate contributions to all of the above. Replace this reduced private financing of elections with public financing.

Move all BOE and nonpartisan municipal elections to the same day as the state’s partisan primary elections, ensuring the best possible turnout for all of these elections that historically have had very low turnout.

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