New Jerseyans aren’t always civil, but it’s still possible for a liberal Democrat and a conservative Republican to have a rational and pleasant conversation about politics in the state. Dan Bryan is a former senior advisor to Gov. Phil Murphy and is now the owner of his own public affairs firm, and Alex Wilkes is an attorney and former executive director of America Rising PAC who advises Republican candidates in New Jersey and across the nation. Dan and Alex are both experienced strategists who are currently in the room where high-level decisions are made. They will get together weekly with New Jersey Globe editor David Wildstein to discuss politics and issues.
New Jersey Globe: There are mixed reactions about the genuineness of George Norcross’ representation that he’s stepping back from politics. Is he really retiring, or is it just subterfuge?
Alex Wilkes: I think this is some pretty subpar ass-covering ahead of an election where Norcross’ candidates are about to get smoked. I know people who have actually retired from politics, and I can’t remember any of them who have gone out through a splashy Politico profile. They just moved on.
It’s a last-ditch effort to divorce his name from candidates who are staring down an election where voters are going to be holding Democrats accountable for everything from wreaking ecological havoc on the Jersey Shore to teaching their kids sex-ed in the second grade. In just the last few weeks alone, he was openly humiliated by the current Senate President and got caught trying to engineer a Democratic VBM scheme through an apolitical building trades group, resulting in a public debacle.
Lest you be fooled by this sneaky snowbird, remember this: on the same day he announced his retirement, he was featured as a sponsor for a $2,900/plate fundraiser for his brother. “Retired,” indeed.
Dan Bryan: Like anyone else, George Norcross has every right to be involved in as little or as much as he’d like. And in his own words, he’ll still be involved in the healthcare and insurance industries in New Jersey, in addition to the 2025 Governor’s race. So though I don’t know him, I’m sure that he intends to step back to an extent. But It sounds to me like he’s not going far.
The good news is, New Jersey still has many party leaders, elected officials, and grassroots organizers fully engaged and focused on the critical 2023 midterm elections and delivering victories for Democrats up and down the state.
NJ Globe: Two things Dan Cassino said about the Fairleigh Dickinson University poll about offshore wind farms really struck me: one, that Governor Murphy “hasn’t convinced the public that it’s a good idea”; and second, “The argument that the wind farms are hurting cute, smart animals just craters support. People concerned about the environment want to have green energy, but put that up against dolphins, and the dolphins are going to win every time.” Is Dan Cassino right?
Dan: It’s true that fossil fuel interests and bad actors have done serious damage to one of the biggest and best opportunities for economic development New Jersey has seen in generations. They’re spreading misinformation and placing their self interest ahead of the state, and ahead of the next generation. But the fight is far from over.
Let’s be clear: wind energy is coming to New Jersey. The question isn’t whether we do it – it’s when we do it. We have a chance to lead the nation in the wind energy sector, or be dragged there by the next generation, scratching their heads over why we took so long to enact an industry that brings so many jobs, so much economic development, and so much green energy to New Jersey. Either we get it together now, or we get beaten to the punch by others eager to bring a no-brainer industry to their state.
Alex: Democrats know they are on the wrong side of this issue, and unfortunately for them, a slapdash hearing is just not going to cut it. They have massive windfarms in the distance and potentially horrific tourist season ahead of them to serve as constant reminders that their “follow the science” hypocrisy has been a complete farce. When green energy companies came with campaign cash, Democrats sold those whales out on a dime. They then not only failed to “sell” their proposal to the public, but they also impugned anyone who questioned the safety of the windmills.
And the unusual mortality events are only the tip of the iceberg. We have no idea about the national security implications involved with having foreign companies own assets off our coastline or the increased costs that will be passed on to New Jersey taxpayers. The Biden Administration can’t even tell us if these windmills can survive a hurricane, which sort of feels problematic for a state with a history of deadly storms.
If Democrats are really surprised that public opinion favors dolphins over politicians, then this November is going to be especially fun.
NJ Globe: Lou Greenwald is introducing a bill that would make it a crime to use deceptive AI audio and video in political campaigns, saying the discussion about the issue should start now. As political communications professionals, how frightening is it that there’s software out there that can create evidence that someone said something they never said?
Alex: I do agree with Dan that it is extremely frightening. First impressions matter with voters, and it’s hard enough when you have your candidate’s words taken out of context, but to have them made up entirely creates a whole new universe of concern.
Dan: It’s terrifying. The fight against misinformation in politics and government is just beginning, and though we haven’t seen deep fakes or AI make a serious impact in a campaign yet, I think it’s only a matter of time.
This is just another example of how critically important healthy news media is. Though they’re smaller and weaker than they’ve been, they’re still potent enough to call out blatant misinformation and scare campaigns away from using deceptive AI. But if the press keeps dying, and we don’t find another way to call out misinformation and bad actors, democracy is in serious trouble.
So kudos to Assemblyman Greenwald for trying to do something about this issue. I’m sure this is going to be a long fight, and I’m glad we’re starting.
NJ Globe: There were a lot of interesting non-partisan municipal elections this week: Albio Sires’ comeback, Nick Sacco’s landslide, and debates over Margie Donlon’s margin in Ocean Township. What are your takeaways from the May 2023 election?
Dan: As a lover of all things Hudson County, there was no better sight to me than seeing Mayor-elect née Congressman née Mayor Sires retake West New York, bringing order back to the North Hudson universe. Only in Hudson County is being Mayor a promotion from Congress. I’m a huge fan of Albio’s, and I can’t wait to see what he does with his second administration.
But I’m also enjoying the NJ GOP’s futile attacks on Margie Donlon. No one celebrates a loss quite like New Jersey Republicans. Whether it’s bragging over spending tens of thousands of dollars to make Margie Donlon win by a little less than she would have otherwise, or spiking every football in the state over losing to Governor Murphy in 2021 (the new NJ GOP slogan: “Given historic conditions, sometimes we only lose by a few points!”), they’re desperately trying to find anything to celebrate in a state that has moved past them.
Alex: I think the words Dan is missing are Vin Gopal. As the author-in-chief of sex-ed for your seven-year-old, Gopal is in trouble this November, and this particular election demonstrates just that. Don’t forget: many of the schools are choosing to implement Murphy and Gopal’s insane new curriculum changes in the final weeks of school to avoid controversy. I have spoken to parents near tears in just the past week who have been notified of what their elementary school children are about to be learning before summer break. This issue has not even begun to fully sink in for voters, but by November it will certainly be top of mind.