Home>Stomping Grounds>Stomping Grounds: George Santos, Supreme Court, Guns and Christmas Trees

Stomping Grounds: George Santos, Supreme Court, Guns and Christmas Trees

By David Wildstein, May 19 2023 12:23 pm

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: The House punted on the question of expelling George Santos from Congress, instead referring the matter to the House Ethics Committee.  Did they get the issue right, and will voters in swing districts in November 2024 care?

Dan Bryan: Congressman Santos is going to be a black eye on the national Republican party, but I find it hard to believe that he’ll affect any districts beyond his own. But I do think Democrats will feel good about picking that seat back up in the 2024 election.

George Santos represents a larger issue for the modern day Republican party: he represents nothing, but is more than happy to co-opt every culture war issue, every Fox News talking point, and every extreme gun stance (even wearing an AR-15 lapel pin!) to get ahead. And the party (and media) didn’t vet him in the slightest, sliding him into the same role hundreds of Republican Congress Members play throughout the country: pretend you have your own brand, while parroting everything you’re told. I hope Santos is a wake up call for them, but I’m not holding my breath.

Alex Wikes: I believe that this is something that only the voters in New York’s Third Congressional District will really care about and not the broader electorate. The story made for sensational headlines earlier this year, but I think that’s the extent of it until the voters of that district decide what his fate should be.

This isn’t an excuse for the lies that he told, but rather, an honest appraisal of what voters will and will not consider important. His misdeeds, while outrageous, are certainly attention-grabbing, but I think you have to be deep in the MSNBC bubble to think that a single Congressman has the power to sway swing voters. Even on the right, incendiary figures like AOC may have fundraising and base appeal, but are pretty useless on name ID alone when trying to move persuadable voters.

NJ Globe: Murphy nominated a new Supreme Court Justice this week that has already received commitments of support from three Republican senators.  Will Michael Noriega be an easy confirmation?  

Alex: I know we’re all supposed to sit around and praise Governor Murphy for taking time out of his busy schedule of interior decorating to finally fulfill a constitutional obligation, but it looks like this will go through without much fanfare. We usually don’t anticipate fireworks with judicial nominations in cases where the nominee is replacing an ideological equal. Still, I assume the remaining undecided Senators will do their due diligence on this nomination, and we’ll see if anything emerges from there.

Dan: The selection on Noriega was a masterful one by Governor Murphy and his team. They selected someone with not only a compelling professional story, but a fantastic personal narrative. Noriega is the son of immigrants, who grew up right here in Union City. He will also be the first Peruvian-American on the court, which will restore representation from the Hispanic community at the top of our judiciary.

If confirmed, he will become the first former public defender to take a place on the Supreme Court of New Jersey. I expect his nomination to go through with ease.

NJ Globe: A federal judge this week blocked the enforcement of the state’s concealed carry law this week until ongoing litigation is complete.  Will Democrats wait, or will they do something else?

Dan: It’s important to note that this poorly reasoned ruling is being appealed, and I hope that it is swiftly reversed.

I think the vast majority of people in New Jersey and beyond are sick to death of gun violence and mass shootings in America. Democrats only pick up credibility by continuing to fight for common-sense gun safety laws, despite rulings from far-right judges and our totally broken United States Supreme Court. To give up on this fight is to throw out hands up in the air at children and teachers being slaughtered in schools, at families living in fear of gun violence in their streets. I know that Governor Murphy will keep up the fight, and I’d urge all well meaning elected officials, regardless of party, to stand with him.

Alex: I think that the Democrats need to do something else in order to keep their base somewhat motivated ahead of an election where they’re finding fewer and fewer reasons to get out and rally around flagging figures like Phil Murphy, Nick Scutari, and Craig Coughlin. Still, their “something else” seems to always run afoul of the 2nd Amendment and looks to be a deliberate ploy to keep the issue in the courts and top of mind. If the left was truly committed to showing their voters progress on this issue, they would take the time to draft narrowly-tailored legislation and not hastily pass sweeping bills they know will get struck down.

NJ Globe:  At the urging of Senators Doug Steinhardt and Andrew Zwicker, the Senate took steps this week to end the state’s yuletide bonfire ban that would restore community-based Christmas tree burning that had been a tradition for years until the Department of Environmental Protection halted it in 2017.  How do regulations like this make it through the approval process, and isn’t there some communications professional somewhere along the line who ought to have told the bureaucrats that the ban itself may have been a bad idea?

Alex: Don’t even get me started on the abuses of the regulatory state! Most voters are aware of our basic tenets of separation of powers and equal branches of government. What many of them likely do not realize at both the federal and state level is just how many regulations the departments of the executive branch can promulgate that have the force and effect of law without a single elected representative ever taking a vote on it.

This is what happens when the government gets too big, too powerful, and too out-of-reach for the average citizen to keep pace with, particularly in New Jersey where the executive is the most (constitutionally) powerful figure in the entire country. A voter may hear of a controversial piece of legislation through news coverage (such as it is here), but they’re unlikely to hear about a notice and comment period on a regulation that could be just as impactful.

I will give credit to our pissed-off moms and our Republican state legislators for calling attention to more of these matters lately. For example, in just the past few weeks, both the Department of Education and Department of Health have introduced new rule changes that could further implement Murphy’s sex-ed for second graders curriculum and potentially mandate the COVID19 vaccine for schoolchildren, respectively. These announcements have not gone unnoticed by both Republican lawmakers and voters, and they have prompted unusually swift responses from the Murphy Administration eager to quell controversy before an important election. Stay vigilant!

Dan: I grew up in a rural area of the state, but I have to admit that the first time I heard about burning Christmas trees was during this debate. But I do agree – bureaucracies need to live in the real world, and if a ruling won’t survive public scrutiny, it shouldn’t go through.

State agencies have to do the same amount of community engagement and education as anybody – if they need to make a change, they should talk to the community and explain their reasoning. It’s possible that the process will lead them in a new direction, having gained perspective from facts on the ground, and even if not, they’ll have some buy-in with locals that they otherwise wouldn’t have.

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