Home>Highlight>Stomping Grounds: Joe Biden, Whales, Credit Ratings, Voter Turnout — and Derek Roseman

Stomping Grounds: Joe Biden, Whales, Credit Ratings, Voter Turnout — and Derek Roseman

By David Wildstein, April 28 2023 10:44 am

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: Joe Biden is running for re-election.  Besides leaving no room for Governor Murphy or Senator Booker to seek the presidency next year, what does Biden’s announcement mean for politics in New Jersey?

Alex Wilkes: ​​First, I am afraid I cannot offer any sympathy to Phil Murphy and his dashed presidential dreams. After his taxpayer-funded photo-op to Ukraine and the list of miserable far-left policies he has made us all suffer through in the name of winning a Democratic Party, he gets to walk away with new hair, while we are stuck with the long-term consequences.

Second, I think that the Biden reelection effort, which kicked off with a joyless video and a cringe-worthy cue card imbroglio, has the effect of demotivating Democrats both in the upcoming election and possibly the next. Polls show that barely half of his own party wants him to run again. As the economy continues to worsen on his watch and his team fails to adequately address the stumbles and concerns about his age, his failures will become associated with Democrats everywhere. This is particularly true in New Jersey, where under one-party rule, Democrats in the legislature have only exacerbated the effect of the terrible, inflationary Biden policies.

Here’s the real question: with very few other elections around the country this year, will Biden make a stop in New Jersey? Better yet, which vulnerable Democrat will actually want to appear alongside him?

Dan Bryan: As much as Republicans try to convince themselves otherwise, President Biden is going to be a formidable candidate for reelection in 2024. He’s racked up extensive legislative accomplishments, he brought stability and respect back to an oval office that desperately needed it, and he will run on an incredibly popular agenda.

Now, let’s look at the Republican side. If Donald Trump wins the nomination (if he stays out of jail, of course), he’ll be the most flawed and dangerous presidential nominee in American history. Governor DeSantis is showing himself to be not ready for primetime. But regardless of who emerges, the Republican party has an stunningly unpopular agenda. They’ve now taken to simply pretending their policy agenda doesn’t exist, going as far as to not adopt any party platform at all at the 2020 RNC. They’d rather argue about banning books and take rights away from women and transgender citizens so they don’t have to talk about their extremist agenda of slashing social services to provide more tax cuts for the rich.

So President Biden’s reelection campaign means New Jersey will be able to fully and proudly support a popular incumbent president for reelection next year, and take a real shot at flipping CD7 back from red to blue. And it ensures New Jersey Republicans will have to run from yet another incredibly unpopular nominee in order to try to regain some relevance in our state.

NJ Globe: Dead whales have been washing up on the Jersey shore since December.  Some blame the construction of wind turbines; others call it “unusual mortality events.  Are Whales vs. Windmills becoming a legitimate campaign issue in New Jersey’s 2023 midterm election?

Dan: The whale deaths are a legitimate issue, but the conspiracy theories tying them to wind turbines are not.

Let’s get the facts out there: there is no legitimate research tying the increased marine mammal fatalities to sonar being used to map terrain for windmills. The sonar these boats use are the same strength and frequency as the sonar that have been used by many commercial fishermen for decades. And we now know that many of those “community groups” opposed to wind turbines are being funded by far-right fossil fuel interests.

Those same bad faith actors are also astroturfing local Facebook groups, convincing them that their view will be spoiled by windmills. Again, this is a lie. The turbines will be miles and miles out to sea – on the clearest of days, they will not spoil anyone’s views.

I’m not surprised to see New Jersey Republicans embrace misinformation and lies. So now we all need to step up the fight against misinformation, and get the facts out there. That means elected officials, community groups, private sector interests, and more. Wind energy is a once in a generation opportunity for New Jersey, and it’s far too important to let fossil fuel interests sow mistrust and misinformation in an effort to kill these critical projects.

Alex: ​​Yes, this is a legitimate campaign issue. As I’ve said in the past, before getting to the policy debate, consider the visuals this problem offers to news outlets and local television. Like it or not, coverage is king – something that will only expand if these poor creatures find themselves stranded on the Jersey Shore at the height of the summer tourist season.

With respect to the policy angle, Democrats, in the name of their own orthodoxy, have created certain taboos that they have zealously defended against any sort of critical thinking. One of those subjects is green energy. For example, we’re not allowed to question the absurdity of Phil Murphy’s plans to ban gas stoves and gas-powered cars. A woefully inadequate power grid? Kids in poor countries dying to get the minerals necessary for making the battery in some Montclair mom’s electric car? You can’t even ask about them without being labeled an extremist.

On a positive note, I think that the public’s growing and healthy skepticism against institutions like government and legacy media who have been important enforcers of these narratives is starting to allow for a greater number of dissenting voices. This debate, in particular, provides an opening because the visuals are so stark and unavoidable.

At its core, this is an issue where the companies in question are receiving massive government subsidies to further the political agenda of the party in power. The rush by these politicians and companies to quickly paper over legitimate questions about the effect of manmade objects larger than the Eiffel Tower in a natural habitat should be met with suspicion.

Need proof that nervous Democrats are searching for cover? Look no further than the back tracking we saw last week when the Murphy Administration threw $2 million at further studies on the issue after insisting for months that there was no connection.

NJ Globe: Wall Street rating agencies recently upgraded New Jersey’s credit rating.  As we head into the final two months of the budget season and to the mid-term elections, do credit ratings matter politically?

Alex: No, particularly when they’re based on Biden Bucks that have artificially raised our score. Phil Murphy is spending beyond our means, and it is only a matter of time before downgrades bring us back to earth when the money runs out.

Believe me, if the real, hard-earned scores mattered, this Jeb Bush fan of 2015 would be much happier today!

Dan: Credit ratings can have a political impact, if you’re willing to lay the groundwork. Or, in other words, an increased credit rating is not an end goal in and of itself, but a sign that the administration is doing a whole lot of other things right.

A credit rating upgrade is valuable third party validation that an administration is running a tight fiscal ship – even if voters don’t know the intricate details of credit ratings, they know that an upgrade is a big deal. And I don’t think there’s any question that extensive media coverage of the 11 credit downgrades New Jersey suffered under Governor Christie hurt him politically.

Let’s take a step back and examine why credit ratings agencies are so bullish on Governor Murphy’s New Jersey. For six straight budgets, Governor Murphy and State Treasurer Muoio have delivered historic pension payments (including the first full payments in decades), historic education funding, and historic property tax relief. New Jersey has not only met its revenue projections on a year by year basis, but regularly blows through them. We’re a long way away from the Trenton tradition of running out of money in June, having to furlough workers and cut critical services to keep the lights on.

New Jerseyans elected Governor Murphy to make New Jersey both stronger and fairer. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the fairer part of that equation, and I think the stronger side has gotten a short shrift. Our economy is booming, we’re standing up new industries like film and wind energy, we’ve hit record low unemployment rates, and our budgets have never looked healthier. Democratic legislative candidates will talk about that record of success, and voters will respond.

NJ Globe: Fourteen municipalities held school board elections this week, and turnout was ridiculously low.  Only five had contested school board races, and except for Westfield and Fredon, the rest of the races had single-digit turnouts.  You see these low-turnout races in May elections, fire commissioner contests, and special school referendums.  Is this a problem that needs to be addressed?

Dan: Municipalities should consolidate low-turnout elections, holding them at a time voters are more likely to participate. Miniscule turnout is bad for democracy, period. Towns should do more to make it easier for voters to participate, and part of that is not asking them to vote as much as four or five times per year.

Alex: ​​Of course, we always want greater voter participation, but no, I think these matters are best left to municipalities who know their friends and neighbors much better than bureaucrats in Trenton.

NJ Globe: Governor Murphy’s speechwriter of nearly seven years, Derek Roseman, is headed to a new job.  As communications professionals, what does it mean when an elected official loses the person he or she relies on to understand their voice suddenly loses a speechwriter?

Alex: In all honesty, when you have a political figure whose extemporaneous speaking skills are so poor (like in the case of Phil Murphy – and others on both sides of the aisle), I think this matters a great deal. Regardless of party, being charged with shaping the public voice of a chief executive creates a very personal and important working relationship. I don’t know Derek, but I wish him well in his new endeavor!

Dan: I worked with Derek for six years, through the Governor’s first campaign and then his first term in office. He and I not only worked closely together, we literally shared a small cubicle (which was then upgraded to a small office). We’ve been through many, many battles together. Derek is as good a person as he is a speechwriter, and I’m proud to call him a friend.

Derek is a Trenton legend – no one will ever again be able to say they wrote three (!!!) budget speeches in one calendar year. It’s a record as unbreakable as Cy Young’s 511 wins. As sad as I am to see him go, I’m thrilled to see him get such an incredible opportunity at the Philadelphia Federal Reserve.

Replacing key staff in any Governor’s second term is a difficult job – it’s hard enough to find good talent in the first place. But Governor Murphy has a world-class front office and communications team, and I know they’ll find a way to ably fill the void Derek will leave in the State House.

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