Home>Highlight>Stomping Grounds: Monmouth election machines, George Santos, Sadaf Jaffer and N.J. political exports

Stomping Grounds: Monmouth election machines, George Santos, Sadaf Jaffer and N.J. political exports

By David Wildstein, January 20 2023 10:50 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 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 every week with New Jersey Globe editor David Wildstein to discuss politics and issues.

Question: The error in programming voting machines in Monmouth County led to double counting of some votes  after fail-safes in the system could flip the outcome of one local election.  How does this impact public confidence in elections?  Should the state and local election officials who knew about this last week – and last month – have been more forthright with the public?

Alex Wilkes: This illustrates exactly why our state requires bipartisan oversight in our county elections offices, and, in what seems to be an isolated incident, I trust that the appropriate officials will address this problem.

Frankly, I think it’s more concerning to think about where we did not have this bipartisan oversight. In Mercer County last year, Phil Murphy failed to appoint a Deputy Superintendent of Elections – a Republican position – when there were countywide failures with the voting machines.

I’ll use this as an opportunity to plug Vote-By-Mail to my Republican friends! A paper ballot that you can trace? That’s a win-win in my book.

Dan Bryan : I think two things are true: the public has confidence in the integrity of our public elections, and are frustrated but not surprised when an honest mistake is made. As regrettable as the Monmouth County situation is, I don’t think an isolated incident (which, for now, it seems to be) will undermine the public’s faith in elections moving forward. It is certainly important that the county and the state show the public they are doing everything they can to rectify the situation and ensure the correct outcome.

I agree with Alex – all New Jersey voters should explore Vote by Mail. And I wish her party hadn’t tried so hard to stop Governor Murphy’s agenda to expand democracy and give New Jerseyans as many options to vote as possible! Republicans have done so much damage to their own electoral prospects by demonizing vote by mail, and they’ve been left in the dust. Meanwhile it’s become a crucial GOTV tool for Democrats.

On a personal note, I’ve been a religious VBM voter for years now. Though I do somewhat miss the communal aspect of voting at my district on election day, I don’t miss having to cram it into my day while juggling work and family duties. In-person early voting is just starting to take off in New Jersey, and it gives New Jerseyans who prefer in-person voting even more options.

Question: America’s fascination with Congressman George Santos of New York seems to be growing exponentially.   How long will this last before the public becomes bored?

Dan: I’m certainly not bored yet. This week, he tweeted, in succession, that 1. he didn’t kill a dog and 2. he wasn’t a drag queen. There’s nothing I won’t believe about this guy at this point. Honestly, I’m a little impressed at how many cons he’s accomplished at such a young age. He’s industrious, if nothing else.

George Santos is really only one standard deviation from President Trump – a con man who lies about everything, shamelessly makes up facts when it suits him, and wins at all costs. He just has the misfortune not to be wealthy and charismatic. It’s not surprising to see Speaker McCarthy and Republicans in Washington look past the lies, the grift, and the fraud and reward Congressman Santos with committee seats this week. If they drew the line now, how many other grifters in their party would they have to denounce?

Alex: I think most Americans generally regard politicians as a little (maybe very) dishonest. What makes George Santos different is the breadth and absurdity of his lies, in addition to his ability to get away with it for as long as he did in our modern times.

America’s fixation with the story is perhaps the only thing about this that doesn’t surprise me. After all, we have always marveled at con men—and women—along with famous true crime figures. From Frank Abagnale (of Catch Me If You Can fame) to modern frauds like “socialite” Anna Delvey and Fyre Festival’s Billy McFarland, we are fascinated by these figures who managed to deceive the sophisticated and wealthy—many times in ways that wouldn’t have passed muster with the average street criminal.

Santos, in similar ways, lived out his lies in plain sight, and any cursory review of his many (MANY) interviews should have immediately sent up red flags for the media and opposing campaigns. I’ll let them answer for that.

As a practical matter, absent serious criminal charges or his own resignation, voters’ only recourse is most likely found in the next election. Perhaps the fascination will finally end, though, when he gets the inevitable Netflix treatment.

Question: The unexpected retirement of Assemblywoman Sadaf Jaffer in the politically competitive 16th district leaves two men, Andrew Zwicker and Roy Freiman, looking for a new running mate.  How important is it for diversity on the ticket?  Should men even bother seeking the Assembly seat?

Alex: The path to the Republican majority undoubtedly runs through LD16, and redistricting has made this historically competitive district a prime pick-up opportunity for us. It’s not surprising to see a Democrat opt out of what is sure to be a very tough fight.

I don’t envy the Democrats here. Any replacements they offer will have to defend the woke, tax and spend Murphy agenda in a time where New Jerseyans are struggling to make ends meet.

Dan: Assemblywoman Jaffer is an up and coming star in the state Democratic party, and though I’m sad to see her decide not to run for reelection, I wish her all the best moving forward. I hope to see her on a ballot again one day.

Representation is incredibly important in elected politics. Though I always think the most important thing in these situations is to simply find the best candidate, the best candidate is often the one that represents the district best, whether that means in terms of demographics, ideology, or personality.

LD16 will be a critical district for Democrats in 2023. I have no doubt that the party will find someone capable to run alongside Senator Zwicker and Assemblyman Freiman and keep LD16 blue.

Question: Wes Moore was sworn in this week as Governor of Maryland, so now Maryland and Montana have governors who used to live in New Jersey.  Pennsylvania Republicans nominated two Jersey guys for  Governor and U.S. Senate.  Arizona U.S. Senator Mark Kelly is from West Orange.   What is it about New Jersey that has made the state an exporter of candidates?

Dan: It’s amazing to look around and see how many politicians, musicians, actors, entrepreneurs, and media personalities come from New Jersey. Home state pride aside, there must be something about growing up here that encourages people to swing big and pursue their dreams. And those that leave always seem to come back. As the late great New Jerseyan Anthony Bourdain said, “To know Jersey is to love her.”

I always thought that having proximity to two big cities, but without hard ties to either, gives us a sense of being close enough to the action that anything is possible, but far enough removed not to be overwhelmed by it. We’re also a state that rewards folks for being aggressive, and that’s often what it takes to succeed in politics. And having the best public schools in the country helps ensure children of future generations have the tools they need to pursue their own dreams.

Alex: I am in the interesting position of answering this question as a Pennsylvania-“shoobie” import to the Garden State (see, Phil Murphy should actually be thanking me for taking the road less traveled across the bridge!).

The answer for the reason behind so many of our political exports is probably found in technical factors, such as the highly educated workforce and the state’s population density. My husband, a New Jerseyan who can trace his roots to the original Bergen County settlers, would be deeply disappointed in me, however, if I ended my answer there.

New Jersey, he argues, has it all – and I can’t say I disagree:  ports, highways, farms, our beautiful shore, access to major population centers, incredible food, a true melting pot of cultures, a storied history, and a diverse landscape that takes in everything from bucolic horse country to vibrant urban centers.

New Jersey & You: Perfect Together (minus the terrible, regressive Democratic policies that drive our talent away!).

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