Home>Highlight>Stomping Grounds: Sam Thompson; Electric Cars; Lonegan vs. Space; Diversity in the Senate; and Wilkes for Governor

Stomping Grounds: Sam Thompson; Electric Cars; Lonegan vs. Space; Diversity in the Senate; and Wilkes for Governor

By David Wildstein, February 17 2023 11:38 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.

Question: Sam Thompson, an 87-year-old conservative, pro-life, pro-gun, Trump-supporting, Christie-enabling state senator, has switched parties and will seek a four-year-term as a Democrat.  WTF?

Alex Wilkes: I stand by what I’ve said that 1) age is just a number, 2) voters should get to make that call, and 3) elected officials are beholden to constituents and not parties.

I’ll add something else: elected officials also have an obligation to consider year-after-year whether or not they are doing what they can to advance the next generation of leadership. Importantly, their families – like in any circumstance – also bear responsibility for helping them consider these matters. It’s clear on both sides of the aisle where this has fallen short.

That said, voters will undoubtedly not be supporting him in this district as a Democrat this fall. I think it really says something more about how desperate Democrats are that they would accept anyone – even someone with no shared beliefs – into their caucus. What do they actually believe in: woke rhetoric and policies or just their own power?

Dan Bryan: The voters that reelected him just over a year ago have every right to be upset. Voters tend not to look favorably on politicians changing parties, unless they do so for obvious ideological reasons (like West Virginia Governor Jim Justice). If I were advising Senator Thompson, I would have told him to lay out a clear reasoning, based on policy and ideology, for the switch. Those reasons may exist, but voters haven’t seen them yet.

But let’s look on the bright side – Democrats in Trenton now have an extra vote to continue their work to make New Jersey more affordable, ensure your local police department has the resources they need to keep your community safe, and pass a fiscally responsible budget that makes historic investments in education, transportation, the pension system, and our growing surplus. Welcome to the movement to make New Jersey stronger and fairer, Senator Thompson!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t note how bad this looks for the New Jersey GOP. Not only can’t they recruit decent candidates in critical battleground districts, they’re now losing long-time electeds to the Democratic party. Regardless of the reason, this is an absolute nightmare for them.

Question: Governor Murphy announced this week that he was accelerating his green energy plan with New Jersey requiring renewable energy and electric vehicles by 2035.  Is this realistic, and how will this impact the mid-term legislative elections?

Dan: It took tremendous leadership for the Governor to make a bold announcement like this. But don’t be surprised to see many states follow suit sooner rather than later.

Here are the facts: announcements like the one Governor Murphy made this week lead to more market certainty for the role of electric cars in our future. That means more car companies making more EVs, which leads to lower prices and increased uptake. It will also lead to more EV infrastructure, including sorely needed urban charging stations.

Anyone saying EVs will be “too expensive” in 2035 is purposefully disregarding trends we’re already seeing. EVs could match traditional gasoline cars on prices this year, let alone twelve years from now. As aggressive and bold as this announcement is today, I have a feeling that the market will naturally make the need for a ban redundant far before 2035.

There will, of course, be those with no ideas of their own, who downplay the effects of climate change and act as though any significant move toward a clean energy economy is “too costly” and “too burdensome” to consider. They bring nothing to the table other than scare tactics and willful ignorance, and voters in New Jersey are smart enough to see right through them.

Alex: I think this is a political disaster for every Democrat on the ballot this fall. Support for green, environmentally friendly policies is one thing, but support for something that will force voters’ hand into their own pockets to pay for a radical agenda is something else entirely. Moreover, with the stroke of a pen, Phil Murphy has not just made a choice for your family, but he has also made a decision to upend entire industries and jobs important to New Jersey. Finally, let’s not forget the fact that Murphy somehow wants to do this with an inadequate power grid while also destroying the natural gas industry. Responsible pollsters should think carefully about how they word this issue in surveys so as not to create another polling mirage for Democrats this year.

What’s particularly pathetic about this is how when Phil Murphy looks at himself in the mirror, he clearly doesn’t see a leader, but rather sees Gavin Newsom or Ron DeSantis at every turn. Everything he does is a response aimed at making national headlines for his presidential run. The reality is that he is stylistically awkward and possesses absolutely zero creativity or leadership skills. His presidential run will be a complete failure, just like this political bomb of an Executive Order.

Question: If there’s a Scoville scale for primary elections, it already looks like Steve Lonegan vs. Parker Space is at the top. Some people — full disclosure: I’m one of them — think primaries are good for democracy.  Are they?

Alex: Short answer: yes. We are a better party and country when voters have more choices.

Without reference to this race (or any particular race or office), I also generally believe that there’s also nothing wrong with party leadership taking a strong position in these contests, particularly when gadflies show up year after year wasting party resources and time. Parties have a legitimate role to play in selecting and cultivating their own leadership.

Dan: I agree with Alex – we are a stronger democracy when our voters have more choices.

As far as the candidates themselves go, this is a true race to the bottom. Assemblyman Space has a tattoo of the Confederate Flag on his arm, and Steve Lonegan makes Marjorie Taylor Greene look like a moderate. They are both a Democratic ad maker’s dream, and I’m sure there are many Democratic candidates throughout our state that can’t wait to make the “winner” of this primary into the face of the New Jersey GOP for this fall’s midterm elections.

Question: Sandra Cunningham clearly isn’t running again, and it doesn’t seem like Nia Gill will make it through the Democratic primary.  That’s two of the four Black women in the New Jersey State Senate.  How can Democrats be credible on diversity issues if that number goes down on the watch of a progressive governor?

Dan: Representation in politics is hugely important. There are some fantastic young Assemblywomen in the Democratic legislative caucus, including (but not limited to!) Shavonda Sumter, Angela McKnight, and Britnee Timberlake. And let’s remember that Sheila Oliver, the first black woman to be elected to a statewide office in New Jersey history (and one of my favorite people in New Jersey politics), is still the sitting Lieutenant Governor.

Governor Murphy has walked the walk when it comes to representation in state government. Whether it’s increasing the number of women and minority appointments to critical boards and authorities, or appointing the first-ever minority-majority and female-majority cabinet in state history, he’s done more than anyone in our history to increase representation at all levels.

Alex: I think the more pressing point is how the Murphy Agenda has failed minorities in our state across the board. From initiating lockdowns that shuttered small businesses and schools during the pandemic to restricting the growth of charter schools, Murphy has shown time and again that his priority is promoting a personal image that bears no relationship to bettering the people that he serves.

Don’t take it from me: even prominent progressive Pastor David Jefferson has stated that Murphy on the campaign trail “trumpeted loudly his deep devotion to the Black community, to other minorities, and to women” but, once elected, “forgot about them and immediately focused instead on his next political move and advancing his own personal prospects.”

Question: Since the 2025 Governor’s race is already underway, I’m going to sneak in an extra question this week: who will be Governor of New Jersey 20 years from now?

Alex: I will.

Dan: My prediction — Alex Wilkes will follow Senator Sam Thompson’s lead, coming to her senses and joining the Democratic Party before being elected Governor in 2045. I’ll try to work for her and she’ll pretend to have lost my number.

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