The year was 1995 and the following happened:
The Dow hit 5000 for the first time
The Atlanta Braves won the World Series
The Houston Rockets beat the Orlando Magic 4-0 to win the NBA Championship
The San Francisco 49ers beat the Chargers to win the Super Bowl
Forest Gump won the Oscar for Best Picture
The bestselling toy was Pogs (still have no idea what they are)
Toy Story was the top grossing film
“Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio was the top song
Newt Gingrich took over as Speaker of the House
Bob Dole took over as Senate Majority Leader
The composition of the New Jersey Senate was 24 GOP and 16 Dems
The Composition of the New Jersey Assembly was 50 GOP and 30 Dem
So why am I revisiting the year of 1995? I believe that history tends to repeat itself.
What else happened in 1995? There was a record amount of primary fights in the Assembly. We witnessed 16 different primaries in 1995. Off year elections in which the State Assembly is at the top of the ticket tend to invite challengers who imagine that victory is more attainable without a Presidential election, federal office, or State Senate race topping the ticket.
What is next year? 2019, and yes, an off year with the Assembly topping the ticket. It doesn’t happen often (1995, 1999, and 2015 come to mind), but when it does, look out for a crazy primary season, like 1995.
In 1995, the Democrats squared off in 10 different legislative district primaries: 3, 7, 21, 22, 27, 28, 29, 31, 32 and 35. Legislative incumbents or party favorites like Bob Smith, Nia Gill, Leroy Jones, Wilfredo Caraballo, Harry McEnroe, Craig Stanley, Willie Brown, Jackie Mattison, Joe Doria, Joseph Charles, Anthony Impreveduto, Joan Quigley, William Pascrell Jr., and Rev. Alfred Steele were all challenged in the 1995 off year primary.
That same year saw the Republican party in the middle of 6 primaries. The following districts saw action: 23, 25, 26, 31, 32, and 33. GOP Party favorites or incumbents were challenged as well, including Leonard Lance, Connie Myers, Anthony Bucco, Michael Patrick Carroll, Alex DeCroce and Carol Murphy.
The last 16 primary elections saw an average of a little over 11% voter participation. With the high-water mark of 26% in 2016 and low mark of 7% in 2011. In 1999, the primary voter percentage was a pathetic 6%, 1995 saw 10%, and 2015 witnessed an abysmal 5% primary turnout. The average turnout in the last three primary elections where the State Assembly headed up the ticket – 7%. Look out!
For those of you who think your party line will hold, when only 5% are showing up to vote, the “line” won’t matter. The last place any backbench Assembly member would want to be is at the top of the ticket against an ambitious challenger with nothing to lose, unless you’ve got a lot of money, key campaign operatives, and a real organization behind you – then you’re in good position.
Beware: 2019 is coming and it promises to be like 1995 all over again.
This column originally appeared on InsiderNJ.