Aggressive gerrymandering and money in politics has moved us farther away from democracy and concentrated government power in the hands of fewer and fewer people. This is true at both the state and federal levels.
Donald Trump tapped into this general feeling of disenfranchisement that exists nationwide and used hateful messages and dividing people into groups to win the election. If we are to wrest control of Congress, the governorships, and the state legislatures away from Republicans in 2018, we must quickly develop a strong counter message that champions people over corporations and a return to democracy. We must connect with those who voted for Trump while holding their nose and those who stayed home because they have lost faith in the system. My hope is that a NJ grassroots coalition playing a forceful role in the elections next year can inspire and provide a template for the thirty six states that have statewide elections in 2018. The next redistricting is in 2020, so these elections are critical.
In NJ, most people live under a political machine. Because of how gerrymandered the state legislative districts are, most elections are decided in the primary. Of our 40 districts, only 2 are truly competitive in a general election. Thus, in any given year the legislature is chosen by the 5-10% of voters who vote in the primary. Moreover, the "political machine" in New Jersey is bipartisan. 30 Democratic leaders endorsed Chris Christie over Democratic candidate Barbara Buono in 2013 and worked to get him elected. Barbara Buono herself stated in her concession speech that "the Democratic political bosses some elected some not made a deal with this governor despite him representing almost everything they are against. They didn't do it for the state. They did it to help themselves politically and financially."
New Jersey's electoral and political system is truly broken when Democratic leaders actively helped elect Chris Christie.
At Monday's meeting we voted to take the first step towards our electoral involvement in next year's races. We adopted 4 government reform proposals that together are intended to make NJ's government democratic again. There are about 10 million other reforms that are needed, but these 4 specifically target the way the system works- how elections are conducted. If we can fix the way the system itself works, we can get good people into office who can make the other necessary reforms.
Here is a brief summary of the reforms we discussed, debated, and ultimately adopted on Monday:
1) Fair Ballots. Currently the Democratic County Chair (or Republican if you live in a Republican county) gets to select who has column A in the primary. Absent special circumstances, column A almost always wins primaries; it's called "voting the line." The result of this, since most districts are gerrymandered and decided in the primary by very few voters, is that our legislators are essentially "appointed" by the county chair rather than elected by the people. Ensuring fair ballots would help shift the power from a single county boss back to the electorate.
2) Non-partisan Constitutional Officers Our constitutional officers (county clerk, sheriff, and surrogate) should be non-partisan positions with the election in November. Currently those are partisan positions. Because of the unfair ballot issues explained above, the result is that the county clerk, who is responsible for ensuring fair elections, is appointed by and beholden to the Democratic or Republican County Chair (depending on whether you live in a Democratic or Republican county). We believe that the selection of the person who administers the elections should be independent of political influence.
3) Redistricting Currently redistricting in NJ is done by a bipartisan commission of 5 Democrats and 5 Republicans. If they are unable to agree on a map, then an 11th person is appointed by the Chief Justice of the NJ Supreme Court. At first blush, this may seem like a fair system because it is bipartisan, but in reality it disenfranchises the entire electorate. Though the Democrats and Republicans advocate for different maps, each is advocating towards the same goal: the most number of "safe" districts possible. This directly conflicts with what is in the electorate's best interest: the greatest number of competitive districts possible. Competitive elections are good for the people and democracy because they force politicians to campaign and engage with the electorate and they encourage greater accountability with how the legislator votes. The state Redistricting Commission should include unaffiliated voices and take into account that competition promotes democracy (note that there was debate over whether we should address state and federal redistricting or just state and we resolved to just address state for now).
4) Initiative and Referendum. NJ is one of only 6 states in the country that does not provide for some form of direct democracy at the state level. We need to be able to directly participate in our government.
1) Educational Seminars: To spread the message about our efforts to enact these reforms, we are going to hold educational seminars about how the machine works in NJ, the legal basis for the existing practices, why the reforms matter, and the results where such reforms have been enacted in other places. I am working on bringing in speakers for these seminars. It will basically be a day of intensive learning about NJ's government with the goal that people who attend will be able to teach others about how the system works.
2) Voter Registration Drives: We will be organizing regular voter registration drives to bring more people into the political process and garner more support for government reforms.
3) Non-Violent/ Civil Disobedience Training: There is significant interest in a training course for non violent protesting and civil disobedience similar to the one being offered in Philadelphia. We are going to try to set up a similar course in January before the March on Washington.
4) Happy Hour is next Tuesday December 13th at Moran's in Hoboken.
5) Women's march on Washington. There are still seats available for the 4th bus. Email Liz Cohen at firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a seat.
1) Social Media committee is connected and working on our social media campaign. There will be many volunteer opportunities for writers, artists, and researchers.
2) Executive Board will be formed and meeting for the first time before the end of December.
3) Mission Statement, organizational chart, and bylaws are in the works and will be put to a vote at January meeting.
Sorry for the very long email! There is so much going on that even this long email is leaving a lot of stuff out. As always, please email with any thoughts or suggestions.