In seven weeks New Jersey voters will have the opportunity to elect an entirely new state legislature.
Patrick Murray’s Monmouth University/Neptune Nudniks poll conducted in August indicates that New Jersey voters disapprove of their legislature by a 48%-35% margin. Democrats disapprove by 45%-38%. Independents, the majority, disapprove by a whopping 50%-28%. Surprisingly, Republicans approve of the legislature by a 45%-41% margin. Public workers disapprove by 55%-26%.
Based solely on those poll results, one might expect that we’d be in the middle of a spirited campaign with Democrats and public workers rallying to throw the Republicans out of office. Obviously that is not the case. Democrats control the legislature that their base and Independents disapprove of strongly.
Due to Dr. Alan Rosenthal’s decision that New Jersey voters are better off being continuously represented by legislators they don’t know, there are only a handful of competitive legislative races. The Democrats will continue to control the legislature for the next two years. Probably the next ten years.
The 11th district race is the only local race that is remotely interesting, so far.
There are two reasons that it is interesting. Independent candidate Dan Jacobson is colorful and is wisely using MMM, as well as his own publication to generate interest in his campaign. Republicans are not happy about this, but MMM has had a long standing policy welcoming voices other than Art Gallagher’s. Democrats have foolishly ignored the opportunity for years despite Gallagher’s overt invitations.
The other reason that the 11th district race is interesting is that Senator Jennifer Beck made gay marriage an issue. That’s right, Beck, not Jacobson, not MMM, gave gay marriage prominence in this race. She did so when she told Gannett columnist Jane Roh that she would change her vote on the issue.
“There are lots of reasons why I ultimately voted no. My position has evolved. I spent a lot of time on this issue, and at the end of the day, I would support it if it came before me.”
The Democrats, jumped on Beck’s curiously timed “flip-flop.” She had given them an issue.
The issue heated up again when Beck told Garden State Equality that she would vote to override Governor Christie’s veto of same sex marriage if given the opportunity. Put on the spot, Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini took the same position with some reluctance.
As a result, Beck and Angelini’s running mate, Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande, is now in a tough spot.
Casagrande has been, ummm, straight, in how she has responded to the issue. She could have remained silent and let people continue to assume that she was against gay marriage rather than say she has yet to take a position. This has resulted in attacks by Jacobson, Olivia Nuzzi and other Democrats who scoff at Casagrande’s insistence that the issue is not simple and that the rights of religious organizations need to be respected as well.
Gay marriage advocates say they have no problem with religious rights being protected and that is no longer a valid reason to withhold support of marriage equality. While that might be true now, it has not been true in the 11th district’s recent past. The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association lost the tax exempt status of its Pavilion in 2007 when it refused to allow a lesbian couple have a civil union ceremony there. The Methodist organization told the couple they could have their ceremony on the boardwalk that is also owned by the group, but not in a structure where religious ceremonies are held.
That compromise wasn’t good enough and the couple complained to the State Division of Civil Rights. Eventually, Lisa Jackson, Governor Corzine’s DEP Commissioner and now President Obama’s EPA Commissioner, declined to recertify the pavilion’s tax exempt status which the Camp Meeting Assoication had enjoyed under New Jersey’s Green Acres program. Reports indicate that the loss of tax exempt status for the structure cost the association about $20,000 per year.
New York’s recently enacted gay marriage law would have protected the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association from the lesbian couple’s complaint and from Jackson’s punitive action had it been law in New Jersey in 2007. I’d be willing to bet that Jacobson, Nuzzi and the 11th district Democratic candidates did not know that before it reading here. Garden State Equality was front in center in the 2007 fight against the Camp Meeting Association. I’ve yet to hear a peep from them about the rights of the religious or the rights of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association in particular with regard to gay marriages now that New York has set a new standard.
While the gay marriage issue is not going away, so long as Chris Christie is governor it is not a practical political issue for a legislative race. While Democrats are expected to continue their hold on the legislature, there in not enough support from their side of the isle to override a veto. Garden State Equality blew their chance to get a gay marriage law passed when they agreed to Governor Corzine’s request that they not push the issue until after his re-election race.
The importance of gay marriage to voters in the 11th district depends on who you believe. Beck told MMM that Garden State Equality told her that there are 10,000 same sex couples in the 11th district. I would would want to see a list and match it up to the voter registration records before I bought that claim. There is no historical evidence of such a voting block.
Until I see such a list, I won’t be convinced the issue is as critical to 11th district voters as 6 of the 7 candidates running seem to think it is. Its the economy and those who are trying to make the campaign about something other than the economy think the voters of the 11th district are stupid.
While all this chatter is fun, it won’t have much of an impact on election day. Despite a 10,000 voter registration edge for the Democrats, Jacobson and the Democrats expect the Republicans to win a low turnout election by a wide margin.
Coming soon, What if we held an election and nobody cared? Part 2, 13th district.