There is an old saying in government that there is no Republican or Democratic way to pick up the garbage. In the case of analyzing elections, there is certainly a Republican and a Democratic way to view the 2014 midterm elections. There is also a PBA way to view the election, but I will get to that later.
What is obvious about the latest election nationally is that the Republicans came out with a massive sweep of wins throughout the country from the U.S. Senate into a number of State Houses. A Republican will call this result a repudiation of the President and his policies and a victory for limiting government and growing the economy. A Democrat will look at the numbers and point out the two-thirds of the electorate failed to vote and that it was general unhappiness about partisan gridlock that poisoned the well against their candidates.
As with most things in politics, there is some truth in both opinions. Polls showed voters were disgusted by politics in Washington that blamed both parties for a lack of progress. In addition, recent Congressional redistricting throughout the country has provided the GOP with a nearly built-in House majority from districts drafted to be friendly to them. But there is no doubt that after six years of President Obama, a struggling economy, chaos in the Middle East, the failure to implement Obamacare as planned, gridlock in Congress and the history of midterms for a second-term president that those that did vote overwhelmingly expressed their displeasure with the Democratic Party leadership.
Republicans didn’t just win the easy seats, they won in Democratic districts, in Democratic states and they defeated moderate and conservative Democrats in the South and West. They took a majority in the U.S. Senate that likely will be 54 Republican Senators. They expanded their majority in the House to numbers they haven’t had since Herbert Hoover was president.
There will be 32 Republican governors next year after the GOP won formerly Democratic spots in Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts. They also have taken control in more state legislatures than ever before. Even in Pennsylvania, where a hugely unpopular Republican governor lost, GOP candidates trounced Democrats across the state to expand their majority.
Why should PBA members care what happens in Maryland or Pennsylvania or in the U.S. Senate? First, the people and groups that funded those wins came after public sector labor across the nation and now there is a solid foundation to push for the end to collective bargaining and pensions in more places. New Jersey does not exist in a vacuum. What happens in other states does have an impact here as ideas, legislation and the game plan to implement those travels fast.
Second, the closeness of many of these contested races, some still undecided, proves that every single vote makes a difference and blocks of unified voters can control an election. Legislators of both parties do not forgot the groups that stood with them in close elections. Roughly one-third of voters came to the polls; that leaves a lot of room for a unified voting block to make or break a campaign.
While there was a massive wave of change hitting nationally, absolutely nothing really changed federally in New Jersey as Sen. Booker and every incumbent House member was re-elected. For the PBA that means that 100 percent of your endorsed candidates were re-elected or elected to their first terms. The PBA did make a difference, especially in District 3 where Republican Tom MacArthur took an open seat in Congress by a wide margin in a District many thought would come down to the wire. MacArthur was so appreciative of the PBA that among his first calls to say “thank you” was to the State PBA.
Election Day also saw State Senator Donald Norcross elected to Congress in the 1st District. This is significant in that he will be filling in the remainder of the term starting in mid-November left vacant when Congressman Andrews stepped down and that his leaving will necessitate the appointment of a new chairman of the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee. That Committee is obviously important to the State PBA and we will be engaging the new chairman as soon as the appointment is made by the Senate President.
The key big picture question following the election is whether a Congress controlled again by Republicans can work with a lame duck Democratic president. Will either side be willing to deal or will they just let politics dictate more gridlock? Will conservatives in Congress allow the Republican leadership to work with the President? Will Democrats hopeful of replacing the President in 2016 and winning back Congress allow the President to give Republicans any policy victories?
So PBA members should reflect on these elections not only for their national implications but on what it means here in New Jersey. First, turnout was low in 2014 but it could be even lower in 2015 when only the General Assembly is on the ballot. Voter turnout is historically low when the legislature tops the ticket – it was 27 percent in 2011. That equals opportunity for State PBA members to impact the legislature. A lot more will be written and discussed about how that could happen but there has never been a more important time for PBA members to act as one at the ballot box.
Second, while it is widely assumed Gov. Christie will run for President, no one knows when he may announce or if he will resign to run. If he is running for President does he leave Republicans to run for Assembly seats on their own in 2015 or does he make it his mission to have one last major victory before leaving for the Presidential trail by putting all his eggs in the basket of making the Assembly Republican? Or he could stay put to be a king-maker for the eventual GOP nominee and continue on as he has before.
PBA members therefore must be thinking about 2015 today and watching carefully what is going on in Trenton as the decisions made there now will dictate PBA positions this time next year. The choice to ensure members register to vote, to do a “PBA Day in Trenton,” PAC discussions and greater focus on individual legislator relationships aren’t happening by accident. As we can tell from the last election, campaigns have meaning and who wins really matters. It is therefore best to be the one who decides who wins and who loses before they decide whether you win or lose in the legislature.