Political campaign season: Be consistent, learn from our past, do what’s best

As we head toward election season, NJSPBA President Pat Colligan and our team have the tremendous responsibility of looking out for our 33,000-plus members’ best interests. As always, this year our only priority is promoting a positive law enforcement agenda. This is a process that does not consider personalities or partisan politics but always takes into strong consideration the input from our membership.

But politics and deciphering the promises of politicians looking for the PBA endorsement is not easy work. We don’t have to look too far back in our history to see politicians outwardly lie to us on important issues. I am constantly reminding members about our experience with former Governor Chris Christie in 2009. It began with Christie’s open letter to each of us seeking support to become governor.  He said all the right things.

Unfortunately, as we learned the hard way, his commitment to us was a lie. A campaign promise made for the sole purpose of procuring our endorsement was followed by his continuous efforts to turn the public against us by accusing our members of being greedy for expecting what was owed. Even so, in 2013 when Christie was running for a second term, we still had some members willing to overlook his repeated actions and work against us in advocating support of his re-election.

Christie’s eight years as governor were among the most difficult and contentious we’ve all had to endure. That experience was compounded by the fact that he was able to splinter our membership into a small sub-group willing to endorse him for a second term even after repeatedly lying to us and vilifying us all to the public, simply because he was a Republican running against a progressive Democrat.

Political affiliation is something we just don’t care about when we are making endorsement recommendations. Republican Party? Democratic Party? Nope, law enforcement party. Who has done the best for us and who will do the best for us? With actions, not words.

In 2020, the NJSPBA took a lot of heat for endorsing a slate of Republicans along with former President Donald Trump in our Democratic-controlled state. In this case, it was the correct decision to support Republican candidates since they collectively better understood qualified immunity.

Republicans were stronger candidates in their support for members of law enforcement. With 99.9 percent of our sisters and brothers being good, honest and hard-working public servants, taking away qualified immunity protection would punish all of us based on the actions of a few bad actors.

Their political party didn’t matter. What did matter was that they were the best representatives for our membership, and they didn’t just cave into public pressures and demands for every member of law enforcement to be dragged through the mud during exceptionally difficult times across the country.

While it may be difficult at times to sort through the political lip service, we make it our responsibility to weed through the political BS and look at actions rather than words. This also includes elected officials that prevent bad policy that negatively impacts law enforcement officers from advancing.

We should be particularly thankful for the leadership of Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin. These leaders remain supportive even when confronted with anti-law enforcement arguments by some of their most progressive constituencies. Senate President Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Coughlin have always been able to strike a balance when confronted with emotionally driven calls for punitive legislation that unfairly targets law enforcement.

Regarding the campaign for governor, former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli is making familiar promises trying to court support among law enforcement. This is positive. But again, actions speak louder than words. And while we haven’t always agreed with current Governor Phil Murphy, he has been supportive of law enforcement on many issues, including mandating workers’ compensation coverage for COVID-19 cases contracted by law enforcement, upgrading penalties for violators of the state’s Move Over Law and sponsoring the public awareness campaign “Slow Down or Move Over, It’s the Law Act,” creating training programs to raise awareness and help prevent suicide by law enforcement officers and establishing a blue alert system.  And it is hard to ignore the historic impact of allowing us to take control of the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) and the 20-and-out retirement legislation.

We officially made NJSPBA endorsements at our last state meeting. Please review Rob Nixon’s list of endorsed candidates throughout the state on page 10. These endorsements will also be published the October issue of NJ Cops Magazine.

Election Day on Nov. 2 will soon be here. We want to remind everyone the importance of being active and supportive of NJSPBA-endorsed candidates. We listen to all input we receive because we know, just as you all do, that we are stronger together. When we stick together on endorsements, it increases our ability to influence policy, advancing and protecting initiatives that are important to us all.

On another note, I want to publicly thank the firefighters and law enforcement agencies who saved three NJSPBA members from the Hopewell Township Police Department — James Hoffman, Michael Makwinski and Robert Voorhees — after being trapped in flood waters during Hurricane Ida.

I also want to thank all members for taking time out on 9/11 to remember the sisters and brothers we lost that day, as well as those who responded to the scene. We continue to lose officers who were there, so we can never forget all the heroes.

Finally, stay safe and look out for each other. Your most important responsibility is making it home safely after every shift. And if you know of a colleague that is having a difficult time, please don’t ignore it. Refer your colleagues to NJSPBA resources for help.