29 March 2024

Looks Like Change in New Jersey

In New Jersey, there was, emphasis on was a highly competitive Democratic Party primary race to replace corrupt Senator Bob Menendez between the wife of the Governor, Tammy Murphy, and Congressman Andy Kim.

Then Murphy abruptly dropped out of the race, pressured by county party chairs, who were concerned that Representative Kim's lawsuit challenging the state "County Line" primary ballot, in which the county party, and frequently the county party boss, can place whomever they choose prominently at the beginning of the ballot while consigning challengers to completely different, and less prominent, places on the ballot.

Kim has shown no sign of withdrawing the lawsuit, and minor primary candidates have argued that the case should be kept open:

There were some early rumblings a week ago. Steven Fulop’s resume may just say mayor, but he’s been in that position for a decade, Jersey City is the second-biggest city in the state, and Fulop is running for governor next year. He’s always cultivated a kind of outsider persona, but he endorsed Phil Murphy for governor in 2017, and endorsed Murphy’s wife Tammy for Senate in 2024, joining virtually every ambitious politician and county boss in the state.

I’m sure Fulop didn’t see much of a choice. If you wanted to get ahead in New Jersey politics, you had to endorse Tammy Murphy. That was the expectation in a state that hasn’t really had contestable elections for a while, because the establishment of the party could by a wave of their hand choose winners and losers. And they had a long enough memory that being on the wrong side of the winners was nowhere to be for anyone with thoughts of higher office.

So when Fulop came out one week ago and said, “At this point, I don’t think it’s in the state’s best interest for Tammy to continue her campaign,” while switching his endorsement to Andy Kim, it was a signal that the old rules just didn’t work anymore. The extreme gap in quality of candidate between Kim and Murphy just blew up the corrupt bargain that had held in New Jersey for decades, and may turn that state into something approaching a democracy.

Yesterday, Murphy did indeed drop out, a stunning turnaround for someone who seemed destined to waltz into a Senate seat. Kim won this race on the ground, in a series of grassroots performances at the handful of county conventions that weren’t rigged from the get-go. He won just about every single convention with a secret ballot (except for Bergen County, where party boss Paul Juliano seemed to still control the process), and demonstrated that voters would tilt in the same direction.

That didn’t necessarily mean Murphy had no chance. She still had the endorsement in nine out of 21 counties, most of which were awarded by the fiat of the county chair. Several of those counties were among the biggest in the state; more primary voters were expected to come from counties with a Murphy endorsement. And 19 of the 21 counties in New Jersey use the controversial “county line” system, giving endorsed candidates prime space on the ballot while unendorsed challengers are sent to hard-to-find corners known as “ballot Siberia,” with a proven effect on election outcomes.

Notwithstanding Phil Murphy's popularity, the whole nepotism thing stuck in voters' craw, and contributed mightily to Tammy Murphy's decision to quit the race, but even more so was the fact that the Democratic Party bosses were desperate to preserve the county line system, because it is crucial to their power.


There was probably an element of “lose the battle, win the war” here. Lurking in the background of this race was a lawsuit to end the county line, which gives party bosses their power. Kim, while trying to win the Senate race despite the built-in disadvantages, had launched the lawsuit and sought an injunction against the county line, arguing that the ballot system is “fundamentally unjust and undemocratic.” The party bosses might have figured that, if Murphy were to drop out and they all endorsed Kim (which is what appears to have happened), Kim would drop the lawsuit, and they would retain the ballot weapon for future use.

They were wrong. Kim’s adviser Anthony DeAngelo immediately told the New Jersey Globe that the congressman still supported abolishing the county line; his case received a hearing from federal district court judge Zahid Quraishi last week. “The status of our injunction remains in the hands of the judge and we remain ready to strongly advocate for the changes the Congressman and so many others have called for,” DeAngelo said.

FWIW, the judge has just issued an injunction against the county line ballot

New Jersey’s unique way of displaying county-endorsed candidates on the ballot has been struck down by a federal judge, after a lawsuit by Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.), who is running for Senate, and two other Democrats running for Congress, who called the design unfair and unconstitutional.

New Jersey’s ballot design process is unlike any other in the nation, and it allows parties to place their endorsed candidates in a specific portion of the ballot known as “the line.” Candidates running without their party’s endorsement appear in a different section of the ballot, farther down from where voters can see their names.

In his lawsuit, Kim claimed that design “cynically” manipulates voters and are “anathema to fair elections.”

U.S. District Judge Zahid N. Quraishi sided with Kim and the other plaintiffs and said the system of “bracketing” county-endorsed candidates gave them an unfair advantage over their challengers. The ruling will force New Jersey to redesign its ballots ahead of the June primary.
I really do not see this being overturned by the appeals court.


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