Commentary

Replacing LoBiondo: We Cannot Settle for Party Bosses’ Picks

By JOHN M. IMPERIALE | Nov 15, 2017

First, brace yourself. We now matter. Our area is about to seem like Iowa a year before a presidential election. We are going to be inundated with political mailings, signs, radio and TV ads, robo-calls, personal calls and, yes, probably knocks on doors.

The just-concluded gubernatorial and local races were nothing compared to what we are about to experience. A critical election, which could easily go either way, will occur in one year, and it is important enough that we need to pay attention starting right now. The race to replace retiring Congressman Frank LoBiondo may decide which party controls the House of Representatives.

That, though, should be the least of our concerns.

First, we need to be certain that we have a real choice, that political bosses do not select candidates for us. We should do what we can to ensure that good people from both sides of the political spectrum step up to run. Then we should commit to voting for the best person without letting our party preference become the only deciding factor.

We have six months until a primary, one year until the election. We must use that time wisely. I do not want to hear from Steve Bannon or, for that matter, Bernie Sanders. I do not want Paul Ryan’s candidate or Nancy Pelosi’s candidate, though you can bet they’ll be involved.

The far-right and the far-left will be coming out of the woodwork to appeal to our basest instincts. It is time to say that our most basic interest is good government.

I want a candidate to rise from our community who is not an extremist or an ideologue, but who instead is a practical person committed to getting things done. I want someone who will commit to go to Washington and work with any and all legislators to actually be effective: fix the Affordable Care Act, deal with immigration fairly, address the opioid crisis, secure our elections, change the tax code in a way that actually helps the middle class, protect the environment, protect our shore communities and, most importantly, admit that in order to get anything accomplished they must work with the other party and compromise.

Unfortunately, that sounds an awful lot like Frank LoBiondo. It should certainly trouble all of us that the reason our congressman is retiring is because he believes that “there is no longer middle ground to honestly debate issues and put forward solutions.” How unfortunate. Our next representative must have Frank LoBiondo’s idealism but not his fatalism.

Already we hear that Republican “leaders” are zeroing in on Assemblyman Chris Brown to replace LoBiondo. The Democratic Party is floating the candidacy of State Sen. Jeff Van Drew. Both men may be good, viable choices, but I, for one, am tired of political bosses determining who should run. I know there is a primary process, but, and I hate to say this, that process is rigged. Did anyone believe that Phil Murphy or Kim Guadagno was not going to be their party’s candidate for governor? And then did anyone believe that Phil Murphy would lose?

I know that upsets happen. Donald Trump unexpectedly won the presidency, but Hillary Clinton easily won New Jersey, and our Senate and congressional races have long had predictable results. That being said, there is nothing predictable about which party will win New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District in 2018.

There are more registered Democrats than registered Republicans in the district. And it will be an “off-year” election, which typically costs the party in power seats. So the district may just “flip” and be a key part of the majority in the House of Representatives similarly changing party leadership.

There is absolutely no doubt that Mr. LoBiondo would have won re-election. He has never gotten less than 57.7 percent of the vote since being elected 23 years ago. Most congressional seats are “safe.” Every two years members of Congress are routinely re-elected. And when one of them chooses to retire, their party usually continues to hold that seat. In 2016, the year of the Trump upheaval, 97 percent of House members running for re-election won. Only one incumbent Democrat lost to a Republican; only six incumbent Republicans lost to a Democrat. And remember that is out of 535 representatives!

New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District may be one that “flips” from one party to the other. And the House is “in play” in 2018, in spite of the Democrats needing to pick up 24 seats to win a majority. That is true not because the results from this year’s elections seem to bode well for Democrats, but because of the disappearance of the moderate Republican. It is not just Rep. LoBiondo who is retiring. Others are similarly disenchanted with the extremists in the Republican Party (think Charlie Dent in Pennsylvania, for example). In addition to the Republicans in the House who will retire, others will face a primary challenge from the right. So the Democrats may take control. Or they may not.

The key point is that most of those reading this newspaper will get a new representative in Congress next year. The fact that he or she will not have Mr. LoBiondo’s seniority is troubling – seniority does rule in Washington. We are losing a “senior” Republican to be replaced by a “junior” of one party or the other. So whomever we elect will not have the clout of Congressman LoBiondo. And the congressman virtually admitted that he had little actual clout, calling himself an “outlier.” That makes it even more important that the next person we send to Washington be someone who can independently fight for us.

Yet I fear that we will be left with whomever the party leaders choose. If there is a primary in either party, the party-backed candidate will be given a huge advantage in fundraising and logistical support, just as Murphy and Guadagno were this year. But not if we act now.

People, good people, will seek to run. Check them out. Find out about their policies and positions, their goals and accomplishments. Ignore the influential backers of the candidates. Determine for yourself whom you want to be your next representative. Urge someone you think would be a suitable candidate to run.

Then help that person get elected before we are left with just two choices, and both of them unacceptable. After all, that just happened to us.

John M. Imperiale of Harvey Cedars can be reached at johnmimperiale@gmail.com.

 

 

 

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