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Blue The Nation | July 23, 2014

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Local Focus: The New Jersey Democrats Are Drifting Rightward

Local Focus: The New Jersey Democrats Are Drifting Rightward
Jonathan Nathan

About a week ago, New Jersey state Senate candidate and–apparently–Democrat Javier Vasquez revealed to the world that he’s a pro-lifer against gay marriage. He insists that he’s a “party line” Democrat on any other issue, and that although the voters of the 8th District have “liberal tendencies,” they’re conservative on marriage equality and a woman’s right to choose.

So maybe he’ll defeat Republican incumbent Dawn Addiego. When I profiled New Jersey’s upcoming 2013 state legislative elections a few months ago, I had Addiego in the jackpot as really the only vulnerable Republican incumbent in the state Senate. The Burlington County Democrats are a skilled, politically savvy group that has done well of late in an area in which the Republicans have the advantage in political infrastructure and fundraising, while Democrats have all the demographic advantages. I still think Aimee Belgard would have been a better choice, since she’s demonstrated an ability to win elections in Burlington County already, but maybe Javier Vasquez is the guy to take down Addiego.

But I’m not sure how happy I am about that. Because this is just the latest victory for a certain conservative wing of the New Jersey Democratic Party. Bob Menendez, who’s pretty middle-of-the-road for a national Democrat but apparently a raving leftist in today’s New Jersey, calls them ChristieCrats. That’s a good soundbite for the media, and good red meat for the rank and file, but it’s not quite accurate. Yes, the conservative wing of the party is in bed with Christie to a great degree, but they’re not ChristieCrats. The more accurate epithet was coined by progressive activist Bertin Lefkovic: NorcrossCrats.

Because the problem in New Jersey is not Chris Christie. It’s George Norcross. Norcross is the last old-school political boss left standing in New Jersey, the only one Christie couldn’t take down when he was working for the feds. Believe me, Christie tried to nail him, and publicly blew a gasket years before he ran for Governor at the local prosecutors who blew the case. Now the two men are allies in an effort to force the New Jersey political conversation rightward. The ultimate plan is a center-right Democrat/Republican majority in both houses of the legislature, controlled by political bosses George Norcross and Chris Christie, long after Christie’s term as governor is finished. Norcross and his allies have already aligned the party with Christie in at least an informal, ad hoc way, which has the effect of making it a lot more like the Virginia Democratic Party than the California Democratic Party.

“I’m gonna kill a progressive Democrat WITH MY EYES, you guys.”

All of this has led to a major split between progressives and the NorcrossCrats. To my way of thinking, that means that the Norcross crew needs to scale back, for the good of the party, its moderate agenda. I’m not suggesting they give up power; in New Jersey, asking someone to give up political power is like asking someone to pee on his mother’s grave. I’m just saying, hey guys, get a little less cozy with the Governor.

How much less cozy? Uncozy enough so that the fourth picture on a Google Image search for the boss of the New Jersey Democrats isn’t literally a picture of Chris fucking Christie.

Because there’s something guys like Norcross never understand. I’ve seen them before, and in some cases I’ve known them personally and pleaded with them to see reason. But the thing they don’t get is that you can make a deal with the devil, and he’ll honor the deal until there’s no longer a good reason for him to honor it. Once Christie and his allies have successfully forced the conversation in New Jersey to the right, does Norcross really believe that the two men will remain allies? If he does, he’s delusional. It’s something we often see in San Francisco, when progressive (in SF, that means “pro-tenant, pro-renter, pro-worker”) politicians and politicos get in bed with the moderates (in SF, that means “pro-real estate industry, pro-developer, pro-business”) for short-term political deals and exemptions from the creeping gentrification. But once they’ve gentrified everything else, they’ll come for the progressives and their fiefdoms too. Deals be damned.

And once Chris Christie has gotten what he wants out of George Norcross, he’ll betray him. That’s how politics gets done in New Jersey. And for what? Why is Norcross pushing a moderate agenda anyway? Has he forgotten that New Jersey is reliably blue? If he wants to hold a lot of power in the state’s political machinery, all he has to do is be an influential Democrat, which he is. Norcross needs to stop thinking short-term like an independent operator and start thinking about the big picture. Like a Democratic political boss. Yes, a boss tries to position himself well within the party. But he also makes sure that there’s a party left to position within at all.