Friendly Fire: Sacco’s jackpot, Kean’s bedfellow, Booker’s quest for justice

Can Americans still have a sensible and friendly political discussion across the partisan divide? The answer is yes, and we intend to prove it. Julie Roginsky, a Democrat, and Mike DuHaime, a Republican, are consultants who have worked on opposite teams for their entire careers yet have remained friends throughout. Here, they discuss the week’s events with Editorial Page Editor Tom Moran.

Q. State Sen. Tom Kean Jr. launched his campaign for Congress Wednesday during a joint appearance with Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader, a Trump loyalist who voted to reject the 2020 election results. Why McCarthy? And how will that play in the 7th District?

Julie: It’s mind-boggling. Kevin McCarthy is one of Donald Trump’s biggest henchmen. He is a reminder that Senator Kean’s election could lead to his becoming speaker and Trumpism becoming ascendant in the House. That is entirely out of step with the mood of the 7th Congressional District and it is, in fact, the reason the district went Democratic in the first place. Unless Kean is abundantly sure that the newly redistricted 7th CD will be overwhelmingly Republican – and that is a foolish assumption to make – this is a really curious decision. Senator Kean would have been better off getting stuck in traffic on Route 1 and missing this event altogether.

Mike: I think you’re both overthinking this phase of the campaign. Kevin McCarthy is not a Donald Trump lightning rod politically. It sends a great signal to local Republicans and donors around the country that the future Speaker of the House thinks Tom Kean is the candidate to win this district. This early signal is going to help him raise money and proves this is one of the most important races in the country.

Julie: I would agree with you if Kevin McCarthy did not leave Tom Kean’s event and immediately go over to Bedminster to kiss Donald Trump’s ring. Most voters associate McCarthy with his sycophancy towards Trump and with his complete betrayal of constitutional values by refusing to support an independent investigation into the traitors who stormed the Capitol on January 6th. I actually know and like Tom Kean and I am shocked that he would stand with a guy like Kevin McCarthy after that. There are some things more important than politics, as Senator Kean’s own father has shown time and again. So I am disappointed, to say the least. Partisan politics is one thing but giving any quarter to a man who enables the traitors of January 6th is beyond the pale.

Q. Buried in the massive $3.5 trillion budget plan agreed to by Senate Democrats this week is a provision that would tax imports from countries like China and India that fail to contain carbon emissions, similar to a plan under consideration in the European Union. Is that a game-changing idea? Is it a smart move?

Julie: It is certainly a game-changing idea, although current inflationary pressures might make the political circumstances around passing this particular provision more difficult. It would also likely kick off a massive trade war with China, which is the one thing that might unite elements of the Trump base and the Democratic base.

Mike: Julie’s right. While the goals may be laudable, the impact will ultimately be felt by US consumers. These ideas often sound great to rich liberals who don’t live paycheck to paycheck.

Q. New Jersey’s fiscal crisis is easing, and the outlook for the future is “positive,” according to a new analysis from Moody’s released this week. At the same time, the state began sending out $500 rebate checks to middle-class families. Happy days are here again?

Julie: I don’t want to be the buzz kill here, but New Jersey’s fiscal crisis is not over. New Jersey just got a massive influx of federal cash that has taken the pressure off a little bit, but structural problems remain and will continue to remain for many years to come.

Mike: Agreed. New Jersey’s budget this year is like a little kid on a sugar high. We are binging on borrowing and federal stimulus that all goes away next year. Eventually the Coca-Cola and birthday cake’s effects will wear off.

Q. Jack Ciattarelli, the GOP candidate for governor, criticized the gay rights curriculum in New Jersey schools, saying “We’re not teaching sodomy in the 6th grade.” For the record, that’s not part of the gay rights curriculum. But will this hurt Ciattarelli? And why would he pick this fight?

Julie: Another unforced error. Aside from the fact that Assemblyman Ciattarelli is just wrong on the merits, this is an odd decision politically. Jim McGreevey came close to beating Governor Whitman in 1997 by talking about the cost of auto insurance and property taxes incessantly. Chris Christie beat Governor Corzine in 2009 by talking about property taxes and Corzine’s failed plan to monetize the state’s toll roads. New Jersey voters, including those who otherwise vote Democratic at the federal level, are fiscally sensitive. If you want to beat an incumbent governor, that is what you should be talking about.

Mike: Republicans win in New Jersey when the focus is on fiscal issues, not culture wars. Jack has never been divisive on such issues before and often times supportive of LGBTQ rights. As a party and as society, we should welcome and encourage a curriculum that teaches and embraces diversity. We are about the power of the individual. It is hard to know, accept and ultimately love each other if we don’t know each other first. Exposure to religions, races, cultures or views on sexuality or gender identity different from your personal experience is first step to tolerance and acceptance, which is an important step along the road to love and support.

Q. Sen. Nick Sacco is rich man, having received $270,000 in unused sick pay after retiring from one of his three public jobs, in addition to his pension of $220,000 and another $100,000 or so he earns in salary as state senator and mayor of North Bergen. What does this say about New Jersey’s broken politics that he can get away with this?

Julie: I don’t think it says anything about New Jersey’s politics. It says something about pensions for public workers, which have been negotiated and in place for quite some time. If voters really opposed them, they would have voted out the lawmakers who negotiated these contracts.

Mike: It just shows the need for reform. This is just a high-profile example of something that’s happening all over the state year after year. That’s a lot of money for taxpayers to be on the hook for, and it frustrates them because most of them don’t get big bonuses upon retirement. It’s just another reason property taxes keep going up.

Q. Finally, Sen. Cory Booker is co-sponsor of a bill to decriminalize marijuana nationally. It would allow those with marijuana convictions to expunge those records and impose a tax on weed sales to help communities hard-hit by the marijuana prohibition. What’s your take on the merits, and the politics?

Julie: Bravo, Senator Booker. In this case, the merits and the politics both align. The War on Drugs, which has dragged on for fifty years, has been an abysmal failure. We have incarcerated generations of people – largely poor, Black men – for being in possession of a few ounces of pot. This is insane and has destroyed families, communities and societies. I know Senator Booker to be a man of great compassion and it finally took someone with his character to stand up and say that we have been going about this all wrong.

Mike: I understand the push for decriminalization. I understand better now than before the negative consequences for the criminalization of low-level offenses. That said, many people are still uncomfortable with legalization, as New Jersey Democrats illustrated by the inability to get enough votes to pass this through the legislature.

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