Chris Christie’s New Jersey Republicans Use and Abuse Legal System to Outlaw Defeat of Incumbent Republicans

            Here’s a victory you won’t hear the Republicans bragging about.  Carl Lewis, the world famous track star who won 9 Gold Olympic medals and is the only Olympian in history to successfully defend a Gold Medal, has been ruled ineligible to appear on the New Jersey election ballot (after winning the primary for the 8th Senate District) thanks to the legal efforts of Christie’s Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno and the state Republican Party.

                Originally, an administrative law judge allowed Lewis to run.  Guadagno said no.  Then followed a 2000 election style back and forth with victories and defeats for both sides.  What was the issue?  The New Jersey Constitution says: “No person shall be a member of the Senate who shall not have attained the age of thirty years, and have been a citizen and resident of the State for four years, and of the district for which he shall be elected one year next before his election.”

             The issue was whether the “year next before his election” refers to the whole four years, or just the one year. Carl Lewis grew up in Willingboro, New Jersey.  He went to college at the University of Houston and has lived most of his life thereafter in Texas and California.  In 2006, intending to return, he bought two houses in New Jersey, one for himself and another for his mother.   He since returns to Willingboro to give pointers to the track team at his alma mater.  In 2009, he voted by absentee ballot in California.

            The New Jersey Constitution was written in 1947, before passenger jet travel and globalization.  Someone living in California can read the newspapers in New Jersey everyday, for free, thanks to the internet.  Assuming that the four year rule is to ensure the candidate is knowledgeable about New Jersey, it is a meaningless requirement in twenty-first century. If you want to know why the United States is unable to compete economically internationally, the Carl Lewis imbrogolio is a good illustration.  Substantially irrelevant technical legal details are used to impose parochial partisan considerations on the electoral process, denying voters a chance to express themselves. 

The Permanent Redistricting Commission

            Even assuming, for the moment, that the “year next” refers to the four years, let’s take a look at how this “year next” has been enforced in the past.  Next year, New Jersey, like all the other states, will reapportion its congressional districts.  Like many states, the redistricting commission used to be done by the state legislature.  However, in December 1993, in the waning days of the unpopular Florio Administration, the legislature passed a constitutional amendment creating a permanent redistricting commission.

            The permanent redistricting commission consists of 6 Republicans and 6 Democrats with a tie breaker appointed by the governor. (So, the unaffiliated majority of New Jersey voters get 8% of the members of the redistricting commission, maybe.)  The New Jersey Constitution provides that: “All questions submitted to the people of the entire State shall be voted upon at the general election next…. The text of any such question shall be published at least once in one or more newspapers of each county at least 60 days before the election….” The redistricting commission amendment should have appeared on the 1994 general election ballot.

            Long story short, the Secretary of State failed to advertise the permanent redistricting commission amendment before the 60 day deadline.  So, the amendment should have been dead, given that it could no longer be voted on at the general election next following its approval by the legislature.  It would have had to be passed again by the legislature.  But, because it was a controversial amendment in the first place, and Governor Whitman did not want to take a stand on such a controversial or contentious issue, the Whitman administration just ignored the “year next” provision of the constitution and put the amendment on the 1995 general election ballot.  Some of the same Division of Election attorneys who argued against Lewis’s candidacy are the same ones who put the reapportionment commission on the ballot the year after the year next.

            So, if the Carl Lewis decision is valid, it means New Jersey will have its congressional districts reapportioned by a prima facie unconstitutional body.  I know what the districts will look like already; they will not be compact and contiguous and will be drawn specifically for political advantage. Why can’t the House of Representatives pass a budget, it’s primary constitutional function?  I can’t understand the reason, can you?

            But here’s the best part.  Ed Forchion, the NJWeedman, a perennial candidate, convicted felon and bona fide resident of California, will appear on the 8th District ballot for Assembly.  Why?  Because New Jersey has the perfect political  election law.  Petitions are presumed valid unless challenged.  So, the Republicans in New Jersey could have allowed the voters to decide whether Carl Lewis, the world famous Olympic medalist, was worthy of being a State Senator.  Instead, Governor Christie’s administration used the election law for the narrowest of all partisan political purposes. It is a disgrace that makes the television show Jersey Shore look high class by comparison.

            This is the way Chris Christie’s administration chooses to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer funds at a time of teacher layoffs and budget austerity, to deny voters a choice in legislative elections.  I can’t figure out why the median income of New Jersey’s families fell 3% last year, can you?  Who would want to invest or live in a state run by gangsters?

Corrupt Prosecutors and Attorneys General

            In the old days, prosecutors and attorneys general foreswore political office because of the obvious potential conflict of interest between prosecutorial discretion and political advantage.  Now, the formula has been turned on its head.  Chris Christie used and abused his office as a federal prosecutor as a weapon in his political campaign for governor, viciously prosecuting small time political miscreants (mostly black Democrats) and giving passes to white collar fraudsters who subsequently became big campaign donors.

            And it’s not just Christie.  Attorney General has become a stepping stone to the Governor’s mansion: Eliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo in New York, Jerry Brown in California.  Funny how the mainstream media has failed to notice this pattern, especially sons of former Governors who also were Attorneys General, just to name a few. (Look at the geographical distribution: Brown and Cuomo, both sons of former Governors, both former Attorneys Generals, one on the east coast the other on the west, a nationwide trend.)  And Richard Blumenthal parlayed his Attorney General’s position into a United States Senate seat. Hey, we can’t let a world famous figure who came up from nothing into this game. Right?

            Currently, seventeen of the fifty Governors, one-third, were Attorneys General, or prosecutors: Tom Corbett, Pa.; Mike Beebe, Ar.; Jerry Brown, Ca.; Dan Molloy, Ct.; Nathan Deal, Ga.; Steve Beshear, Ky.; Martin O’Malley, Md.; Deval Patrick, Ma.; Jay Nixon, Mo.; Brian Sandoval, Nv.; Christopher Christie, NJ.; Susana Martinez, NM.; Andrew Cuomo, NY.; Tom Corbett, Pa.; Bob McDonnell, Va.; Christine Gregoire, Wa.; and Matthew Mead, Wy..

Appointed Legislators

            Carl Lewis’s elimination from the 8th District State Senate race leaves Dawn Marie Addiego unopposed as the winner of the race, unless there is a write-in campaign.  Until 1988, the only way to become a New Jersey state legislator was to win an election.

            But in 1988, the legislature decided to create an appointment route.  The county committee members of the party that held the office could fill the vacancy by appointment.  Naturally, the constitutional amendment creating this appointive power would have no chance of passing at the polls, so the legislature, with the connivance of others like the League of Women Voters, misrepresented the effect of the amendment. 

            The Explanatory Statement that appears on the ballot with constitutional amendments in New Jersey is part of the bill that passes the legislature.  (The Governor does not have to sign amendments passed by the legislature.) For the redistricting commission the Explanatory Statement said that the amendment, “requires the county committee to appoint a replacement within 90 days…” as if the current law allowed them to delay.  Voters were never told the amendment was taking away their right to fill vacancies and giving it to political party committees.

            In the twenty-three years since the amendment was passed, the norm in New Jersey has become that sitting legislators who intend to step down resign before the end of their terms, allowing a party faithful to be appointed in their place and then to run as an incumbent.  Seeing as most districts are gerrymandered for party control, New Jersey has succeeded in virtually eliminating voter input in the state legislature.  The right to fill vacancies in the legislature, that was taken from voters by fraud, has made legislators are more beholden to the party leaders than to the electorate.  And Rick Perry wants to give them back the power to choose United States Senators.  I just can’t understand why the economy is collapsing, can you?

            The League of Women Voters supported the appointment procedure to “save on the cost of special elections.” It  ought to rename itself the New Jersey League of Women Money Savers. 

The Morris County Freeholder Race (Freeholders are County Commissioners)

            Carl Lewis’s race is not the only one where the courts are being misused for partisan political purposes.  In Morris County there was a Republican Primary between twenty-tree year old William “Hank” Lyon and three term incumbent Freeholder Margaret Nordstrom.  When all the votes were counted, Lyon won by four.

            Nordstrom filed suit, alleging voting irregularities (unauthorized absentee ballots) and that Lyon failed to report a $16,000 loan from his father until after the election that he used to finance a mailing. Election Law Enforcement Commission rules require notification within 48 hours if it happens within the final weeks of the campaign. 

            Long story short, the judge threw out the election and declared the office vacant so that it could be filled by appointment by the county committee.  Not only is there no statute allowing judges to void elections, the judge cited the late notification of the loan and claimed the mailing contained falsehoods, as the reason for voiding the election.  New Jersey state law vests enforcement of election finance law violations in the Election Law Enforcement Commission.  There is no statute allowing elections to be voided on the basis of campaign finance reporting violations.  [The New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission only deals with campaign finance, all other election issues are handled by the Division of Elections, now under the Lieutenant Governor.]

            And here’s where the corruption of judges comes in.  Judge Thomas Weisenbeck can say and do anything he wants, void the election on frivolous grounds or none.  Given the time constraints of elections, the losing party is faced with not only time constraints, but huge financial costs of seeking to overturn the judge’s decision.  And that is what is happening.

            In the end, the county committee appointed Margaret Nordstrom Republican candidate for Morris County freeholder candidate by a narrow margin of 213 – 208 over Hank Lyon.  She will lose in November to Truschia Quatrone, the Democratic candidate.

            Here’s the best part.  The New Jersey Campaign Finance Act is another completely political law.  There are loopholes so big you can drive an SUV through the reporting requirement.  Legislative “Leadership” Committees can raise $25,000 from individuals, whereas candidates are limited to $2,600.  Consequently, much of the money for legislative races comes from the Leadership Committees, again reinforcing the power of the party leaders.  The donors to the candidate are listed as “Legislative Leadership Committee”, so, in effect, it is impossible to ascertain who is actually funding the legislative candidates favored by the party leaders.  So, while some candidates’ finances are functionally impossible to ascertain, others now are having their elections thrown out entirely due to errors in reporting requirements.

            Chris Christie got his start in electoral politics as a Morris County Freeholder. And Chris Christie is a candidate national Republicans are begging to run for President?  President of what, the Soviet Union?  Christie has turned corruption of government administration and the judiciary for political purposes into policy.  The Republican Party in New Jersey no longer believes in democracy.

American Exceptionalism

            Unfortunately, too many Americans think rules of fair play and honest elections do not apply to them.  They think the ends justifies the means, without realizing that in politics, the ends are the means. In the twentieth century, the American century, the United States had an incredible run of good luck.  People began to think that no matter what politicians and corporate leaders did, the country would always prosper.  Those days have come to an end.  The United States is becoming just another corrupt banana republic with rigged elections, a few super-rich and an impoverished everyone else.  Corrupt elections prevent voters from influencing the policies necessary to solve the serious economic problems facing the nation and the world.  Disqualifying Carl Lewis, an internationally known Olympian, from the New Jersey state senate campaign for purely partisan political reasons is a disgrace and an embarrassment.  The television show Jersey Shore presents a more positive view of New Jersey than its Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Division of Elections and judiciary.

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Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf