From the outset, political activist Imani Oakley knew the rigging of the NJ political game, but by announcing her progressive campaign for Congress early, she gave herself time to educate the public about New Jersey’s draconian ballot design and maybe – just maybe – engage them on that little almost disregarded and forgotten topic called democracy.
A former Legislative Director for New Jersey Working Families who also roamed the halls of power on the inside of federal and state government structures, Oakley intimately acquainted herself with the political machines she said contributed to the static conditions she experienced growing up in the 10th District.
“What I’ve come to find is that every day people have been severely left behind by a group of ambitious political actors and party bosses who have manufactured a democracy for themselves,” Oakley told InsiderNJ in a Wednesday evening interview.
“My opponent is a part of that,” she added, of incumbent U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. (D-10).
Oakley gets the estimated 35% percentage advantage for an establishment candidate running with the backing of the Democratic organization line, but she trusts she gave herself sufficient time before the June 2022 primary to inculcate a sense of righteous indignation – and motivation.
“There are three ways to get rid of the line,” she said. “The legislature can create a law and legislate it away, there’s the lawsuit, and then the third way is talking to voters and getting out voter education on this issue. The ballot line is the best kept secret in New Jersey politics.”
People see the justice disparity, she noted, when she shows them a picture comparing the ballot design of North Carolina and New Jersey.
Jersey lags dismally.
“Starting from day one, I’ll be really using the entire year to get out the voter education around the line,” Oakley said. “When people hear about it they’re mad about it and they’re against it.”
Other off-the-line campaigns don’t prioritize education on this critical process issue, and often only talk about it right before election day, she said.
She will take the entire year to drive social media and door-to-door direct voter contact.
She can’t rely on the progressives’ lawsuit.
“The argument around the lawsuit is very solid,” Oakley said. “The ballot line is unconstitutional. It’s just a matter of the timing. It’s a little tricky.”
In addition to elucidating the ways in which the establishment uses ballot construction to disenfranchise voters, the Howard-educated attorney also intends to make her case against the deeper, more sinister concatenations of boss politics.
“The most disturbing trends – and I won’t use names because some of these people are my friends – involves the gross exploitation of working class people and people of color,” said the congressional candidate. “The way it works, is if you want to run for office, typically you have a lot of money and donate a lot of money, and you can run. Working class who don’t have that money, what happens to them is they are tested in different ways and have to show loyalty. If they are placed, for example, on a regulatory commission, they set regulations that benefit them [the bosses]. In this way, black and brown folks in some cases are making more money than they’ve ever seen. They can buy houses, care for kids; it completely transforms their lives, but if they spoke out against the corruption, they would no longer have those jobs.
“You have a lot of folks coming up in that manner, knowing without these party bosses they wouldn’t have these things and what happens is party bosses are grossly taking advantage,” added Oakley.
For the (FULL!) InsiderNJ interview, please see below: