In a recent Insider NJ article, Fred Snowflack reported that during the combined legislative hearing on the Brennan investigation Senator Kristin Corrado asked Professor Charles Sullivan, an employment law expert, to explain the definition of a “political hire.” According to Snowflack, Prof Sullivan hesitated a bit but then replied that a political hire “was not a legal term.”
Just about all the committee members, who are seasoned political hands and know all about political hires, laughed.
As the article states, “It was the best joke of the day.”
Well, let me explain that political hires are no joke. There are hundreds of political hires in NJ State Government. They are those people who are hired “at will” for jobs in all state agencies and for top paying executive jobs at authorities and commissions. They are in most cases the top management and administrative positions in state government. “At will” means that they are non-civil service jobs and those who hold them can be fired at the will of whomever has authority over them.
Both Republican and Democratic administrations have fired hundreds of “at will” political hires and replaced them with their own team of political hires. It is a common and accepted practice by politicians from both Democratic and Republican parties that when a new administration takes over, a letter goes out to the political hires of the old administration asking them to resign and then the new administration decides who will stay and who will get the boot.
Everyone is okay with such a system as long as the winner spreads the spoils of the victory and doesn’t change the power structure much; that is to say, as long as the same people keep getting the benefits of the contracts and of the decision making.
But when there is a power struggle for hires, appointments and contracts, the casualties of the struggles are usually the most underrepresented in state government: women and minorities. And unfortunately, we can usually count on one hand the number of them who are top executives making decisions on who gets the spoils.
There is a double standard on how women and minority “political hires” are selected, appointed, evaluated and judged while performing their duties, or doing the same expected maneuvering their previous political hires had performed.
Nobody questions the number of jobs a white man in politics holds, while also getting several paid appointments to commissions and authorities. Nobody questions how many relatives are working at political jobs because they are connected to someone in a party organization. We have a male Senator with his son also serving as Assemblyman for the same district, or another working in a county job just because he is a friend of somebody. We have political family legacies where wives and sons take over legislative seats from their husbands and fathers without anyone questioning their age, their training, their credentials or their ethics. It is assumed they will learn on the job, and if their credentials are lacking, no one loses any sleep over it. That is just how the system works.
People of color, women and minorities, on the other hand must have the best credentials, must perform at the highest standards always. Above all, they must prove themselves beyond reproach each and every time.
Recent political attacks by political rivals and media outlets have centered on criticizing African American and Latino political appointees. The attacks question their professional qualifications, their ethics and their judgement on the job and in their hiring practices. Some even call the same practice of political hires disgusting, liking on nepotism or cronyism, words they wouldn’t have dared to use when they were the ones making the hiring.
It is a double standard that no-one in our communities of color is laughing at.
Patricia Campos-Medina is a labor leader and Latino community rights activist. She is a leadership development professional with former roles as Political and Legislative Director for SEIU International Union, UNITEHERE, UNITE and LCLAA, AFL-CIO. She serves as the President of LUPEPAC and as a Board Member of PODER PAC, local and federal political action committees that support Latina women political leadership. She is currently a Doctoral candidate at Rutgers-Newark and the Co-Director of the Union Leadership Institute at Cornell University. Opinions expressed in this column are strictly her own and do not represent the views of the organizations she is affiliated with or works for.