Grassroots Activists on the Left and Right Embrace Beyond the Line

Morris County Republicans fighting a proposal to create a “county line” are getting some unexpected  help from, of all people, left wing Democrats.

Here’s where you can insert the cliche about how politics makes for strange bedfellows.

On Monday, a coalition of liberal groups and candidates filed a federal suit alleging that the way most New Jersey primary ballots are put together is unconstitutional.

“Truly indefensible,” is how Sue Altman, director of New Jersey Working Families, and one of the plaintiffs put it.

In short, most primary ballots for both parties are designed to favor the candidates endorsed by the relevant county organization, or if you prefer, political power brokers and insiders.

This is the “county line,” or as the plaintiffs called it, the “party line.”  Nomenclature aside, the favored candidates have a huge, if not insurmountable, advantage in primaries. That’s because the ballot makes clear they are the ones endorsed by the local party organization.

A candidate can certainly run “off line” against the party’s choice, but this takes a lot of money – money most challengers don’t have.

For decades, one group that eschewed the county line was Morris County Republicans. Instead, candidates for local, county and state office file nominating petitions, get a ballot position drawn by lot and run on their own. The tradition is significant, given the fact Morris Republicans long have been one of the largest GOP organizations in New Jersey.

That tradition is now on the chopping block.

Laura Ali, the chair of the Morris Republican Committee, and her supporters say a “line” is needed to ensure the GOP runs its best candidates in the fall. This presumes that county committee members are best equipped to select such candidates.  Moreover, if the party endorses primary candidates, likely ensuring their victory, those candidates don’t have to raise campaign cash in June.

And you can now expect supporters of a Morris Republican line to say that opposition from left wing groups proves it’s a good idea.

This change is being proposed because Democrats have become much more competitive in Morris than they were just a few years ago.

But the change is not being accepted by all.

A group calling itself Concerned Morris Republicans has been formed to oppose the change and a court challenge has delayed the vote from Jan. 16 to Feb. 6.

And the “concerned” group of GOPers is following the news.

“Not surprisingly, Democrats are after what Republicans have had in Morris County since 1935: Open Primaries,” the group says in a message distributed today.

That’s not totally true. Democratic organizations like the county line; it’s the more progressive groups who are against it and who filed suit.

Still, when you forget about the small details, you see the overall point.

Last week, Republican Bill Eames, a Morris County conservative activist, said in opposing the change that a county line would give more power to political parties, which he said are “special interest groups … legally empowered by statute to break all sorts of rules and limitations that restrict you, as an individual.”

In a release highlighting the suit, Arati Kreibach, who challenged Josh Gottheimer from the left in last year’s Democratic congressional primary, said something similar.

“It’s clear that the line is an unfair structural barrier, conferring needless advantage to particular candidates over others. New Jersey voters and candidates deserve better than a gerrymandered ballot that suppresses democracy— and ultimately impedes progress.”

So, there you have it. Liberal Dems and conservative Republicans on the same side.

What a beautiful thing to see.

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