MORRISTOWN – A.J. Oliver sips a hot chocolate on this chilly day and gets right to the point.
“Being a pro-life Democrat is tough.”
The last few weeks have taught Oliver how tough it can be.
As a candidate for Morris County commissioner (nee freeholder) this year, Oliver was part of a three-person Democratic team seeking to muscle their way onto a board that’s been Republican forever – really.
This turned out to be a bad year for Democrats, but before that happened, Oliver’s campaign slid off the rails when he was “un-endorsed” by NJ11th For Change, a prominent left leaning public interest group.
Why? Turns out Oliver is pro-life when it comes to abortion.
Retracting the endorsement had no real impact with voters. All three Dem commission candidates got 71,000-plus votes, losing to three Republicans by about 27,000-28,000 votes each.
But that was not the end of it.
Just this week, the Morris County Democratic Committee called on Oliver to resign his position as chair of the Morristown Democratic Committee.
The release, which called him “Aaron” Oliver as opposed to the more collegial A.J, said the county organization has a “duty to choose representatives and party leaders who will support, protect and expand equitable and quality access to reproductive rights in New Jersey and help make that a reality for every American.”
It added, “Oliver’s actions as an anti-choice advocate do not align with the position of the Morris County Democratic Committee.”
When I met Oliver for a chat today at the local Starbucks, he said, “I don’t see a reason to resign” as town chair.
In a release of his own, Oliver said the party has done great things in town regarding registration and community outreach. This apparently did some good. As Oliver noted, Democrats won all mayor and council seats this fall. Fair point, although Morristown is traditionally a Democratic bastion.
The greater point here transcends municipal politics.
Must all Democrats – every one of them – be pro-choice?
Conversely, must every Republican be pro-life?
This wasn’t always the case and the new standard aptly describes the deep political polarization of the day.
Not all that long ago, we had pro-choice Republicans in New Jersey, some of whom became governors. Think Christie Whitman for one.
We also had some pro-life Democrats.
Oliver said there is evidence that from 20 to 30 percent of Democrats today are pro-life, but they must remain silent to avoid being marginalized.
As for Oliver, he didn’t stay silent. He was “outed,” so to speak, when a video surfaced of him speaking in favor of the pro-life position. This is in line with Oliver’s religious background. He serves the Episcopal Diocese of Newark as a priest.
Oliver stresses that aside from abortion, he embraces Democratic party principles. They include such things as reducing the national mortality rate, reducing food insecurity, mental health needs and support for working families.
This is a legitimate point. And it is in line with critics who say pro-life Republicans care about the fetus, but care little about the baby once it is born.
Oliver says he’s going to keep doing his job as Democratic chair in Morristown, adding, “I’ve been a loyal Democrat all my life.”
But what he’s looking for is recognition that pro-life Democrats not only exist, but have a right to be heard.