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TRENTON – Twisted Sister sure gets around.I recall hearing the heavy metal band’s now iconic song, “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” years ago at “Tea Party” rallies in New Jersey. It also has popped up at Donald Trump rallies and on the other side of the political spectrum, it was recently used as a rallying cry for aggrieved teachers in Arizona and Oklahoma. Talk about bipartisanship; Twisted Sister, which was originally from Bergen County by the way, could not have imagined any of this when the song was released in 1984.
Now firmly established as the anthem of the oppressed, the song’s familiar beat and lyrics loudly reverberated through the courtyard of the Statehouse Annex to mark the end of Thursday’s union rally in support of the governor’s plan to raise taxes on millionaires.
It was a festive ending to a spirited rally attended by an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people, many of whom sported colorful shirts signifying their union. There was a lot of red for CWA, but also a good amount of green for AFSCME.
Curiously, no elected official spoke. All the speakers were either union leaders or representatives of liberal-oriented public interest groups. Most were unremarkable. That is not to suggest they failed to make their point. But when you are speaking to the proverbial choir and when each speaker is essentially making the same point, it’s a bit tough to stand out.
What was more troublesome than curious – at least for Democrats – was the overall theme of the day.
Here it is, Gov. Murphy is good. Senate President Sweeney is bad.
That tone was set early by a speaker who told the union members assembled before him that we have a “governor who respects you.” Later, speakers referred to Phil Murphy as a guy who has “our backs” and to Steve Sweeney as a guy who is going to “try to screw us.”
This may be amusing theater to an onlooker, but it’s a major problem for Democrats. Rhetoric aside, the top two Democrats in the state remain divided over a key part of Murphy’s proposed budget. To reiterate, the governor wants to increase the top income tax rate from 8.97 percent to 10.75 percent on earned income above $1 million a year. Sweeney and his Assembly counterpart Craig Coughlin don’t like the idea, contending taxes in New Jersey already are too high.
One of the obvious aims of the organizers was to convince union members to get personally involved. They were encouraged to call their lawmakers and if they get no satisfaction, call them again. This could get interesting, given the fact many of the legislators to be called by union members are fellow Democrats.
But there’s a very practical problem here. The Senate is not up for election this year. The Assembly is, but with districts so gerrymandered, it’s hard to see any incumbent Democratic lawmaker having an election problem regardless of how he, or she, votes on a millionaires’ tax.
Marie Blistan, the president of the New Jersey Education Association, stressed the importance of activism, referring to a recent teachers’ walkout in Franklin Lakes. How that relates to the battle over the budget and the millionaires’ tax is not clear, but the remark drew a lot of cheers.
The budget must be ratified by July 1, or state government will shut down. Clearly, this is going to take a compromise between Murphy and Sweeney, the details of which can’t be speculated now.
Symbolizing the upbeat mood of the day, the rally began with a series of chants, one of which was, “We believe that we will win.”
Actually, the only political winners if this internal party skirmish continues unabated are Republicans. If chaos ensues, it won’t be their fault.