The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (and Women): a Ruffled Morris GOP Looks to the Future

ATLANTIC CITY – One of the underappreciated attributes of being in a casino is that it’s easy to forget about the outside world. That’s especially true when the ceiling is painted to resemble the open sky as it is in the Havana Quarter of the Tropicana in Atlantic City, scene this month, as always, of the annual League of Municipalities Convention.

As many Morris County Republicans joined the crowd Tuesday night at an Insider NJ party at the hotel’s Cuba Libre restaurant (a 1950’s-era automobile graces the front entrance), they likely had a lot to forget about, namely the unsettling fact that come January the traditional Republican county will be represented in Congress by two Democrats. If you are interested, the arithmetic tells the story.

Combining the county’s two congressional districts – the 11th and the 7th – there were an estimated 110,000 votes for Democrats Mikie Sherrill and Tom Malinowski and about 96,000 votes for Republicans Jay Webber and Leonard Lance.

So, what do Morris Republicans, who by the way, maintained full control of the freeholder board, do now?

The answers and suggestions were plentiful.

Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco said Republicans must be the “party of opposition.” That’s really what they are now, especially on the state level where Democrats control all levers of government.

Republicans have hoped since Gov. Murphy took office that voters would grow weary of an agenda that veers left. But things really haven’t worked out that way. Notwithstanding the GOP cry that Democrats always raise taxes, the only broad-based tax increased so far under Murphy’s watch was upping the income tax for those making $5 million a year or more. No matter how loud critics yell and protest, there really is no political fallout in raising taxes on the likes of Eli Manning, Bruce Springsteen and Wall Street bigwigs. Murphy’s recent approval ratings are above 50 percent.

In regard to Washington, whether Morris Republicans will be poised to pounce every time Malinowski and Sherrill make a “wrong” move remains to be seen.

Two years, of course, go by so quickly and before long, Republicans will be talking about congressional candidates for 2020.

Suggestions were made that the party must diversify. Few can argue with that. The GOP certainly would do well to come up with a few women as possible candidates in Districts 7 and 11 in 2020.

Interestingly, I recall years ago when the late Oscar Doyle was party chairman, he made it a point to try to bring minorities into the Morris GOP tent. He may not have succeeded all that well, but he certainly had the right idea – and one party leaders should dust off and try again.

Speaking of party leadership, this year’s election cycle was the first with new chair Ron DeFilippis in charge. Already, I have heard rumblings of discontent about his leadership. That’s not surprising when you lose two congressional seats.

However, in fairness, running as a Republican in New Jersey with Donald Trump as president really was like running a marathon uphill for all 26 miles. Webber, unlike many other Republicans running this year in New Jersey, embraced Trump and ended up losing Morris County by about 16,000 votes.

The county’s Republican Committee for its part distributed an email message after the election thanking its workers for a great effort. One has to love the positive spin. But really now. Republicans lost not only the congressional seats, but also control of Morris Township and a few seats in both Chatham Borough and Chatham Township, which have been long-time GOP redoubts. The new mayor of Morris Plains will also be a Democrat.

Now, amid this doom and gloom, there is the observation that the media and others are overreacting to the GOP’s dreary performance, not only in northwest New Jersey, but throughout the state and nation. There is some logic here; the media does overreact to a lot of things.

William Chegwidden is the Republican mayor of Wharton and former freeholder. He also teaches high school social sciences.

Standing outside the Cuba Libre, Chegwidden pointed out that in 2010, Republicans won 63 House seats in the midterm election. And what happened two years later? Barack Obama was reelected.

So, with that backdrop, is it really that big a deal that Democrats when all is said and done probably will win about 35 seats this year?

It’s a legitimate question.

One way to answer it is to look at where the Dems won so many of these seats – in the affluent suburbs. This occurred not only in districts covering Morris, Somerset and Hunterdon counties in New Jersey, but throughout the nation. That has got to be reason for GOP concern. Republicans long have ruled the suburbs.

Assemblyman Michael Carroll of Morris Township is both a conservative lawmaker and a long-time political observer.

Asked to dissect the Republicans’ current state of affairs, Carroll lamented a preoccupation with “identity” politics and expressed near bewilderment that so many residents would seemingly vote against their own issues.

He put it this way in an email.

“I remember when Morris Township was 4-1 Republican, and our relatively low tax rates reflect that legacy. … So, what would possess any rational Morris Township or N.J. voter to support a Democrat? Using the reciprocal of ‘What’s the matter with Kansas?’ question, what’s the matter with New Jersey?  What would possess anyone to vote against their own interests? Would a Morris County resident vote to ‘send a message’ to Donald Trump through voting to substantially raise their own taxes? Doesn’t sound like a very bright move.”

Perhaps not, but here is the other side of the argument and here is how those on the left and the right just think differently.

Yes, taxes are high in New Jersey. But taxes are not the only issue.

More and more it seems that suburbanites are voting in favor of issues unrelated to taxes. They are voting in favor of abortion rights for women, a more welcoming policy toward immigrants, stronger gun control laws and an environmental policy based on science. That seemed to drive this year’s election in New Jersey and that is what Republicans must confront. It is instructive that Democrats had great electoral success with a Republican president and Congress presiding over a robust economy with low unemployment.

Carroll ended his missive with a famous quote from H.L. Mencken about voters getting precisely what they want “good and hard.”

O.K. But, there’s another Mencken quote that may more accurately size up the mood of voters these days and better explain what prompted them to vote how they did. It also strikingly presents the challenge Republicans in Morris County and throughout New Jersey face next year and again in 2020.

“On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

Mencken wrote that in 1920.

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One response to “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (and Women): a Ruffled Morris GOP Looks to the Future”

  1. Unfortunately the Ledger (Moran) will never report anything negative about Sherrill and Malinowski. And, if they are still there for redistricting, they will be there for life. The Morris GOP, like many other counties, has gotten lazy. Plus, they took even a bigger hit to their brand by being the home of Chris Christie.

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