Valerie Vainieri Huttle is eager to talk about her sponsorship of legislation to combat bullying and human trafficking, But her campaign to move from the state Assembly to the Senate also boils down to a more basic challenge – beating the bosses.
“I want to fight for that true democratic process,” she said in an interview Wednesday afternoon.
The “fight” in question is the upcoming Democratic primary for senator in LD-37, which covers eastern Bergen County. The pending retirement of Sen. Loretta Weinberg has prompted the two Assembly members in the district – Huttle and Gordon Johnson – to seek the Senate seat.
This is a staunchly Democratic district, so the primary winner is virtually assured election in the fall. The LD-37 Senate seat also has some rich political history, having been occupied over the last 40-plus years by only three people – Matthew Feldman, Byron Baer and Weinberg. All are, or were, influential lawmakers.
The landscape here is simple.
Johnson is supported by the “powers that be.” That includes the Bergen County Democratic Party, Weinberg herself and even Gov. Phil Murphy.
“I’m disappointed, obviously,” Huttle said of the governor’s endorsement. As for Weinberg, Huttle said the senator let it be known that she would go with whomever the party endorsed.
Huttle has no recourse, but to accept the playing field, but acceptance goes only so far.
“I will get to the bottom of whatever deal was made,” she said.
At the same time, she is trying to use the snub to her advantage, contending that she has a history of bucking the status quo.
A digital ad she released this week makes that very point.
It says that if, “I walked away every time a man in power told me to back off, I couldn’t have become a proven, progressive leader in the Assembly. But I never walk away.”
Huttle explains that back in 2005, she was told by the party chair not to run for the Assembly; she was a freeholder at the time. But Huttle refused to “wait her turn,” as the saying goes, and ultimately won an Assembly seat. So, it’s no accident that she says her campaign aims to “kick some glass” and that she is refusing to sit back and watch a Senate candidate just get “anointed.”
Challenging the party leadership – regardless of which party we’re talking about – often draws attention. There is something to be said about fighting an entrenched interest.
At the same time, the party organization can certainly mobilize voters, some of whom don’t live and breath politics like activists do. In other words, they’re more apt to vote the party line.
Campaigning in these pandemic times is different. Large gatherings and going door-to-door are probably out.
But there can be debates – virtual if necessary. Huttle says she wants three of them.
She thinks that gives her an advantage.
“I want to put my resume next to Gordon’s,” she says.
But wait a minute. Both generally vote the same way.
Huttle knows that, but she says there’s a difference between simply voting “yes” and actually creating legislation.
Which brings us back to bullying and child trafficking.
The 2011, anti-bullying law, which was signed by Republican Gov. Chris Christie, mandates that schools track and investigate bullying as soon as incidents occur. The trafficking law, which Christie also signed, penalizes not just sex trafficking, but trafficking in regard to labor and the drug trade.
And Huttle notes that Weinberg may not be endorsing her, but many liberal groups are, including a number of unions and Garden State Equality, which supports gay rights.
Primaries can become nasty. It’s unclear if that will be the case here.
Huttle said she’s confident that no matter what happens between now and June 8, the party will be united in the fall.