Morris County Republicans on the Line

Upside-down elephant

They’re “concerned,” in Morris County, but at the moment, they’re also incognito.

A group calling itself Concerned Morris Republicans has begun what it calls an “urgent ‘Vote No’ campaign” against a proposal to institute a “county line.”

“The future of the party is at risk,” the group says, a bit dramatically. An email distributed Monday night links to a website that says a “line” would “take away the voices and choices of over 133,000 registered Republicans.”

And using some artistic symbolism, the website takes the likeness of the county party’s symbol – a red, white and blue elephant – and displays it turned upside down with the poor creature on its back.

When I reached out to this group, I got a response email reading, “We’re anonymous for now as we’re concerned about retaliation.”

Rhetoric and politics go hand-in-hand, but this one seems a bit over the top. Just what type of retaliation are we talking about? Being tarred and feathered?

Let’s back-up a bit.

Morris Republicans traditionally have had “open primaries.” In this case, that means the county organization makes no primary endorsement. Ballot positions are by chance – drawn by the county clerk – and candidates raise their own money.

A “line” means that the county organization endorses candidates in the primary and awards them preferred ballot position, which means they are likely to win. This is how just about all other county organizations on both sides of the aisle run primaries in New Jersey.

The refreshing aspect of things in Morris is that primaries have been traditionally competitive – and often acrimonious, thereby giving rank and file members a reason to vote.

The acrimony is the problem. Supporters of a line want to avoid nasty primaries and concentrate on fighting the Democrats in the fall. That has become more of a concern as Dems have begun to be much more competitive in Morris.  The GOP still wins county offices and state legislative elections, but there are troubling signs; both House members representing Morris are Democrats and Joe Biden carried the county two months ago.

“The days of winning the primary and getting elected automatically in November are over,” says state

Pennacchio

Sen. Joe Pennacchio, who supports a county line. (Old-timers, of course, may recall Pennacchio’s initial foray into Morris politics was challenging Rep. Dean Gallo in the 1994 primary. You think he would have gotten the line if one existed?)

OK. Times change.

The current thinking is that county committee members are best equipped to select the best candidates to represent the GOP in the fall election. Laura Ali, the county chair, has scheduled a Jan. 16 vote on creating a county line.

“Moving towards a county line is a decision that will be made by county committee members,” she said. “I trust their judgment implicitly. They are the workers in our party and they fully understand the change that needs to take place for our party to grow and thrive.”

The website of the newly-formed Concerned Morris Republicans links to a study by New Jersey Policy Perspective – ironically a left wing group – that details how a county line gives big advantages to preferred candidates and, of course, incumbents.

It also lists the names of all county committee members with the implied suggestion that party members should contact them and give their views.

Additionally, a column on the site by Erica Jedynak, a conservative activist and one-time director of the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity, says,”The party line is such an antiquated mechanism that you won’t find it outside of New Jersey. Recently, there has even been a push by progressives to get rid of it.”

Former county freeholder, or rather, commissioner, David Scapicchio says he is not involved with the Concerned Morris Republicans, but that he opposes a county line. Scapicchio’s views have been posted on a recently-created Facebook page opposing the change called “STOP the Morris steal.” (I know, it sounds like a Trump thing).

Praising the integrity of the Morris primary system, Scapicchio says, “We need to let them know we don’t want to be like Essex and Hudson.”

In a phone conversation, he added, “I probably never would have gotten elected if there was a line,” noting that the change is a way to protect incumbents.

Not so, argues state Sen. Anthony M. Bucco (pictured, below right).

“I don’t buy that,” says Bucco, who says newcomers can still get elected. He reasons that it would be

Bucco

easier for a “new face” candidate to win support from a few hundred committee members than it would be to get support from thousands of primary voters.

And also much cheaper.

Assemblyman Brian Bergen, who, like Bucco, is from District 25, suggests that notwithstanding the emerging controversy over the matter, this is not a hard call.

“This is a critical step at a critical time and an easy thing to support,” he said.

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