Over my decades-long work, first as a nurse, then as a labor leader, I’ve certainly witnessed or felt my share of bullying, harassment and discrimination. Too often, women, people of color, or workers are targeted exactly because they speak up for fairness to improve conditions for themselves, their patients or communities.
That’s why I felt called to speak up when Assemblyman Parker Space’s attempted to intimidate and dismiss his opponents in the Assembly race in the 24th district, Kate Matteson and Gina Trish, with abusive and inappropriate name calling. It is a tactic becoming too familiar in today’s politics, but it should not stand unchallenged. This was, of course, not too long after he was photographed proudly posing in front of a confederate flag, the same symbol he apparently has tattooed on himself as well.
If a manager or physician bullied, harassed or discriminated against employees in the workplace, our union members rightfully expected the hospital to address the situation, and the one doing the bullying or harassing. Most importantly was the principle of standing up together, not leaving anyone victimized by racism, or sexism and bullying in the workplace to stand alone. I think the same principles should prevail in our public life.
My union, HPAE, endorsed the candidacy of Kate Matteson, Gina Trish and Jennifer Hamilton in their race to represent the people of the 24th Legislative District because they exemplified the type of women we need in the halls of Trenton, who will not be intimidated or distracted by school-yard bullies, but will continue to speak up for their constituents.
When nurses and healthcare workers in a local for-profit substance abuse center were locked-out by their employer because they stood up for safety, the current Representatives refused our requests for support, while Jennifer Hamilton, candidate for 24thdistrict State Senate, and Kate Matteson and Gina Trish walked with and supported the addiction treatment workers. Their support helped lead to a return to work, with safer staffing and more security and resources for the patients and community.
Of course, what is equally troubling to his language are Space’s actions over the years, flaunting the confederate flag, abstaining from a unanimous Assembly vote condemning confederate displays, with a track record that dismisses and rejects funding and support for women’s health. Instead of advocating for a serious response to our opioid epidemic, Space joked about hanging drug dealers in the town square.
Some have called on Parker Space to resign, and have called on Republican Assembly leader Jon Bramnick to ask Space to withdraw from the Assembly race. Bramnick has said that it’s up to the voters.
Parker Space’s private actions and tattoos are his business. But in a civil society, when does it become the business not only of voters, but of the Republican party he belongs to, and the rest of us? At what point do we stand up for his opponents, rather than expect them to stand alone, defending their right to run for office without being bullied or harassed. At what point will we demand serious candidates, and outright reject those who deliberately provoke and disparage the office they are seeking?
That does appear to be the question. Space’s harassment against his opponents, three women running for elected office out of principle and commitment, cannot and should not go unchallenged. Neither can his visible displays of support for white supremacy.
I believe the time is long overdue for a party to demand civil behavior from its representatives, at the local and national level. Yes, it is up to the voters to look at a candidate’s record as well as their behavior. But is the Republican party in this case really off the hook?
To pretend that posing with the confederate flag is just a joke, as Space did, is both disingenuous and offensive. That flag has deep and disturbing meaning – and we all know it. There is no pretending. If you want to pose with a flag that stands for white supremacy, maybe that is your free speech right, but it doesn’t mean you deserve the support of the Republican Party.
What the NJ and Sussex County Republican parties can and must do now – is remove Space from his committee membership, censure his behavior, and withdraw all financial and public support. Then it is up to the voters.
To contact Ann Twomey, HPAE President call 201-262-5005 or email email@example.com.
HPAE is the largest union of registered nurses and health care professionals in New Jersey. Since its founding by Englewood Hospital nurses in 1974, HPAE has expanded across the state and into Southeastern Pennsylvania representing 13,000 nurses, social workers, therapists, technicians, medical researchers, and other health care professionals in hospitals, nursing homes, home care agencies, blood banks, and university research facilities. HPAE is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO.
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