To use a phrase of the late, lamented Howard Cosell, it is my wont to over engage in puns. I acquired this tendency from one of my favorite intellectuals, the late president of Random House and renowned “What’s My Line” panelist Bennett Cerf.
Accordingly, the title of this column is the quintessential Steinberg amateurish effort to phrase a pun of my own. Yet this pun is a concise description of the core of the most effective NJGOP 2023 legislative campaign issue: Governor Phil Murphy’s effort to mandate sales of electric vehicles and phase out the sale of fossil fuel vehicles.
Specifically, Governor Murphy announced on July 17 the filing of an administrative rule that would require car manufacturers to ramp up sales of electric vehicles before barring them from producing fossil fuel vehicles altogether in 2035. The rules were published on Aug. 21, and the DEP held a public hearing on Sept. 21.
New Jersey presently has fewer than 100,000 electric vehicles on the road. By 2025, the state is supposed to have 300,000 zero-emissions vehicles, according to an earlier version of the program. By the 2027 model year, the proposed rule would require that 35% of all new cars be electric. If the rule is adopted, New Jersey will need approximately 4.5 million plug-in electric vehicles by 2035.
Accordingly, the political quagmire created by the Murphy proposal is two-fold: 1) The high cost of an electric vehicle; and 2) The virtual impossibility of developing sufficient infrastructure (plug-in stations) to accommodate electric cars by 2035. Presently, there are only 1,214 stations with a total of just 3,548 plugs.
Thus, in New Jersey 2035, for the GOP, the driver is the car – the cutting edge and most effective issue is the electric car. To be sure, each party has a motivating social issue: the Democrats have abortion, and the Republicans have parental notification. Yet the electric car is the issue most likely to enable the Republicans to make significant gains. It is the ultimate affordability and transportation issue. And regarding the electric car, the Murphy administration has moved too far and too fast. This issue is a potential NJGOP 2023 silver bullet.
Now let us go to the scoreboard to see how matters are playing out.
The current line-up is 25 Democrats and 15 Republicans. The Republicans are well poised to pick up seats in the 4th District (Camden, Gloucester, Atlantic), the 12th District (Burlington, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean), and the 38th District (Bergen). The Republicans are also launching a strong challenge in District 16 (Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset), but incumbent Democratic Senator Andrew Zwicker, an eminent scientist and rising star in New Jersey politics is likely to prevail. There is one race currently a toss-up: the 11th District (Monmouth), represented by incumbent Democratic Senator Vin Gopal.
Current Senate score: 21 Democrats, 18 Republicans, one toss-up.
The current Assembly line-up is 46 Democrats, 34 Republicans. The Republicans are likely to pick up two seats each in three districts: the 4th, the 16th, and the 38th. This would result in a deadlock in the Assembly: A 40-40 tie, necessitating a power sharing arrangement between the two parties.
Stay tuned – this could be the year of an Assembly photo finish.
Alan J. Steinberg of Highland Park served as regional administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.