A Pride-centric NJ Political Potpourri

Lassiter Tweet

I’m proud to live in New Jersey where, thanks to collective sacrifice and decisive leadership, we are flatting the curve on COVID-19 transmissions, hospitalizations, and casualties.

Our politics, however, is still kinda messy.

Let’s get down to it!

Congressional endorsements

NJ’s primary election is right around the corner on July 7 . The hottest Congressional race is in South Jersey, aka NJ2, a district whose contours and demographics we profiled here.

The contenders are Brigid Callahan, Will Cunningham, and Amy Kennedy, all vying for the Democratic nomination.

With endorsement season and Pride month winding down, it’s mildly disappointing that Garden State Equality chose to skip endorsements this time out. I always though the point of endorsements was manifold: 1) to lift up a candidate and hopefully influence the vote and 2) to flex your own mojo and relevance.

GSE could remind voters that all the Democrats would be better than the incumbent, Congressman Jeff Van Drew whose track record includes 4 votes against marriage equality.

An endorsement could venerate one of our own in Will Cunningham, a gay man who spent part of his childhood without a place to live. He made it to the Ivy Leagues anyway. Later, as chief investigator on the House Oversight Committee, he humbled the vaping industry for their shameful marketing tactics to minors. A billion-dollar settlement soon followed.

An endorsement could highlight which campaigns have LGBT people on staff.

In Will’s case, the candidate himself is an out-and-proud Gay man.

“I have several LGTQ+ staffers and interns,” Ms Harrison told InsiderNJ. This includes her deputy campaign manager.

I don’t know if Amy Kennedy has any LGBT people on staff. I reached directly and also queried some of her volunteers and never got a yes or a no. (I betcha Garden State Equality could have teased out a straight answer on that one.)

Anyway, seeking out LGBT talent when staffing up says a lot about a campaign, even if it’s only for the entry-level gigs. After all, today’s fieldworker is tomorrow’s chief of staff. That’s another message an endorsement from Garden State Equality could have reinforced.

I’ve worked enough Democratic primaries to know that an endorsement from GSE is a very heavily coveted thing. So not endorsing feels like a missed opportunity to weigh in and to insinuate our LGBT issues into the conversation.

Medical Marijuana Delivery

Home delivery of medical marijuana has been law in NJ for almost a a year. But so far, there’s not a single home delivery to speak of.  NJ’s Department of Health issued a waiver last week to incentivize the dispensaries into action.

The long lines at NJ dispensaries are well-chronicled here and elsewhere highlighting the urgency for home delivery in the age of COVID-19.

It looks like last week’s waiver is DOH telling the dispensaries to hurry it up!

Chris Christie-era regs give these dispensaries (only 9 so far) a cartel-like hold over NJ’s lucrative medical cannabis market. And because monopolies are often unresponsive to consumer demand, dispensaries have failed to ramp up their delivery infrastructure.

With last week’s waiver, DOH is signaling they’re ready to approve any reasonable delivery scheme the dispensaries can conjure up. Regulatory speaking, it’s a very low bar.

“The bar has been lowered so much, that to lower it anymore we’d need a jack hammer and a back hoe,” one Trenton insider marveled.

There’s little appetite in Trenton for allowing home-cultivation even though that would largely fix what ails NJ’s medical marijuana program.

How long will lawmakers permit the dispensaries to fumble before they reconsider letting patients grow their own?

Budget Pawns

I wrote last week that NJ Governor Phil Murphy slashed HIV/AIDS funding and ended grants for LGBT health. The more baffling reaction fell into two camps: 1) liberals quick to concede austerity and 2) other liberals mansplaining how the whole budget process works.

First of all, and here’s a pro tip for beginners, never give an inch on your values during budget season, especially in times crisis. And secondly, Trenton’s a pretty predictable place. It’s probably go something like this:

The Governor targets HIV/AIDS (and Senior Freeze, Planned Parenthood cancer screening funds) and other things (most) people like for leverage to borrow to backfill his pandemic-ravaged budget.

This sort of budget-related volatility is par for the course in Trenton and it’s something most seasoned advocated are used to.

But for HIV/AIDS service providers, already barely hanging on thanks to COVID, all this budget maneuvering feels a lot like an existential crisis.

There will always be pawns in the hardball budget process. My whole point is that people with AIDS should never be one of those pawns.

Especially during a health pandemic.

Jay Lassiter is an award-winning writer, podcasters, and videographer who knows what being a pawn feels like.



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