The Prodigal ‘Family’: Richard Wolfe and the Republican Party

For Republicans who fear the GOP is falling too far to the right, or for Democrats who are worried their candidate is too far left, the outcome of a court case to potentially allow fusion voting in New Jersey might just be the ticket for those who are loyal to their party, but are not necessarily enthusiastic about their party’s candidates.

Such is the goal of the “Moderate Party,” an endeavor partially initiated by former East Amwell Township mayor Richard Wolfe.

Wolfe described the Republican Party as “family” and acknowledged that for many voters, they are unwilling to leave their “family” even if they do not necessarily agree with the direction the party is headed.  “Unfortunately, over the past few years, some bad apples have caused my family to move too far to the right. I’m not prepared to leave my family and take up with a different family. Instead, I want to bring my family back to the center.”

Wolfe explained the overall objective of the Moderate Party, for the short-term at least, as being the alteration of standing state election law.  “Under our current election laws in New Jersey, if the Democrats were to run a moderate candidate–a candidate whose views align with my own–and the Republicans ran a far-right candidate, I’m left with three and only three very unpalatable choices. One, I can vote for the moderate candidate under the Democratic party line on the ballot, and, in effect, leave my family. I don’t want to leave my family. I can vote for the far-right Republican. But that would be encouraging my family’s extremist behavior. My third choice is not to vote at all. I’m concerned that many voters in New Jersey in my position are going to choose alternative three and not vote at all.”

Should the legal team working on behalf of the Moderate Party be successful, “fusion voting” would allow a candidate to appear on the ballot as a candidate for more than just one party.  This, Wolfe said, would give voters another option rather than wringing their hands over party fealty or just sitting out an election.  “The Moderate Party wants to give voters like me a fourth choice. I could vote for the moderate Democratic candidate under the Moderate Party line. In that instance, I’m not supporting the Democratic Party. I’m not leaving my family. But I am sending a clear message to my family and, for that matter, to the Democratic Party that I want, and in fact will support, moderate candidates to achieve this very important objective. The moderate party must, and I emphasize must, successfully challenge New Jersey’s nearly 100-year-old election law banning fusion voting. That’s the highest priority.”

The Moderate Party said that fusion voting was banned in the 1920s in an attempt to consolidate the two-party political duopoly which controls the state.

The candidate at the center of the Moderate Party’s goals is Congressman Tom Malinowski, a Democrat running against former State Senator Tom Kean, Jr.  The Moderate Party had filed to have Malinowski appear on the ballot under their ticket, but the move was rejected by Secretary of State Tahesha Way.  An appeal was subsequently filed.

“Though the Moderate Party filed its notice of appeal with the Appellate Division, it is planning on asking the state Supreme Court to take the case up directly in order to quickly address the serious constitutional violations raised,” the Party said in a statement.

The gravity of the matter is such that the Moderate Party is taking its time in building up as strong a case as possible, Wolfe explained, asserting that overturning a century of on-the-books-law was not something to be undertaken lightly.  “It would be foolish on our part to sacrifice quality for speed and we’re not going to do that,” Wolf said, “I want to make it very clear that regardless of pressure to move quickly here, we’re going to do this right, we’re going to take the advice of our lawyers, and we’re going to produce the best quality product we can to give ourselves the greatest likelihood of success and winning our case.”

The Republican roots of the Moderate Party should demonstrate that the body does not seem to be a product of Democratic machinations, looking to split the GOP vote, but rather a sign that some intra-party soul searching is required: an intervention, perhaps, for the “family” which Wolfe warns is drifting too far right.

Malinowski as the Moderate Party’s champion—even if he cannot yet appear on the ballot with the Moderate Party name—stems from what Wolfe says is shared values on common sense, nuts-and-bolts government.  “The Moderate Party is standing with our candidate Tom Malinowski. He embodies the principles of the Moderate Party. He is the type of candidate that we believe the majority of voters in New Jersey and, in fact, the majority of voters in the country want. They want moderate candidates.”

Wolfe promised that the Moderate Party would be campaigning “very vigorously” for the Democratic congressman irrespective of how quickly their case moves through the court system.

Beau Tremitiere spoke, representing Protect Democracy, an organization he says, “fights to strengthen democracy and combat extremism and authoritarianism throughout the country.”

Protect Democracy, Tremitiere said, is a non-partisan organization whose primary goal is the defense of a healthy democracy.  “We work with stakeholders all over the political spectrum who share our commitment to the rule of law, free and fair elections, and democratic freedoms.”

The intense polarization of the country, he said, was pushing American democracy “to the brink” and that there was no guarantee of democracy’s survival.  “History teaches us that democracies die when one side believes that winning the next election is so important that it’s willing to use anti-democratic means to achieve its goal. We can’t expect different outcomes unless we change the way we run our elections. That’s why we were extremely excited to learn about Rick and the Moderate Party’s plan to challenge New Jersey’s anti-fusion laws. Fusion isn’t the solution to all of our problems, but it could make a meaningful difference in a few key ways.”

Tremitiere’s assertion was that fusion voting would let voters choose pro-democracy candidates, free from “the baggage” of the Democratic and Republican parties, a binary which has fueled dangerous political and social conflict.  It would also allow for pro-democracy coalitions to stand against authoritarian blocs. “We’re hopeful that others around the country will be inspired by what’s happening in New Jersey.  Like New Jersey, some other states have strong state constitutions and independent minded state courts which can pave the way for a resurgence of fusion voting nationwide. There is light at the end of the tunnel, if ordinary people like our clients are willing to pull us through the darkness. In our view, this case isn’t about politics, it’s about democracy.”

When Wolfe was questioned, as a Republican, how he would support a candidate such as Malinowski, who has reportedly voted in near lockstep with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the former mayor was unconcerned.  Most bills, he said, are of a mundane operational nature where bipartisan support is common and expected.  He used his own political record as a reference.  “In my first year on the Township Committee of East Amwell Township, I had very different views than my Democratic colleagues who were the majority. But I would guess that if you took the number of votes we had during that first year, I voted the same as they did, probably well north of 90% of the time. Does that mean our views 90% align? No. What it means is, there’s a lot of routine legislation that comes across our desk. That’s not controversial at all. So yes, we vote together. When people talk about Tom Malinowski voting 98% of the time in line with Nancy Pelosi, why don’t we look at the list of items that comprise that 98% and let’s see how many of them are actually substantive.”

The former mayor said that his affinity for Malinowski was a product of the congressman’s attentiveness to his constituents’ needs.  At first, he explained, he expected the congressman to give him the cold shoulder, given their parties, but such was not the case.  In time, Wolfe grew confident and particularly appreciative of Malinowski’s constituent services and decided that, in summary, he was a good elected official.  The Democratic label was less important than delivering on what needed to be done for the good of the people.

“Tom Malinowski was the enemy in the Wolfe household until about two years ago,” Wolfe said.  “In the last two elections, my wife and I actually supported his opponent, or his opponents, Leonard Lance and Tom Kean Jr. We even had a fundraiser for Leonard Lance and was scheduled to have one for Tom Kean Jr. We did not view Tom Malinowski favorably, but that was because he was a Democrat, and I was a Republican.”

Wolfe explained that he had served as mayor of East Amwell Township for three terms, and during that time, approximately 18 months ago, he was introduced to Malinowski for help in overcoming an issue he had not been able to get assistance with.  Initially, Wolfe was not optimistic.  “I assumed I’d be wasting my time discussing this with Tom Malinowski. He’s a Democrat, I’m a Republican. He had every incentive to see me fall flat on my face. Not only did he not behave that way, but he and his staff bent over backwards to help me with my problem. I then reached out to him several times–sparingly, because I didn’t want to wear out my welcome. But I did reach out to him several times after that to help me with problems in East Amwell. Without exception, he threw the full resources of himself and his staff behind helping me. That, to me is a moderate. That is someone who is willing to reach across the aisle to get things done for our constituents.”

He said that over time, he got to know the Democratic congressman better and said that once he looked past the party labels, he found that he and Malinowski shared a number of ideological positions.   “His views and my views on most issues are pretty much aligned on fiscal and social issues, and I view myself as a moderate Republican. Tom believes in putting country and constituents over party loyalty. He’s not afraid to criticize his party when he thinks it’s doing the wrong thing. He certainly works hard to protect the basic foundations of our democracy, such as free and fair elections, a nonpolitical judiciary, settling differences by voting and not by violence. Economically, he believes that people should not be overburdened by taxes but, on the other hand, they should pay their fair share. He’s been very outspoken about that. I’ve been a tax lawyer for 35 years and I absolutely agree with his view. We shouldn’t have major companies paying no taxes. That’s not extreme liberalism. That is, to me, economically sensible.”

Wolfe said that he had considered going the path of a statistician in the past, and was aware of “how easy it is to manipulate statistics” to represent a certain perspective with regards to Malinowski’s voting record being in strong alignment with Pelosi’s.  “You have to look behind the 98%,” Wolfe said.  “In terms of Tom’s comments regarding the Republican Party, you’d have to put those in context. I’ve said some pretty harsh things about the Republican Party over the last year and a half, and you could take words out of those statements that are probably comparable to what Tom has said. I still view the Republican Party as my family. I’m just trying to bring my family back closer towards the center.”

At present, Congressman Malinowski is the prime candidate the Moderate Party is directing its energies behind, but the overall goal would be to expand that and provide some relief for those who “pinch their nose” going into the ballot box or, perhaps worse, stay home and do nothing at all.

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2 responses to “The Prodigal ‘Family’: Richard Wolfe and the Republican Party”

  1. A distiction without a difference. Kicked dogs howl the loudest. The NJ GOP is reaping the whirlwind of their own making. No mercy here.

  2. Liberal Democrats need not worry in NJ. The Republican party, and conservatives, are weak, just about dead. NJ will forever be a deep blue state.

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