Shutdown Aftermath – The Republican Winner: Jennifer Beck


I first met Jennifer Beck in 1994.  I was beginning my service in the Whitman administration, and she was the new chief of staff for the late Assemblyman Joe Azzolina (R-Monmouth).

Having served previously as a Senior Policy Advisor on the Assembly Republican Staff of former Speaker Garabed “Chuck” Haytaian, I have always had a pretty good sense as to what new legislative staffers could be possible future “political stars.”  Soon after I first met Jennifer Beck, I was convinced that she would become a major New Jersey political player.

Her communication skills, policy insight, and political acumen won her a place in the very top tier of Trenton legislative aides.  For those of us who had followed her career from the beginning, it was no surprise when she was elected as a Republican Monmouth County State Assemblywoman in 2005.  Her election to the State Senate in 2007 over a formidable incumbent, Ellen Karcher, was all the more remarkable, considering that Jennifer was outspent in that campaign by a nearly 7-1 margin.

As a Senator, Beck’s record above all was distinguished by remarkable legislative independence.  She was unafraid to deviate from the Republican “party line” if she felt it was in the best interest of her Monmouth County constituents to do so.  There were times when I personally disagreed with her on significant issues, most notably on the 2016 gas tax increase, which I favored.    Yet nobody could question Jennifer Beck’s honesty, ethics, or independence.

Jennifer Beck’s critical career moment was yet to come, however.  It came last week, when as a member of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, she had the responsibility of casting a vote on S4, the Christie Horizon BCBS proposal as modified and sponsored by Senator Joe Vitale (D- Middlesex).   This bill would have 1) allowed the state to substantially invade Horizon’s reserves, possibly resulting in major premium increases to policyholders; 2) mandated the election of three Horizon board members by policyholders, which would have enabled political factions with selfish private agendas to gain control of the board.

Senator Beck was directly confronting the powerful unholy alliance of Governor Chris Christie and South Jersey Democratic Party leader George Norcross.  Christie had proposed this legislation himself, but there is no doubt that this has been a major priority of Norcross as well.

To be sure, there has been no published news of statements made by Norcross about S4.  During the past week, the report of Judicial Watch contained allegations that Norcross, the Chairman of the Board at Camden’s Cooper Hospital was trying to compel Horizon to buy out the allegedly financially troubled AmeriHealth, where Norcross reportedly had an ownership interest.  Cooper vehemently denied both the allegations of 1) Norcross having an ownership interest in AmeriHealth; and 2) any attempts on his part to compel the purchase of AmeriHealth by Horizon.

At this point, one cannot assess the credibility of the Judicial Watch reported allegations. There is no doubt, however, that passage of the Horizon S4 legislation was a major priority of Norcross, as exemplified by the intense efforts on its behalf by his two leading Camden County Democratic legislative allies, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald.  There is no health insurance coverage issue in the state in which Norcross does NOT have a strong interest, and the positions of South Jerseyans Sweeney and Greenwald ALWAYS reflect his position.  In fact, every South Jersey Democratic legislator owes his position to Norcross.  They don’t call them George Norcross Democrats for nothing.

Throughout his administration, Chris Christie has subserviently delivered to Norcross everything asked of him.  The Horizon S4 legislation was the final Norcross priority Christie wanted to deliver.  Once the state budget would be enacted, Christie would lose all leverage in obtaining legislative enactment of S4.  So he and the two leading Norcross Democrats, Sweeney and Greenwald connived at holding budget approval hostage until Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto would post S4.  They badly underestimated Vinnie Prieto, who was unafraid to speak truth to power.

And this is what Jennifer Beck also did. She boldly spoke truth to power in being the only Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee member to oppose S4.  Her speech on the floor vote was a moment of remarkable Senate eloquence.  And in the end, her position won the day – the final compromise severely limited the ability of state government to invade Horizon’s reserves, and the policyholder election of directors was eliminated.  For both Vinnie Prieto and Jen Beck, in Churchillian terms, the past week has been their finest hour.

In this November’s election, Jennifer Beck will face the toughest challenge of her political life.  She is opposed for reelection by former Monmouth County Democratic Chair Vin Gopal.  He has superb political instincts and acumen and comprehensive knowledge of the issues.  He will be amply financed, including direct independent expenditures from political action committees.

Yet it is in this area of campaign expenditures where Gopal has a growing vulnerability. 

The phrase ” South Jersey Democrat,” outside of South Jersey itself, has become a term of opprobrium.  The pejorative connotations of the phrase “South Jersey Democrat” increased as a result of the state government shutdown and the efforts of Norcross Democrats to enact the Christie Horizon proposals.

It is anticipated that a large percentage of the direct contributions and independent expenditures on behalf of the Gopal campaign will come from South Jersey Democratic sources.   Jennifer Beck is well aware of this, and she has effectively developed a message against the man she calls   “Camden County Vin,” as displayed in her following statement:

“Vin Gopal is part of the Camden County Democrats’ political machine and will be an advocate for Camden County, not for Monmouth County. Vin Gopal is bought and paid for by the Camden County Democrats.”

This message may even enhance Senator Beck’s appeal to Democrats in her district.  I first became aware of the possible toxicity among Democrats of the label “South Jersey Democrat’ two years ago.  At a dinner of the Rabbinical College of America in 2015, my good friend and preeminent Democratic fundraiser, John Graham, introduced me to a non-elected major statewide Democratic player.  

This person first complimented me on my columns, and then said, unsolicited by me, “Alan, we are not going to allow a South Jersey Democrat to become our next governor.”  Two years later, in 2017, he received substantial favorable media coverage for his role in securing for Phil Murphy the organizational support that ensured his nomination.

So the Jennifer Beck-Vin Gopal race for the 11th District Senate seat promises to be the marquee race of New Jersey Campaign 2017.  I plan to write extensively about this contest in the months ahead.  At this point, I will not hazard a prediction.  Suffice it to say, however, that Jennifer Beck’s stance on the Horizon issue was a significant and courageous step forward in her reelection effort.  And if she is reelected, expect Jennifer Beck to top any short list for the Republican lieutenant governor nomination in 2021.


Alan J. Steinberg 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 under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman.

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6 responses to “Shutdown Aftermath – The Republican Winner: Jennifer Beck”

  1. A Republican endorsing a Republican. Please, save us from the adoration of a fellow traveler. And you know how Mr. Gopal would have voted under the same circumstances? With Mr. Christie likely tanking into the single digit rating approval it does not take much in the way of courage to oppose him, and the same for the Lt. Governor. How ugly and desperate does a candidate get to say Mr. Gopal is a Camden County lackey. Much the same could be said of Ms. Beck and Ms. Guadagno until the brand became toxic. And while we are at it, where do they stand on the president, his agenda, and the Senate Health Care Plan?
    That also will effect the well being of every NJ citizen. They chose their party affiliation when it suited them. Let the issues define the debate and election, not continued ad hominen attacks and biased support.

    • I normally don’t respond to comments, but I must advise Mr. Shutman that I am one of the most anti-Trump Republicans in America and one of the most anti-Chris Christie Republicans in New Jersey. I endorsed Hillary Clinton for President in the 2016 Presidential campaign.

      • Curious what it means to be the most of anything or one of the most? As an example, did you vote for Christie or Buono in the last gubernatorial election? Why Hilary? Why not Bernie? But this is all besides the point. The argument is twofold: 1. How do you know how Mr. Gopal would have voted had he been in the Senate? 2. What is your response to Ms. Beck’s ad hominen attack that Mr. Gopal is in Nocross’s pocket – as Beck has identified Mr. Gopal as a Camden County lackey. So, what is your response other than being the most … As for my support of Mr. Gopal, he is an outstanding communicator with indefatigable energy. I have had the opportunity to know him personally and professionally, where his genuineness and authentic self is consistent. In the ever encroaching Trump world, we will need a strong NJ response to defend and advocate for the needs and livelihoods of middle class folks who increasingly struggle economically, and the poor. Mr. Gopal has a background of volunteerism, consistent advocacy even when not popular as when he actively supported Ms. Buono. He will fight for property tax relief as a small business owner, work to encourage job growth, help with college cost relief, work for equal pay, and push to restore funding for women’s and everyone’s health care.

    • I normally don’t respond to comments, but I must advise Mr. Robinson that I am one of the most anti-Trump Republicans in America. I endorsed Hillary Clinton for President in the 2016 campsign.

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