With less than a week until Election Day, Governor Phil Murphy got the support of a national leader known for drawing impassioned crowds: Bernie Sanders, who traveled to Rutgers University on Thursday to stump for Murphy. This is a late-in-the-race indication that party leaders know that they need to boost enthusiasm among progressive Democratic voters in this off-year election.
If Murphy succeeds over his Republican challenger on Tuesday, he will be the first Democratic governor to win re-election in New Jersey since 1977. And for that, he’ll owe a debt to progressives. Not just because of a late visit by Bernie, but to the many grassroots progressive groups that have spent the past four years pushing Murphy to deliver on popular progressive policies in the state, keeping left-leaning voters engaged in the process.
Founded in 2016 after Bernie’s historic presidential run, members of Our Revolution New Jersey have been active across NJ; with 12 local chapters and a statewide network of activists, we have pushed forward Bernie’s progressive platform and have advanced working-class priorities. We organized rallies to hold Rep. Gottheimer accountable to NJ voters.
During Murphy’s first term in office, OR NJ Activists helped turn universal sick leave and a statewide $15 minimum wage from policy proposals into a reality. We organized to oppose a partisan gerrymandering bill, mobilized for cannabis justice and rallied for Medicare for All. OR members are engaged at the local level working hard to support progressive candidates and turning out the vote in local and statewide elections.
Bernie Sanders inspired an entire generation of us to get active in New Jersey politics. But here in the Garden State, it is virtually impossible to run for office as progressive; or as a young candidate, or as a woman or as a candidate of color. Why? Because New Jersey’s unique and undemocratic ballot design — the “County Ballot Line” — has become a systemic barrier that helps keep status-quo politicians in place, leaving independent and progressive voters disengaged with politics.
For those who haven’t spent time scrutinizing their ballot, “The Line” refers to the cohesive column of candidates on primary ballots with incumbents’ names listed under the candidate running at the top of the ticket. Voters accustomed to voting the party line do exactly that and as a result, New Jersey primary elections are essentially noncompetitive. No incumbent on the line has lost for state office in 12 years, or federal office in over 50.
As activists inspired by Bernie’s “Not Me. Us” message under the Our Revolution New Jersey umbrella, we are energized by the possibilities of politics to deliver real change for people. But, the fact of the matter is most New Jerseyans think politics in the state is corrupt and that their vote doesn’t matter. Between party bosses hand-selecting candidates and district gerrymandering ensuring the party boss pick is elected, it’s not hard to see where that perception comes from.
If party leaders would embrace competitive primary elections and abolish the “line” ballot system, it would help re-engage voters in the democratic process and diversify the field of candidates. It would strengthen democracy in our state. It would help Democratic candidates up and down the ballot and increase voter turnout. And, yes, it would give progressives a fighting chance in primary elections.
On many issues affecting our communities, Our Revolution New Jersey is aligned with Gov. Murphy. We support him on economic rights, equal pay, women’s rights, paid leave, housing justice, and other issues.
Elections do have consequences and therefore we call on all Bernie progressives in New Jersey to exercise your right to vote for the candidate that aligns with our progressive ideas.
Let’s continue working together to make New Jersey a truly progressive state.
Anna-Marta Visky is the state organizer of Our Revolution New Jersey. Our Revolution is dedicated to organizing a political revolution strong enough to challenge the structural forces that threaten our survival as a society. Together, we are building a national grassroots network of powerful local groups who are fighting to win progressive issue fights, elect progressive champions, transform the Democratic party and get big money out of politics.