Wrinkles in the Sand Ahead of Morris GOP Vote on the Line

Laura Ali

Many Morris County Republicans shudder in fear at the prospect of the county becoming to resemble – politically speaking – Hudson or Essex.

Now that “basket of deplorable” counties has been expanded to include the ruby-red county of Ocean.

Just another sign of the contentious in-house battle over a proposal to create a “county line” for Morris Republicans. A vote by the county committee is set for Saturday.

Supporters, who include county chair Laura Ali and many of the county’s elected officials, say that a “line” would allow the county party to screen and to endorse candidates in primaries, thereby ensuring that the best, possible candidates represent the party in the fall. That’s more important than it was, say, 20 years ago, because Democrats have become more competitive.

This is how most county parties statewide on both sides of the aisle do things, but Morris Republicans traditionally have prided themselves on having “open” primaries in which all candidates are essentially on their own.

The latest salvo opposing the proposed change came this morning from three former chairs of the Morris County Republican Committee – John Sette. Lois Johnson and Marilyn Cioffi.

And that’s where Ocean County comes in.

A letter from the three former chairs asks, “Do we want to be like Ocean County, where freeholders are in office for 40 years or longer?”

The point is clear: a county line keeps incumbents in power “forever.” In contrast, an open primary allows for new blood.

Think about Jefferson’s oft-quoted line about the “tree of liberty” needing refreshment “from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” No, that line wasn’t in the letter, but considering the rising rhetoric, it could have been.

More relevantly, the letter refers to many Morris Republicans of the past who got their start running in open primaries – most especially such luminaries as Rep. Dean Gallo, Sheriff Edward Rochford and Gov. Chris Christie.

One argument for changing the system is that primary candidates would no longer need to raise campaign cash to win in June. Instead, all funds would be used to fight the Dems.

The trio of former chairs responded to that with a rather dire warning:

“Look how many county and state officials have ended up in jail pressuring vendors for donations. Why further enable the temptation with a line?” the letter says.

Looking at this from afar, this seems like one of those acrimonious primaries that are common for Morris Republicans

And that, of course, is what adopting a line is supposed to stop.

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