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The New Jersey Politics of the Texas Atrocity

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The United States has experienced yet another mass shooting, this time in a town in Texas where an 18-year-old took a gun, murdered his grandmother, and then went on a shooting spree in an elementary school in his hometown of Uvalde.  The spree left 19 children and 2 adults dead.  The alleged shooter is also dead.

This massacre marks the bloodiest school schooling since Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, a decade ago.  That incident left 28 dead and 2 injured, the shooter having killed his own mother and then himself.

The “politicization” which followed the Uvalde shooting was inevitable and predictably formulaic.  In the wake of the shooting, President Joe Biden and other elected officials expressed their grief with the Texan families, and also called for governmental action to control gun violence.  Almost immediately, right-wing pundit Tucker Carlson said the president was “dividing the country in a moment of pain” and repeating Democrat talking points.  Carlson blasted Biden, saying, “Partisan politics being the only thing that animates him, [he is] unfit for leadership of this country.”

Biden’s crime was in calling for something to be done about shootings rather than waiting for some period of time to pass first.

The tragedy, coming on the heels of the Buffalo, NY, shooting just a week before, has electrified calls in the Democratic party for more gun and gun-violence related legislation.

Governor Phil Murphy announced that, while there was no immediate credible threat to any NJ school, he ordered the NJ State Troopers and County Prosecutors to provide additional law enforcement protection to schools.

Acting Attorney General Matt Platkin said that “nothing about this is normal,” and added that NJ law enforcement would do all they could to protect the Garden State’s students, teachers, and staff.

The incident comes at a time when the Supreme Court is potentially going to throw ideological victories to the Republican Party with the overturning of Roe v. Wade and rule on a challenge to New York’s concealed carry laws.

As of the time of this writing, former Republican State Senator Tom Kean, Jr., the presumed front-runner in the race to challenge Congressman Tom Malinowski, had yet to issue any statement in the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting.

Other New Jerseyans, such as Democratic Congressman Donald Payne, promptly released statements, calling for action.  “We have passed bills in the House to conduct better background checks.  We are ready to prevent terrorists and criminals from getting guns and murdering innocent Americans,” Payne said.  “Yet, the Senate does nothing and legislatures around the country do nothing.  We are still mourning the victims of the horrific and racist mass shooting in a Buffalo, NY supermarket last week.  I don’t know what else has to happen for people, and especially Republican elected representatives, to realize that gun violence and domestic terrorism is a serious threat to the safety and stability of our country.  We must take this threat seriously and do everything we can to protect all Americans.”

Straight to the point, Congressman Donald Norcross spoke at a Cherry Hill town hall, saying that the Republican responses to mass shootings are “bullshit.”

“You gotta say, ‘What the is going on?’ It’s absolutely remarkable what’s going on in our nation and somehow, we can’t do anything about it,” Norcross said.

The congressman cited that their hands were tied even to collect data on mass shootings because of partisan politics.  “Well, let me tell you, we aren’t even allowed to study it because of laws that were put in place prior to many of us being able to change that. So, gee, go study the issue. But somehow it’s: put your head in the sand and say, ‘We just can’t do it, it’s just people.’ Well, I don’t buy that bullshit, excuse me, I don’t buy it at all.”

Norcross further said that he had been a hunter and that automatic weapons have no sporting value.

Governor Murphy has already enacted tighter gun control restrictions in New Jersey during his tenure as chief executive, but wants to roll out yet another package of legislation.  Republicans have repeatedly said that these laws only impact the law-abiding and do not stop criminals who are already intent on breaking the law.

The grim political reality is that mass shootings do not generally have much impact on American politics, state or federal.  The internet explodes in rage, demonstrations take place, and then after a while nothing happens.  Community-oriented organizations, typically urban, will continue to campaign as they always have, but the political attention to gun violence rises and falls cyclically.  Both sides of the aisle are relieved when the matter can be swept under the rug because it prevents them from having to act on an extremely charged and contentious matter culturally, legally, and from lobbying.  Unfortunately for the country and to the political establishment itself, mass shootings are so common in the United States that as soon as interest fades out, it is fanned to life once more as more people are buried while thoughts and prayers are offered from the usual quarters.

If looking at the Columbine shooting in 1999 to today, gun control on the federal level has not significantly changed, although states have exercised greater power.  New Jersey already has among the most restrictive gun control laws in the United States, a point Murphy is proud of.

It is true that New Jersey has less gun violence than other states like Texas.  GVPedia Gun Violence Research, defines a mass shooting in which four or more people are shot, excluding the shooter.  The Giffords Law Center has given New Jersey an “A Rating” on having strong state gun laws.  The GVR study said, “Since 2013, the number of annual mass shootings nationwide jumped by 65%.In states with strong laws, mass shooting incidents increased by 33% and fatalities by 26%, but in states with weak laws, mass shootings increased by a staggering 91% and fatalities by 92%. States with weak laws experienced 63% more mass shootings with an assault weapon.”

Their study reported, “New Jersey suffered 66 mass shootings between 2013-2019, resulting in 49 deaths and 269 injuries.”  The same study noted Texas had an “F Rating” and “Texas suffered 144 mass shootings between 2013-2019, resulting in 292 deaths and 598 injuries.”

The CDC reported New Jersey had 420 gun deaths in 2018 from homicides and suicides.  Texas, in the same year, had 3,522 gun deaths from homicides and suicides.

“Why doesn’t somebody do something?” is a familiar strain in times of crisis.

Democratic Chairman LeRoy Jones blasted the Republican Party in a statement, going so far as to apparently blame them for the shooting itself.  “Make no mistake,” Jones said, “these deaths are the result of a Republican Party that remains beholden to the NRA and the gun industry.  Despite a majority of Americans supporting stricter gun laws, the Republican Party continues to pander to the gun lobby in return for campaign cash. And while they dance to the NRA’s tune, mass shootings continue to be carried out with the exact kind of assault weapon that no one has any business owning outside of a military or law enforcement role… When will enough be enough for Republicans to finally join Democrats and act to save the lives of our children and our people?”

Since New Jersey has thankfully been spared a tragedy on the order of Uvalde thus far, it is unlikely that there will be much political consequence in Trenton beyond what is already stated.  New Jersey’s strict gun law advocates, however, may use this opportunity to shift their focus on the national level and, especially if the rumors of Governor Murphy having federal-level ambitions are true, he could use the opportunity to make New Jersey a strong voice in the national discussion.  In the congressional races, these messages either for or against new gun legislation or policies would potentially have the greatest impact.  It would behoove the likes of media-shy Kean, therefore, to publicly announce their thoughts and feelings on the issue in practical terms, not just in generalities, to assure their bases of support and inform their broader constituencies, or potential constituencies.

As Kean seats to beat the incumbent, Congressman Malinowski released a statement of his own.  In it, he declared that, “This tragedy was preventable. There are commonsense gun laws that have been proven to work in New Jersey, but that we have chosen not to enact for the nation as a whole. We must now make the decision to save the lives of our children, teachers, worshipers, grocery store shoppers and loved ones.”

Malinowski took a cue from his own state of New Jersey to project potential Garden State solutions to this national problem.  Among those he mentioned were House Resolutions which would require background checks for every gun sale or transfer, something recently made into New Jersey law; reinstituting the assault weapons ban that was signed into law in 1994 by President Clinton and expired in 2004; close the “Charleston Loophole” which lets firearms sales go ahead if the background check isn’t completed in three business days; require safe storage of firearms for those households which have children or a mentally ill person in the home; federally raise the age of purchasing a semi-automatic weapon (one trigger pull, one shot fired) to those 21 and over; prevent those who are stalkers and domestic abusers from being able to legally access guns; and perhaps the subject which invites the most controversy, the “Red Flag Law” that allows police to confiscate someone’s firearms with a court order if the person is at risk of harming themselves or other people.

New Jersey Republican radio host Bill Spadea, a CD-12 candidate for congress in 2004 and Chairman of the College Republican National Committee in the 90s, had condemned the Democrats’ response immediately after the tragedy, accusing them of political opportunism and exploiting the moment. “Within hours of learning about the horrific murder of innocents at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, NJ politicians took to Twitter to make a political point. Even for New Jersey Democrats this was a new low.”

Rebutting against the slew of calls for gun control from the left, he said what some candidates have yet to put into print.  “Given the fact that the killer broke many federal and state laws already in place, the question is where’s the discussion about mental health, spending tax dollars to ‘harden’ these soft targets and empowering legal gun owners? All lost in a desperate attempt for desperate, out-of-touch Democrats to rally their radical base to overcome bad poll numbers.  Sickening.”

Spadea, for his part, offered his own approach to reducing gun violence.  Four points he made were to enhance mental health care and report those “who are unfit so they pop up on a background check.”  He also called for increasing school security, allowing licensed and trained individuals to carry a weapon wherever they may be, stating that concealed carrying citizens are less likely to violate gun laws than police officers; and lastly to “speak to your kids as adults” to promote situational awareness and a respect for firearms.

Whether or not these ideas from the right or the left will manifest in passed pieces of legislation, or if they will be forgotten in committees, depends on the inclinations of the nation’s lawmakers, reflective of the attitudes of their constituents.  Nevertheless, lawmakers have a responsibility—at the absolute minimum—to elucidate ideas and their positions on matters of such consequence.

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Senate Dems Ram Budget out of Committee Without Transparency

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The state Senate Budget Committee passed a $50.6 billion budget Monday night, which features an additional heavy infusion of federal funds ($24 billion); and includes $2 billion in property tax relief, $4.2 billion toward the debt avoidance, $6 billion in surplus, and many last-minute line items totaling billions.

“It’s a significant investment of one-time unprecedented federal dollars,” said state Senator Paul  Sarlo (D-36), chair of the budget committee.

Republicans didn’t like the bill, and to a person, voted against moving it out of committee, which the democrats control.

“There are 200 line items that we’re going to go through,” said state Senator Declan O’Scanlon (R-13). “We’ve only had this document for under 20 minutes. We would give back a lot more of this money. In reality, the ANCHOR program is not substantial.”

The GOP senator from Monmouth County highlighted the lack of transparency in the process around a proposed $5 billion in special projects funding.

“There was no competitive nature to this,” O’Scanlon complained.

“When you think about the number of opportunities that were missed in this budget,” added senate Minority Leader Steve Oroho (R-24), who lamented what he described as the structural groundwork for what he anticipates will be the largest tax hike in state history.

The Republican leader praised Sarlo for navigating complicated issues in the budget, however, “It’s something that is the full legislature’s responsibility.”

“The legislature was kept out of the process for the better part of two years,” said state Senator Mike Testa (R-1).

“Our citizens are hurting out there right now,” added state Senator Sam Thompson (R-12), moments before joining his Republican colleagues in expressing a “no” vote. “There’s so much more we could have done. We really haven’t seen the budget.”

State Senate President Nick Scutari (D-22).

 

On the other side of the Statehouse, the Assembly Budget Committee likewise passed the budget bill along party lines, with Republicans opposing.

Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-19) issued a statement:

“I am pleased with the work of the Budget Committee led by Chairwoman [Eliana] Pintor Marin today. We have advanced a budget bill that will deliver for the working and middle-class people and families of our state.

“Our planned investments build meaningfully on the Governor’s proposal and months of public input to support New Jersey communities now and into the future. Representing a steadfast commitment to fiscal responsibility and answering the call for greater affordability with historic tax relief, I will be proud to put this bill up for a vote in the Assembly.

“I thank the Governor and Senate President for their partnership and equal commitment to producing a strong and fair budget that speaks to what New Jerseyans need and value.”

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Post – Roe v. Wade reversal: While GOP will capture control of the US House of Representatives, Democrats will retain control of the US Senate

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In the spring of 1992, James Carville, then the political strategist for the ultimately successful presidential candidate, Bill Clinton, hung a sign in his office, “It’s the economy, stupid.”  The message:  The state of the economy is the most significant and decisive issue in a federal presidential campaign.  The ultimately victorious Clinton campaign would focus almost exclusively on the recessionary state of the Bush 41 economy.

Three years later, America’s leading political demographer, the late Ben Wattenberg, would author a book, Values Matter Most.  This classic on American politics vigorously disputed the Carville thesis that the Bush recession enabled Clinton to prevail in Campaign 1992.   Instead, Wattenberg attributed the Clinton 1992 victory to four values issues that attracted the support of Reagan Democrats, namely, crime, education, welfare, and affirmative action.

Since the publication of Values Matter Most, political professionals have intensely debated the question of whether economic or values issues are the more determinative of election outcomes.  The election of 2022 is likely to signify a split verdict in this debate.

The major economic issue in the 2022 federal campaign is the devastating inflation.  The electorate blames President Joe Biden and the Democrats for the inflation, although somewhat unfairly, in my view.

Perception becomes reality, however.   The issue of inflation will enable the Republicans to capture control of the US House of Representatives from the Democrats.

Yet during the last week, a values issue has emerged that is at least likely to be equally determinative of the 2022 federal elections as the economic issue of inflation.  That issue is the US Supreme Court, specifically their rulings of the past week on abortion choice (reversal of Roe v. Wade) and guns (declaring unconstitutional the New York statute limiting the carrying of guns in public).

These rulings are directly contrary to the values of the vast majority of the American electorate.  A Gallup poll taken before these two decisions reported confidence in the Supreme Court to be at a new 50-year low.

The electorate overwhelmingly will blame Republican presidents, particularly Trump, for appointing these justices and the Republican Party, whose Senators voted to confirm them.  To the vast majority of the American electorate, these decisions on guns and abortion choice are repulsive to their basic values.

And while American voters will elect a Republican House of Representatives because of the economic issue of inflation, they will simultaneously vote for a Democratic US Senate because of the values issue, the reactionary Supreme Court.

Now ultra-partisan Republican journalists and media personalities will contend that abortion has not been a voting issue in the past and is not likely to be in this election.  If the elimination of reproductive freedom in the past was not then a voting issue, it was because pro-choice voters never took seriously the possibility that Roe v. Wade could be reversed by a Republican appointed and confirmed Supreme Court.  Now that leading Republicans like former Vice President Mike Pence are calling for a Congressionally-enacted national ban on abortion, the prospect of an end of reproductive freedom in America is truly the Republican elephant in the room.

The elimination of reproductive freedom in America is now likely to be a top-tier issue in elections for years to come.  The possibility of this issue doing significant harm to the outlook for GOP candidates this November is being recognized privately by none other than Donald Trump himself, the man who made this situation a reality.

Yet the most compelling evidence for the likelihood of Democratic retention of US Senate control can be found by an examination of the electoral political math.

The Democrats and Republicans each have 50 US Senators.  The Democrats have control of the US Senate by virtue of the tie breaker, Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris.

In the forthcoming November elections, it is becoming most likely that Democrats will capture two seats currently held by Republicans: 1) the seat currently held by departing  Republican Senator Pat Toomey, with Democratic Candidate John Fetterman holding a lead over Republican Mehmet Oz in virtually all published polls ; and 2) Wisconsin incumbent Senator Ron Johnson, whose diminishing reelection chances were further damaged by allegations raised during the House Committee on January 6 that his chief of staff was complicit in the “fake elector” conspiracy.

The capture of these two seats by the Democrats would require the Republicans to wrest from the Democrats three seats in order to achieve Senate control.  There are only three vulnerable Democratic senators (Georgia, Nevada, and Arizona), and it is very unlikely that the Republicans will be able win all three of these seats.

In Georgia, former Georgia  football star Republican Herschel Walker appears to have a slight edge over incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock, Jr., but in Nevada, incumbent Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto has the advantage over Republican challenger Adam Laxalt. And in Arizona, incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Kelly has a lead over all prospective challengers https://www.newsweek.com/arizona-senate-race-polls-mark-kelly-blake-masters-mark-brnovich-jim-lamon-1712606?amp=1and is only considered vulnerable by virtue of the GOP registration advantage and the fact that they held the seat for so many years.

So the outlook is improving daily for the Democrats to retain US Senate control.  That will be very good news for Joe Biden regarding his ability to gain Senate confirmation of his appointees.  If he had a choice for the Democrats to only control one house of Congress, the Senate doubtless would be his selection.

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.

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Countdown To July 1st: Insider NJ’s Budget Special Edition (PDF)

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The final train wreckage of time will likely not reveal a New Jersey budget as that single offending piece of timber on the tracks. The self-sustaining culture of government, wherein elected officials who simultaneously hold public jobs ratify spending for the rest of us, will probably emerge in the aftermath of a full investigation – if there’s anyone left at that point to investigate – as at least a major culprit.

But according to Governor Phil Murphy, Democrats in Trenton are doing their level best to avert total disaster or to at least assist taxpayers beset by bills on average totaling $9,300 annually. In an ad released by his Stronger Fairer Forward PAC, the governor – standing in a Norman Rockwell neighborhood – gushes, “That [American] dream is out of reach for too many. That’s why we’re cutting taxes and making New Jersey more affordable.”

Making New Jersey more affordable.

It would be hard to find someone who actually believes that statement, even as Murphy, ever the effervescent Wall Street salesman, this week heads toward voting sessions in both the state Assembly and Senate, certain of lawmakers in his party passing the $48.9 billion behemoth that is this year’s state budget.

A strictly partisan divide has Democrats making a case that Murphy’s budget (the first on his watch without political foe Senate President Steve Sweeney obstructing him; more on that in a minute) imperfectly but adequately balances making the public payroll, setting aside some surplus cash, and giving individual lawmakers a chance to champion different special projects in their respective districts.

According to John Reitmeyer of NJ Spotlight: “Lawmakers last year tacked on $1.6 billion in new spending eight days before the state’s July 1 deadline for a new budget, with millions of that going to pet projects and other add-ons that are often referred to in the State House as ‘Christmas-tree items,’ a phrase that invokes the image of state largesse as a bounty of cheerful holiday gifts….

Download Insider NJ’s Budget Special Edition or view it below:

Budget Special Edition

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