COMMENTARY: 2016 Democratic Party antics must end now

If the voting public learned one thing from the 2016 Democratic Primary, it was that the Democrats are rarely ever neutral when it comes to selecting who will be at the top of their ticket. The 2017 race for governor of New Jersey is turning out to be no exception. Unlike in the Democratic National Committee, the New Jersey State Democratic Party Chair John Currie — the local equivalent of former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz — is allowed to endorse a candidate, and he has. Along with all of New Jersey's chairs of 21 Democratic county parties, New Jersey Democratic State Committee Chair John Currie fell in line several months ago behind former Goldman Sachs Executive and DNC Finance Chair Philip D. Murphy: He is a multi-millionaire from Boston who has given more money to state Democrats (including Currie) than any other individual for several years running. Last summer, he declared his candidacy and loaned his campaign $10 million from his own personal fortune. This influx of easy cash has translated to a formidable campaign, and he has quickly become the establishment pick for governor.

Inconveniently for party leadership, only one thing stands in the way of this ascension: Voting. In New Jersey, every partisan candidate has to go through at least three rounds of elections in order to win — the county conventions throughout the early spring, the primary election on June 6 and the general election on Nov. 7. The state’s system of county conventions is unique. Every year, each county party hosts a public convention in which members vote on which candidates get the county party’s endorsement. The endorsement gives the candidate a prime location near the top of the ballot in that county and carries a lot of weight with party loyalists who typically "vote the line" in the primary, or only vote for party-endorsed candidates. The fights at these county conventions are often fierce and hotly contested, but this year the Democratic Party is taking extra steps to ensure there is as little competition as possible. The Monmouth and Bergen County Parties, whose chairmen were early to issue their endorsements, moved the dates of their conventions from March to early February. This decision has spelled doom for left-wing insurgent candidates Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19) and State Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak (D-20), as they are unable to consolidate sufficient resources to effectively contest the Goldman Sachs millionaire.

But the most shameless rigging of the convention process occurred a month ago, right here in Middlesex County. Middlesex County's Democratic Party, in an unprecedented move, decided to hold two conventions: One where party members would vote on party endorsements for all positions except governor, and one on the following Tuesday evening where they would be able to vote on the endorsement for governor. This move disenfranchises young and working class voters who are more likely to work later hours and less able to take time off on a weekday. Clearly, in doing this, the county party is not-so-subtly favoring wealthy members and their views at the expense of the working class. Middlesex County Democratic Organization Chairman Kevin McCabe also arbitrarily decided, without even the slightest sense of irony, that party members would need to present photo ID at the door in order to vote, there would be no secret ballot, the media would not be allowed to enter the room, and that this convention would only be an “advisory vote,” meaning that the vote was really just a suggestion and could be ignored if it didn’t go the way party wanted it to go. Betrayed by the county party’s Trump-esque meddling in democracy, John Wisniewski, who lives in and represents much of Middlesex County, boycotted the convention, saying, “Kevin McCabe has made it clear that he will not tolerate a democratic process for determining who Middlesex County supports for governor.”

The official defense of this trickery is always that political parties are private organizations that can operate however they please. While this is technically true, it goes against both the idea that party members should decide who the party’s candidates should be and more specifically Article II, Section One of the by-laws of the Middlesex County Democratic Organization, which states that the purpose of the Middlesex County Democratic Organization is “ … to advance the principles of open and fair government and participatory Democracy in Middlesex County and the State of New Jersey …”

A big-money candidate with ties to Wall Street who was preordained before a single vote had been cast. Party officials brazenly show their favoritism and shut out progressive challengers. This should seem familiar and worrying. It is the same kind of political establishment that got the Democratic Party in trouble in 2016. It has to stop.

Patrick Sutherland is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science and public policy.

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