COMMENTARY: New Jersey politics needs Jim Johnson

New Jersey, perhaps more than anywhere else in the country, has been gripped in an especially brutal season of political scandal, upheaval and disappointment. As the circus that was the 2016 presidential election finally begins to root its bedlam behind the (admittedly fragile) opacity of our iconic sandstone capital, people around the country are hesitantly, yet surely, catching their breaths and turning their attention back towards issues slightly closer to home. If you are a resident of New Jersey, however, you will find no reprieve from the political chaos. Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) bears one of the lowest gubernatorial approval ratings in New Jersey’s history. Despite public disillusionment with the operations of Trenton, political efficacy is actually seeing a marked resurgence. Following the election of President Donald J. Trump to the presidency, the constituency has once again been galvanized into affecting change through the political system, in an effort both to resist Trump’s policies and to restore decency and rationality to American politics.

At the same time as this uptake in political participation, the Democratic Party is facing an unprecedented level of combativeness in its New Jersey gubernatorial primary. This collision of public fervor and political competition has created a unique situation. It is clear that now is the time we most need to fight with ardor, with passion, focusing on bettering our state and our nation, through politics. But we must also cool our tempers at times and work to organize our efforts by attaining solidarity by critically examining our choices and choosing the best option. New Jersey needs its citizens to make a concerted effort to seize agency and decide as a state who truly stands for the ideals we most intimately value. In my humble opinion, Jim Johnson is the Democratic candidate who best captures those principles.

While I’ve always known that campaign finance was an area of politics that was deeply in disrepair, I never quite realized the profundity of its dereliction. One salient example of the ills of modern campaign finance is exemplified by the Democratic frontrunner Phil D. Murphy. Over the years, Murphy has donated more than $1 million in campaign funds to state and county Democratic organizations. Conspicuously, all 21 of New Jersey’s Democratic county chairs and county parties have endorsed his campaign. Despite having earned nearly $7.3 million in income last year, Murphy attempts to paint himself as a champion for the long-suffering middle-class — a disingenuous, pseudo-populist strategy that spits in the face of honesty and integrity in attempting to curry favor with the largest chunk of Americans. The other two contenders-of-note, Assemblyman John Wisniewski and Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak (D-N.J.) are also poor fits for the role of revitalizing our state’s government. Having a combined 50 years in Trenton, these two are deeply embroiled in our state’s stale, partisan politics. Naturally, this brings me to the candidate who I do believe to be the best choice for governor: Jim Johnson.

Johnson brings a much-needed new perspective to New Jersey’s Democratic Party. Johnson's career has not been that of a politician, but that of a public servant. While the two terms used to overlap, that is no longer the case. Johnson worked as Under Secretary of the Department of Treasury for Enforcement, overseeing the actions and funds of a sizeable portion of federal law enforcement, including the United States Secret Service, United States Customs Service and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. As a federal prosecutor, Johnson took on violent drug dealers, organized crime and white-collar tax evasion. More importantly to me, however, is his work as a private citizen. Johnson served as chair for the Brennan Center for Justice for seven years. In that time, he worked to protect those most vulnerable from the threat of disenfranchisement, strove to reduce crime and incarceration, both, and led the charge in initiatives to ensure that the actions of law enforcement comported with their legal limits and constitutional obligations.

For me, the most telling aspect of Johnson’s character is evinced in the way he handled drug offenses during his time practicing law, and his current stance on them. When it came to prosecuting those who perpetuated the abuse, misery and pain caused by addiction, namely the dealers, Jim travailed to see them put out of commission and to face the justice they rightly deserve. However, Johnson is intelligent and compassionate enough to realize that while dealers may be criminals, illicit drug users are almost entirely victims in the vicious cycle of abuse. Johnson advocates for the rehabilitation and aid of those addicted to illicit substances. He recognizes the futility, the barbarity and cruelty of prosecuting and punishing those whom almost all major medical and psychiatric institutions recognize as ill. With the opioid epidemic ravaging our state, it would be unconscionable to elect someone who does not see the value in helping people of New Jersey who are suffering from addiction. Those embroiled in the grip of an addiction don’t need punishment. That’s ludicrous. They need our help. For many, these are our mothers, fathers, siblings, cousins, friends — these are our loved ones. Johnson will bring compassion and rationality back into New Jersey politics. So, I exhort you: Jim Johnson is simply an opportunity we cannot afford to pass up. 

Brandon Volino is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in history. 

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