As I noted last week, the struggle for control of the Assembly Speakership is about one thing: money and power. Voters? Who cares about voters when there is power to consolidate. Ideals of good governance? How quaint. That certainly seems to be the attitude of “representatives” like Speaker Prieto and incumbents like my Democrat LD14 opponent, Dan Benson.
Speaker Prieto recently moved to punish his enemies by booting a committee chairman and by muscling out the longtime Executive Director of the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee, Michael Muller. This last move tells you everything you need to know about the self-concerned nature of establishment politics in New Jersey.
Michael Muller is a fifteen-year veteran of Democratic Assembly campaigns. To put it bluntly, he has done a great job of mobilizing his party for victory in the lower house of our legislature. His ouster certainly helps people like me who are running as Republicans for Assembly seats, but the way in which he was forced to resign gives me no joy. What did he do to earn an ouster? He didn’t lose ground to the Republicans, make a political gaffe, or do anything that any reasonable person would expect would earn one a pink slip. No, the problem, apparently, is that his wife, herself an Assembly candidate, had the audacity to endorse Assemblyman Coughlin, Prieto’s challenger for the Speakership.
I am not a Democrat, and there are plenty of points of disagreement that I will have with them. I would like to believe, however, that the Democrats actually believe in their vision of government and society, and that their goal of promoting candidates for office is done in service to this vision. With at least Speaker Prieto, this hope is disappointed in two ways.
If he really believed that the ideals of the Democratic Party were something that needed to be brought to the voters, he would not have forced Muller from his job. Muller is a key figure in securing and defending seats for his side of the aisle. Surely there are other competent people who can fill his role, but as anyone familiar with hiring employees can attest you never know what you will get when a new person fills a position. Prieto is making a gamble with the well-being of his own party — and by extension, with the vision of good government that Democrats share — for his own personal gain.
And, once again, this move shows a complete disdain for the voters who have not even elected the next Assembly yet. In fact, it’s worse than just being arrogantly presumptuous if one believes in a healthy competition for the voters’ support: its destructive to our democratic way of life. Speaker Prieto is setting off an internal war within his party that undoubtedly hurts the chances of candidates who —at least at one point — he felt would be good representatives of the Democratic vision of government. Again, this is good for candidates like myself who offer an alternative to the establishment choices, but in a more abstract sense the voters will be denied as fully competitive a campaign as they deserve this election season.
And where are my Democratic opponents in LD14 on this issue? Dan Benson is notably silent despite this anti-democratic power play because he knows he has more to gain than to lose from playing these political games. Once Coughlin is anointed following what the establishment regards as a perfunctory election in November, Benson will be rewarded with money and power. Why stick up for the ideals of self-government and a free society when you might lose power ?
In the end these moves are not about a philosophy of governance, or a belief in ideals: they are a play whose plot lays bare the bankruptcy of our entitled class of political “betters.” They think they own our votes, and that they can enjoy their salon intrigues with no repercussions. In their view, the voters will get what they give us and we will smile and ask for more.
I don’t know about you, but I’m fed up with the meager gruel that passes for politics as usual. It’s time for a change.