Like approximately everyone else, the Declaration of Independence is one of my favorite statements of what it is to be an American. It has become fashionable over time to allow the flaws of our country to dominate and to eclipse its virtues. But, call me naive if you wish, I still believe that this American experiment has built that city on a hill, and it is up to all of us to give it maintenance.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed
The Founders had the definition of citizen wrong, but they had the principle right. In society we are co-equals; no one of us has any moral entitlement greater or lesser than any other. Liberty is that principle which, very generally speaking, demands of us that we respect the moral agency of our fellow beings. Government is legitimate only when it is consensual and when its aims are to protect the liberties of the citizens who have brought it into being.
This is a hard standard to live up to, and surely our country has stumbled or fallen at many points. But, despite all of our challenges, we remain a place in which people are free to live according to their conscience, to speak their minds, and to enjoy all the other liberties that humans throughout history (and in many countries today) could not enjoy. We are not a country based on bloodlines, but one based on the belief of people that they can come here and build a better life in peace.
And importantly, at least in principle, we are not a place of privilege. There is no one entitled to “rule” over us — we are a self-governed polity. It’s for each of us to remember that it’s through our own choices and actions that we continue to build and maintain our city on the hill that will remain an example of good government for generations to come.
Following yesterday’s Senate passage of the Horizon bill, LD 14 Assembly Candidate Kristian Stout (R) is calling on State Legislators to stop playing politics and pass a fiscally responsible budget, without risking the healthcare of millions of New Jerseyans.
On Thursday, Speaker Prieto refused to post the Horizon bill, but still attempted to pass the budget in the Assembly. The Senate actually passed the Horizon bill without giving the public the opportunity to weigh in on the viability of the plan. A number of Democrats refused to stand up to the governor in what should have been an easy bipartisan effort.
“My opponent, Dan Benson, didn’t vote at all on the budget, and that’s a shame,” LD14 candidate Kristian Stout said. “This is an opportunity for our elected officials to stand up to bullying and support the people of New Jersey, but Benson refused to vote. He needs to go. Our taxpayers deserve better.”
“This should be an easy bipartisan win,” he added. “Everyone knows Christie is only pushing for the Horizon bill because he thinks it will help repair his hopelessly damaged reputation. Why are the Democrats helping him? The Legislature should put Christie’s Horizon bill aside and pass a responsible budget that will serve the needs of our hardworking taxpayers.”
The Horizon bill would allow the state to raid the health insurance company’s emergency surplus funds that are collected in excess of the Blue Cross system’s mandated levels. Christie’s plan was to use these funds to pay for opioid treatment programs in the state.
“Opioids users need treatment, but a big, showy political stunt is not the way to get them the help they need,” Stout added. “Making it harder for Horizon to insure the citizens in our state is a terrible idea, especially given the problems the healthcare industry is facing around the country and here in New Jersey.”
I’ve been going door to door for a couple of weeks now. My wife asked me what it was like running for office, and as I was answering her, it occurred to me that this might be a question that people generally have. The short answer: it’s strange (but fun too).
It’s an odd feeling having to market myself to my neighbors
I generally try to be relatively humble. I don’t do this in order to set up sweet humble-brags, but for quite the opposite reason. I believe that to be human is to be mostly ignorant, and so, no matter how much I think I know, there is an incredible amount more to learn. But running for office, in some sense, is like walking around and saying “hey, I’m awesome, you should make me your leader.” Or at least, that’s how it generally appears, and its a perception I am genuinely striving not to give.
As I am out walking, knocking on doors, and talking to people, I am continually struck by how wonderful it is to live in a country like ours, where, even though a strange bald man is walking up your drive way, you will come out and have a conversation with him. And when I get to have those conversations I can feel something deep happening that clarifies for me what is best about the American process: I am not out asking for a vote for me, I am asking for my neighbors to work together for a common purpose. I’m just a cog in that process. I am making a pitch for the way I see things, and if my neighbors agree they will vote for that vision, and I will work to bring that vision into reality.
It takes a little getting used to approaching strangers (or as I call them: “soon to be friends”)
Actually, this one is not quite as hard for me as it might at first seem. I have discovered in going door to door that I basically have the personality of a Labrador retriever. I find it really interesting to meet different people and hear their perspective on what is right and wrong with our state government (and whatever else they happen to want to talk about). But this is consistent with my personal philosophy I noted above. Since I am pretty sure that I have only a small slice of available information, it’s interesting to trade notes with others and see where the pieces of my own understanding are incomplete.
The thing that is difficult about walking up to doors is that I think people generally like to be left alone (and I feel bad for interrupting them). That said, almost everyone I walk up to on the street or on whose door I knock is pretty friendly and willing to engage with me, even if minimally … which is a relief 🙂
I have not gotten yelled at (yet)
Even without the branding problem that NJ Republicans are currently experiencing, politics and policy can lead to divisiveness. I’ve only been to a couple of hundred doors at this point, so I’m sure I will run into some vitriol before I am done. That said, I have been going to independent and registered democrat doors and so far have had really positive, friendly conversations. There have been some passionate people who are really invested in some issues, but its always civil. I’ve met people in tough life situations, who think the state is hurting them, but who are nonetheless willing to talk to me.
So, despite the potential for divisiveness, I’ve found that when we actually have an opportunity to talk together, the humanity that underlies public policy comes to the forefront. By speaking face to face we get the opportunity to understand that, for all the flaws that any particular policy position might have, in the end its about people of good faith trying to use their limited perspectives to put together solutions for the wellbeing of the community.
Windsor, New Jersey – LD14 Assembly Candidate Kristian Stout criticized the entrenched class of Democrat politicians for demonstrating their commitment to the interests of celebrity, wealth and shadowy political PACs by hosting a $2,500.00 per ticket fundraiser starring Alec Baldwin last Thursday.
“Bringing in multi-millionaire New Yorker Alec Baldwin is emblematic of the ideals of the Democrat elite and of their disdain for actual democracy,” said Stout. “As though protecting themselves through a gerrymandered electorate were not enough, they need to bring in wealthy Hollywood stars to interfere with our elections.”
By all accounts, the $5.1M haul was the most successful single fundraiser for any political party in New Jersey history and will guarantee that the state’s 40 legislative districts will be flush with outsider cash this election season. Hosted by George Norcross’s “General Majority PAC” — a powerful aggregator of political influence and money — the event helped shore up the stream of money to Democratic incumbents that has been recently jeopardized by internal political conflicts, such as the General Assembly Speakership power play and the loss of financial support by the NJEA.
“That money, divided up across our 40 legislative districts, will ensure that incumbents like my opponent Dan Benson could have a healthy fundraising start of over $127,000.00 without having to talk to a single voter,” continued Stout. “That’s appalling. Wealthy outside celebrities should not be telling us who our officials will be in LD14. This is yet another instance in which the voter’s voice is drowned out.”
Stout, as a political outsider, takes a decidedly voter-centric approach to his campaign. “This is a constant problem in NJ: we don’t get our voices heard because shadowy money is used to make sure that incumbents like Dan Benson remain comfortably in office. Even Phil Murphy has agreed to a general election spending cap. I call on Dan Benson to do the same: reject this Hollywood handout, and let’s have an election that actually focuses on the needs of the voters in our district.”
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.