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NJ’s (best) Political Dish – InsiderNJ


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The Presidential race is hogging all the bandwidth. So let’s review whatever got lost in the maelstrom.

Loretta Weinberg I

When the chatter surrounding NJ Senator Loretta Weinberg’s possible retirement began swirling earlier this year, it was easy to ignore. After all, contemplating who might replace NJ’s political elder statesmen/women is the oldest parlor game in Trenton. (See pic. Loretta & Me on the campaign trail in 2009)

But then Senator Weinberg weighed in on the matter directly, admitting that, at 85 years of age, she’s indeed actively contemplating what’s next.

“The physical challenges, being able to carry out my responsibilities — how I feel physically and the fact that the more of what I don’t participate in because I’m in this high-risk category,” Sen Weinberg told NorthJersey.com.

Selfishly, I don’t want her to go because there’s no fiercer voice on issues I care about such as abortion and LGBT rights than Loretta Weinberg. Likewise, riders on the badly beleaguered NJ Transit have no greater champion than the Grand Dame from Teaneck.

But in the era of COVID, who hasn’t reevaluated their life?

If Loretta winds down her nearly 30-year legislative career to spend more time with her family, the void left behind would be immense. All the more reason Bergen Democrats should expect added scrutiny whenever it comes time to anoint Loretta’s heir/heiress apparent.

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If, hypothetically speaking, the Bergen Dems replace a feminist icon like Loretta Weinberg with a man, that would cement an all-male Congressional and state senate delegation representing NJ’s largest county.

Not a good look in 2020.

Won’t look good next year either.

Reschedule this

Congressman Jeff Van Drew and his democratic rival Amy Kennedy didn’t agree on much during their 90 minute debate last week. But on cannabis, they found  common ground: 1) both oppose recreational cannabis while 2) still conceding that marijuana should be reclassified on a federal level.

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According to the DEA, Cannabis is currently classified as Schedule 1 narcotic “defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

In congress, Van Drew and Kennedy want to reschedule cannabis, an acknowledgment that Americans deserve more science to back up the anecdotal evidence that cannabis makes sick people feel better.

Van Drew is a newly devoted member of a republican party that votes down nearly everything marijuana-related that comes their way. Kennedy’s husband Patrick, the former congressman, is America’s biggest cannabis prohibitionist. Ms Kennedy’s punitive  version of decriminalization forces pot smokers into rehab and jails those who can’t pay their pot fines.

So for for these two candidates in particular to concede ground on rescheduling proves how fare the needle has moved on this issue.

Loretta II

The right to an abortion is under threat in America. Donald Trump’s nomination of ultraconservative jurist Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme County proves the GOP (still) wants to control the outcome of every pregnancy in the country. They actually want the government to decide when the rest of us can start (or grow) our family by forcing every pregnancy in America to term.

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So much for small government, eh?

In response to the national trend against abortion rights, NJ lawmakers including Senator Loretta Weinberg have introduced the Reproductive Freedom Act that will “expand New Jerseyans’ ability to receive reproductive health care, such as birth control, and pregnancy-related care, including abortion.”

The legislation got a video send up earlier this month, a livestream that included a phalanx of high-profile, pro-choice voices from NJ. With the exception of Governor Murphy, supportive male voices were not part of the chorus.

Why not?

I’m ready to hear from men, especially straight men who don’t like condoms (ie: all of them), to (finally) speak up in support of abortion rights.

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It’s past time.

And it’s easier than a vasectomy.

Re-drawing boundaries

When the practice of holding two elected offices at once was banned in 2007, 19 dual officeholders were grandfathered in and kept both jobs. That number has since dwindled. Some, like Newark senator/mayor Sharpe James, went on to jail. Others got promotions, including longtime dual-officeholder Steve Sweeney who resigned his Gloucester Freeholder Commissioner post before becoming senate president in 2010.

According to my unofficial count, four dual officeholders remain in Trenton: Brian Stack is the mayor of Union City. North Bergen’s mayor is Nick Sacco. Both represent Hudson County in the State Senate. Senator Paul Sarlo (Bergen) is also mayor of Wood-Ridge. Finally, Assemblyman Gary Schaer is council president in Passaic City.

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If NJ voters reject ballot question #3, fingers crossed, the redistricting process will commence next year. Redistricting represents a once-a-decade opportunity for politicians to ostensibly redraw their own districts. It’s the most baldly partisan, status quo-entrenching exercise I’ve witnessed in my life.

And that’s a missed opportunity. Because NJ could end dual officeholding forever with a reform-minded redistricting process that separates municipalities where these guys moonlight from the district they represent in Trenton. If, for example, Passaic City and Wood-Ridge were removed from the 36th legislative district, Paul Sarlo and Gary Schaer would have to choose: municipal potentate or state lawmaker?

Redistricting as a tool of reform? It won’t happen.

I’m gonna put the idea out there anyway.


Jay Lassiter is the part-time court jester of NJ politics. 











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