By Art Gallagher
The boost in traffic visiting this site the last couple of days and some of the comments in Fred Lehlbach’s post, Where are the By-Laws? , and Mike Halfacre’s By-Laws Don’t Matter, Yes They Do, seems to indicate that the topic has considerable interest.
Or maybe I should write less and turn the site over to guest writters more often. Actually I started this piece in response to Fred’s and before Mayor Halfacre submitted his. Some of my points may duplicate Mike’s.
By-Laws and candidate selection
The 2009 State statute that Fred cited does not require that county committee members be empowered to vote on who the county organization’s endorsed candidates will be. It requires that there be by-laws and that the by-laws be available to the county committee members.
The Ocean County GOP has by-laws. There is nothing in them regarding candidate selection.
By-Laws and the law
I think the Monmouth GOP should have by-laws, if for no other reason than to make the controversy go away and to keep it from coming back every year or so.
But that we don’t have by-laws does not mean that the county GOP is operating outside of the law. As Fred noted, the amendment to NJSA 19:5-3.2 has no effective date. Even if it did, the law itself was probably unconstitutional the minute Governor Corzine signed it.
In 1989 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Eu v. San Francisco Democratic Central Committee that the State of California could not regulate the endorsement of candidates or the way that political parties organize themselves. The court ruled that the California law in question violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
If California can’t do it, New Jersey can’t do it.
The U.S. Supreme Court trumps the NJ Legislature and Corzine.
Oxley’s Candidate Selection Process and County Committee Members
The candidate selection process that Chairman Oxley has employed three times now is not designed to disempower county committee members. It is designed to empower municipal chairs, who are elected by the county committee members.
The “Oxley method” is a screening committee comprised of all municipal chairs and all present and former elected officials above the municipal level, i.e., all present and former county level officials and state legislators. The municipal chairs outnumber the “statesmen” on paper. Yet in both 2009 and 2010 many municipal chairs, too many, did not show up for the screening committee selection. As Halfacre noted, the presence of present and former elected officials in the process does dilute the municipal chairs’ influence, and thereby the county committee members, but not nearly as much as voluntary non-participation on the part of the chairs and the committees dilutes their own influence. There are 53 municipalities in Monmouth County. If 53 municipal chairs showed up for the screenings, the chairs would have the power.
Oxley has made it clear that he expects the chairs to consult with their local committees. Most who participate in the process do consult with the local committees.
Oxley is not a “boss.”
In 2009 his choice for Freeholder was not nominated by the screening committee.
In 2010 everyone knew who Oxley’s choices for the congressional nominations were. They, Diane Gooch, Scott Sipprelle and incumbent Congressman Chris Smith, won the party endorsements. If there was any pressure being applied by Oxley for his choices, I, as a municipal chair and a vocal advocate for other candidates in CD 6 and 12, didn’t feel it. I had no idea who Oxley’s choice for Freeholder was, even after asking him.
In the “Oxley method” those who want to influence the candidate selection process should contact their local county committee members, municipal chairs, elected officials on the county and state level and former elected officials on the county and state level.
Is the “Oxley method” the right way or the best way? I don’t know. It has been controversial, even among screening committee members. However, it is hard to argue with the results.
Joe Oxley inherited a Monmouth GOP that was on the verge of losing control of county government for the first time in two decades when he was first elected Chairman in June of 2008. We lost a one seat on the Freeholder board in 2006, 2007 and 2008 each. We won two of them back, one at a time in 2009 and 2010. A victory this year brings Monmouth County’s government back into unanimous Republican representation.
Weather you agree with his methods or not, Oxley has stopped the bleeding. He’s done much better than stop the bleeding. He’s lead the party to two overwhelming victories in a row.
I love conventions and the campaigning that occurs leading up to them. I think they bring more people into the process and force candidates to define who they really are. I think competition is healthy and makes the party stronger. There is often great political theatre.
Yet it is also true that these campaigns have caused lasting divisions that continue to hurt the party. Oxley’s two predecessors held conventions. The party became more and more divided and lost repeatedly.
We should keep examining what we are doing and look to improve it. Even when it is working well. We should keep looking for ways to welcome interested people into the process. In an ideal world open conventions and full committee participation would be the way to go. But the truth is getting full committee participation looks to be a pipe dream and the recent past of a more open process as proved to be destructive.