By Art Gallagher
While researching county committees and the question of by-laws this week I stumbled upon an interesting provision in the unconstitutional amendment to NJSA 19:5-3.2 that creates a significant incentive for county parties to create by-laws.
In Monmouth County we elect county committee members and the Chairman every two years. In trying to find the law that set those terms, I couldn’t find it. The terms of committee members and chairmen does not appear to be spelled out clearly anywhere in the law. I consulted an expert election law attorney figuring he would have the answer on his finger tips. After an hour searching the Intenet together over the phone, we still couldn’t find it.
Title 19 refers to annual elections but it isn’t clear. My election law expert found a case going back to the 1960’s that could be interepted to require annual elections.
I confess that my first thought upon this discovery was somewhat selfish.
Last year, due to the same snafu in the primary ballot printing that placed Dan Peters for Sheriff under Anna Little for Congress, making the Sheriff primary an unexpected race, county committee challengers in Highlands were also bracketed with Little.
I knew my county committee slate was in trouble as soon as I saw the ballot. Early on in the process Chairman Oxley assured me that the challengers would be in the Siberian section of the ballot. That I was supporting Little over Gooch for Congress was no secret. I had raised the question of bracketing the incumbent committee with Little in the primary because I expected her to win Highlands, which she did. Oxley assured me that the challengers would not be bracketed with Little and the committee that I led submitted our petitions under Gooch and the rest of the county line.
I know this wasn’t a dirty trick on Oxley’s part because he was more surprised and upset by the ballot as I was. Not so much because of the Higlands bracketing, but because of the Dan Peters for Sheriff bracketing under Little. Suddenly Shaun Golden for Sheriff lawn signs had to be rush ordered and placed throughout the 6th congressional district.
We weren’t going to buy four different sets of lawn signs for a county committee primary in Highlands that less than 200 people were going to vote in. But we did spent the weekend before the primary on the phone asking historical primary voters to cast a vote for Little for Congress and then move to the left and vote the county line for the rest of the ballot. Those hundreds of voice mails that said, “Please vote Anna Little for Congress in column B and then move to the left to column A and vote for Shaun Golden for Sheriff, Clifton and Arnone for Freeholder, Frank Nolan for Mayor and our local county committee team” must have sounded pretty weird to the people who listened to them. The messages didn’t work and the challengers won the primary on Little’s coat tails.
Discovering that the terms of committee members weren’t defined by law and what little law there was pointed to annual elections, it occurred to me to have my committee team in Highlands file petitions this year two minutes before the filing deadline.
If the clerk accepted our petitions and put us on the ballot, and if everyone kept their mouths shut, the current Highlands committee wouldn’t even know that they were about to be voted out until they got their sample ballots in the mail. This was fun fantasy.
But if the clerk said, “there’s no county committee election this year,” and I said, “there should be, let’s go to see Judge Lawson,” word would get out we’d waste a bunch of time and money.
If I prevailed, either in court or by the clerk accepting the petitions and putting us on the ballot, the victory would be short lived and all hell could break lose through out the county and as unhappy Republicans and Tea Party activists tried to take over the party every year. We could have a different county chairman every year. It could lead to chaos and ultimately Democratic control of the county government.
All of that went through my head in less time than it took for you to read it while I was on the phone and the Internet with my election law expert friend when I remembered reading in the Ocean County Republican By-Laws that the the term of county committee members in Ocean is four years.
“Hey election law attorney friend,” I said, ” the Ocean County By-Laws say that the terms of county committee members are four years, what’s up with that?”
Back to the unconstitutional statute we went and there is was….the new law passed by Corzine and the legislature provides that county committee terms are determined by committee by-laws.
That seems to be a pretty good reason to have by-laws.
Maybe we’ll have by-laws by the primary filing deadline. If not, we might have some fun in Highlands after all.