Senate Must Approve Clean Elections Today

CourierPostOnline — Thursday, March 15, 2007

The state Senate must vote today to continue clean elections in November.

Today, the state Senate convenes for the last time before its annual spring budget recess. It's the last chance for senators to reauthorize something this state desperately needs – clean elections – before it becomes too late.

The Senate tried to approve publicly financed elections Monday, but couldn't muster the 21 votes needed for approval. There were only 17 "yes" votes when the bill's sponsor, state Sen. Shirley Turner, D-Lawrence, Mercer County, asked that it be pulled and scheduled for a vote today.

It is incumbent upon both Democrats and Republicans to get this bill approved and ensure clean elections happen this fall.

Yes, Republican senators who voted against or abstained on the bill are right that the June primary races should be included in clean elections. After all, in non-competitive districts where voters always support Democrats or Republicans, primaries are where the real choice is for voters. Taking out candidates' ability to rely on special-interest donors with deep pockets in the primaries could take away power from New Jersey's kingmaker political bosses who can easily steer these big donors to their hand-picked candidates.

Offering public funding in primaries for candidates who raise enough small donations on their own would allow regular folks who aren't part of the local political machine to run and have a decent shot at winning their party's nomination.

But those gutless senators, Republican and Democrat, who are afraid of such change and have worked behind the scenes to block, delay, divert or otherwise stand in the way of this bill have made it so that now, it's basically too late to choose three districts for clean primary races that would happen less than three months from now. That's a shame, and it's another reminder of how the people we send to Trenton are good at saying they want reform, but then working behind the scenes to preserve the status quo and protect their positions of power.

Nevertheless, the state Senate must reauthorize clean elections for the November Senate and Assembly elections. This bill offers a better model for candidates than the clean elections of 2005, in which only one of five sets of candidates running in two Assembly districts raised enough money to qualify for public funding. If clean elections work well this time around, maybe it will become too difficult for lawmakers not to expand the program to primary races in 2009.

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