Op-Ed: The Morning After June 5 Primary? This Time, You Might As Well Sleep In

John Weingart | May 21, 2015 | Opinion
With only five districts home to Democratic and Republican runoffs, it’s hard to remember that voting is a right, not a chore

John Weingart
The Eagleton Institute of Politics usually convenes a forum the morning after each statewide primary and general election. A panel of knowledgable political participants and observers reviews the previous day’s results and their implications with about 100 political junkies and, lately, a larger audience viewing a live stream of the event.

During the 30 “morning after” programs held over the past 15 years, the gatherings have become a predictable setting for informative, thought-provoking, bipartisan discussion and debate that is always respectful and civil.

But this year, the morning after the June 2 primary, we suggest you sleep in. The sad truth is that there will be few results worth discussing.

At the top of the 2015 ballot will be the 80 seats in the State Assembly and one spot in the Senate, but the legislative districts mapped and adopted after the 2010 census make it all but certain that both houses will remain firmly in Democratic control.

“Ah,” you may say, “but doesn’t that kind of gerrymandering make primaries the place where the action is?”

Challengers, knowing that most seats are reliably Democratic or Republican, should be mounting strong primary challenges arguing that the incumbent is not sufficiently true to the principles of her or his party or is inattentive to the needs of the district.

Yet, statewide, a total of only 86 Democrats and 84 Republicans have filed for the 80 nominations available to each party.

Here are the contests:

  • In the 9th District (parts of Atlantic, Burlington, and Ocean counties), the two Republican incumbents running as “regular Republicans” are being challenged by two “commonsense Conservatives.”
  • In the 15th District (parts of Hunterdon and Mercer) competing with the two “regular Democratic” incumbents is one “better Democrat.”
  • Six Democrats filed to run in the 20th District (part of Union), with two calling themselves “regular Democrats.” Two others are “Union County Progressive Democrats” and the final pair are “real Democrats.”
  • In the 24th (Sussex and parts of Morris and Warren), two “regular Republicans,” including one incumbent, are running against two challengers; one with the slogan “Politics without money” and another under a “Proven Conservative leadership” banner.
  • And seven Democrats are seeking the two nominations in the 31st District (part of Hudson); two calling themselves “Democrats united,” two “Democratic organization,” two “Uniting community & public service” and one “Committed to restoring the People’s trust.”
  • That’s it, except for a number of municipal and county races that will be largely of local interest. There are no contested Assembly nominations in any of the other 35 districts where 87 percent of the state’s population lives. In fact, in two of them — the 8th (parts of Atlantic, Burlington, and Camden) and the 23rd (parts of Hunterdon, Somerset, and Warren) — not a single Democrat entered the race. The race to fill the vacant Senate seat in the 5th (Camden and Gloucester), on the other hand, features one Democrat and no Republicans.

    At Eagleton, we believe politics matters and we preach about its importance. We tell young people that it’s always important to vote, even if the choice is less than perfect or a certain outcome seems inevitable. It’s your right and your duty. But how can you make that argument this year?

    But, it is the right thing to do, so on June 2 vote anyway.

    Then sleep in the next day and mark your calendar for Wednesday, November 4, when Eagleton will convene the next “morning after” discussion. Even if this year’s general election results are only slightly more suspenseful than those generated by the primary, I’m sure we’ll find things to talk about.

    One topic could be whether democracy might be strengthened and turnout increased if we make the changes necessary to have a few fewer elections.