Profile: The Man With One of the Loudest Liberal Voices in the Garden State

Gordon MacInnes makes no secret about his concerns -- education, immigration, Medicare expansion, and the ‘hollowing out of middle class,’ among others

Credit: NJTV
Gordon MacInnes
Name: Gordon MacInnes

Title: President, New Jersey Policy Perspective, 2012-present

Why he matters: The Trenton-based liberal think tank that MacInnes leads is a loud voice in the State House on the issues of tax policy, economic security, healthcare, and immigration. Democratic lawmakers who control the Legislature frequently turn to research compiled by New Jersey Policy Perspective when crafting bills, and the organization’s staffers regularly testify as experts before legislative committees when bills are up for consideration.

Legislative service: MacInnes, a resident of Morristown, is a two-time state lawmaker. He represented Morris County in the Assembly from 1974 to 1976, and he also served in the Senate from 1994 to 1998. Holding onto those seats as a Democrat in Republican-dominated Morris County was a big challenge, MacInnes said, but elected office was something he enjoyed.

“I loved it. Loved campaigning,” he said. “It’s challenging. It’s exhausting.”

Government service: MacInnes has worked for President Lyndon B. Johnson’s White House, served as a special assistant to former Gov. Richard J. Hughes, and was a state Department of Education assistant commissioner from 2002 to 2007, focusing on the issue of education funding for the state’s poorest communities. He’s currently a member of the Rutgers University Board of Governors.

Nonprofit experience: MacInnes is the former director of the Fund for New Jersey and was chief executive of New Jersey Network. He also led the organization Citizens for Better Schools.

How he started: Born in Texas, but raised in California, MacInnes studied politics at Occidental College in Los Angeles and then public affairs at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School. Though he grew up in a generally conservative household, MacInnes eventually became a Democrat. He didn’t chalk up the shift to one specific event, but said the Civil Rights era was definitely influential.

“I got interested in that, even when I was in high school,” he said.

His time at Princeton was also influential, though MacInnes said he wasn’t too confident that the school was going to accept him when he sent his application to go there.

“I was there at a time when the world was changing rather dramatically,” he said.

And MacInnes also had a simple explanation for his lifelong love of politics and policy, calling it “the most advantageous way to change things if they’re not going well.”

Current role: New Jersey Policy Perspective stresses issues like the state’s progressive income-tax structure and efforts to increase the minimum wage. Paid family leave and earned sick time have also been big issues for the organization. It has also been a loud voice on immigration and Medicaid expansion.

A central theme for New Jersey Policy Perspective, he said, is the mission of “providing people with accurate facts and reliable analysis.

“We’re very careful about that,” MacInnes said.

He said he also brings a campaign approach to the think tank’s daily work.

“I treat this as a political campaign without an Election Day,” MacInnes said.

Challenges facing New Jersey today: MacInnes talked about a lack of stable funding for the state’s Transportation Trust Fund, corporate subsidies that have expanded rapidly without adequate oversight, and job growth that has trailed other states and the national trend coming out of the most recent recession.

“This is a pretty discouraging time for the state of New Jersey,” MacInnes said. “What we’re seeing is a hollowing out of the middle class.”

But New Jersey Policy Perspective can play a role in helping to turn things around by trying to “define the problems that need attention, and to do so accurately.”

For example, the think tank has been aggressively lobbying for more oversight of the corporate-tax incentive programs as more than $5 billion in potential tax breaks have been awarded to companies since Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, took office in 2010. The tax breaks, he said, are “the most recent and frightening example” of politicians’ general desire over the past several decades to accomplish their goals without increasing taxes.

Advice for someone getting into New Jersey politics: With over four decades of experience and a diverse background in New Jersey’s political scene, MacInnes had some thoughts to share with anyone thinking of getting more involved.

“This is a great place to practice politics,” he said. “It’s a tough place and you’ve got to do your homework and pay careful attention.”

And though New Jersey’s brand of politics is considered to be aggressive and combative, MacInnes said “it’s always combat with a smile.”

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