NJEA PAC Announces Its Picks for 2017 Legislative Races

John Mooney | August 7, 2017 | Education
While typically true blue, Democratic-leaning union makes some GOP exceptions, and withholds endorsement for Sweeney and Ruiz

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Its influence both symbolic and real, the New Jersey Education Association’s PAC this weekend finalized the last of the powerful union’s political endorsements for the November legislative races — with some notable picks and some notable omissions.

Overall, the endorsements by the 125-member PAC committee skewed far to the Democratic side, following a historical pattern for the teachers union that leans both to Democratic issues and also to incumbents. Just seven of nearly 100 endorsements went to Republicans.

“As we finally exit the Christie era and work to rebuild our state, it is imperative that we elect pro-public education and pro-public employee candidates,” said NJEA president Wendell Steinhauer in announcing the endorsements.

Exceptions to the rule

But there were a couple of notable exceptions. In one of the state’s most closely watched races, the union’s PAC endorsed Republican Chris Brown for the District 2 Senate seat, picking him over Democrat Colin Bell to replace outgoing Sen. Jeff Whelan, a Democrat.

The union also chose not to endorse in District 29 state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), chair of the Senate’s education committee and its most influential senator when it comes to education matters.

Although it did endorse her in 2013, the union has had a hot-and-cold relationship with Ruiz in the past four years, especially about student testing and the state’s continued use of the PARCC assessment.

This comes after the high-profile snub this spring of state Senate President Steve Sweeney, when the PAC in May endorsed his Republican challenger Fran Grenier.

Long-running battle

The NJEA and Sweeney have a long-running and often-ugly battle over his positions on pension reform and school funding, all of which has only heightened of late. The NJEA even ran ads against the senator in his uncontested primary in June, and now it is siding with a long-shot Republican – and vocal supporter of President Donald Trump – to unseat the veteran Senate president.

“Who voted for what president doesn’t affect the lives of our members as much as one’s positions on pensions and how he would fund our public schools,” said Ginger Gold-Schnitzer, the NJEA’s chief lobbyist, in defending the endorsement.

How much the NJEA’s endorsements matter is open for debate, especially when it looks as if there will be little turnover of incumbents and an unlikely shift in power. And the union certainly has its detractors for its positions on both education and labor issues.

But in a close race, there is no doubt the union can carry considerable weight through both its campaign spending and the activism of its 200,000 members.

In the highest-profile endorsement of the year and one that will bring considerable resources to bear, the union’s PAC in May picked Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy.

The PAC process

It’s a pretty cumbersome process, too, involving a lengthy review and interview in each legislative district before the recommendations come before the statewide committee.

The union in each district assembles an 11-member committee to vet the candidates, and candidates who don’t participate in the process — either answering questions or sitting for an interview — are not even considered for endorsement.

This year, both state Sens. Brian Stack and Bob Smith — both powerful Democrats — chose not to participate, union officials said.

The NJEA has what it terms nine “standards” for consideration, encompassing voting record and views on education and labor issues, leadership positions within the Legislature, accessibility to the union’s members, and electability.

On Saturday, the committee met for more than three hours in the New Brunswick Hilton to hear the recommendations and finalize the picks.

The following are the endorsements:

  • District 1: Jeff Van Drew (D) for Senate; Robert Andrzejczak (D) and R. Bruce Land (D) for Assembly
  • District 2: Chris Brown (R) for Senate; Vince Mazzeo (D) for Assembly
  • District 3: Fran Grenier (R) for Senate; no Endorsement for Assembly
  • District 4: Fred Madden (D) for Senate; Paul D. Moriarty (D) and Gabriela M. Mosquera (D) for Assembly
  • District 5: Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D) for Senate; Patricia Egan Jones (D) and Arthur Barclay (D) for Assembly
  • District 6: James Beach (D) for Senate; Louis D. Greenwald (D) and Pamela R. Lampitt (D) for Assembly
  • District 7: Troy Singleton (D) for Senate; Herb Conaway (D) and Carol Murphy (D) for Assembly
  • District 8: George Youngkin (D) for Senate; no endorsement for assembly
  • District 9: Christopher Connors (R) for Senate; Jill Dobrowansky (D) and Brian E. Rumpf (R) for Assembly
  • District 10: No endorsements
  • District 11: Vin Gopal (D) for Senate; Eric Houghtaling (D) and Joann Downey (D) for Assembly
  • District 12: David H. Lande (D) for Senate; Ronald S. Dancer (R)
  • District 13: Sean Byrnes (D) for Senate; Tom Giaimo (D) and Serena DiMaso (R) for Assembly
  • District 14: Linda Greenstein (D) for Senate; Daniel Benson (D) for Assembly
  • District 15: Shirley K. Turner (D) for Senate; Reed Gusciora (D) and Elizabeth Maher Muoio (D) for Assembly
  • District 16: No endorsement for Senate; Andrew Zwicker (D) and Roy Freiman (D) for Assembly
  • District 17: No endorsement
  • District 18: Patrick Diegnan Jr. (D) for Senate; Nancy J. Pinkin (D) and Robert Karabinchak (D) for Assembly
  • District 19: Joseph F. Vitale (D) for Senate; Craig J. Coughlin (D) and Yvonne Lopez (D) for Assembly
  • District 20: Joseph P. Cryan (D) for Senate; Annette Quijano (D) and Jamel C. Holley (D) for Assembly
  • District 21: No endorsement for Senate; David Barnett (D) and Lacey Rzeszowski (D) for Assembly
  • District 22: Nicholas P. Scutari (D) for Senate; Gerald Green (D) and James J. Kennedy (D) for Assembly
  • District 23: Christine Lui Chen (D) for Senate; Laura Shaw (D) and Charles Boddy (D) for Assembly
  • District 24: Jennifer Hamilton (D) for Senate; Kate Mateson (D) and Gina Trish (D) for Assembly
  • District 25: Lisa Bhimani (D) for Senate; Thomas Moran (D) and Richard Corcoran (D) for Assembly
  • District 26: No endorsement
  • District 27: Richard Codey (D) for Senate; Mila M. Jasey (D) and John F. McKeon (D) for Assembly
  • District 28: Ron Rice (D) for Senate; Cleopatra G. Tucker (D) and Ralph R. Caputo (D) for Assembly
  • District 29: No endorsement
  • District 30: No endorsement for Senate; Sean T. Kean (R) and Eliot Arlo Colon (D) for Assembly
  • District 31: Sandra B. Cunningham (D) for Senate; Nicholas Chiaravalloti (D) for Assembly
  • District 32: Nicholas J. Sacco (D) for Senate; Vincent Prieto (D) and Angelica M. Jimenez (D) for Assembly
  • District 33: No endorsement for Senate, Raj Mukherji (D) and Annette Chaparro (D) for Assembly
  • District 34: Nia H. Gill (D) for Senate; Sheila Oliver (D) and Thomas P. Giblin (D) for Assembly
  • District 35: Nelida “Nellie” Pou (D) for Senate; Shavonda Sumter (D) and Benjie Wimberly (D) for Assembly
  • District 36: Paul A. Sarlo (D) for Senate; Gary Schaer (D) and Marlene Caride (D) for Assembly
  • District 37: Loretta Weinberg (D) for Senate; Gordon M. Johnson (D) and Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D) for Assembly
  • District 38: Bob Gordon (D) for Senate; Timothy Eustace (D) and Joseph A. Lagana (D) for Assembly
  • District 39: Linda H. Schwager (D) for Senate; Jannie Chung (D) and Annie Hausman (D) for Assembly
  • District 40: Kristin M. Corrado (R) for Senate; Paul Vagianos (D) and Christine Ordway (D) for Assembly