As is his style, Sen. Kip Bateman didn't have much to say about a bill () narrowly approved by the Senate yesterday in a party-line vote -- except for his.
His "yes" vote, however, spoke volumes.
For the past two months, the Republican from Somerset County has been the focus of a conservative group's intense campaign blitz. He has been hammered in thousands of robocalls to constituents, in direct mailings to his district, and in ads on New Jersey and New York radio stations.
His sin? Voting along with Democratic members of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee to release the bill that would put New Jersey back into Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a 10-state effort to reduce pollution contributing to global climate change.
Last year, Gov. Chris Christie pulled New Jersey out of the regional program, declaring it nothing more than a tax on electric bills. Ever since, clean energy advocates and environmentalists -- more than 100 of whom showed up yesterday at the Statehouse to lobby for the bill -- have been trying to have the state rejoin the initiative.
It isn't likely to happen, as yesterday's 22-15 vote illustrates. The bill won approval with just one vote more than is necessary for passage in the Senate, and far short of the 27 votes needed for an override of an expected veto from the governor, if it ever gets to his desk.
But don't expect Americans for Prosperity to give up its campaign against Bateman, or RGGI, as it has been dubbed.
"For us, it's a major issue," said Mike Proto, a spokesman for the group's New Jersey organization, referring to its targeting of Bateman. "Our goal is to have RGGI completely dismantled."
In a filing with the Election Law Enforcement Commission, the group revealed it had spent $564,218 inlast year, the third-highest tally, behind only the New Jersey Education Association and the AFL-CIO.
Bateman is amazed at the effort against him. "I bet they spent $100,000 [in my district]," he said yesterday prior to the vote. "I'm just one vote, and the bill is going to be vetoed by the governor anyway."
It didn't change his vote, though, despite some strong rhetoric from the AFP.
In one direct mailing, it urged voters to call his district office "now and tell him to stand with Governor Christie and electricity consumers, not Obama's green energy radicals. Tell him to fight left-wing efforts to force New Jersey back into the RGGI cap and trade scheme."
The regional greenhouse program was not started by the Obama administration, which has no role in the effort, but grew out of an idea proposed by former Republican Gov. George Pataki of New York.
The targeting of one lawmaker for a single vote shows just how much the political landscape has changed since the U.S. Supreme Court decision two years ago, ruling the government could not restrict political expenditures from corporations and unions.
It has led to the rise of groups like Americans for Prosperity, an organization primarily backed by David and Charles Koch, billionaire brothers who have been active in conservative causes.
The fact they have targeted Bateman, a moderate Republican who generally toes the Republican line, is troubling to Trenton observers, who fear similar attacks against others. No maverick, Bateman represents an affluent district that includes Princeton, where some of the world’s most noted climate scientists make their homes.
Further, his Republican bloodline is without dispute. His father, Raymond, also served in the state Senate, and was the Republican candidate who unsuccessfully ran against former Gov. Brendan Byrne.
"I think you are going to see more and more of it," said Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), when asked about the attacks on Bateman, a lawmaker, well-regarded on both sides of the aisle. "Moderates have no future in the Republican party," he predicted.
Meanwhile, environmentalists credited Bateman for standing by his convictions. "For Kip Bateman to stand up to the governor and the pressure from AFP, it's a real vote of conscience. It is something you see very rarely here," said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
To those who showed up at the Statehouse yesterday, rejoining RGGI should not become a political football.
"Belonging to RGGI is the right thing to do, not only for today, but for the future," said Noel Mazer of Piscataway, an out-of-work chemical engineer who says he has had a hard time finding work because in today's political environment, industry isn't interested in installing air pollution controls.