Sanford D. Horn is a writer living in Alexandria, VA.
Wednesday, October 2, 2002
The Torch is Out, But Should Stay on the Ballot
The Torch is Out, But Should Stay On the Ballot
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
October 2, 2002
In what has to be the worst case of playing politics since the 2000 presidential election, my home state, New Jersey, the Garden State, now resembles Florida – and it is entirely the fault of the Democrats.
Lame duck, as of Monday, Sept. 30, Democratic Senator Robert “Bob” Torricelli (a.k.a. “The Torch”) withdrew from his race as a candidate for reelection to the United States Senate, claiming, among other things, that the campaign was no longer about issues and “I can’t be heard.”
The voters of New Jersey have heard Torricelli loud and clear – in his whiney, pedantic tone making excuse after excuse for his repeated lapses in ethical behavior – behavior that has landed businessman David Chang in prison due to his association with Torricelli. Bribes, kickbacks, illegal acceptance of gifts, according to the rules of the august body he serves, have gotten Torricelli in hot water a la the currently incarcerated Jim Traficant (D-OH). In July of this year, the Senate officially “severely admonished” the New Jersey Democrat for his conduct. Perhaps a cell lies in Torricelli’s future.
Yet while Torricelli made his own bed, he continues to attempt to hide under the blankets. In his emotional meandering down memory lane during his Monday afternoon press conference Torricelli had the gall to ask, “when did we become such an unforgiving people?”
Torricelli further inquired, “when did we stop believing and trusting in one another?” That ought to be a rhetorical question, but for those who need to be whacked over the head, when? When Torricelli behaved unethically. When Torricelli lied to the public. When Torricelli betrayed the public trust.
Torricelli is the victim of his own greed and megalomania. So much so that after claiming he did nothing illegal, he offered an apology then said that Doug Forrester, his Republican challenger, “does not belong in the Senate.”
That, Senator, is up to the voters. And apparently the voters in New Jersey had misgivings about sending him back to Washington for a second six-year term in the Senate, trailing by as many as 13 points with just five weeks until Election Day.
Let’s look at the timing of the announcement made by Torricelli. With 35 days remaining until the Nov. 5 election, the Senator withdraws from his Senate reelection campaign claiming, “I can’t be heard,” and wanting to prevent the Democrats from losing its majority in the Upper House. That’s the key motivation – politics – not that should surprise anyone. Torricelli drops out of the race, Jim McGreevey, the Democrat governor of New Jersey appoints a popular Democrat (former Senator Frank Lautenberg) to pick up the baton and cross the finish line ahead of Forrester, thus retaining the seat for the Democrats.
The wrench in that plan is that according to New Jersey state statute, 19:13-20, a candidate cannot be replaced on the ballot, save for death, inside of 51 days prior to Election Day. Oops. Somebody forgot to do the math for Torricelli. Had he resigned his senate seat, McGreevey could have filled it with an instant incumbent to run against Forrester.
Now, the national Democrats are weighing in publicly, having no doubt led Torricelli to make his decision to drop out of the race in the first place. The Democrats should know better than to abandon its horse mid-race just because it has come up lame. The horse should be ridden across the finish, and then sent to the glue factory.
Nevertheless, the Democrats, led by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (SD) are calling for “competitive elections.” The Democrats argument is disingenuous – the Republicans did not push Torricelli off the ledge – he jumped off. He did this to himself. The Democrats are calling for the rights of the voters to be defended and upheld. They should have thought about that prior to the 51-day deadline passed.
At this writing, there is a battle underway in Trenton before the New Jersey State Supreme Court and the Democrats are using those claims as its key defense in being allowed to exchange party representatives on the ballot.
If the New Jersey Supreme Court should agree with Democrats’ assertions, and putting the United States Supreme Court on hold for a moment, a frightening precedent could be established. It is conceivable that in future races any time a candidate is in jeopardy of losing an election he or she could drop out and be replaced on the ballot by a more popular potential winner. That would damage the principle of representative democracy. The New Jersey Supreme Court is a panel of seven justices, four Democrats (two of whom, Albin and Zazzali, each contributed $1,000 to Torricelli campaigns prior to their appointments) and three Republicans.
The New Jersey Supreme Court has curtailed the distribution of ballots – 1,692 of which, of the absentee variety, have been mailed out to New Jerseyans in the military among others. Many voting booths have also been prepared and thousands of sample ballots have also been distributed.
As a financial aside, should the Democrats be allowed to replace Torricelli, he should be made to pay for any necessary amendments required to correct the ballots.
Should the New Jersey Supreme Court decide in favor of the Democrats’ ploy and against the rule of law, the Republican Party will no doubt appeal to the US Supreme Court. Monday, Oct. 7 is the opening day of the new Supreme Court session, also one of its busiest days. It would first have to agree to hear the case, then, render a decision prior to the Nov. 5 general election.
It should, by the nature of its makeup, rule, by a five to four vote, that the Democrats have no case and that an eleventh hour replacement is illegal. Expect Chief Justice William Rehnquist to be joined by Associate Justices William Kennedy, Sandra Day O’ Connor, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas in voting to overturn the New Jersey Supreme Court. Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, David Souter and John Paul Stevens will probably vote to uphold the state court decision.
Senator Torricelli’s name should remain on the ballot and he should face the voters. Otherwise, this is a clear case of election affirmative action – “my guy is disadvantaged [forget about the reasons why], so let’s change the rules just before the game ends so he stands a chance of winning.” That would be much akin to saying that the New York Jets are playing so terribly after the first four games of the season [and they are], that in order to provide them a fighting chance, the Jets would get five plays instead of four to make a first down.
Torricelli was nominated by his Democratic Party. That no one challenged him in the primary was the fault of the Democratic Party. On principle, voters should elect Doug Forrester to the United States Senate and deliver a message to the Democrats that these kinds of shenanigans don’t play in New Jersey.
As a postscript the New Jersey Supreme Court rendered its decision late in the day on Wednesday, Oct. 2, siding unanimously with the Democrats, saying, “It is in the public interest and the general intent of the election laws to preserve the two-party system and to submit to the electorate a ballot bearing the names of candidates of both major political parties.”
"It is sad. It is embarrassing. It is an outrageous precedent we are setting for the future," said Republican State Committee Chairman Joe Kyrillos.
The Democratic State Committee will pay $800,000 toward the funding of printing new ballots, while Forrester is expected to call upon the United States Supreme Court to overturn the decision made in Trenton.
Sanford D. Horn is a writer living in Alexandria, VA.