Mercer Democrats' success

Friday, November 23, 2007 from The Times of Trenton


The current approach to increasing the level of ethics in New Jersey government attempts to do so primarily by discouraging unethical activities. While the prohibition of pay-to-play and double-dipping is laudable, the primarily punitive approach we've adopted does nothing to promote ethics beyond establishing a mediocre baseline for acceptable behavior.

Can we rise above that minimal standard? I suggest we might, by encouraging a broader base of candidates to become involved in the election process.

As chairman of the Mercer County Democratic Party, which has achieved an unprecedented level of success, I observe that this has been done without the corrup tion that has plagued Democrats and Republicans in other counties. I place the majority of the credit for that accomplishment on our uniquely open process of selecting candidates to be endorsed for the primary election.

Since my involvement with the party began many years ago, not a single Mercer County Democratic Convention-endorsed candidate has been the object of a corruption charge. That holds no credit for me as an individual, but for the process we have adopted in Mercer to se lect our candidates.
This level of clean government hasn't been the result of laws. In fact, the strongest pay-to-pay law in New Jersey county government was enacted after Democrats came to power.

Clean government has come to Mercer because of the quality of the candidates that the Mercer Democrats have fielded, and more important, the fact that instead of handing them their ticket to office in back-room deals, we require them to compete openly and on a level playing field with other contenders to se cure the single greatest resource a candidate can have: the endorsement of the Democratic Party on the primary ballot.
Here in Mercer, Democrats approach things differently. We are proud of the fact that we have the most open convention endorsement process in the state. In fact, many of my county chairman colleagues around the state have poked fun at how much power we in Mercer have ceded to our rank-and-file workers.

The process often starts a year or more in advance, as the list of more than 500 individuals who will be eligible to vote at our endorsement convention begins to be compiled. Incumbents have no advantage in the process, except for the quality of their prior performance in office. They have no special access to the delegates, no ability to appoint delegates or exclude others and they are given the same access to address the delegates and the convention that any candidate is provided.

New candidates are not only welcomed, they are encouraged. The list of delegates, to which all candidates have full access, is determined far enough in advance of the convention so that a credible personal contact campaign can be mounted to solicit delegate votes. On the other hand, the delegate list is not frozen so far out that an aggressive candi date couldn't work to secure the election of committee people or other delegates who might be supportive of his or her candidacy.

During the convention itself, all candidates have the right to have observer challengers present at all key phases, including registration, credentials chal lenges, voting counting and tabulation of the voting.

There are equal-time provisions for all speakers -- candi dates, nominators and seconders.

In addition, the party's county chair generally names someone other than himself/herself to actually administer the convention itself.


There is a requirement in the convention rules that the delegation be representative of the many and diverse demographic groups present in our county.

Finally, the balloting is truly secret. There is no voting by blocs nor are people required to declare their preferences publicly if they do not wish to.
To be truthful, there is usually an advantage to being an incumbent in the process, but that ad vantage stems not from an artificial requirement that incumbents be deferred to, but from the real power that an incumbent has earned by having successfully done his or her "grassroots" work while in office. Arrogance is not a characteristic that is tolerated by the delegates to the convention, who take pride in their process, and they are not slow to remind their elected officials that they have a very loud voice in political careers.

Look at the record for the value of the process: Mercer County has diversity in its ticket and in its elected officials. Our leaders have become leaders statewide. State Sen. Shirley Turner, Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, Assembly- woman Linda Greenstein and Assemblyman Reed Gusciora have each gone on to leadership roles in the State House. Not all those names held the endorsement of the county chairman when they first ran for office, and in several cases through the years, there have been a number of successful elected Democrats who would not be in office if it had been up to the individual who was chairman at the time. Perhaps the greatest credit to our convention came when we endorsed Rush Holt over a political insider candi date in a hard-fought battle.

When it comes to politics, we get the government we deserve. If we open the process in a fair and sensible way, we encourage people from all walks of life to consider the idea of participating in the decision-making process by which we govern ourselves. By re quiring people to earn their right to serve by demonstrating the values that we hold dear, we perpetuate those values in government. Hard work and the ability to actually lead people for any length of time requires honesty and ethics. These are the qualities that are brought to the fore in the Mercer Democrats' Convention process, and they are values that could certainly stand to be encouraged elsewhere in New Jersey, as well.

Rich McClellan is Mercer County Democratic Party chairman.

© 2007 The Times of Trenton
© 2007 All Rights Reserved.

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Fair Election Action Week, Nov. 12-16

Promoted by Common Cause, Public Campaign, U.S. PIRG, Democracy Matters, and Public Citizen--November 12-16 is Fair Election Action Week. This good government coalition is asking reform minded activists to contact their U.S. senators and congressman and urge them to support publicly financed federal elections.

Co- sponsors Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) have introduced the bipartisan Fair Elections Now Act (FENA) in the Senate. Companion bipartisan legislation will be introduced in the House. Qualifying candidates would have to adhere to strict spending limits and forgo all private fundraising in order to accept the public money. Modeled on successful Clean Elections systems already in place in a lengthening honor roll of states including Maine, Arizona, Connecticut, North Carolina, and our own New Jersey, Fair Elections style systems make elections about volunteers and voters instead of campaign contributors and special interest donors.

We all realize that money too often plays a determining role in electoral politics and hobbles progress on issues crucial to our country. The remedy that will make the greatest difference is a move toward public funding. It's constitutional, it's simple, and based on experience across the country, it works.

Russ Weiss,
Co-chair, Government Reform Committee

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PCDO Leadership Nominations are Open

Your Democratic Club need you! - Run for the PCDO Executive Board!

2008 promises to be an exciting year for the country and for Democrats. Membership on the PCDO Executive Board is a front-row seat!

The PCDO Leadership Election will take place at the annual potluck dinner and leadership election meeting on January 20, 2008. (Note that besides this exciting election, we will also be conducting our official presidential endorsement vote at this meeting.) All interested PCDO members are welcomed and encouraged to run for a position on the executive board by contacting a member of the nominating committee. The deadline is January 5. For a current list of executive members click here.


The PCDO's nominating committee ensures that there are candidates for each position and seeks to diversify the executive board, but it does not recommend candidates. This is a change in the bylaws that was made in 2006 in order to create an open process, invite participation and diminish the influence of a small nominating committee over a large membership election. Any member who wants to run for a position will have his or her name listed on the ballot without the prejudice of a nominating committee recommendation (or lack thereof).

Potential candidates should contact the nominating chair or a member of the nominating committee, below, at the latest by the deadline (January 5). However, the committee begins actively seeking candidates in October. If you are thinking about running, any member of the nominating committee will be happy to talk with you and to advise you about potential competition if that will help you make your decision.

PCDO 2007 Nominating Committee

Click on name to contact.

Jo Butler, Chair 924-1204


Dan Preston




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Clean Elections Candidates Qualify in All Test Districts

The 2007 New Jersey  “Clean Elections” public campaign financing program has worked much better this time around than in the inaugural 2005 edition. In 2005 only two of the 10 eligible candidates raised enough small contributions from voters to qualify for taxpayer-funding of their campaigns.  The legislation that created the program defines success as having at least one half of the candidates from the two major parties qualify.   This year, 16 of 20 candidates in the test districts qualified for public funding by raising at least 400 contributions of $10 each from registered voters.  Notably, one of the qualifying candidates is a member of the Libertarian Party.

Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts, one of the sponsors of the bill that created the Clean Elections program, would like to expand the program in 2009 to include primary races and many more legislative districts.  Another bill sponsor and himself a qualifying Clean Elections candidate, Assemblyman Bill Baroni, R-Mercer, noted--"It's nice that people will be looking at a New Jersey campaign finance issue other than another arrest."

Russ Weiss
Government Reform Committee

"It's nice that people will be looking at a New Jersey campaign finance issue other than another arrest," said Assemblyman Bill Baroni, R-Mercer, another bill sponsor and himself a qualifying Clean Elections candidate.

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PCDO History on TV30

A discussion with founders of the PCDO will be featured on TV 30 at the following times:

Sept 25 9:00pm

Sept 30 Noon

Oct 23 9:00pm

Oct 25 1:00pm

Nov 6 10:00pm

Nov 11 Noon

Dec 4 10:00pm

Dec 6 1:00pm

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Another New Jersey Government Scandal

As some of you most likely have already heard, in the latest humiliation suffered by the already tattered image of New Jersey politics, 11 government officials were charged last Thursday with accepting thousands of dollars of bribes in exchange for promising to deliver municipal business to undercover federal agents. Worse, the results of this sting operation were particularly embarrassing to the Democrats. Most of those arrested were Democrats including two who were state assemblymen. Adding further insult to injury, one, Mims Hackett Jr., was the chairman of the State Government Committee, responsible for overseeing ethics legislation.

Mr. Hackett was also mayor of Orange. The other arrested assemblyman, Alfred E. Steele, is also an undersheriff in Passaic County. Ironically, just a few days earlier Gov. Corzine had signed a limited ban on dual office holding by state legislators. The ban, however, doesn't apply to officials who already hold two or more elected offices, allowing them to continue sitting in multiple jobs until they leave office. Many good government experts don't think it was just a coincidence that the two arrested state legislators also held local government jobs.

Corzine has stated publicly that he would have preferred to have signed a total ban on dual office holding. I am sending letters to Senate President Richard Codey and Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts calling for them to pass the total ban and I urge you to do the same. To paraphrase a NJ political reporter, crooks are fast becoming the Democratic party's public face, which is giving the Republicans a potent election issue to run on. Moreover, the total ban is simply the way it should be immediately in the interests of better government.

Russ Weiss

Co-chair PCDO Goverment Ethics Committee

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