Remember "Let every vote count," the Democratic mantra of 2000?
Now it's "votes don't count" -- at least when New Jersey
Democratic primary winner Sen. Robert Torricelli's likely loss to Republican
Doug Forrester stands to hurt the Democrats' hold of the U.S. Senate.
Don't ask me what the New Jersey Supreme Court justices -- four
Dems, two Repubs and an independent -- were thinking when they issued their
unanimous ruling. (Clearly, they weren't.) State law allows for the
replacement of candidates 51 or more days before an election. Torricelli
withdrew 35 days before Nov. 5.
While the justices wrote that replacing Torricelli would serve
"the dual interests of full voter choice and the orderly administration of
an election" -- their decision to allow Torricelli's name to be replaced
with a new candidate's name on the November ballot violates both interests.
New Jersey voters, after all, supported Torricelli in the primary. The court
is allowing the state Democratic Party -- not the voters it says it
champions -- to choose his replacement.
Why was Torricelli in trouble?
Gee, maybe it has something to do with the fact that the Senate
Ethics Committee slapped Torricelli on the wrist for accepting jewelry, an
$8,200 Rolex watch, 12 Italian suits and more from businessman David Chang.
Maybe it's the inequity in the fact that Chang is serving an 18-month-prison
sentence for giving lavish gifts to Torricelli -- and Torricelli was primed
to serve his second term in the Senate.
As Chang told the New York Post, "I'm in jail, why shouldn't he
be?" The Democratic Party is supposed to be better than this. Democratic
Party leaders, who were well aware of the Chang saga, could have appealed --
or pressured -- Torricelli not to seek re-election. Or state Democratic
suits could have mounted a campaign for a primary challenger. Or D.C. Dem
biggies could have made sure that the Senate Ethics Committee acted sooner
and more appropriately with Torricelli. They didn't. If the Torch could win
re-election, they were happy to take let him pocket Chang's goodies and get
away with it.
And the only new piece of knowledge that led to their decision
that he had to go was: Torricelli started slipping in the polls. I know what
it's like to not like your party's nominee. After a jury found GOP
gubernatorial nominee Bill Simon liable for fraud -- that was a new
development, since overturned by a judge -- I called Secretary of State Bill
Jones' office to find out if Simon could resign and be replaced by a more
forthcoming Republican -- to wit, Jones.
Under California law, Simon won the primary and Simon would
remain on the ballot, even if he resigned, I was told. Any GOP challenger
would have to register and run as a write-in. It didn't occur to the Jones
people to ask the court to undermine the rules.
Now Jones is thinking of filing an amicus brief against the New
Jersey decision. Secretary of State counsel Bill Wood explained, if the
court could overlook the 51-day deadline, 35 days out, "next time it might
be 30 days." The worst of it is, the Joisey court didn't care that there was
no extraordinary reason for the switch -- no death, no legal revelation. The
court, Wood noted, OK'd overturning the primary vote "for any reason."
One GOP operative posed the question principled Democrats ought
to be asking, but aren't: "What's to stop the Republican Party from looking
at races around the country, and determining where candidates are weak and
just replacing them with a strong one?"
The answer should be: respect for the rule of law. But if the
New Jersey Supreme Court feels no such respect, why would partisan