By David Cruz
There was very little effort to hide the mutual disdain among members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee during today’s marathon public hearing on four constitutional amendments potentially headed before voters in the fall. Republicans accuse Democrats of steamrolling through the hearings without leaving room for debate.
“If I’m not allowed to ask questions, I’d like to at least be able to have my thoughts put forth,” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi.
“You’re making a comment about personal discussions in Democratic caucuses. I was just wondering, absent a hearing device, how you might know that,” said Assemblyman John McKeon.
“Because I actually speak to people and some of the members of your caucus actually don’t believe that we should be kept in the dark about everything, chairman,” Schepisi replied.
The tone set by lawmakers seemed to carry over to the public. Both members of interest groups and the unaffiliated snapped at, scolded and upbraided committee members for their positions and their process, particularly on key issues like the proposed constitutional amendment to mandate quarterly payments to the state pension fund.
“This is absolutely the wrong thing to do with regard to this issue. It is irresponsible of our legislators to consider putting this into the constitution because you were not elected to do that and also you are violating your oath of office by doing that,” said New Jersey Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Bracken.
On legislative reapportionment, particularly, a move by the Democratic majority to change how districts are drawn, speakers were especially pointed in their criticism.
“This bill is fascist on its face. This is completely outside the ideals of a democratic society,” said Gregory Quinlan of New Jersey for a Conservative Majority.
“If this was an election cycle, my mailbox would be full of mailings telling me how wonderful your positions are and what you’re going to do. I doubt if I’m going to see any real mailings in my mailbox trying to inform me, objectively, of what this is all about,” said Al Frech of Citizens for Positive Change. “I’m not going to hear it. I doubt it.”
“Can I ask you a direct question?” asked Barbara Eames of Whippany. McKeon replied, “No.” Eames said, “OK. I guess that’s representative government. The public can ask questions but can’t get answers. I’m going to pose it to you and maybe you can email me or something.”
These bills have already cleared the Judiciary Committee. Today was an opportunity for the public to comment. Republicans noted the irony of allowing the public to speak on an issue after it had already cleared the committee.
“This has to be approved by a majority of the voters in New Jersey. Does everybody understand that? This is going to the ballot,” McKeon said.
As McKeon noted, voters will have the final say on whether the state’s constitution will be amended to accommodate the political desires of the majority, but it’s clear the minority party has been left with little recourse but to stamp their feet and cry foul.