Like an English king of old, Menendez provides for his heir | Moran

It’s not uncommon for a father to clear a career path for his son, so forgive Senator Robert Menendez for his fatherly instincts.

But it’s certainly a symptom of this state’s political dysfunction when a 36-year-old unqualified man who has never run for political office, Robert Jr., can waltz in Congress without fighting, as if accepting a royal inheritance.

Helping your child land a job interview and buy them a new costume is one thing. Putting him back a seat in Congress, and thus eliminating more qualified candidates, is something else.

I am not a fan of Senator Menendez. He escaped bribery conviction in 2018, but was “severely reprimanded” by the entire Senate for using his office to further the business interests of a friend who had showered him with lavish gifts for years , gifts that Menendez did not disclose as required by law. . He may not be a criminal, but he is not a model politician.

Robert Jr. is not overwhelmed by such baggage. He is a young lawyer from a leading law firm, Lowenstein Sandler, and was appointed by Governor Phil Murphy to a seat on the Port Authority board six months ago , no doubt in anticipation of this moment. But he never ran for a dog catcher, let alone the mayor or state legislator. Nor can he claim great success in the military or in private business.

That is, gentlemen, a very slim resume for a congressman. And it’s telling that Menendez Jr. refuses to answer questions about it or discuss his political views.

Still, for obvious reasons, Menendez Jr. got instant approval from all of the major Democratic players in the district, from local mayors and party chairs to Sen. Cory Booker and the governor himself, who on Monday strived to pretend it wasn’t nepotism.

“I’m obviously a huge fan of his father,” Murphy said Monday. “But Rob, I know his own merits, and I’m a huge fan. They are indeed father and son, but I know them each as their own person and their own official.

These endorsements make political sense, even if they are not sincere. Because in New Jersey, the rules of the political game tilt strongly in favor of machine choices, like Menendez Jr.

As in most states, the candidate backed by the party apparatus receives money and volunteers. But unlike any other state, New Jersey gives the machine privileged position choices on the primary ballot.

The name of an outside challenger may appear on row H in the middle of the ballot, isolated without a group. An endorsed candidate like Menendez Jr. will appear on the same line as the outgoing Democratic team, usually dominated by the U.S. Governor or Senator, and usually in the top or two ranks.

Beating “the line” on the primary ballot is almost impossible. No state legislator has lost a primary in New Jersey since 2009. And no incumbent in Congress has lost a primary in half a century. Indeed, our political system is a closed club, reserved for members. And Menendez Jr. is a member, because of his ancestors.

The good news is that a hardy group of citizens have filed a lawsuit against the use of “the line” that is now making its way into federal courts. He is only trying to make New Jersey like the other states, to open the club.

“New Jersey’s use of the line is a voter suppression tactic,” says Jesse Burns, executive director of the League of Women Voters, one of the many good government groups that have joined the lawsuit.

Julia Sass Rubin, a professor at Rutgers who has studied this issue, says structural support for machine power in New Jersey has affected political culture as well. And it was indeed nauseating to see every Democratic official moving to join Menendez’s team.

“These things build on each other,” she says. “If we didn’t have the line and you could win against Bob Menendez Jr., there would be candidates who would take their hat off. People could hang in there and see what happens. Our political culture is shattered in part because of the primary ballot.

I keep thinking of the mayor of Hoboken, Ravi Bhalla, a progressive Democrat who became the first elected Sikh mayor of the United States in 2017, after serving eight years on city council and obtaining a master’s degree in public administration and a diploma in right.

He’s better qualified than Menendez, and so are many other Democrats in the district. But he said last week that he was not running and that he intended to back the machine candidate. “I am 100 percent committed to serving the people of Hoboken as mayor,” he wrote on Twitter.

And after all, why fight a battle you can’t win?

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Tom Moran can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on twitter @tomamoran. Find Opinion on Facebook.

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