In Trump age, message to NJ voters: ‘We’re Republicans but we’re not crazy’
Republicans say they’ll ramble round the state to rally the rational and reasonable – a bid to regain relevance in a state government now dominated by Democrats.
The tour also reflects Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick’s determination to have the Republican Party in New Jersey associated with state and local leaders, not President Donald Trump, as Gov. Chris Christie exits the political stage after more than a decade as the state’s dominant GOP figure.
“We’re going to simply try to do town halls and say, ‘Hey, we’re the Republican Party, but we’re not crazy,’” said Bramnick, R-Union. “We are not crazy or extreme. We’re reasonable.”
Bramnick said it will take time to show people New Jersey Republicans represent the rational middle ground and that some statements from the White House don’t help. He said he doesn’t disagree with everything being done in Washington but that he didn’t spend a career in Republican politics to be defined by insulting, demeaning tweets.
“Donald Trump is not the leader of the Republican Party in Trenton,” Bramnick said. “We’re the New Jersey Republicans. We don’t answer for what someone might do in Washington, and we shouldn’t be blamed for that.”
“When the folks in New Jersey, especially us as legislators, focus on what’s going on in Washington, you lose focus on what’s going on in your backyard,” said Assemblyman Anthony Bucco, R-Morris. “We have enough problems in New Jersey that we need to tackle.”
Republicans are in their weakest position at the Statehouse in more than 40 years, with Democrats controlling 79 legislative seats to 41 seats for the Republicans. There are nearly as many Democrats in the 40-member Senate, 25, as there are Republicans in the 80-member Assembly, 26.
Democrats also control the executive branch with Tuesday’s swearing-in of Gov. Phil Murphy. Republicans say they intend to try to work with Murphy but also be a check on his ambitions for increased spending, which they contend will require big tax increases.
“This is a sincere, true progressive,” Bramnick said of Murphy. “I think he cares about people. We all care about people. But we have to be concerned on where are we going fiscally in the state.”
Bucco said there’s room for bipartisanship on issues such as the environment, education, opposing discrimination and making New Jersey more affordable, though he worries about moves that could make the state even more expensive.
“There will be more that unites us than divides us,” Bucco said.
Bramnick questioned how Gov. Phil Murphy can afford his promises on education, pensions and higher education, saying they could cost $5 billion to $7 billion a year to fully implement, and predicts if voters see taxes up or spending unchecked, they’ll look to Republicans.
“You can’t force people to look at the minority until the majority begins to make mistakes,” Bramnick said. “I’m hoping they don’t make mistakes. I’m hoping to work with them and they’ll be fiscally conservative. If they’d like to be socially progressive, God bless. Do whatever you’ve got to do.”
Republicans have been in the minority in the Assembly since 2002 and haven’t held or shared power in the Senate since 2004, though for the last eight years could check Democrats power through Christie.
“Under Chris Christie, we had a different almost I would call it a protection for our taxpayers, which was the veto pen, which is now no longer there,” Munoz said. “But we are here to work, to help, to protect our taxpayers.”