Another Republican congressman gives up in NJ
For the first time in more than 20 years, the 11th congressional district seat is up for grabs now that U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen has announced his retirement.
Frelinghuysen, whose family dates back to the earliest days of New Jersey's history, the chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee announced on Monday he would not seek another term. Already the race to replace him is taking shape.
In a district that includes parts of Morris, Passaic, Essex and Sussex counties, many Democrats are hoping Mikie Sherrill will replace Frelinghuysen, while the Republican side of the ballot is still being determined.
Frelinghuysen will be third Republican from New Jersey leave Congress since 2016, when Democrat Josh Gottheimer ousted conservative U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett in the 5th District. In November, U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo said he would not seek re-election after serving the the 2nd District for 12 terms. LoBiono cited hyper-partisanship as a reason for his stepping down.
Frelinghuysen said he had "worked in a bipartisan manner, not just in times of crisis but always, because I believe it serves my constituents, my state and our country."
Frelinghuysen did not give a reason for his retirement but thanked the people of his district.
Critics of Frelinghuysen, however, said the congressman had become increasingly out of touch with his constituents as he sided with the Trump administration.
John Currie, chairman of both the Passaic County and the state Democratic organizations, said Frelinghuysen's seat had been targeted even before he announced his decision to retire. With the veteran lawmaker stepping away, Currie said he believes that only increases their chances of taking the seat in November.
The state's congressional delegation is split between seven Democrats and five Republicans. Another Democratic win would help propel the party to take over the House.
One person who will not be sorry to see Frelinghuysen go is Elizabeth Juviler, co-executive director of NJ 11 for Change. Formed after the 2016 election of President Donald Trump, Juviler said the group tried to work with the longtime congressman.
"He was completely and utterly unresponsive for more than a year except that there were a couple of times earlier on when he lashed out," she said of Frelinghuysen. "He disparaged our concerns pretty vocally a few times, told us to back off because we would be calling his office. Lots of constituents all over the country call their congresspersons' staff, but we were told to back off."
The relationship with the congressman hit a low point in March when Juviler said Frelinghuysen sent a note to a bank where NJ 11 for Change member Sally Avelenda worked. Juviler said Avelenda had to resign due to a "hostile work environment."
"It made it super-clear what we had already known: that Rodney Frelinghuysen has really never faced any opposition of any kind. He's never really faced a serious challenger his whole time in Congress," she said. "He never really had to defend his record or advocate with any backbone or courage for the constituency which was changing, and the needs were changing."
Leroy J. Jones Jr., chairman of the Essex County Democratic Committee, said he was not surprised by Frelinghuysen's decision to retire following a trend of others in Congress, and was also excited at the prospect of moving the seat to the Democratic side of the aisle.
Nationally, Frelinghuysen becomes the eighth committee chairman to announce his retirement this year. In the House, 23 Republicans are calling it quits compared to seven Democrats, according to The Atlantic,
"Congressman Frelinghuysen had been in somewhat of a struggling situation since the Trump administration began," Jones said. "It just did not surprise me that he followed suit of a number of other house Republicans and did not seek another term."
"We had not necessarily agreed on all issues, but we certainly want to acknowledge and commend him on his years of public service," he said. "Anyone that has fought as many hours and days, months, years that he has certainly deserves the recognition and we thank him for those years of service."
A statement from the Morris County Democratic Committee also thanked Frelinghuysen for his service, but also noted the changing landscape that the longtime congressman found himself in.
"For years, he represented this district in Washington as a moderate Republican, but as the Republican party moved further to the right and as he ascended in leadership, so did he," the statement said. "Over the past few years, Congressman Frelinghhuysen seems to have given up representing his constituents, and chosen instead to represent the far-right Republican Party, led by Speaker Paul Ryan and President Trump."
Currie said all four county Democratic committees in the district are endorsing Sherrill to run as the Democratic candidate. Sherrill is a Naval Academy graduate who served as a Naval helicopter pilot and a federal prosecutor, according to her website. The Morris County statement said she "will be a moderate voice for a moderate district, but also hold Donald Trump and the far right accountable for their actions."
"Whoever the opponent is we're going to be waging an extremely serious campaign," Jones said.
On the other side of the aisle, New Jersey GOP Chairman Doug Steinhardt thanked Frelinghuysen for his service and said the party has no intention of losing the seat in the upcoming election.
"On behalf of NJGOP, it is important that the public knows we will be digging in for a tough fight to maintain the seat," he said. "We cannot let Nancy Pelosi take over new Jersey's congressional delegation. There is a wealth of talent in the GOP bench, and I am confident we will find a host of well qualified candidates that will be capable of victory in November."
Currie said he had "absolutely no idea" who the Republicans would run to replace Frelinghuysen, and said that uncertainty "ties the Republican party's hands" and gives Sherrill a head start when it comes to organizing, fundraising and knocking on doors.
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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com