New Jersey’s political races for U.S. Senate and Governor have dominated local media, despite the lack of meaningful competition for shoo-ins Newark Mayor Cory Booker, and Governor Chris Christie.
The latest Quinnipiac poll shows that 52 percent of voters support Booker; U.S. Congressmen Frank Pallone and Rush Holt each garner less than 10 percent of the electorate, and laggard Sheila Oliver barely musters 3 percent.
In the gubernatorial race, Christie is running about 40 points ahead of N.J. Sen. Barbara Buono.
Lock or not, N.J.’s public education system is a big talking point for all candidates. In fact, the current electoral discussions get to the heart of a puzzle for this blue state’s Democratic leadership: in the realm of education reform, what does it mean to be a New Jersey Democrat?
If you ask Cory Booker, a “Democratic” agenda includes charter school expansion, data-driven teaching evaluations, top-down accountability, focus on poor urban school districts, and vouchers. But if you ask Barbara Buono for her prescription for improving public education, a “Democratic” agenda, antithetical to Booker’s, includes restrictions on charter school growth, protection for teachers from the vagaries of data, and local control.
This stark contradiction in agenda between two of the state’s most prominent Democrats says less about national trends and more about the paralysis of N.J. party leaders. While the national Democratic Party has integrated education reform tenets into its platform on public school improvement – indeed, except for the vouchers Booker’s agenda mirrors President Obama’s — N.J.’s elected Democrats are stuck in a time warp.
One way to think about this is in the context of the GOP’s national problem, post the 2012 presidential election. Republicans, it’s often noted, are trapped in a shrinking tent that not only appears too small for the 47 percent (remember Mitt Romney’s infamous comments about Americans who rely on some sort of governmental support?) but is too diminished for immigrants and the LGBTQ community.