Joe Conason's Journal

New Jersey's crybaby Republicans should try to campaign on the issues. Plus: Tina Brown dishes!

By Salon Staff

Published October 3, 2002 4:30PM (EDT)

Name-dropping and schadenfreude
Tina Brown's first column appears today in the Times of London. If the corporate monsters who used to graze with her at the Four Seasons ever wanted to know what was really on her mind, now they can find out. She doesn't sound terribly sad to observe so many of them may be headed for the steel hotel. Tina is out there reporting now, and returned with an e-mail from Time critic Robert Hughes to Time-Warner chief Gerald Levin about the company's difficulties. It's not a love letter.

Crybabies in court
Two indignant readers ask whether Minnesota had a law permitting the substitution of Arne Carlson for Jon Grunseth in 1990, thus making the comparison with New Jersey invalid. The law at the time was rather vague, as the Democratic secretary of state admitted when she said at the time, "There's no precedent for any of the decisions I've made."

That explained why she held up the printing of new ballots, while the state Supreme Court decided who should run for lieutenant governor on the new Republican ticket. The GOP state executive committee was unsure whether its members could lawfully select a candidate to fill Grunseth's vacancy, so they didn't -- but the secretary of state then ruled that Carlson, as the primary runner-up, could step in as the nominee. (Incidentally, the Minnesota Legislature later tightened the election laws somewhat, to prevent another stunt like the last-minute Grunseth/Carlson switch. No candidate for constitutional office there can now withdraw less than 16 days before the election, except in cases of catastrophic illness.)

Anyway, my main point remains unchanged. Minnesota's election law was sufficiently vague to permit a challenge by the Democrats to keep Grunseth on the ballot. Certainly, eight days before the election, the Democrats could have gone to federal court and argued -- as Forrester's GOP lawyers will now -- that absentee voters were being disenfranchised. But they didn't.

Moreover, Torricelli could have resigned his office a week later, leaving the Democratic governor to fill the vacancy. Under that scenario, state law would have required McGreevey to effectively cancel the senatorial election this year. (The relevant statute is quoted here.) What would Forrester have said then?

Or as another witty reader points out, Torricelli could simply have backdated his resignation to the 51-day deadline. What kind of precedent would permit such a cheeky maneuver? Exactly the same one that inspired Katherine Harris to backdate her resignation as Florida's secretary of state two months ago.

Today, we're hearing a lot of phony outrage about this situation from Republican senators like Pete Domenici, who care far less for the rule of law or democratic elections than getting back their committee chairmanships. What happened to state's rights? And why not abide by the unanimous decision by Jersey's Supreme Court? Republican governors chose six of the seven justices on that court; two of them, including the chief justice, served as chief counsels to Republican governors.

The Democrats in New Jersey didn't try to steal this election. They're ready to fight it on the issues for the next four weeks. Doug Forrester and the Republicans have run an empty, entirely negative campaign against Torricelli. (The moronic "issues" page on Forrester's Web site must be seen to be believed.) Now that they've gotten what they said they wanted, they have nothing to say except "Waaaah."
[3:33 p.m. PDT, Oct. 3, 2002]

Whining weenies run to Washington
Why don't those Republicans in New Jersey just stop bitching, suck it up and fight the Senate election on the issues? That's what the Democrats did in the 1990 Minnesota governor's race, when the discredited Republican nominee Jon Grunseth dropped out only eight days before the election. It was a memorable case, because what undid the conservative Grunseth were colorful allegations of personal misconduct: not mere adultery, which was only the tamest part of the Grunseth résumé, but drinking and nude swimming with female friends of his teenage daughter. (One girl testified that the moralistic right-winger had pulled her top down.)

Toward the end of October, with more witnesses coming forward to talk about his bizarre behavior, the Republican leadership in Minnesota publicly demanded that Grunseth withdraw. When he finally did, they chose primary runner-up Arne Carlson as the new Republican candidate for governor. Then the Democratic secretary of state swiftly certified Carlson as the Republican candidate for governor; ordered paper ballots printed up because it was too late to change the voting machines; threw Grunseth's lieutenant-governor running mate off the ballot and substituted Carlson's; and did all this without a peep of complaint from the state's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. (Nobody even asked the Republicans to pay the additional costs of the shuffle, although the local election officials did mutter about staying up late to count paper ballots.)

The Democrats knew their unpopular incumbent, Rudy Perpich, would probably have beaten Grunseth, and that Perpich trailed Carlson by 10 points in every poll. But they didn't whine or try to stop the switch that cost them the statehouse, which Carlson won on Election Day.

In fact, the only legal obstacle to this smooth switch was put up by Grunseth's disgruntled running mate, and the Minnesota Supreme Court quickly voided her lawsuit. What about the absentee voters? Weren't their votes unfairly and unconstitutionally cancelled by the last-minute change? That's the argument posed by the Jersey Republicans now (as if they really care about disenfranchisement). In Minnesota, the absentee ballots had been printed and mailed long before Carlson substituted for Grunseth. Voters who had already mailed their ballots had to go to their polling places before the absentee ballots were counted and get a new one; otherwise, they could return their unmailed ballots to their local county auditor and get the revised version. No doubt many of them failed to do so, but that didn't faze the desperate Republicans.

Doug Forrester seems to think that the U.S. Supreme Court will save him from having to face a serious opponent on Election Day. He has already lost in New Jersey's top court, where Republican Christie Whitman appointed nearly all of the judges.

Running to the justices who put Bush in the White House makes Forrester look like an utter weenie. He should stand up and fight. And he shouldn't be too confident that Rehnquist and company will favor him. They may not want historians to record that this court tried to give Republicans control of the Senate as well as the White House.
[9:30 a.m. PDT, Oct. 3, 2002]

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