New Jersey Senate president Stephen Sweeney has declared that he will not run for governor of the state, leaving the 2017 Democratic primary as practically a coronation of Phil Murphy. A major reason why Sweeney is withdrawing so soon is that he put budget solvency over the demands of New Jersey’s teachers’ union.
The New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) is the most powerful influence on elections in the state, and Sweeney drew their ire when he blocked the senate from voting on a constitutional amendment that would protect government workers’ pensions. The state’s wide-ranging budgetary problems put it last in long-term solvency, and in August Sweeney specifically said that until an impasse about transportation funding is resolved, “we can’t in good conscience put a constitutional guaranteed pension payment on the ballot.”
As a result, the measure will not be on the ballot this November. This small victory for fiscal responsibility has naturally led to vicious attacks on Sweeney.
The NJEA showed it was willing to play hardball. When Sweeney stopped the amendment from being put to a vote, the union threatened to withhold all funding from Democratic candidates over his actions, which he called “extortion.” Naturally, Murphy, who was competing with Sweeney to earn the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, fully supports the amendment, received the endorsement of the NJEA, and is positioned to easily win the governorship next year.
When the teachers’ union is the largest contributor of political money in your state, you acquiesce to their demands or get burned.