"Hands Across N.J." Efforts Viewed as Historical Parallel to Tea Party Movement - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
“Hands Across N.J.” Efforts Viewed as Historical Parallel to Tea Party Movement

A historical precedent to the Tea Party movement found expression in New Jersey in the form of a grassroots campaign built around opposition to the tax hikes imposed by former Democratic Gov. Jim Florio in the 1990s, recalls Rick Manning, a Second Amendment activist, who now serves with Americans for Limited Government as the director of communications.

“I’ve seen the Tea Party before,” he said in an interview. “There was a citizens-led revolt called `Hands Across New Jersey’ that came about in response to Governor Florio’s over-reach. People who had not been involved politically became energized and active. It had a real impact.”

In the off year election cycle of 1991, Republicans took control of the State Assembly and State Senate. These results heralded a wave of national victories for the national GOP that culminated in the election of the Gingrich Congress beginning in 1994, Manning observed. The results here are quite telling because on the both the state and national level the Republican Party lost support after it backpeddled on its commitments to limited government, Manning added.

Ben Dworkin, a political science professor who serves as the director for the Rebovich Institute of New Jersey politics, also sees similiarties between the “Hands Across New Jersey” campaign and the Tea Party, but identifies some key differences.

“There are some similarities between the Hands Across NJ effort from the early 1990’s and the Tea Party efforts of today,” he observed. “In both cases, you had an organic, grass roots movement that was able to coalesce with the financial and political support of more established entities already opposing Democratic incumbents.  In both cases, there was public anger and frustration with a lingering recession and the perception that government hasn’t been as responsive as it should.

“But we should also recognize that these kinds of protest movements are part of American political history, and occur from time to time over the years.  The issues are different.  The people who participate are different.  But part of the greatness of American democracy is that citizens can organize to demand that elected officals address their grievances, and are often effective.”

Dworkin has offered some early observations on the election returns in his state. They are as follows:

Close Races All Around

 We have not seen so many close races for Congress in New Jersey in decades.  Districts 3, 6 and 12 are all likely to be decided by a few percentage points.

In addition, major races for Bergen County Executive and the special election for state Senate in the 14th legislative district will also be close.

 The closeness of these races reflects a few things:  First, the political climate is being driven by the bad economy.  People are angry and frustrated and therefore, as expected, they express that frustration by voting for someone who is not in charge.  Second, the Republicans knew it was going to be a good year for their party.  (The first midterm election when there is a new president is always good for the party that is not in control of the White House.)  Therefore, the GOP recruited serious candidates who have run very credible campaigns.  There were no sacrificial lambs in the targeted districts.

 Interpretations Abound

No matter what the outcome, partisans on each side will interpret it as having significance beyond whatever district was involved.  This may or may not be the case, but it is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.  For example, if you claim a mandate long enough and loud enough, the press – and therefore the public – will eventually believe that it actually was a mandate.

These races may well be decided by local concerns and the personalities of the candidates, but those who insist there is a “larger meaning” to what happens today are likely to get the attention of the media over the next week.  This is how things that don’t really have anything to do with national politics end up being understood as having everything to do with national politics.

Christie Unbound

The Governor has a lot riding on this election.  This is not just because he campaigned vigorously for dozens of candidates around the country.

 For the Governor, it’s probably more important to see how Republican congressional candidates do here in New Jersey.  If Republicans are able to knock off any of the incumbent Democrats in the state, Christie and his supporters will show that it is evidence that the Governor’s brand of Republicanism can really delivery victories in the northeast.

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