Politico (New Jersey)
By Matt Freidman
May 16, 2017
BEDMINSTER — It’s going to take more than just progressive policies to fight back against President Donald Trump, according to Jim Johnson, an underdog Democratic candidate for New Jersey governor.
It’s going to take a change in New Jersey’s political culture, he said.
“Now is not the time to elect someone who has simply jumped in line with the party machines, who has satisfied the party bosses and has a history, a 23-year history, where he’s lived out Wall Street values — and he did that at Goldman Sachs,” Johnson said Tuesday in a shot at Phil Murphy, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, while standing less than three miles from a Trump-owned golf resort where the president vacationed less than two weeks ago.
Johnson called the press conference to outline his “Trump Protection Plan” — a series of proposals on immigration, health care, the economy and the environment — many of which are also supported by his five Democratic primary opponents.
“It’s not just having the right policies. It’s actually having a strong state and a strong political culture,” Johnson said.
Trump is an easy target in the Democratic primary, and Johnson is far from the first candidate to make the president the focus of his campaign. A March FDU PublicMind poll measured the president’s approval rating in New Jersey at 28 percent among registered voters, and at just 5 percent among Democrats.
But Johnson melded his anti-Trump message with a call to break the Democratic machine that has long held sway in New Jersey. Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive and U.S. Ambassador to Germany, has co-opted that machine, donating more than $1 million to county Democratic organizations and candidates for office. He’s won the support of all 21 county organizations.
Johnson said the push-back against Trump has been effective because “we were strong everywhere.”
“And if the party sends a signal that it’s actually going to go back to business as usual, that strength could become a weakness,” he said.
Murphy spokesman Derek Roseman said that by “business as usual,” Johnson might as well have been attacking two other primary opponents — Assemblyman John Wisniewski and state Sen. Raymond Lesniak — both of whom served as state Democratic chairs.
“Wouldn’t Wis and Ray be ‘going back to business as usual,’ since they were state chairs?” Roseman said in an email.
Johnson was introduced at Tuesday’s press conference by Elizabeth Meyer, an activist who organized the Women’s March on New Jersey in Trenton.
“As the first statewide election since Trump’s election, we have an opportunity to send a strong signal that this will not stand,” Johnson said. “We have an opportunity as a state to lead a resistance to a president who stands for everything we are supposed to stand against as Democrats.”
Johnson vowed to “protect against Trump’s attacks on the rule of law” by selecting an attorney general who will “fight the Justice Department’s efforts to turn back the clock on vital reforms to our immigration system.”
He also promised to create an Immigration Council to provide pro-bono legal help on immigration cases, appoint a chief science officer and institute a single-payer health care system in New Jersey — but only if Republicans succeed in repealing Obamacare.
Johnson, a former Treasury official in the Clinton administration, said that in his role, he had access to classified information. He contrasted that with Trump, who according to several published reports disclosed highly classified information to Russian officials during a recent White House meeting.
“I understand that when you handle that information you are actually potentially at risk if you mishandle it the best national security interests of the country,” he said.
A Quinnipiac poll released two weeks ago found Johnson in second place in the Democratic primary race, 7 percent support, but far behind Murphy’s 26 percent.
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