Every politician has an attack dog

One-party states don't have "negative" campaigns.  In one-party states all the candidates share the same "insider" perspective and everyone thinks everyone else is a "goodfella" because they all are.  The Soviet Union had elections, so did National Socialist Germany, but they didn't have campaigns that focused on the contrast between candidates because none existed (outside of hair color, height, weight, age, and so on).

So when you hear a person complaining about the "negativity" of a campaign, what they are really complaining about is democracy.  Because it is only in democracies that you find "negative campaigning". Everywhere else you find detainment camps.  And when you read about this pundit or that talking about the good old days of early American democracy, remember that those good old days featured negative campaigns that would make today's campaigners blush. 

Every political operation has it's attack dogs.  They vary in terms of competence but they are all there none-the-less doing battle on behalf of a candidate or, in the case of this election, a government vendor with a contract before the county.

So here's a run-down on how Watchdog sees the attack dogs of election 2015:

Phil Crabb and Rich Vohden have one...

The Sussex County GOP has one too...


Marie Bilik has two...


Warren County's GOP takes a different approach...


There's a reason the Essex GOP leaves Sussex in the dust...


But the Hometown Conservative Team had one...


As for Parker Space.  He doesn't have an attack dog, but he has a tiger named Chris Russell...


A severe case of mendacity

There is an old American saying that was used to praise a man dependable in all his relations and who had the confidence of all around him -- "You always know where to find him."

In this simple and old-fashioned way we may define constancy, which is, in truth, just another name for loyalty, the virtue at the heart of all friendship.  Think of what a happy world this would be if we could always be sure of the constancy, loyalty, and dependability of all who share our work.

Sussex County has got a bad name in recent years for the lack of constancy of some of its elected  officials.  The talk is that their word isn't really their word and an endorsement here isn't worth what an endorsement is everywhere else.

A good example is Molly Whilesmith, a Sparta councilwoman and former mayor.  She signed the nominating petition of Parker Space and Gail Phoebus, giving her support for them in writing, only to turn around and circulate the petition of Marie Bilik a few days later.  She signed Bilik's petition when state law states that you cannot sign the petition of more than two candidates for Assembly.

Of course, there are many in the county who see nothing wrong with this duplicity.  The smile and handshake -- accompanied by the stab in the back -- is just our distinctive style, they say.  But with so few primaries this year, and the state GOP and the Governor's personal involvement, it is getting noticed more and more.  Eyes are rolling. 

A couple years ago, the Republican county chairwoman appointed a friend to serve as the coordinator of the local Christie for Governor campaign, only to have her trash the Governor for the way his state pensions reforms affected her state employee husband.  That kind of thing happened nowhere else in New Jersey.

The Governor throws his support to a candidate to replace Assemblywoman McHose -- only to watch three Freeholders who had previously supported the same candidate snub the Governor and withdraw their support because the candidate hadn't voted for a solar bailout.

Is there anyone who can be counted on to keep their word? 


Energy Aggregation: Are we creating a Monopoly?

Last evening, the Sussex County Freeholders voted 3 (Crabb, Vohden, and Mudrick) to 2 (Phoebus and Graham) to make Concord Energy/ Concord Engineering the provider of energy to Sussex County government.  Concord is the for-profit corporation that has the contract to manage the Passaic County Government Energy Aggregation Program.  Sussex is now a part of the Passaic system.

There was an attempt to obscure this on the part of Phil "the fibber" Crabb who tried to mislead both his fellow freeholders and the public about the relationship between the Passaic County program and Concord.  He was supported in this by the manic presence of side-kick Richard Vohden.  But it failed to work because even Crabb and Vohden can't hide the volumes of correspondence they have received from Concord representatives Vicki Molloy and Wendy Molner about the Passaic program.  They know and they know too well.

One result of municipal aggregation is that, in effect, you are undoing the benefits of deregulation.  The main benefit, of course, is achieving lower rates through competition.  The price of electricity has been decreasing steadily since alternative suppliers came into the market.  That's because individual buyers have been allowed to make individual choices.  But when you re-concentrate large numbers of buyers into co-opts and establish corporate filters, you risk undoing that competition. 

The full benefit of deregulation is yet to be seen and municipal aggregation might halt that progress entirely.  Concord spreads a lot of money around and makes hundreds of direct political contributions.  They have hired two Sussex County politicians -- Wendy Molner (a former Mayor of Hardyston) and Molly Whilesmith (a Sparta councilman) to lobby for them and sell their program.  They even recruited a candidate for Assembly -- Marie Bilik.  We should be careful not to allow our elected representatives to return us to a pre-deregulation monopoly through the back door.  Our hindquarters are already sore from what they did to us over solar.


Wendy Kuser Molner

Vice President, Government Relations

Ms. Molner has over 15 years of experience in client relations, community outreach and governmental affairs.  Prior to joining Concord, she held community and legislative relations management positions at  NJ Transit and NJ Department of Transportation.

At Concord, Ms. Molner also serves in a business development capacity, bridging communications between the public and private sector regarding energy, legislative and public policy.    

Ms. Molner holds a BS in Public Policy from Upsala College and attended the Harvard University Certificate Program for Public Involvement.  She is also past mayor of Hardyston, NJ.


Bilik continues to fumble on residency

What is it this week?  Is it Virginia or New Jersey?  Marie Bilik can't seem to make up her mind.  

In January, Sussex GOP Chair Ailish Hambel repeated what Bilik told her (Herald, 01/05/15):  "Bilik works in Alexandria, Va., as chief operating officer of the National School Boards Association, but maintains a residence in Green." 

Sometimes Marie Bilik claims to live in New Jersey and to make a 4 1/2 hour commute each way to her job as a Washington, DC based lobbyist.  But then there are these stories:

"Bilik said she will retire from the national association this year and return home full time."

The Easton Express-Times

January 11, 2015 

"She said she stays in Virginia during the work week and returns home to Green Township in Sussex County."

The Hackettstown Warren Reporter

January 16, 2015

"While Bilik works in Alexandria, Va., as chief operating officer of the National School Boards Association -- she maintains a residence in Green -- she said she had arranged to work from home throughout May in order to focus more closely on her campaign."

NJ Herald

March 29, 2015 

“I do work for a firm in Alexandria, Virginia.  I commute. It is 250 miles and I travel extensively, but my family is here and I'm home almost every weekend.”

NJ Herald

May 13, 2015 

We get it.  Marie Bilik considers Sussex County her home.  We undersatnd that.  But it is one thing to consider a place your "home" and to actually live there.


The one reform that would change everything

Ever wonder why a county official who claims to love his county turns around and votes in a way that harms it?  Ever wonder why an anti-tax Republican suddenly supports a Democrat tax-hike?  Ever wonder why some politicians appear to vacillate between competing interests? 

Usually, it comes down to money.

Sometimes you can follow the money.  In some cases, you can actually match up the change in an elected official's voting pattern with the change in who funds his or her campaign.  And when you do, it is more than a little shocking.  The drip, drip, dripping away of principled support for, or opposition to, some policy is replaced by the growing financial support from this interest group or that.

Sometimes the change appears sudden and radical, like when Senate President Steve Sweeney flip-flopped on the death penalty, same-sex marriage, and the Second Amendment.  But take a long look at the cumulative effect of those contributions and you will see that drip, drip, dripping away of moral resolve.  The train might take a long time to reach the station and you might not know it has until the whistle blows, but when it arrives it is jam-packed with hot, sweaty, money.

Often, too often, you can't follow the money.  Because in New Jersey, while an elected official must report his or her source of income -- like High Street Consulting for example -- the state does not require elected officials to report the "clients" of High Street Consulting.  If we knew who the clients of High Street Consulting were, we would know more about why the elected official who owns it behaves the way he does.  Under the current reporting requirements, an elected official with a firm like High Street Consulting could take money from a questionable source, something that would place him or her in a conflict of interest, and nobody would be the wiser.

Reforming this would shed light on the political alliances that tug an elected official this way or that.

Washington State has such a law.  For every business interest held, the state's Public Disclosure Commission requires public officials to list each corporation, partnership, joint venture, sole proprietorship, union, association, business or other commercial entity and each government agency that paid compensation to the entity.  It also requires what property, goods, services or other consideration was given or performed for the compensation.

This is real disclosure and it is desperately needed everywhere in New Jersey, but especially in the interdependent, incestuous political community of Sussex County.