Observer Tribune Nov 20, 2018
There is reason to be optimistic about the state of democracy in our community following last Tuesday’s election.
First and foremost, in Harding, in the larger Congressional District 11 and across the country, Americans came out in higher numbers to cast their ballot. Nearly 61 percent of Harding voters exercised their most precious right on Tuesday, as compared to the 43 percent who voted in Harding in the last midterm election. This uptick is a very welcome change from the 2014 midterm that marked the lowest nationwide voter participation in nearly 75 years.
With an open field after the retirement of U.S. Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen who represented the district since 1995, both the Republican and Democratic party competed for our votes. This is a good thing. It imbued a level of enthusiasm and engagement to the race and gave residents a fresh opportunity to assess and to weigh-in on the representation they seek from their congressional, county and local officials.
Although Harding is a small pocket of voters in the larger district, residents had the opportunity to meet both candidates in settings where they could share their views and drum up enthusiasm for others to become involved. Jay Webber canvassed at the New Vernon Volunteer Fire Department auction and Mikie Sherrill met with residents at the Post Office and in the library. Vice President (Mike) Pence, U.S. Senators Paul Ryan, Tom Cotton and Cory Booker all met with residents at various forums and worked to get out the vote.
While Harding has hosted national and state politicos before, resident accessibility to candidates energized volunteers to become engaged. Residents who never canvassed door to door or made calls for a candidate or attended a fundraising or worked to get out the vote, were out in force. This is a good thing.
At a time when many have lost faith in the ability of our elected officials to solve our collective problems, the results of the election offer hope for the future. Mikie Sherrill earned the support of 45 percent of Harding voters and over 55 percent of voters across the district, after running a campaign grounded on moderate and centrist proposals on issues that matter to our everyday life: funding for critical infrastructure, respect for our environment, responsible and sensible gun safety laws, fair treatment of New Jersey under the federal tax law, improved care for veterans, broadening health care access and lowering health care costs.
Most importantly, guided by her military experience to concentrate on the mission, she pledged to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find a way forward. Joining a Congressional freshman class with other newly elected veterans and women across both parties, forging consensus, rather than insisting on one-sided perfection, would be a breath of fresh air.
As in all things in life, the outcomes will not be perfect, but it could be a start of something better. Voter support for candidates who seek common ground is a reason for optimism.
As a member of the Harding Non-Partisans, a group of unaffiliated voters and registered Democratic and Republican voters in Harding that came together over the last two years to educate ourselves on national issues and to discuss potential paths forward, the results of last Tuesday’s election were not a total surprise.
There simply cannot be that much engagement at the grassroots level for there not to be change at the ballot box. Heartened by my discussion with Republicans, Democrats and independents as I canvassed Harding this year, I was confident they would vote for moderation and would reject extremism in positions and tone.
This is the Harding I have come to know in my 27 years here and the Harding I love. We are a community that is tucked away from the hustle and bustle but we are also welcoming and inclusive. We zealously guard our little Americana with proud traditions of civic engagement and civil discourse, as neighbors work collaboratively to get the job done. We cherish our rights as Americans to vote and to engage in free assembly and expression.
But, in the words of Buffalo Springfield, there is “somethin’ happening here” that will make us a more perfect union if we work together. In contrast to the many years where Township Committee elections were uncontested and single-party, nearly 800 residents cast their ballots for the Democratic challengers this year.
In a town with 16 percent of voters registered as Democrats, Mikie Sherrill won 45 percent of the vote, demonstrating strong support beyond the Democratic base. This fact, coupled with the increasing support of the local Democratic candidates Kate Barry and Rhonda Allen from 33 percent last year to 36 percent this year, shows that Harding’s political makeup is diverse and changing, and Harding’s government needs to adapt too to work together across party lines. Harding is our town – Republicans, Democrats and independents. We all love it here, and it belongs to all of us.
Blue Mill Road