03 June 2013

Lamenting Aspects of Senator Lautenberg's Legacy

Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) in US Capitol complex

Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) died today at age 89 from complications from pneumonia. Lautenberg was the last Senator who served in combat during World War II.  Lautenberg was elected to the Senate in 1982 and served three terms before retiring in 2000.  Lautenberg was enlisted as a last minute candidate in October 2002 after Senator Robert Torecelli (D-NJ) was forced to withdraw from the race due contributions from a businessman with North Korean connections.  After great controversy, the New Jersey Supreme Court allowed this extra-legal candidate swap and Lautenberg beat Republican Doug Forrester by 54%-45%.  In Lautenberg’s second senatorial incarnation, Lautenberg won re-election in 2008 and had indicated that he did not plan to run again in 2014.

Fox News Channel political contributor Julie Roginsky offered laurels to Lautenberg, to whom she was a senior political strategist,  for the man who saved thousand of lives from drunk drivers and secondhand smoke as well as banning those convicted of domestic violence from exercising their Second Amendment rights. Prior to the Soviet Union's collapse, right center radio commentator Hugh Hewitt pointed out that Senator Lautenberg was instrumental at helping Soviet Jewry escape the Iron Curtain.  Indubitably, Lautenberg was a quintessential modern liberal who approved of abortion and  gun grabbing.  

While I appreciate Julie Roginsky’s adoration for her old political boss, it seemed that almost all of his accomplishments and effective political presence occurred before he retired in 2000.  Aside from acting as a leading voice against the George W. Bush Administration’s practice of engaging columnists like Armstrong Williams to publicize policies like “No Child Left Behind”, to this engaged political observer, Lautenberg’s legacy was being a reliable progressive vote.  Senator Lautenberg 2.0's biggest accomplishment seemed to have been a “Campus Fire Safety Act” prompted by a fire at Seaton Hall fire, that was then attached to a Higher Education Reauthorization Act in 2008.

To me, Lautenberg’s legacy is a reminder of how Democrats have consistently tried to manipulate election law when it suits their purpose and insure election.  Under New Jersey law, Democrats missed the deadline for replacing a candidate, saying a candidate who wants to get off the ballot must do so at least 51 days before the election, and a replacement must be selected at least 48 days before the vote.   Toricelli dropped out 36 days before voters went to the polls and the then 78 year old Lautenberg was switched in 35 days before the election.  No matter to the Democrat dominated New Jersey Supreme Court, which rationalized the substitution  by invoking “the general intent” of election law, acting “for the public interest” to preserve a vigorous “two party system.”  The problem is that none of that lexicon existed in the public statute. 

This was not the only time in the last dozen years which Democrats have manipulated election law to serve their purposes.  Die hard Democrats insist that President George W. Bush was “selected, not elected” because of Florida recount in the extremely close 2000 Presidential race.  Of course, they forget that their legal remedy involved selective recounts of key counties (which were Democrat strongholds), which was no-where in the law.  

Carnahans at Gov. Mel Carnahan's (D-MO) Memorial Oct. 2000
The year 2000 also had some strange Senatorial electioneering.  Governor Mel Carnahan (D-MO) was running against incumbent Senator John Ashcroft.  Mr. Carnahan was killed in a plane crash on the campaign trail three weeks before the election along with his son.  Senator Ashcroft suspended campaigning during this period and the Acting Governor Roger B. Wilson vowed to appoint the widow Jean Carnahan if her husband won posthumorously.  By a narrow margin, Missouri elected a dead-man to the Senate, defeating Ashcroft.  Senator Ashcroft did not contest the election even though the winning candidate did not “live” in the state.  The Senate seat was declared vacant and Mrs. Carnahan was appointed the U.S. Senator (D-MO).  She sought to retain her seat in 2002, but was narrowly defeated by now Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO).

Ex President Clinton & ex VP Walter Mondale at Wellstone Memorial 
In another airplane tragedy, the charismatic progressive Senator Paul Wellstone (Democrat Farm Labor-MN) died in a crash with his wife and child on October 25, 2002, just days before the 2002 general election.  Following Minnesota law, Wellstone’s name was stricken from the ballot and the DFL chose former Carter Administration Vice President Walter Mondale to run against Republican St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman for the Senate seat.  It was commendable that state law was followed in this election exigency.  However, Wellstone’s memorial, which was nationally televised, was turned into a partisan pep rally (Vice President Dick Cheney was asked not to attend by the Wellstone family).  Minnesota voters narrowly elected Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) who served one term before losing the 2008 re-election by 312 votes and three recounts to now Senator Al Franken (D-MN).

Sen. Paul Wellstone (DFL-MN)
I can admire politicians from the other end of the political spectrum.  I have admired the intellect the integrity and the iconiclast inclinations  of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY).  While I do not come from a progressive bent, I appreciated the happy warrior vibe of Senator Paul Wellstone.  What I lament is circumventing election law to achieve partisan political ends.  

So despite all of the good works that Lautenberg lovers may lionize during his first stint in the Senate, this political animal laments that  Lautenberg’s legacy is being remembered as a political hack who was used to eviscerate election law.  After being ushered into office again,  the best that can be said about the later Lautenberg is that he was a reliable liberal vote. At worst, the electoral  corruption stinks of the worst of New Jersey and is a reminder of how broken the American electoral process seems to be. 

No comments: