Sunday, July 21, 2013

NJ Senate Primary Could Become a Referendum on NSA Surveillance

Yesterday, Glen Greenwald, the journalist at the center of the Edward Snowden leaks, essentially endorsed Rush Holt for Senate, and promised to write more this week.

So let me give you some context about our crazy New Jersey Senate race. The open seat in the US Senate was created by the death of 89 year-old Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat. Our governor, Chris Christie, is a Republican seeking re-election in November (maybe the presidency in 2016). New Jersey is much more "blue in Presidential election years than it is in the off years when turnout is low. Christie didn't want to jeopardize his November chances by having a popular Democrat on the ballot to upset the usual voter turnout pattern, and so we have an odd situation where a Senate primary is being held in August. The voter turnout is expected to be minuscule, and Cory Booker has been considered a shoo-in.

Booker earned widespread admiration and media stardom by ousting a corrupt political machine and becoming the Mayor of Newark, New Jersey's largest city. His name recognition and ability to raise a huge amount of money in a short period of time is a huge advantage. He's already started advertising on cable TV; New Jersey is a very expensive market for politicians because the primary media outlets are New York and Philadelphia. He has 1.4 million followers on Twitter. Despite Booker's big lead, the unusual dynamics of this election mean that another candidate with a very motivated base of support could conceivably pull an upset.

Cory Booker faces three challengers in the Democratic primary. Two of them, Frank Pallone and Rush Holt, are Congressmen from the middle of the state, presumably attracted to a intra-term election that doesn't require them to give up their House seats. The other, Sheila Oliver, is the Speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly, and represents the district where I live. Like Booker, she's from Essex County, and there are a lot of people still upset about Booker's mayoral win.

Holt has put the privacy issue front and center on his website, and has vowed to repeal the PATRIOT Act. He also has the legislative record to do so, as he opposed both the extension of the PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act. His website features a petition and this statement:
As former chairman of the House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, I know that these surveillance programs have compromised Americans’ rights while providing only the illusion of security. As a scientist who understands how these massive databases can be used and abused, I am frightened by what this near-universal surveillance suggests for the future of our democracy.
Cory Booker is triangulating a bit on the NSA. Here's what his website says:
I was deeply troubled by recent revelations of the scope of the National Security Agency’s domestic data collection. We failed as a nation to thoroughly debate and create public oversight before this highly questionable data collection began. It is time to bring this program to light and fix that error. 
It is a basic principle of our founding that laws be open to public debate and inspection. We must update the rules that permitted this program to exist and ensure Congress, the courts, and the people have access and oversight. We need to vigorously guard our 4th Amendment privacy protections while still protecting Americans from terrorism. There are serious questions about whether this program successfully does that, and we cannot ask these questions after the fact again. 
As "Liberty Equality Fraternity and Trees" on Daily Kos  points out, Booker "managed to talk about the NSA revelations without mentioning either (1) the PATRIOT Act or (2) the FISA Amendments Act. "

At a "Bloomberg View" lunch in New York, Booker talked about Edward Snowden. Buzzfeed reports:
As for Snowden, who Booker described as “a whistle-blower — however you want to call him,” he noted that “I don’t think we’d be having this conversation now” without him. 
He said Snowden had broken the law, and that fell short of true civil disobedience because he left the country. 
“It’s not heroic to be the person who stands up and you blow a whistle and then you sprint out of Dodge,” he said. “Stay here in your country — stand up.” 
Booker invoked “friends who smoke pot and one of them saying to me, ‘This is my civil disobedience, man.’” 
“Go smoke your joint in front of a policeman and get 100 of your friends to do the same thing,” he said.
There's nothing about the NSA on Pallone's website, but his recent votes have tracked Holts'.

Oliver hasn't campaigned much, but this is what her website says about the NSA surveillance program:
On privacy, Sheila Oliver believes that we must balance the needs of homeland security with protecting the privacy of law abiding citizens. She believes that some of the recent revelations made regarding National Security Administration (NSA) programs reveal that we’ve gone a step too far and that we must work to ensure that the privacy of law abiding citizens is protected.
This is my lawn.
Whichever Democrat wins, they'll face Steve Lonegan in a September election, and Lonegan has been vocal in his outrage at the NSA surveillance. (Lonegan faces only political novice Alieta Eck) At a recent event Lonegan responded to Booker's call for more discussion about the NSA program:
“We had that robust discussion…two-hundred and thirty-seven years ago,” Lonegan told a cheering audience .... “It was called the American Revolution.”


  1. Lautenberg's Senate seat is being kept warm by Jeffrey Chiasa
  2. Unaffiliated voters can vote in either primary, but the deadline has passed for Republicans to switch affiliation and vote in the Democratic primary, and vice versa.

Update July 26:

In the evening of July 24, the House of Representative voted on an amendment to a defense appropriations bill to defund the NSA's bulk data collection program. The amendment, co-authored by by conservative Republican Justin Amash and liberal Democrat John Conyers was narrowly defeated by a final vote of 205-217 with 12 not voting. The vote was characterized by highly unusual alliances. Rep. Holt voted for the amendment and Rep. Pallone did not vote. You can check how your own representative voted at Blogger Jeff Jarvis repeatedly asked @CoryBooker for his position and got no answer. Rep. Holt then introduced his promised "Surveillance State Repeal Act".
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