IN NEW JERSEY, DARK HORSES RISE FOR 2017 ELECTION
Coalition of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents launch movement to run for office and take on the political establishment- together
Jersey City, NJ A Republican, a Democrat, and a bunch of Independents walk into a bar in Jersey City. No, that’s not the beginning of a joke, it’s the launch of a political revolution, according to New Jersey Awakens founder, Dana Wefer. “The number one issue facing our state and our country is the corruption of the political system,” Wefer says. “Our government officials go through the political system to become part of the government, so when the political system is corrupted, the government soon follows.” Through New Jersey Awakens, Wefer and her allies have developed a five point election reform platform aimed at crippling party bosses, forcing accountability from elected officials, and amplifying unaffiliated and independent voices, or, as Wefer bluntly puts it “we want to break the machine.”
Wefer has teamed up with Democratic gubernatorial candidate and seasoned corruption fighter Bill Brennan, best known for his dogged pursuit of bringing justice to Governor Chris Christie for his alleged role in Bridgegate. A handful of independent legislative candidates have also signed on to the reforms, and Wefer hopes to have candidates running on this platform for every legislative seat by the June 6th filing deadline for independent candidates.
Wefer’s own candidacy, as a Republican candidate for governor, is unexpected in just about every way. She’s been a Democrat her entire adult life, spent years working to build the Democratic Party in red Morris County, and campaigned for Bernie Sanders during last year’s primary. However, her local battles with the Democratic machine in Hudson County and Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump, pushed Wefer towards the belief that working to reform the Democratic Party from within is no longer a viable option for accountable government. “If you told me 5 months ago that I would be running for governor, I would have thought you were crazy, never mind as a Republican!” she exclaims. “It feels as if we’re living in some alternate universe, but our reality is that the Democrats and the Republicans together have rigged the political system against the People through gerrymandering and special interest money. Only 14% of state legislative seats are competitive in November, which means most elections are actually decided by a small group of people in the primaries. The politicians know this, which is why they feel more accountable to that small but vocal group over the electorate at large. The fact is that if you want your vote to count, you have to vote in the primary elections, especially Republican primaries, because that is where most elections in the country are decided now.”
Candidates aligned with New Jersey Awakens vary in their top issues. Meghan Dunworth Dodd who is running for Freeholder in Hudson County was driven to action after the 2016 election. “I feel compelled to run for office after this last election because local government matters and I can’t sit on the sidelines any longer,” she said. “The county government intersects with a lot of these national issues and has a direct impact on our community. That’s why I’m running for Freeholder.” Sumantha Prasad, who is also new to politics, is running for state assembly in legislative district 22. “I am passionate about social justice issues, and I believe firmly in intersectionalism. Healthcare is a human right, and residents will be free to live up to their potential when they aren't constrained by worries about insurance,” she said.
“There are so many issues that we need to address as a state: high property taxes and cost of living, infrastructure issues, criminal justice reform, the pension deficit, healthcare, the opioid crisis, the legalization of marijuana, and much more,” Wefer says. “The thing is, there’s no shortage of information on these issues and on what steps we need to take to start righting the ship, there’s just a lack of will on the part of our leaders, which is why we need new leadership.”
New Jersey Awakens is launching its North Jersey kickoff at the Zeppelin Beer Garden in Jersey City on February 26th at 5pm. The organization will roll out a values-based platform and introduce some of the local candidates running for office. The program will begin around 5:30. Press is welcome.