Unions cut off 'Christiecrats'

Nick Santana (cq) president of the IFPTE (International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers) Local 195, Stockton College, is among the crowd of some 3,500 members of the state's largest public workers unions - the CWA, the NJEA, AFSCME, police and firefighter groups - who rallied outside the State House in Trenton on Jun. 16. ( Tom Gralish / Staff Photographer )

It's payback time.

All those Democrats Christiecrats who voted for Gov. Christie's overhaul of the public employee pension and health benefits plans got smacked down this past week by organized labor. The unions -- who represent the teachers and cops and firefighters and turnpike laborers who will be paying far more for their benefits -- hit the Christiecrats where they feel it most: In their re-election pocketbooks.

It's not like the recall election going on in Wisconsin today, but it's something similar.

The AFL-CIO refused to endorse Sen. Donald Norcross (D., Camden), the outgoing president of the Southern New Jersey AFL-CIO Central Labor Council. It refused to endorse Sen. Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), an official with the ironworkers' union. The New Jersey Education Association teacher's union, meanwhile, refused to endorse teachers like Assemblywoman Celeste Riley (D., Cumberland), whom I profiled here, and Sen. Jim Whelan (D., Atlantic), who's in a tough re-election fight.

The NJEA even endorsed two Republicans, including Shelley Lovett, a Gloucester Township Republican trying to unseat Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, Democrat in the fourth district.

“Our members refuse to give precious resources and their own time to campaign for legislators who hurt them and their families,” said NJEA Prez Barbara Keshishian, in a statement. “But make no mistake, fewer endorsements do not mean NJEA will be less involved in the upcoming elections. If anything, we will be more committed and will work harder to support pro-public education candidates who have shown they care about public school employees, our families, and the students we educate.”

As the Bergen Record's Charlie Stile points out, Sweeney and Norcross are in safe seats and tied in tightly with the Democratic power brokers who can pull cash from elsewhere (like building trades unions, who are pretty pro-Christie). And even though all 120 legislative seats are up this fall, political watchers do not expect the Democratic Legislature to turn GOP.

Christie, meanwhile, is touring the state this month highlighting his support for far less controversial governmental functions  -- like keeping grandma in air conditioning, preventing the Jersey Shore from getting too dirty and making sure children get health care. More of that in my story today, here, where Christie appeared with two Burlington County Republican senators, Diane Allen and Dawn Addiego at a local health clinic.

Christie will continue to put his media muscle and financial support behind Republican legislators until Election Day. But unions, it seems, won't there to help many Dems counterbalance the gov.