The best of a bad choice

Voters in 19 Camden and Gloucester County municipalities finally get to have their say on who represents them in the state Senate. That was not the case a few months ago, when Democratic leaders gave the job to political newcomer Donald Norcross, younger brother of party leader George Norcross.

In a dizzying round of political music chairs that’s become common in South Jersey, Norcross quickly moved up the ranks. He did stand for an election, easily winning the Assembly seat of retired Speaker Joe Roberts.

Then he was quickly appointed to assume the Senate seat previously held by Dana Redd, who had been elected Camden’s mayor. The orchestrated succession had uncontested candidates looking like pawns on a chess board.

But now, voters in a special off-year election must decide if Norcross deserves to finish the term. The answer is yes. Even considering the manipulated process that put him in the DONALD NORCROSS is still the better candidate to represent the 5th District in the Senate.

Norcross, 51, a former electrician and head of the Southern New Jersey Central AFL-CIO Labor Council, faces a tepid challenge from Republican Harry E. Trout. And like Norcross, Trout, a Woodbury councilman and liquor store manager, was hand-picked by his party.

But that’s about all the support Trout has gotten from the GOP. He’s raised only $4,000, and lacking name recognition, he doesn’t have funds to get his message out. Then again, he doesn’t really have a message.

Norcross has a much better grasp on the issues before the Legislature and he already knows his way around Trenton.
The Republican Party should have put up a better candidate. Instead, once again, it has rolled over for South Jersey Democrats.

Norcross voted against Gov. Christie’s budget, but he supported the governor’s pension reform proposals. He also sponsored a bill that would require state workers to live in New Jersey, earning him the ire of his union brethren.

The biggest challenge facing Norcross is emerging from his brother’s considerable shadow and proving that he is not a machine puppet. “I am my own man,” Norcross told the Inquirer Editorial Board. We’ll see.

New Jersey voters should also approve a ballot question that would amend the state Constitution to prohibit lawmakers from raiding state workers’ benefit funds. In almost any fiscal crisis, the state can be counted on to Peter to pay Paul. The withdrawals have left many funds depleted and in precarious financial shape.

Workers and companies pay into state funds for very specific reasons, such as unemployment or disability benefits. These funds should be set aside for their intended purpose and not used to bail out the state. Vote YES on the constitutional amendment.