Where New Jersey’s Senate Candidates Stand on NSA Surveillance, At Least Those Who Bothered to Take an Actual Stand

not a candidateNVS inc/Foter.comThe special elections to fill the Senate seat vacated by the death of Frank Lautenberg in New Jersey will be the first federal election since Edward Snowden’s disclosure put the NSA’s massive domestic surveillance programs into public view. After last week’s surprisingly close vote in the House on the Amash amendment, which sought to defund NSA surveillance that targeted Americans who were not under investigation, New York Times reporter Jonathan Martin tweeted asking whether anyone had sought out the positions of Mike Enzi, Wyoming’s senator, and Liz Cheney, who will be challenging the Republican in 2014. Greenwald responded by wondering if anyone had reached out to New Jersey’s senate candidates, specifically the prolific tweeter Cory Booker. In an effort to find out, we reached out to all six candidates (two Republicans, four Democrats) contesting the summer election.

Two of the Democratic candidates, Rush Holt and Frank Pallone, are actually currently members of the House, although only Holt showed up last Tuesday to vote on the defense spending bill and the 100 amendments to it (including the Amash amendment).  Holt says he was “determined to be present for the vote on the [Amash] amendment,” for which he voted yes. “I certainly didn’t want to miss a close vote in the House, and I wanted to address the issue,” he says. Pallone, meanwhile, missed Tuesday’s vote, telling the Bergen Record he had “other demands on his time in New Jersey,” but that he opposes the NSA’s collection practices.  A staffer for Pallone said we would get a statement from him elaborating on his stance by yesterday, but a statement was not forthcoming.

Newark mayor Cory Booker, another Democrat, meanwhile, has parroted President Obama’s public statements on the NSA, appealing to the need to have a discussion about balancing liberty and security. Steve Lonegan, the former mayor of Bogota and the primary Republican candidate in the race, responded by saying “we had that robust discussion, 237 years ago, it was called the American Revolution and we determined how sacred our privacy is.” He says back then America “sent the King packing, and now it’s time to send Cory Booker and Barack Obama packing.” Booker’s website notes the candidate is “deeply troubled” by what Snowden’s disclosures revealed, but manages to mention neither the PATRIOT Act nor FISA; Cory Booker’s office also said they would get to us with a statement on the issue but did not.

Holt says Booker’s posturing on the NSA contributes to the phenomenon where “if you ask progressives in New Jersey is Cory Booker a progressive they’ll say oh yes, [and] if you ask moderates is Cory Booker a moderate they’ll say oh yes.”  Holt adds: “Cory Booker is a master at self-promotion who in his marvelous speeches leaves people believing what they want to believe about him, and on this issue it’s a little hard to tell.” Holt also says that Booker has characterized Holt’s efforts to repeal the PATRIOT Act and FISA as “irresponsible.” Holt says if he gets elected he would join the “sizable and growing group of progressives in the Senate” pursuing a rollback of the national security state. Holt acknowledges “a few libertarian types” in the Senate are also interested in pursuing that, but only mentions Democrats Ron Wyden and Mark Udall specifically.

The final Democrat candidate, Sheila Oliver, New Jersey’s assembly speaker, also appealed to striking a “balance” between security and liberty on her website, calling the NSA’s recently revealed operations “a step too far.” Her office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

On the Republican side, Lonegan, who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination for governor in 2005 and 2009, has been vocal about opposition to the NSA’s actions. He says that he sees “this use of surveillance as a power grab by the government, using the excuse of 9/11 to undermine our liberties and privacy,” and that, along with the IRS scandal and the Department of Justice’s invasion of reporters’ privacy it was “part and parcel of this trend that we’re seeing of government intrusion on our lives.”  Asked about New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie, who called the “libertarian strain” opposed to the NSA’s massive surveillance “dangerous” (because 9/11), Lonegan says he and Christie were “not going to agree on everything, and this is one of the things we’re not going to agree on.”

Lonegan’s only primary opponent, the political newcomer Alieta Eck, also agrees with the Amash amendment. “Government will always favor power and this is why we must favor limited government,” she says. “It appears to me that Edward Snowden embarrassed the government by exposing the unreasonable searches of private citizens.”

None of the candidates, not the ones who responded to us nor the ones whose positions we gleaned from other public statements, provided a wholehearted endorsement of the NSA’s actions, reflecting the agency’s lack of popularity among voters. Yet their opinions range from vocal opposition to the abuse of power, like those of Democrat Rush Holt and both Republican candidates, to the reserved appeal to “balance” that parrots the Obama Administration’s talking points and may be hard to differentiate from actual support for the NSA’s surveillance operations.  

The primaries are scheduled for August 13, with the special general election on October 16.

Disclosure: I’m a registered Democrat in New Jersey and plan on voting in these elections.

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  • Heroic Mulatto||

    I’m a registered Democrat

    Why?

  • KDN||

    When living in a one-party state, it pays to be a member of said party.

  • Ed||

    This.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Remember what happens to collaborators after the revolution.

  • sloopyinca||

    They become billionaire hedge fund managers?

  • Tonio||

    Their heads are forcibly shaved?

  • Paul.||

    You know who else felt the same way in a one-party state?

  • Swiss Servator - past LTC(ret)||

    Egon Krenz?

  • Tonio||

    Aung San Suu Kyi?

  • Tonio||

    Oops, no, she never joined the SLORC.

  • Jon Lester||

    I'm very glad to live in an open primary state, because sometimes you really do want to have your choice of ballots, depending on who's running for what.

  • Zeb||

    I'd guess that the Democrat primaries are where most of the real action is.

  • mr simple||

    Disclosure: I’m a registered Democrat in New Jersey and plan on voting in these elections.

    But for whom, Ed, for whom?

  • KDN||

    So long as it's not Pallone. That guy's the worst.

  • Ed||

    I may address this closer to the primary. Leaning toward Holt in the primary and the Republican in the general.

  • anon||

    And to think, Lindsay Lohan was so hot in Mean Girls.

  • ||

    You know that Snooki is from Ulster County, NY, right?

  • Ed||

    I thought she was from Rhode Island?

  • WTF||

    Nope - Marlboro New York.

  • ||

    Fuck no.

  • KDN||

    That's DJ Pauly D.

    The only one born and bred in NJ are Sammi (who completely changed her accent for the show) and Deena the dudes are all out of staters, which makes total since the natives all learn to avoid Seaside by the time they're 18.

    I spent too much time around my wife's friends while this show was on the air.

  • Paul.||

    Tell us more about the characters in this reality show we've never seen and never will.

  • KDN||

    Well, you see, there's this guy named Mike who calls himself...

    Wait a minute, I detect a small degree of insincerity here.

  • ||

    No shit! These guys are starting to scare me.

    Do you guys watch that one with the people on the island who try to fuck each other over for money too?

  • NeonCat||

    C-Span?

  • NeonCat||

    Oh, wait, that's the channel where they fuck US over for money.

  • sloopyinca||

    Isn't it time to leave the NJ Democrat Party, Ed? I'm sorry, but they aren't even about civil liberties any more. It's all about growing the public sector and locking in a donor base by giving sweetheart deals to their union pals. Keeping your affiliation, albeit a loose one, with that party does nothing to shrink their brand of insanity.

    I know it's a rant, but what the fuck are you thinking, man? Stand up for your beliefs and identify them proudly. If that means missing out on a primary vote between dickheads that will all steal your wealth, then so be it. It's a small price to pay.

  • ||

    Dennis: (to Mac) There's nothing you can do about taxes.

    Dee: Uh, you guys might wanna think about voting every once in a while.

    Dennis: What has voting ever done?

    Charlie: Wha—since—what is—why are you coming dow—-voting?!?

    Dennis: Who am I supposed to vote for? Am I supposed to vote for the—-the Democrat who's going to blast me in the ass or the Republican who's blasting my ass?

    Mac: You see, politics is all just one big ass-blast.

  • PH2050||

    I love how you can bring up ASIP quotes that are applicable to the HampersandR post. I've observed you do it many times.

  • creech||

    Well, at least he doesn't have to lie when writing letters to the editor that begin, "I'm a registered Democrat, but the latest effort to.......is absurd..."

  • Paul.||

    Ed's goose-stepping down the street, saying, "Go along! Go along!"

  • Zeb||

    I'm glad I live in a state where I only have to be registered with a party for as long as it takes me to vote in a primary.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

  • Swiss Servator - past LTC(ret)||

    Illinois works toward it, however.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

  • Zeb||

    Then what did I just vote for, smart guy?

  • ||

    Here, you aren't registered with a party. They hand you the ballot of your choosing when you vote in the primary.

  • Paul.||

    And asking you for ID before they hand it to you is racist.

  • Robert||

    That must be read as totally bizarre in most countries. The USA's got one of the strangest hxs with political parties.

  • Whahappan?||

    Also, in NJ you can register independent and vote in either primary (but only one.)

  • Ed||

    I don't think that's the case. At least it wasn't when I first registered to vote.

  • Not a Libertarian||

    Will Senator Booker be a relatively "independent" voice in the Senate?

  • Drake||

    Lonegan seems to be one of the good ones. After he loses to Booker, I plan to write him in for Governor.

  • amagi1776||

    How do you figure? Booker is objectively terrible on a lot of issues...like Economics, Health Care, Civil Liberties, the 2nd Amendment and Spending.

    The only bright, shining spot is education reform and I suspect he will sell out faster than U2.

    I am honestly asking. I live in NJ and I would like to vote for someone who deserves it.

  • Robert||

    See this nail? When I nod my head, hit it.

  • Robert||

    When I wrote that Christie, for all his faults, was one of the best 2 reasonably likely choices for governor, it was Lonegan I had in mind as the other. Yeah, considerable gulf between them, but the gulf between them and the others was as big or bigger.

  • Chmee||

    There is more than one party in NJ besides the two headed beast I like to call the Corporate Party. I'm registered L, so I don't get to vote primaries, but those are a waste of taxpayer money anyway.

    No Libertarian Party candidate for Senate on the ballot. I guess he didn't get enough signatures on the ballot. It's going to be a tough call for me as to which one of the other scoundrels to consider. They all seem to be sticking their fingers into the wind.

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