Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Farewell Frelinghuysen

One of the most storied political dynasties in American history is on its way out.
Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen, a Republican representing New Jersey's Eleventh U.S.  House district, has decided to retire following his current term of office, his twelfth.  Frelinghuysen is the scion of the most famous political family in New Jersey, which goes back to the days of the American Revolution.  Frederick Frelinghuysen began this family's long and incredible run; the four-times-great-grandfather of Rodney, he fought in the Revolution, helped write New Jersey's first state constitution, and represented the state in the U.S. Senate.  Rodney's three-times-great uncle, Theodore Frelinghuysen,  was a college president (of New York University and of Rutgers), a U.S. Senator, and Henry Clay's vice presidential running mate in the 1844 presidential campaign; a religious man, Theodore advocated better treatment of the Indians and opposed President against removal of the tribes of the Southeast to Oklahoma.  His adopted son Fredrick Theodore - Rodney's great-great-grandfather - was also a U.S. Senator in the 1870s and served as U.S. Secretary of State under President Chester Arthur in the early 1880s.  (A fourth Frelinghuysen, Joseph, represented New Jersey in the Senate from 1917 to 1923.)  Rodney's father, Peter Frelinghuysen, Jr., served as the U.S. Representative from New Jersey's Fifth U.S. House district from 1953 to 1975, which at the time included much of the part of New Jersey now in the Eleventh District.  So to see Rodney, whose mother was of the Procter family of Procter and Gamble fame, step down is such a big deal, you'd think a lot of people with as sense of history would miss him.
Unfortunately, the only sense of history people have in the New Jersey Eleventh U.S. House district - which happens to be my district - is Rodney's own.  Although he is the chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, a lot of people - myself included - will be glad to see him go.  A moderate, his positions have shifted rightward in response to the rise of Republican conservatism in general and the rise of Donald Trump in particular.  Although he can be counted on to support Amtrak or something like that, he's also supported repealing the health care law and opposed sanctuary cities for immigrants.  He only voted against the tax reform bill after having supported amendments to it because he knew New Jerseyans opposed it and was assured that his "no" vote would not derail its passage.  He hasn't held a live town hall in ages, preferring to hold town halls by teleconferences, encouraging protesters to demonstrate en masse outside his district office once a week.  Representing a moderate suburban district anchored in Morris County, New Jersey that has considerable Trump base - a district that also includes more liberal communities in neighboring Essex County - Frelinghuysen has tried to stake out positions that appeal to old-school Republicans while simultaneously appeasing Trump voters and giving token attention to the concerns of Democratic voters gerrymandered into the district.  His three-part balancing act has satisfied no one, and his chairmanship of the House Appropriations Committee has not brought any more money to the district, given proposed budget cuts and continuing resolutions in place of any real budget.
Faced with reality, Frelinghuysen, once a favorite for re-election in 2018, has chosen to leave the House, undoubtedly afraid of losing or, worse, the possibility of being only the ranking minority member of a House run by Democrats had he run and won.  That he would give up such a powerful position only speaks volumes of just how big the Democratic wave will be in November 2018.  The likely Democratic nominee for the seat, Mikie Sherrill, is a lawyer and former federal prosecutor who served in the Navy as a helicopter pilot.  While it's only a matter of time before the Republicans turn her assets into liabilities, she looks to be the likely winner of the November general election, her nomination in June all but inevitable. 
Frelinghuysen tried to serve both his district and Trump while trying to back away from both at the same time.  He ended up painting himself into a corner.  I have no sympathy from him.  Like most Republicans, he had to choose between standing up to Trump or risk being primaried.  Now he isn't even going to face the voters.  But then, when was the last time he even did so in a town hall meeting?  

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