By Matt Rooney | The Save Jersey Blog
Some guests naturally came out of curiosity. Others? For fellowship and something, frankly, to be excited about in the midst of emotionally trying times for the state and national Republican parties. The free food and drink didn’t hurt either. Never does!
The common thread: a zeal for party-building.
Each and every one of the 300+ attendees at the inaugural event of the SolutionsNJ Super PAC (solutionsnjpac.org) on Thursday night at Bell Labs in Holmdel was determined to help kick-start the process of rebuilding the New Jersey GOP from the ground up.
God knows it’s work that needs doing, Save Jerseyans, for reasons with which readers of this website are well-acquainted. I didn’t hesitate when asked to join the host committee.
The initial effort wasn’t wasted. Thursday’s reception was unanimously hailed as a great first step forward by its enthusiastic attendees.
Encouragingly, the sprawling open space hosted a diverse crowd in terms of political involvement beyond the usual mash-up of seasoned operatives, senior party leaders and donor-types. There was a legislative showing in the form of Senators Tom Kean (R-Union) and Bob Singer (R-Ocean) as well as Assembly members Maria Rodriguez-Gregg (R-8) and Joe Howarth (R-8), but there were a large number local leaders, too, hailing from all corners of the state and largely on the more youthful end of the spectrum including Freeholder Hank Lyon (R-Morris), Sheriff Shaun Golden (R-Monmouth), Clerk Christine Hanlon (R-Monmouth), and Councilmen Michael Thulen (R-Point Pleasant), Robert A. Bengivenga, Jr. (R-South Plainfield) and Joe Sarno (R-Garwood).
Older committee members. Young campaign staffers. College Republicans. Trenton operators. Conservative activists. Social media technicians (yours truly and Art Gallagher of MMM among them). Former legislators (Donna Simon of LD16 and Mary Pat Angelini of LD11, both of whom could mount comeback runs in 2017 after falling in the Democrat Super PAC-led assault last year). Future legislators? I sure hope so, Save Jerseyans, since the new organization’s express goal is to promote the development and election of conservative leaders at the local level through networking and, in time, beginning to close the Super PAC gap that devastated GOP legislative prospects in 2015.
The presidential election wasn’t at the forefront. Supporters of Trump, #NeverTrump and other options in between or outside the box shared drinks and swapped war stories.
The most common utterance heard and overheard in casual conversation throughout the evening?
“Wow – great turnout. This is great; this is the kind of thing the party should be doing!”
I must’ve heard it 50-times from 50 people in the first 50 minutes.
Regardless of how individual guests felt about the Governor, his party-related priorities and the current gubernatorial succession prospects (yes, there was a spectrum of different opinions), the clear consensus was that more thought and energy needs to be devoted to “what comes next,” whether Chris Christie left office with President Trump in January 2017 or as a private citizen one year later.
The strong mutual desire to organize, get serious, think globally, act locally and above all else start winning again was captured by the events co-creators, Republican consultants Chris Russell and Rick Rosenberg, in their brief but very well-received opening remarks.
“There’s a real, honest-to-goodness desire to get things rolling again,” one attendee told me off the record (most conversations were), echoing the sentiments of Russell and Rosenberg shortly after they finished speaking. “We’ve been treading water for years. We’re isolated in our own pockets around the state. No one is laying the tracks or bothering to connect anybody. It’s not sustainable. Something’s got to give.”
“Well, this is a good start, don’t you think? Let’s keep it going,” added another within earshot. “When’s the next one anyway?”
The fact that a few hundred New Jersey Republicans are actually excited to get together? More than once a year? Modest as you may find my expectations, Save Jerseyans, the existence of that sentiment is a major victory in of itself. I hadn’t seen that kind of energy from my fellow pachyderm since the heady days of 2009 and 2010.
Here’s to building upon it and doing something useful with it in the months and years to come. Nothing is more important for those of us who are serious about turning this state around before we’re all dying, dead or languishing away in pizza-less Southern refugee communities.