MT. HOLLY, N.J. — The Burlington County GOP was already on the ropes and heading for the mat after losing its freeholder board and its only county-based Republican state senator (Dawn Addiego) in a few short months.
Now a successor issue — whether Addiego’s former LD8 running mate Assemblyman Joe Howarth tried to switch parties, too — is tearing what’s left of the once-mighty county organization in two.
The basic facts (because there a ton of ins and outs to this story):
- Addiego announced her plan to defect to the South Jersey Democrat Machine.
- Howarth went silent for 48 hours, ignoring allies’ texts and calls.
- At one point, the Democrats spoke to Howarth about switching parties along with Addiego. This is where things are disputed. Howarth and his defenders say the veteran Burlco GOP official rebuffed the Democrats’ offer. Howarth’s detractors say he was actually keen to flip but the Democrats, recognizing that his seat was prime for a conversion in November 2019, decided they didn’t want him and rescinded their offer.
- Howarth vehemently denied exploring switching parties; he subsequently signaled his intent to seek renomination this June.
- The new county GOP chairman Sean Earlen issued a statement withdrawing support for Howarth citing his alleged treason.
- Howarth fires back by garnering the endorsements of 11 of 15 municipal chairs in LD8.
Today the snowballing intra-party schism got a little bit more pronounced and dramatic.
“I have been involved in our organization since 2008, and worked my way up from fresh out of college volunteer to Executive Director via hard work and honesty,” said Joshua Foote, the organization’s former long-time executive director, in a letter to county party leaders obtained by Save Jersey. “Having been involved at the level that I was, for as long as I was, I can honestly tell you that Joe Howarth is one of the few good guys that truly deserves our loyalty. Whenever I asked, Joe was there for all of us, no matter how big or small of the request. Whatever the party asked, Joe was a loyal solider. To see him being treated like he is now, it a travesty.”
Foote served several years as the Burlington GOP’s operative-in-chief before leaving the post at the end of the 2018 cycle. In his letter, Foote seemed to be giving the remaining party leadership aligned with Howarth a bit of ominous tactical advice.
“The County Party that we once knew is no more,” the former right-hand man of ex-Chairman Bill Layton added. “Instead of tearing it down, we should be working together to ensure we win in November with people who have proven they can win. It’s time for transparency and time to end the practice that only a few make the decision for all. The County Chairman only has as much power as you relinquish to him.”
An LD8 municipal chairmen’s meeting is scheduled for Tuesday night.
The county Republicans, in league with Howarth’s ex-running mate, Republican Ryan Peters, are reportedly actively seeking a replacement for Howarth on the county-backed line in June’s primary.
After two years of losses, the Burlington County Democrats boast a 4-1 majority on the freeholder board. Democrats consider the seats of Howarth and Peters as probable pick ups in this upcoming November’s statewide Assembly elections when all 80 seats are on the ballot.