The Golden Rule

Does the bill make sense? Or is that even the point?

On Thursday, proposed legislation to bar county constitutional officers (like sheriffs and clerks) from simultaneously leading county party organizations advanced out of committee in both chambers of the legislature. No one denies that the bill presently impacts one man, and one man only: Monmouth County Sheriff and GOP chairman Shaun Golden.

Other New Jersey county party chairmen are politically-connected lawyers with public contracts; some are elected officials in their own right, government employees, or even operatives who are paid by campaigns. Supporters of singling out county constitutional officers have, to date, declined to articulate why letting a sheriff (like Golden) exercise out-sized influence over the line is a problem while a chairman with local contracts or even a legislative vanity license plate is perfectly palatable. Senate President Nick Scutari serves as a senator and Union County Democratic chair; he voted for the bill without anyone noting the irony or hypocrisy. 

Perhaps there’s logic behind broader regulations on the activities of county party leaders? We could call it the “Scutari Rule”? But that’s not what this controversial bill – which got dropped from the Senate schedule on Friday – even pretends to be.

What we’re debating instead is the “Golden Rule,” a bill of dubious constitutionality aimed at a single individual and sponsored by his chief intra-county rival (Democrat Senator Vin Gopal of LD11, one of this cycle’s most vulnerable incumbents). Interestingly, we haven’t heard any specifics or seen any evidence regarding a way in which Golden has allegedly abused his power from either Gopal or anyone else. Did he detain a political rival in a county jail cell? Use sheriff’s officers to hand out literature on county time? Run over lawn signs in his department vehicle? If any of that happened, I’d certainly be interested in seeing any and all evidence. Thus far, none of that is being alleged so we can presume it isn’t happening.

The worst part of it all? Assuming consistency is something you value? Golden would need to resign within 120 days of passage. I guess all of that “we are the defenders of democracy” talk from Democrats continues to be nakedly disingenuous. Regardless of whether you think he should be allowed to occupy both posts, Golden was legitimately elected to both posts by Monmouth County residents. Again, no one is arguing otherwise. If you want to bar him from seeking reelection? Or grandfather him in and bar future officials from holding both offices (an accommodation which the legislature afforded itself when it banned dual office holding)? That’s a different debate than the one we’re having because of the language chosen by the sponsors.

What we really should be talking about then, in light of all of the above, is the clear demise of the original “Golden Rule” of our Republic:

American public institutions aren’t supposed to be weaponized against political opponents.

Ever since the successful Jeffersonian pushback against John Adams’s ill-fated Alien and Sedition Acts, Americans of all parties have believed that using the awesome power of the state to punish political opponents (and especially those not in power) was distasteful at best and a mortal civic sin at worst. From Watergate to Bridgegate and a thousand points in between, that principle has been defended by most in the arena. No more. In recent years, we’ve seen the FBI, the IRS, and other arms of government authority devolved into unambiguous and shameless cudgels to be used against political rivals.

This isn’t about Golden, folks. This shouldn’t be about 2023, 2025, or anything other than whether WE, as a people, want to go down the dark, dismal path to political anarchy which we’re currently traversing. It’s a road to ruin if history is any guide, and the people who run Trenton seem perfectly fine with that.

Are you?

Matt Rooney
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MATT ROONEY is's founder and editor-in-chief, a practicing New Jersey attorney, and the host of 'The Matt Rooney Show' on 1210 WPHT every Sunday evening from 7-10PM EST.