As the GOP primary season in New Jersey enters the critical final five weeks before Garden State Republicans go to the polls and vote on June 5, the time has come to do some serious vetting of incumbent congressman Leonard Lance, who represents the 7th Congressional District (which comprises all of Hunterdon, most of Somerset, a third of both Warren and Morris and the suburban municipalities in Union and Essex counties).
In this series, we’ll scrutinize Mr. Lance’s words and deeds, with particular focus on the votes he cast in the House of Representatives for legislation that seriously and profoundly impacts Americans beyond the confines of the 7th Congressional District.
I’m sure that at some point in your life you heard someone declare authoritatively that “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” in an effort to defend behavior or habits that are erratic or unpredictable. If so, then what you heard was a misquote of a line from the essay “Self Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Here is the correct text:
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.
What a difference a missing modifier makes! “Foolish” consistency is the unthinking and almost reflexive habit of doing the same things repeatedly over a long period of time not because they are proper, just or productive but because the routine is established and must be maintained for its own sake.
In politics, the wisely consistent legislator or executive is one who comports himself according to firmly established principles – be they liberal principles or conservative ones. As I am a conservative Republican, it follows that my attention is drawn to the Republican Party in general and conservative Republicans in particular. Needless to say, it is my desire that all Republican legislators and executives manifest a wise consistency in their political comportment.
Not long after he was sworn into office in January of 2009, Mr. Lance stayed true to his environmentalist leanings and voted in favor of the American Clean Energy and Security Act (HR 2454), otherwise known as “Cap & Trade.” Interestingly enough, PSE&G – a major energy utility that services New Jersey – also supported Cap & Trade and sponsors a PAC that happens to be a major donor to the Lance campaign.
Lance, who said he welcomed “vigorous discussion” about the cap and trade legislation, said that his detractors should not be surprised by his vote.
“I indicated last year that I did not favor a carbon tax and instead wanted to investigate cap and trade,” he said. “I’m a strong environmentalist and that was part of my campaign.”
As it turned out, Cap & Trade amounted to the practical equivalent of a carbon tax – and Lance voted for it on June 26, 2009. But in the wake of the Tea Party movement that erupted early in 2009 and spilled over into the primaries and general election of 2010, Mr. Lance later changed his tune. In a May 2011 article, uber-liberal Newark Star Ledger columnist Tom Moran laments:
He once vehemently supported a cap-and-trade bill to fight climate change, and now he’s against it. He even voted to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of the power to regulate carbon emissions in more measured ways, giving aid and comfort to the troglodytes who see climate change as a hoax.
Fear not, you Gaia worshiping tree huggers. Mr. Lance’s seeming apostasy is a conditional one:
On climate change, he says his flip-flop is based on his concern that China and India won’t enact restrictions of their own.
“I see no indication that they want to discuss this,” he says. “We cannot be put at a disadvantage against them.”
And Lance still defects from the Republican Party on a range of environmental issues. Most recently, he was one of a handful of Republicans who voted against the plan to rush offshore drilling projects, including off the coast of New Jersey.
“I’ve always tried to vote my conscience,” he says.
According to Mr. Lance, if China and India were willing to abide by the very restrictions he voted to impose on the United States, he would flip-flop once more and support a Cap & Trade scheme that would only minimally impact greenhouse gas emissions while discriminating against the nuclear power industry and ultimately causing energy prices in New Jersey to skyrocket.
In a July 1, 2009 column posted at PolitickerNJ, Alan J. Steinberg, former EPA Regional Administrator for the Bush 43 administration, minced no words in expressing his disappointment with Mr. Lance:
To put Lance’s vote in perspective, compare his “yes” vote on ACESA with the “no” votes on the bill of his fellow northwest New Jersey Representatives Rodney Frelinghuysen and Scott Garrett. Throughout their respective tenures in the House of Representatives, both Frelinghuysen and Garrett have been loyal to principle, insightful in their judgment, and willing to incur public criticism on a vote involving their core beliefs. These are two outstanding members of the House of Representatives who are a genuine source of pride to New Jersey Republicans. On ACESA, their “no” votes demonstrated their courage and wisdom.
By contrast, Leonard Lance tries to be all things to all people. I remember him speaking at a meeting of Alan Ashkinaze’s Tuesday Group in 2003, claiming that he was a strict constructionist on judicial matters, yet explaining why he had to vote for the reappointment of his good friend Deborah Poritz as Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court.
He claims to be in favour of nuclear power, yet in voting for ACESA, he voted for a measure that would sharply hinder the growth of nuclear energy.
He claims to be a fiscal conservative, yet he voted for paid family leave for federal employees.
Enough is enough. Lance is undoubtedly popular with wine and brie Republicans, but he has lost any claim of loyalty from the grassroots. I will not become involved in a 2010 primary campaign against Leonard Lance, but I will not oppose anybody who does.
There is an old aphorism that tells us a
leopard Leonard never changes his spots – a fact of political life that ought to be as clear to the Republican voters of District 7 as it is clear to the American Conservative Union, which today endorsed David Larsen over Leonard Lance – who claims to be the “principled conservative” in this race:
“David Larsen is the clear conservative choice in the Republican Primary. On a wide range of issues, from reining in runaway spending, energy independence or the rights of the unborn, David Larsen supports the mainstream conservative position. The incumbent, Leonard Lance received one of the lowest ratings for a Republican in the entire congress in 2011, 44 out of 100, showing that he is clearly out of the mainstream for conservatives,” said ACU Al Cardenas, “The ACU PAC urges all conservatives in New Jersey’s 7th District to support David Larsen in the Republican Primary June 5th.”
I’m at a loss to explain why ANY self-respecting conservative Republican would support Mr. Lance for Congress when David Larsen – whose integrity and conservatism are above reproach – stands ready to take his place.