Sometimes when you see a large protest, it’s hard to believe that it is not going to change things.
Recently, I have been thinking of the very loud and well-populated protests that NJEA, as well as other public employee unions, staged last June over the pension and health benefit reform measures passed by the Legislature. It was an impressive sight. Thousands of people were standing and shouting in brutally hot weather to make their opinion known. I thought about them, not so much when the November legislative election results came in, but during the Legislature’s internal elections to determine who would fill each party’s leadership spots.
If you remember back in June when thousands of union members filled the street, their anger was not aimed solely at Gov. Christie. Much of it was focused on the Democrats who supported the pension and health benefit reforms–most notably Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver. The unions held signs that assured the legislators that come November the workers would remember their support for the reforms. The Democratic Party seemed split and, in fact, I wrote an article, called Governor Christie and the Democrats – Divide and Conquer, which outlined this event and the divide it created among the Democrats in the Legislature. Many observers wondered if Sweeney and Oliver would survive this discord and retain their leadership positions. Others wondered if it would affect the legislative races also.
In the November elections, the NJEA withheld support for the two Democratic leaders, as well as others who had supported the reforms. Since most Democrats in the Legislature had not supported the bills and the public employee unions were upset, it was plausible that their leadership might be challenged, especially in the Assembly where it was reported that some lawmakers were seriously pursuing the possibility of changing leadership. After all, doing that might placate the unions which are a core base of the Democratic Party.
So what happened – less than six months later? (more…)