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Buono’s Pick

Cross-posted at PolitickerNJ

What’s a guy got to do to get a major party Lieutenant Governor nomination in this state?  Barbara Buono’s pick of labor leader Milly Silva as her running mate means that women have been tapped for this post 80% of the time.  Of course, there have only been five LG nominees in the state’s history, so …

The Silva pick, though, sends a message that is different from the other female LG nominations.  Mainly, Buono is not trying to “balance” anything.

Current governor Chris Christie’s selection of Monmouth County Sheriff Kim Guadagno in 2009 was made in part to appeal to women voters, a segment Republicans tend to lose.  It was widely expected that former governor Jon Corzine would pick a woman as a matter of progressive principles.  Ironically, his initial inclination was to select Buono until a corruption sting netted dozens of public officials, leading him to choose Loretta Weinberg, who was seen as a squeaky clean veteran legislator.

Buono, on the other hand, picked someone who is just like her.  Not just in gender, but in ideology and policy priorities – liberal on social issues, strong labor supporter, wary of education reform policies, etc.

The one thing Silva doesn’t have is political experience.  And therein lies a key reason for the pick.

Some observers say this pick will help excite the Democratic base and perhaps bring greater labor support – in terms of both money and voter turnout assistance.  This is true to some extent.

On the other hand, Silva’s lack of experience in elected or appointed office have led some – and not just Republicans – to call her “unqualified” for the position – whose main job requirement is to step in if anything happens to the governor.   And that’s the point Buono is trying to make.  There aren’t enough women who have been allowed to rise in the halls of power.

Buono already knew this, but this governor’s race reinforced her feelings about the party.  It’s almost impossible for a woman to get ahead in the New Jersey Democratic Party unless it serves some ulterior motive of the party bosses.

Those who point to Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver as evidence to the contrary should pay close attention to her run for U.S. Senate.  There have been rumblings for months that her speakership is not secure after this election.  Moreover, when she attacks Cory Booker’s “coronation” on the campaign trail, she is also attacking the party bosses – specifically her heretofore patron Joe DiVincenzo – who are willing to toss her aside when the mood strikes.

Compare Oliver’s relationship with Joe D to Senate President Steve Sweeney’s relationship with George Norcross.  The men taken under powerbroker’s wings are close friends and confidants.  The women seem to be expendable.

The Milly Silva selection is Barbara Buono’s way of playing “powerbroker.”  She’s instantly elevated a young, charismatic labor leader to become a statewide political player.  Buono hopes this selection will turn Silva into a force that the state party has no choice but to reckon with; that Silva will be able to build a solid base where other women have not been able to do.

There is one thing about the Buono’s choice that is not unusual, though.   Women tend to get nominated to higher office as sacrificial lambs – when everyone else has written off any chance of success.  This seems to be another of those instances.

Given the likely outcome of this election, it’s hard to escape comparisons to Thelma and Louise.  By all accounts, Buono and Silva seem to be heading off a 30-point cliff.

In this case, though, Buono hopes that Silva will survive the crash and be able to demand the political support that she feels she’s been denied in her career.