Everyone hates gridlock in Washington. It seems as if all votes fall along party lines, and no one can see a way to compromise that might lead to solutions to some of our most intractable problems.
Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat seeking a second term representing the 5th District in the House, arrived in Washington looking for a way to break this logjam. Early in his term, he co-founded the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of 24 Democrats and 24 Republicans that he co-chairs. The members seek common ground on issues and pledge to vote as a block on measures that 75 percent of them agree on. It’s a way to give some weight to the views of individual members who occupy the center on important issues and disavow the extremes in Congress.
Whether or not Gottheimer’s group has yet had a significant success, its existence is a testimony to the impact of a freshman congressman. He promised to govern by reaching across the aisle to build relationships with his Republican counterparts, and he’s done just that.
Campaigning in 2016, Gottheimer often sounded like a Republican, calling for lower taxes, fewer regulations on business, and strengthening national security in the face of terrorist threats. On issues such as defense, immigration and job creation he is similarly conservative. And rather than vote in lockstep with the Democratic leadership — in fact, he’s open to new leadership in his party — he is guided by what he believes is best for the 5th District.
Meanwhile, back home, Gottheimer has excelled at constituent service. In his efforts to “claw back” federal tax money to New Jersey that otherwise might go to “moocher states” (a clever, catchy terminology), he has delivered grants and equipment for law enforcement and first responders, and aid to individuals, such as an 85-year-old Vernon woman whom he helped to receive $7,500 for home repairs.
Gottheimer has lent his influence to Sussex County’s primarily Republican governing officials in dealing with intransigent bureaucracy. He has personally intervened with the Democratic administration of Gov. Phil Murphy on several issues, such as the plan for a steel fence along the rock wall of Interstate 80 in Knowlton and the growing pile in Vernon of what officials suspect is dangerous waste. He helped initiate a commuter bus from Vernon to New York City (an abbreviated trial, unfortunately) and joined with mayors from five towns to help them seek improved broadband access. He regularly holds outreach sessions over coffee with constituents. Most gratifyingly, he returns calls from those seeking his help.
Gottheimer’s Republican opponent, former Cresskill Councilman John McCann, also points to a record of bipartisan achievement. As general counsel to the Bergen County Sheriff’s Department, he touts his role in a money-saving merger of that department’s officers with the county’s separate police force — a merger he says Democrats backed but his Republican colleagues opposed.
McCann has an interest in health care issues going back to his advisory role to U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter on the 1993 Clinton health care plan, which he helped to scuttle. But even as he argues that the Affordable Care Act’s bureaucratic structure undermines the doctor-patient relationship, he fails to articulate clearly his alternative approach to this issue — or indeed his views on many issues facing the district and the nation. He has not made a compelling case for his own candidacy.
Gottheimer’s 2016 defeat of seven-term Republican Rep. Scott Garrett signaled that voters of the 5th District were willing to take a chance on an unproven Democrat who promised to be their advocate. Now, after two years in office, Gottheimer says we should judge him on his record.
Two years in Washington is not much time, yet Gottheimer already has much to show for it. We see no reason he should not be returned to Congress to build upon the accomplishments of his first term. The Herald endorses Josh Gottheimer for Congress from the 5th District.