Democrats do get excited over Republican retirements. As things stand now in New Jersey, full of people incensed by President Trump and recently departed GOP Governor Chris Christie, the 11th Congressional District, a longtime Republican stronghold, may turn blue in the fall.
But for commuters and travelers wanting to get from New Jersey to New York, it’s tough to be completely enthused about the departure of Republican House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, who this week announced he wouldn’t run for re-election in New Jersey’s 11th.
Even with more conservative Republicans accusing Frelinghuysen of flirting with earmarks, the 12-term Republican somehow managed to secure hundreds of millions in funding for the Gateway Program—the $30 billion infrastructure project to replace and upgrade the 19th century cross-Hudson antiques that currently connect the two states.
Doing away with earmarks seemed a good idea to Republicans and some pliable Democrats back in the sands of time (2010 to be exact). But living without earmarks—a convention that forced members of Congress to give in order to get—has pretty much turned the body into a hornets’ nest of aging Republicans refighting sectional battles: sticking it to the so-called coastal elites and steering funds that could build tunnels and bridges between New Jersey and New York (and more than a few other places) into tax cuts for their campaign donors.
Frelinghuysen may have violated Republican orthodoxy by working with Democrats to secure funding for the tunnels and voting against the GOP tax plan (which clearly penalized his New Jersey constituents). But one of the wealthiest men in Congress went wobbly on the Affordable Care Act, which he voted to repeal (despite his initial opposition to the repeal-and-replace effort); earned his constituents’ wrath for not holding town hall meetings; and sparked NJ 11th for Change, a fired-up grassroots movement dedicated to throwing him out of Congress.
In the end, he couldn’t deliver for the Hudson tunnels, either. At the end of December, Frelinghuysen got royally screwed over by the president, who elected not to support the Obama administration’s Gateway funding program after all. It will likely require a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress—which might well include a Democratic successor to Frelinghuysen—to come up with the funds for the tunnels.
The seat has been in the hands of Republican since 1985, and Hillary Clinton lost the district by only one percentage point in 2016. The 11th Congressional District, a wealthy, moderate, suburban area outside New York City, could be a good get for the blue team this fall: Already two Democratic women are in the race to succeed Frelinghuysen.
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