By David Wildstein, December 16 2022 10:16 am

New Jerseyans aren’t always civil, but it’s still possible for a liberal Democrat and a conservative Republican to have a rational and pleasant conversation about politics in the state.  Dan Bryan is a former senior advisor to Gov. Phil Murphy and now the owner of his own public affairs firm, and Alex Wilkes is an attorney and former executive director of America Rising PAC who advises Republican candidates in New Jersey and across the nation.  Dan and Alex are both experienced strategists who are currently in the room where high level decisions are made.  They will get together every week with New Jersey Globe editor David Wildstein to discuss politics and issues.
Question:  In the wake of cryptocurrency entrepreneur Sam Bankman-Fried’s arrest on Monday, some in Congress – among them Josh Gottheimer – have called for more crypto oversight from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Should the failures at FTX prompt greater government regulation of cryptocurrency?  Ought crypto-friendly lawmakers from both parties take some of the responsibility?
Alex: I think that Congress should be careful not to overreact to FTX’s shocking failures and ought to craft a measured approach. To the extent that centralized exchanges, such as FTX, exhibit the characteristics of securities markets, I believe that Congress should regulate those transactions like traditional securities transactions. Essentially, the SEC’s role should be to protect investors by ensuring proper disclosure of the risk factors of these investments. I don’t think, however, that the decentralized market for crypto, which does not function through middlemen, should be subject to the same oversight. The free and open exchange of information gives consumers everything they need to make an informed decision.
Josh Gottheimer, member of the so-called “Blockchain 8” and prolific daytrader, may be the wrong messenger on this. The Congressman not only accepted contributions from FTX but was also a signatory to a March 16th  letter reprimanding the SEC for looking into this matter. Don’t get me wrong: I am all for Congress smacking down overzealous little Executive Branch bureaucrats. But to do so while also receiving money from a company with a compelling interest in discouraging regulation that was defrauding its customers? Something stinks there.
Dan: I’m glad to see a renewed call for stronger crypto oversight. We can’t depend on public information to regulate the crypto market in the same way we shouldn’t depend on illness and death to regulate food safety. I’d rather we ensure people aren’t fleeced of their life savings in the first place, rather than hold those who are up as a warning to future investors.
Responsible US-based crypto companies have been working with the authorities for years on sensible regulations because they care about the sustainability of their industry. But over 95% of trading activity happens on overseas platforms (like FTX, which was based in Bermuda). Until we make a serious effort to regulate the entirety of the crypto industry, we’ll see more FTX-like meltdowns.
Smart economists like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz have been skeptical of any practical use of cryptocurrency from day one. So far, crypto looks far more like snake oil than a safe investment alternative. Hopefully anyone putting any money in cryptocurrency is doing it in the same way they’d gamble at a casino: not wagering any amount they can’t comfortably lose.
Question:  New Jersey had 14 separate Election Days in 2022, some of them in local races where voter turnout was in the single digit range.  What’s the point of holding elections when virtually nobody shows up?
Dan: If towns can consolidate their elections to November, they should. When I served as the Chief of Staff in Hoboken, we moved the municipal and school board elections to November, the same day as state and federal general elections. The result was vastly increased participation in local elections and less voter fatigue.
Governor Murphy and Democrats in the Legislature have passed a broad agenda to expand democracy, including expanding the option to vote by mail, introducing the option to vote early in-person, and implementing automatic voter registration and online voter registration, among other initiatives.
They also passed and signed Laura Wooten’s law, strengthening civics instruction in New Jersey so we can educate our children on the importance of voting. We’ll likely always have the occasional election where not many people show up. We should do everything we can to make it easier to vote, including reducing the number of elections. But democracy has always been decided by those who choose to show up.
Alex: To the extent that municipalities can consolidate elections to save taxpayers money and to enhance the visibility of these contests, I think that they should. Otherwise, I believe that local governments and voters should get to decide these matters.
Question: A bipartisan coalition of elected officials and unions want the state to use federal COVID relief funds to ease the effect of a 22.8% health care cost hike for many government workers across the state, suggesting that there will be political consequences if the hike causes huge property tax increases next year. How big an issue will this be in the 2023 elections and are state officials doing enough to avert a crisis?
Alex: This was a five alarm fire that Murphy knew about well in advance of the announcement this fall. It’s yet another reminder of the complete managerial incompetence of this Administration. From the meltdowns at the Motor Vehicle Commission and Department of Labor over the past few years to the shameful COVID fatalities in state facilities, Murphy has demonstrated over and over again that he is not up to the task of day-to-day governing.
It is possible, however, that federal dollars may rescue Murphy from his own deficiencies yet again and paper over the harsh realities of this increase for taxpayers. I support using unspent COVID funds to prevent yet another blow to already overtaxed New Jerseyans, but this is exactly why President Biden’s inflationary, “Blue State Bailout” was ultimately such a con. Not only did it create a massive hit to consumers at the pump and grocery store, it also allowed policymakers to avoid the consequences of their bad policy making. If lawmakers are unable to come to a deal, I think this will be an absolutely unavoidable issue for the Democrats in the upcoming election because voters will feel the impact acutely.
Dan: Governor Murphy has done more on healthcare affordability than any Governor in recent history. He established a state-based healthcare exchange, a commonsense move that his predecessor wouldn’t do in fear of being criticized for ideological disloyalty. That exchange allowed for the distribution of hundreds of millions of dollars to New Jerseyans, and led to some of the best metrics on healthcare affordability in the country over the past five years.
Unfortunately, like most states, the reality of the pandemic is now catching up with us. Many people who put off routine care during the pandemic are now catching up, and after years of decreases or no rate increases, we’re now facing a significant hike. Rates will likely stabilize moving forward, when consumption normalizes. The Governor is right to work with his Office of Healthcare Affordability and Transparency and the Legislature to do everything possible to control the cost of healthcare moving forward, including prescription drug prices.
Meanwhile, New Jersey Republicans have the same issue on healthcare that they do on so many of the other issues that they like to issue press releases about: they have absolutely no plan to control or lower healthcare costs. While Democrats work together to tackle the issue head on and deliver for New Jerseyans, Republicans yell loud enough in hopes of distracting voters from their abysmal record.
Question:  There’s a bill being fast-tracked in the legislature to shield the home addresses of candidates from being part of the public record.  Supporters say people in government are potential targets, but opponents argue that it stands in the way of transparency with no way to check public records.  What’s the right answer? 
Dan: Transparency in government is important, but it needs to be balanced with the need for safety. We are living through an unfortunate time of political violence in this country, from the events of January 6th to the home invasion and attack on Paul Pelosi, the Speaker’s husband. Right here in New Jersey, a federal judge’s son was killed in her home by an attacker.
As with all legislation, the details are important in making sure the balance is right. But I don’t blame members of the Legislature for wanting to keep themselves and their families safe from extremist attacks, whether or not members of the media think that concern is overblown.
Serving in public office in New Jersey (and beyond) is often a thankless job. The pay isn’t great, you become a target for public ridicule, and more than occasionally, you receive threats of violence. If we can take simple steps to encourage members of our community to run for public office and feel safe doing it, we should.
Alex: Political violence has become a particularly worrisome problem in our society. While our expanded ability to communicate and access information has been transformational in our lifetime, its misuse has had tragic results.
I still believe that the public’s need for transparency outweighs the threat of violence. This, of course, does not mean that we should not address these challenges in other ways, like enhanced security measures, training for local police departments, etc., but property transactions are an essential part of assessing a candidacy.
I do, however, believe there is a difference between candidates who choose to put their name on a ballot and members of the judiciary. I think that in order to have a functioning legal system, we need to better protect these public figures, including shielding their personal addresses.  What happened to Judge Salas and her family here in New Jersey is an unimaginable tragedy, and we know that recently one was narrowly escaped at the home of Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh. Judges should be allowed to rule freely without fear for their personal safety.


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