20. Rep. John Kowalko
The pluses: A true progressive, unafraid to take unpopular stands, willing to be a public gadfly when needed, almost always a dependable vote for progressive principles, and a willing sponsor for progressive legislation.
The negatives: Alienates would-be allies, has trouble getting his legislation considered as a result, throws others under the bus.
I’ve written so much about John over the years that you’ve probably seen it all before. At first, he was a refreshing breath of progressive candor in the General Assembly, and I think he inspired others to embrace progressive principles.
However, over the years, the Newark Democrat has rendered himself less effective by publicly picking fights with colleagues and/or using back channels to diss those who at one time were allies. Oh, and by setting himself up as both the hero and victim of every fight he undertakes. Colleagues roll their eyes at such grandstanding tactics. He may not be past the point of no return, but he’s close.
John would benefit from trying to work the inside game. You can do it w/o abandoning your principles, but by learning how to effectively move those principles forward. That requires building genuine working relationships with legislators other than those who are the most loyal progressives. No progressive can pass legislation w/o expanding their base. At least not yet. If he does this, he can increase his effectiveness. If not, he will never rise above his current legislative station. He would also benefit from a change of caucus leadership as we know that Val Longhurst and, to a lesser extent, Speaker Schwartzkopf are not looking to do him any favors.
Bottom line: A strong voice for progressive causes. Not as effective as he could or should be in turning those causes into law.
42. Sen. Bob Venables
The pluses: A good Bond Bill chair who understands that capital investment in roads and schools is a good thing, first to really blow the whistle on the cost of prison expansion and minimum mandatory sentences, a genuinely nice person.
The minuses: A troglodyte on social issues, although, to his credit, he struggles with understanding this Brave New World where some of the the boys want to be with the boys and some of the the girls want to be with the girls. It’s not that he hates that world, he just doesn’t understand that world.
I admit I’m a little biased here. I worked for the Senate during much of Venables’ term, and it’s impossible to dislike him. He is able to separate his political and policy differences from his interaction with people. You’d like him if you knew him as well.
He is also probably as good as you could get from a senator representing the central/western part of Sussex County. Not saying a whole lot, I know, but an R is guaranteed to be worse. But there’s no denying that, on issues of equal rights, he’s not gonna be there, and he won’t be with progressives on abortion or gun issues either. The good news is that he can’t do much harm in the Senate in its current configuration.
Bottom Line: Graded on a curve when it comes to Sussex County legislators, he’s about where you’d expect him to be. Better than the alternative, IMHO. Better than Thurman Adams, not as good as Richard Cordrey.