Senator’s party switch is a bald move to cling to power

February 14, 2023 7:01 am

Sen. Sam Thompson, 87, has accused GOP leaders of ageism for not backing his reelection bid. (Hal Brown for New Jersey Monitor)

Sen. Sam Thompson’s party switch is craven even by New Jersey standards.

The longtime Republican senator isn’t becoming a Democrat because his own views have drifted from those of the Republican Party, or because the Democratic Party’s priorities are more in line with those of his constituents.

It’s because Thompson was facing a challenge in June from Republican Old Bridge Mayor Owen Henry, who could end Thompson’s nearly quarter-century legislative career. The GOP was going to back Henry, so Thompson thinks it’ll be easier to hold onto his seat if he runs as a Democrat.

Thompson isn’t hiding that he’s switching parties because GOP leaders were mean to him. He told reporters Monday that the Middlesex County GOP chair “suggested I am too old and may die in office.”

“Do I want to stay with people that want to cut my throat like that?” he asked.

Rob Bengivenga, the Middlesex GOP chair, denied he made those comments.

Thompson’s move puts Democratic power brokers in a pickle. His district, the 12th, has mostly been controlled by the GOP for decades, but the power of incumbency is so strong Thompson’s name ID could help flip the seat to the Democratic team after November’s legislative races.

Still, Democrats should consider Thompson’s views before deciding he should be their standard bearer in the 12th District.

He voted no on codifying abortion rights. He voted no on bail reform. He voted no on the recent bill restricting where people can carry guns. He voted no on early in-person voting. He voted no on the bill expanding job protections for temporary workers.

When the Legislature voted to codify same-sex marriage in December 2021, Thompson voted yes, but he voted no on the issue in 2012, when it would have mattered.

During an interview with NJ Spotlight News last week, Thompson called himself a “Trump guy” and said he would support Donald Trump again for president in 2024.

Despite this, Gov. Phil Murphy and other Democrats on Monday issued statements welcoming Thompson to the “big tent” Democratic Party. Such a big tent, it includes Republicans who call themselves Democrats just to spite GOP leadership.

Thompson is a conservative Republican, not a conservative Democrat. Which, fine! I’m all for political diversity. But Thompson is a Democrat in name only, one who cannot be trusted to vote for the party’s priorities or even to remain a Democrat if he manages to win reelection this fall. If that’s the kind of Democrat Murphy and the party want, that’s their choice. But they shouldn’t pretend that Thompson’s party switch is some kind of endorsement of Democratic Party values. No, it’s one senator’s gutless attempt to hold onto power.

I’ll add one more thing: After a chat with reporters on Monday, Thompson leaned over and kissed a New Jersey Monitor reporter on the cheek. Not only is this a flagrant violation that Thompson should apologize for, but it’s also confirmation that the 87-year-old senator is — as his critics allege — living under the cultural mores of a different century. If you’re a man and you need to be told not to kiss women who don’t know you, you shouldn’t be a policymaker.


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Terrence T. McDonald
Terrence T. McDonald

Editor Terrence T. McDonald is a native New Jerseyan who has worked for newspapers in the Garden State for more than 15 years. He has covered everything from Trenton politics to the smallest of municipal squabbles, exposing public corruption and general malfeasance at every level of government. Terrence won 23 New Jersey Press Association awards and two Tim O’Brien Awards for Investigative Journalism using the Open Public Records Act from the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. One politician forced to resign in disgrace because of Terrence’s reporting called him a "political poison pen journalist.”