One of the most, if not the most, outrageous moves by a politician not named Donald Trump in recent memory came to light earlier this week. Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, got the bright idea to personally target one of his staunchest critics in New Jersey’s 11th District, Saily Avelenda. She is a member of the steering committee of NJ 11th for Change, a grassroots organization that wants the 11-term Republican to hold an in-person town hall in his northern New Jersey district.
Frelinghuysen responded in the worst possible way. After finding out that one of his longtime donors was on the board of the bank where Avelenda worked as an assistant general counsel, Frelinghuysen added a personal note to a boilerplate fundraising letter–one of the supposed “ringleaders” in the effort to derail the Republican agenda “works at your bank!” Avelenda was forced to write a letter to the bank CEO reaffirming that she was a “friend” of the bank, and the ensuing pressure ultimately forced her to resign.
Well, the folks at NJ 11th for Change aren’t taking this ham-handed response by their congressman lying down. Since February, the group has encouraged residents of the 11th to drop by Frelinghuysen’s district office in Morristown every Friday morning–an event called, appropriately, “Fridays With Frelinghuysen.” After signing in, small groups of participants go to the office to ask questions based on the events and votes of the past week.
At this Friday’s gathering, many members were sporting custom-made buttons reading “I Am A Ringleader.”
Coming to Friday's with Frelinghuysen tomorrow?
Linda's bringing new buttons! pic.twitter.com/sG3KcjVM5V
— NJ11forchange (@nj11forchange) May 18, 2017
Several 11th District residents started using the hashtags “#Ringleader”, “#IAmARingleader”, “#WeAreAllRingleaders,” and “#justiceforsaily” as well. Here’s a sample.
— Moira Nelson (@MoiraNelson) May 16, 2017
— Ebeth J (@mycornerof) May 16, 2017
— Christine Clarke 🌎 (@CCplusfour) May 16, 2017
— NJ11forchange (@nj11forchange) May 19, 2017
If Frelinghuysen hoped that his ham-handed bullying of Avelenda was going to make NJ 11th for Change back down, this response shows that he is sadly mistaken. This should be a nationwide battle cry. If speaking out about the issues of the day and exercising my First Amendment right to criticize our leaders makes me a “ringleader,” sign me up.
NJ 11th for Change has a simple message for Frelinghuysen–if he isn’t willing to be the moderate, independent voice that he claims to be in public, he needs to “step aside.” There’s actually a realistic chance that Frelinghuysen could be forced to step aside next November. Ever since it assumed its current lines in a 1984 court-ordered redistricting, the 11th has been a classic suburban Republican district. However, in 2016, Trump only took 49 percent of the vote to Hillary Clinton’s 48 percent–easily the closest that a Democratic presidential candidate has come to winning this district in more than 30 years.
The Democrats smelled blood in the water long before this outrageous stunt broke. For the first time since this district took its current shape, they are actively recruiting candidates a year in advance. This is no small consideration; any Democratic challenger will have to advertise on massively expensive New York City television.
— Bob Karp (@BobKarpDR) May 19, 2017
State assemblyman John McKeon is also taking a look at a possible run. After the news of the letter broke, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee started running digital ads against him.
We shouldn’t have to wait until November to make Frelinghuysen answer for this outrageous stunt, though. By writing that letter, he breached one of the most sacred trusts in our democracy. No one, regardless of party, should ever have to fear that their government will retaliate against them for speaking out. Not now. Not ever. If Frelinghuysen even thought this was a good idea, then he must resign, and he must resign now. Sign this petition and tell Frelinghuysen to step down.
(featured image courtesy Frelinghuysen’s congressional office, part of public domain)