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Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for being here.
STATE REP. JOHN WISNIEWSKI (D), NEW JERSEY: Good to be here, Rachel.
MADDOW: Was I unfair of my characterization of New Jersey Democrats there?
WISNIEWSKI: No, your characterization was correct. But I think you have to take it from a context that a majority of Democrats who are elected in New Jersey in the general assembly and the state Senate, 70 percent of the Democrats in the assembly voted no on this bill, 66 percent of the Democrats in the state Senate voted no.
So, there was a small portion of Democrats in both houses that sided with the Republicans on this bill and got it done.
We fought real hard because what this bill does, it"s an attack on the middle class. It"s an attack on the people who teach our children and who protect our cities and fight our fires. And what this bill does is it makes them bear the responsibility for a lot of problems that were not of their making.
And so, we fought real hard. But, unfortunately, there were some Democrats who chose the side with the Republicans on this bill.
MADDOW: Does the fact that nearly one-third of Democrats did peel off and go with the Republicans on this mean that people should not see union rights and protecting union rights as a core issue for the Democratic Party anymore in the Northeast?
WISNIEWSKI: No, I think that the Democratic Party will always be standing side by side with labor.
If you look at all of the things that Democrats and labor have done together--I mean, if you like the weekend, Democrats working with labor have created the weekend by making sure there are laws that prevent employers from abusing their employees. If you like a 40-hour workweek, that"s something Democrats and labor have done. And we"ve always been together, and we always will.
This represents a rare occasion where a severe minority of Democrats in New Jersey sided with Republicans on an issue that I think over the long run"s not going to benefit our state. I mean, everybody talks about how we have to avoid the status quo. We need to do something and we all agree.
This doesn"t fix the problem. It pushes the problem down the road.
And it pushes it on the backs of people who can"t afford to fix it.
MADDOW: What"s going to be the cost to what you describe as a severe minority of Democrats there? They were an important margin here in this victory. What"s the cost to them? Does the party continue to support them?
I know that people who support labor rights, union members, people who are demonstrating in Trenton are very angry with the Democrats who peeled off on this.
WISNIEWSKI: Well, I think the difference between the Democratic Party and Republican Party and that"s where this is significant, is we have a party that"s a big tent and we have lots of people in our party who believe in a lot of different things. We don"t exclude people from our party because of votes they make. That"s the hallmark of Republicans. It"s a litmus test.
Chris Christie is living proof of that litmus test. He wants to check all the boxes so that he can be somebody on the national stage. Democratic Party doesn"t operate that way. And while we have disagreements about particular bills, the long-term history and the future of the Democratic Party is always going to be with labor.
MADDOW: Litmus test is one way to look at it. Standards, core principles is another way to look at it.
MADDOW: And I think the reason this has been such a surprise to see the way this has unfolded in New Jersey is that I don"t think that people who are in favor of things ever call it a litmus test, but people really thought that supporting union rights was a core Democratic issue and that if you didn"t do that, you probably were a Republican, frankly.
WISNIEWSKI: Well, a majority--you have to point out, though, a majority of Democrats did not support this bill. And this minority, you know, the speaker, the Senate president--look, they thought that they were solving a problem. I think they went about it the wrong way. I would have done it differently.
But they believed that they were solving a problem. You know, the speaker talked about making sure that municipalities don"t have to lay off police officers.
This bill"s not going to stop layoffs, and it"s not going to hire one more cop. And I think that"s the mistake that this bill undertakes is it doesn"t solve the core problem about the affordability of health care. All it does is shift the burden. It doesn"t change the affordability of our pension system when the state has not been making its contribution to the pension fund.
It"s not the employees" fault. We need to make it better. We need to fix it. But making the employees bear the responsibility is the wrong way to go.
MADDOW: Why has the state not been living up to its side of the financial obligations on things like--on things like pensions? I mean, the public workers have been contributing to their pensions and to their health care. They have paid everything that they are supposed to be paying.
But the state is the one that"s not been meeting their obligations.
MADDOW: Why is that?
WISNIEWSKI: It goes back to a governor, another Christie we had, Christine Todd-Whitman, who did a borrowing to refinance the pension fund. And we were able--the state of New Jersey was able to skate for a couple years without making payments. It"s like not making your mortgage payment. You take that money and go out to dinner and you go on vacations.
And when you start having to make that payment again, it"s hard to go back to doing that.
And that"s what happened to the state. We had a pension holiday. The state didn"t make its payments. And now the state is behind in making its contributions.
And so, the solution, which is wrong, is saying to the employees--well, you have too much. That"s the wrong answer. The state has to make its contributions.
Do we need to make improvements to the system? Sure. Every pension system can be improved. But it"s not right to say to the employees, the middle class of the state, that it"s your fault.
MADDOW: As the chair of the Democratic Party in New Jersey, people across the country are looking at this right now, particularly people who support union rights, how are--what is your assurance, if you have any, to those people who are worried that New Jersey represents an important policy-based abandonment of union causes by not being able to hold together the Democratic caucuses in the legislature this year?
WISNIEWSKI: Well, I think what they have to look at is that it is a small microcosm of a lot of large issues. Assemblyman Declan O"Scanlon, Republican on the budget committee, introduced a bill the other day to make New Jersey a right-to-work state. I mean, that"s the attack that"s coming, and that"s the attack the Democrats --
MADDOW: Do you call every Democrat to vote against that?
WISNIEWSKI: On that, absolutely. Absolutely.
MADDOW: All right, I"ll hold you to it.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski, New Jersey chairman of the Democratic Party, I really appreciate you coming in tonight. Thank you very much.
WISNIEWSKI: Rachel, thanks a lot.
MADDOW: Thank you. Good luck to you, sir.
WISNIEWSKI: Thank you.
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