Golden’s party dominates countywide politics in Monmouth. He’s also sometimes mentioned as a potential candidate for governor in 2025.
The bill’s Senate sponsor is Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth), who Golden is targeting for defeat in this year’s elections, and who is also sometimes mentioned as a potential future gubernatorial candidate.
“This bill is a retaliatory attempt by Sen. Gopal to punish me directly. There’s no other elected official in the State of New Jersey that this bill targets other than yours truly sitting at this table,” Golden said. “I will raise my voice and I will be sure that I point out the targeting that is taking place. Sen. Gopal is using his senatorial power recklessly and dangerously.”
While Golden is the only current constitutional officer who now chairs a political party, historically there have been others. Two powerful Democratic county organizations, for instance, were fairly recently led by constitutional officers: In Middlesex County, disgraced former Sheriff Joseph Spicuzzo served as party chair until 2011, when he first faced corruption charges; and in Essex County, the late Phil Thigpen served as Democratic chair and county surrogate.
The bill was introduced in the previous legislative session by former Republican Assemblymember Serena DiMaso — who lost the 2021 Republican primary after Golden pulled support from her campaign — but it has not advanced until now.
Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee noted that a similar bill passed in 2018 with strong bipartisan support, S-880, that would have barred only county clerks from being political chairs of municipal, county or state committees. State Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-Passaic), who was a prime sponsor of that bill, said during the committee meeting that it was a “different scenario” and emphasized that clerks are directly involved in elections.
Golden said the bill is advancing now because he began gathering information on the Vin Gopal Civic Association, which he alleged was illegally used by Gopal to pursue political ends and promote fellow Democrats.
“He continues to use and promote the name and likeness of other Democratic office-holders in the district while only using retired Republicans,” Golden said. “He does so all while skirting and bypassing the election law. Donors who have contributed to Sen. Gopal’s official election account and have maxed out the same, also contribute the Vin Gopal Civic Association without limit.”
Assembly Judiciary Chair Raj Mukherji (D-Hudson) said that numerous politicians of both parties have a civic association, including himself, and that the bill has nothing to do with it.
“I’m the sponsor of the bill in this house, and we have not met before this day,” he said. “Are you suggesting my sponsorship of this bill has to do with a 501(c)3 in Monmouth County?”
Gopal refuted that he has infused politics with his civic association, and noted that his association has supported groups like the Monmouth Ocean Foundation for Children, where Golden sits on the board. He also noted he started the association before he was elected to the Senate, and it has awarded Republicans including former Sen. Joe Kyrillos and former Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. Guadagno was also on the board, he said.
“Our board is comprised of everybody. There’s no politics involved,” Gopal said.
According to Gopal, Golden has not directly reached out regarding the bill and the two haven’t spoken in over a year.
Golden said the bill violates his freedom of association — a point backed up by Dale Florio, a lobbyist for the Constitutional Officers Association of New Jersey, which opposes the legislation. .
“The county officers are elected by the voters. Party chairs, vice chairs, other members of the executive committee are elected by the county committee, who are elected by the voters,” Florio, a former Somerset County Republican chair, said.
Golden told reporters he would have “no choice but to file legal action” if the bill became law.
Some Republicans spoke out in favor of the legislation, such as Gary Rich, who unsuccessfully challenged Golden in the 2022 Republican primary. Other Republicans testified in favor who have been allied with Golden’s intraparty rivals, like far-right radio host Bill Spadea, who’s defended the legislation, and Ocean County GOP Chair George Gilmore, who has not weighed in on the legislation but who does not get along with Golden. Former 2022 Republican Congressional candidate Mike Crispi, whose campaign Spadea backed, testified in favor of the bill.
Crispi said that during his campaign in the 4th District, which contains most of Monmouth County, “many people were intimidated.”
“They couldn’t talk. I spoke to hundreds of county committee people in the election, they said ‘I just do what the chairman tells me’ and they slam the door.”
Crispi accused Assemblymember Vicky Flynn (R-Monmouth), who spoke out against the bill, of being “coached” on what to say. Flynn denied that.
“You need a compelling state interest to do something like this. We have heard nothing,” Flynn said.
Other Republicans opposed the bill. Sen. Michael Testa (R-Cumberland), chair of the Cumberland County GOP, said the bill is “a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.” Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-Morris) said the bill “puts us clearly in the middle of a political battle.”
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