New scorecard gives a ‘C’ to N.J. lawmakers on racial equity issues

Lawmakers were judged on their voting records and bill sponsorship across several pillars, including economic issues, housing, criminal justice, and more.

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File photo: The New Jersey State House is seen in Trenton, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

File photo: The New Jersey State House is seen in Trenton, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

A non-partisan New Jersey action fund advocating for racial equity released a report this week scoring all 120 state lawmakers on their commitment to the cause.

The lawmakers got a grade equivalent to a “C.”

In its “Equitable Opportunity Scorecard,” the New Jersey Black Empowerment Coalition Action Network, or NJBECAN, gave each lawmaker a letter grade for how closely they align with the action fund on issues related to education, housing, healthcare, economics, criminal justice, environmental justice, and election fairness.

“I think for voters, this tool will help them be more effective and efficient with how they think about advocacy because they can better understand, on both sides of the aisle, which legislators are more inclined to support a bill in a certain category,” said Tomas Varela Jr., executive director of the NJ Black Empowerment Action Coalition Action Network.

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The report found that Black lawmakers were more likely to advocate for issues that align with the action fund’s agenda on equity. Of the 20 lawmakers who scored a “B” or higher, nine are Black and five are people of color.

Republicans did not receive a comprehensive grade higher than a “C,” and the report criticized Democratic leaders’ priorities..

“These grades shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone following the state government over the last couple of years,” Nicole Rodriguez, president of New Jersey Policy Perspective, said. “Just look at the latest state budget, where lawmakers approved billions of dollars in tax cuts that will disproportionately benefit white residents. At the same time, they’re passing new tough on crime laws that we all know will lock up more Black and brown people without making our communities safer. Advancing racial justice and closing the wealth gap will require thoughtful and targeted public policies, not more of the same ones that got us here.”

Notably, Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter, D-Passaic, chair of the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus, received an overall grade of a “C,” including an “F” for education-related issues.

Sumter told WHYY News she disagreed with her ratings, especially on education. She questioned the methodology and pointed to her years-long push for reparations over slavery and her support for a law that increases funding for some school districts.

“I take umbrage with those grades,” Sumter said. “I don’t think it’s a fair representation of my body of work.”

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NJBECAN primarily factored voting record, sponsorship, and committee actions into the scorecard. The organization also said absences played a role in the scoring process.

NJBECAN partnered with national research and data firm HIT Strategies to complete the project. The scorecard is based on about 1,000 bills from legislative sessions between 2020 to early 2023. Researchers did not include policies enacted last month in New Jersey’s latest budget plan.

Varela said he hopes the scorecard will educate New Jersey voters ahead of November’s general election, when all state lawmakers go to the polls.

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