Timothy "Tim" Westra (born March 12, 1953) is an American politician who has served as the junior Senator from New Jersey since 2013. A member of the Democratic Party, he was elected to the Senate seat after serving as a Congressman for New Jersey's 1st District for 16 years. Westra was born and raised in Freehold, New Jersey. He is of Dutch and Irish descent through his father, and Italian through his mother. He graduated from Cornell in 1975, and received his MA in Political Science from Rutgers University in 1977. While a student, he was an active political organizer and labor activist, participating in strikes with numerous labor unions. In January 2019, Westra announced his intention to seek the 2020 Democratic nomination for president of the United States. His campaign is noted for its progressive message, as well as for his rejection of large donations from corporations, the financial industry, and any associated Super PAC.
Early Life and Education
Westra was born on March 12, 1953, in Freehold Township, a working-class town in New Jersey's Monmouth County. He lived in small apartment on South Street, a neighborhood of several lower-income families.
Westra's worked as a bus driver among other things; his father suffered from mental health issues through his life, which worsened in his later years. His mother was a legal secretary whom Westra has said was the main breadwinner in the family.
Westra became a star player on the school football team at his public school, and helped lead his team to the state high school championship. He was recruited by Cornell to play on their college football team. At Cornell, aside from his time playing football, Westra majored in History. After deciding to retire from football, he recieved his BA in 1975, and went on to study political science as his Master's degree at Rutgers University.
While at Rutgers, Westra became deeply involved the burgeoning labor movement of New Jersey. He started attending many union meetings, and conducted several of his college studies on American trade unions. Westra graduated from Rutgers in 1977.
After graduating from Rutgers, Westra worked on several local campaigns in New Jersey, becoming a well-known young political operative. In 1984, after working as deputy campaign manager for a New Jersey state senator, he established his own communications and legislative strategy firm, "The Win Company." Based in Newark, the firm worked mainly in connecting unions with legislators and candidates.
The firm continued to grow, and so Westra decided to expand the Win Company, moving it to Washington, D.C. In 1988, his communications firm was hired by New Jersey Senator Frank Lubintern's reelection campaign. After helping Lubintern win reelection, Tim was hired as a junior legislative and strategy consultant to Senator Lubintern. Lubintern was known for being a strong New Deal Liberal, a persona which Westra has been credited in shaping. Westra especially contributed in strengthening Lubintern's ties to New Jersey unions, and he helped union leaders voice their thoughts on the policy that the Senator drafted. In 1991, Westra was promoted to Senior Legislative Aide.
As Senator Lubintern's chief advisor on legislation, Westra was known as someone with a significant say in the policy debate. He pushed Lubintern to be a consumer right's champion; Westra was the chief author on the Senator's American Reinvestment Act of 1993. Had it passed, it would have greatly expanded the earned income tax credit and boosted the wealth of middle class families. However, Senator Ludinberg soon fell out of favor with the Democratic Party. The 1990s was the era of the New Democrats, led by President Clifford. Under the new president, the Democratic Party turned away from New Dealers like Senator Ludinberg and Tim Westra, instead turning to corporate centrism and party moderates. Despite the Senator's protestations, Westra pushed Ludinberg to continue being a bold New Dealer; Westra's legislative team helped lead the charge against the passage of NAFTA. But this led to a fall in Ludinberg's reputation amongst his colleagues. In mid 1994, Westra resigned from Senator Ludinberg's team. It is commonly speculated that Westra was dismissed for his dogged economic liberalism, at odds with Clifford's administration.
U.S. House of Representatives (1996-2012)
Westra's resignation was high-profile and made him a hot pundit in the media. He was present in several New York Times and Wall Street Journal articles, serving as a foil to the New Democrats who dominated the media. His economic progressivism also ensured that he remained popular with unions and workers in his home state of New Jersey. In 1996, Westra ran for Congress in the Democratic stronghold of New Jersey's 1st Congressional District. He had a relatively big advantage over his primary opponent, a retired Navy pilot, because of his widespread support from organized labor as well as most New Jersey politicians. He was also able to run a very efficient campaign, having been an experienced political operative himself.
Once he was elected to Congress, Westra became known as a politician who always considered labor concerns first. This did not always mean he identified with left-wing goals; when asked about single-payer healthcare in 2000, Westra stated he "didn't want to scrap coverage for union folks who battled hard to earn it." In the House, he founded the "Blue Collar Caucus" for Democrats from white working class districts. He voted against the repeal of Glass Steagall and introduced legislation that would further regulate Wall Street. His legislation from 2000, which failed to gain mass support in the party, is today seen as the precursor to what would become the [not Dodd Frank] Act almost a decade later. He voted against the Iraq War in 2002, and was a loud voice against the war.
He became a relatively established voice in the House when President Baharia was elected, along with a slew of liberal young Democrats. He was appointed as Assistant Whip in the House, and was seen by the party as a reliable liberal vote. He was reelected relatively comfortably in 2000, 2004, and 2008. He gathered accomplishments in that time, helping to push the Affordable Care Act through Congress, a law which he is a staunch defender of.
U.S. Senate (2012 -)
In 2012, upon the retirement of Senator Ludinberg, Westra ran for the open New Jersey senate seat. He was endorsed by the retiring Senator, for whom he had worked as an aide so many years ago. He defeated two primary opponents, one being a colleague from the House and the other being a former District Attorney from the state. The general election, however, proved to be more difficult. Four women anonymously revealed to the press that he'd had extramarital relationships with them at different points in his career. Westra's wife left him, and he took a hit in the polls. He managed to edge out a win, 52% to 48%, but not unscathed. He has largely recovered from these old allegations.
In the Senate, Westra has often been identified as a member and leader of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, along with colleagues such as Senator Abigail Winthrop and Senator Levi Murphy. He has authored legislation aimed at assisting workers and holding corporations accountable, including the Corporate Freeloader Fee Act, which would impose a fee on high-value companies with low wages.
2020 Presidential Campaign
Westra entered the Democratic presidential primary in January of 2019, becoming the first Democrat to officially announce his candidacy. His opening rally was held in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and he released an ad titled "Mark's Story" that soon went viral.
His campaign has so far been defined by his progressive policy proposals such as Medicare for America (a public health coverage option), a Guaranteed Minimum Income by expanding tax credits for working Americans, and advocating for renegotiation and posdible withdrawal from trade deals like NAFTA.
He raised $2.6 million in the first few weeks of his candidacy.