Donald Payne Jr. was born in Newark, New Jersey on December 17, 1958. After studying graphic arts at Kean University, he worked as director of student transportation at the Essex County (New Jersey) Educational Services Commission, and was employed for some time by the New Jersey Highway Authority. Payne was also a member of Essex County’s Board of Chosen Freeholders from 2005-12, an at-large representative of the Newark City Council from 2006-12, and the president of Newark’s Municipal Council from 2010-12. On November 6, 2012, he won a special election, as a Democrat, to fill the vacant U.S. House seat (representing New Jersey’s 10th Congressional District) that his late father, Donald Payne Sr., had occupied for the previous 23 years. Upon joining Congress, the younger Payne also became a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Shortly after Congress had approved a $700 billion bailout of financial services firms in October 2008, Payne was one of six Democratic members of Congress who enjoyed a Caribbean junket sponsored by Citigroup in November. According to the National Legal and Policy Center, a watchdog group, the trip violated House rules: “The ‘lead sponsor’ was Citigroup, which contributed $100,000. Citigroup was certainly aware that it would be a major recipient of bailout funds. It was also aware that its fortunes had become increasingly reliant on Congressional actions. Citigroup should have also been aware that corporate sponsorship of such an event was banned by House rules adopted on March 1, 2007, in response to the [lobbyist Jack] Abramoff scandal and the infamous golf trip to Scotland.” Joining Payne on the trip were Charles Rangel, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, Bennie Thompson, and Donna Christensen.
Payne is a staunch advocate of comprehensive immigration reform that would enable the “11 million undocumented workers” who “live in our communities and … go to our schools and … work among us every day,” to finally “come out of the shadows without the specter of deportation hanging over their heads.” In particular, the congressman contends that the U.S. has a “moral obligation” to “fix our broken [immigration] system” on behalf of the many “children who were brought here [illegally] through no fault of their own and think of themselves as Americans.” Moreover, Payne laments that “deportations and seizures” of illegals have become too commonplace in recent years; he cautions against using the “issue of border security” as “a fear tactic to prevent progress” in granting illegal immigrants the rights they deserve; and he maintains that newcomers from everywhere on earth “are all in search of the same thing—[the] pursuit of the American Dream.”
Accepting the notion that the greenhouse gas emissions associated with human industrial activity are responsible for potentially catastrophic “climate change,” Payne states that “green jobs and training must be a priority for the future of New Jersey.” Toward that end, he has proposed a Green Jobs Act designed to increase access to loans for “green small businesses” that “retrofit buildings, install and replace solar panels, regulate waste, [and] clean up contamination.”
In November 2014, Payne was outraged by a Ferguson, Missouri grand jury’s decision not to prosecute a local white police officer who, some three months earlier, had shot and killed an 18-year-old black male named Michael Brown in an altercation that subsequently set off a massive national movement protesting an alleged epidemic of police brutality against African Americans. Payne said he was “deeply disappointed in the grand jury’s decision,” which he viewed as “a tremendous miscarriage of justice that reminds everyone, of every age and race, that we still have incredible hatred and prejudice to overcome in our nation.”
In early 2015, Payne objected strenuously when Republican House Speaker John Boehner—without first asking President Obama for his approval—invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress about the gravity of the growing Iranian nuclear threat and his strong opposition to the negotiated deal that the Obama Administration was pursuing with Iran. Charging that “Speaker Boehner’s unilateral invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu was a breach of protocol” that “undermine[d]” U.S.-Israeli relations by “bringing partisan politics into the mix,” Payne decided to boycott Netanyahu’s speech.
In December 2015 Payne introduced the Safe Neighborhoods Gun Buyback Act, designed to authorize $360 million in funding for gun buybacks. Under the provisions of this legislation, gun owners could turn over their firearms to state and local governments or to certain gun dealers, which in turn would pay them 25 percent more than the market value of those weapons.
As matters of principle, Payne believes that:
In August 2014, Payne publicly praised the Hamas-linked Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) for its “work of excellence and service” that “enhances the understanding of Islam in the state of New Jersey and across the nation.” In October 2017 he said, “It is my honor to congratulate [CAIR] on 23 years of excellence and community service.”
For an overview of Payne’s voting record on an array of key issues during his years in Congress, click here.
Further Reading: “Donald Payne Jr.” (Votesmart.org, Keywiki.org); “Rangel, Other Reps, Party in Caribbean With Citi Funds” (Newsmax.com, 1-30-2009); “Payne Deeply Disappointed in Ferguson Grand Jury Decision” (11-25-2014); “Payne Statement on Netanyahu Speech to Congress” (3-2-2015); “House Democrats Introduce National Gun Buybacks” (Breitbart.com, 12-17-2015); Donald Payne Jr.’s Positions on Key Issues (OnTheIssues.org).