PARSIPPANY – Astronaut Garrett Reisman admits he’s not normally a political guy.
But when he saw that Rodney P. Frelinghuysen was leaving his seat in the 11th congressional district, Reisman, a Parsippany native now living and teaching in southern California, said he was worried about who would replace him. Reisman says he always had a good rapport with Frelinghuysen and fondly recalls visiting Morris County schools with the congressman to talk to students.
But then he read about Democratic candidate Mikie Sherrill. Impressed with her background as a one-time Navy pilot and a federal prosecutor, Reisman reached out to her campaign.
From then on, things moved quickly.
Reisman appeared with Sherrill Friday afternoon at the Parsippany Library in what was billed as a talk on the importance of STEM education, which is science, technology, engineering and math. Rather than a wonkish discourse, this was more of a question and answer session about travelling in space and running for Congress hosted by Mayor Michael Soriano.
It was not overtly political, but with about 75 supporters filling the room and a Sherrill for Congress sign on the wall, the atmosphere seemed more like a political rally than a sterile classroom.
Asked what advice he would give to students, Reisman said they should take it as a challenge if told they can not do something. He said he did that when told he would never “walk in space.” Reisman took three such walks during his career as an astronaut.
Now retired and teaching aeronautical engineering at the University of Southern California, Reisman drifted a bit into politics when he suggested the fragility of the earth’s atmosphere is very visible from space.
“Our climate is changing. This is a fact,” he said, adding that the nation ignores the changing climate at its own peril.
Environmental issues have not yet surfaced in the campaign between Sherrill and Republican Jay Webber.
But broadly speaking, Democrats embrace manmade climate change while some Republicans are not so sure human activity is the cause.
Reisman and Sherrill agreed that it is imperative for the federal government to make a strong financial commitment to scientific research and education.
Speaking about the future, Resiman predicted that, “Our technology will get to the point where we will be living on planets other than earth.” He said a colony on Mars is a distinct possibility and that such a settlement would need about 60,000 people – roughly the population of Parsippany – to be viable.
No discussion with an astronaut can be complete without a Star Trek reference and this one didn’t disappoint. Reisman said he once dressed up as Captain Kirk for Halloween, although he refrained from speculating about developing colonies on the planet Vulcan.
Shortly before the talk about Martian colonies commenced, Webber issued a statement about a more earthly concern – taxes.
Webber condemned plans to raise the state gas tax by about 4 cents per gallon in October, saying he is drafting legislation to repeal the part of current law that allows for automatic increases. The law in question passed in 2016 and raised the gas tax by about 23 cents per gallon.
The package was part of a deal between Chris Christie and legislative Democrats. Webber opposed it.
On Friday, Webber criticized Sherrill for supporting the original tax hike and promised tax hikes “into the future.”
This is not a federal issue, but it buttresses a Webber campaign theme that Sherrill is, as the release claimed, a “tax-hiking liberal.”
In response, Sherrill says she does not support the pending gas tax hike.
“I’m against raising taxes on New Jersey families and a gas tax would be raising taxes on New Jersey families,” she said.