DENVILLE – Everybody has dreams, some a bit wilder than others.
Now that he’s ascended to Senate Minority Leader, Anthony M. Bucco is allowed to dream about becoming Senate President next January.
Republicans would need to gain five seats to make that happen. That’s a pretty tough challenge.To that, Bucco brings up recent history.
“In the last election cycle, did anyone think the Senate President was going to lose?”
Point made. Anything can happen.
Bucco, 61, came into politics following the lead of his late father, Anthony R. Bucco, who began as mayor of Boonton and ended up in the state Senate from LD-25.
The younger Bucco got to the Senate himself after the death of his father in 2019 and officially became Republican leader on July 1 when the retiring Steve Oroho gave up the job.
For a politician, overseeing your caucus is a big deal.
“I’m very honored to have been given this opportunity by my colleagues,” Bucco said when we met Thursday for lunch in a local restaurant.
More relevantly, what does party leadership mean to the average voter in the district?
Bucco said he thinks it’s a “big deal” for the district because party leadership gives him leverage with the governor’s office. Or as he put it, he’ll have a “seat at the table.”
He called himself a “common sense” politician. Or in other words, a man interested more in practical solutions to real problems than in scoring rhetorical points.
Even now, Bucco talked about securing more money in the just-adopted budget for some local school districts in addition to appropriations to help the Jersey Battered Women’s Shelter and the county’s homeless shelter.
He hopes that’s just the beginning.
“The administration will be coming to me,” Bucco said.”The leverage that comes with that (leadership) also comes with some benefits.”
Hopefully, that is.
While everyone likes to talk about bipartisanship, Democrats at the moment do not need any help from Republicans to pass what they want.
How the fall election – all 120 legislative seats are up – changes that remains to be seen.
Bucco, of course, has to get reelected himself.
The new map has moved the 25th District a bit east and north. It loses parts of western Morris County, but picks up some towns in the east and also West Milford in Passaic County.
His Democratic opponent is Christine Clarke of Jefferson, who has run for statewide office before – unsuccessfully. But that was in LD-26.
Her new district, the 25th, gives Dems more of a chance, at least on paper.
The Republicans’ voter registration advantage is only about 2,500.
Still, Democrats have not won this Senate seat since 1993. (If you care about the history – that was when Gordon MacInnes beat John Dorsey.)
A look at Clarke’s campaign website finds her talking about women’s reproductive rights. No surprise there.
Democrats are not going to let go of the abortion rights issue and who can blame them. Voters have backed abortion rights in six state referendums across the nation since Roe v. Wade was overturned.
And now that the issue is “back with the states,” it’s relevant in New Jersey.
Bucco says he is unapologetically pro-life, but no New Jersey Republican wants abortion to be a big issue.
“We cannot run this race on the issue of abortion, nor do we intend to,” he said. How will Bucco and his GOP brethren campaign this fall?
Affordability, or lack thereof, is a perennial state issue. Bucco says Republicans have ideas – like his plan to index state income tax rates to inflation – that can help low and middle income families.
And then there are parental rights, which is a simmering issue all over the U.S. In Morris County, there are legal battles over what schools can tell parents regarding a student’s sexuality and what books students can read. Bucco thinks parents need to be involved and that the Murphy Administration is determined to keep them in the dark.
Public safety is also important. Bucco talks not only about cars stolen from driveways, but of those arrested – usually minors – being released hours later. He says what has to change is not only state laws, but a mindset. He put it this way – we need to take the “handcuffs off of the police and put them on the criminals.”
When campaign issues swing around to abortion rights – as they most certainly will – Bucco says he will talk about the “extremism” of the Democrats’ position. He mentioned “partial birth” or late termabortions.
Both parties bring up extremism, especially now. Bucco, who is now the highest ranking Republican in New Jersey, says the GOP will continue to do so.
“Extreme is the key word,” he says of how the Dems are running the state. “We are not in the center of the road, we have taken a hard left.”