“We can’t be spending so much time as Congress is doing now fighting each other and trying to ensure that the other side does not succeed.” — Mikie Sherrill, candidate for NJ’s 11th district.
(Little Falls, Passaic County) — Mikie Sherrill is a woman on a mission. Always has been. Navy helicopter pilot, Georgetown Law grad, mom of four, lacrosse coach. And also Democratic candidate for New Jersey’s 11th Congressional district.
But right now, Mikie Sherrill’s mission is finding something healthy at a Jersey diner. Judging from the menu, it may be her toughest mission yet.
You can see why a diner menu isn’t Mickie Sherrill’s forte. She’s as fit as her Naval Academy days in the early 1990s. And that’s a good thing because anyone running for Congress needs that stamina and discipline. Especially today, the 4th of July, the hottest and busiest day of the campaign so far.
Mikie Sherrill opts for sweet potato fries and a seltzer water, relatively safe choices from a menu best known for disco fries and lemon meringue pie.
Someone jokes about freedom fries, that George W Bush-era anachronism created by conservatives in Congress who literally wanted to rename French fries because France didn’t support Bush’s ill-advised invasion of Iraq.
We nervously laughed how quaint the freedom fries folly seems amidst Donald Trump’s ego-driven chaos.
Sherrill’s opponent in November is Jay Webber, a conservative state lawmaker. The winner will replace the outgoing incumbent, Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen who found himself increasingly out of step in today’s Trump-centric GOP.
Democrats banking on an anti-Trump blue wave to sweep Mikie Sherrill into office are short-sighted. One survey shows Sherrill with a slight 2 point edge over Webber. This, in a district that chose Trump over Hillary Clinton by the narrowest of margins in 2016. The Morris County-centric district also included bits of Essex, Passaic, and Sussex counties.
“This is not a layup,” Sherrill told InsiderNJ. “This is a district, a county [Morris], that’s never been a Democratic county. It’s gonna take a lot of work, a lot of focus, and a lot of determination.”
We started by discussing medical cannabis. The 11th district includes Montclair, home of NJ’s first medical cannabis dispensary. Mikie Sherrill supports medical cannabis. Jay Webber has repeatedly voted against nearly all forms of marijuana reform, including his vote against legalizing medical cannabis in the first place.
“As someone running for federal office who also worked as a U.S. attorney, I would like to see [marijuana] taken off the Schedule 1 controlled substances list,” Sherrill explained. “Because quite frankly, that means there’s no known medical use and it can’t be studied. And we all know that that’s simply not the case. So that’s the first thing that I would like to see happen.”
Let me pause to point out that our government currently classifies cannabis as more dangerous than fentanyl, cocaine, and meth. That’s our current federal policy. And that’s crazy. Jay Webber’s “just say no/lock ’em up” approach to drug policy is more of that. His radical, retrograde approach to drug reform is the last thing Congress needs more of.
How radical? How retrograde? Jay Webber recently voted to reject PTSD as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana in NJ. This, despite compelling testimony from numerous combat veterans who use cannabis to manage their PTSD. Which if nothing else, highlights the need for more vets in Congress.
In 1972, the year both candidates were born, veterans made up over 70% of the House of Representatives. That figure’s currently closer to 20%.
“And we have seen the lack of bipartisanship in Congress track those numbers fairly closely,” Sherrill told InsiderNJ. “That’s because as veterans, we’ve all worked with people from across the country, really across the world. People with different backgrounds, different values, different ideas. But we’re all Americans and we all believe deeply in this country. And we all knew how to get missions accomplished with each other.”
Sherrill expanded on her military experience and how that leadership training would benefit her district in Congress.
“As a helicopter aircraft commander, as people are entering my helicopter, I never said ‘I’m only taking Democrats or only taking Republicans.’ It was always, get on board, here is our mission, let’s get it accomplished. And we would all do it together. I’ve spoken to a lot of other veterans running in the cycle, and that’s kind of a value that we all share,” she added.
Earlier this year, Marine veteran Connor Lamb snatched a Pennsylvania House seat. It was a shocking upset for the Democrats and seen by many as a bellwether for this year’s midterm election.
“We have five Congressional seats [in New Jersey] that are easier than Connor Lamb’s,” Sherrill told Insider. “This is how we flip the House. There’s no path to flipping the House of Representatives that does not go through our state, that does not go through the 11th district of New Jersey. And we know that and we take that responsibility very seriously. And it’s an honor.”
Like Congressman Lamb, Mikie Sherrill is keen to usher her party into the post-Nancy Pelosi era.
“The next 50 years are not going to look like the last 50 years,” Sherrill told InsiderNJ back in May. “We need new leadership and it starts at the top.”
Have you taken a train or a car into Manhattan lately? Many from this district do it every day. It’s a crappy commute.
“We’ve got to fight hard for infrastructure spending,” Sherrill said, “You know, the current tunnel that we have, the rail tunnel into Manhattan is often called the Achilles’ heel of the Northeast Rail Corridor. We have about 20 states that depend on that rail corridor. We’ve gotta get that tunnel funded. Which’ll grow jobs currently and also into the future.”
Jay Webber is the kind of conservative lawmaker who wants to control the outcome of every pregnancy in NJ. No abortions ever. Ever.
“We’ve also seen recently how he was one of only two people in the (NJ) Assembly to vote against equal pay for women,” Sherrill told InsiderNJ. “So he certainly is not somebody who’s in the mainstream or who has put the values of this district before his own partisan politics.”
Mother of Four
This experience has been a civics lesson for her kids.
“One of the neatest things to me has been to see my own kids get engaged in this campaign and understanding their role as citizens in a democracy in a new way. But also seeing all the kids in the neighborhood. We were marching this morning – probably around 200 of us – in the Montclair 4th of July parade. Half that crowd was made up of moms and kids. So they’re running around just marching in the parade, getting excited about the campaign which is I think just a wonderful experience,” Sherrill told InsiderNJ.
Back at the Diner
By the time Mikie Sherrill’s gigantic plate of sweet potato fries finally arrived at the table, an angry sky unleashed a massive thunderstorm on the area. It was one of those purplish-grey skies that mimicked twilight. As the rain poured down outside, Mikie’s campaign manager Molllie Binotto and communications director Jackie Burns assessed how the weather might affect today’s jam-packed 4th of July campaign schedule.
The rain kiboshed a couple mid-day events giving Mikie Sherrill a few hours with her family before heading out to Parsippany’s fireworks finale after dark. That storm also gave her a few extra minutes to share some final thoughts.
“I have been around this district for over a year listening to people from across the 11th district of New Jersey and what has become clear is that it’s getting harder and harder to raise a family here in New Jersey,” Sherrill told InsiderNJ. “So that’s why I’ve been so focused on a tax plan that helps middle-class families. Right now, 83% of the benefit to this tax plan went to the top 1%. Our families can’t afford money for retirement. They’re trying to figure out how they’re going to get their kids educated. Sometimes they’re just trying to figure out how to pay for the groceries by the end of the month.”
“This race is really about our families here in North Jersey and how we can make sure that they have a strong economic future here. Jay Weber has always been a partisan politician who cares about his own ideology. He supported the tax bill which is worse for New Jersey than any state in the nation. He supported the bill to kick thousands of people off their healthcare.”
“He simply doesn’t share the values of this district.”
Jay Lassiter is a writer who pioneered NJ’s new media landscape.