Jay Webber’s first foray into Morris County politics was challenging then-state Sen. Robert Martin in the 2003 Republican primary.
Martin prevailed in a race that was pretty contentious. So, it’s not surprising that Martin, who left the Senate in 2008, and Webber are not buddy-buddy.
But it still was a bit of an eyebrow-raiser Friday afternoon to see Martin show up at a veterans’ event in Morris Plains hosted by Democratic congressional candidate Mike Sherrill, Webber’s opponent in the ongoing race for Congress in the 11th District.
Martin explained he’s a veteran himself and that he lives in Morris Plains, which, incidentally, is where Webber lives as well.
“I walked here,” Martin said referring to the VFW Post on Route 53.
But of course this really wasn’t a guy dropping by the VFW in the midst of an afternoon stroll.
Martin said he favors Sherrill in the race, primarily because he doesn’t like Donald Trump.
“Trump is threatening us with some of his actions,” Martin said, faulting the president for disrespecting some of America’s traditional allies.
Martin, who said he has met Sherrill a few times, was not introduced. They greeted each other in a perfunctory manner after the event, which also included Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Josh Welle, the Democratic candidate against Republican Chris Smith in Central Jersey’s District 4. Like Sherrill, a onetime Navy helicopter pilot, both are veterans.
The trio fielded a number of questions on veterans’ issues before about a hundred people. There are no easy answers to some of the issues that were raised, including homelessness and suicide among veterans and care at VA hospitals.
Moulton seemed to strike a chord with the mostly veteran crowd when he said one way to tackle these problems is to send veterans to Congress.
If elected, Sherrill says she wants a seat on the Armed Services Committee as a way to help protect Picatinny Arsenal, the largest employer in the district, from closure. That is a periodic worry for many Picatinny employees and northern New Jersey lawmakers.
Some Republican candidates, most notably Senate aspirant Bob Hugin, are trying to distance themselves from the president. Webber is not.
“I don’t think he could,” Martin said, referring to the social conservative record Webber has established. Trump has formally endorsed Webber.
The centrist Martin represented a wing of the Morris County Republican Party that seems to have vanished. In his day, the Morris GOP was populated with many moderates, among them Assemblywoman Carol J. Murphy, state Sen. Leanna Brown and at the time, Assemblyman and later Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen. Essentially, these were individuals who combined fiscal prudence with support for abortion rights, gun control and environmental initiatives.
That’s very much in the past, but Martin just happens to remember – in fact, he volunteered it – his winning margin over Webber in 2003.
It was 58 to 42 percent.
That gives Sherrill something to shoot for.