Gopal, Dnistrian Trade Shots as they Try to Define Post-Budget Terrain

In LD-11, one of the most closely watched races this campaign cycle, incumbent state Senator Vin Gopal and Republican challenger Steve Dnistrian seek to build state post-budget collision course momentum.

With the giant $54.3 billion document completed, with

The completion of the $54.3 billion document spawned a contentious exchange on culture war.  As an incumbent, Gopal wants to take credit for its benefits. Dnistrian, for his part, wants to turn him into a target for perceived misuse.

From the outset, the Dnistrian campaign sought to link Gopal with Governor Murphy.  In May, the campaign said, “Governor Murphy and Vin Gopal have been waging a war on our school funding for years now. An astonishing $75 million has been taken out of our district and sent to other parts of the state since S2 became law. The numbers don’t lie, even when the politicians do. It is a disastrous policy and just plain wrong. Freehold Regional, Neptune Township and Asbury Park’s school districts have taken the biggest hits in our district. Now, we are seeing what these cuts are going to translate into, and this is just the beginning. We have the solution: tap into the state’s $10.1 billion surplus to prevent needless cuts and suffering in our education system.”

Murphy is rich and out of touch—the message the Dnistrian campaign is sending is clear.  By connecting the Trenton establishment of Murphy and Gopal, the logical assumption is that Gopal, as a Murphy ally, is also rich and out of touch. Whether or not he is, is, fundamentally, subjective.  The verdicts are delivered by the voters on Election Day.

At the same time, Gopal can use Murphy and the power of being in office to his advantage.  Take, for example, the tax relief for senior citizen homeowners and renters via the ANCHOR program.  It will take until 2026 to accrue the funds to pay for it, and Republicans have lambasted the scheme as a political gimmick, but New Jersey taxes are high.  Relief is relief.  Few things are as non-partisan as wanting a smaller bill to pay.  It will pay off for Democrats down the road just as much as it will pay off for Republicans if they are in power at the time.

Likewise, Gopal can point out that his name is attached to new legislation designed to ease the cost of prescription drugs, signed into law by the governor this week.  “Too many residents are forced to delay or all together forego taking a prescription due to the cost,” Senator Gopal said.  “This legislation will regulate the behind-the-scenes business practices of pharmacy benefits managers to be more transparent, require licenses, data and records reporting, and cost establishment modifications to help address the prescription drug affordability crisis facing our state.”  Gopal is a co-sponsor of S-1615 and a sponsor of A-536/2841 which, respectively, create new health data and transparency mechanisms and impose more oversight of Pharmacy Benefit Managers regarding costs.

Dnistrian and Gopal have fought over schools, they’ve fought over seniors, and they’ve fought over property taxes.  On the last point, Gopal’s campaign has said that they advocate direct tax relief for New Jersey citizens, while the Dnistrian team would allocate it to local governments—a spin by the Gopal team, given that conservatives try to characterize themselves as fiscally responsible, wanting to starve government, while Democrats are spend-a-holics in love with the state.  With a $54.6 billion budget, the largest state budget ever, Republicans can make that case with confidence.  Republicans roared when the budget delivered was higher than the one they expected, but as a minority party, there was little they could do to stop it.  State budgets are one thing, but on tax relief, it is hard to argue against putting money directly into retirees’ pockets—whether now or in a few years.

The Republican tax relief proposal, S-3906, had Dnistrian’s support.  The GOP plan would have transferred $4.3 billion from the New Jersey Debt Defeasance and Prevention Fund.  The money would have gone from the state coffers to counties and municipalities on a per capita basis.  “This approach stands in stark contrast to the back-room dealings of Senate Democrats, including Vin Gopal, during which funds were distributed selectively, leaving many towns and counties without essential support. With a Senate majority in Trenton, we can offer New Jerseyans and LD11 residents real relief from Murphy and Gopal’s unaffordable agenda and reckless spending.”

“I was proud to see my bill, StayNJ, pass on June 30th with overwhelming, bipartisan support,” Senator Gopal said. “StayNJ gives Monmouth County seniors the freedom to stay in the communities they built. Our seniors deserve to have leaders who look out for them and their future. Unfortunately, my opponent, Steve Dnistrian, is not looking out for Monmouth County seniors. He is against giving seniors half their local property taxes back. Instead, he has openly mocked the bill’s efforts and supported an alternative bill that gives money back to governments, not taxpayers.”

Dnistrian decried the Democratic plan as smoke and mirrors.  “Senator Vin Gopal is back to spinning his record, specifically on the StayNJ senior tax relief program,” the Dnistrian campaign said, “slotted to theoretically take effect in 2026. The argument here is about when the tax cut should go to voters: Republicans want it to start immediately. Gopal wants it to start in 2026 – giving Trenton Democrats enough time to go back on their word.”

At the end of the day, the Republican plan did not prevail, leaving Dnistrian with a “could-have/should-have” argument to make, that the GOP plan would have delivered now, rather than later.  Gopal, however, can say that something will be delivered—eventually—thanks to Democrats like him.

“Law and order” is not just a TV show, but also a pillar of every good campaign strategy.  The Gopal/Dnistrian contest is no stranger to the topic of crime, especially in Monmouth County, and defining oneself as the law-and-order-candidate can be a major boost for an office-seeker, especially if the public perceives safety to be a rising concern.

Last week, the Dnistrian campaign blistered Gopal.  “Senator Vin Gopal has a record of making Monmouth County less safe,” the campaign said on Friday.  “Gopal’s soft-on-crime record is to blame for rising crime, and his election-year stunts won’t obscure that record.”

The Republican team slammed Gopal for voting to reduce sentences on certain drug and armed robbery related bills, citing S-3456 last year.  In 2020, the campaign said, Gopal “voted for two egregious bills. The first banned law enforcement from notifying parents when their underage kids were caught with marijuana or alcohol.”  The campaign said that this was a precursor to the “pop up parties” that caused so many problems at the Jersey Shore.

The Republican challenger saved the heaviest artillery for last, citing Gopal as supporting the early release of certain violent criminals.  “The danger isn’t hypothetical,” the campaign said, “these violent criminals were quick to reoffend.”  What followed was a list of some heinous crimes committed by men released from jail, gruesome and shocking.  The message they sought to communicate was clear: had they still been locked up, it would not have happened, with the implication that Gopal was, in a way, responsible.  It’s a claim the Gopal campaign could heartily reject, but the tremors of such an insinuation would be felt, regardless.  The strength of his incumbency again comes into play.

Everyone wants safer streets, safer schools, and safer homes.  Dnistrian might call it spin on his opponent’s part, and Gopal can use his own record to justify his positions.  In 2018, he sponsored a bill along with Senator Greenstein (D) and Senator Corrado (R) to upgrade penalties on fentanyl and heroin related crimes. “Heroin will not be defeated by legislation alone,” Gopal said at the time. “However, in stiffening penalties against heroin and fentanyl crimes we hope to deter individuals from committing these offenses which spread this deadly addiction while administering the appropriate sentence to those who do commit these crimes.”

Gopal also introduced legislation in December of 2022 aimed at combating rising car theft rings, specifically those targeting catalytic converters.  “I am continuing to press my legislation targeting repeat offenders by establishing a ‘rebuttable presumption’ of pretrial detention to ensure repeat offenders stay behind bars until their trial for the crimes of carjacking, theft, and burglary pending trial. This is a decisive and targeted action to detain repeat offenders that would expire in one year so we can evaluate how it worked.”

As the rollercoaster campaign continues to rattle and rumble along, LD-11 residents can expect more twists, banks, loops, rises, and dives as they hold on tight in the Garden State’s most scrutinized, high-stakes state election this year.

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One response to “Gopal, Dnistrian Trade Shots as they Try to Define Post-Budget Terrain”

  1. Democrats like Gopal are too corrupt to be trusted. Just look at his campaign haul. $2.1 million to date, versus Dnistrian’s $120K. That shows you all the deep pocketed special interest groups are lining up for Pay to Play with Gopal as their puppet. Gopal supports Murphy’s dictatorial decrees on everything from gas powered car, stove, water heater bans to sexualized education for 8 year olds. He is the classic jersey slimy politician who needs to be removed ASAP.

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