In his opening statement, Guy Citron, a Democratic Assembly candidate in LD-23, said he supports “the right to read.”
That seems like a pretty safe position, but not this year.
Erik Peterson, one of his opponents, shot back:
“What that’s all about is, there’s pornography in the libraries in our schools.”
With schools and curriculum grabbing a prominent stage in this year’s legislative elections, “the right to read” is not as simple as it sounds.
The playing field for this skirmish was a WRNJ radio debate among four Assembly candidates.
On one side are Republican incumbents Peterson and John DiMaio, the minority leader.
The Democratic challengers are Citron and Tyler Powell.
The 23rd Legislative District covers parts of Hunterdon, Somerset and Warren counties. This is Republican territory, but unlike past years, Democrats are putting up a spirited fight. For the record, the GOP has about a 14,000 registration advantage.
Republicans see “pornography in the library” and the overall issue of “parents rights” as a big part of their campaign throughout the state.
Dems want to talk about abortion rights, which was not raised during the nearly hour-long debate, a point Citron brought up in his closing statement.
Getting back to schools, the Republicans also backed teachers informing parents about the sexual or gender-related activities of their children. This issue is in the courts with parental requirement policies in four districts put on hold by judges.
The Democrats objected to the policies, saying that teachers being asked to “forcibly out” students is wrong.
The Republicans countered that parents need to know what their kids are doing in school; Peterson, in fact, called it a “God-given right.”
As for books, Peterson said he’s seen some of the library books in question and that they belong behind the counter in a convenience store.
Democrat Powell disagreed.
He said he read all types of books growing up.
“They gave me knowledge, they gave me wisdom. They made me a better person,”
Peterson said that if Powell is supporting “pornography,” in the lower grades, “I question your judgment to be in the state Assembly.”
What was also interesting about the debate is that it happened at all.
The League of Women Voters often sponsors debates, but not that many this year as many Republicans have refused to attend. They say the League leans to the left.
Citron brought up a number of other debates that he said the Republicans have declined, including one by a conservation organization.
The district is one of the more rural ones in New Jersey and preserving that feature looms as a pressing concern.
This brought us to the state’s energy goals of no gas-powered vehicles by 2035.
The Republicans strongly condemned the idea.
DiMaio said moving to “clean energy” has to be seen as an evolutionary endeavor.
Peterson was a bit more dystopian, saying the Democrats want a society that bans gas stoves, gas cars and constructs wind turbines off the coast that kill whales.
In fairness, the state is not trying to ban gas stoves. Nor is there any objective evidence that whales are being killed by wind turbine construction preparation.
No matter, exaggerations are common during campaigns.
The Democrats, broadly speaking, were more supportive of combating climate change. They spoke of constructing solar panels on public buildings and moving quickly.
“I don’t think we have decades,” Powell said, adding that shaping a healthy planet must be done regardless of cost.
Citron brought up an ongoing environmental issue – a plan to construct a series of warehouses in White Township, Warren County. Residents are strongly opposed and Citron has been a frequent attendee at planning board meetings. His implication seemed to be that the incumbents are not supporting residents as much as they should.
Crime was another issue.
And the positions here are well established.
Republicans commonly accuse Democrats of being “soft on crime” and they did that again at the debate.
More specifically, the GOP complains that bail reform has made it difficult to prosecute criminals.
That’s a fair point, but in truth, bail reform in New Jersey was done by then-Gov. Chris Christie.
It was not only the Democrats.