LD25 Flashpoint: Trying to Find Drama without a Debate

Bucco

Scan the events calendar of the New Jersey League of Women Voters these days and you’ll see myriad debates scheduled throughout the state.

Over the next two weeks, for example, the league is sponsoring debates for county commissioner in Monmouth, township committee in Chatham Township, school board in Fair Lawn and state legislators in LD-11.

But for the second year in a row, a debate in Morris County involving the league’s Mountain Lakes chapter will not occur.

Last year, it was a borough council debate that never happened; this year it’s a LD-25 faceoff.

This is a traditionally-Republican district, but voter registration numbers are getting closer, which makes it an intriguing legislative race to watch.

The GOP incumbents are Sen. Anthony M. Bucco and Assembly members Aura Dunn and Brian Bergen.

Grayzel

 

The Democrats are Jeff Grayzel for senate and Lauren Barnett and Patricia Veres for assembly.

The local league began working on the debate in August, but things never came together.

When I ran into Bucco at a recent event, he said he had no intention of doing a league debate.

He did one last year, and there was a problem. Bucco said he was told his name tag – this was a virtual debate – could not include the title “senator.” That does seem odd. Being a senator is a public position and it’s certainly one all voters should be reminded of.

Bucco’s reluctance ended any possible senate debate this year.

As for the assembly, Dunn said it was a scheduling issue more than anything else. She said one date suggested by the league, Oct. 5, coincided with the lieutenant governor’s debate. Who would want to miss that?

More seriously and more generally, many Republicans see the officially non-partisan League of Women Voters as leaning left. So, it’s no real surprise that some Republicans may not be anxious to take part in a league debate.

Democrats in the district reacted the way you’d expect.

Sarah Carlson, the campaign manager for the Democrats’ LD-25 team, fired off the following.

“It’s disappointing to hear that Trump’s team in Trenton, Senator Bucco and Assembly Members Bergen and Dunn, can’t be bothered to give voters a chance to hear from them before the election. It’s clear that they are hiding from the fact that they can’t defend their extreme record of putting children’s health and safety at risk by protesting COVID safety measures in schools, failing to condemn Trump for provoking insurrectionists that resulted in the deaths of police officers, and voting to take away a woman’s right to choose.”

Linking all Republicans to Trump is standard Democratic fare these days, but you wonder if the former president is really going to have any impact on a legislative race.

The just-concluded weekend brought some traditional campaigning with Bucco and the GOP team visiting street fairs and festivals.

Democrats had an event with Rep. Mikie Sherrill on Saturday and one with fellow Rep. Tom Malinowski on Sunday. Democratic congress members representing the district is a sure sign things have changed.

At the same time, the change is not complete.

Malinowski on Sunday launched a canvassing effort in Roxbury, a town that remains a strong Republican bastion. Two years ago, Republicans won the LD-25 race there by about 1,300 votes. So the Dems have a lot of canvassing to do.

 

The statement of the combined Leagues of LD 25: Morristown, West Morris, Warren and Mountain Lakes

REPUBLICAN INCUMBENT CANDIDATES FOR SENATE AND ASSEMBLY DECLINE TO DEBATE CHALLENGERS IN LD 25

The West Morris, Warren, Morristown and Mountain Lakes League of Women Voters are disappointed to announce that every incumbent Republican candidate in LD 25 has declined to debate this 2021 election season. The reason given was that they could make “no time” for the debate. Incumbent candidate Anthony Bucco has declined to debate his challenger, Jeffrey Grayzel for the position of Senate in LD 25. Incumbent candidates Aura Dunn and Brian Bergen have declined to debate their challengers Lauren Barnett and Patricia Veres for their positions in the Assembly in LD 25. The candidates and their campaign managers were given an 8-week window in which to choose a date. Republican candidates did not refuse immediately; they gave the condition of having the debate in-person rather than via Zoom. Their Democratic challengers met this condition, however the incumbents then claimed they had no time in their busy calendars for a debate.

Fair and unbiased debates are pivotal to the functioning of our democracy. An essential component to running for office is providing the public with an opportunity to compare their elected officials to those who are challenging their positions. Voters deserve to see their candidates in action and to hear all sides of an issue before casting a ballot.

Whenever candidates decline an invitation to a debate on the issues, the voters lose and democracy suffers. The League of Women Voters has hosted free and fair, nonpartisan debates in LD 25 for more than 50 years. Incumbent candidates Aura Dunn, Anthony Bucco and Brian Bergen all participated in League of Women Voters debates in LD 25 in the very recent past, yet this year they are declining to debate. The Leagues of LD 25 are imploring the incumbent candidates of LD 25 to reconsider their decision and put their voters first by finding a date to debate.

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