Ten years ago the combatants in swing district LD14 engaged in ten debates, all but wearing out their constituents with a seemingly never ending jousting match to win the hearts and minds of either angry taxpayers or public sector workers nestled behind every other suburban door – or both. Last night at the Monroe Senior Center, with former state Senator Pete Inverso (R-14) in the crowd, some of those same veterans and the people challenging them engaged in the only 14th District debate of this year’s general election season.
Even with the Yankees playing in a thrilling Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, people turned out for politics here in the old reliable bellwether district.
The place was packed.
While the debate included participants from both the assembly and senate, a bitter clash between incumbent state Senator Linda Greenstein (D-14) and an aggressively stalking Republican challenger, Hamilton Councilwoman Ileana Schirmer, formed the dramatic centerpiece. Seeking distance on lame duck GOP Governor Chris Christie, Schirmer went with U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman’s (D-12) 2014 strategy in an attempt to saddle incumbent Democrat Greenstein with Christie.
Just as Republican gubernatorial candidate Kim Guadagno last night chastised Democrat Phil Murphy for picking an LG candidate who authorized Christie’s budgets, Schirmer slapped at Greenstein for voting for Christie budgets and the gas tax hike to fund the depleted state Transportation Trust Fund (TTF). Fighting back, Greenstein derided Schirmer for constantly referring to her plan to target “waste, tax fraud and abuse” as too simplistic a platform; and made her case for any stabilization of property taxes requiring fully funded education, a balancing act undermined by the siting governor.
“Christie cuts to municipal and school aid have been devastating,” the senator said.
The Democrat also put distance between herself and top of the ticket occupant Murphy on the issue of a sanctuary state. Greenstein the state should not be telling towns to become sanctuary cities.
“We need to do whatever we can to ‘catch criminals’,” said a tough-talking and confident Greenstein.
Schirmer, for her part, said cities should not take it upon themselves to decide which laws they should or shouldn’t follow, but emphasized that she does support a path to legalization for illegal immigrants.
The two women thrashed into a blur of hard-hitting exchanges on several occasions.
On the school funding front: Schirmer said she wants to go over the bloated state budget with a fine tooth comb to rid it of waste. The current formula is stagnant, she said. Greenstein argued that the state has started on the right path with more money this past year.
The challenger told Greenstein that the senator needed to have been more hard-nosed as a member of the budget committee. The senator told the councilwomen that she needed to supply specific examples of where she would cut since “waste, fraud and abuse” is a phrase “everyone throws around.”
“I don’t know where it is because there needs to be an audit,” said Schirmer, reinforcing Guadagno’s top of the ticket view.
Both women agreed on funding for women’s health clinics. But on felons voting, the Republican advocated expanded voter access, while Greenstein said she was not ready for that, yet did support online and mail voting expansion.
Schirmer running mate Kristian Stout said that while he belongs to the Republican Party, the district needs independent people and not more partisanship – and repeatedly backed up Schirmer on line-item tenacity. Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-14) highlighted senor freeze programs and advocated homestead rebate expansion. His incumbent Democratic running mate Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo (D-14) said he wants to better spread around the one third of the state budget that goes to school districts.
Schimrer-Stout slate mate Steven J. Uccio spoke of his support for Guadagno’s circuit breaker proposal as a way to save families at the breaking point.
Bucking GOP convention wisdom, Uccio said it makes sense for the state to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).
DeAngelo said he wants to further expand renewable energy sources in a diversified way.
“We only produce 80% of what we need in New Jersey,” said the assemblyman and labor leader.
“We need to grow the energy grid and sources,” said Stout. “We can’t take any fuel sources off the table, including natural gas pipelines.”