The first topic addressed at tonight’s lieutenant governor debate was why people should care.
It sounded like a comedy routine, but it was all real.
Vice presidents have been around for more than 200 years and it’s still unclear at times what they actually do.
You can quadruple that when it comes to the lieutenant governor of New Jersey, a position that did not even exist until 2010.
Republican candidate Diane Allen confronted the question first, observing that people do need to be more aware of their government.
Democrat Sheila Oliver, who holds the LG job now, candidly admitted that she’s found that many people don’t even know who the governor is.
How’s that for a sobering reality?
“Politics is not … something they pay a lot of attention to,” she added.
After that beginning, the hour-long face-off ensued.
Lieutenant governor candidates don’t run on their own. Victory or defeat is determined by how the gubernatorial candidates do.
That limits individualism, but there were still some spirited exchanges.
Republican Jack Ciattarelli made news at last week’s debate when he said he supported driver’s licenses for those here illegally. That was a change from both his previous position and GOP party orthodoxy.
Did Allen, who has had a moderate reputation, have anything to do with it?
“Certainly, we talk about all of the issues,” she said without elaboration.
She said licenses for the undocumented was not a “bad program at all,” but she worried that it could lead to illegal voting. That’s because people can register to vote at the Motor Vehicle Commission.
Oliver called that a “dog whistle,” referring to the battle over voting rights raging in some “red” states.
Allen said the term, “dog whistle,” is overused.
Another issue tonight had its roots in last week’s debate.
That was when Gov. Phil Murphy was being quizzed about how women are treated in his administration. He said they’re treated just fine and that those who don’t think so, should ask Sheila Oliver.
That happened tonight.
Oliver praised Murphy for naming women to senior positions and for supporting women’s issues.
Allen moved quickly to bring up a GOP campaign theme – the Murphy administration ignores women in need.
“He’s nowhere to be found,” she said of Murphy.
And yes, she brought up Katie Brennan, whose sexual assault allegations against a 2017 Murphy campaign staffer, prompted a series of legislative hearings.
Brennan has publicly asked the Ciattarelli campaign to stop playing politics with her case, but clearly to no avail.
Another passionate issue is the pending reproductive freedom act.
Murphy says it will protect abortion rights if they’re overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Republican opponents say the bill goes too far in sanctioning late term abortions.
Oliver said she expected the bill to pass and become law. But after the election.
Allen said she didn’t think so.
Rather than pondering who won the debate, a better question may be how many were paying attention. Sad, but true.