The GOP primary battle in LD-24 is about the state Assembly. Really.
But judging from what the four main candidates stressed at a recent debate, it sure sounded like a contest for the local board of education.
Parental rights … a curriculum that offers too much sex and gender … books that are pornographic .. ongoing court fights emanating from Roxbury (in the district) and Hanover (out of the district).
The candidates spent much of Wednesday’s hour-long debate, which was hosted by radio station WRNJ, talking about public school education, and for conservative Republicans, there is fodder everywhere.
On this, there was general agreement among the four – the team of Dawn Fantasia and Mike Inganamort and the team of Josh Aikens and Jason Sarnoski (pictured, top).
But the differences centered on who has been the most diligent standing up for “parents’ rights.”
Aikens said he’s been doing precisely that before it became common.
Attention quickly focused on a recent school board meeting in Roxbury. Passions were high after the high school librarian sued four parents for defamation after they criticized a small number of books as inappropriate.
“No one else was standing by their side,” Aikens said of two of the parents.
All four candidates attended the five hour-plus meeting on May 23.
But in a heated primary, it’s more complicated than that.
Fantasia said she and Inganamort waited five hours to speak; Fantasia, in fact, was the last one to speak. She said she didn’t put her comments on social media – as Aikens did – because she was merely supporting the parents, not being political. And she said Sarnoski didn’t speak at all.
Aikens said that the parents involved didn’t even want to hear Fantasia and Inganamort speak. Moreover, he said he and Sarnoski stayed until the meeting ended, which was after midnight. He said his opponents did not. As for Sarnoski, he said he spoke at a previous meeting, which his opponents did not attend.
None of this is all that unusual.
The bottom line here is that whoever gets to Trenton is going to support conservative Republican positions. So the strategy in a primary is as simple as it is at times juvenile – claim to be more conservative and more outraged at liberal thought and government than your opponents.
Sticking with the education theme, Inganamort brought up Aikens’ position as president of the Lafayette Board of Education.
And he criticized Aikens for raising taxes, raising the cost of school lunches and masking preschool students. “Yikes,” he exclaimed.
Aikens was not fazed, pointing out that masking students was part of the district’s agreement with the state to keep schools open when virtually all other districts in the state were remote only.
There was also a bit of “guilt by association,” which is part of all heated campaigns.
Sarnoski suggested that Fantasia’s support for parental rights and traditional values can’t be genuine. After all, he said, she was once sworn into office by Thomas Prol, who helped start Garden State Equality, a gay rights organization. And for emphasis, Sarnoski said Garden State Equality had urged supporters to attend the Roxbury school board meeting to oppose the parents.
The only thing missing from Sarnoski’s comments was a “Yikes” of his own.
Fantasia said Prol had been borough attorney in Franklin Borough, where she had been a councilwoman, and is also a family friend.
“Unfortunately, Jason and Josh can’t separate the two,” she said.
You can see how things went at the debate.
Looking at this race more broadly, Senate candidate Parker Space, who is unopposed for his nomination, is running with Fantasia and Inganamort. This group also has the backing of the Morris County Republican Committee.
That’s a plus for them, but here’s a cautionary note – the majority of the district is in Sussex County