WAYNE – League of Women Voters’ debates are normally sedate affairs.
Rebuttals are prohibited, as is cheering and jeering.
But Thursday night’s debate in Wayne among District 11 congressional candidates quickly veered off into places the organizers didn’t want it to go.
Republican Jay Webber had just finished talking about his support for various gun control measures when it was Democrat Mikie Sherrill’s turn to speak.
Sherrill, who already had spoken on guns, was asked a question about climate change.
She ignored it and went after Webber, asserting that he only started supporting gun control measures when his congressional campaign began.
That would have been in early February.
“Patently false, patently false,” Webber was clearly heard muttering to himself.
Webber wanted to respond, but rebuttals are not allowed.
Or are they?
The moderator relented and said Webber could have 30 seconds to respond.
He began by saying Sherrill was lying.
Some in the crowd of about 300 jammed into Wayne Township Hall booed.
A few cheered.
There were reprimands all around.
The moderator told the crowd it was out of order. And Webber was told he must refrain from personal attacks.
Webber had no choice but to compress his remarks into 30 seconds. With such little time, the main point Webber made was that he long has supported taking firearms away from domestic abusers.
This episode, in fact, was the second time things got, relatively speaking, a bit out of hand.
An earlier exchange was about the fact New Jersey sends much more tax money to Washington than it gets back in aid. This is a perennial issue, and one that is unlikely to change, given the state’s relative affluence.
But no one is going to say that in a debate.
Webber said things will not improve in regard to aid if the district sends a Montclair liberal like Sherrill to Washington.
Many in the crowd booed. And yes, there was another reprimand for the audience.
Sherrill pointedly noted that the district has not only had a Republican representing it in Washington, but the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, and nothing has been done about aid. That would be the retiring Rodney Frelinghuysen.
She added that she plans to represent the entire district, an obvious response to Webber who has begun calling her “Montclair Mikie.”
Afterwards, as the crowd filtered out and the candidates greeted supporters, the Webber campaign pointed to another moment in the debate.
The candidates were asked their views on the Iran nuclear deal and moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Webber is against the deal and supports moving the embassy.
Sherrill didn’t really answer the question, prompting Webber to say her response was “disturbingly ambiguous.”
Asked to amplify her views afterwards, Sherrill said Israel has the right to choose its capital and that the United States should respect that. She said Iran is a sponsor of terrorism, but it was odd that the U.S. pulled out of the deal after it had been consummated.
Foreign policy is not normally a big issue in House campaigns, but you get the feeling the Webber campaign wants to make it one.