Senator Gopal to Fundraise for Democrats in Key Torque Points Around New Jersey

NEPTUNE – Elected last year to the state senate in the 11th District, state Senator Vin Gopal wants to get more deeply involved this cycle as part of an effort statewide to elect Democrats to Congress. Republicans plan to fight back by pointing to the Democrats’ contentious budget process and the imposition of more than $1 billion in new taxes.

On the heels of the budget season, InsiderNJ sat down with the 33-year old Senator from Long Branch to discuss the unfolding 2018 mid-term general election cycle and his arguments for the Democratic Party.

INSIDERNJ: You’re a millennial leader in the senate. What does that mean?

GOPAL: You saw that young woman win that congressional primary in New York. You’re starting to see millennials stepping up and running for office. We’re not waiting. This was my first elected office, and I ran for the senate rather than waiting. Obviously I was a county chair beforehand. But you’re starting to see more of that. Even though he’s not a millennial, I think he missed the cut by a few years, Josh Gottheimer ran for congress in 2016 and got in on his first run. This year here in Monmouth County we have millennial, Amber Gesslein, running for freeholder. Republicans have Tony Perry in Middletown. There is a new generation involved, which communicates primarily via social media.

INSIDERNJ: But you also go door to door. You have a background in party building.

GOPAL: I try to go door to door at least once a week. People see me and ask me, ‘Are you on the ballot?’ No, but we just had a budget. They have questions and concerns. And they’re blown away because they haven’t had an elected official go to their house. I’ve been in Trenton for six months, and I can see that it is very easy to lose touch because you get caught up in that world. The lobbyists and the interest groups. Almost every company has lobbyists and everybody is pushing.

You don’t want to lose touch. Twenty-30-year legislators lose touch with how people are feeling. They lose touch with the idea that these guys in office are the problem. [To hit the ground running and get work accomp0lished quickly] I try to work hard on understanding the history of how I got there, which legislators and mayors were there before me. [We have] spent the last 20 years studying consolidation, the work of former Speaker Alan Karcher. His book started me on it. It’s important to know what they tried. And I put that together with real time knowl3edge of all of the 11th District’s 18 towns. It’s not just studying. I’ll call a mayor just to check and ask what’s new.

INSIDERNJ: What’s the overriding mood right now in the district?

GOPAL: People are talking about school funding, taxes and affordability. People are happy that we killed the shore rentals proposal the senate president proposed. Once we explained how it would impact people, fortunately they pulled it back. I’m calling Monmouth Race Track and asking what else we need to do to be competitive. The race track absolutely needs a subsidy. We used to get a subsidy until Governor Christie took it away. For us to be competitive with Pennsylvania and slot machines, I’m going to push for a $30 million subsidy next year for horse racing. I’m going to push hard.

INSIDERNJ: How did the 11th District and Vin Gopal do in this budget process?

GOPAL: A longstanding issue is school funding. Red Bank and Freehold have long been underfunded. I’m here to get to work. I am here to get a deal done. Now Red Bank and Freehold are finally on their way to recovery. Students couldn’t even get books. Red Bank – in this budget – is getting $2 million more and Freehold Borough is getting $3 million more. While we do that we’re trying to work with towns that are going to lose funds. Asbury Park is going to lose funds and we need to make sure they have a path to gain funds over the next seven to ten years. We got funding for Count Basie Theater in Red Bank, a nonprofit 501c3. We got some money for a recovery school in Matawan for kids. And of course we got a boost in NJ Transit funding.

INSIDERNJ: The Governor made a particularly aggressive case for NJ Transit funding.

GOPAL: I think the governor and legislature agreed on budget priorities. We’re making progress. We’re working together. …I think we are working together to make the state more affordable. I appreciate the governor appointing those shared services czars. I think that’s a good start.

INSIDERNJ: The Governor wants to move forward with a $15 minimum wage, though, and you’re not in favor of that, are you?

GOPAL: I support exemptions. I don’t think a mom and pop coffee shop in Red bank should be treated the same way as a corporation with record profits. If we had an immediate $15 minimum wage, the owners would be the ones scooping ice cream. We have entities with highly specific needs. The YMCA. The beaches. I want people to have an affordable living wage, and I don’t, frankly, think $15 is even a living wage. I want that conversation about a training wage. I get nervous when we take one piece of an idea and create broad legislation. What about companies paying for college for their employees? All that needs to be part of the conversation, we need a full round of hearings. What works in Cape May may not work in Monmouth County.

What argument can you make for Democrats in battleground districts?

GOPAL: Look at what’s going on in the country. I’m doing a fundraiser in Cape May, in Morris. I’m going up to Bergen in a couple of weeks. I want Democrats engaged. I want to help engage the fastest growing minority in the state: South Asians. I want to make sure they’re voting. The future of the courts and of a government that respects people – that is at stake. When you consider Donald Trump, could you imagine Barack Obama accused of some of these things and surviving politically? Obama is a model human being model and father, and yet people were screaming bloody murder when he was president. There is an extraordinary amount of hypocrisy coming from those who believe Donald Trump represents good values. I have concerns about the direction of the country. We can have debates about public policy but our values and how we comport ourselves are at stake. New leadership is ready to step up. I think it’s a time for a new generation of people to step up: Mikie Sherrill, Tom Malinowski, Josh Welle, Jeff Van Drew, Josh Gottheimer and Andy Kim.

INSIDERNJ: How will your partnership with the new mayor of Long Branch produce a better quality of life?

GOPAL: I live in Long Branch. Long Branch for too long has seen the struggle of Broadway. Without a doubt Pier Village benefited Long Branch, but this mayor [John Pallone] – who worked with building trades and won by 30 points – campaigned on addressing Broadway. Former Mayor Adam Schneider turned Long Branch around and did a great job. With that said, sometimes change is good.

INSIDERNJ: Politics is an ugly business. What do you say to people who don’t want to get involved?

GOPAL: Look, not to disparage the people there [in Trenton] but it’s healthy to have people coming in and out. If I’m still in the senate 20 years from now – ill say it right now on the record – that’s a problem. It’s important not to get jaded. The people who do the worst are those who don’t compromise. The founding fathers who set up government set it up to make it  a complicated process to minimize bad laws from happening. The next generation is going to step up. While last the generation has done some fantastic things there have been some distinct failures. You’ve got to make politics respectful. You have to work across the aisle and be prepared to compromise. I enjoy working with [Republican senators] Steve Oroho, Chris Brown, Kip Bateman, Kristin Corrado, my colleague in Monmouth Declan O’Scanlon. Assemblywoman [Amy] Handlin and I plan to do town halls promoting legislation to stop the telephone scamming of seniors.

INSIDERNJ: As I recall, you originally got into politics by opposing the war in Iraq, correct?

GOPAL: Yes. I opposed it. That was my first foray into politics.

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