Political balance and New Jersey’s only race for state Senate have made the 1st District the most interesting contest in Tuesday’s election.
Both tickets are headed by smart, appealing candidates who have similar views on some issues important locally, which could make party affiliation more important to voters with strong feelings about state and national leaders.
The Senate race is for the seat vacated by Rep. Jeff Van Drew.
Bob Andrzejczak, chosen by Democrats to fill the Senate vacancy, is the most familiar candidate from his six years in the Assembly. He joined the Army after 9/11, lost most of a leg to a grenade in Iraq and was asked by Van Drew to serve in the Legislature.
Andrzejczak told The Press editorial board his accomplishments in the Democratically controlled Legislature include getting traditional vacation rentals exempted from the so-called Airbnb tax on accommodations booked through online marketplaces; cutting the sales tax on boats from 7% to 3.5% and capping it at $20,000; letting people with higher incomes qualify for the senior property tax freeze; and increasing the income tax deduction for veterans from $3,000 to $6,000.
Among his goals are working with Senate President Steve Sweeney to reduce property taxes, especially through consolidation. Andrzejczak said they’re setting up a school consolidation pilot program, “I think for Cape, Cumberland and Salem counties,” to figure out if countywide districts or consolidation within existing districts make more sense.
He also wants to develop an industrial hemp industry in South Jersey, a profitable crop with a wide range of uses from versatile fibers to biodegradable plastics. Bringing in processors and manufacturers could yield thousands of good jobs, Andrzejczak said.
Michael Testa Jr., the Republican challenger for Senate, comes from a family known for public service. He served nine years on the Vineland Improvement District, was chair of the area Big Brothers & Big Sisters board, president of the Cumberland County Bar Association and a trustee of the state bar. His grandfather was the first municipal judge and first elected mayor of the city of Vineland.
Testa said New Jersey “has gone too far to the left” in the 15 years the Democrats have dominated the Legislature. Instead of addressing its “severe spending problem,” Gov. Phil Murphy and the Democrats have imposed $2 billion in new taxes in what was already the most tax-burdened state in the nation — with local Democrats voting with the governor 95% of the time.
Testa said the local Democrats haven’t made any progress on finishing Route 55 through Cumberland and Cape May counties, despite Van Drew’s pledge to do so when he was first elected in 2001. That has left Cape as the nation’s sixth most dangerous county to evacuate.
Andrzejczak said he wants to get Route 55 completed, but the state can’t fund it alone. He is trying to make South Jersey Democrats’ support for the Gateway train tunnels into New York contingent on including funding for Route 55.
Republican challenger Erik Simonsen has the fullest political résumé among the four contenders for the district’s two Assembly seats. An educator for 27 years, he’s been mayor of Lower Township for three years after six on its council, was president of the county League of Municipalities, and has served as vice president of the county NAACP and on the board of Faces of Autism.
Simonsen said Lower has had its largest surplus and smallest tax increases during that time — and no increase the past two years. His efforts on sharing services with other municipalities and the county helped put countywide dispatch and emergency management, as well as township police, at a county airport tech village.
He is “passionate” in opposing Murphy’s push to make New Jersey a sanctuary state, welcoming immigrants but “asking that they do it legally” — like his wife, her mother and brother, all who became naturalized citizens.
Every candidate in the district supports Cape May County’s effort to continue its cooperative program with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and fight Murphy’s attempt to stop it. Andrzejczak said the governor is wrong to tell law enforcers not to work with some of their federal counterparts, who are “finding people who are violent offenders who do not belong here and who are doing harm to our communities.”
All district candidates also oppose legalizing marijuana for pleasure.
Democrat Bruce Land, retired from law enforcement at a Cumberland prison, is seeking his third term in the Assembly. He said the reworked school funding formula that drastically cut aid to some districts should have kept their aid the same and achieved rebalancing by raising others over time. He also said that given the $550 million the state gets annually from Cape tourism and the $330 million it is spending on restoring the Statehouse, the governor should approve funding for rebuilding the Wildwood Boardwalk.
Democrat Matthew Milam is seeking to return to the Assembly, which he left after five years in 2013 to focus on his trucking business (with the party picking Andrzejczak, then 26, to fill the seat). Having sold that business, Milam wants to return to Trenton and again push for audits of state spending and reductions. He said he previously tried to get the state to shrink its auto fleet, unsuccessfully, and would try again.
Republican Assembly hopeful Antwan McClellan, an Ocean City councilman and a Cape May County employee, said easing taxes on young people and attracting businesses to provide jobs for them would be a priority. He has some unusual administrative experience that shows the breadth and closeness of his family — chairing its biannual reunion attended by up to 300.
In the 1st District — which includes all of Cape, most of Cumberland, and Weymouth Township, Estell Manor and Corbin City in Atlantic County — registrations are pretty evenly divided between independents, Republicans and Democrats. Polarizing N.J. and U.S. chief executives Gov. Murphy and President Trump are likely to influence district voters as well.
The district’s political organizations should be proud to have Testa and Andrzejczak leading their tickets on Tuesday. One must lose, but surely would deserve another shot at representing the public.
If only all political races at the state level and higher were this well contested and interesting.