CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — The Republican candidates for state Assembly and Senate in the 1st Legislative District introduced themselves to a citizens group Wednesday night by stressing their opposition to Gov. Phil Murphy’s agenda — particularly sanctuary protection for illegal immigrants, increased taxes and a lack of attention to South Jersey’s needs.

“There’s a lot of empty promises,” said state Senate candidate Michael Testa Jr., 43, an attorney from Vineland. “Route 55 is one of them. How many years have we been waiting (for its completion)? Democrats have controlled the Legislature in this state since 2004. How has South Jersey benefited? It hasn’t.”

All of New Jersey’s Assembly seats are on the ballot this year, while the 1st District’s is the only state Senate seat up for election. It is on the ballot to fill the unfinished term of state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, who joined the U.S. House of Representatives in January.

It is expected to be one of the most hotly contested races in the state, as the district’s population in Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic counties is dominated by independents and has similar numbers of Republicans and Democrats.

“Any vote for Democrats this year is approval of insane policies coming out of Murphy’s legislative agenda,” Testa said.

In addition to Testa, the forum included Assembly candidates Antwan McClellan, 45, a Cape May County worker and Ocean City councilman; and Erik Simonsen, 50, an educator in the Lower Cape May Regional School District and Lower Township mayor; as well as Republican candidates for re-election to the Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders Gerald Thornton and E. Marie Hayes.

The candidates are challenging incumbent Democrats state Sen. Bob Andrzejczak, and Assemblymen Bruce Land and Matt Milam. Land is a retired corrections officer and Milam a retired businessman.

The Republican candidates also stressed their support for gun rights at a town hall forum held by the Concerned Citizens of Southern New Jersey at the Historic Cape May County Courthouse on Main Street. Testa said strict gun laws like those Murphy favors hurt law-abiding gun owners and do nothing to curb criminal behavior.

During a Q&A period, attendees expressed concerns about illegal immigration and generally leaned right. Most questions were written on cards and read by volunteers. One asked what the candidates can do to lessen illegal immigration’s impact on schools.

“Any time a community has a large population of illegal aliens, it’s a burden on the public school system,” Testa said. “People are sympathetic to causes of the children of illegal aliens ... but we have laws on the books for a reason. We need to curb illegal immigration.”

The issue of school safety also came up, and Simonsen said he supported his district’s decision to have armed school resource officers in schools, and would support arming teachers who qualify for firearms.

Testa called the Immigrant Trust Directive issued by state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal earlier this year “ludicrous, insane and dangerous.” The directive sets limits on law enforcement’s ability to take immigration status into consideration when dealing with suspects.

“Thank God for Sheriff Bob Nolan,” Testa said.

Nolan, with the support of the freeholder board, renewed an agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, agreeing to hold for ICE those here illegally who have been charged with serious crimes.

Simonsen said his wife is a legal immigrant — he met her when she was an exchange student.

“There’s a difference between being an immigrant and an illegal immigrant. That’s why I support Sheriff Nolan, what he’s doing,” Simonsen said.

“We didn’t know each other well before running together,” McClellan said. “We found we have a common goal of God, family and community.”

Contact: 609-272-7219

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Twitter @MichelleBPost

Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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