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Legislative District 24

Call it the 24th turnaround, but conservative republicans are at the political center in this legislative district.

It's not often that the conservative Republicans in the 24th Legislative District find themselves in the political center during an election.

That is happening this November as Assembly incumbents Alison Littell McHose and Gary Chiusano face challenges from the political left, Democratic Party first-timers Leslie Huhn and Jim Nye, and from the political right, Tea Party candidate Rose Ann Salanitri and Mark D. Quick, running under the Principle Not Party banner.

Sen. Steve Oroho will face Democrat Ed Selby, a former public school teacher.

McHose, in office since 2003, holds a post that was often filled since the 1940s by her father, Robert Littell, who served in both the Assembly and Senate for 40 years. Her grandfather, Alfred Littell, served in both houses from 1940 to 1953.

Chiusano is a former investment adviser and former Sussex County freeholder seeking his second term.

Oroho, also a former Sussex freeholder, is seeking his second term as a senator. In the 24th District, always a rural, conservative bastion, registered Republicans are nearly twice the number as the voter registration totals of the Democrats, 54,132 to 23,777 in the June primary. Unaffiliated voter make up the largest bloc, 61,493 voters.

In the recent redistricting, the 24th, which is largely composed of Sussex County towns lost some Morris and Hunterdon municipalities to the 23rd, but received a sizable block of northern Warren County. The Republican incumbents have supported Gov. Chris Christie's budget efforts to reduce pension and state employee costs, and have tried to find permanent funding for Lake Hopatcong.

McHose promoted legislation that would fine companies and agencies that tried to enforce the requirements of the federal health reform bill.

McHose, Chiusano, and Oroho are also known for efforts to strengthen gun rights and to reduce the reach of state government. They have introduced bills to ban state departments and agencies from enforcing the requirements of the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act, and have supported legislation to ban same-sex marriage.

They have the endorsements of the state's leading Conservative organizations.

The Democrats have said cuts in state aid have put the district's public schools at a disadvantage. Huhn, founder of a local grassroots group, Sparta Unites for Our Schools, has been the vocal leader on this issue. He said the middle class is feeling the greatest impact of recent state budget reductions since the cuts affected teachers, police and firefighters and were not coupled with a tax hike for New Jersey's top earners.

Selby said the cuts in the 2012 state budget are in effect a tax increase for the 800,000 largely middle class state workers because they are paying higher healthcare costs and contributing more to their pensions.

The Democrats have picked up endorsements from unions representing state workers whose members felt the brunt of those budget cuts.

On the far right, Salanitri said the incumbent Republicans failed to enact deeper cuts that would have reduced the size and reach of state government even further. Quick said the Republican incumbents acted more like Democrats in the budget debate because they did not fight for deeper cuts.

The two independents favor more school choice through state government vouchers, the election of Superior and Supreme Court judges, and a halt to regional planning of any sort because it interferes with an individual's property rights.

These disparate positions give the voters of the 24th some clearcut choices in November.

Michael Daigle is a freelance writer and journalist from Phillipsburg. He has worked for newspapers in Massachusetts, Maine, and for the past 20 years, in New Jersey. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting on housing policy, politics, environmental issues and as a columnist.

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