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Senate Race: District 17

Prosecutor seeks to unseat incumbent Democratic in Middlesex County.

Republican Jordan Rickards is a young prosecutor who believes he can best Democratic incumbent Sen. Bob Smith, who has spent a quarter of a century in the legislature, in the 17th District Senate race.

Based in Middlesex County, the district is staunchly Democratic, which gives Smith a real edge.

But Rickards said Democratic representation is the root of the district’s problems, including spiraling property taxes.

“The No. 1 issue has to be affordability,” said Rickards, who started his own law practice in Milltown three years ago. “We have the highest taxes in the state.”

He blames Democrats for those high taxes, charging the incumbent senator as “the cause of the problem that I am trying to solve.” Smith “has no plan to reduce spending and wants to increase just about every area of spending,” Rickards charged.

Smith, who has been in the Senate for the last decade, said Rickards’s jabs against him are unjustified.

“We’re in the worst recession since the Great Depression, and everyone should share the pain,” Smith said. “My opponent’s party has refused to vote for the millionaire’s tax. This could have reduced the level of property taxes.”

Smith has a proven track record as an environmental advocate and is the head of the Environment and Energy Committee. The sponsor of the law that put tough restrictions on development in the North Jersey Highlands region and measures to clean up Barnegat Bay, he also has authored a number of bills related to fertilizers and the restoration of soil during the tenure of Gov. Chris Christie.

“I’m not an unknown entity,” Smith said. “I think I have a pretty good track record.”

A former college teacher, Smith is now a lawyer. He said the biggest issues facing New Jersey are jobs, the economy, and local property taxes. For his part, Smith said he has been working to increase opportunities for green jobs to address these problems.

Rickards has made education one of the major issues in his platform and he said he supports giving parents vouchers to use in any school system as a way to improve urban schools and the economy as a whole.

“With more kids staying in school,” Rickards said, “we can reduce our welfare services, the cost of government will decrease, property values will increase, businesses will want to move in, and so you’re solving all those problems in one.”

Matthew Kassel is a freelance writer focusing mainly on politics and culture. He is an editorial assistant at Community News Service, a local newspaper group in Mercer County.

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