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Candidates: Legislative District 24

Reliable Republicans face challenges from both the political left and right.

The three Republican legislators from the 24th District have been reliable soldiers for Gov. Chris Christie’s agenda, which they describe as efforts to rein in state spending, battle unnecessary regulation and enact a business-friendly plan.

That devotion to generally conservative policies has resulted in endorsements from the state's leading conservative organizations. But this November, they face challenges from both from the political left and right.

Incumbent Sen. Steven Oroho faces Democrat Edwin Selby. Incumbent Assembly members Alison Littell McHose and Gary Chiusano face Democrats Leslie Huhn and Jim Nye, and Tea Party candidates Rose Ann Salanitri and Mark Quick.

McHose, who joined the lower house in 2003, holds an office previously held by her father, Robert Littell, who served in the Assembly and Senate for a total of 40 years, and her grandfather, Alfred Littell, who served in both houses from 1940 to 1953.

Chiusano is a former investment adviser and former Sussex County freeholder seeking his second term in the Assembly. Oroho, a financial adviser and former Sussex freeholder, is seeking his second term in the Senate.

The Republican incumbents often have jointly sponsored legislation, such as the law allowing bow hunting within 150 feet of an occupied building. The bill maintains the former 450-foot standard for hunting near school playgrounds. Chiusano, who lives in Augusta, said this is a measure that would help better manage the state's deer herd and boost agriculture.

The three incumbents also supported efforts to create a level funding source for Lake Hopatcong, an effort that has not moved forward.

McHose has called for the completion of the Lackwanna Cutoff, a New Jersey-to-Pennsylvania passenger rail line, saying that constituents in Sussex County face among the state's longest commutes.

"We need to move cars off congested roads like Route 80," said McHose, who lives in Franklin. "A passenger rail line in our area will help relieve traffic congestion and lessen commuter time with the added benefit of reducing air pollution."

The three legislators have also supported the governor's initiatives to make the state a more business-friendly place through the elimination of regulation and the creation of incentives.

Bills that all three supported seek tax credits for businesses that hire military veterans and for tax credits for construction firms that hire vets.

"Some employers may be hesitant to hire and invest in the training of an individual who serves in the National Guard or a reserve component of the armed forces,” said Oroho, who lives in Franklin. “This legislation provides a small form of assistance to those businesses who have an employee that is honorably serving in defense of our nation."

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

The trio is also known for efforts to strengthen gun rights and to reduce the reach of state government. The have introduced bills to ban state departments and agencies from enforcing the requirements of the New Jersey Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act, and have supported legislation to ban same-sex marriage.

Oroho has sponsored legislation that would authorize students in failing school districts to get vouchers funded through private corporations to attend better schools. The bill fits in Christie's school reform efforts. The three Republicans have also supported efforts to have the state provide level school aid per pupil.

"New Jersey has the highest property taxes in America because we have the most unequal education funding formula in the country," Chiusano said.

The Democrats, meanwhile, have put together a uniform platform on key issues. They support reinstatement of the millionaire's tax on higher income residents, increased state funding of public schools, the use of charter schools in some instances to give students in poor-performing districts an alternative, regional planning and increased funding for repairs to the state's roads and bridges.

Nye said spending money on roads and bridges is "an investment in job creation." They also panned Christie's energy master plan, saying it was too favorable to the oil industry and too light on incentives for alternative energy sources

"The reliance on fossil fuel as a key ingredient is not a master plan for conservation and renewable energy," Nye said. "The technology is available to create the energy and the resulting jobs, taxes and reductions in pollutants are manifold."

The Democrats both lives in Sparta have said the cuts in state aid have put the district's public schools at a disadvantage. The New Jersey Education Association endorsed them, and Huhn, founder of a local grassroots group, Sparta Unites for Our Schools, has been the vocal leader on this issue.

"Gov. Christie's cuts to education decimated 24th District schools and have increased the percentage of total state aid going to New Jersey's Abbott districts," she said.

While Salanitri and Quick both claim Tea Party affiliation, they are not running as a team. They are, however, also focused on education. Salanitri lives in Branchville and helped start a Christian charter school in Sussex County. "We must be careful to increase choice by letting the money follow the children and not encumber that choice with regulations," she said. "Private schools must be encouraged to participate in order to expand the choice of schools."

Salanitri and Quick called for level state school aide. Salanitri said a common sense approach to school funding could provide for all needs without increasing taxation. "I believe every child is equal and so should be the funding," added Quick.

They have called for investing in alternative energy sources, but want to end the programs that appear to be giving private companies tax dollars without any investment on their part.

A farmer in Johnsonburg, Quick said the state needs to change its approach to assisting farmers so that farmers do not have to trade their land rights for the opportunity to survive economically.

Both he and Salanitri said regional land-use planning has not worked and should scrapped in favor of local planning.

All the challengers face huge odds because the 24th District has nearly double the number of registered Republican voters as Democrats.

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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