The Republican challengers trying to unseat three incumbent Democrats in South Jersey’s 6th District had an uphill battle from the start, given the Democrats’ 3-to-1 registration advantage.
Then the scandal one termed “tweetergate” brought new meaning to their status as underdogs.
From the beginning Republican Assembly candidates Allan Richardson and Greg Horton had been running their campaign separate from Senate hopeful Phil Mitsch, whose sex tip tweets drew outrage from the assemblywoman they are trying to unseat and lost Mitsch the backing of the Camden County GOP. But any backlash could still hurt them.
“I had no idea he tweeted until tweetergate erupted,” said Richardson, a lawyer from Collingswood.
All three Republicans are trying to focus instead on getting out their messages as they seek to unseat the Democrats, Sen. James Beach and Assembly members Louis Greenwald and Pamela Lampitt.
Both Richardson and Horton, a school administrator, favor the conservative Fair School Funding Act as a way to more equitably distribute state aid to public schools and lower property taxes in the district. The bill would dole out funds to schools on an equal per pupil basis. Horton said it would save just one community in the district, Cherry Hill, $17 million.
“How can you treat one student different from another?” said Horton, who lives in Haddonfield. “They just keep squeezing us and taxes go up. You’ve gotta start somewhere.”
Richardson said this proposal, being pushed by Sen. Michael Doherty (R-23rd), would correct the faulty premise on which New Jersey’s funding system is based: “If you have a problem, you can solve it by throwing money at it.”
Lampitt, finishing her third term in the Assembly, said the only reason suburban districts feel cheated under the current formula is because Gov. Chris Christie has not fully funded it.
“If everything were equal that (the Fair School Funding Act) would be a really great plan, but life is not equal,” said Lampitt, the general manager for conference services at the University of Pennsylvania. “If the current formula was funded in the way it was intended, the way it was written, the districts would be in better shape.”
Greenwald, who chairs the Assembly Budget Committee, said the GOP plan is only a “30-second sound bite that pits neighbor against neighbor.” He supports the current funding formula, which he sponsored.
“This is the first formula in decades that has been upheld by the Supreme Court as constitutionally sound,” said Greenwald, an attorney from Voorhees. “It works well within a broken system.”
Greenwald said the 2 percent property tax cap is only a “short-term fix” that brought service cuts -- including among police forces -- and higher crime rates. New Jersey can only remedy its high property tax problem by fixing the entire tax structure.
He called for a special convention to entirely revamp New Jersey’s taxes based on practices that work in other states.
Lampitt supports efforts to boost regionalization. She also tried to cut spending by sponsoring a bill that would have curbed the large sick day payouts many public union workers now get when they retire. Christie vetoed the bill.
She wants to require all the governmental entities that receive tax funds to work together on five-year budget plans. The long-term planning and cooperative budgeting would lead to savings.
“Common sense, that’s my approach to government,” she said.
Richardson called government “an enormous octopus with many arms” and called for cuts in those departments, agencies and authorities that are not performing a critical function involving education, public health and safety or infrastructure.
“Anything that does not fit into one of those categories has to be considered pork until proven otherwise,” he said. “We have to reorient ourselves to what is government supposed to do.”
The state does have to spend money to fix its crumbling bridges, roads and dams but should do so by reallocating funds so the work is affordable, Richardson said. This will also create jobs.
Beach, the co-chair of the Camden County Democratic party who is finishing his first term in the upper house, said local government consolidations will provide savings. He is co-sponsoring a bill that would make it easier for governments to regionalize.
“The caveat is that we will not support anything unless both communities have a chance to vote on it, with all the information about it,” said Beach, explaining he would not back forced regionalization. “It will pay some dividends down the road.”
Mitsch, a retired real estate agent from Merchantville, said he would force all levels of government to cut the “fat” out of their budgets, leading to spending reductions of between 30 and 40 percent.
“That would reduce property taxes by one third,” he said.
Mitsch blames the economic troubles on the collapse of the real estate market and said reinvigorating real estate investments through a 2 percent mortgage program and requiring mandatory modifications of mortgage loans on at-risk homes would put the state on the road to recovery.
Richardson and Horton both called for eliminating government bureaucracy and mandates that make it tougher to do business in the state as a way to boost the economy.
“We have to get out of the way of entrepreneurs, the people who are creating jobs,” said Horton. “We have to eliminate red tape, make New Jersey more business-friendly.” Beach said the state needs to invest in higher education “to make sure every kid who wants to advance himself by getting a college degree has the opportunity to do so.”
New Jersey needs to work harder both at keeping jobs and creating new ones in manufacturing and in the alternative energy field, he said.
Mitsch, who calls himself “America’s Leading Financial Crisis, Real Estate and Mortgage Expert” on his website, said his background and experience makes him “by and large the most qualified candidate” to jumpstart the state’s economy. He called his opponent “a career politician.”
Beach said his reputation among voters in the district is as someone who “works hard and gets the job done.” He is proud of his efforts to help veterans and those in the military, and currently is sponsoring a bill that would provide tax credits to businesses that hire National Guardsmen and reservists.
He also sponsored, along with Lampitt, the law that allows juveniles charged with “sexting” – sending sexually explicit images or messages others – to enter an educational program and avoid criminal prosecution.
Lampitt is especially proud of that measure and others that help teenagers and young adults. For instance, she sponsored the law requiring that county college courses transfer easily to state colleges to allow students to get a college degree for a lower price.
“That bill is helping a significant number of people,” she said. “I have focused a lot on our teens and young people, trying to ensure that their quality of life is better.” Among his significant accomplishments in office, Greenwald points to auto insurance reform, the expansion of the Cancer Institute of New Jersey and last June’s public pension and health benefit reform bill. Although the latter bill got him and many other Democrats who voted for it into trouble with unions, he said it was necessary and much better than Christie’s first proposal.
“The governor’s original idea … was to take a pound of flesh,” Greenwald said. “In seven years, they (public workers) would have received no pension from the state and their healthcare would have been gone. Sometimes you have to make tough decisions.”
But Horton said the Democrats have not made the tough decisions and that’s why he got into the race.
“I’m tired of all the deception,” said Horton, adding he supports term limits for county and state-level offices. “Our current incumbent politicians say they are going to fix things but they never do.”
Richardson said the bad publicity Republicans received from Mitsch’s tweets did not help their candidacy, but they were already underdogs against “the Camden County Democratic machine.”
Still, he said he ran because “the message has to get out: There’s no free lunch.”
Mitch, who has some 44,000 followers on Twitter said he sometimes tweets sexual advice amidst real estate tips and uses dry humor. He contended the Democrats forwarded a few of his tweets – one advised women to be a “whore in the bedroom” – to reporters to try to derail his candidacy because they saw him as a threat, a charge Beach denied. Although running as a Republican, Mitsch said he is an independent thinker.
“No one is going to control me,” he said. “I hope that I’m a breath of fresh air that can put faith back into people that they can have leaders they can trust.”
Beach had a different impression of his opponent: “I’m just amazed this guy is actually seeking public office.”