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Candidates: District 22

Medical marijuana, schools are issues that set rivals apart as they seek working-class votes.

In the older, urbanized 22nd District, incumbent Democrats say residents and the public schools have come up on the short end of Gov. Chris Christie's state budget cuts.

"Gov. Christie's budget cuts across the board -- but especially to school aid -- will devastate the middle class and the working poor," said Assemblyman Jerry Green, a political fixture in Plainfield.

"While we all understand that spending less in times of austerity is the right thing to do, cutting tens of millions of dollar in aid to our schools that will ultimately put the squeeze on students and middle-class taxpayers alike will only serve to make things worse."

His running mate, Assemblywoman Linda Stender, agreed.

“The governor's budget cut does two things: Ensures that our students and educators will be harder pressed to keep up with their contemporaries in neighboring states and drives a deep divide between the haves and the have-nots on the 22nd District and across the state," she said.

Green and Stender are facing Republican challengers Joan Van Pelt, an attorney from Plainfield who spent 27 years in the Office of the Public Defender, and Jeffrey First, a health administrator from Middlesex.

The Senate race has been on again/off again.

Sen. Nicholas P. Scutari, who has been in office since 2003, faces Republican Michael W. Class, the Middlesex Borough Council president.

At one point, Class tried to drop out of the race because he switched jobs. Then later he decided to stay in because he was too late in filing his petition to withdraw his name.

Class said he was motivated to run for state Assembly to provide more visible public service for the district's residents.

If elected, he said he would focus his attention on job creation.

"Our citizens need jobs," he said. "I want to bring back what is important to our district and what our community truly needs, which is economic stability created by employment and development in our communities."

He said he does not support the effort to make medical marijuana available, which is one of the accomplishments of his opponent.

Scutari, a Linden resident and attorney, sponsored the law allowing New Jersey residents to use medical marijuana.

"Over the past year and a half, we have heard from patients across New Jersey who are desperate for relief from the effects of cancer, glaucoma, HIV AIDS and other debilitating conditions," Scutari said.

He backed the cuts to state worker benefits and pensions and the reduction in the state tax levy cap to 2 percent. He favors the expansion of charter schools.

Green has supported Plainfield's designation as an Abbott school district eligible to receive additional state aid.

He and Stender sponsored a bill to authorize the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust to spend up to $648 million on priority clean water and drinking water projects.

An unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006 and 2008, Stender has been at the forefront of legislation to aid women. For instance, she fought unsuccessfully to put back in the state budget funds cut by Christie that would have supported Planned Parenthood and healthcare efforts aimed at lower income women and families.

Van Pelt said she supports school choice and the use of vouchers to improve education.

"Public schools should, but do not always, provide quality education so parents seek to send their children elsewhere," Van Pelt said. "The Opportunity Scholarship Act would encourage private sector investment in children from failing districts."

Charter schools "should remain a part of the public education system to explore innovative educational alternatives leading to a better public education for all students," she said.

Van Pelt said she supports ethics reform, as well as and a regionalized approach to planning and energy use. She also would use tax caps to hold down property tax increases.

First said government should not spend more than it takes in.

"I strongly believe that our government must be operated like any successful business venture," First said. "Expenditure can not exceed revenues. Tight controls must be placed on spending. The key word is justification. We must always ask do we really need it, and if we do, why do we need as many, and finally where can we obtain the best price."

The Republicans have an uphill battle here because the district, which includes portions of Union, Middlesex and Somerset counties, has three times as many registered Democrats as Republicans.

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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