Two decades after James Carville bluntly advised candidate Bill Clinton to focus on the economy, the top election issue is still the national economy — including in New Jersey’s 1st Congressional District, where three candidates seek to unseat Democratic incumbent Rob Andrews.
The three challengers – Republican Gregory Horton, Reform candidate Margaret Chapman, and Green Party activist Bill Reitter – are all focusing on the national debate over how best to get the U.S. economy back on track.
The 1st District encompasses many middle-and-upper middle-class bedroom communities, a few older Philadelphia suburbs, some which are experiencing an economic rebirth, and the “post-industrial” city of Camden.
Represented by Andrews since 1990, the district became even more reliably Democratic after 2011 redistricting added Cherry Hill to the three dozen Camden County municipalities, the more suburbanized northern parts of Gloucester County, and the three southwestern towns in Burlington County that make up the district.
The 1st District is mostly a suburban feeder to a large city whose economy and housing market remained relatively level during the recession.
In addition, its work force is concentrated more in health care, retail, hospitality and professional services jobs and less in the finance, farming and manufacturing sectors.
Those factors have helped to make it relatively stable, both politically and economically. The district’s voters tend to focus more on national issues rather any dire local problems. And three candidates challenging Andrews are mostly following the voters’ lead.
Jobs and Taxes
However, the 1st District’s unemployment rate has run higher than the state average – in 2011, it was 3 percent higher than the state average of 10.9 percent, a figure heavily influenced by Camden’s 30 percent jobless rate. That’s why all four candidates have stressed job growth as a key issue in the election.
Horton’s approach boils down to reducing taxes and easing restrictions on the private sector.
The 46-year-old high school athletic director from Haddonfield , who serves as a Camden County GOP committee member and co-chair, calls for a progressive corporate flat tax – ranging from 25 percent one-year domestic investment to 10 percent for long-term investments of five years or more – to discourage investment abroad and encourage it at home.
If elected, he says, he would strive to rein in the debt, the deficit and government spending, and work to implement a balanced-budget amendment.
Chapman and Reitter also support steps to create domestic jobs but emphasize different approaches.
Chapman, a 56-year-old legal secretary from Pine Hill who is running for this seat for the third time, leans toward infrastructure improvements as a job-creation tool.
“The infrastructure of this country needs massive work and will create numerous jobs for a long period of time,” she said.
Reitter, a 71-year-old retired tour guide from Glassboro, believes “green,” sustainable jobs will move the economy forward. He opposes tax policies that favor the wealthy and urges an end to subsidies for corporations that emit excessive pollutants. He also suggests that by ending “wars of occupation,” the country can free up funds to promote environmentally sustainable policies that will lead to greater opportunity for jobs and leisure.
Andrews’ legislative and appropriations record shows that he, too, favors “green-collar” and infrastructure jobs.
For example, during his current term in office, he’s secured $300,000 for a green-jobs training program in Camden and $2.2 million in federal loans to upgrade pipes in Barrington and install water storage equipment facilities to accommodate development of the Port of Paulsboro, a project the South Jersey Port Corporation estimates will bring 2,000 jobs to South Jersey.
He supported President Obama’s $447 billion 2011 budget plan to address the unemployment problem through tax cuts, infrastructure spending and extending unemployment benefits. As a member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, he sits on the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training and is the ranking member of the Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions subcommittee.
Andrews is being criticized by Reitter, who supports a return to the so-called “millionaire’s tax” as another means to alleviating the burden on the unemployed and middle class, for signing a pledge put forth by the controversial Grover Norquist, founder of the conservative Americans for Tax Reform, promising to never raise taxes.
Last fall, Andrews sought to have his name removed from the Norquist pledge, explaining that he understood the promise to carry through his current term and not the entirety of his career.
A Balanced Budget
In addition to a balanced-budget amendment, Horton supports term limits and changes in congressional pensions and benefits. He backs the Simpson-Bowles Commission recommendations to reduce the deficit, agreeing with Obama’s related proposal to cut $4 trillion from the budget over the next decade, and supports cutting nondiscretionary spending, “within reason.”
According to a written statement from Horton, “within reason” means: “Redundant governmental departments and agencies will also be taken into consideration, bolstering some while cutting others where necessary.”
Andrews was one of 38 representatives to vote for the roundly rejected bipartisan “Cooper-LaTourette” bill, which was based on the Simpson-Bowles recommendations and was presented as an alternative to the controversial budget proposed by GOP vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan.
Andrews said at the time: “There’s a consensus in America we have to reduce our deficit. … Most of it should be by cutting spending, and some of it should be in revenue contribution by the wealthiest Americans.”
Last month, The Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to fiscal responsibility, awarded the prestigious 2012 Paul E. Tsongas Economic Patriot Award to Andrews and his colleagues who also voted “yea” on the “Cooper-LaTourette” bill.
This week, Andrews told NJ Spotlight: “I’d rather not win an award; I’d rather have it passed. If we don’t stop borrowing 40 cents for every dollar we spend we’re going to be in big, big trouble.”
Both third-party candidates in this race oppose Simpson-Bowles.
Chapman feels that too many attempts at reform target the middle and working class while preserving the comforts of the wealthy, whom she accuses of being unwilling to pay their fair share of taxes.. She instead proposes a sliding scale or a transactional tax because, she said, “Money has never trickled down, never in my 56 years of life…”
Reitter said, simply, “…Tax the rich and end loopholes and subsidies.”
Andrews was a lead author of the Obama-backed Affordable Care Act and has capitalized on his support by securing allocations related to it for the 1st District. Specifically, he touts the $2.7 million grant to Camden’s Cooper University Hospital to hire 14 new staff members to help reduce costs by providing home follow-up care to the sickest and neediest patients within 24 hours of their release from the hospital.
Andrews also touts his support for Planned Parenthood as well as the provision that took effect in August requiring health insurance plans to cover preventative medical care for women.
“You have to walk in the shoes of a single mom who doesn’t have health care, who just discovered a lump in her breast. These women get their health care from Planned Parenthood,” he said. “The idea of shutting down Planned Parenthood and telling her to suck it up and get through it is really offensive to me. The (presidential candidate Mitt) Romney position of cutting off funding to Planned Parenthood is a huge mistake.”
Chapman, a breast-cancer survivor, also supports “Obamacare” but says she doesn’t think it goes far enough.
“We live in a country where no one should be uninsured, but we continually fail to recognize the needs of the people,” she said, adding that she would not force people to maintain insurance they can’t afford and would work to prohibit insurance companies from contributing large donations to politicians.
Horton, for his part, feels no one should be denied access to health care but “nor should those capable of paying their insurance be left with the tab,” as he wrote in NJ Spotlight’s voter guide. If elected, he would encourage tort reform, emphasize the importance of education and self-discipline to reduce costs spent on treating preventable diseases, and charge higher insurance premiums to those suffering from diseases brought on by lifestyle choices.
As for Reitter, his solution to the health-care crisis is simple: “We need improved, expanded Medicare for all. Just change two words: Over 65.”