Incumbent U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo is perceived by some as a centrist Republican who’s not been afraid to break ranks with his party to address the specific needs of the 2nd Congressional District, which he has served since 1994.
But the five challengers seeking to unseat him this Election Day accuse him of neglecting the concerns of his constituents.
However, with little to no campaign money, no candidate debates and a sprawling district that spans parts of eight diverse counties, LoBiondo’s challengers are having trouble building name recognition and spreading their message.
Far outpaced financially, his closest competitor is Democratic newcomer Cassandra Shober, who had raised $51,600 as of Sept. 30, compared to LoBiondo’s $1.5 million. Conservative Christian Charles Lukens, a former Army intelligence officer, nurse and real estate broker from Ventnor, who is running as an independent, had raised less than $1,400 by the same date. Independents David Bowen and Frank Faralli, Jr. and libertarian John Ordille each had raised less than the $5,000 minimum required for mandatory reporting to the Federal Elections Commission.
When they do garner an audience, the candidates speak chiefly of jobs, with the two front-runners using their platforms to also address the topics of veteran affairs and the environment.
With the district’s eastern edge running along beachfront communities from Cape May to Barnegat Light and including Atlantic City’s Coast Guard Air Station and Cape May’s Coast Guard Training Center, these priorities are fitting, as is the fact that LoBiondo chairs the Coast Guard & Maritime Transportation Subcommittee of the House’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and also sits on the Armed Services Committee and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
One of LoBiondo’s most recent accomplishments involved both jobs and veterans. As one of the few members of Congress to hold a commercial driver’s license (CDL) and as a member of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, LoBiondo worked to pass the Military Commercial Driver’s License Act of 2012, which allows active duty military personnel to obtain a CDL in the state where they train or serve, even if it’s not the state where they permanently reside.
In a statement, LoBiondo said, “At a time when unemployment is too high, particularly among our veterans, this common-sense legislation will remove barriers for our American heroes to begin pursuing American jobs and position them for life after the military.”
In 2009, LoBiondo bucked his party to sponsor the Employee Free Choice Act, which made it easier for workers to unionize, but voted along party lines against a bill that would prevent government contracts from going to companies that ship jobs overseas.
He also opposed President Obama’s stimulus plan. His vote against the stimulus has exposed him to criticism from opponents, who claim that if he’d fought harder for the stimulus the district might have received a bigger chunk of its appropriations.
According to Shober, the 2nd District could have collected nearly $1.8 billion in federal infrastructure improvement funds instead of the slightly more than $70 million it received to build a causeway connecting Ocean City to Somers Point and for a few additional minor projects. As an advocate for job creation through infrastructure projects, she lamented what she sees as a missed opportunity.
“Those stimulus funds brought 500 good jobs into the district,” she said. “But we got less than one percent of one percent of the available money.”
LoBiondo explained that he voted against the bill because it didn’t contain enough funds for transportation infrastructure projects and he believed it would not create enough jobs nationwide.
As a member of the Aviation Subcommittee of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, LoBiondo has staunchly supported the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) growth in South Jersey.
He has lobbied for federal funding of the “NextGen” project to modernize air-traffic control systems – being developed chiefly at the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township — and has worked to prevent a second partial closure of that facility, which furloughed 650 employees in 2011.
The technical center directly and indirectly supports about 3,000 South Jersey workers and is the anchor for a proposed aviation technology center, informally spearheaded by LoBiondo, that could create up to 2,000 high-tech jobs when it’s completed.
But six years after the project was announced, construction has yet to begin. Mismanagement, missed deadlines and missing bonds have compounded problems like prior uncertainty over congressional authorization and inability to find tenants or a developer for the project. Because of the delays, companies like Boeing, which initially expressed interest in locating near the Technical Center, have since demurred, and revised estimates call for no more than 250 jobs being created when the center’s first building opens, which is now expected no earlier than 2015.
“The aviation project was supposed to be completed by spring 2012 but there’s a gate up with a padlock on it and there’s money missing,” Shober said. “It’s a federal issue and a local issue. The congressman was unable to secure the additional funding needed and locally there was a lack of oversight.”
LoBiondo could not be reached for comment for this story.
In addition to NextGen and infrastructure improvements, Shober supports direct federal funding to communities to open up opportunities for investment. In the case of South Jersey, she says, that investment should target manufacturing.
“We used to be a manufacturing hub. Glass production, Heinz 57 … We used to build yachts, we used to make the President’s china. We saved Detroit. We did not save manufacturing in South Jersey.”
Bowen’s views on jobs resemble those of Shober. Citing the lack of progress on NextGen and the aviation center, the 47-year-old former business man and volunteer firefighter from Pittsgrove proposes incentives for companies that create jobs in blighted areas and penalties for those that ship jobs overseas. His platform includes working with the Small Business Administration, local banks and colleges and private investors to develop more business incubators and pipelines for development and funding, particularly in downtrodden urban areas. He’s also a strong supporter of infrastructure improvements as a job-generating tool.
“Road construction brings new businesses which allows for new communities which buys product at area stores allowing for a thriving local economy,” Bowen wrote on his website.
On the other side of the issue, small government proponent Charles link:http://lukensforcongress.com/|Lukens] would seek to abolish all regulations on business other than those to protect property rights against theft and an aggressive government. Believing that government, which he calls a “burden,” produces nothing, he feels the nation’s economic business engine would run faster without it.
As a Libertarian, Ordille, too, favors a reduction in the size of a government in order to let the free market create jobs. Calling business regulation the “number one job killer,” the UPS driver from Northfield would repeal most free-trade agreements.
Faralli, an enigmatic figure from Cape May Court House who did not return a mailed request for comment, named jobs as a priority in a conversation with the Asbury Park Press’ editorial board, and said that he would be a fiscally conservative lawmaker because, as he told the board, “I don’t like spending anyone else’s money.”
Shober is the only candidate who would not repeal the Affordable Health Care Act (with the possible exception of Faralli, whose positions on this issue could not be identified).
Drawing upon her interest in women’s health care, Shober believes the federal government should extend health care to Americans who lack insurance and should continue its role as a provider to agencies like Planned Parenthood that provide mammograms, pap smears, cancer screenings and preventative care to low-income women.
“It’s really important that the people of the district and members of Congress … understand what’s going on with women’s health issues. Even the men. We’re talking about their moms, wives, sisters, daughters, aunts. These issues affect everybody.”
Her challengers disagree.
Bowen, who supports universal health care, would repeal parts of the so-called “Obamacare” law because he believes they place an undue burden on indigent patients.
The others would vote for repeal because of its perceived implications for the economy and American democracy, with Lukens going so far as to call the act unconstitutional, dishonest and “an abomination.”
“Those who enacted it dishonestly should be impeached. Those Congressional Representatives who watched the travesty of Obamacare’s creation and still have not issued a demand for the impeachment of the bad actors are themselves accessories to the crime and should stand to be censured,” Lukes wrote on his website. He did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
“We have a system in place. It’s called Medicare,” said Ordille, who feels the Affordable Care Act is unaffordable for the nation. He would rather use the funds to strengthen Medicare while implementing tort reform.
LoBiondo voted against the “Obamacare” act. He receives low grades from women’s health lobbying organizations.
From energy policy to the protection of farmland and offshore fish habitats, the environment plays a pivotal role in the daily life of the 2nd District’s residents. That, however, doesn’t mean that all of its constituents support preservation at the expense of jobs or the federal budget.
Espousing the most extreme view, Lukens, who purports to support clean water, air, soil, energy and transportation, accuses the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of being run by extremists who damage the national economy and infringe on private property rights. If elected, he says, he would push for the EPA to relinquish its regulatory and policing responsibilities so that American corporations could pursue “exploration, development, refinement and distribution of all American energy resources in the most economical way.”
Ordille, while advocating relaxation – not elimination — of environmental laws, takes a more measured view. He trusts private companies to self-police, noting that it’s in their self-interest to avoid incidents damaging to public relations. He cites the example of the Gulf of Mexico oil-spill disaster in 2010 and credits BP for cleaning up both the environment and the public’s perception of the company. He also supports Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to pull New Jersey out of a regional initiative to curb greenhouse gas emissions, lauding him for doing “the right thing.”
“The climate is always changing,” he wrote in a questionnaire distributed to the candidates by NJSpotlight. “The question is how much is man made and how much DEFICIT spending and OVERTAXING are needed to address the situation.”
Bowen favors greater regulation of industrial emissions and waste, and criticizes Christie for abandoning the regional greenhouse gas initiative. He opposes the controversial energy extraction method known as “fracking” and warns that the disposal of pollutants generated from “fracking” in Pennsylvania poses a threat to New Jersey’s waterways.
Shober also condemns Christie for his decision and believes that reduction of air pollutants should be pursued by reducing dependence on foreign oil and encouraging the development of “green” energy methods.
LoBiondo touts his dedication to environmental protection in his personal written biography, pointing to his work on behalf of shoreline and wetlands preservation and noting awards he has received from the Audubon Society, the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club. He has bucked his own party by voting for cap-and-trade energy policies, and he also burnishes his moderate credentials by voting against a recent pro-coal bill and by vacillating in his support for offshore drilling. But the League of Conservation Voters gives him just a 71 percent lifetime approval rating, thanks in part to votes to reduce liability for hazardous-waste cleanup and to prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.
Both LoBiondo and Shober count veteran affairs among their “pet” issues, with Shober attacking LoBiondo’s record. Part of her campaign message highlights the incumbent’s “nay” votes on increasing combat pay and funding for suicide prevention and PTSD prevention for veterans. She notes that LoBiondo also voted to cut $75 million from programs designed to aid homeless vets.
Shober says that, as a member of Congress, she would place high priority on supporting active duty soldiers and returning veterans.
But LoBiondo scores exceedingly high with veterans organizations like the Vietnam Veterans of America, who gave him a 100 percent grade in 2011. The congressman is particularly proud of his work to allow veterans access to community clinics to minimize their need to travel out of state to access VA medical services, and he supported construction of a medical clinic in Northfield that provides basic care to veterans.
He and Rep. John Runyan (R-3rd) co-sponsored a bill to adjust the cost-of-living allocation for veterans with service-related disabilities and to increase compensation to survivors of disabled veterans. The bill received overwhelming bipartisan support and was signed by President Obama.