After a lively primary in the state’s northwest corner over the right to succeed outgoing Assemblywoman Alison Littell McHose (R-Sussex), Republicans in the 24th District – as well as in the nearby 21st and 25th — appear to be on the way to victories over Democrats who have raised little money for their campaigns.
Space, 46, who is running for his second full term, is a former freeholder who runs a farm, zoo and family attraction in Wantage. Phoebus, 65, is a first-term freeholder and former Andover Township mayor who co-owns a country club and golf course.
Grace, 53, a management consultant and former Deutsche Bank executive, is a member of the Stillwater school board. Stapel, 35, of Frankford, has worked as a political campaign manager, and in insurance and manufacturing sales.
All the candidates have focused on property tax relief and helping small businesses, perennial concerns in the largely rural 24th District, which covers parts of Sussex, Warren and Morris counties.
Grace and Stapel propose funding schools through a dedicated income tax rather than property taxes, which they say would halve the local tax burden and ease the state’s budget problems.
“By spreading the burden among the six million taxpayers instead of 1.7 million homeowners, the ability to fund the public school system would be more fair and lessen the burden of older citizens on a reduced or fixed income,” according to their website.
Grace and Stapel also contend politicians in Trenton are not sufficiently familiar with the state’s rural areas and argue that they would have better access to fellow Democrats in the legislative leadership. Their priorities include rural small-business tax relief, new rural enterprise zones, and subsidies and tax incentives to help small farms.
Space and Phoebus also advocate property tax reform, but through a Republican plan that would reduce education aid for poor urban communities and shift some of it to suburban and rural districts. They emphasize lowering business taxes and eliminating “red tape” regulations, and oppose a state gas-tax hike to pay for road work and other transportation projects.
“We need new leadership in the Assembly who will make combating high property taxes their top priority — the inequitable system of school funding, low-income housing mandates, unfunded state mandates, urban tax abatement abuses, (and) unfair municipal aid based on politics, not need,” Space said in a press release.
Grace and Stapel were endorsed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Space and Phoebus were endorsed by the National Federation of Independent Business, the National Rifle Association, NJ Right to Life, NJ Fraternal Order of Police, Policemen’s Benevolent Association and several other organizations.
Republicans make up 38 percent of district voters; of the rest, 17 percent are Democrats and 46 percent are unaffiliated. In 2013, McHose and Space garnered more than twice as many votes as their Democratic challengers. The Republicans also have more campaign money, with Phoebus raising $12,355 and Space $14,100. Grace and Stapel have reported just $1,040 in contributions so far.
Voter registration is much less lopsided in the 21st District, which includes portions of Morris, Somerset and Union counties. Twenty-five percent of voters are Democrats, 27 percent are Republicans and 48 percent are unaffiliated.
Nevertheless, the Democratic candidates were trounced two years ago, and the incumbents — Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick and Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (both R-Union) — have vastly larger war chests.
LaZare, 60, is a Summit attorney who campaigned for easier distribution of a heroin antidote after her daughter died of a drug overdose. Barnett, 45, a technology executive and investor, is the mayor of Springfield.
LaZare stresses women’s issues, such as pay equity and restoring state funding for reproductive health care services, and cites the importance of the earned income tax credit (which Christie restored this year after earlier cuts) and stabilizing property taxes.
She and Barnett support incentives for small businesses that hire new workers, shared services to reduce spending and taxes, efforts to attract more healthcare companies to New Jersey, expansion of pre-K and afterschool programs, rejoining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and better transit and road funding.
Some residents in Springfield have called for Barnett to quit the town committee because in 2012 the Securities and Exchange Commission charged that he and a business partner schemed to defraud investors. Barnett, who paid a fine and agreed not to serve as a corporate officer for 10 years, called the settlement a “business decision” and said the SEC charge was irrelevant to his political work.
LaZare notes that, while Bramnick has repeatedly challenged Democratic leaders in the Assembly to debates, he has not responded to her request for several debates between the two of them.
“Jon Bramnick has stood side by side with Chris Christie for the last six years, never once disagreeing with the same governor who has led our state to nine credit rating downgrades, utterly failed to solve our pension problems and done nothing while our transportation infrastructure continued to fall apart,” LaZare said. “I’m ready to debate Assemblyman Bramnick anytime, anywhere, because I know that he has no real solutions for the huge problems facing our state.”
Bramnick has not acknowledged LaZare’s challenge. The five-term assemblyman, an attorney and sometimes comedian, has focused for months on the long-shot prospect of flipping nine Democratic seats this fall and winning back control of the Assembly. Bramnick, who became minority leader in 2012, has also been cited as a potential successor to Christie, with whom he is closely allied.
His partner on the GOP ticket is a nurse who was appointed to replace her husband, the late Assemblyman Eric Munoz, after his death in 2009. Nancy Munoz serves as deputy Republican leader and is seeking her fourth full term.
Munoz has focused on health and safety issues, sponsoring legislation to increase sentences for sex offenders, protect people who use defibrillators on heart attack victims, strengthen patient privacy protections, and improve ambulance services. Her recent bills have targeted cough medicine abuse and dog fighting, while another gave nurses the authority to sign death certificates. In July, she signed on to Christie’s criticism of Amtrak for rail tunnel problems that delayed NJ Transit trains into New York.
“We want to get answers for the commuters who are paying the price for shoddy maintenance and poor customer service,” Munoz said. “The frustration of these long delays makes it almost impossible to have any confidence in Amtrak’s reliability.”
Endorsements for LaZare and Barnett have come from the NJEA, NJ AFL-CIO, NJ Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, NJ Professional Firefighters Association, Jersey Nurses Economic Security Organization and NJ Society of Professional Engineers. Bramnick and Munoz were endorsed by the National Rifle Association.
Munoz had received $89,339 in campaign contributions as of early October, while Bramnick reported $440,324. LaZare and Barnett together had raised $21,557.
Only one Democrat has won a legislative race in the heavily Republican 25th District in the last 40 years. Nonetheless, a pair of novice challengers are trying to unseat longtime Assemblyman Michael Carroll (R-Morris), who has been called the chamber’s most conservative member, and his running mate, Assemblyman Anthony Bucco (R-Morris).
The Democratic candidates are 41-year-old Richard Corcoran of Boonton, a certified public accountant at a large accounting firm, and 67-year-old Thomas Moran of Randolph, who works in information technology for a Fortune 500 company.
“Good government” is the main theme of the Democrats’ campaign.
Moran’s platform includes fairer redistricting, improving the economy by developing a skilled workforce being paid a living wage, and environmental protection and conservation through greater efficiencies.
Corcoran focuses on the state’s strained finances, saying elected officials have failed constituents by taking on too much debt and not funding the state’s pension obligations. He says the Assembly needs more members with financial backgrounds like his. Both Democratic candidates also argue for a Transportation Trust Fund fix to support economic growth.
“No, Gov. Chris Christie, New Jersey cannot wait on your failing presidential run to end for you to address our need for better transportation infrastructure,” they wrote in an online post. “New Jersey deserves action now.”
They are running a shoestring campaign against two well-established conservative incumbents. Carroll has served in the Assembly since 1996 and Bucco, the son of a state senator, took his seat in 2010.
Carroll, 57, a Morris Plains attorney, calls himself the “taxpayer’s strongest ally,” saying he has never voted for a tax increase, opposed every Democratic budget plan, aims to abolish estate and inheritance taxes, and supports school-funding reform to end special assistance to poor districts. He would overturn prevailing wage laws, abolish affirmative action, and repeal the Highlands Act.
Bucco, 53, is also an attorney and a Boonton resident. He has been a close Christie ally and another fierce critic of tax increases and Democratic proposals in general. Earlier this year, he said Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney’s announcement of a millionaire’s tax proposal was “like a bad horror movie.” Along with Bramnick, he sponsored the Economic Opportunity Act of 2013, which consolidated financial incentive programs for businesses.
Bucco and Carroll were endorsed by NJ Right to Life, while the NJ AFL-CIO has endorse Corcoran and Moran.
As of early October, Carroll had raised about $6,700 and Bucco almost $97,000. The Democrats had brought in a combined $12,000. In 2013, the Republicans received over 40 percent of votes while their leading Democratic challenger got 11 percent.