The 17th District is made up of five municipalities in Middlesex and Somerset counties: Franklin, Milltown, New Brunswick, North Brunswick, and Piscataway.
This is a Democratic stronghold, with 45 percent of registered voters declaring for the Democratic Party and 11 percent for the Republicans. Most of the rest are unaffiliated.
There is a three-way contest for two Democratic slots. Both incumbent assemblymen are running: Joseph Egan of New Brunswick and Joe Danielsen of Somerset. The challenger is Ron Rivers of North Brunswick.
The Republican slate consists of Patricia Badovinac of Piscataway and Maria Concepcion Powell or New Brunswick.
CANDIDATES IN CONTESTED PRIMARY
NJ Spotlight asked all candidates in contested races to fill out a brief survey about themselves and why they are running. This is the response we received from 17th District candidates.
RON RIVERS: DEMOCRAT
Hometown: North Brunswick
Occupation: Nonprofit executive director
Education: B.A. Marketing, Hofstra University; B.A. Management, Hofstra University
Email/phone: firstname.lastname@example.org/(347) 352-6329
Why are you running for the Assembly? I’m running for state Assembly because I know that New Jersey needs innovative, imaginative, and creative leadership to navigate our rapidly changing future.
Our world is changing quickly and requires a proactive approach to be successful. Technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, and others present specific challenges to our way of living, but also hold the potential to redefine the human experience. New Jersey needs representation that proactively embraces the new to help redefine what is possible.
This campaign isn’t about politics; it’s about direction. I never imagined I’d be running for office, but it’s clear that New Jersey needs representation that is technologically savvy, highly engaged, transparent, and creative to navigate our uncertain future. Let’s use democracy as it is intended to be used, to build a society that works for all of us.
I am passionate about serving you and our community in a full-time capacity. For these reasons and more I ask for your trust and your vote on June 4 in the Democratic primary election.
What are your three top priorities if elected?
Climate change: This is an issue that transcends politics and is a genuine existential crisis that we must address together. There is no debate as an astounding 97 percent of climate scientists agree that rising global temperatures correlate directly with human activity.
I reject any person or policy that suggests we have plenty of time, that a concentrated and mobilized effort of people and resources cannot solve this problem or the laughable notion that private corporations will solve this issue. It has become too easy to say it’s too hard to solve climate change and if elected to represent you I will make proactively addressing and preparing for climate change an absolute priority.
It’s time to start thinking about energy differently in New Jersey. Energy use is essential to the life of every person in New Jersey, and in the U.S. Therefore, it is imperative that we strengthen our approach toward a networked green-energy infrastructure here in the Garden State. Combined with a public ownership model, it is feasible that within the next 10-20 years New Jersey could be operating a near-zero marginal-cost society. The impact of nearly free renewable energy would be profound and benefit every person and organization in the state.
Here is the legislation I will sponsor and fight for:
Ending marijuana prohibition: At the time of this writing, New Jersey state legislators are holding up the passage of the recreational marijuana legislation proposed by Gov. Murphy.
Recreational marijuana makes sense. It is less dangerous than alcohol, will provide the state with significant tax revenues to invest in social programs, funding pensions, and help us fuel the growth we need.
When supported by the right legal infrastructure to encourage safe use at home and deter use while operating vehicles of any sort, legal marijuana is going to be a great thing for New Jersey.
I fully support recreational marijuana for home and personal use throughout the state.
I will also be a vocal advocate for the promotion of social justice through our marijuana laws. Black users of marijuana have been systemically discriminated against for decades, being unfairly targeted for crimes related to its use despite near equal use among blacks and whites.
Record expungement is a good start, but I believe that disenfranchised communities should be guaranteed an equity stake in marijuana businesses opening in their communities. I am strongly opposed to large conglomerates turning the marijuana industry into another mega-firm like big tobacco. We have an opportunity to make it right from the start; let’s do it.
I would also support New Jersey taking a page from the Canadian model and banning the branding of marijuana products here in the state. By prohibiting the branding of the product, we eliminate the risk of marijuana becoming the next cigarettes by being marketed to children.
No branding also means that the marijuana business model will be smaller and sold through more community-based centers instead of mega-corporations. I believe this is the best pathway forward as it will create more opportunities for small business owners and better protections for consumers.
Deepening democracy: I believe that many of the social, economic, and political problems facing New Jersey can be solved with more democracy. That’s why election reform is a primary focus of my campaign. New Jersey has the potential to become a national leader in democratic freedom and participation by approaching our problems from a structural perspective.
Better democracy isn’t just a campaign slogan; it’s something I’ve been passionate about for years. In 2017, I founded the 501c3 nonprofit OurSociety. We used technology to give municipal candidates the opportunity to connect their campaigns directly with their communities, bypassing financial and established party barriers. We helped 18 local candidates and 192 citizen users make better voting decisions via our preliminary launch. It’s my vision that we expand this technology to the entire state.
In addressing money in politics and entrenched power structures, we need to understand the core issues supporting the current system. Money equals access to people. The more money a candidate has, the more opportunity they have to connect with voters. The Citizens United ruling created protections for corporate spending on elections, giving immense power to the ultra-wealthy while severely limiting the voice of the average person. Because an outright ban of corporate donations would be met with lengthy legal challenges our most significant opportunity to reimagine democracy in New Jersey lies in innovating new ways to empower candidates to access the communities they desire to serve. Beyond access to candidates, we can work together to create more agency in our democratic process for every New Jerseyan by developing tools to help voters better understand and engage with their candidate options.
What makes you the best candidate? I’m a coach, a volunteer, and a community organizer. I’ve been a small-business owner and the founder of a nonprofit focused on government transparency here in New Jersey. I was born and raised in North Brunswick.
With a deep understanding of technology and a professional history of innovating within the civic technology sector, I am the most qualified candidate to help us navigate the challenges that automation and artificial intelligence are going to thrust upon New Jersey.
Policy-wise, I have one of the most extensive platforms of any candidate running for any office in New Jersey. You can see my full suite of innovative issues here.
Unlike my opponents, I am committed to monthly town halls, transparent and accessible representation, and a full-time commitment to the position of state Assemblyperson. As a progressive, I’m focused on addressing some of our biggest problems structurally, getting to root causes of inequity in our state generated by our institutions.
The time for absentee leadership is over. We need effective representation in our district that engages with our communities and brings their concerns to Trenton. My extensive experience in building organizations, understanding technological trends, and being active in our communities makes me the best choice to represent you in a full-time capacity.
JOSEPH EGAN did not respond to the survey request.
JOE DANIELSEN did not respond to the survey request.