Robert Edward Forchion Jr., aka NJWeedman.com, is perhaps the most colorful candidate for a New Jersey legislative seat this year. At the very least, he's the only one to have mailed marijuana to a governor.
Forchion is running to represent the 8th District in the Assembly, although he now lives in California.
This is ironic because the 8th District's other high-profile candidate, nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis, who owns a home in Medford, was tossed from the Senate ballot because he was voting and living part-time in California until 2009. State law requires senate candidates to live in the state for four years prior to running for office.
That leaves Republican incumbent Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego unopposed, which is what the Burlington County Republicans who challenged Lewis' candidacy had hoped.
Her running mates, incumbent Assemblyman Scott Rudder and Burlington County Freeholder Chris Brown, will face Forchion, running as an independent, and Democrats Pamela Finnerty and Anita Lovely.
Without a big name like Lewis' at the top of the ticket, or any name for Senate, Finnerty and Lovely are expected to have a tough time defeating the Republicans. The district encompasses eastern Burlington County, three Camden County municipalities and Hammonton in Atlantic County and has traditionally voted Republican.
The money trail also favors the GOP ticket. With a month left in the campaign, the joint fund for the three Republicans had raised about $137,000 for the election, with about $25,000 remaining in its coffers, according to a report filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission. The two Democrats, meanwhile, had filed a statement with ELEC pledging they would not spend more than $7,600 on their campaign.
According to its online database, ELEC had no financial reports for Forchion.
A one-issue activist, Forchion has run for office numerous times and is known for his headline-grabbing theatrics staged to raise support for pot legalization. But it wasn't until a few weeks ago that the media reported on his six-month habit of mailing weed to politicians. Gov. Chris Christie joked about it in a press conference and the story caught fire.
"I got international attention," marveled Forchion, who admits his entire campaign is a ploy. "I couldn't have paid for all that advertisement. And all it cost me was 15 grams."
Facing a spring trial on felony drug possession charges, Forchion would have to abandon his seat in the legislature if he's elected, then subsequently convicted and sentenced to prison. Yet despite his criminal record, well-documented drug proclivities -- and the fact that he doesn't live in New Jersey -- he's still on the ballot.
Though he's still registered to vote in Pemberton, Forchion moved to Los Angeles three years ago to open a marijuana dispensary. Constitutionally, this disqualifies him from running for office in New Jersey, but neither party challenged his residency.
"I don't know where he lives," said Chris Russell, who's consulting for the same GOP organization that brought the fight against Lewis. "He's a perpetual candidate."
This dismissal, not surprisingly, does nothing to kill Forchion's buzz.
"My candidacy is the ultimate form of civil disobedience," he said. "I'm not that high that I think I'm going to win."
That edge goes to Rudder, who has held his seat since 2007 and currently serves as assistant Republican leader. Before his legislative service, he spent a decade as a member of the Medford Town Council, including three years as mayor. The former National Guardsman began his political career working for U.S. Rep. James Saxton and Gov. Christine Todd Whitman. He now works as a senior manager of business development for Lockheed Martin.
The New Jersey Taxpayers Alliance named Rudder a "Taxpayer Champion" with a perfect score for the second time in a row. Like Addiego, with whom he partners on all major legislative matters, Rudder is a strong supporter of Gov. Chris Christie.
"They share a common bond with Christie and they work closely with him to support his agenda," said Russell, a consultant to Rudder's campaign. "They support Christie on pension and benefit reform, lower taxes, less spending, and small government."
Rudder's campaign manager declined repeated requests for an interview. So did Brown's.
Brown is running on the Republican ticket to fill the seat formerly occupied by former Republican Assemblyman Patrick Delany, who left office after his wife wrote a racially charged email to Carl Lewis earlier this year.
Brown is an Evesham resident who owns real a estate tax and title business and donates his government salary to charity. In 2008, Brown was one of the first two Democrats elected to the Burlington County Board of Chosen Freeholders in more than two decades. Then in 2010, he switched parties, saying his goals and values were more closely aligned with those of Republicans.
Finnerty is an analyst and business developer in information technology and medical sales. She said this has given her experience for excising redundancy, eliminating waste, and streamlining processes. She brought those skills to bear when, as a Waterford Township committeewoman, a position she's held for two years, she oversaw a pilot program to modify how business and construction applications are submitted to the Pinelands Commission.
What she learned now informs her top priority for the state: Cut the red tape that scares businesses away from New Jersey.
"We're not friendly. We are overlapped, and we don't have the time to waste for business to be exhausted," she says.
The daughter of an Air Force officer who moved his family around the globe before settling in New Jersey, Finnerty believes legislators should adopt the best practices of states like Pennsylvania that have implemented innovative strategies for luring corporate investment.
Both Finnerty and Lovely have won the endorsement of the Women's Political Caucus of New Jersey PAC.
A Lumberton Township committeewoman, Lovely said her greatest strength as an elected official derives from her background as a career economist. When she was a systems analyst for the Georgia Department of Medical Assistance, Lovely discovered ways to save millions of taxpayer dollars.
In her position as a committeewoman, she says she "convinced all of my Republican colleagues to agree to public forums where we broke down and explained the budget process and how it affects [constituents]. Struggling with the state cut in municipal aid, I insisted that we work as a bi-partisan team to maintain essential services with minimum layoffs."
Her primary focus as assemblywoman would be to "bring jobs to people."
The most efficient way to create jobs is to heed President Barack Obama's call to put people to work rebuilding the nation's infrastructure and to lure health and biotech companies to New Jersey by cutting the administrative red tape that hinders businesses' ability and desire to locate in-state, she said.
"I talk to the people of the district," Lovely said. "I understand how they're hurting. The incumbents are out of touch."
With the removal of Lewis from the ballot by the courts in September -- after the state deadline to announce a new candidacy -- the Democrats have no candidate to oppose Addiego.
Addiegois is an attorney who entered politics in 1994. For two years she was a member of the General Assembly, where she served as Assistant Republican Whip and assistant Republican leader. She has occupied her Senate seat since last year.
Awarded successive perfect scores for being a "Taxpayer Champion" by the New Jersey Taxpayers Alliance, Addiego may be best known for her efforts to cut the salaries of public officers, including her own. In 2009, she and Rudder each voluntarily took a 10 percent pay cut.
Recently, Addiego and Rudder put themselves at odds with the state's correctional officers when they drafted a bill to abolish the binding arbitration law that allows arbitrators to rule on contract negotiations between local governments and public workers. If passed, the bill would force corrections officers to work longer days to save on overtime costs and would give local governments more authority to settle contract disputes with unions.
A strong supporter of Christie's fiscal initiatives, the Medford resident is also opposed to funding the state's low-income Abbott school districts. In response to a recent state Supreme Court decision favorable to the districts, the senator stated, "Suburban taxpayers should be appalled by this ruling. The court has declared that suburban parents who are already paying twice for education, for their own children and for students in the urban districts, now must shoulder the burden of another $500 million."
Addiego's campaign staff declined repeated requests for an interview.