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Monday, July 15, 2024

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Legislators Vow to Fight for First District

First District Legislators Sen. Michael Testa and Assemblymen Erik Simonsen and Antwan McClellan maintained their displeasure toward Gov. Phil Murphy’s “blanket approach” during the state’s pandemic shutdown last year. The three men promised district residents they would continue fighting for small businesses in Trenton ahead of 2021’s tourist season. 

By Eric Conklin

COURT HOUSE – First District Legislators in the “State of South Jersey” address Jan. 12, pledged to fight for their district’s citizens as New Jersey looks to oust Covid and its pain.
The discussion, presented on Zoom, with several panel members joining the legislators, was held after Gov. Phil Murphy’s pre-recorded State of the State address was made available online.
Led by Sen. Michael Testa (R-1st), the legislators expressed condolences for community members lost to Covid, and assured viewers that they’re prepared to help Cape May and Cumberland counties recover from their ravaged local economies, particularly in the tourism sector. Testa and his colleagues, Assemblymen Antwan McClellan and Erik Simonsen (all R-1st), continued to criticize how Murphy’s administration handled South Jersey’s economy throughout the pandemic. Specifically, they charged that, Murphy’s “blanket approach” to reopening was disjointed from a less-infected southern tip, causing unnecessary economic harm. Despite New Jersey’s extensive shutdown and the ongoing economic pain it caused the small business community, all three legislators affirmed that better days are ahead as the new year begins.  
“For the members of the community that we did, in fact, lose to this horrible disease, we extend our most sincere condolences, and we stand with their friends and family members,” Testa said.
Testa’s teammates echoed each other’s remarks regarding the need for more help from New Jersey’s government, particularly for a small business community highly dependent on tourism each year. They continue to stress that they feel voices of first district residents aren’t being heard in the state capital.
“It’s going to stay with us for a long time, and we have to keep digging and digging and try to dig our way out of this hole,” Simonsen said, regarding the pandemic’s economic impact on the area’s economy. “We need help from the top of the state, which starts with the governor.” 
The most important task the legislative representatives have as 2021 begins is to ensure the area’s tourism industry is as it would be expected before the pandemic arrived, with fewer restrictions so seasonal businesses can earn their expected, necessary profit. McClellan assured residents that this summer would have a promising outcome.
“The summer of 2021 is going to be a great summer. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that,” McClellan said. “Sen. Testa, Assemblyman Simonsen and myself are going to be out eating pizzas, drinking beers and eating ice cream throughout the summer, and enjoying Cape May County and Cumberland County the proper way.” 
They also share a desire to help those who lost valuable education and social experiences instead of their jobs in the past year.
 
Being a school administrator, as Lower Cape May Regional High School’s athletic director, Simonsen is thankful that students in his school are still in the building for two days, as part of a hybrid program. While grateful for students having in-person learning, he acknowledged that, he feels, there are shortcomings with hybrid learning models, and that he wants to see his students return to school for a full week. 
“We need to be back in school full time. These kids are suffering,” Simonsen said. 
For nearly 10 months, the pandemic has interrupted more than just economic activity, which is why the three men assembled a panel of guest speakers who shared various concerns about the pandemic’s impact. 
The panel shared personal stories from the past year, along with their concerns. Unease about the pandemic from within the panel revolved around issues like ensuring the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission functions in a way that solidifies residents’ needs. 
“If we are supposedly fighting this virus by social distancing, by protecting ourselves with masks, by not congregating in large areas, if you shut down areas in South Jersey and force people to go into a more-congregated area, like Middle Jersey or North Jersey, you’re not helping matters. You’re hurting matters,” said Robert Armstrong, an employee of the Avalon Police Department, who spoke about difficulties resolving title matters for his registered boat, along with his displeasure with the division separating facilities based on licensing and vehicle needs. 
One religious leader, Pastor Harold Harris, of Cape May’s Macedonia Baptist Church, spoke about not being able to preach to a congregation settled inside his church’s pews, and that most of all, he wants to see the church serve its purpose during the pandemic – being a place worship and somewhere where people could relieve themselves of their pandemic-induced stress.
Because of the gathering restrictions, Harris said some churches may never recover.
“There has to be a different way to attack this,” Harris said.
In closing remarks, Testa proclaimed a better year for Cape May and Cumberland counties, where its seasonal businesses meet their necessary revenues for survival. The senator also expressed the importance of unifying communities and the nation, referring to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, which he condemned.
“The State of New Jersey and our nation have gone through the toughest year, certainly in my lifetime,” Testa said.
“I look forward to bringing unity to our community and to focus on the issues that bind us, rather than separate us,” he added. ” Hopefully, we can grow together, hopefully we can be safe, and we can continue to enjoy healthy lives. Rest assured that myself and the rest of our team are fighting together for a better future, and hopefully, we’re seeing a light at the end of the tunnel of this Covid-19 pandemic.”
To contact Eric Conklin, email econklin@cmcherald.com.

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