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Monday, May 27, 2024

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Q&A With 2nd Congressional District Candidates

Tim Alexander

By Alec Hansen

COURT HOUSE – With the upcoming June 7 primary election, the Herald asked each of the candidates for the Second Congressional District seat a set of questions regarding why their motivations for running and their stances on important issues.  

Answers from the candidates – Republicans Jeff Van Drew, Sean Pignatelli, and John Barker and Democrats Tim Alexander and Carolyn Rush – are below. 

Q: Why do you believe that your experience qualifies you to represent New Jersey’s Second District in Congress? What unique perspective or ability sets you apart from other candidates? 

Alexander (D): When I was 19 years old, I was on a career path to becoming a police officer. One day, after arranging my father’s funeral arrangements, I was shot at, assaulted, and charged with a crime I did not commit.  

Later, the officer would claim a case of mistaken identity. After clearing my name, I no longer wanted to be a police officer, but my grandfather convinced me that change is always best made from within. 

Since then, I have been an agent of change my entire adult life. First, as a law enforcement officer, I am proud to say that I had a significant hand in rewriting the department’s policies. I retired after 27 years as a captain of detectives but continued my public service as a prosecutor before I switched gears to become a civil rights attorney.  

My career and past experiences have taught me how to analyze problems from every angle and develop realistic, practical solutions and instilled in me the determination necessary to realize those solutions. 

Barker (R): Well, my best quality is that I am not a far-right Democrat. What I am bringing to the table is actual business experience, middle-class perspective, and conservative values. President (Donald) Trump proved that someone that understands business (and is not a wacky Democrat) can get things done in Washington.   

However, I think that my most unique perspective is that, unlike the incumbent congressman, U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, I am not a lifelong Democrat.  

Van Drew has voted with crazy Nancy Pelosi 89.7% of the time. He has supported the left’s agenda as a Democrat in the New Jersey State Assembly, as a Democrat in the New Jersey State Senate, and as a Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives.  

Also, unlike Van Drew (well, according to The Press of Atlantic City, Newark Star-Ledger, and others), I did not hire a convicted felon and well-known “ballot harvester” to work for my campaign.  

Please read up on Craig Calloway, the former president of the Atlantic City Council. Calloway has been tied to fraudulent election practices for many years. Like I said, it has been in all the papers, even the Cape May County Herald.  

Pignatelli (R): My experience comes from being a father, union carpenter, political action member, nonprofit owner, and business owner. I am a part of the middle class, and our middle class deserves restoration. Inflation has crippled many families across our nation, and we must act to help all families nationwide.

Rush (D): Having raised five children and having had a successful 35-year career in engineering have allowed me to cultivate a valuable set of personal and professional skills. My clear-eyed analytic and collaborative problem-solving skills make me ideally qualified to play a productive role in Congress.   

During my three and a half decades as an engineer, I have honed my problem-solving skills. As a manager, I honed my people skills. With a knack for explaining things, I encourage better listening and comprehension from my audiences by breaking complex issues into basic elements and helping people understand all sides of interrelated issues.   

When I get to D.C., I will look for common ground.  

Where there’s disagreement, I will use my persuasive skills to encourage compromise. I will reach across the aisle. I will be a consensus builder! 

Van Drew (R): I believe that my experience as a doctor who ran a successful dental practice for more than 30 years and record of public service at the local, state, and now federal levels have given me a unique perspective on the issues facing South Jersey. It is important to remember that the decisions being made in Washington have real-life implications here at home.  

So, when legislation comes before the House or an issue arises locally, I have found it very helpful to be able to think back and draw upon my experiences, whether as a fire commissioner, township committeeman, mayor, county freeholder (now county commissioner), state assemblyman, or state senator, in order to better understand the situation and evaluate the potential impacts to make the best possible decision for Cape May County and South Jersey.   

Q: What issues do you believe most urgently need to be addressed? What legislation would you offer to solve those problems?  

Alexander (D): With the leaked Supreme Court draft ruling, it should be clear our rights are under attack. If finalized as is, the opinion of the court will result in the greatest governmental overreach in modern history. This appalling ruling will allow state governments to interfere with women’s right to bodily autonomy and right to reproductive health care.  

We must codify into law the protection of women’s reproductive rights. Furthermore, the draft decision lays the cornerstone to attack a host of other unenumerated rights.  

Secondly, we not only need to rebuild our economy that was devastated by Covid but build a forward-thinking economy that will provide not just temporary jobs but careers. There are myriad pathways to this, but the biggest and most immediate opportunities lie in the already passed Bipartisan Infrastructure bill.  

By applying for grants and funding created by the bill and negotiating to make sure South Jersey receives our fair share of the increased infrastructure budget for the next nine years, we can attract new industries to our district.  

My other priorities include police training reform through a fully-funded program, increasing our veterans’ access to health care, and fixing our Medicare system. 

Barker (R): Because of the ineptness of the Biden administration and the Democratic Congress, inflation is hurting all Americans. When the cuckoo Dems went to war on the American gas and oil industries, they took away the lifeblood of the U.S. economy and traded it for the Green New Deal.   

Three words can solve the entire inflation problem: “Drill, baby, drill.” When I am in Congress, America will not only become energy independent again, America will become the top supplier of energy around the globe. 

Pignatelli (R): Inflation is the top issue for all Americans. We need to fix that immediately for all Americans to have better livelihoods. Our active military community, veterans, and our agricultural workers all need a voice in Congress, and I will give them that voice.  

I will push for more funding for all law enforcement and will defend our Second Amendment rights with all my heart. Our current congressman is a man of all talk and no action. Voters must ask themselves, “What has my congressman done to improve my livelihood,” when they go to the polls June 7. 

Rush (D): We need to codify into law a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy. I would work to ensure passage of the Reproductive Choice Act.  

We need to improve the economic situation for the middle class. I would introduce legislation for middle-class tax cuts paid for by closing loopholes for those making more than $1 million; I would push for passage of a federal living minimum wage; I would support legislation that strengthens unions; I would push for passage of universal pre-K, as well as competitive drug pricing.  

I would support solar and wind energy through federal incentives. I would support legislation to provide cash rebates and tax breaks for individuals and corporations to use electric vehicles. I would support legislation to make electric vehicle charging stations widely available.  

I would introduce legislation to invest in regenerative agriculture research and incentives for farmers who implement it. I would introduce legislation to invest in research into alternative aircraft fuels to decrease carbon emissions from planes. 

Van Drew (R): America is on the precipice as a result of failure after failure from what I regularly refer to as the worst president and the worst majority Congress in history and we need to bring our country roaring back.  

I believe in “A Strong America” and that the U.S. of America should be no. 1 in everything. “A Strong America” means having a strong economy powered by American-made and American-supplied goods and services so that we never again have to rely on Communist China.  

It means keeping our military the best and strongest in the world so that we can deter aggression from those who wish us ill and are prepared to meet any challenges that may arise in the future.  

It means unleashing the power of American energy to lower gas prices, combat inflation, and once again be energy independent.  

It means securing our southern border to stop the flow of illegal drugs and defending, not defunding, the police to ensure that our brave men and women in law enforcement have the tools they need to combat rising crime rates and keep our communities safe.  

And finally, it means defending our traditional American values of faith and family and making sure that parents have a say in their children’s education. A strong America ultimately means a strong South Jersey.   

Q: Here in Cape May County, a perennial challenge lies in the limited opportunities available to rising generations pursuing careers outside a narrow set of industries. What initiatives do you support to address the drain of young talent from this area? 

Alexander (D): Perhaps the most impactful thing we can do is expand the job opportunities available. Like green energy jobs, attracting new industries will provide our young talent with an incentive to stay in the community.  

We should also be investing in our broadband infrastructure to make it more practical for young people to take advantage of the rising remote work opportunities in the market.  

We must address the outsize costs young people face with student loan debt and reform our system not to rebuild the crisis.  

We need to bring in more housing stock so that young people can afford to buy or rent at their starting salaries. We need to address desperate infrastructure issues, such as expanding (Route) 55, to make the county more attractive to young people who may want to work outside of the community but continue to make Cape May County their home. 

Barker (R): If communities feel that increased industry will help with the loss of talent problem, maybe expansion is a first step. There are state and federal job creation incentives on the books now. Specifically, at the Jersey Shore, tourism is always a major business.   

But whether expanding existing industries or attracting new ones, tax incentives must be expanded. And regulations must be curtailed. 

Pignatelli (R): We must have term limits in all forms of government. We need to allow the next generation to come in, and present new ideas, to keep our country moving forward. By implementing term limits, this will also deter current officials from using any tactics some would claim are an abuse of power. 

Rush (D): One of the things we learned from the pandemic is that many people can successfully work from home. We need to make sure broadband is enhanced in our district so all can participate in this way of working.   

The move to clean energy will open good-paying jobs in our district. From the installation and maintenance of the wind farms to the installation and maintenance of electric vehicle chargers, people with technical skills will be needed.   

I will work with our state and local officials to get infrastructure funding so workers in the Second District will get paid to improve our infrastructure. I would also like to see more federal spending on educational programs that teach trade skills, like plumbing, carpentry, electrical, etc. 

Van Drew (R): South Jersey’s (and particularly Cape May County’s) tourism-based and therefore largely seasonal economy has always presented some unique challenges.  

One of the first projects I worked on as a county freeholder was to bring more educational opportunities to our area starting with bringing a community college to Cape May County since, at the time, we were the only county in the state without one.  

As a state legislator, I put together a bipartisan economic development task force that included officials from Atlantic, Cape May, and Cumberland counties to tackle this very important issue. We identified the need to protect and strengthen our existing industries and assets.  

Together we fought to stop the expansion of casino gaming to North Jersey, expand our technical programs and develop a local workforce capable of meeting the demands of an emerging aviation industry, and worked to cut the red tape that was hurting our fishermen and local small businesses.  

In Congress, I fought to secure more than $50 million worth of investment for new barracks that will help to ensure that our nation’s only U.S. Coast Guard Training Center remains right here in Cape May for decades to come and successfully blocked the latest attempt to break up the Federal Aviation Administration’s Technical Center at the Atlantic City International Airport, which collectively employs thousands and has a major economic benefit to our region.   

Q: The costly issue of sea level rise affects many of the municipalities in this district. What solutions will you propose to alleviate the damage and costs associated with sea level rise? 

Alexander (D): A $16 billion proposal by the Army Corps of Engineers and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to build a series of storm gates and other mitigation methods is estimated to prevent $1.8 billion annually in damages associated with the rising sea levels.  

I am aware that there is some opposition to this proposal, and I am willing to hear all sides of the issue as long as we are moving to fix our problems. If elected, finding federal funding for the best project would be a priority for me.  

In addition to mitigation efforts, we should also be pursuing measures to address climate change and slow the rate of sea level rise, such as increasing the footprint of green energy and environmentally friendly farming practices. 

Barker (R): Sea level rise, and the theories behind it, has been around since approximately the 1800s. Thus far, no living mortal has stopped it.  

I must be honest and let every voter know that I will not solve the problem of sea level rise by answering this question. And, again, to be quite honest, it is not a problem that is high on my list. But if the Dems think they can solve it, they should go ahead. But when I am in Congress, I am cutting their budget. 

Pignatelli (R): We cannot stop Mother Nature from imposing her will. However, we can and will continue to invest in all our municipalities’ infrastructure to ensure their utmost protection. 

Rush (D): The solution to this issue is two-part – we need to both address the root cause of sea level rise and the effects of sea level rise.   

Curbing climate change will get at the root cause but will take time before we see results. I support wind energy, solar energy, regenerative agriculture, and an all-out move to electric vehicles (for personal use, commercial use, government use, etc.), including a huge expansion of available charging stations.   

Short-term solutions to alleviate the effects of sea level rise include securing funding to construct seawalls. These barriers are often built to a height of 5 to 6 feet above sea level and cost approximately $600 to $2,000 per linear foot.   

We should also consider building “climate dikes.” They have a wider foundation, which means they can be built higher depending on the extent of sea level rise. Designing and building infrastructure with future change in mind demands investment today, but it will save lives and money in the long run. 

Van Drew (R): A few months ago, I announced the Stronger Shores campaign, with the goal of developing a long-term plan to strengthen our coastal resiliency.  

Since then, we have worked to secure tens of millions of dollars for new and long overdue dredging projects, like dredging the Intracoastal Waterway in Ocean, Atlantic, and Cape May counties, the mouth of the Maurice River in Cumberland County, and the Salem River in Salem County.  

My office continues to meet regularly with local officials to identify their needs and work with the Army Corps of Engineers to secure the necessary federal investments, whether it be for dredging, beach replenishment, or stormwater management.   

Q: Nationwide and locally, housing prices have risen dramatically. In an area where low housing inventory was already a pressing issue, the new squeeze has worsened a persistent local issue. What kind of solutions do you support to alleviate this burden on young people, service and seasonal workers, and local families who simply cannot pay the rent? 

Alexander (D): The first thing we need to do is identify areas where we can build additional housing supply to alleviate the pressures of demand in the market.  

As congressman, I would help municipalities connect with federal programs that can be used to attract responsible development to their towns.  

There are also loopholes and tax gimmicks in our current code that encourage real estate investors to snap up housing stock as investments, further reducing the amount of available housing for actual residents. If some of these loopholes were closed, it might make real estate less attractive as a pure investment buy and free up more options for folks actually looking to live in those properties. 

Barker (R): Please see answer no. two (What issues do you believe most urgently need to be addressed?) Thus, proving again that Biden and the Democratic Congress ruined the economy for every American.  

Pignatelli (R): We will continue to offer first-time homebuyers incentives in order to help alleviate the high cost of purchasing a home. We must get our economy and inflation under control to lower prices that range from home expenses to the high prices people are paying at the gas pump and in grocery stores. We must establish America as an energy-independent country again to help alleviate these high costs. 

Rush (D): I would like to see the federal government offer loan/grant programs for first-time buyers. The federal government could reduce financial stress for low-income families by expanding housing subsidies, to assist very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market.   

I would also support investing more in the national Housing Trust Fund (HTF), a federal housing program exclusively targeted to help build, preserve, rehabilitate, and operate housing affordable to people with the lowest incomes.   

I would also support supplementing incomes through the Earned Income Tax Credit and a higher minimum wage to help poor families pay the rent. 

Van Drew (R): Americans, not just here in South Jersey, but all across the country, are feeling the crushing impact of runaway inflation as a direct result of the decisions being made by President Biden and his administration, whether it be trillions in new spending, lingering supply chain disruptions, or rising energy prices.  

Rather than exacerbate the problem with more government spending, we need to unleash the power of American energy by increasing domestic oil and gas production, working to bring our supply chain home, and reducing, not increasing, the tax burden on small businesses and working families.  

Q: (To Alexander, Barker, Pignatelli, and Rush) The 2020 election results were contested in Congress. Members of Congress in 2024 may face similar questions. If you had been a member of Congress Jan. 6, 2021, would you have voted to certify the election results?  

Alexander (D): Absolutely. The election was free, fair, legitimate, and won by President Biden. The unsubstantiated claims to the contrary are a shameful attempt to subvert democracy for a more favorable outcome out of loyalty to the former president.  

Barker (R): No. At the time, I agreed with Sen. Ted Cruz and others, who wanted to take 10 days to ensure there were no illegalities. That seemed like a logical request and a request that I would grant to a Democratic candidate, as well. I did not agree that they did not wait 10 days due to a riot.   

With that said, the electors were certified, as required by the Constitution. Joe Biden is the president of the U.S. He is an awful one. But he is the president. I’ll give you that.  

But since I hold a great deal of faith in the American voter, I will never believe that 81 million people voted for this decrepit imbecile.  

Pignatelli (R): I think we all can agree there were multiple problems with the 2020 election that we are still discovering here, two years later. The best thing for America to do right now is to continue to fight for better election integrity, so we never have another election where anyone feels the results could be contested again.  

By dwelling on the past, we will be unable to move forward. We have many government officials that continue to dwell on the results from the 2020 election and it has just made our American people suffer more because they are only looking at that single issue.  

With the current issues on hand, inflation, baby formula shortages, Roe v. Wade, and a war overseas, we must solve current, present issues to keep our country moving forward.  

Rush (D): Absolutely.  

Q: (To Van Drew) In 2020, you opposed certifying Joe Biden’s presidential victory. You said in an interview that “some really wrong things did happen” with the election. Do you stand by the decision not to certify the election? Why?  

Van Drew (R): Absolutely. Here is my complete statement regarding the certification vote: https://bit.ly/3PMkGtj 

You can also refer to my remarks on the House floor that evening. 

To contact Alec Hansen, email ahansen@cmcherald.com.  

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