I had the opportunity this week to attend the Hunterdon Chamber of Commerce breakfast forum featuring the REPUBLICAN candidates for the 7th Congressional District. And no, the caps lock on my keyboard did not slip when I typed in “Republicans”.
I capped it because the Hunterdon Chamber of Commerce did not. In the newspaper piece, and in their invitation, the breakfast was touted as featuring the “candidates for the 7th Congressional District”. They failed to include Democratic candidate Linda Stender. Their answer at the event: “Linda Stender spoke to our group two years ago, when she ran against Mike Ferguson.” And “she is not facing an opponent in the June primary.” But, still, folks.
She is a candidate; at least list the event as the REPUBLICAN candidates for the 7th Congressional District. Anyway, so it goes. Back to business.
The Republican candidates in attendance were: Scotch Plains Mayor Marty Marks, Sen. Leonard Lance (R-Hunterdon), businesswoman Kate Whitman, former Summit Councilwoman Kelly Hatfield, Iraq War veteran Thomas Roughneen, Seton Hall University business professor A.D. Amar, and former Libertarian candidate, Darren Young.
The appearance was listed as a ‘forum’, and not a ‘debate’. In the introductions, each candidate tried to out ‘conservative’ the another---with the exception of Senator Lance and Tom Roughneen, the only candidates of substance up there. But more on that later.
Quick points: Kate Whitman is clearly out of her league in this Congressional race, and is not deserving of all the attention her family name brings to the table.
Upon arrival, she asked of Suzanne Lagay, the Hunterdon County Chamber President, “So, how long have you been a Chamber member?”, trying for the standard small talk. Ms. Lagay introduced herself as the Chamber President, which seemed to surprise Whitman. She clearly did not know who Ms. Lagay was. Bad move for the candidate. On the dais, she was even worse, as she did nothing more than ‘parrot’ back positions already stated by other candidates. “I have a six point plan on my website,” she said. She was passionless, had no spark. She sounded like her website as she listed only four of her six points. Even a story meant to be cute about how as a six year-old she would hand out flyers for her mother by stepping on the toes of event attendees, came off flat and lifeless.
Seton Hall University business professor A.D. Amar: Spoke about how he chose to be a Republican upon arriving here from India. He is pro-life, for 'traditional' marriage, thinks we should finish the job we started in Iraq, and would make the Bush tax cuts permanent. A bright, well-spoken man, but not a chance of finishing even in the top three.
Kelly Hatfield: She should be sticking to state issues for now, as she spoke mostly about property taxes, the business climate in New Jersey, and how people are leaving the state due to high taxes. Maybe she should be running for freeholder or state legislature. She did not handle the questions on national issues well enough to be considered a serious candidate for Congress.
Scotch Plains Mayor Marty Marks: This is the guy I hope Linda Stender gets to run against.
He declared himself solidly pro-life, solidly conservative, pro-Iraq war, and asserted affirmatively that the detainees in Gitmo do not deserve ‘equal protection’ under the law. And he said, regarding torture, that "it's all in the way you define" torture. How enlightening.
Marks also declared that it should the generals, not Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid, dictating the way the war is conducted. I don’t know the last time Marks read the Constitution, but the Senate and Congress are allowed to chime in every now and then on our national policy regarding wars. It’s in the rules, Mr. Marks. Anyway, he is so hopelessly out of touch with the moderate independent thinking voters of the 7th CD ---even moderate Republicans---that he contrasts best with progressive Linda Stender. Bring him on.
Darren Young: He was the former Libertarian candidate from 2006, who was an interesting combination of being opposed to the war, and wanting to lower taxes and get the government out of everywhere. Young said he was qualified to be in Congress because he was the only one at the table who had debated Linda Stender in 2006---as the Libertarian candidate. No shot at all, but makes the debate interesting. And on his website, he lists his GPA from college---3.1. He is the only candidate to do that.
And then we get to the only two Republican candidates I think deserve to be running for Congress. Senator Leonard Lance and Iraq War vet Tom Roughneen.
Tom Roughneen, an attorney, is an Iraqi War veteran who proclaimed that he used to be a Democrat, but flipped years ago when he saw “what the Democrats were doing to the country”. He is pro-life, fully and solidly supports the war, and wants to make the Bush tax cuts permanent. He was the best speaker on the dais for a first time candidate, and we will not see the last of him. He is bright, articulate, and well suited for politics.
Gave the best answer on a number of issues including what to do with the prisoners in Gitmo---says they deserve to be treated as POWs under the Geneva Convention. Good for him; the right, if unpopular answer. This was as opposed to Whitman’s narrow minded response of, “They are terrorists, they deserve to be there,” and Marks’ response of ‘they do not deserve due process or equal protection under US law'. He was sincere, and unj-aded by NJ politics…yet.
Mr. Lance is clearly the classiest amongst the bunch. Years as a well-respected legislator, and in the leadership of his Party up until last year. He is too nice for the rough and tumble world of New Jersey politics, some say. At the forum, Mr. Lance announced that he was saddened by the passage of the Paid Family Medical Leave Act. He then asserted that since New Jersey was the first state on the east coast to pass the law [California already has such a law], we would be at a disadvantage economically in comparison to states like New York and Pennsylvania. Furthermore, he stated that such a law should be done, if at all, on the national level. So, it was hard to tell if Lance opposed the law as so much government interference, or favored it only if it was passed by Congress. Too bad no one got to ask that question of Mr. Lance.
The real issues for me for Congressional candidates include their stand on the Iraq War, the economy, and national health care. The Republicans all seem to come with the same flavor: All oppose national health care. There was rhetoric about the war, but none had the courage [except Young] to declare their opposition to it. And none made any connection at all between the failed policies of the Bush administration, and the economy.
So, if your favorite flavor is all-conservative-all-the-time, your candidate is Mayor Marty Marks.
If you like your candidates a little bit conservative and a little bit liberal, with a touch of niceness and family history thrown in for good measure, then your candidate is Leonard Lance.
If you like that self-made Republican/Republican by choice candidate, then Seton Hall University business Prof. Amar is your guy.
However, if you want a bland lifeless flavor who is nothing more than a poor carbon copy of the other candidates but with a prominent Republican NJ family name4 for a little spice, then Kate Whitman's your gal. Or, if you don't want the extra expense of the family name, you can go for Kelly Hatfield.
And if you like your conservatism straight up, on the rocks with no punches pulled, you have Tom Roughneen.
Finally, if the flavor you like is a mixture of a little of everything, but don't like the War, then maybe Darren Young is for you.