What a difference a venue makes. When I covered the LD-16 legislative debate in Princeton a few weeks ago, they embraced transparency and allowed audio and video recording. At tonight’s LD-7 debate, no such recording was allowed. Both debates were run by the League of Women Voters, but I have a hunch that tonight’s no-recording policy was determined by the candidates of one of the parties. So I’ll have to report the old fashioned way, by using words instead of electrons.
Driving up to the school in Moorestown where the debate was being held, I was amazed to see the lawn littered with the GOP’s Orwellian yard signs on school property. The debate itself was very predictable with few surprises, and the Burlington County Times’ Dave Levinsky’s article summarizes it pretty well.
On the Democratic side, we have two highly intelligent centrists running for Assembly – incumbent Dr. Herb Conaway and newcomer Troy Singleton. Every time I hear Singleton speak, he impresses me more and more. He has a calming temperament that would bring much-needed comity to the State House and is amazingly well-grounded in the complex issues of government – more so than any non-incumbent I have observed over this election cycle. This is no surprise, as Singleton was former Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts’ chief of staff and is one of the smartest candidates I have run into.
The understatement of the evening belonged to Herb Conaway who observed “If you would start from the beginning, you would never organize the state the way it is today.” Conaway voted with the South Jersey Democrats to support Governor Christie’s pension/benefit “reform”, but in conservative Burlington County Conaway is about as far to the left as you can go without falling off the cliff.
That’s the problem Beverly Mayor and activist Gail Cook will face in her run for the Senate against the popular and formerly moderate Republican Diane Allen. Over the course of the campaign, Cook has found her groove, is more comfortable addressing large crowds about a multitude of issues, but her election is a long shot. While Allen now speaks from both sides of her mouth, simultaneously espousing her support for women’s health care and vigorously defending her actions to kill it, the former television personality has the most name recognition of any of the six legislative candidates.
The most telling quote of the debate came from Mount Laurel GOP Mayor Jim Keenan when discussing taxes opined that “anyone who works for a living is in the middle class.” This demonstrates how out of touch Keenan is with reality. Keenan seems like an intelligent version of Jon Runyan – someone who memorizes all the talking points and is able to cough them up on demand, but is bereft of original ideas.
Then there’s Republican businessman Chris Halgas. Halgas is a one trick pony who sees everything through a single lens – cut taxes on business and everything will be OK. He was able to inject plugs for his various local businesses several times, so the free advertising should help him.
Not unexpectedly, there were as many areas of agreement as there were areas of disagreement. In response to a high schooler who was part of the panel of questioners, all candidates agreed that Kyleigh’s Law, which requires decals on the license plates of younger drivers, had unintended detrimental consequences. And all agreed that we should move forward slowly on charter schools. Disappointingly, none of the Democrats brought up how Christie’s privatization of schools will line the pockets of his benefactors.
So the debate was predictable – I could have written the script beforehand and it would have been pretty accurate. But if the hundred or so citizens of the district who were in attendance came with an open mind, it will serve to solidify the Democratic majority in the legislature.