On the surface, last night’s debate among the candidates in the 7th Legislative District looked like an exercise in kumbaya. Each of the six candidates stressed their bipartisanship, their desire to control taxes, and their support for marriage equality. The Republicans noted areas where they differ from the Governor while the Democrats stressed areas where they have cooperated with him.
While registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the District, party affiliation is not an overriding factor among those voters. Incumbents Senator Diane Allen (Republican) and Assemblyman Herb Conaway (Democrat) are both very popular among voters of both parties. The other incumbent, first term Assemblyman Troy Singleton, is not as well known but is no stranger to the machinations of State House politics, having been Chief of Staff to former Speaker Joe Roberts. Singleton has worked hard during his term to gain the name recognition that Allen and Conaway have garnered over the years.
The challengers in the debate were all well prepared. Democrat Gary Catrambone, a small businessman is facing an uphill battle to unseat Allen, a former television reporter. The Republican Assembly challengers are Anthony Ogazalek, a lawyer, and Jeff Banasz, an Iraq combat veteran who now is an insurance broker.
Conaway and Singleton leveraged their Trenton experience by answering questions with specific initiatives in which they were involved. While Conaway’s tenure offered him a longer history of accomplishments (including chairmanship of the Health Committee), Singleton’s one term (actually a bit longer, as he was appointed to complete the last few months of Jack Conners’ term when Conners resigned from the Assembly) reflects his rapid rise in the Democratic hierarchy. The freshman assemblyman leveraged his membership on the powerful Budget Committee, and advanced dozens of bills, several of which have been signed by the Governor.