MAYS LANDING — Two candidates for the House of Representatives in the 2nd Congressional District debated Tuesday night at Oakcrest High School, with the Democrat focused on what government can do to help more people and the Libertarian stressing the need for less government interference in people’s lives.
They are vying for the seat now held by U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd, who declined to participate, as he is in Washington, D.C., for voting sessions. Van Drew also said through a spokesperson he had concerns about anti-GOP biases by some debate organizers.
“Child care is key to the development of children and economic security of working parents,” said Democratic candidate Tim Alexander, a civil rights attorney and former law enforcement officer from Galloway Township, in answering a question about what the federal government’s role is in providing child care.
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“I would support legislation to help parents in certain economic brackets to afford child care,” Alexander said. “It’s part of the employment problem we have,” as some parents must stay home to care for children because they cannot afford good child care.
But Michael Gallo, a business owner from Lower Township, said government subsidies only drive up costs.
“Right now inflation is rising because we subsidize so many things,” Gallo said. “When you throw money at something, it make it cost more. We need to refrain from subsidizing something that will raise the price.”
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The debate was sponsored by the Atlantic County League of Women Voters and moderated by Michael Richter of the Camden County League of Women Voters. Oakcrest students helped write the questions and run the event.
Alexander said after the debate he was “disgusted” Van Drew wasn’t there.
“I’m here to debate the incumbent on the issues,” Alexander said. “There were a lot of things that could have been done (to allow him to participate) other than this. He snubbed the kids.”
Van Drew’s campaign manager Ron Filan has said he was unaware that students would be involved in the debate.
The evening had a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, with Alexander saying he considered it more of a sharing of ideas because Van Drew did not attend.
Alexander talked about his 27-year career in law enforcement. He started out as a police officer, even though he was the victim of police brutality as a teenager and considered giving up the dream of becoming a cop because of that.
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His grandfather convinced him to continue with his plan to become a police officer in spite of his bad experience, he said, and Alexander retired as a captain from the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, then became a civil rights attorney.
Gallo educated people about what a libertarian is.
“The Libertarian Party is the third largest party nationally, and the fastest growing party,” said Gallo. “It’s the party that is concerned with individual rights. Everyone must be treated fairly and equally before the law. ... You can be as liberal or as conservative as you want, you just can’t impose your values on someone else. Let everyone live their lives as they wish and do no harm.”
Reproductive rights and voting rights should be left to states, Gallo said, while Alexander said the federal government has a role to play in protecting women’s rights to abortion and voting rights.
Alexander said he would work to legalize marijuana at the federal level, then use federal taxes collected on its sale to fund K-12 education through the federal government.
Gallo, however, said there should be more school choice for parents, and that the government should not have a monopoly on education.
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Alexander said U.S. military support for Ukraine was appropriate, while Gallo said the U.S. has no business getting involved in foreign wars.
“It was unique to see someone who is not part of the main two-party system,” said Oakcrest senior Isabella Catalina, 17. But she and friend Grace Long, 17, also a senior, left the debate saying they would vote for Alexander, if they could. They won’t turn 18 until after the election.
Senior Evan Theoharris, 17, will just miss being able to vote Nov. 8.
“I turn 18 three days after the election,” Theoharris said. “But I’m looking forward to being able to vote. I’m already registered.”
“It seemed they both want what is best for South Jersey,” said senior Kyle Heck, 17. “The way they would go about it is different.”
In explaining Van Drew’s concerns about bias, Filan said the league’s debate organizer, Victoria Druding, had posted negative information about Van Drew and Republicans on her personal Facebook page and had called for support of Alexander.
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Filan also said the League scheduled the debate for a time when they knew Van Drew could not attend because he was in Washington.
Van Drew will participate, however, in an Oct. 19 debate sponsored by the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University and The Press of Atlantic City, Filan said.
The one-hour debate will be held at 6 p.m. in Stockton’s Campus Center Theatre on the Galloway Township campus.
Druding said Monday the league is nonpartisan, but its members are allowed to have political affiliations as individuals. She stressed the debate would be run in a fair, nonpartisan fashion, as is the league’s policy.
In the Nov. 8 general election, Van Drew also is facing perennial independent candidate Anthony Parisi Sanchez, who refused letters from the league and did not participate. Parisi Sanchez has been arrested in the past for threatening Van Drew.
Van Drew changed parties from Democratic to Republican in December 2019 after refusing to vote to impeach President Donald Trump.
He was reelected as a Republican in 2020.
REPORTER: Michelle Brunetti Post
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