Rep. Jeff Van Drew and Amy Kennedy are intelligent, likable and even amiable people. So in terms of their personalities, the residents of the Second Congressional District covering most of South Jersey can’t go wrong.
Democrat Kennedy is a Brigantine schoolteacher, mental health advocate and member of a famous political family. Her candidacy for Congress is her first run for elected office.
Republican Van Drew is a Dennis Township dentist (now retired) with a decades-long history of serving in elected positions — municipal and county, state Assembly and Senate, and now in Congress.
The most important difference for voters is the kind of federal government they believe will best serve the people of South Jersey and the rest of America. We met with each of them and asked their views on a range of national issues.
They aren’t near the ideological extremes for their parties, but Van Drew is consistently conservative and Kennedy is consistently progressive.
This election contest was set up by the impeachment of President Trump, and the candidates unsurprisingly differ on that and further possible actions against Trump.
Van Drew told The Press editorial board he wouldn’t support the impeachment effort by his then-fellow House Democrats because the crimes alleged weren’t serious enough to meet the constitutional standard for it. When the Democratic Party responded by turning against him, he switched to the Republican Party.
Kennedy told the board she favored impeachment. And if Trump claims a questionable reelection victory, “a lot can be done to challenge his presidency if needed.”
Trump cut taxes for businesses and individuals, and Kennedy said corporate taxes need to be raised to get revenue, boost the economy and make the tax code fairer. Van Drew said he’s against raising taxes on individuals and until the economy recuperates, no new or increased taxes of any kind should be considered.
Both said action on climate change is needed. Van Drew said combating climate change is warranted but shouldn’t be so expensive that it harms the economy or “lets countries like China eat our lunch.” Kennedy said there is such urgency on climate that the U.S. should lead the world and “encourage other countries to follow suit.”
This year has put a spotlight on police and their qualified immunity from personal lawsuits over actions on the job. Kennedy said possible changes to qualified immunity should be part of “conversations about criminalizing race and mental illness.” Van Drew said there are bad apples and police make mistakes, but they “go through a lot” and qualified immunity should continue.
The Affordable Care Act is too expensive, but must be replaced by health care that is as good or better, Van Drew said. That would not be Medicare for all, which he worries would be very expensive and put seniors in a financial squeeze. And those with an employer-sponsored health plan should be able to keep it.
Kennedy said the Affordable Care Act needs to be expanded, and giving the public the option to be covered by Medicare would be “a good direction.”
She also said the government should provide health care for undocumented immigrants, although she doesn’t “have an exact answer on what things should be covered.” She said the country is more vulnerable when it ignores the health of anyone who is here.
Van Drew said undocumented immigrants with a health emergency of course should get care, but those who are healthy “have to go back home. … We can’t take care of the people here now, our own Americans.” However, those born in the U.S. to undocumented immigrants, the so-called Dreamers, should get a path to citizenship that includes learning about America.
Regarding efforts to reduce poverty, Kennedy said she would start earlier with more support for child care and universal pre-kindergarten, and more access to health care and secondary education. Van Drew said a job is the best weapon against poverty, and African-Americans, Latinos and women reached their highest levels of employment during the Trump administration. Government can help, but the private sector makes things happen.
South Jersey can feel good about having two candidates of such quality vie to represent it in Congress. Now voters must decide whether they want to send a progressive or conservative to Washington in January.
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