Independents are on the rise and you, the people, have the power to clean house in the 25th district and Trenton!
Vote Maureen Castriotta for State Senate on November 5th and give the will of the people a seat in our state government!
Independents hope disgust with party politics translates to victory in NJ's 25th district
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on November 01, 2013 at 4:55 PM, updated November 01, 2013 at 6:44 PM
And this year, the local Democratic party isn't even putting up a fight — it hasn't nominated any challengers to the father-son team of state Sen. Anthony R. Bucco and Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco, or to libertarian-leaning Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll.
Instead, the battle to unseat the incumbents is being fought by independents — all running separately. If successful, they would be the only independents in the legislature.
Morristown Councilwoman Rebecca Feldman and former Dover Alderman Jack Curtis are both taking aim at Carroll — though as Assembly candidates, they're in contention for either available seat.
And Maureen Castriotta of Roxbury is making her lack of political affiliation a centerpiece of her campaign, running under the banner "Buck the Parties" and looking to displace the elder Bucco.
"The message that I've been getting — I'm actually amazed at the breadth of support I'm getting from both sides of the aisle," Feldman, possibly the most visible campaigner among the independents, said. "Many people tell me while they're registered to vote in a primary, they think of themselves as independents, and they're thrilled as the prospect of having a successful, proven independent representative working for them in Trenton."
There are no tickets among the independents in the 25th District, which includes a large portion of Morris County and Bernardsville in Somerset County.
And Curtis said in the 25th District, which generally favors Republicans in countywide and legislative elections, any Democrat or independent faces an uphill battle.
"But I'm tired of the Republicans and Democrats not being able to sit down at the table and work with each other," Curtis, a principal at a Roxbury elementary school, said. He pointed to recent battles over judicial nominations between Gov. Chris Christie and state Senate Democrats by way of example. "I think it would be interesting to have an independent who would speak up. I would take my recess whistle and tell them they have to play together like good boys and girls."
And Castriotta said she's heard from residents who are fed up with a two-party system and with political machines.
"Trenton is a hotbed of political patronage, cronyism and conflicts of interest," she said. "And I believe Sen. Bucco and his son have built a pretty nice political dynasty for themselves."
But the incumbent Republicans tell a different story — one of cross-the-aisle cooperation and far less dramatic polarization in New Jersey than, say, in Washington, D.C.
"I think people look at what's wrong with Washington, and they say, 'Wait a minute, we haven't had that gridlock, we haven't had that problem here in New Jersey.'" Assemblyman Bucco said. "I've had 12 bills that have been through the legislature, and signed by the governor, and the majority of those were bipartisan bills."
He pointed to measures regarding pension and health benefit reforms, as well as budgets approved on a bipartisan basis.
"I can understand some people's frustration," he said. "But when you look at the state legislature, it's just not like it is in Washington."
The assemblyman's father, senator Bucco, called it "a bit of rhetoric when someone says you need an independent voice."
"You need voices that can get things done, and can work together to get things done," he said.
The Senate race
The elder Bucco has served in the state senate since 1998, and had been an assemblyman prior that.
He said he's looking to create a more business-friendly atmosphere in New Jersey, where he said staggering taxes are making it too tempting for businesses to leave the state.
"A lot of it has to do with the governor's toolkit (a package of bills meant to lower government spending and taxes). We didn't get all of the toolkit through," he said. "Part of that had to do with civil service reform, part of it with shared services. I think we'll be looking at a lot of that next year."
Castriotta said incumbent legislators have "dropped the ball" on high property taxes, securing employment for New Jersey residents and curbing or ending large sick and vacation payouts for retiring public employees. She said she would favor a constitutional convention to rework New Jersey's tax system, and opposes a law ended referendums on school budgets in many communities.
"I'm for the practice of wise, prudent and transparent spending," she said. She's part of a group
looking at consolidating her town of Roxbury with neighboring Mount Arlington.
The Assembly race
The younger Bucco and Carroll are again running as a ticket, though both Feldman and Curtis said, given the choice, they'd prefer to displace Carroll.
Feldman and Carroll are notably at odds over gun control. She helped start an organization that advocates for universal background checks and bans on certain types of guns.
Carroll would see New Jersey's gun control laws scaled back. For instance, he's long sponsored a bill that would require New Jersey to grant concealed-carry permits to anyone who demonstrates competence with a firearm, and who isn't otherwise prohibited from owning guns.
Feldman said Carroll has a "long record of rhetoric over results, and his viewpoints are not representative of the majority of moderate people that I'm talking to in all 22 towns in our district."
Curtis offered a similar criticism of the incumbent, saying of Carroll "When you're that extreme and far afield, it's hard to have people take you seriously and get anything done." He said Assemblyman Bucco strikes him as more of a centrist.
But Carroll countered that, saying he and Carroll have similar voting records, and saying he has worked with Democrats on measures such as medical marijuana reform.
In his campaign materials, Carroll advocates abolishing housing mandates and the highlands act, repealing tax increasing instituted by recent Democratic governors, abolishing affirmative action programs, prohibiting borrowing without voter approval and requiring legislative super-majorities to increase taxes.
"I've never voted for a tax increase," he said. "I believe in small, efficient, restrained government. I believe for general freedom, that the government as much as possible should leave us alone."
He said he'd like to see school funding formulas in New Jersey changed to distribute state aid more evenly. Currently, aid is given to certain districts deemed in greater need to ensure their students receive education in line with constitutional requirements. A change to a more equitable disbursement, Carroll said, would be a "huge, huge" benefit to 25th District towns.
His running mate, Assemblyman Bucco, echoed his father's concern that the tax climate is too unfriendly to New Jersey businesses. And, like his father, he said more progress needs to be made on the governor's toolkit.
"We need civil service reform. We need to tackle sick and vacation payouts. That has a direct impact on property taxes,' he said. Like Carroll, he said local districts don't get a fair share of school funding.
Feldman's platform also includes reform to sick leave payouts, incentivizing "smart growth" projects, finding alternatives to New Jersey's current balance of income, sales and property taxes, developing connections between universities and the private sector and fostering upward mobility for workers."
Carroll called both the independents "stealth Democrats." Feldman had registered as an independent to vote in a primary election, she said, but has only held office as an independent. Curtis was a Republican when he served in Dover.
"I believe those who are mired in typical partisan thinking would like to paint me as one party or the other to keep me from winning," she said.
Curtis, in his campaign materials, says the state should not give tax breaks and subsidies to large corporations. He says it should push harder to get more federal money invested in New Jersey, says bridges and other infrastructure should be made a high priority and advocates reducing the blood alcohol limit for drivers from .08 percent to .05 percent. He's a supporter of heavier taxes on millionaires and wants a comprehensive plan to stop beach erosion.
An educator, Curtis also said he opposes standardized tests as a measure of student and school performance.
"They're really issues that are in the middle of the road," Curtis said. "That's where I consider myself to be."
All the candidates said they support increased opportunities for shared services and cost savings.
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