9th Legislative District Forum More Polite Discussion Than Debate

Stockton College served as the host site for the discourse. Galloway and nearby Port Republic in Atlantic County were just recently added to the district, which predominately serves Ocean County and portions of Burlington County.

The 9th Legislative District forum Wednesday evening was too polite, too restrained and maybe even too civil to live up to its billing as a debate.

After all, the state senate incumbent, Republican Chris Connors, embraced, hugged and chastely kissed his opponent, Democrat Dorothy Ryan at the end of their 45 minutes of answering questions posed by representatives of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey and The Press of Atlantic City. The Hughes Center and the Press co-sponsored the evening.

The debate took place at the Campus Center Theater at Stockton, where college officials hope to host a presidential or vice presidential debate in 2012—they are awaiting word from the presidential debate commission.

The audience Wednesday numbered just over 40, with another eight people from the newspaper and the Hughes Center either in the small crowd or at work.

The audience responded, albeit politely, with slightly more applause to more answers for Connors and fellow Republican, incumbent Assemblywoman DiAnne Gove, than to the responses made by Ryan and her fellow Democratic challengers, Carla Kearney and Bradley Billhimer.

Incumbent Republican Assemblyman Brian Rumpf, who is recovering from complications after recently falling off the roof of his home, did not attend the debate, sending regrets via Gove.

Recent polling by the Hughes Center showed the traditionally Republican 9th District is almost sure to return incumbents to office in November, with the Democrats trailing badly, losing by a 2-1 margin.

Ryan seemed tentative as the debate opened, passing up the chance to rebutt Connors when he said stimulating the economy, cutting taxes and spending were the most important issues in the election.

Connors answered a question about how budget priorities differ between the parties by by saying "by $2 billion" in reference to line-item vetoes made by Republican Gov. Chris Chistie and by lessening taxes.

Ryan attempted to rebutt Connors by directly posing a question to him, but she was informed that was not the format of the debate and she did not follow through with her own comments.

Ryan was asked what must be done in Atlantic City to revive its fortunes due to Galloway's ties to the casino resort. "Making it safe," is the most important issue, she said, cutting down on "muggings and prostitutes." She talked about making the city "family-friendly," but did not specify what that means.

Connors responded by saying Christie has already made moves to bolster the city's fortunes, adding he'd like to see Atlantic City International Airport expanded. He mentioned a proposal to sell the facility to the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey as one means of expanding flights.

One of the few areas where the two seemed most to disagree was on the issue of reviving the Barnegat Bay. While both said Christie's veto of plans to tax Ocean County residents—but not the rest of the state—to pay for the bay's oversight, Ryan said the governor's other actions, such as limiting fertilizer applications, "are not nearly enough. The bay is dying."

Ryan approved of changes made by the governor to pensions and healthcare for public employees, not a typical position for a Democrat. Connors applauded her position and said the state system would have "been bust" in eight years without reforms.

In the assembly debate, which came last, Billhimer staked out the more traditional position for a Democrat, say the changes "imposed" by Christie should have been negotiated, not ordered.

Gove said it was an "emotional issue," but she supported reforms made by Christie.

Much of the assembly debate mirrored both the the questions—and the answers—made during the senate debate.

The one area where Gove, a former teacher, broke with state Republican leadership was on the issue raised by Christie to eliminate tenure for teachers. She said that should have been negotiated, a point made by her challenger, Kearney.

Mac October 20, 2011 at 05:09 PM
Yes. It was a pleasant 'Meet & Greet.' Senator Connors displayed the advantages of his lifetime service and was remarkably successful showcasing his special talent of talking around every question, surprisingly to the applause of the audience at times. His opponent, Ms. Ryan, needs to show more confidence in her ideas. While she had some shortcomings in the answers to mostly meaningless questions, she did manage to demonstrate that her leadership and involvement in her various public organizations had helped improve the neighborhood, a point Senator Connors agreed with heartily, even thanking Ms. Ryan for giving him the opportunity to help her with some of the programs. Senator Connors impressed me as a skilled politician who offered more of the same old, same old. This can be an advantage to the district when in a political forum. It's often strictly a matter of costs. Ms. Ryan seemed capable of quickly embracing the duties of a Senator and boning-up on the true concerns of the district. Even Assemblywoman Gove said it took her a couple of years to become completely familiar with her new territory. At least Ms. Ryan offers a breath of fresh air. If she is successful, she just has to realize the upset was not a show of support that just changes the pocket the spoils fall into, unless, of course, it’s the pockets of the taxpayers. Regardless of who you support, you can be sure they both hug a lot. More later, if you interested. I’ve got a soccer game to attend.
Mac October 21, 2011 at 01:03 AM
The Assembly presentation was presented as more of an afterthought. Assemblywomen Gove, a newcomer herself who was a bit nervous, was faced with answering questions for herself and her unavailable partner, Assemblyman Rumpf. She differed from Senator Connors by referring to notes spread all over her desk, but since the questions were the same as in the Senate debate, her answers were basically the same as the Senator's positions. Her only variation was on the state unions' legislation. While she supported Governor Christie efforts, she felt that the standard of collective bargaining would have served the Governor better. However, she didn't take a position on eliminating the free benefits and unnecessary perks of executives, management, politicians, and most others not in a state union. I guess reducing the 5% to 10% of extra costs the state union members cost the medical, drug, and pension systems is enough to appease the taxpayers. The hell with the other $2 billion. In fairness, Assemblywoman Gove's opponents didn't bring this issue up either, even though they strongly supported the collective bargaining approach. Mr. Billhimer is a bright, capable young man with a lot of energy and sensible approaches for solutions. He admits he is short on experience and needs to become more familiar with some district concerns. I was sorry Mr. Rumpf wasn't available so the audience would have had a chance to match them up side-by-side. <<CONTINUED)>>
Mac October 21, 2011 at 01:03 AM
The styles of both of these men are distinctive. Ms. Kearney was also a bit nervous. Like her partner, she is bright, capable, and full of energy. She has a different background than the other candidates, and brings a successful example of the values embraced by Americans to reach for the sky. She is also short on experience and detailed information on some district concerns. If all the information I had was from this debate, I would be faced with making a decision between established politicians representing the same old, same old versus capable politicians a bit short on experience and district knowledge who offer a breath of fresh air. Both sides offer pluses and minuses. I’ll probably make my decision on who will cost me the least. I certainly hope we hear more about it from both sides. A debate where the candidates ask each other questions would be super. It could even take place right here on the Patch. Just a thought. And a compliment to all the candidates. You should all be proud of the respectable campaigning you are all running this election season. And Brian, your absence wasn’t a total loss. Your letter demonstrates just how loyal and important you are to your party. If you change a few words around and the Governor gets caught with his pants down again at Disney World, he can use the letter to explain how he got hurt falling off a tour boat and creating a wave so powerful that it flooded Sea World. Wishing you a speedy recovery…Mac


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