New Jersey’s two leading gubernatorial candidates talked about various issues like taxes, school funding and COVID-19 before a raucous crowd on Tuesday night in the rival candidates’ second and final debate.
The crowd repeatedly erupted into disturbingly harsh and noisey mob, which sometimes drowned out the candidates with boos, catcalls and screamed epithets.
But Jack Ciattarelli, a former Republican state lawmaker, called out Gov. Phil Murphy, a first-term incumbent Democrat, over the state’s response to the coronavirus health crisis, which has included masking and vaccination requirements.
The Republican said government dictates were heavy-handed and too restrictive but Murphy defended his handling of the emergency, noting the deaths of thousands of New Jersey residents.
“I would like to see people get vaccinated,” said Ciattarelli, who noted that although he got the shot, he believes the government should let people have all of the information they need to make an informed decision for themselves instead of forcing residents to wear masks, get inoculated or take other measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
Murphy defended his approach to the crisis and portrayed Ciattarelli as out of step with New Jersey. He said his GOP rival would make a better fit for a state like “Texas or Florida.”
“The debate is a difference between moving forward or slipping back to the bad old days. The tragedy today is there is a playbook. We know vaccines work. We know masking works,” said Murphy. “For folks to ignore that, disregard that playbook is putting lives needlessly at risk.”
Ciattarelli stayed on the offensive as the debate centered on government spending and the economy, faulting Murphy for increasing expenditures by more than 30 percent, even as the incumbent tried to blame the challenger for actions of the state government during the period under Governor Chris Christie.
“The budget is up $11 billion,” said Ciattarelli. “If he had cut property taxes in half, I wouldn’t have run for governor, I would have endorsed him.”
Ciattarelli vowed to cut $10 billion in spending and said he could also reduce property taxes by revamping the state school funding formula.
“I believe state government is bloated, inefficient and corrupted by certain special interests,” said Ciattarelli, who failed to offer specific budget items he would put on the chopping block.
Instead, Ciattarelli promised to make a priority of working with lawmakers if he is elected, saying “I will sit down on day one with the Legislature, and we’ll have that conversation.”
Murphy said spending needed to rise in order to compensate for years of inadequate contributions to state public-worker pension funds and the K-12 school-aid formula.
“If you’re in a Black or Brown community or you’re a Black or Brown kid out there, you’re gonna get the rug pulled out from under you,” Murphy said. “This is an us versus them move.”
”We inherited a complete and utter mess, and you were there for six years before I was,” Murphy said.
Murphy said, “We’re paying our bills.”
New Jersey “is broken,” said Ciattarelli. “You know it, and I know it. It needs to be fixed, and that’s what my candidacy is all about.”
“We don’t want offshore drilling, we want Gateway, and we want our SALT deduction back,” said Ciattarelli, when Murphy tried to link him with Donald Trump.
“No one supports their daughter seeking an abortion in months seven, eight or nine,” said Ciattarelli. “I do not believe Roe v. Wade will be overturned. I support a woman’s right to choose.”
“I’m not expecting that with this Trump-packed Supreme Court,” was Murphy retort.
While the candidates clashed over masks, school funding, abortion, and white privilege, they both tried to sidestep the issue of civilian review boards with subpoena power to monitor police misconduct.