Next month, Rep. Steven Rothman, the Democrat running for reelection in the 9th Congressional District, will ask voters to send him to back to Washington for his seventh term. Challenging him are Republican Michael Agosta and Green Party candidate Patricia Alessandrini.
While Rothman holds a commanding lead over his lesser-known challengers, particularly in heavily Democratic Hudson County, nationally Republicans are surging at a time when many Democrats are back on their heels, an advantage Agosta hopes to turn to his advantage.
The district includes several towns in Hudson, Bergen and Passaic counties, including Secaucus and parts of North Bergen and Jersey City locally.
The two major party candidates recently discussed their views on various issues with the Hudson Reporter.
It’s still the economy
Although analysts agree the Great Recession is most likely over, unemployment nationally still hovers at about 9 percent, and voters remain fearful of what the slow recovery means for them.
“They’re terrified they’re going to lose their jobs. They’re worried about whether their children are going to be able to afford to go to college. They wonder whether their dreams for retirement are ever going to come true,” Rothman says.
While Rothman holds a commanding lead over his lesser-known challengers, particularly in heavily Democratic Hudson County, nationally Republicans are surging.
Rothman said that many economists believe the recession would have been “three points higher” had it not been for the stimulus package. He said that private industry now simply needs a little more time to adapt to the recovery and some of the federal changes that have taken place within the last year. He said he does not believe the country needs more legislation to get the economy moving.
Agosta, however, believes that to stimulate more job creation “we need to address the Bush tax cuts. We need to extend them indefinitely. That’s foremost. With those tax cuts expiring, we don’t need to be taxing people more with this bad economy. We have to give small businesses, which have created almost 80 percent of the jobs over the last 10 years, a break from paying taxes. We need to suspend taxes for small businesses for at least a year.”
With higher cash flow, Agosta said small businesses would begin to reinvest in their companies and would start hiring workers again.
Although legislation offering tax incentives to small businesses has recently been passed, Agosta called it “a day late and a dollar short. We need confidence in our economy, and we have zero. There’s no one in a leadership position saying, it’s bad, but it’s going to be okay.”
Agosta said he would work to “defund Obamacare and repeal it as quickly as possible. Health care is not a government responsibility. The problem we have with health care in New Jersey is we don’t have enough providers and there isn’t a lot of competition. There are over 2,000 providers in the United States, but we only have about 12 of them here in New Jersey.”
Rothman, a former practicing attorney who voted for the legislation, said he believes the health reform bill will continue to be challenged in various state courts – as has happened recently in Florida and Michigan – and will ultimately end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.
What about the ARC?
Agosta agrees with Democratic proposals to rebuild the county’s crumbling infrastructure, but he believes this work should be done by private enterprise, rather than government.
“According to the Chamber of Commerce, if we had private investment in infrastructure we could create about 1.5 million jobs,” Agosta stated.
Addressing the stalled Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) project, one of the biggest infrastructure initiatives in our area, Agosta said, “The ARC is a double edged sword. Right now, I don’t think we need to spend the money on an ARC tunnel because, with the high unemployment rate, are people really rushing to go to work if we have such a high unemployment rate? Is it something that we need now? Or is this something we should do when we can afford to do it?”
Democrats, including Rothman, have recently championed the ARC tunnel, and have called on Gov. Christopher Christie – who has put the project on hold and may cancel it altogether – not to abandon the mass transit project.
“The way the project was set up, New Jersey is designing the tunnel. If the governor feels that there are too many cost overruns or design flaws in the present plan, then he has the power, with his Departmet of Transportation and NJ Transit, to propose changes to the project,” Rothman said. He believes compromise on the tunnel is possible and hopes Christie continues to work to get the project funded, adding, “There are now new offers of help and additional revenue from the federal government, on top of the $3 billion that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has already put in…The need for the tunnel is undeniable.”
Nationally, several incumbents are at risk of losing their Congressional and Senatorial races this year, and it’s likely the balance of power will shift, with Republicans taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives and possibly even the Senate, and a Democrat in the White House.
The Reporter asked both candidates whether compromise and bipartisanship will be possible in the new Congress, and whether they would be able to work with leaders in the opposite party, if elected.
Rothman recounted the story of his efforts to pass the Secure Our Schools Law, a law that he championed when he was first elected to Congress. Under the matching grant program, schools could get federal money to hire security personnel or to install metal detectors, cameras, and other security devices.
“I was able to get the chairman of my committee, Republican Henry Hyde, former chair of the Judiciary Committee, whom I very rarely agreed with on most policy issues, to read my bill and he became its chief co-sponsor. That’s just one example of when I was able to reach across the isle and I was able to work with Congress people in the other party, and I do it every day.”
Agosta also stated that he is able to “work for compromise. You have to be willing to work with everybody, and I can do that. I have no problem reaching across the isle and working with Democrats. But of course, it depends on what the policy is.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.