During the campaign I attempted to contact all twenty-four congressional and both senatorial candidates to obtain answers to questions. Several responded, but only a few actually answered the questions. Those interview articles are reproduced here.
The original publication order began with three interviews followed by an article explaining the interview process (because at that point I was waiting to hear from additional candidates and did not wish to skip a week); that article has been advanced to the beginning and slightly edited to explain the process prior to the first interview.
We have of late been doing a series of interviews (by e-mail) with candidates for the twelve New Jersey congressional districts and (hopefully) the United States Senate seat. Bias is always possible in such situations, and the appearance of bias is similarly possible. Thus as there is no interview ready to post this week, it is worth taking a moment to explain how the interviews are arranged and conducted.
The one candidate who might be thought to have been given an advantage would be Yolanda Dentley; she is the inspiration for the entire series. At the time of her primary race there was almost nothing about her on the Internet, and the situation had not changed when we began preparing our (separate) series looking at the districts. Attempting to contact her for an interview seemed the best way to get that information, and so we sent her a message by Facebook on July sixteenth. She indicated her willingness to answer questions that same night, and the next day a set of questions was sent. There were a few communications delays, but her interview was completed and posted.
While we awaited her responses, it occurred to us that it might appear biased to interview one candidate, and it would be valuable to cover everyone in the field. That would potentially be a lot of interviews, so it had to be launched immediately. On the evening of July twenty-fourth an effort was made to contact the other twenty-three major party Congressional candidates and both Senatorial candidates, by the best medium available. For ten of those, that was through their campaign Facebook sites; as of this writing, five of those replied either by Facebook or by e-mail, and questions were sent to the specified e-mail addresses. E-mail was the means of initially contacting three candidates, of whom one has at this point responded. For the remaining twelve, the only way to make contact was through a form on the web site. Only two of those have responded at this point.
It should be noted that many incumbents are very difficult to reach by electronic means if you are not a resident of their districts. Their web sites include a zip code clearing system such that you cannot send a message to the Congressman if you do not attest to being one of his constituents by entering a valid Zip+4 code that is within the district. In such cases, the request was sent using the form for reporting web site problems. None of the incumbents contacted through their web sites have responded at this time. However, only one incumbent has responded at all, regardless of the means used to contact them.
The big question in bias, though, is party affiliation of those interviewed. Of the nine candidates who to this point indicated they would answer questions, seven were Republicans, two Democrats; those whose answers have already reached us include one Democrat and two Republicans. We have no control over who responds, and no way to determine whether those who do not respond received our invitation. Candidates might be avoiding the interview from concern that we might not present them in an unbiased fashion, or because they consider our circulation inadequate to be worth their time, but that is speculation and it might be with so small a sample size we simply are getting more responses from one group than the other. We promised to publish interviews in the order that the answers reached us, and have to this point done so; we will continue to do so as more responses arrive, and invite any candidate who somehow did not receive our invitation to contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interviews published :
Mark Dunec gets credit for efficiency, as his response to the invitation to answer questions was swift and his answers arrived as swiftly. That in itself gives credibility to his assertion that he is a problem-solver: he addresses questions effectively and efficiently. You might or might not agree with his positions, but there is little doubt that he is able to do the job.
He makes it clear that he is not a "career politician"; this is his first political race. Asked what motived him to run, he responds:
The gridlock and inaction by Congress from both sides of the aisle. I have an MBA in finance and more than 15 years experience in the private sector (Wall Street) solving complex problems. I have the education, skill-set, experience and personal character to be successful in Washington to solve our country's problems.
As to what those problems are:
It is all about the economy, getting people back to work, encouraging investment and starting to pay down our national debt. I bring solutions to the table.
Indeed, Dunec's web site offers a great deal of information concerning problems and solutions. The short versions given in the interview were:
Solution 1: Eliminate the corporate tax, mandate earnings distributions and tax that at 40%.
Solution 2: Universal Healthcare--A Single Payer System --this will reduce our healthcare costs by a minimum of 20% and will stimulate the economy through entrepreneurship and innovation.
In the eleventh district he is running against Republican incumbent Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, who took the seat in 1995 from fellow Republican Congressman Dean Gallo. We asked Dunec why he is running as a Democrat in a district that has been held by Republicans for over two decades:
I am a Democrat because of three reasons: Women's Rights, LGBT Rights and Minority Rights.
For those in the district, his web site (linked below) gives extensive coverage of his positions on a wide range of issues. He summarizes his positions as "a fiscal conservative and...socially liberal".
Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of being a United States Congressman is the tension between national, state, and local responsibilities. We asked about this tension:
I am running for Congress because I want to be a part of the national conversation and solve our national issues which I believe are solvable with courageous leaders. At the same time there are district specific issues that I will champion such as obtaining Federal Funds for flood prone areas.
The critical question for voters, ultimately, is what distinguishes one candidate from another. His answer to that:
I am all about solving problems, moving the country forward and helping the many. I am not rigid, it is not my way or the highway. Let the best ideas rise to the top.
To learn more about Mark Dunec and his positions, begin with the Mark Dunec for Congress campaign website, where he gives very detailed statements on issues and objectives. There is also an excellent snapshot biography of him on LinkedIn, and he recommends articles online at The Alternative Press, The Daily Record, and The New Jersey Jewish News.
Our thanks to Mr. Dunec for participating in our efforts. He offered to discuss many of these issues in more depth by telephone, and we are grateful for the offer but not presently able to conduct interviews in this manner.
Yolanda Dentley's campaign has been focused on local outlets, and thus there has been very little about her on the Internet. It was an effort to remedy that lack which led to the decision to do these individual interview articles, and she was swift in her response. She has no prior political experience, but has long been in education, currently vice principal of a middle school in the district. As to what motivated her to run, she says:
I must ask the questions:
Are the citizens of the 10th District satisfied with their current Congressman?
If the answer is “No,” then I ask the voters, especially Democrats and Independents, to consider my candidacy. It will infuse “new blood” into a district that under the Democrats, has maintained an ailing economy, failing public and charter schools, high taxes, dilapidated infrastructures, etc. And with 60+ years of Democrats in power in 10th, how much longer will the citizens have to wait for their voices to be heard?
I am motivated to run because I have become quite disenchanted with the direction of the 10th district. I feel I have many things to offer and will bring a new mindset to help bring the necessary funding and legislation to help take the 10th district to another level.
On the top of her list of problems to be addressed:
Public education is and has been one of the most important problems facing the district and the country since the 1960s. Without a good education, citizens will remain underemployed and continue to seek assistance from the government or turn to illegal measures to make ends meet. How much longer do our urban centers have to wait for the education system(s) to improve? As a former classroom teacher and currently a vice principal, I see the inter-workings and the complexities of public schools in District 10. It saddens me that the progress of public school students remains stagnant in the largest city in the district--Newark! Working with local elected officials, I feel my experiences in education will bring fresh innovative approaches to restructuring public education in the 10th district and throughout the United States of America.
Although in the 10th district Democratic incumbent Donald Payne, Jr., is just finishing his first term, he took the seat from his father, and from a long tradition of Democratic representatives. We asked Dentley why she is running as a Republican in such a district:
The most interesting aspect of my run for Congress is questions about being African-American and a woman running as a Republican. You should remember I became a Republican in the 80’s and my parents were Republicans well before that. The party did not act or sound the same as it does now. I am not blind to the anger and disappointment felt by Democrats towards my party and I agree with some arguments. But I believe in the two party system and change will only come from within. There must be someone in the rooms and chambers when decisions are being made that can carry your voice and express your needs. An African-American woman from Roselle who has worked in urban environments for over 25 years can get the message across.
Asked about her position generally, she also gave positions on several specific issues:
I am a life-long registered Republican who is considered a moderate. Although many think all Republicans think alike, there are levels within the party and I happen to have moderate views on some issues. In a Congressional district like New Jersey’s 10th, where a majority of the constituents are democrats and independents, I realize the importance of remaining moderate to fully represent the district once elected to office. My experiences shape my views, more than my party, and I share a lot of the same experiences the people of the 10th district have.
Having lived off of my father’s Social Security and Veteran benefits after his passing, I can be in the room to say that it is earned income not an entitlement. When generalizations are being made about parents that don’t care, I can be in the room to talk about the parents that have sat in my office crying because they feel helpless and have nowhere to turn.
I was not a trust fund baby as many think Republicans are. I worked at McDonalds for 2 years during high school because my mother could not afford to pay for my extra-curricular activities. I worked full time while going to college full time and graduated only to face unemployment. I paid off student loans that were still needed when financial aid fell short. I have worked a full time job and had as many as 2 part-time jobs to maintain a standard of living. I can represent the people of the 10th district because I am one of them.
Homosexual Marriage: The homosexual community has the same right to live and love as the heterosexual community. We should not muddle moral and civil issues and we should not deny people the ability to marry because we have a moral objection to their lifestyle.
Gun Control: I agree that we all have the right to own firearms. But, as with all our rights, we must act responsibly.
Affordable Care Act: I agree that everyone should have access to affordable health care, but I have spoken with too many citizens of the 10th district that are still uninsured because they cannot afford it. If the Affordable Care Act is repealed, it would leave millions of Americans uninsured while Congress develops another program. I recommend the Affordable Care Act be assessed and amended so it will truly provide affordable health care for the most number of people as possible.
Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of being a United States Congressman is the tension between national, state, and local responsibilities. We asked about this tension:
The citizens of the 10th district deserve appropriate relief from their tax burden. Congress must gain control of government spending. I will start with curbing abuses and excesses.
The critical question for voters, ultimately, is what distinguishes one candidate from another. Her answer to that:
What distinguishes me most from my opponent is my background in education. Improving our school system is a top priority in many municipalities in the 10th Congressional District. I not only have formal training by way of a Master’s Degree, but through the numerous professional development trainings and conferences I have attended. I have also gained practical training in many areas. And, nothing can replace the 25 plus years of hands on experience I have gathered. This makes me an expert in the field and able to provide unique insights into how to approach the complex challenges of reforming our education system.
Our thanks to Ms. Dentley for participating in our efforts.
Jude-Anthony Tiscornia is running against incumbent Democrat Congressman Albio Sires in the 8th Congressional District. In response to our invitation to be interviewed, he said,
Thank you for taking interest in my campaign and various political positions.
As you noted I am running in one of the most heavily Democratic districts in the country. That usually means that the republican candidate gets little to no attention so thank you for your efforts to provide the voters with a balanced view.
Given the nature of the district, it seemed appropriate to ask what motivated him to run.
I firmly believe in the democratic process upon which this great country was founded. That process is dependant upon the voters having a choice. I was born and raised in this district and I have been a Republican all my voting life. Even though the odds are greatly stacked against me I feel it is my duty to provide a competent and viable alternative to the status quo. The alternative scenario would be to let Mr. Sires run unopposed, which would be unacceptable. The underlying problem is the extreme degree to which my district and all so called "safe districts" are gerrymandered. This process is controlled by the local democtratic organization and creates a scenario in which it is almost impossible for a non-Democrat to win.
A legislator is most likely to tackle those issues where he himself sees a problem and has ideas for how to solve it. Asked what problems he thought were most important and what kind of solutions he hoped to bring, he gave us four:
Our elected officials are notorious for over spending tax payer money and a whole host of government programs both foreign and domestic. Our nation's debt under President Obama has soared to an all time high. I am a fiscal conservative who is not afraid to stand up against this administration and reign in spending.
In my opinion, the President's Health Care Reform Act does nothing to address the root problems with our health care system. Indeed, the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that the act is nothing more than yet another tax trusted upon the backs of the People. The reality is, however, like it or not, the Act is Law. I agree that the bill should ultimately be repealed when a better plan is crafted to replace it. I call on my fellow Republicans to work with me in crafting that plan and I look forward to working with them.
Being from one of the most diverse districts in the country I have a profound respect for the immigrant experience. I agree with those law makers on both sides of the aisle who support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
d) Student Loan Debt.
I strongly feel that student loan debt could be the cause of the next economic downturn for our nation. There are millions of Americans saddled with both public and private student loans, myself included. Most of these individuals will be burdened with this debt for the entirety of their professional lives. The pursuit of higher education should not require the student to push himself/herself to the verge of financial collapse before ever entering the job market. I find it appalling that FASFA loans carry with them a 6.8 percent interest rate. I believe that rate should be cut in half to reflect the prevailing market rate. It is unfair for the federal government to hold our individual scholastic futures hostage.
Tiscornia faces an uphill battle as a Republican in a strongly Democratic district. We asked what appeals to him about the Republican party.
The most attractive quality of the Republican Party I find is their devotion of fiscal conservancy. Spend less, that's our motto! Also, being from such a heavily democratic district the Republicans have always been somewhat of an underdog and I respect that. The local Democratic machine essentially appoints our state and federal legislators for us and I find that to be unacceptable.
Like many Republicans in New Jersey, Tiscornia proves himself a moderate conservative:
I am what I call an "Urban Republican"; a fiscally conservative, socially conscious moderate conservative. Being from a densely populated area frequently plagued by gun violence I understand the need for common sense gun control laws. I also do not think the Federal Government or any government has the right to tell an individual whom they should or should not marry. I support the legalization and taxation of Marijuana. I also believe in the sanctity of all human life.
Voters want to know why to choose one candidate over another, and Tiscornia has an answer ready:
As previously noted, unlike my opponent Mr. Sires, I am not a career politician and am not a product of the local political machine. My opponent's job description has been "politician" for over thirty years. I am a private practice attorney with my own small business. I have never had a government job in my life. As such, I owe no political favors to anyone. Mr. Sires owes his position to the establishment democrats who put him there and is therefore bound by their agenda. If elected I would be bound only by the needs of my constituents and would be answerable only to them.
He invites anyone wanting to know more about him to ask:
Shoot me an email! email@example.com.
In closing, there were a few other things Tiscornia thought you ought to know about him:
I am a husband and proud father of two little girls. I was born and raised in Hudson county and I am a fourth generation Hudson County-er. My law practice is near my home in Jersey City and I am raising my family and paying taxes here. My wife and her whole family are dyed-in-the-wool Democrats so I am used to a healthy political argument and finding common ground.
Our thanks to Mr. Tiscornia for participating in our efforts.
Janice Kovach is running against incumbent Republican Congressman Leonard Lance in the 7th Congressional District. Her district has favored Republicans for quite a while, so we asked the Democratic candidate what motivated her to run.
I decided to run because of my frustration with Washington's inability to work together--the lack of focus on issues important to my family, my community and my state. I feel that I am no longer represented in Washington by my Congressman--that many issues addressed are not driven by the voters but the special intrests.
Of those issues, we asked what were the most important and what kind of solutions she hoped to bring.
Jobs and the economy I see as the number one priority. NJ is lagging in economic and job growth. As a mayor I speak with residents who are dealing with job loss, foreclosures, and issues that impact them locally. They want someone that will listen and help.
We asked what appeals to her about the Democratic party personally.
I am a democrat because my social values are more closely aligned--but I am also not defined strictly by my party affiliation. I don't feel that I must agree with every principle--I am allowed to develop opinions and can discuss my views without censure.
To the questions of how liberal or conservative she rated herself, and in what ways she agreed and disagreed with her own party, she gave us these thoughts:
I don't measure myself by "liberal" or "conservative" standards and I'm sure that there are many differing opinions as to that measurement. So how do I describe myself? I am fiscally responsible--I understand that we must work within the means that we are provided but I also know that money must be spent to ensure that infrastructure is always sound. I will not spend unnecessarily but I will spend to ensure the health and public safety of my community. But I also have strong social values that are very important to me--such as a woman's right to choose, the need to fund the unemployment extensions, a livable wage, social programs that provide a safety net for our most vulnerable, and common sense gun control (i.e. Universal background checks).
Part of the job of being in Congress is guiding the country for the good of the country, but part of it is representing the interests of New Jersey and of one specific Congressional District. We asked about this balance, and what Kovach sees as the needs on both sides.
Before Congress can accomplish anything for any of our states or constituents they must put aside their rhetoric--until there is an agreement to come together and work together for the good of our country we will continue to see a divided body that focuses not on fixing what is broken but continuing to point out what is broken and who broke it.--I liken it to when my kids break something and when asked who did it both say "not me".--I honestly don't care who broke but I do want to fix it and see this body of elected officials come together.
As far as what does this district and the state need--it is the support and resources for putting our residents back to work and back in their homes--it is the money to fix the crumbling infrastructure, it is affordable healthcare, the tools for training and re-training our unemployed. Support for our small businesses, the care and stewardship of our environment and the education of our children.
Sometimes voter apathy is driven by the perception that all the candidates are the same, so we wondered what Kovach thought most distinguished her from her opponent.
I believe my approach to the work that needs to be done--I have not allowed a party affiliation to define the work that needs to be done as a councilwoman or currently as the Mayor of Clinton. My sole focus has been on getting the right work done in my community--not the politically correct or expedient.
For those who want more information about Kovach, her positions, and her campaign:
They can find me on:
Finally, we gave her the opportunity to say whatever she thought was important enough to add that we had not covered, and she gave us this:
Regardless of your party affiliation or non affiliation--it is important for every registered voter and every eligible individual not registered to register to vote and then to ensure that you vote.
Thank you, Ms. Kovach, for participating in our interviews. We wish you the best in the upcoming election.