Primary Primer 3: Republicans on the Issues

Republicans on the June 5 primary ballot. Top row: Jay Webber, Peter de Neufville, Antony Ghee. Bottom row: Patrick Allocco, Martin Hewitt.

Thirty-five days to the primaries - but who’s counting? Still looking to become a more informed voter? In Part 3 of Primary Primer, here are some highlights about what Republican candidates in the 11th District congressional race think about key issues. For additional information and perspectives, be sure to follow the links in the text. (For biographical details on the candidates, see Part 1 and Part 2.)

Background for these profiles came from the articles and websites linked, in addition to the writer’s notes from candidate forums in November 2017 and April 2018.

Antony Ghee

As is the case with other political newcomers in the race, one has to rely primarily on public statements and interviews to gauge Antony Ghee’s thinking on issues such as health care, reproductive rights, taxes and infrastructure. So far, Ghee’s official website, Facebook page and Twitter give few specific stances on issues.

However, Ghee has spoken in interviews about the importance of “solving problems, not creating them” (for example, The Star-Ledger, 4/22/2018). He told another interviewer he believes voters are tired of “petty politics” (InsiderNJ, 4/9/2018), In the same interview, he said he thought economic issues and sound government management were important factors for all voters. And at a recent candidate debate, he said he supports Planned Parenthood funding, but not for abortion services (federal funding for which is already prohibited by the Hyde Amendment).

Regarding gun safety, Ghee’s campaign statement pledged to get guns “out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill, while protecting our Second Amendment rights.” More recently, Ghee told the New Jersey Herald (interview, 4/26/2018) he could “see both sides of the issue,” and that “we have to find a way to remove emotion from the equation.”

Jay Webber

Webber’s history reflects a firmly ideological, conservative approach. The Star-Ledger editorial board has described him, in fact, as a “fringe conservative.” Adding to Webber’s hard-right credentials is his alignment with the American Legislative Council (ALEC) — a group that writes prototype bills aimed at promoting a strongly right-wing agenda nationwide. Webber has served as ALEC’s NJ state co-chair.

His voting record in the state Assembly exemplifies a keep-government-out-of-it dogmatism in matters great (refusing to support a gas tax hike to replenish the state Transportation Trust Fund) and small (a “No” vote on a 2014 measure requiring drivers to give cyclists and pedestrians four feet of space on the road). This conservatism extends to social issues, as well. Just one example: Voting against a bill to ban conversion therapy for LGBTQ minors.

Some additional points to ponder from Webber’s time in the state legislature:

  • Gun Safety: Webber carried a 93% rating in 2017 from the National Rifle Association (NRA), which endorsed Webber as a State Assembly candidate.
  • Health Care, Reproductive Rights: Webber has long opposed abortion rights, has a 0% rating from Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey, and criticized opponent Peter deNeufville’s family foundation for past donations to Planned Parenthood (New Jersey Globe, 4/25/18).
  • Budget/Taxes: As far back as 2003, Webber has been opposed to “any and all efforts to increase taxes.” Yet when asked for his thoughts on the added taxpayer burden posed by the Trump tax plan’s elimination of the state and local property tax deduction (SALT) — which will, in fact, increase taxes for many homeowners in the NJ-11 district — Webber stopped short of strong criticism, instead shifting focus by saying the SALT issue should draw attention to New Jersey’s high property taxes. (Interview, Insider NJ, 2/12/2018)
  • Environment/Renewable Energy: Webber has only a 34% rating from New Jersey League of Conservation Voters. (Translated to letter grades, it would be a resonant “F”.) More recently, he voted “No” on S2313, which established a zero-emissions certificate program for nuclear power plants (4/12/2018)

Martin Hewitt

If Webber is the unabashed right-winger in the field, Hewitt is an equally unabashed “liberal Republican” (interview, New Jersey Herald, 3/15/2018). Or, as his website says, a “fiscal conservative, social moderate.”

At forums and in statements he has advocated a move away from polarizing politics. On health care, he’s for fixing Obamacare, not repealing it. His website makes clear he is a social moderate on such matters as marriage equality and women’s rights. He told the Herald he is focusing on “the 80 percent of the constituents” who are middle-of-the-road and “don’t have representation right now,” and called Citizens United — the Supreme Court ruling which declared limits on campaign donations unconstitutional — “the worst decision ever made.”

At an April 7 town hall meeting on gun legislation organized by teens from Morristown March for Our Lives, Hewitt, one of the two Republicans to attend, said he supports the Second Amendment but believes in common-sense safety measures (background checks, a ban on assault weapons, repealing a rule barring the Centers for Disease Control from studying gun violence as a public health issue).

Peter de Neufville

De Neufville’s recently launched campaign website gives his thoughts on several issues — national debt, national security, economic growth, environment and immigration. De Neufville, who is an adjunct senior fellow with the Center for a New American Security, puts national debt at the top of his priorities, advocating spending caps and cuts to federal programs to reduce the size of the debt. He’s also got some moderate stands on the environment — he says he supports the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts and would oppose oil drilling off the Jersey shore.

However, on undocumented immigrants, he takes a harder line, supporting bans on sanctuary cities and proposing a “national electronic verification system” for employers to verify the status of prospective workers. With regard to reproductive rights, de Neufville has said that he supports the 1976 Hyde Amendment (which bans federal funding of abortions), although his campaign manager said de Neufville also supports Roe vs. Wade.

On national security, he favors passing a new military-force resolution allowing the president discretion to commit military forces to global trouble spots, but requiring congressional authorization within 180 days. His campaign announcement emphasized the need for “a fresh voice [in] Washington to reinvigorate Congress with new ideas and thoughtful proposals.”

Patrick Allocco

Allocco’s most striking position so far is his pledge to “vote the way the people want me to vote.” He proposes having voters pick “yea” or “nay” on legislation through a website or app. He says he would adhere to the results, whatever his personal feelings. For instance, although Allocco opposes abortion, he would “reluctantly vote the other side of the issue” should voters (who weigh in on his website or app) want that, he told Insider NJ (April 4, 2018). How to keep such a system secure from interference is another question.  

Given this approach to handling House votes, Allocco’s specific stands may be beside the point, but he has expressed some. On his Facebook page, he posted thoughts about the opioid crisis, highlighting its urgency but leaving opinions on specific solutions to the reader.

Along with Hewitt, Allocco was one of the two Republicans to attend the April 7 student-led Town Hall on gun safety, where he said he has no plans to take money from the NRA, the sort of special-interest group whose political influence he wants to curtail. He also said he supports universal background checks. Ultimately, however, Allocco’s approach boils down to seeking specific feedback on House votes through online tools, and voting accordingly.