Freshmen face novices in the Eighth District

Posted: November 03, 2013

Tuesday's election pits freshman Republican incumbents against novice Democratic challengers with no elective experience in the Eighth Legislative District, which spans 15 municipalities in Burlington County, four in Camden County, and Hammonton in Atlantic County.

Party registration and the 2011 legislative election results suggest that the district leans Democratic. Candidates on both sides cite jobs and taxes as the issues voters care about most.

Republican Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego, an Evesham lawyer and former Burlington County freeholder and assemblywoman, says she stands a good chance of winning a second Senate term because she is pro-business, and "we work hard for our constituents."

Addiego, 51, ran unopposed in her last election. The Democratic Party pinned its 2011 hopes on Olympic runner Carl Lewis, only to see a federal court rule that Lewis had not lived long enough in New Jersey to qualify as a candidate.

This time around, her Democratic opponent is Javier Vasquez, 49, of Evesham, who owns and operates a dental laboratory in town.

Addiego has allied herself closely with Republican Gov. Christie, who polls show leads for reelection by a wide margin. In an interview and in campaign appearances, Addiego has praised the Christie administration as improving the state's business climate and "slowing down property taxes."

She said she had taken a pledge never to raise taxes and opposes a constitutional amendment that would link increases in the state's minimum wage to the consumer price index "because the state's got to become more competitive."

Vasquez, a native of Peru, described himself as opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage, which he believes is consistent with the views of most the district's voters.

On most economic issues, however, he describes himself as a "traditional Democrat" who supports an increase in the state's minimum wage. He also supports funding public schools through income rather than property taxes. He calls for offering tax credits to employers who hire the long-term unemployed.

In the Assembly races, first-term Republican Chris Brown is seeking a second term. Three-term incumbent Scott Rudder decided not to seek reelection. Republicans have put up Maria Rodriguez-Gregg, 32, of Evesham, as his running mate. Democratic nominees are Robert McGowen of Medford Lakes and Ava Markey of Evesham.

Brown, 49, says job creation is his top priority.

"I want to create an environment in New Jersey where employers feel welcome to set up shop and be profitable," said Brown, president of a realty firm. "Key components" to making the state business-friendly, he said, are the reduction of burdensome regulations and "no new taxes."

Like Addiego, Brown prefers to see any adjustment in the minimum wage done nationally by the federal government, so states are not obliged to compete for businesses.

He said he was wary of funding public schools through income tax rather than property tax because it would "just give Democratic politicians another way to tax. They'd just use it to spend more money."

Brown said he supported a bill to authorize a referendum that would allow the state to allocate $200 million a year from sales-tax revenue to fund farmland and open-space preservation and supported a bill that would make it easier for businesses in the Pinelands to renovate their buildings without a lengthy approval process.

Rodriguez-Gregg is a former dental hygienist who now works for dental products company. She said she supports Christie's broad strategies for reducing taxes and sees promise in legislation that would make it easier for municipalities to consolidate or share such services as police and fire protection.

She said a constitutional amendment pegging New Jersey's minimum wage to the cost-of-living index would make the state a less-competitive business environment, and objects to funding public schools through the income tax because it would result in "the same inequities" that currently burden some taxpayers.

Rodriguez-Gregg has never held elective office but serves as secretary of the Republican Party's Burlington County organization, which asked her to run for Assembly. She serves on the board of trustees of Burlington County College and served for two years board of directors of Habitat of Humanity of Burlington County.

McGowan is a retired administrator of Buttonwood Hospital, a 200-resident nursing home and psychiatric hospital in Pemberton owned and operated until last year by Burlington County.

McGowan, a former Air Force major, publicly opposed the sale and spoke against it at hearings. He ran unsuccessfully in 2009 for a seat on the Medford Lakes Borough Council. In 2012 he was elected to represent District 1, Medford Lakes, on the Burlington County Democratic Committee.

He supports business incentives such as creating special liquor licenses for restaurants that want to locate in redevelopment zones.

Brown, 64, said he supports increasing the state's minimum wage and backs a proposal by the New Jersey League of Municipalities to fund public schools from income tax instead of property tax. "We have to do something different," he said.

The second Democratic candidate for Assembly is Ava Markey, an undergraduate at the College of New Jersey. She did not reply to requests for an interview and has not appeared at campaign debates, citing the demands of her schoolwork.


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