I can remember vividly watching the gulf war unfold on TV. I watched all of the coverage I could and would tape whatever I missed. Those days and nights: watching our nation lead the world in the course of good was an inspiration; injecting me with a dose of patriotism that would never leave me. It was those moments that drove me to West Point and ultimately to serve my country as a U.S. Army Officer.
My unbridled love for my country ultimately compelled me to start a new chapter of service as a member of the N.J. State Assembly. Though government is a far cry from the battlefield, the Assembly provides me an opportunity to serve and protect the ideals that serve as the foundation of our freedoms, and make this country worth fighting for in the first place.
My life gravitates to helping people in their greatest time of need. Three months after my graduation from West Point the September 11 attacks led to the beginning of the War on Terror, and three months after winning election to the state Assembly a global pandemic began.
In keeping with my love for country and my wholehearted belief in serving the greater good, I see it as my personal responsibility to highlight and correct a major issue that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light. That issue is the unchecked unilateral power afforded to the governor under the Disaster Act of 1941. It is under those powers that the governor has completely shut down the state economy, which has had a devastating effect on the lives of millions of people.
For months, we have seen liquor stores and big box stores open while main street businesses are shuttered. We have seen suicides, domestic violence, and drug overdoses increase due to the stay-at-home order and amplified by the lack of clarity on a path forward. We have watched parts of the state, with no significant impact from the virus, shut down to the same degree as parts of the state that are tremendously affected. We have seen nursing homes forced to take in COVID-19 patients and painfully watch over half of all deaths occur in these facilities.
I do not object to the governor having power to take immediate action in the case of an emergency. Being at war taught me that action must be decisive. I do object to the lack of legislative oversight. New Jersey is a diverse state with vastly different economies and interests depending on the region. Being at war taught me that every battlefield needs a different strategy.
The legislature represents every region of the state, and their input is necessary to ensure that a one-size-fits-all approach does not discriminate against New Jersey’s diversity. The vast differences are just too much for the executive office to consider on its own, and this is the fundamental reason for the representative government we have.
I have introduced legislation, A4147, which would allow the governor the freedom to act decisively in an emergency with executive orders, but require cooperation with the legislature every two weeks. Democracy isn’t about one person’s decisions, it is about the people. We need the necessary oversight over executive flexibility.
During this pandemic, the governor has made a tremendous effort to protect the population from COVID-19. However, because of his unilateral action, he has done more harm than necessary to our economy, and to the financial security of millions of New Jerseyans. This excess damage could have been prevented with legislative oversight, representing the 40 different districts of our state.
Fighting for our country taught me that crises happen more than once. If we face this crisis again, we must ensure New Jersey’s diversity is represented. This is not a partisan opinion; it is an American opinion, the foundation of our freedoms that make this country worth fighting for in the first place.
Please join me in supporting the passage of A4147. Everybody deserves to be represented.
Assemblyman Brian Bergen