(Editor’s Note: New Jersey is comprised of 40 Legislative Districts; the 18 Legislative District includes over 130,000 registered voters in the Middlesex County communities of East Brunswick, Edison, Helmetta, Highland Park, Metuchen, South River and South Plainfield. Election Day 2015 is Tuesday, Nov. 3.)
SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr., a lifelong resident of South Plainfield, was first elected to the Assembly in 2002 and is seeking re-election to his eighth, two-year term. He currently serves as chair of the Education Committee, is vice chair of Consumer Affairs and a member of Regulated Professions. Additionally, he has served as Parliamentarian of the General Assembly since 2005 and as Deputy Speaker since 2008.
The youngest of seven children, Diegnan graduated from South Plainfield High School in 1966 and went on to attend Seton Hall University and Seton Hall Law School. He has operated a general practice law firm in South Plainfield since 1974. He and his wife, Anita, have been married for 39 years. They have two children, Heather and Tara, and three grandchildren.
According to Diegnan, property taxes are the ‘number one, two, three and four issue’ not only affecting residents of the 18th District but throughout all of New Jersey. “It has been that way for as long as I can remember and it is only getting worse,” he said. While raising taxes is unavoidable, Diegnan feels there are other ways – such as an income tax, corporate tax, transit tax, etc. - that wouldn't negatively affect homeowners. “We have to take it off of property taxes and direct it elsewhere,” he said. “Other states do it, including New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Connecticut and they are humming along. We have to find a different way to raise the money.”
New Jersey, he said, needs to have a Constitutional Convention comprised of citizens who serve as delegates for the sole purpose of revising how taxes in the state are raised. “You have to have citizens doing it because if you don’t its going to be Democrats versus Republicans and it will never be done because whatever the Democrats come up with Governor Christie will veto and whatever the Republicans come up with the Democrats will oppose,” he said. “I have always been a believer of having a Constitutional Convention for the sole purpose of finding a way to offset property taxes. I think people would be on board if it was explained to them and they were part of the process.”
Availability of affordable, quality education to all members of society, regardless of economic status, has always been a top priority to Diegnan, who over the course of his tenure has sponsored dozens of education-related bills. “Education is the key to opportunity. I wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't have the opportunity to go to college and law school. In my era, it was very affordable, today it is not,” he said. “We as a country and as a state have got to address that issue.”
Among his priorities, if re-elected, is to make public preschool and community college free to residents. “Education is so important and we have to really attack [the issue] at both ends of the problem,” said Diegnan, noting that he has also been working in the Assembly to create a task force to investigate how the state can best match vocational opportunities to students attending vocational schools.
“There are so many job opportunities out there and we should be reaching out to those industries, matching match up kids and training them for those jobs,” he said. “Every kid doesn't have the ability or desire to go to college but there are so many other opportunities out there.” Additionally, Diegnan said he supports changing the name of vocational schools to ‘Career Academies’ and that doing so would ‘eliminate the impedance’ typically associated with the name ‘vocational.’
An advocate for education, Diegnan supports Common Core but is opposed to PARCC testing; earlier this year, his bill (A4190) to delay the education department’s use of PARCC results for student placement for three years was approved by the Assembly but not the Senate. “The theory of Common Core is to have a common curriculum so that we can compete with other states and that is something virtually everybody supports. PARCC is the thing that gives people agita. It is awful and unnecessary and the teachers knew from day one it was going to be a disaster,” he said.
“PARCC is just such an overbearing test and it wasn't properly thought out or rolled out,” Diegnan added. “In all the years I have been in Trenton it has been the most divisive issue that I have come across. The whole process is really an example of how not to do things.”
Deignan said he always had an interest in politics so running for public office for the first time 14 years ago just seemed like the right thing to do. “My dad was an Irish immigrant and he always told us that to be part of the solution you have to get involved and he always encouraged all of us,” Diegnan said, adding that over the past seven terms he has followed one simple rule – work to improve the lives of all of the residents of this great state.
“I do not want to stand on my record; I want people to really look actually look at my record. I feel I have done a good job and deserve their support,” he said.