NEW JERSEY -- Four candidates vying to represent the 4th Congressional District in the House of Representatives faced each other virtually on Thursday evening in a forum hosted by The League of Women Voters (LWV) Monmouth County Chapter. Participating in the 90-minute debate which was sponsored by TAPinto were Stephanie Schmid, Democrat; Hank Schroeder, Make Change Happen; Andrew Pachuta, Common Sense Party; and Michael J. Rufo, Libertarian Party.
Incumbent Republican Congressman Chris Smith ,who has represented the district that spans across 45 towns in Mercer, Monmouth, and Ocean Counties, since 1981 did not respond to the LWV invitation to participate.
The League of Women Voters is a non-partisan organization committed to fair candidate forums.
The forum covered the most pressing issues on the minds of voters this year including the Affordable Care Act, the ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, racial justice, immigration, and tax policy. Questions posed to the candidates were submitted by residents and TAPinto and chosen by the debate moderator, Michelle Bobrow.
When discussing how to address the impact of climate change, Schroeder said “the revolution is here,” in stressing his support of the Green New Deal. He believes it will create many small businesses. Rufo said that he supports nuclear energy and suggested that new green energy systems are not proven and not ready yet, while Schmid said she supports rejoining the Paris Climate Change Accord.
When asked about the racial tensions seen across the country, and how to address the problem, Rufo said that “nobody that is evil should get that ring of power.” Calling racism a disease, Schroeder said that “the country was built by slaves."
"When military men came home from the war, they were not given access to the GI Bill. We need to teach the history of truth,” Schroeder added. “A big way to solve the problem is through the Voting Rights Act.”
Schmid said that she has spent her professional life as a human rights advocate and has worked side-by-side with law enforcement.
The conversation then shifted to the growth of home-grown terrorism seen in the United States.
Pachuta said that law enforcement needs to receive additional funding in order to track such groups digitally and that he believes that free speech should be allowed so that the problems “bubble to the surface and do not fester.”
Schmid called this election a “referendum on who we are as a country” and blamed President Trump for the rise of these terrorists groups pointing to his past comments that there were “good people on both sides" following a demonstration by white supremacists in Charlottesville, West Virginia.
Schroeder said he is worried about what he called “the silence of good people” and suggested that “we all need to stand up and speak out more against pure outright racism and bigotry.”
“The light will cast out the dark,” said Rufo who believes that a large part of the problem facing the country is the “extreme polarization” caused by the two main political parties – republicans and democrats – where people “must chose from the lesser of two evils."
"Eventually what you get is pure evil,” he said.
Asked about his view on the 2nd Amendment and if changes to the nation's gun laws were necessary. Schroeder noted that he was wearing a wrist band to represent the victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, adding that there needs to be a conversation about guns law and that he supports a ban on assault weapons.
Rufo, however, believes that guns aren’t the issue; polarity in our society is the problem, while Schmid touted her endorsement by the advocacy group Moms Demand Action saying that she supports “common sense gun reform” including a universal background check, assault weapons ban, a voluntary buyback program, a red-flags law, and the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
Pachuta also supported a background check for all gun owners but warned that there may be “no rights left if we pick and choose which rights that we honor.”
In closing the forum, moderator Bobrow reminded residents of the various methods in which they can vote this year which include dropping completed ballots ins a secure drop box, sending them through the US mail, returning them to their respective County Clerk, or bringing them to a designated polling place on Tuesday, November 3.
A recording of the forum will be posted on the League of Women Voters of Southern Monmouth County’s website and the LWV guide at vote411.org.
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