BASKING RIDGE — On Monday, the Republican and Democratic favorites in New Jersey's 11th congressional district spoke here in separate question and answer sessions with the residents of the Fellowship Village continuing care retirement community.
Republican hopeful and current Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen spoke first to the senior citizens on a variety of issues. He was followed by Democratic candidate and borough resident Douglas Herbert.
Frelinghuysen currently serving his eighth term as the representative from the 11th district, which is made up of 56 municipalities, including the borough and township.
As a former serviceman and veteran of the Vietnam, Frelinghuysen has been active in promoting veterans' causes, recently stopping for the fifth anniversary on the Hope for Veterans program at the Lyons VA Hospital.
Frelinghuysen talked about supporting the men and women serving overseas, and gave his opinion that the U.S. will soon be out of Iraq, although Afghanistan may be more challenging.
Herbert told the seniors gathered after Frelinghuysen left, "I'm thankful you're still here." The Democratic candidate faces the challenge of unseating his opponent in a district where the leading Democratic candidate has never won more than 37 percent of the vote since Frelinghuysen was elected in 1994.
Herbert also has a military background, joining the U.S. Army after high school and serving for four years, primarily stationed in former West Germany. Herbert returned to the states and got his bachelor's degree from Columbia University and J.D. from Seton Hall Law School before settling in Chatham and starting his own private law practice.
The State of the Economy
Frelinghuyen talked about the state of affairs both in the local economy, and the remedies offered by Washington.
"There's certainly a lot of anxiety and worry as to where our economy is going," he said. "As you know, there are a lot of people out of work, and a lot of money has been spent in Washington. Quite honestly, I don't think we can account for it all, and I think some of it has been wasted."
Frelinghuysen said he was eager to cut spending, but the current leaders in Washington are leaning the other way. "On cutting spending, we're willing to do that, but the majority rules. They are spending money we don't have."
Herbert was more concerned about the return on the money that has been spent. The candidate said that his bank temporarily cut his line of credit despite a good credit history, nearly causing his law firm to go out of business. To stimulate banks to lend, Herbert said he was in favor of using the federal government to back credit lines.
"The federal government needs to be the guarantor until the system re-primes the pump so to speak," Herbert said. "The banks are going to be in my crosshairs, because they have not done what we required them to do. They are not lending."
Frelinghuysen did not vote for the health care reform bill recently passed in Congress. When asked by one Fellowship Village resident if voting for flawed reform would have been better than no reform at all, the congressman responded, "I'm not against health care reform, but I was against Nancy Pelosi's health care reform bill."
"It is the size of four Morris County phonebooks, and many members of Congress had not read it," Frelinghuysen said. He said that he believes it represents a government takeover of a portion of health care in the US, and is paving the way toward a single-payer system.
"We have government controlling the healthcare of the people between Medicare and Medicaid in a way that is irreversible. I think it's going to change the relationship with doctors and their patients," he said.
Herbert criticized his opponent for his handling of the reform process in Congress.
"During the health care debate, he had the opportunity to participate, the whole Republican Party had the opportunity to participate, but they didn't," Herbert said.
Frelinghuysen also took questions on the insurance industry, but stated that his opinion of the Democratic agenda outweighed the threat posed by the corporations.
"I don't want to be identified with health insurance companies, they're like the bad guys in the schoolyard, but if government is telling you what to sell, we're moving toward a single-payer system," Frelinghuysen said. "That's what I believe, I'm familiar with the agenda, and it will be modeled on the British system."
"When the Democrats are trying to one-up the Republicans and the Republicans are trying to one-up the Democrats, we're the ones who lose, the ones in the middle," Herbert said. "Let's do what's right for the country instead of what's right for MSNBC or Fox News. We have to find a way to get the Democrats and Republicans together." The candidate also accused Frelinghuysen of voting down the party line.
For his part, Frelinghuysen also said that he thinks bipartisan efforts should be encouraged, but differed in his characterization of the current political climate in Washington. On health care, for example, the congressman said that a lack of bipartisan effort from the ruling party led to the passage of an inferior reform bill.
The Oil Spill and the Environment
Frelinghuysen called the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico "another Katrina."
"Everyone is working overtime to clear it up. How they can do all that deep sea drilling without a plan B, I don't know," he said.
As for solutions, Frelinghuysen expressed his view that America will continue to be dependent on oil as a source of fuel. "I'm not sure it's a good idea to shut all the oil rigs down without an alternative. We need to find the right balance," he said. "Quite a lot of our oil comes from the Gulf. The reason they are in the water is because we put a lot of the land off limits."
Herbert, who started the Green Initiatives Committee in Chatham, said that he hopes the oil spill will spur Americans to pursue more alternative energy sources.
"This is a serious problem," Herbert said. "The question is, what do we do with it? Do we fix it up and forget about it, or try to learn from it?
"First we have to fix the problem, stop the leak and get it cleaned up. Then we need to have some inquiries about what happened, why it happened and more importantly, what can we do about it going forward," Herbert said. "I hope this is a wake up call to explore green initiatives. And, unfortunately, it might take an incident like the one in the gulf for that persuasion to occur."
While Frelinghuysen said he believes that the U.S. will continue to be dependent on nuclear, coal and oil energy, Herbert said, "Fossil fuels are necessary evil, but we need to put energy into finding a new way to power our world."