Home>Campaigns>SALT, abortion, crime top of mind in 11th district debate

Former Assistant Passaic County Prosecutor Paul DeGroot, left, and Rep. Mikie Sherrill, right, at the NJ Globe 11th district debate. (Photo: New Jersey Globe via YouTube).

SALT, abortion, crime top of mind in 11th district debate

DeGroot casts himself as ‘not the typical type of Republican’; Sherrill disagrees

By Joey Fox, October 23 2022 11:50 pm

Has Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) been an effective congresswoman during her nearly four years in office? Would former Assistant Passaic County Prosecutor Paul DeGroot vote just like any other Republican if he were elected to replace her?

Those two questions dominated at tonight’s New Jersey Globe-hosted 11th congressional district debate, during which Sherrill and DeGroot sparred over abortion, inflation, crime, and a bevy of other key issues.

Sherrill was first elected in 2018, flipping a district long held by Republicans with a message focused on delivering concrete results and on her own background as a former U.S. Navy helicopter pilot – a message she honed in on once again at the debate.

“I’ve served this country from the time I was 18 years old,” Sherrill said. “I want to make sure I’m always working to make this district better and safer and more affordable, driving down costs and investing in our future. And that’s what I hope to continue to do.”

Late last year, the 11th district was redrawn from a top swing district to one that leans substantially towards Democrats, making Sherrill the favorite for re-election. But DeGroot, a first-time candidate who won the Republican primary in an upset, said that Sherrill and Democrats at large have failed to deliver for the 11th district’s residents.

“This district is facing high inflation; we’re facing high mortgage prices, high rent prices, high gas prices,” he said. “This is not all smiles here in CD-11.”

One of the key things DeGroot said Sherrill has failed to do is repeal the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction cap, a key issue for the district. In 2017, Republicans implemented the cap, which limits how much higher-income New Jersey residents can deduct from their federal taxes, and Democrats in Congress have yet to marshal the votes necessary to undo it.

“I would have fought like hell to get that SALT deduction back,” DeGroot said, referencing the absence of SALT reform from the Inflation Reduction Act. “I would have stood my ground and said, no… I want the SALT cap back.”

Sherrill countered by bringing up an interview from last month in which DeGroot said he’s “not in favor of the federal government paying New Jersey’s tax bills,” seemingly implying that the entire SALT deduction system is broken.

“You’ve said multiple times that you don’t think the SALT deduction should exist,” Sherrill said. “That’s why I think voters are concerned, because historically we’ve seen Republicans, for the first time in the nation’s history, cap our state and local tax deductions, and you fundamentally don’t believe that the SALT deduction should exist.”

Concerns over SALT were inevitably tied to concerns about the high cost of living, particularly due to inflation, which Sherrill called an “insidious tax.” DeGroot laid the issue at the feet of Democrats, whom he noted have full control over Congress and the presidency.

“This administration has been asleep at the switches,” DeGroot said. “Coming out of Covid, they should have been prepared for the jobs and the shipping problems. That’s what’s wrong with this Congress: total control by the Democrats… We need to bring some balance and some common sense.”

DeGroot said multiple times that the country was headed towards a recession; Sherrill was more measured, but she did hit the Federal Reserve for acting too late to combat inflation, which she said put the country “behind the curve.”

On the issue of abortion, 2022’s other dominant issue besides inflation, DeGroot said he is a pro-choice Republican who nevertheless believes that the Supreme Court was right to overturn Roe v. Wade – a position DeGroot has repeatedly staked out on the campaign trail.

“I am pro-choice,” DeGroot said. “I believe in a woman’s right to choose. The Dobbs decision has made it very clear that this is a state’s rights issue… New Jersey has its law, and it is up to New Jersey voters to decide.”

But Sherrill challenged him on the logical conclusions of that position. Some states have completely or near-completely banned abortion thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision, an outcome Sherrill said doesn’t comport with being pro-choice.

“Over 22 million women now don’t have access to abortion with no exceptions – that’s the state of play,” Sherrill said. “He can say he’s pro-choice. He can say the sky is green. That doesn’t make it true, because when you are ok with states deciding, you are ok with 22 million women in this country not having access to any sort of abortion.”

“That’s why I believe in Roe,” she continued at a later moment in the debate. “I believe there should be Constitutional support for women’s freedoms and equality across this nation. I believe this is not a state’s rights issue, this is a women’s rights issue.”

The issue is also one that has dominated Sherrill’s TV advertising; in one recent spot, she called DeGroot a “threat to abortion rights.” DeGroot, who’s struggled with fundraising, has yet to air a single TV spot, meaning that Sherrill’s messaging has run uncontested.

On crime – perhaps the single greatest focus of DeGroot’s campaign, drawing on his career in the Passaic County prosecutor’s office – DeGroot and Sherrill both said they’ll focus on collaborating with the police to reduce crime rates.

“I have worked incredibly hard on working with law enforcement – it’s why I’m the only person in this race that has been endorsed by a police union,” Sherrill said. “I have just convened our police chiefs, our prosecutors, and our mayors to make sure we’re federally addressing the rash of car thefts.”

“What we’re facing now is a suburban crime wave,” DeGroot said. “What I hear from the police officers and the police chiefs is they need leadership that affects Trenton. The pursuit policies that Trenton has are flawed. Bail reform is a nightmare… There’s burglaries and break-ins, and this is getting bad.”

Underlying each debate over a specific issue, from infrastructure projects to Ukraine to flood protection, were two core messages from the two candidates: Sherrill touted her accomplishments in Congress and tied DeGroot to the broader Republican Party, while DeGroot called Sherrill’s time in office a failure and defined himself as “not the typical type of Republican.”

“I’m not the scary bogeyman that my opponent makes me out to be,” DeGroot said in his opening statement. “I’m an outsider and a pro-choice defender of a woman’s right to choose, [fighting] to get this country back on track.”

Sherrill challenged that type of assertion repeatedly, suggesting during an exchange on abortion that DeGroot’s moderate stances are a ploy to win office.

“Someone like you will say anything you can to just get elected,” Sherrill told DeGroot.

“That’s pot calling the kettle black,” DeGroot retorted.

At the end of the debate – by which point both Sherrill and DeGroot were noticeably frostier with one another than an hour earlier – the two candidates closed with more of that same messaging.

“There is clearly a difference between Congresswoman Sherrill and myself, and it’s clear that she’s not on the side of New Jersey,” DeGroot said. “She’s made promises she’s failed to keep… She lies about my positions because the record she has has been a record of non-production and not getting things done for CD-11.”

“[My opponent] really has a deep cynicism about this country and the people in it,” Sherrill said. “I’ve worked really hard for this state and for this nation my entire life, and certainly in the past four years. And I’d be incredibly honored if the voters of New Jersey would send me back.”

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