Two independent candidates for Lt. Governor called on New Jerseyans to consider alternatives to the Democratic and Republican parties during a debate sponsored by the New Jersey Globe on Monday evening.
Eveline Brownstein is running on the Libertarian ticket with Gregg Mele and Heather Warburton is Madelyn Hoffman’s running mate for the Green Party.
Like last week’s debate between Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver and the Republican nominee, former State Sen. Diane Allen, there were no fireworks between Brownstein and Warburton, although they disagreed on mask mandates, climate change and taxes.
Early on, Warburton addressed what she called the “elephant in the room” – the exclusion of independent candidates from debates involving major party candidates for Governor and Lt. Governor.
“Ms. Brownstein and I are essentially kind of being placed at the kids table tonight, and that’s purely because of how many rich people were know – or in our case, don’t know,” Warburton said. “New Jersey sets the rules of who can be in the official debate, and it’s basically what candidates have raised about half-million dollars. That’s it. It’s nothing to do with how valid your ideas are.”
Candidates who did not qualify for public matching funds were not including in the Allen/Oliver debate, also sponsored by the New Jersey Globe.
Brownstein used the debate as an opportunity to introduce herself to New Jersey voters.
“Like many of our constituents, I have owned a small business. I’m an immigrant. I worked for companies. I’ve volunteered for non-profit organizations. I care for an aging parent, and I parented future adults – all seven of them,” said Brownstein. “Those experiences don’t make me an expert. They only open my eyes to see and my ears to continue listening to the varied and unique experiences of others, and to advocate for individual solutions over the one size fits all approach of government.”
The Rumson human resources executive said that she wants to find “better solutions than government bureaucracy and ones that incorporate accountability for outcomes rather than praise for cookie cutter initiatives that serve very few.”
Warburton, an artist and longtime activist from Hammonton – she’s a former Democrat — noted that independent candidates enter the race “knowing the deck is stacked against you at every opportunity and you run because you’re so passionate about fixing things, you can’t sit on the sidelines.”
“New Jersey is broken,” Warburton said. “We’re on the front lines of catastrophic climate change here, but our state has no real plan to address it. Our tax system is unjust and unfair. People lack comprehensive health care. Poverty is ever rising. Racial inequality and income inequality never seem to get any better. The two-party system has failed us in every turn. Voter apathy is rampant, and it seems like neither of the two big guys are offering real solutions.”
The moderator, New Jersey Globe reporter Joey Fox, said that if an independent candidate were to win, they would be dealing with a legislature dominated by lawmakers from the Democratic and Republican parties. He asked the candidates how they would “bridge the partisan divide.”
“You have to find areas where you agree and you have to work on those areas where you don’t, Brownstein said. “Compromises where everybody feels that they gave up a little bit of something, but they’re satisfied with the outcome.
But if that doesn’t work, Brownstein said there is a workaround.
“Governor Murphy tells me there is such a thing as an executive order,” she said, in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way. “In this political climate we are in, you have to be sworn enemies and I don’t think that’s necessary.”
Warburton said she loved the question.
“If we win – I know, the odds are kind of stacked against us – it would be an overwhelming groundswell of people power that put us into the governor seat,” she said. “We would have a great mandate from the people to make the changes that we’re talking about. They’re saying that this is what they want to say.”
She said that if the legislature stood in the way of that mandate, she would “be out there in the streets with the people with bullhorns marching in the streets and showing up at the executive sessions and showing up that peoples offices and saying ‘why are you blocking what the people want?”
“The people are our greatest resource here and if the people speak that loudly that they say what we’re talking about they really value that and they really want it. Then it would just be disappointing if the legislative block that clearly because we’re from a different party than them,” Warburton explained. “But I always believe in giving people the opportunity to disappoint me, so I will show up and I will work with anyone. It doesn’t matter if you have a D or an R, if you’re Libertarian or Socialist Worker.”
The two candidates each said they have been vaccinated but differed in government’s role in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I am a huge advocate for vaccines,” said Brownstein. “I grew up in Africa and I have seen the devastation that occurs when people are not vaccinated and there are preventable diseases.”
But she said she does not support vaccination mandates.
“That is a decision that each person has to make for themselves,” Brownstein stated. “I wouldn’t mandate it.”
That applies to teachers and health care workers too.
“I don’t think government needs to get involved,” said Brownstein. “I think the schools should decide what kind of school environment they want to provide, and parents should be able to choose.”
Warburton said she believes everyone should get vaccinated but stopped short of agreeing with a mandate.
“The science is clear. Vaccines are safe and vaccines are effective,” she argued. “They’re one of our best tools at fighting this pandemic.”
But Warburton acknowledged that government doesn’t have a great track record among New Jerseyans who live in marginalized communities.
“So we have to work to really build that trust and build that relationship,” she said.
And she says some people who won’t get the vaccine “need to be subjected to bi-weekly testing to make sure you’re safe and you’re not spreading disease to others.”
Warburton said she supports a mask mandate in the school, but Brownstein said that while she supports mask wearing, she doesn’t think government should mandate them.
The two independents disagreed on climate change.
“We need to be investing in alternatives – Green alternatives, Green infrastructure,” Warburton said. “Part of what we’re running on is an eco-Socialist Green New Deal, which goes above and beyond the Green New Deal you may have heard about from people like (Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) where we really work to transition people from polluting and dangerous jobs into Green, renewable, useful jobs where you can make a living wage and save the world at the same time.”
Brownstein said she doesn’t think government-mandated climate change programs funded by special interests looking to profit off the new ideas.
“If this is a government-driven solution, government will look for the solution it wants, not the best,” she said.
Brownstein signed on to the same no tax increase pledge that Gov. Phil Murphy and Republican Jack Ciattarelli agreed to in a debate last month, but the Green Party candidate disagreed.
“Corporations and wealthy people are not paying their fair share,” Warburton. “We don’t have a progressive tax system, we have a regressive tax system.”
Brownstein said that “taxes are too high” but cited low-income New Jerseyans who are “trapped in the state who can’t get ahead but also can’t leave.”
“We should lower taxes for everybody,” she said.
The Libertarian candidate said he would seek greater accountability for existing government programs.
“There are lots of government initiatives, lots of government programs that money gets thrown out for which there is no accountability for outcomes,” said Brownstein. “We need to start looking at the budget. We need to start looking at the outcomes and we need to demand better for the money that we’re paying for things.”
Warburton called New Jersey’s tax system “unfair and unjust, where seems like the middle class or kind of the only people paying taxes.”
“Our tax structure should be based on your ability to pay taxes. Tax rates have fallen. What the share of the budget that’s made up by corporate taxes is about a third of what it was just a few decades ago,” she stated. “It seems true for people making over $1,000,000 what their tax rate is a fraction of what it used to be, whereas the people in the middle class are getting squeezed.”
Both candidates support the codification of Roe v. Wade into state law.
Warburton called for “reproductive freedom across the board” and Brownstein said she would “100% support a woman’s right to choose.”
Brownstein said the issue of abortion was personal to her.
“I had two miscarriages,” she explained. “Under the Texas law, if a neighbor knew about that, they could ostensibly suggest that I had an abortion. I would be vehemently opposed to any interference with a woman’s right to have those discussions with her doctor and to make personal decisions about her body.”
The Libertarian and Green Party candidates agreed on ranked choice voting and expanding the use of technology to expand voter participation in elections.
Warburton said she supports defunding the police “and transferring those funds to programs that actually benefit the communities” and said concentrating policing in certain areas “is really sort of a war on Black and Brown people.”
She called for the legalization of some recreational drugs and “citizen review boards with actual teeth.”
Brownstein said the state needs to “end the entire failed war on drugs.”
“Putting a substance into your body should not be a crime you could go to jail for,” she said. “It has negatively affected communities of color and there is no reason for it. It has to end. We have to stop criminalizing all the drugs. What people put in their body is their choice.”
She also called for the legalization of prostitution.
Brownstein had a one-word answer to the best way to repair inequalities between white residents and its residents of color.
“Liberty,” she said. “It is the greatest equalizer. You can only have the same level for everybody if everybody has the same level of liberty.”
She said equity would come by “everybody having the same freedoms.”
“Freedoms are not driven by what’s in your bank account,” Brownstein explained. “It’s your inalienable right to those freedoms.”
Warburton said that people are still benefiting from white supremacy and that “people who were descendants of slaves are still unable to build generational wealth.”
“Our campaign is actually talking about reparations,” Warburton stated. “How do we repair the damage that’s been done, not just to Black communities but to indigenous communities?”
Fox asked the two candidates which cabinet post they would take if they were elected lieutenant governor.
Both said they’d like to follow Oliver as the Commissioner of Community Affairs.
Brownstein and Warburton called for an end to a two-party system.
“For real change in our great state, who must vote for change and the two parties have let you down with empty promises after empty promise and disguising their initiatives is knew even though they lack any innovation or modern thinking. Let’s change that in New Jersey,” Brownstein said. “Let’s be the first state in the nation to elect leaders, not from one of the parties of continual failure but from the party that really does have new and innovative idea.”
Vivian Sahner, the Socialist Workers Party candidate for Lt. Governor, had initially accepted an invitation to debate but later dropped out.