Republicans have returned to using a previously-debunked attack on a Democratic Assembly candidate who works full-time as a farmer at her home in rural Chester.
In 2019, then-Assembly candidate Anthony M. Bucco (R-Boonton) accused Draeger of being a tax cheat because her 10.7 acre farm qualifies for the New Jersey’s Farmland Assessment.
Draeger’s farm – 24 sheep, 15 chickens (down from 19 after an regrettable incident with a raccoon) and 7 active beehives – was deemed legitimate by the Morris County Director of the New Jersey Farm Bureau, Frank Carrajat.
“I don’t know how you can say she’s a fake. Obviously, she’s a farmer,” Carrajat told the New Jersey Globe last fall.
But with Draeger making a second bid for the Morris County-based 25th district Assembly seat this year, Republicans have revived their issue.
The GOP attacked Draeger for holding a “black-tie fundraiser” at her “estate” this week, which was really a virtual fundraise on Zoom. Draeger said she wore a t-shirt.
“They can’t win on policy, so they try to win on division and lies,” said Draeger.
Republicans are using the same description now that they did last October: “tax dodging scheme.”
While Draeger pays just $26.10 in property taxes for 9 acres set aside for farmland, she also pays $23,986 annually for the 1.7 acre portion of her property where her house is located, tax records show.
The New Jersey Farm Bureau, the state’s largest grassroots agriculture advocacy group, calls the farmland assessment program “a big reason agriculture remains a thriving industry in the most densely populated state in America.
The Farm Bureau says that the state “counts on small farms and small farm operators to help maintain the working landscape of New Jersey.”
“They don’t have anything to run on and they’re willing to say anything to get elected,” Draeger said. “Bucco is calling the shots. Rather than anything he’s done, he’d rather lie.”
Carrajat, who farms several properties in the Mendham and Chester areas, says he doesn’t know Draeger, but thinks attacks on farmers like her is unfair.
“Does she need one more sheep? Two more beehives?” asked Carrajat. “It’s just an easy attack. She’s an easy target
The GOP has still doubled-down on their criticism of Draeger.
“Ms. Draeger can spin it however she wants. She is just gaming the system to pay less in taxes, but she wants everyone else to pay more,” said Kasey Dearden, the campaign manager for Bucco and Assemblywoman Aura Dunn (R-Mendham). “Voters rejected her hypocrisy last year and will do so again.”
Draeger isn’t the first North Jersey candidate to tout their farming experience as a candidate for public office.
During the 1996 U.S. Senate race, Rep. Dick Zimmer ran a TV ad that shows he and his wife walking around their Delaware Township farm feeding their sheep.
When Zimmer first bought the farm in the 1970s, he delivered eggs and his wife milked their cow every day.
Zimmer, who represented part of the 25th district in Congress, used his farm to highlight his record on support of environmental issues and an endorsement by the League of Conservation Voters.
The Democratic Senate candidate, Rep. Bob Torricelli, attacked Zimmer for taking the Farmland Assessment tax benefit on his 23 ½ acre farm.
The Globe reported last year that New Jersey Transit boss Kevin Corbett qualifies for the Farmland Assessment tax break because he raises sheep at his Mendham Township home.
The difference between Corbett and Draeger is that the Assembly candidate is a full-time farmer while a spokesman for the NJ Transit boss says that the sheep farm is a hobby.
“Some people play golf. Kevin’s a farmer,” NJ Transit spokesman Anthony Grieco told the Globe.
Criticism of part-time farmers taking advantage of reductions in their property taxes in nothing new.
During his first campaign for Congress in 2010, Rep. Jon Runyan (R-Mount Laurel) defended paying less than $500 in property taxes on 20 of his 25 acres because he sold firewood and grazed donkeys.
Two years earlier, Rep. Scott Garrett (R-Wantage) faced calls for an investigation into his farmland tax assessment when his Democratic opponent alleged that the congressman saved as much as $41,000 annually thanks to a Christmas tree farm run by his brother that did not appear on his personal financial disclosure.
State Sen. Ellen Karcher (D-Marlboro) was hammered in her 2007 re-election campaign by Republican Jennifer Beck for claiming a tax incentive for a cord-wood and Christmas tree farm. Karcher did not initially include her farming income on her financial disclosure, but later amended it to do so.
Her loss was blamed on the farmland tax assessment issue.
In the 1993 New Jersey gubernatorial race, Gov. Jim Florio made a farmland tax reduction obtained by rival Christine Todd Whitman into a campaign issue. Whitman had sold firewood to friends and family to show revenues for her farm.
Whitman, who defeated Florio in that race, was able to deflect the issue by inviting reporters to tour the working farm and enjoy a lunch made with food raised there.
President Donald Trump saves about $88,000-a-year on local property taxes on a portion of his luxury Bedminster golf course because of a flock of eight goats he maintains, according to a report in the Huffington Post.