State Sen. Ed Durr (R-Logan) and Assemblywoman Beth Sawyer (R-Woolwich) may never meet for a head-to-head debate before the June 6 Republican primary, but Sawyer still worked to outline the differences between herself and the truck-driving state senator on the Matt Rooney Show last night.
The interview – which was meant to be a debate, but Durr declined to participate – touched on a number of topics, including hot-button issues like abortion and transgender healthcare. Most prominent, however, was Sawyer’s insistence that she has worked to be a legislator of substance – and Durr has not.
“You want to get things done? You’d better reach across the aisle,” Sawyer said. “[Durr] is ineffective. He unfortunately went in there with the attitude of, he beat Steve Sweeney, he’s the dragon-slayer, bow down and kiss the ring.”
Sawyer and Durr have been running mates twice in the 3rd legislative district: first in an unsuccessful 2019 campaign that attracted little attention, and then again in 2021, when they shockingly unseated a trio of Democratic incumbents that included then-Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford).
Their relationship was already frayed during the 2021 campaign, Sawyer said, and it’s only deteriorated from there. At the beginning of this year, Sawyer joined a slate led by Salem County Commissioner Mickey Ostrum (R-Pilesgrove), who was challenging Durr; when Ostrum dropped out of the race, Sawyer took his place and is now heading a full off-the-line slate in Gloucester County.
Sawyer said last night that she was motivated to take on Durr by his inability to accomplish key priorities for their constituents. Among other things, Sawyer argued that Durr has been an ineffective ally on upgrading Salem County’s 9-1-1 system and expanding broadband internet access across the 3rd legislative district.
Durr has spent much of his time in Trenton drafting bills that have no shot at becoming law in the Democratic controlled state, such as eliminating firearm restrictions or prohibiting gender-affirming care for minors. That approach has made him popular with many conservatives, but Sawyer insinuated that such bills were a waste of time and money.
“I don’t want to put out bills just to put out bills, or for shock factors,” she said. “Those bills that get written up by [the Office of Legislative Services] cost taxpayers money. So if you know they’re never going to see the light of day and you just want to put them up so you can write a press release, I’m sorry, you’re being irresponsible to the taxpayers.”
She also brought up the 2022 race for Gloucester County Commissioner, in which Republicans came just short of flipping two seats and the overall Democratic majority on the board. Sawyer and some other Gloucester Republicans blamed the loss on prior controversial statements made by Durr and County Commissioner Nick DeSilvio (R-Franklin), who is running for the State Senate this year in the neighboring 4th legislative district.
“[Durr] said, ‘You sound like an idiot. Every woman has a choice: keep her legs closed,’” Sawyer said, referencing a Durr quote on abortions that featured prominently in Democratic ads last year. “Nobody should talk to anybody like that. I am a pro-life person, but I am a woman – nobody should talk to somebody like this.”
Sawyer did make it clear, however, that she was a lifelong Republican and a solid conservative on many of the issues that likely matter to 3rd district primary voters. She said she’s opposed to sex ed overreach in schools, to the proposed Glassboro-Camden light rail line, and to Gov. Phil Murphy’s Energy Master Plan.
And as for the 2024 presidential election, Sawyer said she’s definitively on Team Trump, making her one of the first sitting legislators in New Jersey to publicly endorse the former president.
“If Trump’s running, he has my support,” she said. “Absolutely.”
Long before Trump appears on the ballot again, however, Sawyer and Durr will face one another in this June’s primary, and the winner will have to run in a competitive general election in a seat that South Jersey Democrats very much want to take back. Sawyer pitched herself as the safer general election bet, saying that Durr’s comments and conduct would put the seat in jeopardy.
“We have a chance to flip this state red, and I am proud to be a part of it,” she said.