Former state Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli won the Republican nomination June 8 to take on Democrat Gov. Phil Murphy come Nov. 2.
The 59-year-old accountant shook off two pro-Trump candidates in the primary: engineer Hirsh Singh and pastor Philip Rizzo, campaigning on a more moderate conservative agenda.
No Democrat governor in New Jersey has won a second term since 1977. And despite record-high polls during the pandemic, Murphy’s voter approval has slid to pre-pandemic levels as COVID-19 makes its way to the rear-view mirror. Voters have increasingly voiced concerns about more run-of-the-mill issues such as taxes.
“Here is my message for New Jersey tonight: Come hell or high water, we will make New Jersey more affordable by lowering property taxes. We will create jobs. We will bring Main Street small businesses back to life. We will reduce the size and cost of government. New Jersey, we can do better,” Ciattarelli said in a statement.
At the campaign event, Ciattarelli attacked the governor on all manner of things.
“Here’s Phil Murphy’s problem: He wasn’t raised here, never went to school here, never owned a business here,” he told supporters at the victory speech at The Imperia banquet hall in Somerset. “He’s somebody else. I’m you. I mean, have you seen this guy eat pizza?”
Man with a plan
Ciattarelli’s platform calls for lower tax rates for both businesses and residents, and for loosening the state’s tax code. There are plans to entice more people to retire in New Jersey by making it cheaper to do so, rather than leave the state.
Like Murphy, he wants to see the Gateway project through, and he wants to employ more so-called “public-private partnerships” to construct massive and long-stalled public works projects.
He hopes to inject more funds for large-scale transportation projects such as at Newark Liberty International Airport, and on major roadways and rail lines. His proposals call for “new free-market health systems.”
The state currently runs its own health exchange in a bid to mirror the Obama-era Affordable Care Act.
Ciattarelli’s proposal calls for supporting a “state-sponsored reinsurance program” to pay for large health care claims. Murphy previously enacted such a system: A high-risk pool for more expensive patients that’s paid for with penalties from the state’s individual mandate.
Ciattarelli’s platform calls for pushes toward voluntary regionalization of government services operated by the state’s 565 municipalities and more than 600 school districts in a bid to cut property taxes. The proposal is a key facet of the so-called “Path to Progress” plan floated by Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District.
“New Jersey pays the highest property taxes in the nation,” Ciattarelli continued. “Small businesses have been decimated. Eight thousand seniors and veterans died. New Jerseyans from Cape May to High Point have been forgotten and ignored. We need a governor who puts New Jersey first. A governor who will listen to and respect everyone, even those who may disagree.”
The Somerset-based Republican faces lagging name recognition, with a poll released earlier Tuesday showing just 24% of voters would vote for him, while 52% had never even heard of him.
Both former Republican Gov. Chris Christie and former Republican President Donald Trump remain deeply unpopular in New Jersey and an albatross around Ciattarelli’s neck, despite his frequent political feuds with Christie during his time in office.
Murphy and his campaign have painted Ciattarelli as a far-right candidate on key political issues, ranging from abortion access to general health care, worker’s rights and education.
“The choice in November is clear … We can either keep New Jersey moving forward or go backward,” Murphy said in a statement following Ciattarelli’s victory. “It’s a choice between standing for higher wages or going back to an economy that only worked for the wealthy and well-connected.”