New Jersey Herald

No Endorsements Made By Education Union In 24th District

New Jersey Herald — Tuesday, August 7, 2007

By BILL WICHERT

The 24th Legislative District is one of only two districts not slated to receive political endorsements from the New Jersey Education Association for candidates seeking State Senate and Assembly seats in the November general election.

The 200,000-member teachers' union recently endorsed 88 candidates in 38 of the state's 40 legislative districts, but did not endorse any of the six candidates from either political party in the 24th Legislative District. The district includes all of Sussex County and parts of Morris and Hunterdon counties.

"The fact that nobody's endorsed levels the playing field on the issue of education," said David Rebovich, director of the Institute of New Jersey Politics at Rider University.

Through both questionnaires and interviews, a district screening committee decided to not endorse Republican Senate candidate Steve Oroho and his Assembly running mates, Alison Littell McHose and Gary Chiusano, as well as Democratic Senate candidate Edwin Selby and Assembly candidates Toni Zimmer and Pat Walsh.

"At this time, none of the participants (met) the standards we had set as a committee and we went with no endorsements," said Marie Kovacs, president of the Sussex County Education Association, an affiliate of the statewide union. Kovacs declined to provide additional details about why the candidates were not endorsed.

The union's last endorsement in the 24th Legislative District came four years ago for Sen. Robert Littell, R-Sussex, who is among several legislators not seeking another term this year. Out of the 26 Republicans, 61 Democrats and one independent endorsed by the union, 11 Democrats and 5 Republicans have not served in state office.

"That whole issue of newcomers is more pronounced this year," NJEA spokesman Steve Wollmer said. "We don't have a lot of information on some of these folks."

In the 24th Legislative District, five of the six candidates do not have state-level voting records for the union to evaluate. McHose is seeking reelection to the Assembly, but Oroho and Chiusano are currently Sussex County freeholders, and the three Democrats are political newcomers. McHose has never been endorsed by the education group since joining the Assembly in 2003.

McHose said she might not always agree with the organization, but maintains a good working relationship with the union and its members.

"It's not an adversarial relationship at all. I certainly support what the teachers do," McHose said. "I wouldn't say I'm anti-education at all."

A former music teacher and president of the Sussex-Wantage Education Association, Selby has seen both sides of the union's endorsement process. Twelve years ago, he received an NJEA endorsement in his Assembly bid against Republicans Scott Garrett and Guy Gregg, but lost the election.

"I wish I had their endorsement, but it won't stop me from championing education issues," said Selby, who supports designating a portion of the income tax to fund public education. "This year, they're probably playing the safe political game."

Selby said the union might be making the unfounded assumption that the Democrats are unelectable in a county dominated by Republicans. The GOP holds all county and state seats, and outnumber Democrats in registered voters by more than 3-1.

"I think they are reading the tenor of the times incorrectly," he said. "We've got a good chance of winning."

While Chiusano said he wholeheartedly supports teachers and believes in exchanging ideas with the union, he said the union's decision to not endorse any candidates was a good sign for Republicans.

"Historically, the NJEA has endorsed primarily Democrats," Chiusano said. "The fact that they didn't endorse Democrats in the district is a victory for us."

The union endorsed more than twice as many Democrats as Republicans, but Zimmer pointed out that the last candidate endorsed in the 24th Legislative District was Littell, a Republican.

"I don't see that as a Republican victory. I think Gary is off the mark on that one," Zimmer said. "The last person endorsed was a Republican."

Even with the union's endorsement, neither set of candidates would be eligible to receive campaign donations from the New Jersey Education Association, because they're participating in the state's public campaign financing program. Under the 2007 Fair and Clean Elections Pilot Project, contributions must be $10 donations from individual registered voters in order to qualify for up to $100,000 in public dollars.

With the minimum qualification of 400 contributions of $10 each, or $4,000, candidates will receive $46,000 in public dollars for a total campaign fund of $50,000. At the maximum 800 $10 contributions, or $8,000, matching public funds will bring candidates to $100,000. All contributions must come registered voters in the legislative district. Candidates also are entitled to up to $10,000 in "seed money," which can come from contributions of $500 or less from registered voters in the state.

If the candidates reach the minimum qualification level by Aug. 17, they will have the slogan "Clean Elections Candidate" appear next to their names on ballot. The final deadline to receive public financing is Sept. 30.

According to the most recent campaign finance reports, Oroho was the only candidate to reach the minimum qualification. As of Wednesday, the total amount of qualifying contributions collected by each candidate was as follows: Oroho, $4,870; McHose, $3,240; Chiusano, $3,490; Selby, $2,710; Zimmer, $2,320; and Walsh, $1,770.

"We really hope to do it," Walsh said. "You're going to see a big push in the next week, week and a half."

Copyright 2007 New Jersey Herald

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