The Star-Ledger

Grassroots Movements Take Issue With Lance's Positions

Union County LocalSource — February 16, 2017

Elana Knopp, Staff Writer

In the wake of the 2016 elections, many newly formed grassroots movements have been making their voices heard, bringing their issues, literally, to the doors of their district legislators.

New Jersey's 7th Congressional District has seen growing numbers of these political movements, which have been organizing regular protests and vigils outside of the congressional offices of 7th District Rep. Leonard Lance.

Lance was elected to the United States House of Representatives in November, 2008, and reelected to a fifth term in 2016 to represent New Jersey's 7th Congressional District.

The district includes parts of the township of Union, Berkeley Heights, Clsirk, Cranford, Garwood, Kenilworth, Mountainside, New Providence, part of Scotch Plains, Springfield, Summit, Westfield and Winfield. It also includes parts of Essex, Morris, Somerset and Warren counties, and Hunterdon County in its entirety.

Groups that have sprung up across Union County include NJ7 Forward, Flip the 7th NJ, Indivisible.org and others, all of which are committed to make their concerns known to their representative in congress.

Joyce Santos, one of the organizers of NJ7 Forward, told LocalSource in a Feb. 10 email that one of the goals of the grassroots group, which was started in early December, is to forge a path to better communication between Lance and his constituents.

"A group of more than 20 of Congressman Lance's constituents met with his chief of staff," Santos said of their first meeting at Lance's offices back in December. "We asked for a few simple things. Among those was better communication with our representative and a statement defending the rights of all of his constituents."

Shortly after the meeting, said Santos, several of the participants, along with other interested constituents, coalesced into an organization designed to represent Congressional District 7.

"Over the next week, interest from constituents in the 7th Congressional District swelled and we expanded the group to include anyone who was interested in learning more about Lance's representation and how to make their voices heard," Santos said. "We currently have 675 members from all over the district with steering committee members from geographically diverse communities."

According to Santos, the group's focus is district-based, and covers the municipalities in Union County that are part of District 7.

Santos said that she believes that Lance's votes have swung well to the right of what she considers to be a more moderate district.

"It is our view that, by and large, his votes have swung well to the right of his moderate district ? and to the right of his own moderate positions when he was in the state legislature, and early in his congressional career," Santos said. "We hope we can influence his votes to reflect the real views ofhis constituents. We are also working with several other new groups that are focusing on District 7 in order to combine our efforts and amplify our voices."

Santos said that the group has been closely watching the issues that will come up for votes in Congress.

"We have been closely monitoring the issues as they come up, and are likely to come up, for votes in Congress," she said. "For example, we were among the many voices contacting Congressman Lance's office on the first day of the new Congress regarding the ethics changes that had been proposed the night before, within the Republican caucus. Due to the hue .and cry, that vote did not make it to the House floor."

Santos is referring to the vote occurring on Jan. 2, when members of the House Republican Conference voted to change how the U.S. House of Representatives handles allegations of ethical misbehavior.

The change would have placed the only independent entity within the House's ethics enforcement system ? the Office of Congressional Ethics ? under the control of the House Ethics Committee, which is made up by the lawmakers themselves.

After much controversy over the action, the proposed change was quickly reversed.

Health care is another issue that Santos said many constituents in the district are concerned about.

"There is also significant concern in the district about the prospect of the repeal of the ACA," Santos said, referring to the Affordable Care Act "Congressman Lance has consistently supported the idea of repeal."

Adam Perry, who lives in Summit and helped start Flip the 7th NJ, told LocalSource that he knew many people who were angry and concerned after the 2016 elections, and they decided to do something productive with those emotions.

"We all felt we'd like to do something," Perry said in a phone call last week. "One productive thing is to focus on the midterm elections and to help elect a Democrat in the 7th District."

Perry noted that the same district that voted for Clinton in the 2016 election also voted for Lance.

"The district that voted in Hillary also voted in the most conservative person," Perry said of Lance. "We thought that the 7th District was safe."

Perry spoke of Peter Jacob, Lance's Democratic opponent in the 2016 elections, who lost to Lance by approximately 37,000 votes.

"Peter Jacob did it all his own, and he had no support from the Democratic party," Perry said. "This is not an easy district to run in without Democratic Party support. Our thesis is that a congressman like Lance, who takes very conservative positions in congress - why shouldn't he be heatable by a better, more moderate Democratic candidate? Our goal is to seek out people who may feel the same way and who stay engaged."

Charlie Carr, of Indivisible.org, said that Lance is being targeted primarily over his stance on the ACA. Carr has also taken part of the gatherings outside of Lance's offices.

"Every Wednesday there's a group outside between 4:30 and 6:30," Carr told LocalSource in a phone call last week. "I would describe it as more of a vigil."

According to Carr, vigil participants holds signs and flags, and the vigils have been peaceful.

"Lance came out of his office," Carr said. "He's well aware of what's happening."

John Byers, communications director for Lance, based in Washington, D.C., told LocalSource in an email that Lance has discussed the issues regarding the ACA with many constituents.

"He has met with them and answered their questions on his views about improving our health care system," Byers said of Lance in an email dated Feb. 10. "We've also heard from many constituents who have seen soaring premiums and loss of coverage or doctor. He also is hosting a town hall soon where this will obviously come up again."

Santos said that NJ7 Forward has participated in rallies and vigils in support of the ACA that have taken place at both Lance's Westfield and Flemington offices, with New Jersey Citizen Action group leading this initiative. A petition with more than 1,400 signatures, demanding a town hall meeting, specifically to address concerns about the ACA, was also delivered to Lance's Westfield office.

According to Santos, Lance invited about 20 participants into his Westfield office during the first week of vigils conducted outside his office in order to discuss the ACA's "repeal and replace."

The "repeal and replace" of the ACA was proposed by President Donald Trump during his campaign for the presidency, where he promised to dismantle the ACA and replace it with another system of health care.

"The constituents he invited in, including our members, were able to share their stories directly with Congressman Lance," Santos said. "At the Flemington location, we have been able to go into the office and add our comments to the sign-in sheets."

Members of the group also met with the district director to discuss personal stories about their own need for the protection provided by the ACA.

In a Feb. 9 press release, Lance announced he will host his 41st in-person town hall meeting on Feb. 22 at Raritan Valley Community College in Branchburg.

"During the town hall meeting, Lance is expected to discuss the important issues facing Congress and the American people," read the press release. "He will take questions and share his views on issues like strengthening the economy, tax reform, border security, international affairs and repealing and replacing Obamacare."

Santos reiterated her concern regarding the impact if the ACA is repealed and said that she believes that Lance may not grasp the enormity of this impact.

"We are concerned that the congressman and his office don't truly understand what the ramifications will be to real people in District 7 if ACA is repealed," she said.

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