Tuesday, Nov. 7, the entire New Jersey government went up for grabs as a series of elections were held that would decide the new occupants of the State House and the Governor’s Mansion. The election’s effects will reverberate nationwide, but they will be most profoundly felt on the local level.
Legislative Districts 14 and 15 include most of the Mercer County area. The 14th District contains Hamilton, and the 15th includes Trenton and Ewing. In both districts every seat went Democratic on Election Night, even the Hamilton area, which is usually split down the middle between Democrats and Republicans.
Each district voted in one state senators, and two assemblymen to send to the legislature. The senators and assemblymen will represent the students of Mercer County Community College when debating state laws. But what issues do they plan to take up for their constituents?
When asked what issues he thought were most important to college students, aside from keeping tuition costs down, Assemblyman Dan Benson, of the 14th Legislative District, said, “Well, I think it’s about making sure that there’s affordable housing to go to after they graduate and that there are jobs available to them, and that’s why in my campaign, as well in my tenure, I’ve always focused on making sure we have high paying, quality jobs, particularly for those first jobs out of college.”
Shirley Turner, who represents the 15th District in the State Senate responded to the same question. She emphasized the need to keep costs down, but also added that college students “Are also concerned about civil rights … human rights.” She continued, “They feel that people should be accepted regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, or gender.”
Benson was asked about Governor-Elect Phil Murphy’s promise to increase funding for public colleges. He told The VOICE, “Well, I know his focus right now first is on making sure we start getting some more revenue in, focus on fully funding education and growing our economy. If we grow our economy then we can start working on these aspects of phasing in getting ourselves to a more affordable college tuition here in NJ.”
Turner agreed that funding should be a priority, saying that currently “We’re not funding [public colleges] adequately. That’s why we’ve seen the tuition spike as much as it has.”
When asked about Murphy’s plan to make community college tuition-free, Turner expressed a similar opinion to Benson’s on college funding saying, “I think that would be ideal, community college education tuition free for anyone who wants to continue their education beyond high school.” She added, “But it may not be possible to do right now because we have so many other pressing financial needs that have to be addressed.”
The senator also gave her opinion on dealing with the current opioid crisis in the state, advocating for a two-pronged approach, “I think first of all we need to better educate people in terms of the dangers of becoming hooked on drugs, no matter what the form it takes…Prevention is the mainstay in terms of any approach.” She continued, “But also treatment.”
Senator Turner noted that the state lacks resources needed to properly combat the epidemic, “We don’t have the residential treatment facilities that I think we need in this state if we’re truly going to rehabilitate addicts.”
Benson seemed to agree with Turner on this point, noting that one of the issues he will fight for in the Assembly will be “Fighting for expanding health care opportunities.”
Turner, broke with the Governor-Elect’s plans in one significant area, however. While Murphy has promised to sign a marijuana legalization bill into law within his first 100 days, Turner said, “Oh I don’t think it’s going to be achieved in the first 100 days, no I don’t.”
She continued, “I think we need to think long and hard as to legalizing a drug at a time when we have an epidemic in terms of opioid addiction.” She added that legalizing marijuana would be “opening Pandora’s Box.”