Lt. gov. debate features civil clashes on guns, MVC and more
TRENTON – Tuesday’s debate matching the candidates for lieutenant governor was a civil sit-down, contrasting starkly with last week’s sharp-elbowed gubernatorial debate. But that’s not to say Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver and Republican challenger Diane Allen were in agreement – far from it.
In a fast-paced hourlong meeting on the campus of Rider University, conducted as a requirement for campaigns to receive $2-for-$1 public financing under state law, the Democratic former Assembly speaker and Republican former state senator differed on guns, abortion, the pandemic and more.
Allen said everything in the state’s gun laws needs to be reviewed, including concealed carry, because the strictest gun laws in the country aren’t making a difference with illegal guns.
“And we do actually have a Second Amendment in the Constitution that said you have a right to bear arms,” said Allen, defending votes against some gun-control measures. “And if you say, ‘Well, you can no longer use any gun that has X, Y or Z,’ then pretty soon you’re taking all the guns away from people.”
Oliver said “gun violence is out of control” but that concealed carry is wrong for New Jersey.
“Why in the world would we have a law in New Jersey that I could walk into the Starbucks or the McDonald’s, and the guy next to me has a weapon?” Oliver said.
Some subjects that got just a passing mention in the first debate between Gov. Phil Murphy and Republican gubernatorial nominee Jack Ciattarelli got a deeper dive in the running mates meeting, such as the performance of the Motor Vehicle Commission during the pandemic.
The MVC and its lines and frequent closures were a major source of residents’ frustration, but Oliver said its leadership did what it could to keep agencies from becoming virus super-spreaders.
“Sue Fulton was hit like a blivit with something called COVID-19,” Oliver said.
Allen said Gov. Phil Murphy is slow to take action when problems arise, seemingly unable to handle confrontation.
“Why weren’t we set up so that if they had to go home, they could work from home? Because that’s what so many other businesses did,” Allen said. “But instead, they just closed it down.”
Even where the candidates share some common ground, such as abortion rights and vaccines, they found patches of disagreement.
Allen was asked about vaccines in the context of Ciattarelli saying in last week’s debate that he doesn’t think the government can require someone to take medicine. She said she supports the current vaccine requirements for school children – but that there must be flexibility about how they’re done, figured out by a parent and their doctor.
“My son nearly died from a vaccine shot, an MMR shot, when he was a child. We didn’t know whether he would survive it. He did, and we continued with his vaccines but it was over a much longer period of time and much less product each time he got the shot,” said Allen, who said the same approach continued with her four grandchildren.
But the Republican ticket has criticized COVID vaccine requirements, which prompted Oliver to call it a healthcare hypocrisy.
“Jack and Diane think that the government should not mandate vaccination but conversely they believe that government should tell a woman whether she should bear a child or not,” Oliver said.
Allen generally supports abortion rights but said the proposed Reproductive Freedom Act pending in the Legislature goes too far and would lead to third-trimester terminations of pregnancies. Oliver said she expects the bill will pass in the Legislature after the election.
Neither candidate committed major errors nor made a memorable argument that will change the trajectory of the campaign.
Murphy and Ciattarelli will meet next Tuesday for the campaign’s final debate, being held at 8 p.m. at Rowan University and airing on public television, now called NJ PBS.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.