Emerging election issues in New Jersey include lawsuits over outing trans students and offshore wind energy

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Republicans are seizing on the flashpoints of this year’s election, seeking to galvanize voters over and skepticism over the state’s lawsuits against school districts to stop them from sending transgender students to their parents To stoke offshore wind turbines.

Both themes are surfacing in the GOP’s talking points, fueling the party’s hopes of building on Republican victories from two years ago, when they won seven seats in the Assembly and Senate.

All 80 Assembly seats and all 40 Senate seats are up for grabs this November, with mail-in ballots already being sent to voters. Democrats have an advantage over Republicans in registering nearly a million voters, and they also controlled the redistricting process last year, when they had little incentive to redraw the maps to their party’s disadvantage.

Democrats, meanwhile, point to a lesson they learned from a close gubernatorial race in 2021: Focus on affordability, especially in a state with one of the highest property taxes in the country.

Patrick Murray, the director of the Polling Institute at Monmouth University, said he sees Republican message discipline as a way to encourage party loyalists to vote in a traditionally low election year.

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“We always talk about motivating your base. It’s more about voter participation than persuasion. So these topics are not intended to change people’s minds. They’re out there to light a fire under the base,” he said.

The attorney general’s lawsuits led to the fiercest Republican attacks of the election campaign.

They centered on Attorney General Matt Platkin’s complaints filed in June against three Monmouth County school districts, arguing that the policies they recently issued requiring school officials to notify parents if their child is transgender violated state law against discrimination violated.

Republicans argue that the lawsuits defy common sense and that parents should be informed about whether their children are transgender.

State guidelines, stemming from a 2018 legislative directive, require schools not to disclose a student’s transgender identity except in certain cases involving their health or safety. The suits vary slightly. Among the school board’s contentious regulations is parental notification in cases involving students up to fifth grade. The lawsuits have not yet been resolved.

Steve Dnistrian, a GOP candidate in the competitive 11th Legislative District against incumbent Democratic Sen. Vin Gopal, said education and the state’s lawsuit against Monmouth County districts is a key concern. He represented the Republican view that it’s not just about motivating the base.

“Are you listening to what’s going on in our schools?” He said voters would ask him when he met them on the road. It’s “grandparents – the greatest generations – asking, ‘What’s happening in this country?'”

Bob Hugin, chairman of the state Republican Party, said the GOP is calling for expanding school choice in cities and rural areas, which falls in line with traditionally right-wing views. But he also summarized what he said was emerging as a top issue in the election: the lawsuits in Monmouth County.

“Democrats want us to assume that all parents are abusive and that schools should keep secrets,” Hugin said, summing up his view.

Gopal said in an interview that the issue was an “artificial culture war.”

“I am a father. My wife and I are raising our 13-month-old daughter. We will learn everything that is going on in the school district,” he said. But Gopal added that he believes the attorney general has overstepped the bounds by filing the lawsuits and invoking home rule in the state’s more than 600 school districts.

Hugin described the issue as a political role reversal because Democrats have shied away from exploring other ways to produce energy, such as fracking.

“Republicans are fighting Democrats who are trying to industrialize the ocean,” he said in a recent interview. He also quoted a The most recent bill was signed by Murphy to allow a wind energy company to retain federal tax credits that it otherwise would have had to pass on to taxpayers.

“It’s uneconomical,” he said. “New Jersey has its head in the sand.”

Federal officials have said that whales are dying are not linked to efforts to build offshore wind turbines in waters off the state’s coast.

Democrats have moved cautiously on this issue. House Speaker Craig Coughlin and Senate President Nicholas Scutari recently released a joint statement after regulators considered bidding four new offshore wind projectsa sign of a possible expansion of offshore wind energy.

“Lawmakers have concerns about the BPU’s approach to offshore wind projects. There are still many unanswered questions about the economic impact these projects will have on ratepayers,” they said.

Democrats have tried to rewrite the narrative that they are not responding to concerns about New Jersey’s high taxes, particularly property taxes.

This year they enact a program for homeowners age 65 and older who earn up to $500,000 to qualify for a $6,500 property tax break. Tenants would also receive discounts of up to $700. However, it would take until 2026 to fully utilize these benefits, with seniors and renters expected to receive $250 in immediate relief.

Last year, about 870,000 families earning up to $150,000 received $1,500 in “direct relief”; Those earning between $150,000 and $250,000 will receive a $1,000 credit, and for the first time ever, renters earning up to $150,000 will also receive $450 in assistance .

Iris Delgado, executive director of the Democratic Assembly Campaign Branch, cited both property tax reduction programs as signs that the Legislature is aware of voters’ concerns.

“The overarching theme is that people are worried about the future,” she said. “What has the legislature done? Lower taxes.”

It’s unclear to what extent the tangled web of national political factors such as the looming government shutdown and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez accusation last week over federal bribery allegations could play a role in the election. Republicans have begun to say the allegations reflect the dangers that arise when one party controls state government.

Democrats counter that Republicans are changing the subject. Menendez’s seat is not up for re-election until next year. He has not said whether he will seek re-election, although many in his party are calling for him to resign. He has pleaded not guilty and denies wrongdoing.

Republicans haven’t controlled a chamber of the Legislature in two decades.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Brian Ashcraft

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