Oliver and Allen clash in LG policy-driven debate
Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver and former State Senator Diane Allen met at Rider University this evening for the only official lieutenant governor debate of the season, a week after their running mates do the same in Newark.
The debate, which was moderated by David Wildstein of the New Jersey Globe, was significantly less controversial, and for the most part more policy-oriented, than last week’s gubernatorial debate. The two women at the center, Oliver and Allen, have both been in state politics for more than two decades – far longer than Governor Phil Murphy or former Assembly Member Jack Ciattarelli.
Fittingly, the evening began with an explanation of what the Lieutenant Governor’s office does. The post was created in 2010 after several back-to-back governors left office prematurely, creating a leadership vacuum at the top of the state. Lieutenant governors are expected to assume the role of governor if the governor leaves office for any reason, and are also required to head a department or agency in the governor’s administration.
Oliver, who heads the Department of Community Affairs, is the second person to serve as lieutenant governor; she succeeded former Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, who served two terms under former Governor Chris Christie.
The first disagreement in the debate between Oliver and Allen occurred over the issue of Covid vaccine mandates, with both candidates echoing policies enacted by the tops of their respective tickets.
“I think our kids should get the shot, but I want to say something about it,” Allen said. “This [shouldn’t be] a mandate where you must do so. Still, a parent needs to speak with the doctors and make sure everything is okay.
“We have a public health system because we have to make sure everyone’s health is protected,” Oliver replied. “Yes, we must demand vaccination… Vaccination is something that protects not only the person who receives it, but the public and the community as a whole. “
Allen has also hit the Murphy administration on several occasions for what she called poor planning at the start of the pandemic, saying the state should have been better prepared to run schools and other state services in distance.
“In other states, children could go to school every day, no one got sick, there were no problems, and their education was at a much higher standard than in New Jersey]”Allen said. “I worry about our children.
But Oliver argued that closing schools was necessary to stop the spread of Covid among students and faculty, and that the Murphy administration had worked admirably to make distance learning as accessible and educational as possible, even for students without WiFi or home computer.
“Phil Murphy and I, along with our administration, have bridged this digital divide,” she said. “Every student in New Jersey had access to a tablet or laptop. It shut it down.
On the burning issues of guns and abortion, Allen and Oliver strongly disagreed, although Allen was in both cases more moderate in his stance than most national Republicans tend to be.
Oliver insisted that the legislature should, and will pass, the Reproductive Freedom Act, a bill currently blocked in the legislature that would codify access to abortion in the state.
“There is no going back when it comes to Roe v. Wade,” she said.
Allen countered that while efforts to reduce abortion in the country are reckless, the reproductive freedom law is not appropriate either.
“We don’t want Texas law [banning abortions after six weeks], that’s for sure, ”Allen insisted. “But this law in New Jersey, if passed, would mean that… you could have an abortion in the seventh, eighth, or ninth month, until the day a child was born. I don’t think it’s New Jersey.
When asked directly about white privilege, Allen was ready to provide a definition of the term – something at a time Ciattarelli and Murphy failed to do so in interviews last week.
“I guess white privilege is the fact that, for a lot of people who are white, we are able to accomplish things and do things thinking that we are doing it on our own, when in fact we are. Maybe doing it because we’re having a little leeway because of our color, ”Allen explained.“ Most of us are probably not aware of this as it happens. “
Oliver seemed largely to agree with Allen’s definition, adding that privilege can manifest in the form of generational wealth, which many white New Jerseyans have – and most colored New Jerseyans don’t.
With much of the country’s political attention focused on Congressional negotiations in Washington, not the upcoming New Jersey election, Allen and Oliver were also asked about President Joe Biden, who easily won New Jersey. in the 2020 presidential election.
“I am very proud of Joe Biden,” said Oliver. “I am proud that he is not involved in partisanship – he started his term wanting to work in a bipartisan way.”
Allen disagreed, saying Biden’s handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan and other issues had convinced her that she had voted correctly in November.
“I’ll tell you, I didn’t vote for Joe Biden because I didn’t think he was ready for the job, and I think he showed it in a lot of ways,” Allen said.
Towards the end of the debate, Allen was asked about her history as a moderate Republican in the legislature, and whether she thinks she has changed much since becoming the candidate for lieutenant governor – something that Democrats and some reporters noted that she did.
“I’m still that person who voted for same-sex marriage, long before President Obama even backed him,” Allen said. “I would say socially moderate is probably exactly where I am, but… I’m fiscally conservative. I still am.
Oliver, meanwhile, has defined herself as financially responsible and socially progressive, arguing that the two should not be mutually exclusive.
“I believe you can be socially progressive and fiscally responsible,” she said. “Instead of wearing labels, whether we’re conservative or on the left or on the right, if we’re doing what’s necessary for people, it’s being progressive in this country. And we can be fiscally prudent at the same time. “
In his closing statement, Allen touched on themes similar to Ciattarelli’s last week, saying New Jersey suffered under Murphy’s high-tax, low-jurisdiction government.
“New Jersey is broken,” she said. “And I don’t think Phil Murphy and Sheila Oliver care enough about the people of New Jersey… Jack Ciattarelli and I will take back New Jersey for all of us, with your support.”
Instead, Oliver’s closing statement argued that the state has made strides in the first four years of the Murphy-Oliver administration and cannot afford to fall back under Ciattarelli and Allen.
“This election is about moving New Jersey forward, not backing down regressively,” Oliver said. “We are going to move New Jersey forward, include everyone and not perpetuate the division in the state of New Jersey.”