Social Media Users Pose Questions For N.J. Gubernatorial Candidates At Virtual Town Hall

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Facebook and Reddit users signed on Thursday evening to pose questions for the New Jersey gubernatorial candidates at a virtual town hall meeting.

CBS2’s Kristine Johnson and The Record’s Alfred Doblin analyzed the social media users’ questions and where Democratic nominee Phil Murphy and Republican nominee Kim Guadagno stand on the issues specifically affecting northern New Jersey.

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Social media users raised questions about issues from public education and transit to marijuana legalization and gun control.

Responding to a question on public education, Doblin noted that both Guadagno and Murphy are “pretty equal in saying they support” it as a policy – but differ as to how they would fund it. He said Murphy was more aligned with public sector unions and wants to return to past funding formulas, while Guadagno wants to fund public education while cutting taxes.

“Neither will be overly dissimilar,” Doblin said. “Neither will want to abandon public school.”

Facebook user Lester Gutierrez asked about transportation – specifically whether the candidates would support across-the-board service improvements and fare reductions – as well as sweeping reforms of the administration and staff and oversight of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority.

Doblin said Murphy in particular has been “very clear” that he wants a dedicated funding source for NJ TRANSIT that does not take funds away from other needs such as roadway maintenance. Currently, NJ TRANSIT is “woefully underfunded and understaffed,” Doblin said.

But Murphy has not specified where the funding would come from, he said.

“I think both candidates understand that New Jersey Transit is not functioning well,” Doblin said.

Also on Facebook, Matt Addeo asked how the candidates would make New Jersey more affordable for businesses and families – which led CBS2’s Johnson to ask whether major companies are currently deterred from locating in New Jersey.

Doblin said they were not – given that New Jersey has many attractive assets such as the Port of New Jersey for long-distance shipping, Newark Liberty International Airport, a substantial rail network, and a tremendous workforce that commutes between New York and New Jersey. He said those amounted to “many pluses” despite New Jersey being a more expensive state than average.

On the issue of recreational marijuana legalization, Doblin said he was “not so sure” it was a realistic issue for New Jersey lawmakers to take up anytime soon.

“I don’t know if you can pass a recreational pot bill in New Jersey,” he said. “I don’t know where the votes line up on that.”

He said decriminalization, in which low-level marijuana possession results in a summons or ticket rather than arrest, is a more likely goal.

Meanwhile on the sale of firearms, a Reddit user asked how New Jersey will maintain its position toward the bottom of the list of firearm deaths by state. CBS2’s Johnson noted that Gov. Chris Christie was very clear that he was not going to introduce more restrictions on firearms.

But Doblin noted that New Jersey gun laws are already strong, and said Christie was less conservative on the issue before he began his 2016 presidential campaign. As to Murphy and Guadagno, Doblin said both were “pro-Second Amendment.”

Facebook user M.A. Anthony specifically expressed concerns about Murphy, suggesting that he might turn New Jersey “into California.” He wrote that he worried that New Jersey could become a sanctuary state, issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, raise taxes and violate Second Amendment rights.

Doblin said California has a lot of “unfortunate laws,” but New Jersey is a smaller and more moderate state where many politicians fall a couple of steps to the left, but are largely centrist.

He said New Jersey politicians are “not a screaming liberal group of folks.”

And for a little levity, Facebook user Gary Duncan wanted to know from the candidates, “If New Jersey truly is ‘the Garden State,’ what is your favorite fruit, vegetable, and flower?”

A gubernatorial debate is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 18, at William Paterson University in Wayne. It is sponsored by The Record and other Gannett newspapers, CBS2, and KYW-TV, CBS3 Philadelphia.

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