The president and congressional leaders we choose next month will have a series of monumental tasks ahead of them. The first, and perhaps the hardest, is figuring out how to heal the partisan rifts that keep Americans from moving forward together. Residents of New Jersey’s 1st District are fortunate to have a congressman who has demonstrated he can play well with others. They would do well to re-elect Democrat Donald Norcross on Nov. 8.
In his first two years in Washington, Norcross has been a vocal proponent of several of his party’s priorities — including reducing gun violence, building relationships between police and the communities they serve, supporting comprehensive immigration reform, making college affordable, raising the minimum wage and ensuring women receive equal pay for equal work — while bucking Democrats on the Keystone XL pipeline and Iran nuclear deal.
While we haven’t always agreed with his votes, we respect his commitment to weighing the facts.
In a political climate where “compromise” is a dirty word, we also appreciate how Norcross has managed to find common ground with his GOP colleagues. He’s worked with Rep. Tom MacArthur to help Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst and the defense contractors that employ so many South Jersey residents, and has seized opportunities for bipartisan efforts to fight the epidemic of opiate addiction, which has surpassed car crashes to become the leading cause of accidental death in New Jersey and throughout the country.
On these and other issues, Norcross speaks with the authority of someone who understands the people behind the policies and actively seeks out places where politicians with different regional priorities and clashing ideologies can come together to make a difference in Americans’ lives.
His Republican challenger, Bob Patterson, is passionate about creating jobs in South Jersey, taking on the big banks and stopping globalism in its tracks. (He may be the only candidate to name both right-wing immigration foe Jeff Sessions and liberal firebrand Elizabeth Warren as senators he admires.)
He’s offered plans for expanding the PATCO Hi-Speedline, improving South Jersey’s highways and building Navy ships in Camden once again. And perhaps he has a role to play in crafting economic policies to bring those ideas to fruition. But he’d be ill-suited to represent South Jersey in Congress.
Where Norcross’ primary challenger, Alex Law, displayed an overconfidence in what he knows and a troubling unawareness of what he doesn’t, Patterson is remarkably candid about what he doesn’t know. Unfortunately, that’s a lot.
In a meeting with the Courier-Post Editorial Board, he acknowledged he hasn’t spent 10 minutes thinking about drug policy, calling it a “side issue.” He’s opposed to comprehensive immigration reform and supports Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall along the United States’ southern border, but he admits he hasn’t thought about what to do with the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are already living here. He has little to say about schools, beyond his belief that college isn’t for everyone; when pressed, he responded that education is a state issue and the federal government ought to stay out of it but hadn’t considered whether to abolish the U.S. Department of Education. He says he wants to concentrate on pocketbook issues, but he hasn’t thought about paid family leave or affordable day care, issues that affect hundreds of thousands of working families.
You don’t need to have all the answers when you go to Congress; an open mind and a willingness to compromise are assets. But it’s worrisome that someone who wants to help set the national agenda lacks even a cursory knowledge of many of the major issues he’d encounter once in Congress. Unlike Law, a 25-year-old who quit his job as an IBM consultant to run for Congress, Patterson is no neophyte. He served as a speechwriter in President George W. Bush’s administration, an adviser in Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration, a newspaper columnist and an editor of the conservative public policy journal “The Family in America.”
Despite that last credential, Patterson’s campaign website steers clear of social issues, but the things he’s said and written about working mothers, birth control and gay rights reveal a political bent well to the right of the average South Jerseyan.
And in this one-of-a-kind election cycle, Patterson — like other self-styled family-values conservatives — has found himself in an odd courtship dance with Donald Trump, condoning the Republican presidential nominee’s off-color remarks about women but embracing his stances on immigration and trade, even nodding to Trump’s rhetoric with his own slogan, “Make South Jersey Great Again.” And as more and more Republicans distance themselves from their toxic candidate, Patterson’s continued support for Trump raises questions about his judgment.
Norcross is off to a steady start as a practical and pragmatic lawmaker who understands his constituents’ concerns. He gets that making education and jobs accessible to more people will do more to transform society than returning to a more exclusionary model. He’s done a fine job of speaking his mind where it diverges from party orthodoxy without undermining President Barack Obama, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and congressional leaders. And he has avoided the partisan rancor that has infected so much of the country in this abysmal election cycle.
For these reasons, we endorse Donald Norcross in the Nov. 8 election.