Murphy and Ciattarelli fight over COVID masks, school funding, abortion, white privilege in another heated NJ government debate
In their second and final debate before voters decide on the New Jersey governor’s race in three weeks, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli exchanged another round of bitter COVID vaccine talks on Tuesday night. -19 and mask policies, school funding, and white privilege – all while surprisingly finding common ground on abortion.
The hour-long event at Rowan University in Glassboro was almost as fiery as the race’s first debate, with contestants cutting off each other with scathing lines and the audience frequently encountering applause, boos and screams.
It comes as Murphy, who is running for a second term, continues to lead Ciattarelli, a former state assembly member, in opinion polls, although the margin has narrowed.
On Tuesday, the two continued to present remarkably different visions for New Jersey’s future – starting with policies on how the state should handle the persistent coronavirus pandemic.
Ciattarelli insisted he personally encourages people to get vaccinated, but maintained he was against vaccine and mask warrants because a “one-size-fits-all” approach doesn’t work for many residents.
“I believe my role as governor once elected is to provide all the information people need to make an informed decision. And then the choice is theirs, ”he said near the start of the debate, co-sponsored by NJ PBS, WNYC and Rowan University.
Murphy argued that Ciattarelli would put lives “unnecessarily at risk” thanks to his COVID-19 policies.
“It sounds like a debate in Texas or Florida,” the governor said.
Ciattarelli also slammed Murphy over recent reports that the governor and other attendees weren’t wearing masks at a Garden State Equality indoor ball in Asbury Park last weekend. Participants had to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to enter. But Monmouth County currently has “high” rates of coronavirus transmission and masking is recommended in such a setting, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. .
As Murphy lifted mask warrants statewide, he urged people to wear masks in high-risk settings. And Republicans accused the governor of being hypocritical for not wearing masks at the event when children are required to wear masks in school and daycare.
“He took part in a very large indoor conference … in which no one was wearing masks,” Ciattarelli said during the debate. I think our leadership needs to be consistent at times like these. “
Murphy suggested he wasn’t wearing a mask because he was on stage speaking – something he said often does at public events, such as his weekly COVID-19 briefings.
“Are you wearing a mask right now?” We’re on stage, ”Murphy told Ciattarelli.
Ciattarelli replied: “He was at a big indoor rally. No one had a mask. “
“Nice try,” Murphy replied.
The governor was also pressed to find out why he had yet to deliver on his promise of a review examining how the coronavirus pandemic was being handled in nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the state, where more than 8,500 people have died from COVID-19.
“The challenge is that we are still in the midst of a pandemic,” Murphy said. “There will be full accounting, without a doubt, independent of my office on this matter.”
Another heated debate concerned the state budget. Ciattarelli attacked Murphy for adding $ 11 billion in spending over the past four years. And he pledged to cut spending by $ 10 billion. reduce taxes by reorganizing the funding formula for public schools.
But Ciattarelli did not directly respond which programs he cut to cut spending, saying instead he would work with the state legislature to figure this out.
“We’re all going to sit down together, tighten the belts and find places to cut,” he said. “I will tell you that the state government is bloated, inefficient, and corrupted by vested interests.”
Murphy touted how his administration increased funding for public schools and recently made a $ 6.4 billion payment to the traditionally underfunded public service pension system. He also criticized Ciattarelli and previous lawmakers for not providing enough funds in the past.
“We inherited a complete and utter mess, and you were there for six years before me,” Murphy said.
Ciattarelli replied: “The budget has increased by $ 11 billion. People don’t want help, they want a helping hand.
“It’s offensive,” Murphy replied. “This is another example of a front-to-back. A hand ? Come on man. “
Ciattarelli has defended his school funding plans against criticism that it would cut court-mandated funding for poorer districts, saying the owner of a million-dollar house in Jersey City pays less. property taxes than someone who owns a $ 400,000 house elsewhere.
“It’s not fair,” he said. “We need a more even and fairer distribution of aid.
Murphy said it will hurt poorer students, especially in communities of color.
“If you are in a black or brown community or if you are a black or brown child, you are going to get ripped off,” the governor said. “This is an us against them movement.”
The next governor also has the option of appointing four new members to the state’s Supreme Court. And Ciattarelli has suggested he would appoint judges willing to reconsider both school funding and the Mount Laurel decision, which requires cities in New Jersey to build affordable housing.
“I’m looking for people who will bring balance to the court,” he said.
Murphy continued his efforts to suggest that Ciattarelli is a supporter of former President Donald Trump who will roll back New Jersey.
Ciattarelli responded by saying Murphy was inclined to blame Trump or former Gov. Chris Christie – both Republicans.
“I promise you this: When I take office in January, I will not blame the Murphy administration for anything,” Ciattarelli said. “We will do the job. “
Ciattarelli, who has been criticized for drifting to the right after a relatively moderate career in the state legislature, also insisted on Tuesday on why he supported Trump despite calling him a “charlatan” in 2015. Ciattarelli pushed back, starting with a joke.
“In 27 years of marriage, I want you to know that Melinda has called me worse than a charlatan a few times,” he joked, referring to his wife.
Ciattarelli went on to say that once Trump was elected he “wanted him to be successful” and that it was “un-American not to take root for the president to be successful.”
In addition, Ciattatelli praised Trump for the way he handled the economy, border security, being “tough” on China, and moving the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, which broke decades. of American politics. He said he disagreed with Trump on offshore drilling, funding for the Gateway Tunnel project, and ending local and state property tax deductions above $ 10,000.
But Ciattarelli hasn’t said if he would back Trump if he launched another White House candidacy in 2024. And he wouldn’t say if he would welcome the former president with open arms if Trump offered to replace him for the next year. The electoral campaign.
“I’m going there and campaigning on my own,” Ciattarelli said. “I will win my own election.
Abortion was also a notable topic on Tuesday, with Ciattarelli taking a moderate stance.
The United States Supreme Court has all but made abortion illegal in Texas after refusing to hear a case that has made its way through the legal system, and Murphy said that should alarm women in New Jersey and all. the country. The governor said the state legislature should act now to pass the New Jersey Reproductive Freedom Act, which would enshrine the rights into state law.
“It’s gone from something that I think people thought was abstract and moot to here and present a danger,” Murphy said. “With the now non-abstract or theoretical probability that Roe v. Wade is minimally altered if not completely stripped away, we need to take action, and I’m very confident that we will take action. “
Ciattarelli said women should have the right to choose, although he supports the ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. And he said Tuesday he doubts the Supreme Court will overturn Roe against Wade, which gives women the right to abortion in the United States.
But he said he would support drafting state law to enshrine Roe’s protections against Wade in New Jersey if it is rescinded.
“If that’s what we need to do here in New Jersey to protect a woman’s right to choose, we will,” Ciattarelli said.
Murphy said he would be “very happy” if Ciattartelli was right about Roe v. Wade.
“But I don’t expect that, frankly, with the Supreme Court filled with Trump,” the governor said.
In another moment, Murphy took a hit with his opponent during a recent radio interview in which Ciattarelli refused to answer a question from a caller who asked him to define “white privilege”.
“We are the most diverse state in America and if you don’t know how to answer the question, it’s hard to believe you can rule the place,” Murphy said.
A moderator on Tuesday gave Ciattarelli another chance to define white privilege.
“Did white people have access to things that people of color didn’t have,” Ciattarelli replied. “Yes, it’s a sad reality. Has the black race been disadvantaged and marginalized? Yes, this is a sad reality … and we need to fix it.
“And I think I’m dealing with it by going to black communities with the plan that I presented on my website, it’s very specific in terms of economic development, access to health care, resolving the food desert agenda and working with faith. based organizations, ”he added.
Murphy replied, “White privilege is real. The legacy of slavery is not a historical element. Let’s not debate whether it exists, let’s accept it, unfortunately, and do something about it. We are the most diverse state in America, you have to understand that.
As for the noisy crowd? Murphy seemed disturbed at times.
“A debate broke out during a hockey game,” he said at one point.
The debate ended with Ciattarelli supporters in the rowdy crowd taunting Murphy making his closing statement.
“The audience was rowdy,” Ciattarelli told reporters after the event. “We applaud their enthusiasm, but that made it more difficult. … I made my point clear, but the whole process was a bit bumpy.
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