TOMS RIVER – Earlier this month, area voters gathered at a “political potluck” hosted by Ocean County Politics in the heart of Toms River. At the event, voters shared their perspectives on the 2017 gubernatorial race and engaged in an issue-oriented discussion. We’re profiling them as a part of a part of a statewide collaborative reporting initiative.
This story is part of a statewide series called Voting Block, which is a collaborative reporting effort to encourage civil political discussion and more informed voters in neighborhoods across New Jersey ahead of this fall’s gubernatorial election.
Our event was made possible thanks to a partnership between Ocean County Politics and the Montclair State University Center for Cooperative Media. A grant provided from them and the Center for Investigative Reporting allowed us to provide catered food to our guests. OCP columnist John A. Brogan, Sr. provided the venue for our event at his Route 37 offices.
The goal of our political potluck event – and the Voting Block project – was to spur an issue-oriented conversation about what priorities area voters have for the next governor of New Jersey, as the 2017 campaign remains underway. New Jersey’s 2017 campaign has seen a noted lack of interest from voters, and this was one of several initiatives aimed at increasing political engagement among local voters.
We asked voters what they thought should be at the top of the next governor’s agenda, among other things, such as the issues they hope that the next administration addresses.
The attendees of our political potluck included residents who were concerned about issues ranging from healthcare, to pensions, to how to contain burgeoning development in the Ocean County area. We also heard from health care practitioners and small business owners about some of the challenges they face under the current healthcare system, along with concerns about the state’s affordability and how they hope the next governor will address them.
The Opiod Addiction Crisis: How Will The Next Governor Handle It?
For Brogan, the most important issue that should be a priority for the next governor is the opiate addiction crisis, which has become a focus in the greater Ocean County area in recent years.
“One of my areas of concern is alcohol and drug abuse,” said Brogan, who is also a licensed clinical alcohol and drug counselor based out of the Toms River office where our event was held earlier in October.
Suing Opiate Manufacturers
We asked attendees of our potluck whether they thought the next governor should use his or her influence to encourage lawsuits against the drug companies who produce some of the addictive opiates that are illegally trafficked to shore area towns. Toms River was among the most recent municipalities to join in filing suit earlier this year.
Amy Cores, Democratic state legislative candidate who attended our forum was skeptical about the potential benefits that these suits would have.
“I don’t know that it really accomplishes what the real problem is,” she said. “It makes a spectacle of the drug companies, it tells them that they’ve done something wrong, and then it ultimately leads to more legislation to keep them from doing this wrong deed yet again.”
Healthcare, Taxes Should Be At The Top Of Next Governor’s Agenda, Voters Say
For many voters who gathered at our Toms River event, a major concern was access to healthcare and rising insurance costs.
Michael McHale said that the current system has seen him “feel the pain” of not having access to certain treatments. “In the past I have been up and down the merry-go-round of medications,” he elaborated. “There’s a lot to be said about healthcare.”
For George Williams, who grew up in Toms River and spent most of his adult life living in the township, an area of concern about opiates was how the state can prevent doctors from overprescribing them, which he felt was a cause of current opiate abuse problems.
Dr. Henry Karwowski, another attendee of our potluck, is a dentist who resides in Toms River and practices in Lacey. In his view, much of the regulations already adopted by the federal government preclude the next governor from taking action on certain aspects of overprescription.
“Being involved in healthcare, I just want to comment,” he said. “The prescription of 60 opiates and all of that, the federal government already has enacted legislation to prevent practitioners from doing just that.”
Toms River resident Paul Kartzman said he is in favor of bail reform, and that concerns about the new bail system adopted by the state in the beginning of 2017 could be addressed with changes at the state level made by the next administration.
“I’m in favor of bail reform because a lot of people were stuck in jail for some minor things and that they couldn’t get out because they didn’t have the money for bail,” he explained.
He also acknowledged that the current bail reform adopted by the state was not a panacea. “As with all government things, especially new things there were some problems and those problems have to be corrected,” the Toms River resident added.
“There have been a couple of violent people that have been released because of bail reform that shouldn’t have been released,” he alleged.
Going forward, in his view, the next administration should revisit the issue of bail reform with a focus on improving the current system, rather than scrapping it entirely as some other suggest.
“So we do need more of a fine-tooth comb to get bail reform settled, but I do believe in bail reform.”
A Lack Of Trust In Local Officials? Some Say State Should Tighten Ethics Rules
Mr. Williams said that for him and many other citizens there is a lack of trust in local public officials, especially in the wake of recent corruption and mismanagement scandals.
Some of our attendees argued in favor of term limits imposed by the state and local elected officials, but others were quick to push back.
We hoped that our potluck event served to both spur a conversation about issues that matter to local voters, but also provide a forum for civil political discourse among neighbors. We were very pleased with the feedback we received about the event and the level of interest.
Jeff Epstein of Citizens’ Media TV provided livestream coverage during the event. On Epstein’s live video, we received over 113 viewer comments during the event. Some questions that were submitted via the comment thread were incorporated into our event.
This story is part of the Voting Block series and was produced in collaboration with The Record, NJ Spotlight, WHYY, WNYC, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, the Center for Cooperative Media and New America Media. To read all the stories in this series, visit VotingBlockNJ.com.