New Jersey: Gubernatorial Candidates Address Social Issues, Including Medical Marijuana, Gay Marriage
By Mary Fuchs/Statehouse Bureau
Photo by Saed Hindash/The Star-Ledger
Some of the most contentious social issues in this gubernatorial race -- including medical marijuana and gay marriage -- are also the subject of bills that could become law before the next governor shows up for the job.
Gubernatorial candidates Chris Christie, Jon Corzine and Chris Daggett have not always made their positions clear on those topics or how strenuously they would push for such legislation, even in their first debate.
Here are the candidates’ responses to our questions on the current state and potential future of medical marijuana, gay marriage, abortion and violent crime in New Jersey.
Republican Chris Christie, Independent Chris Daggett and Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine prepare to face off in the first gubernatorial debate at NJN Studios in Trenton.
Q: Where do you stand on the current New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, under which licensed "alternative-treatment centers" would produce the drug for residents with specific diseases?
Corzine: "I’d sign that legislation. I want to make sure, as it goes through the Assembly, that it has the right constraints on it but I think we’re in the zone. I need to actually run through it with my counsel, all of the alternatives, but I think we’re close. I think we ought to move to this quickly. I think the people who would benefit from it, we would want to get to that sooner rather than later. I don’t think this, in any way, should be allowed to be a back-door access to recreational marijuana and we’ll make sure any bill that comes to my desk that gets my signature, we’re secure in that."
Christie: "I do think that we can do a little bit better on the restrictions. I do favor allowing folks who have serious illnesses — in a restricted number of illnesses — to have medical marijuana to alleviate suffering. I do want to make sure that we don’t have what’s gone on in California, where you have marijuana shops all over the place and people who are not really using it for serious illnesses. The current legislation, I think, is still a little bit weak on restrictions. I’d want to see it tightened up a little bit, but assuming that we could do that I would support it. I would take an active part in trying to make it the best bill we could so that I’d be able to sign it. It’s something that I would like to have be available to people who have significant pain and suffering issues connected with tragic illness."
Daggett: "I don’t know all the details of the bill. I generally support the use of marijuana for medical purposes as long as it can be done in a way that targets its use by the intended patient and has adequate safeguards against misuse or illegal use. I would be willing to consider being actively involved but I tend to also agree in the separation of various parts of the government. The Legislature will likely want to put its stamp on it in its own way and we need to let that process have its own course."
Q: Does New Jersey’s current civil union law give gay couples the same rights and protections that marriage gives heterosexual couples? Should gay marriage become legal in New Jersey?
Corzine: "We believe that the problems with the civil unions bill are mostly the lack of understanding of the general public about how that law applies. But since there is that pretty broad-based lack of understanding, I think we ought to go to marriage equality. The commission that looked at this was very precise on that and I think its recommendations are compelling. I want to be very clear on this. I don’t call it gay marriage. I call it marriage equality because I believe that we ought to be treating people under our Constitution here in the state of New Jersey as determined by our courts. There needs to be equal treatment under the law. If it’s lame-duck, or if it doesn’t occur in lame-duck, I’ll push for it in the next year."
Christie: "I think civil unions are strong and I think they’re good and I’m a supporter of civil unions and the civil union law in New Jersey. But I am not a supporter of same-sex marriage. My problem with it is, I think this is something people should be voting on. If we’re going to have that type of drastic change or we’re considering that type of drastic change in one of the bedrocks of our society, I think that’s something that the people should vote on, not the Legislature. I would continue to maintain that position as governor that it’s something the people should either affirm or overturn."
Daggett: "I’m not familiar with all the rights and protections that they are afforded under New Jersey law. I think it’s pretty close, probably. It may even be the same, I don’t know. If a bill is passed to allow gay marriage I would sign it. Recognizing the separation of powers of the different branches of government, I respect the Legislature’s process and would be patient with it but at the same point if it languishes for too long a time I would become active on it."
Q: New Jersey does not currently restrict abortions with waiting periods, mandated parental involvement or limitations on publicly funded reproductive services. As New Jersey’s next governor, would you change the state’s current policy toward abortion? If so, how?
Corzine: "I think our laws are about where I think our laws should be. As a matter of fact, I strongly believe in a woman’s right to choose. I believe in Roe vs. Wade, and I don’t believe in a constitutional amendment to ban it as my leading opponent does. I feel strongly about that and I think these decisions need to be made between a woman and her doctor. I’ve always been in that same position and there’s nothing new."
Christie: "I believe in parental notificiation and I believe in it strongly. I think that allowing children to make these decisions without their parents being notified just flies in the face of common sense. You know, I have to sign two permission slips for my 13-year-old daughter to get allergy medicine at her school but she can get an abortion without me knowing. I just think that most parents would think that doesn’t make sense and I would like to have parental notification — not parental consent but parental notfication laws in New Jersey. I think that a 24-hour waiting period makes sense when someone’s making as difficult a decision as terminating a pregnancy. Giving them a 24-hour waiting period I think to consider all of the advice given to them by their physician is not something that is an outrageous restriction on their right and I would certainly be an advocate for that as well."
Daggett: "I am pro-choice and I believe in a woman’s right to choose. I am not familiar with all the various restrictions or other issues. Generally speaking, I am very much a pro-choice person. I am not interested in changing the current laws."
Q: Law enforcement officials say it’s no secret New Jersey has a problem with violence and street gangs. What’s one thing we are not doing that we should be doing in order to prevent gang-related crime?
Corzine: "We ought to ban 50-caliber weapons that pierce police officers’ bullet-proof vests and can shoot helicopters out of the sky, which my opponent is unwilling to take on. I think it’s one of the reasons that most of the law enforcement groups — almost all of them, matter of fact, surprisingly so — support my candidacy. I think there is a scourge of the distribution of guns on the streets of New Jersey. We ought to do something about it. And many of them go outside of the state, but the idea that you wouldn’t even take an incremental step — and I acknowledge it is an incremental step, the one-gun-a-month law — is blatantly not consistent with trying to reduce gang violence and drug violence in the state."
Christie: "We should have no parole nor any early release for any gang member who commits a crime with a gun. We should let gang members know that they are going to serve their full sentences if they get convicted for committing violent acts. I think we just have to get much tougher on these gangs. We need to have a coordinated war against these gangs with federal authorities in the same way we went after the Mafia in the ‘70s and the ‘80s." Asked if there is enough room in New Jersey’s prisons to hold gang members for their full terms: "Yes."
Daggett: "We need to do a better job within our prison system. We need to first make sure gang members in prison are restricted from activities that manage a gang within a prison’s walls. I think we need to improve community policing and perhaps most importantly we have to make sure our education system in our urban areas is first class. And right now, we’re not doing that. There is an incredibly high drop-out rate; it’s well over 50 percent. If they stay in school, they’re less likely to become members of a gang."
Q: Do you think the one-gun-a-month bill recently signed into law will lower the incidence of gang violence in New Jersey?
Corzine: "I think legal acquisitions of guns by straw purchasers that then go distribute them on the streets is a problem and we ought to do everything we can to eliminate that. It incrementally makes a difference. Taking an aspirin when you have a headache and because you have an aneurysm probably is not necessarily the solution but it probably makes things better than it would have been if you didn’t take it. I mean, this is an incremental step along with a lot of other steps that need to be done. And we need tough law enforcement on the federal level if you’re going to have it, which we didn’t have under Mr. Christie (as U.S. attorney for New Jersey)."
Christie: "No, because gang members dont go to Dick’s Sporting Goods and fill out a background-check form to buy their guns. They buy them out of the trunks of cars that have trafficked them from other states that have much more lenient gun laws than we do. We should be focusing on that rather than focusing on things that make political headlines."
Daggett: "I haven’t seen any information that would put a direct link to it ... I want to see the facts and the statistics that limiting it to one gun a month would really restrict it."
Q: The next governor could appoint as many as four Supreme Court justices when justices Virginia Long and John Wallace retire and justices Helen Hoens and Roberto Rivera-Soto are up for reappointment. What are the qualities you would most look for when nominating a justice?
Corzine: "I think I’ve demonstrated that by the kind of people I pick. I think Stuart Rabner is one of the finest jurists that exists in the United States. I only hope he doesn’t get drafted for higher service. I think Justice Hoens is a perfect example of a balanced individual who looks at the law and the facts of a case and makes a judgment based on the precedent that exists. That’s exactly what we need to have. And obviously the facts of any situation can be different than the historical context of any other issue and you have to have people that have the capacity and work ethic to make sure that they frame their decision in the context of the law."
Christie: "I want someone who is extraordinarily bright and I want someone who will interpret laws and the Constitution, not legislate from the bench." The current court at times has gone beyond interpreting the law, as when it allowed the late substitution of Frank Lautenberg for Robert Torricelli as the Demcratic candidate for U.S. Senate in 2002. "My problem is that the Supreme Court in this state has seen itself as a superior branch of government, not a coequal branch of government. They are not a superior branch of government. That’s a philosophical point of view, but that’s my point of view."
Daggett: "I’m looking for someone who has a demonstrated record of being candid, being fair, willing to look at the hard facts in a dispassionate fashion, that is known to be able to listen well, that has a reputation of high integrity and service to the state. ... I think it’s most important to find someone who has a strong, even-handed temperament and that will be fair and reasoned in their decision-making process."