Political party chairs wield enormous power in the state and Monmouth County is losing theirs. After engineering a stunning Democratic upset over two Republican assemblywomen in the 11th District, the now former chair of the Monmouth County Democrats has stepped down to run for the state Senate against a Republican stalwart. Vin Gopal spoke with NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams to find out why he’s running.
Gopal: Thanks for having me on. You know, it’s been four years as being party chair, a voluntary position. I enjoyed it. We got to elect some great local elected mayors and council people, two great legislators. I really want to tackle some of the issues facing New Jersey and I think I can do that as a state senator.
Williams: What are the most pressing issues facing the district and the state?
Gopal: I think we’ve seen politicians on both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans, for far too long play too many of the same political games. We have pressing property tax issues. We have a mass municipality problem in 566 towns — parking authorities, sewage authorities…
Williams: School districts…
Gopal: …School districts. These are not popular issues to take on and I think both parties have failed on this issue and I want to go in and try to bring some consensus and work hard to really help the taxpayers of the state.
Williams: That’s going to be hard. Your first order of business, I understand, is reducing property taxes. How are you going to get that done?
Gopal: You know, Sen. [Jennifer] Beck, my opponent, sponsored an ADP property tax program that is currently under criminal investigation by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office. It was a program that had a lot of improvement today, but at the time when she sponsored it, it was not well thought out, many people’s taxes went up. We need to seriously look at our school funding formula. We need to seriously look at our overall property tax structure. We need to look at this grip of municipalities and government that New Jersey currently has.
Williams: You’ve called Sen. Beck a foot soldier for Gov. Christie. What do you mean by that?
Gopal: You know, I can’t think of one issue that Sen. Beck has not been on both sides of the issue and I think that’s really what’s frustrating a lot of people in the state of both parties. Whether you look at property taxes, whether you look at the gas tax,which she was vocally against and now she’s endorsed the sponsor of the gas tax, Declan O’Scanlon, in a neighboring district against a non-gas tax candidate, Amy Handlin. Whether you look at marriage equality, whether you look at women’s health care, whether you look at gun violence legislation, she’s been on both sides of every issue.
Williams: She did vote against Christie on the deal where he would be able to profit from writing a book.
Gopal: As did everybody. It’s easy to do it when the governor’s at 18 percent, but for seven years she stood by him every step of the way, even serving on his leadership team when he ran for president last year.
Williams: I read your announcement that you were running and it was more against Sen. Beck than it was about your own credentials. Is this going to be a rough fight?
Gopal: I don’t think so. Look, proud of my story. I’m a lifelong Monmouth County resident. I own a successful business that now has 14 employees. When I started my business 10 years ago, I was the only one there. I went months without taking a paycheck. I worked very hard. I’ve been a board member of our county chamber of commerce. I am very passionate about the economy, creating jobs and ending the political gridlock that exists. I think Sen. Beck has been in office for nearly 20 years as a lobbyist and as a legislator and I think it’s just simply time for a change.
Williams: Ten years as a legislator.
Gopal: Ten years as a legislator. Prior to that she was in the General Assembly. Prior to that she was a council person in Red Bank. Prior to that she was a lobbyist. I think we just need some new blood.
Williams: If you lower property taxes, how are you going to get the revenue you need to handle all of the state’s problems?
Gopal: New Jersey, because of the last several governors, not just Gov. Christie, has severe, severe economic problems and I think we need both parties to come together, with a Democratic governor which I believe will be Phil Murphy, to come together and solve some of these economic problems. And we can do that by solving the school funding program, by solving the issue of 566 municipalities. We have towns in Monmouth County that have a population of 200, 300, 400 people and they have full municipal services. That hurts every taxpayer in the state.
Williams: So you would go to shared services. What do you think about Gov. Christie’s “Fairness Formula” changing school funding?
Gopal: I think it’s a terrible formula that he has. I support the one that Senate President [Steve] Sweeney and Assemblyman [Eric] Houghtaling and Assemblywoman [Joann] Downey have in the 11th District which takes the politics out of it and actually gives fairness. That way you don’t have legislators in different areas of the state wanting to get money for their district. I think we need a fair formula.