North Jersey residents explain what brought them to the polls
These North Jersey residents share their Election Day 2022 motivations.
Miguel Fernandez, NorthJersey.com
New Jersey’s 24th District is guaranteed to have two new Assembly representatives next year after neither incumbent chose to run in this year’s election.
That wide-open race has attracted five candidates to the Republican field in the June 6 primary, all of them vowing to bring conservative values to Trenton and targeting the state’s sex-ed curriculum, gun restrictions and what they see as Democrats’ out of control spending.
All five would be newcomers to the legislature, though they are no strangers to public office and local politics.
Who’s running for Assembly in LD24
The slate includes a pair of two-person teams: Sussex County Commissioner Dawn Fantasia is running with Chester Township Mayor Mike Inganamort against Lafayette Board of Education President Josh Aikens and Warren County Commissioner Jason Sarnoski. Rob Kovic, a former councilman in Bergen County who now lives in Sparta, rounds out the Republican field.
The candidates who emerge in the primary will have the inside track for the two Assembly seats in a traditionally red district in the November general election. Baramdai “Alicia” Sharma, of Hackettstown, is the lone Democrat who filed to run for Assembly in the district.
The current assemblymen, Parker Space and Hal Wirths, both announced last year that they would not run for reelection. Space, running with the Fantasia and Inganamort team, is unopposed in the Republican nomination for the 24th’s state Senate seat, as he seeks to replace retiring GOP Sen. Steve Oroho. Edmund Khanoo is running on the Democratic side for Senate.
The district covers these towns
After legislative lines were redrawn this year, District 24 covers all of Sussex County as well as six western Morris County towns (Mount Olive, Netcong, Roxbury, the Chesters and Washington Township) and two more in Warren County (Allamuchy and Independence.)
It’s been a particularly venomous campaign season on the Republican side. In the lead-up to the primary, anonymous blog posts referencing Fantasia’s ex-husband, a convicted sex offender. Fantasia has alleged that the blogger is working for Aikens and Sarnoski.
Fantasia called the posts, one of which wondered whether she supports giving sex offenders custody of their children, “beyond abhorrent” in an interview with the New Jersey Herald.
“That was a hit to hurt me, and that was a hit to hurt my family,” she said. “For (Aikens and Sarnoski) to use that situation as a political tool is absolutely unbelievable.”
The Aikens and Sarnoski team did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Candidates target sex-ed standards
All five Assembly hopefuls submitted candidate information to the Herald. Their answers highlighted many of the same issues, saying they would fight in Trenton against the policies of Gov. Phil Murphy. They blamed Murphy and the Democrats who control the state Legislature for high taxes, restrictive gun laws and new public school curriculum standards on sex education.
Fantasia said the updated sex-ed standards represent an “incredible amount of overreach” by the state Department of Education. She mentioned seeing resource videos with graphic sexual references and asserted that proponents of the curriculum equate free speech with “exposing pornography to minors.”
Kovic also opposes what education officials have deemed age-appropriate material for elementary and middle school students. Teachers should be prioritizing lessons that are more suitable to each grade level, he said, instead of displaying “borderline obscenity” in the classroom.
“Some of it is a little bit shocking, to tell you the truth,” Kovic said. “It has no redeeming educational value.”
In 2022, Sarnoski and the Warren County Commissioners adopted a “Parental Bill of Rights” for families concerned about the state’s new standards. He also created an online survey to learn what parents would like to see implemented into the curriculum.
The health standards set broad requirements which local districts then choose how to teach. They don’t mandate sex education in the early grades, but call for discussions on debunking gender stereotypes by second grade. Fifth graders are expected to know “the connection between sexual intercourse and human reproduction,” whereas earlier standards discussed puberty.
Eighth graders are now expected to know definitions of vaginal, oral and anal sex, where earlier standards limited classroom education to broader topics like sexual attraction, contraception and pregnancy.
Here’s where the tickets stand on other issues:
Inganamort said he is seeking election to the 24th District to make New Jersey more affordable and reduce the mass departure of residents from the state. He feels the decline in population is a result of the Democrat-controlled government impacting middle-class families.
“I am running for the Assembly because state government has lost its damn mind,” Inganamort said. “We need a conservative check and balance on liberal one-party rule, and I will be a strong voice on behalf of taxpayers.”
As Sussex County Commissioner, Fantasia has voted on resolutions supporting the Second Amendment and prohibiting the county from becoming a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. She also served on the Franklin Borough Council prior to holding county office, where she said she worked to reduce the municipal tax rate.
Fantasia, an NRA member, said she wants the state to enact laws that protect citizens’ right to bear arms. She also stressed the need to crack down on violent gun crime by preventing convicted individuals from pleading down to lesser offenses.
“In Trenton, I will continue to represent the conservative values of northwest New Jersey and ensure our region has a voice that fights to defend our values,” she said.
For Fantasia and Inganamort, the goal is to preserve what they call the family values and way of life familiar to the area. The team has the backing of prominent Republicans including Oroho and Wirths and is confident it can influence others in the legislature if elected.
“We need conservative voices in Trenton who can fight back – and who can win,” Fantasia said.
Sarnoski, a Warren County Commissioner since 2011, highlighted his efforts to reduce the county’s debt since he took office. The county budget today is 10% less than what he inherited 12 years ago, he said, and the debt has been nearly eliminated after it exceeded $17 million at the start of his tenure.
“This is the kind of fiscal responsibility I will bring to Trenton to put a stop to liberal spending and out-of-control debt,” Sarnoski said.
Aikens, who called himself “New Jersey’s most successful parental rights advocate,” served as chairman of Arise NJ, a nonprofit founded in 2020 to advise and support school board candidates with conservative values. He believes his track record of advocacy will be an asset as a 24th District legislator.
“Republicans have failed to be effective leaders in the struggle between Murphy administration mandates and parental rights,” Aikens said. “If I’m in the Republican legislative caucus, I can serve as a bridge between it and the grassroots activists on the ground. Maybe we can start winning some battles.”
The Aikens and Sarnoski team is committed to combining legislative action and community activism to roll back Murphy’s mandates, they said in responses to the Herald. Additionally, the two candidates would like to create a “platform of conservative principles” to bring grassroots support to the state level.
“We need to know what we believe in and persuadable voters need to know what they are voting for,” Sarnoski said. “That’s the only way we will achieve a legislative majority.”
Kovic, a first-generation American, cited his parents’ emigration from Eastern Europe and subsequent struggles in their new life as his reason to run for office. The government should provide the “necessary basic foundation” for people to succeed through hard work, he said, and the current leaders are not accomplishing that.
“I learned long ago how poorly chosen elected officials and bad policy can destroy jobs, families, businesses, communities and dreams,” he said. “It happened to my parents a long time ago, and a lot of people I know, and it’s happening now to a lot of people.”
If elected, Kovic said he will focus on property tax reform that provides relief to struggling families, including senior citizens and the farming community. He also hopes to improve the public education system and advocate for greater parental involvement in their children’s schooling.
“I learned that we must be prepared to always fight on the side of what is right, no matter how difficult the fight,” Kovic said. “I will leave no stone unturned when it comes to fighting for our district, and New Jersey.”
More information on each candidate is available at their campaign websites:
Kyle Morel is a local reporter covering Morris and Sussex counties.
Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @KMorelNJH