League of Women Voters Hosts Congressional Forum at Brookdale

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New Jersey’s 4th Congressional District candidates –Michael Rufo, Felicia Stoler, Brian Reynolds, and Josh Welle – took questions from the public concerning a broad range of topics, including free college education, healthcare, LGBQT issues, women’s rights and the environment.

The event was hosted and mediated by the League of Women Voters, who remain nonpartisan and devoted to making sure the voting system is open and fair – nearly 100 years running.

The election for the next congressman takes place Nov. 6. The 4th Congressional District is the most competitive of all the districts in New Jersey, with seven candidates including Republican incumbent Chris Smith, who did not attend the forum.

The League of Women Voters has made participating in elections quick and easy through vote411.org, a website all constituents can use to learn about upcoming elections and register to vote.

The League strives to present fair, nonpartisan and well-organized forums so that voters can make their decisions. Independent candidates were included in the forum, although they are often left in the shadows of mainstream media. This breaks the typical Democrat-Republican architype.

Michael Rufo is a member of the Libertarian Party. He says he has always been drawn to the nontraditional candidates, measuring them based on his value system as opposed to their party. Rufo said many would be surprised by the Libertarian Party and would most likely agree with the party 80 percent of the time if given the chance. Rufo told the audience he considers himself one of us.

As the husband of a Philippine immigrant, he believes no person should be barred from reaching the United States based on country of origin. Rufo said he plans to bring constituents’ ideas to Washington so that citizens can take control of their own lives.

Rufo supports a nonaggression approach to international relations – where aggression will be met with aggression – and said high taxes in the U.S. are largely due to military spending. Rufo suggested the government could cut $500 billion to $700 billion and invest it elsewhere.  

Felicia Stoler is an independent candidate who has dubbed herself “The Inclusion Candidate.” A former Brookdale professor, Stoler plans to have a committee of people from multiple interest groups to include various viewpoints on issues confronting New Jersey.

Stoler is a registered dietitian nutritionist and exercise physiologist, with a master’s degree in physiology and nutrition from Columbia University and a PhD in clinical nutrition from Rutgers. She said her expertise in health would be beneficial in the country’s healthcare debacle. She pointed out that many congressional committees dealing with health issues have no experts on them.

Stoler said she would advocate for better healthcare policies, such as a single-payer system, which would rely on government funding, equal rates and provide universal health benefits.

Reynolds is also an independent, preferring not to affiliate with any one group and making the point early on that if constituents don’t want more of the same thing, then it’s time to do something different – send an independent to Washington, someone who is not tied down to any party and will say yes to good policy and no to the bad.

Reynolds has made proposals in various areas, including free education, where he would advocate for federal endowments to be made to the best performing community colleges, such as Brookdale, which would pressure education costs downward on the national level, forcing other institutions to adapt to the changing market. He said this would make higher education significantly cheaper.

Welle is the Democratic candidate who believes in country over party like his fellow candidates and is head to head with Smith. Since Smith did not attend, Welle made sure to debate with Smith through his published literature, holding up a newsletter to stand in for the missing congressman.

Welle said it’s been 25 years since Chris Smith came to any sort of forum, and that Smith fails to serve the people of New Jersey. He argued that Smith fails to prioritize climate change and LGBQT rights.

Welle, along with the other candidates, support term limits, which at its most basic would never allow another Congress member to hold office for as long as Smith – who stands at 38 years in office and is seeking two more.