In a theme common to political challengers nationwide this year, Hunterdon County businessman David Larsen said his frustration with Washington is what is behind his Republican primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Hunterdon County).
Larsen, the owner of a family window and doors business, said government spending, along with decisions in such areas as climate change and health care have gotten him into the race. He also notes a desire of the need to have turnover in the House to move out what he describes as professional politicians, a category where he placed Lance.
"I am fed up with the out of control government," Larsen said. "They are spending like drunken sailors."
Larsen has centered much of his platform on federal spending, crusading against earmarks - the appropriations members of Congress obtain for specific projects in their districts. He said the federal government should not be using money from a New Jersey taxpayer to fund a project in Kansas or money from a Kansas taxpayer to fund a project in New Jersey.
Specifically, Larsen is citing Lance's designation as one of three "porkers of the month" in April 2009 by the group, Citizens Against Government Waste. The group gave the designation and two other freshmen members of Congress, Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr. (R-Cal.) and Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.), for funds they obtained for their districts. The group cited that Lance, Jenkins and Hunter all had signed earmark reform pledges with the group during their 2008 campaigns.
In judging Lance, the group cited his obtaining $896,400 for energy efficient lighting in downtown Cranford, $350,000 for a hike and bike path in Bedminster and $225,000 for the Hunterdon Family Dental Center. Larsen said the federal government should not be funding these projects and instead proposed that the state government fund projects like this.
"We need to be specific on how we handle the people's money," he said. "We need to be frugal with that money. We have a state budget and the states are supposed to take care of the states. Add up all the pork and earmarks that add up year after year and it is astronamical."
Lance has been stressing his fiscal expertise and describing himself as a fiscal conservative. He has been highlighting his authorship of a state constitutional amendment requiring voter approval for state borrowing as a part of his reelection campaign platform.
Larsen said he does understand the state is facing severe fiscal challenges and Gov. Chris Christie is calling for steep cuts in the state budget, including cutting funding to local school districts and state aid to municipalities. He said in the case the state cannot pay for the project, then the project can wait until funding can be found either at the local or state level.
He did say there are certain projects which the federal government can fund, including those for safety and health benefits. In this category he cited funds obtained by U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-Hoboken) for flood control in Cranford and former Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-New Providence) for flood control in Somerset County. He said Jenkins' request for $2 million for the reconstruction of Kasold Drive in Lawrence, Kan. should not have been funded by New Jersey residents.
Larsen described the earmarks as "electoral affirmative action," noting that he sees legislators obtaining the funds to help sure up their standing with voters. He characterized Lance as a career politician, citing the incumbent's 17 years in the state legislature and time as an aide to former Gov. Tom Kean in the 1980s. Lance also practiced law in private practice in his career. He said that Lance and other career politicians take a belief that they rotate electoral positions among each other.
"They believe that it's my turn," Larsen said. "Like when Ted Kennedy ran for president and he could not answer why he ran. There should be turnover in Congress every two years."
In a theme common to Lance's conservative detractors, Larsen said he is against the incumbent's vote in favor of the Cap & Trade climate change legislation. He said the legislation would have placed a tax burden on industry in order to reduce carbon emissions. He said he would rather have the issues tackled by stressing that businesses have a "moral imperative" to reduce carbon emissions.
"I believe that we have enough laws on the books," Larsen said. "Cap & Trade is a mass energy tax. It will mean higher prices for the consumers."
Lance said in his reelection announced last month that he is now against the Cap & Trade bill and would not vote in favor of it if it came before the House again. He said his reversal on the legislation comes after President Obama failed to achieve agreements from Russia, China and India for similar carbon reduction legislation during the international climate change summit in Denmark in December.
Larsen said he is in favor of reducing the costs of health care and prescription drugs, but does not favor the currents proposals being considered by the Democratic controlled Congress. He said he wants to address the costs of insurance premiums and covering the lapse in coverage when people lose a job or change jobs.
In the area of prescription drugs, Larsen wants to open up competition in the marketplace to reduce drug prices. This includes allowing more access to prescriptions in Canada.
"The real costs of prescription drugs is much less," he said. "We can open up the borders and Canada has inexpensive drugs. Competition is good."
Larsen is joined by Westfield resident Bruce Baker in opposing Lance in the primary. Baker is also challenging the moderate incumbent from the right, bringing up the Cap & Trade issue as a part of his platform.
Lance has been stressing that he considers himself a fiscal conservative. During his reelection announcement, he was joined by several prominent conservative leaders including Ferguson, state Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Warren County) and Bridgewater Mayor Patricia Flannery.
Former congressional aide Ed Postonak and businessman Zenon Christodolou are the only announced candidates on the Democratic side. Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr has been mentioned as a potential candidate but is considered unlikely to make the race.
Larsen said that he will go through the Republican county convention process, which awards county party lines for the primary. The party line gives preferential ballot placement to party backed candidates. Lance is considered a favorite to win the four party conventions due to his strong support from party leaders. The Union County convention is scheduled for March 27 in Springfield.
Larsen declined to say if he intends to run a slate for county clerk, sheriff and freeholder in Union County in order to obtain a better ballot slot. He did note that he considers himself the outsider candidate and noted that he does not look at being a party backed candidate as a positive.
"One of the problems we have here is the entrenched politicians," Larsen said. "If you see who is surrounding Leonard Lance it is career politicians or ex politicians. I am surrounding myself with business owners and housewives. The voters. People who are living life and the current reality."