SUSSEX COUNTY – At the Candidates’ Night in Ogdensburg on Tues. Oct. 13, chatter has sparked regarding a statement made by one of the candidates running for a Legislative District 24 seat.
Jacqueline Stapel is a Democratic Candidate for Assembly who commented about farming, which caused a stir with incumbent Republican Assemblyman Parker Space.
“I chose to run this year after hearing what the rest of the state thinks of us in the 24th District,” Stapel said on the video footage below. “This is where I’m going to bust Parker’s chops a little bit.” She turned to Space and he thanked her. “No offense Parker, but they think we’re a bunch of farmers who don’t pay attention in Trenton and are only interested in riding around in our pickup trucks rolling coal. Now don’t get me wrong. We do like riding around in our pickup trucks and we do like having a good time. But they use that in Trenton to ignore us. And I can’t sit by and continue to just watch that happen.”
NJ Inside Scene had the opportunity to speak to both candidates about farming and other topics, based on the subsequent discussions that have ignited on places like Facebook.
NJInsideScene.com asked Stapel, who has been a lifetime resident of Sussex County, for basis on the statement she made first, asking her to name names of who in Trenton has made commentary about those from Sussex County only being interested in riding in pickup trucks and rolling coal. Stapel, who has been involved politically behind the scenes but is running for the first time as a candidate, said that the impression of residents in the county emerged based on a general perception in Trenton Democratic Politicians have of the residents.
“We met with the leadership,” Stapel said, though she would not name names who exactly she and her running mate Michael Grace had met with (though Inside Scene asked if it was Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3)), “to see what we could do [in terms of help with anything for Sussex County]. It’s not that they’re derogatory, but they poke fun.”
Stapel said that leadership that she has spoken with in Trenton (which she described as “top”) does view Sussex County differently than other counties in the state with similar farming populations and rural character. She said those counties are recognized because they have Democratic leadership. Stapel said that like Space and his running mate Gail Phoebus, she and Grace also feel that there is too much funding that is delegated to the cities in New Jersey. She said that nothing would change with that allocation of funds until Democratic leadership is also in place in Sussex County.
Stapel did mention the name of one Democrat however, who chuckled when she told him that she was from Sussex County. She said that while at a Get Out to Vote event in Parsippany that former Gov. Senator Richard Codey (D-27) asked her where she was from. When she mentioned Augusta, she said Codey was unfamiliar with the location, until she mentioned the New Jersey State Fair.
“’I was up there years ago,’” Codey reportedly told her, also cracking some jokes about the rural character of the area.
Space did not take Stapel’s comments lightly from the debate about farming, though Stapel said her intention was not to pick on farmers, and her comment was taken the wrong way.
“Jacky’s response considers us some dumb farmers,” Space told NJ Inside Scene, defending the vocation that he has been involved with for his lifetime, with his family in Sussex County for many generations.
He said that he took offense to Stapel’s comment that, per the video from the debate below, because “a farmer is not only a businessman, they’re a cropsman, they’re herdsmen, they’re everything…they’re a welder, they’re a machinist, a mechanic…there’s so many different things that go into that element.”
Space further explained that when he goes to Trenton, “ people stand up and they’ll listen to you when you have something to say, because on the other side of the aisle…I don’t want to bash my Democratic friends too much…but, there’s a lot of talk that goes on down there non-stop and a lot of stuff doesn’t get done. But when somebody comes from a different background…I’m pretty damn proud that I’m a working man, farmer, business owner…but when you stand up and you have something to say, people listen to you.”
“When you don’t have the experience or you don’t have the vision to be in the farming industry,” Space continued, gesturing to Stapel during the debate, “don’t forget you represent not just Sussex, but 11 towns in Warren County and into Mt. Olive. A big part of this district is farmers.”
Space described farmers as longstanding in Sussex County because they are survivalists. His family has been in the county for many generations. He feels though that the Democratic Party has placed many restrictions on farmers that are making it difficult to operate their businesses.
“Democrats are driving us [farmers] out,” Space said.
Space told NJ Inside Scene that Stapel’s statement was “political venom,” he said either written by her, or given to her as a script, but said that rather than reading from cards (Stapel was using cards during her introduction).“When I get up to speak, I speak from my heart.”
When asked if there were other farmers in the Assembly, Space said that he is the only one, and that the majority of the representatives are attorneys, one is a nurse, and there are a few different other career backgrounds. However, as Space iterated in his speech during the debate, he feels that he is listened to in Trenton because he holds a different background than the others, and he said it garners respect.
In fact, when Governor Chris Christie visited Sussex County in 2013, he told Space’s father Fred Space that Parker Space is a “good guy who has a real connection to people in Sussex County.”
Space also said that when he runs into residents at businesses around the county, once they recognize him, nine times out of 10, Space said that they thank him because, he said, these constituents tell him “they want someone like themselves to represent them.”
Stapel told NJ Inside Scene that she is not a stranger to the farming community. She grew up on her great-grandfather’s farm property in Swartswood, which she said that she said is still in her family, though the farmland was divided, with cabins built on them. She said those properties were summer residences originally, and are now permanent, year-round homes. But she said that she does not hold negativity towards farmers.
“It’s an outside perception,” she reiterated. “I love farmers.”
At the same time, she added that in Sussex County it is not all farmers, but many different career types who live in the county. She said that not every person can work in the county as a farmer, or else there would be many people who would lose their businesses. At the same time, she said that her husband works in construction, and not everyone can work in that field, or it would create another uneven distribution of labor, and the farms would be untended to.
She said just because there are many farmers in the county, it does not mean that everyone can relate to the representation someone from that industry like Space provides in Trenton.
Of being a farmer, Space said, “You work seven days a week, and know how to bust butt to keep your head above water.”
He said his philosophy is not to change who he is, and if he needed to change to perform the job in Trenton, he would not be there.
“If she doesn’t want a farmer representing her,” Space told NJInsideScene.com, “maybe this is not an area where she should be living.”
The Topics of Coal Rolling and Pig Crates
Stapel brought up the topic of coal rolling, a piece of legislation that the Governor signed off on in May. While Senator Steve Oroho (R-24) voted “yes” on this bill, on the assembly bill, Space and Assemblywoman Alison Littell McHose (R-24) were the only two in the assembly who voted against it.
One of the bill’s primary sponsors was Assemblyman Tim Eustace (D-38), with his offices located in northern Bergen County, in Paramus and Bergenfield. It was Eustace who presented the bill after driving his Nissan LEAF, and stated he was overwhelmed with black diesel smoke from a retrofitted diesel truck on the Turnpike. Reportedly, this practice has become a trend to spew the smoke from these trucks into the paths of hybrid vehicles.
“It can blind people on the road,” said Stapel, noting the conditions can turn dangerous.
She is also allergic to sulfur and said that someone with her health condition could be hospitalized from coal rolling.
“It’s not minor, it’s a very serious thing,” said Stapel about coal rolling.
Space, on the other hand, said it is not an issue he has seen in Sussex County. He said that it is something that occurs very rarely outside of events like tractor pulls, but that most of those who have pickup trucks with the stacks described in Eustace’s bill in this area, are young people around the age of 18, who are not normally engaging in those types of activities outside of tractor pull events.
“This was a knee jerk Democratic reaction,” said Space of Eustace’s bill.
He said that one of the issues in Trenton is both the Senate and Assembly are controlled by Democrats and they are the ones that post the bills. He said that the bills Republicans are working on include ways to achieve property tax reductions, and to make living more affordable in the Garden State. But these bills, he said, are not heard in Trenton and instead they are bogged down with so many bills that he and McHose considered wasteful, such as the coal rolling one.
“We do not believe it is the place of government to regulate every aspect of our lives,” they had told The Star-Ledger following its passage. “People’s pick-up trucks are their pick-up trucks and who are we to tell them how they should be? In addition, this was a case of a legislator who probably hates pickup trucks anyway and he admittedly got offended by a motorist driving one of these types of pickups. So what does he do? Makes a law to please himself. The Legislature should be spending our time lowering property taxes, fixing the state’s finances, establishing fair school funding, and cutting wasteful spending instead of this trivial nonsense.”
Additionally, coal rolling is something that already had protection from both the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the New Jersey State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and was a banned practice. Stapel said that although it had those protections, it required Governor Christie’s signature to delegate responsibility to the New Jersey State Police to issue summonses to drivers who violate the ban.
Space noted this type of redundancy with bills that Democrats support, like fracking and the pig crates for gestation. He said that both of these practices, in addition to coal rolling, are banned in New Jersey already and do not require bills.
“Why enact laws if we don’t need them?” Space asked. “No farms even use them [pig crates for gestation].”
It was a bill that Governor Christie vetoed because they are not in use in the state. Senator Raymond Lesniak (D-20), of Union County, who has offices headquarter in Union and Elizabeth, was the primary sponsor of the pig crates bill.
Space said that those on the other side of the aisle in the Senate and Assembly are creating these bills, when they do not have an idea about agriculture, or the reasoning to go along with it. He also said that when the coal rolling bill was passed, several of his Democratic contemporaries in Trenton asked what they had voted against, because they were unfamiliar with the term.
He said that these bills keep the Assembly from approving bills on property taxes, but the “other side of the aisle doesn’t want to entertain it.”
Stapel said that the issue with the pig crate did have a negative impact on the farming industry, because there were people who had not done their research, and were protesting pig farms in New Jersey, which in turn hurt the pork industry.
“Same Thing Different Way to Get There”
When asked what her top issue is as she runs for assembly, Stapel said, like Space and Phoebus, she and her running mate are concerned about property tax relief. For them, it would be to take school funding from property tax, and move it to income taxes, and then having the tax burden be scaled based on income.
NJ Inside Scene also asked Stapel about her post on Space’s Facebook Page, which she wrote in August, where she said she would vote for Space this election, although she is also running for a seat. While she has been a candidate with the Democratic Party vying for this seat since the spring, she said that she made a promise to Space to vote for him two years ago. She said that year she was already voting for a Republican (Sheriff Michael Strada) and that she would vote for Space this year. In the post, Stapel replied to a party during the thread that Space has always been willing to listen to her ideas.
“I’m not one to go back on my promise,” stating she would not vote for herself, but would give Space her own vote instead, and she would vote as well for Grace.
In spite of their differences on issues, Stapel told NJ Inside Scene that she counts Space and his wife Jill, as friends.
In terms of the politics, she said, “We’re looking at the same things, just different ways to get there.”
Editor’s Note: NJ Inside Scene gathered some statistics on farming in New Jersey, per the Jersey Fresh website, which ranks the food and agriculture industry as the state’s third most popular, with sales of $1.14 billion annually. In some sectors of farming, there are incomes of about $500 million yearly. There are 715,000 acres of farmland in New Jersey of its 4.492 million total acres.
Liked what you read here? Then stay on the scene with NJInsideScene.com. Click here to like us on Facebook.