The Daily Princetonian spoke with Assemblywoman and Democratic candidate for New Jersey's 12thdistrict Congressional seat, Bonnie Watson Coleman, on the important points of her campaign, how her platform compares to her opponent’s and what she wants to communicate to young voters about the upcoming election.
The Daily Princetonian: Your campaign website mentions many key issues, including job creation, gun violence, education, technology, voting rights, health care, job creation, women’s rights, social security and LGBT rights, as part of your campaign platform. Of these issues, which is most important to you, and how are you attempting to communicate that to voters of the 12thcongressional district of New Jersey?
Bonnie Watson Coleman: If I were to speak to what is most important to me, it is [the role of] government to protect and preserve the rights of individuals, and the opportunities of individuals. For those who are the most vulnerable in our society, either economically, or health-wise, or babies, or the elderly, government should be the kind of safety net they need to have a decent quality of life and care. For those who are expecting to be educated under the public education system, they should expect to have a globally competitive education, so that they can move forward and either go into vocational schools or colleges ...and ultimately ...build the kind of workforce we need to be globally competitive. For those who are working class families and middle class families, we need to ensure that they have the opportunity to have decent jobs, decent benefits and decent working conditions. It is not any one issue that I am focused on, it is government’s role in the lives of citizens.
DP: You have a long history of serving New Jersey on the state level as an assemblywoman. Your Republican opponent, physician and director of a charity medical clinic Dr. Alieta Eck, argues that her background makes her a more solution-oriented, practical, problem-solving candidate. Do you think your background as a politician on the state level will be an advantage or disadvantage in the upcoming election, in terms of how voters perceive it?
BWC: I think my experience in the executive branch of governmentshows that I have an understanding of the way government works, and I believe that my experience as a legislator will be very helpful in understanding the office. I expect that people that look at our backgrounds will see I have a record of accomplishment, I have a record of problem solving, I have a record of bringing different parties together around common and important issues. I’m not going to debate who is more qualified. I think that my track record is long enough to evaluate my effectiveness in government.
DP: There has been a discussion in the media about your cancellation of a debate against Eck that was scheduled to occur Oct. 23. Eck claims that you have declined to reschedule and are too busy to communicate with voters and face questions from an opponent. Can you shed light on why you cancelled the debate and respond to Eck’s criticism?
BWC: We are having a debate at the College of New Jersey on Oct.22. I believe it is at 7 p.m. We did have a conflict on the 23rdbecause President Clinton is coming in to work with me at an event, and it conflicted with the original date, but we are having the debate, and it will actually be our third debate because we debated during the primaries. We are not avoiding anything.
DP: There are many college age students that will be going to the polls come Nov. 4 to cast votes. What element of your campaign, if any, do you think will appeal to these young voters?
BWC: I think my standing on voting rights and women’s rights is very important. I think my support of student Pell Grants, and access to [tuition forgiveness programs], and the ability to repay loans that they incur at an interest rate that is not burdensome to them [is important]. I think the track record that I already have ...on creating opportunity for women and minorities all signal the kind of candidate I am and the kind of public servant I have been.
DP: What, in your opinion, are the biggest differences in campaign platform between you and your opponent, and why are they important?
BWC: I think the greatest distinctions between us are that: a) I believe in a woman’s right to choose and b) I believe that how we are living our lives on this planet affectthe forming of this planet, and we should be investing in alternative energy sources and research and development. I am against the death penalty, and I believe that government has a role in ensuring healthcare is available, accessible and affordable to all its citizens. I don’t know what her campaign is doing. I know that my experience with her on the campaign trail, and our debates, have demonstrated a stark difference in who we are, in what we believe in, and in our campaigns and in our lives.
DP: Do you have any comments on the upcoming elections, in general, that you would like to make to voters, particularly students?
BWC: I think that what I’d like to stress is: because this is a midterm election, candidates tend to have a lower voter turnout. But this is a really important election for both domestic and foreign affairs, and I would encourage young people — young students and young professionals — who sometimes don’t engage unless it is a presidential campaign to look on our website, to look at what the candidates are representing and to recognize that they [need to elect] the candidates who are willing to stand up and be the sole voices for progressive issues. We need ...their vote.