By Sade Calin
Funding education, improving New Jersey’s economy and achieving marriage equality were emphasized by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono, who spoke to Rider students, faculty and staff on Oct. 22.
The event was a part of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics’ Governing New Jersey series.
“I’m going to speak from the heart because I think that works best,” said Buono, who is currently a state senator serving the 18th Legislative District. “I am the little guy. I’ve always been the underdog.”
Running a challenging race against Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who holds a sizable lead in the polls, Buono stressed her belief in the value of government funding for colleges and universities.
“We need to reverse this governor’s disinvestment in higher education,” she said. “Christie has made many cuts to higher education. He cut $1 billion from New Jersey’s education system his first year in office. I’ll spend my first year reinvesting in it.”
Buono said she had to work three jobs to put herself through school at Montclair State College, and relied on loans and government assistance to finance law school. She documented her story and emphasized that her own history allows her to relate to the struggles of college students today.
“The daughter of James Buono, an Italian immigrant who dropped out of high school and became a butcher, is running for governor of the state of New Jersey,” Buono said. “Now that, my friends, is the American dream, and that’s what I’m fighting for, a better tomorrow.”
Buono said her first priority as governor will be making sure every child has that same opportunity.
Buono has a strong background in public service. She won a seat on the Metuchen Borough Council in 1992, where she successfully helped stabilize tax rates without jeopardizing both quality and availability of local services. She also served as the Metuchen Police Commissioner, recruiting women and minorities into the police force. Buono served seven years in the General Assembly, where she was a member of the Assembly Budget Committee.
The candidate expressed her belief that there should not be a debate about raising the state minimum wage of $7.25 to $8.50 — a measure that Christie has fought against.
According to Buono, New Jersey is one of the highest cost-of-living states in the nation, but has the lowest minimum wage allowed by the federal government.
Rebecca Grossman, senior, political science and global studies double major, said that she felt Buono was a fantastic speaker.
“She has a lot of emotional appeal,” Grossman said. “She provided a lot of criticisms of the Christie campaign. I wish she said a little more about her political objectives. But overall I learned a lot about her as a person and as a leader.”
Buono also addressed Christie’s lack of support for policies that would result in equal pay.
“Not only has this governor stood against the middle class and working students, he has actively stood against women,” Buono said.
Christie, according to Buono, has also refused to provide state funding for Planned Parenthood. In response to criticism about his decisions, Buono quoted Christie as saying, “I’m anti-choice. Take it or leave it.”
Buono mentioned that Christie has opposed giving gay New Jersey citizens the right to marry.
She illustrated this point through a story of a response Christie gave at a recent debate when asked how he would he treat marriage equality if one of his children were gay.
She said he replied, “I would give them a hug, but still believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.”
“Our gay brothers and sisters don’t need a hug,” Buono said. “They need someone who is going to fight for their right to marry.”
The polls suggest that Christie is a shoo-in for governor, but Buono does not agree.
“People may say that this election is over, but let me tell you this: As a woman in N.J. politics, I’ve always been underestimated,” she said.
Buono explained in detail how she was discouraged in every election she has taken part in, even within her own party, but as a woman who is used to “figuring it out” she refuses to let someone tell her when it is her turn.
During the Q&A that followed her speech, a student asked Buono about her plans for a recovering economy. She replied by saying she has a plan in which students and education play a central role.
Christie is promoting “Mitt Romney trickle-down economics,” she said. “The kind of economics we’ve rejected for the past eight years.”
The president of Rider’s College Democrats Club Matt Laurinavicius, asked Buono to review the major points of her platform for those students who may not be familiar with them.
Buono stated that if elected, her primary concerns would be: to invest in public education; address middle-class tax relief; increase the minimum wage by tying it to the cost of living; restore the income-tax credit that many working families relied on; stand up against the gun lobby that Christie continues to pacify; have someone legislate and codify the lower court ruling on marriage equality and sign it into law; and focus on tuition equality.
Buono closed her address by saying that she believes “a human being is fueled by opportunity, not deprivation.”
She hopes that students make their voices heard on Nov. 5 so that, as governor, she may advocate for them to have that opportunity.