Merging personal life and politics

Republican Tom MacArthur speaks in the Mercer Room on Nov. 23 about his beginnings in New Jersey politics.
Republican Tom MacArthur speaks in the Mercer Room on Nov. 23 about his beginnings in New Jersey politics.

By Thomas Albano

Republican Tom MacArthur has been representing New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District for about 11 months now, meaning the 55-year-old does not have nearly as much political experience as many others in Congress.

MacArthur, who spoke at an event sponsored by the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics in the Mercer Room on Nov. 23, told the audience he “certainly was not destined for politics.” In fact, his parents had differing views on both politics and religion.

“My mother was a liberal Democrat; my father was a very conservative Republican,” MacArthur said. “She was Catholic; he was Protestant, and we fought a lot about religion and politics in my family. Every night that’s what we talked about.”

After graduating from Hofstra, in Hempstead, New York, MacArthur worked in the insurance industry for nearly 30 years. He went from his first job in the field, investigating insurance claims in New York City housing projects, to being the chairman and CEO of an insurance company called York Risk Services Group. MacArthur said he bought the company, which had about 100 people in New York, and grew it to an organization that today employs 6,000 people in more than 100 offices.

It was through growing his business, as well as the teaching of Jewish philosopher Maimonides’ eight levels of charity, that he developed his approach to public policy and found the ultimate need for job creation.

“I discovered that the principles I had learned and experienced in business all those years, they actually work at the public sector as well,” he said. “And when this congressional seat opened up, that’s when I decided that I thought I could make a difference and use things I learned over 30 years in business and see if government could work just a little bit better.”

MacArthur made mention of three challenges he has found over the past year when it comes to governing, along with observations of a way forward. The challenges are that governing is personal, structure drives behavior and differences are real.

MacArthur used health care as an example to describe why politics are personal. He said he looks at it from a business perspective and a local and state perspective, but he also looks at it based on events in his own life.

His biological mother died of cancer when MacArthur was 4, and his father worked three jobs to pay off bills that were finally settled through the help of “an unknown angel” when MacArthur was 19. His first-born daughter was born with “severe handicaps,” and MacArthur and his wife, Debbie, “had over $1 million spent in hospitals.” She passed away at the age of 11. MacArthur’s stepmother also died of cancer five years ago, and his father suffers from Alzheimer’s.

“You have to think those things have shaped the way I approach health care,” he said. “I think Obamacare is the wrong answer, but you better believe I think every American should have health care, and pre-existing conditions should be covered, and I think it’s fine for people to have coverage up to [age 26].”

As for how structure drives behavior, MacArthur said people are being divided more to the right and left by gerrymandering, campaign finance reform and high-dollar entertainment television and radio. He also made mention of “permanent opposition parties,” such as the Freedom Caucus, whom MacArthur described as those who cast themselves as “outside the mainstream.”

Finally, MacArthur said, differences are real. People will strongly fight to the bitter end — and that has always been in true politics.

The former member of the Randolph Township Council, however, sees several ways that can help to move the country forward. One such way is to work with everyone, something that is not easy in a field divided by parties.

In fact, MacArthur says he will walk through the tunnel or elevator that takes him to the Democratic side before he gets to his own party’s area.

“Sometimes it takes me 10 minutes to make that trek because I talk to people,” he said. “When they have a bill they want me to co-sponsor, they feel like they know me a little bit. And when I want them to co-sponsor my bill, I’m not just a name or a face. I’m someone they’ve talked to a few times.”

MacArthur said that actions will always be remembered more than what someone says and there is a big difference between accomplishments and words.

“I didn’t go to Congress just to make noise,” MacArthur said. “I went to Congress to get stuff done. That’s what I did in business for 30 years. That’s all that matters in the end — that we’ve done things that actually improve people’s lives, that we’ve solved problems that are ailing our economy. That’s what matters, and if that’s not why you’re there, then get the hell out.”

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