By Gianluca D’Elia
The average age of a New Jersey assemblyperson is 54, and there are only 10 millennials within the 80-member legislative body, according to Rutgers’ Eagleton Institute of Politics. However, one Rider student is determined to claim a seat in the State Assembly this coming November.
Senior history major Aasim Johnson launched a campaign to represent the Democratic Party in the 2017 June primary election for New Jersey’s 11th legislative district, which encompasses 18 towns in Monmouth County.
“Last year after Hillary Clinton lost, a lot of people were disappointed,” Johnson recalled. “But I’m someone who, if things don’t go the way I want them to go, I do something about them. I don’t just want to post on Facebook and do nothing.
“That being said, I wasn’t doing much of anything after she lost. But then a friend of mine came to me about possibly running for some type of office. I thought, if I were to run for anything, it would be the State Assembly, because a lot of changes that affect people’s lives the most are at the state and federal level.”
The district Johnson is running in has two Democratic incumbents, so he said the campaign will be an “uphill battle.”
Johnson said his campaign’s platform is titled “Putting Families First.”
“This plan focuses on the most important group within any city or town, which is the family,” said Johnson’s campaign manager, junior political science major Jelani Walker. “With this focus in mind, the Johnson campaign will travel through the district, finding out what more families need to prosper. This will be a long race ahead of us to the June primaries, but I am confident that we have what it takes to make it to the finish line and win.”
“In the noise of past campaigns, people don’t talk about families anymore, or making them whole, or empowering them,” Johnson explained.
According to Johnson, “Putting Families First” is made up of five points. The first is to address the opioid addiction problem in both his district and statewide, which Johnson said “really tears apart and ravages families.”
The second point is to improve public education.
“I want to close the gap for those students in my district who aren’t doing as well as other districts,” Johnson said.
Johnson also wants to focus on improving the foster care system.
“I grew up in foster care so I can see how the system has helped me, and I would like to reach back to help some people, and to see if the state could be doing more by them,” Johnson explained.
Johnson’s fourth point is about the transportation trust fund.
“Now that the trust fund will be reauthorized for the next eight years and there’s some $32 billion worth of new building projects, we have to make sure some of that money goes to building new roads and bridges,” Johnson stated.
The fifth and last part of his platform is helping families who are still waiting for state and government funding from Hurricane Sandy.
“This October, we’ll be five years removed, and a lot of people are still waiting for relief. We have to do right by them,” Johnson noted. “Their whole families and ways of life were torn up.”
Johnson has spent the past semester organizing his campaign with the assistance of a campaign manager, a campaign treasurer, a legislative director, a district coordinator — and the people in those positions are actually Rider students.
“If you were to go back in time and tell me from three years ago that I would be campaign manager for a political campaign, I wouldn’t believe it,” said Walker. “Juggling the campaign, class, and campus organizations can be difficult but being able to work for a political candidate I truly believe in is its own reward.”
Johnson accredited part of his success in getting his name on the ballot to his involvement on campus, in addition to history and political science classes.
“I feel like I’ve learned a lot from my professors,” Johnson said. “Even just being involved in campus and being part of different clubs has taught me a lot about people skills and teamwork.”
Johnson said it is “rare but not unheard of” to be a young candidate for State Assembly. After all, the age requirement is only 21.
“If you’re unhappy, instead of complaining about something, you should go out and do something,” he said. “I’m running because I really want to make change and I believe that I can.”
Originally printed in 4/12/17 edition.