By John Burton
MIDDLETOWN – The Bayshore Tea Party Group is not happy and is calling for change within Monmouth County government and those representing the area in Trenton, much to the consternation of the county Republican Party establishment.
The battle is over who best represents core conservative values for the district and county.
The group has mounted primary challenges to incumbent GOP members in the 13th Legislative District, looking to topple Republican stalwart Senator Joseph Kyrillos Jr. and incumbent Assembly members Declan O’Scanlon and Amy Handlin. Tea party members also are running against incumbent GOP freeholders Thomas A. Arnone and Serena DiMaso and Sheriff Shaun Golden in the June 4 primary election, aiming to continue on and run against Democratic candidates in the November general election.
The challengers are running on the Republicans for Conservative Leadership ticket.
Those running on the ticket are: Leigh-Ann Bellew of Union Beach for Senate, who in 2006 had run against U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone for the 6th Congressional District; Edna Walsh and Stephen Boracchia, both from Atlantic Highlands, for Assembly; Daniel Peters of Middletown for sheriff; and Brian Largey and Edward Perkansky, both from Middletown, to run as freeholders.
The tea party challenge is “disappointing to me,” said John O. Bennett III, the county Republican chairman, who contends he has made continued overtures to the tea party group to play a role in the county organization. “I have tried to have all factions of the party to unify.”
Barbara Gonzalez, a Leonardo resident who co-founded the area branch of the national political conservative movement in 2009, said her group and other tea party organizations initially felt a natural alliance to the Republican Party and its philosophy. “Over time we started to find out that that’s not the case,” she charged. “The Republican Party has let us down, let us down big time, nationally and locally.”
Gonzalez said the consensus among her group is that the GOP establishment has simply paid lip service to issues that are main concerns for her group. They include such areas as fiscal conservatism, gun-owner rights and rising property-tax rates. The group, she said, has lobbied for the incumbents to offer their voices on the issues. “We got nothing,” in response, Gonzalez said. “They don’t have our backs.”
Bennett said what’s most surprising is that the group is targeting a slate of office holders who do well in general elections and, especially on the state level ticket. The candidates are “very well regarded” from all in the political realm and are “incumbents who are all fiscally conservative,” he said.
“I’m not doubting their sincerity so much as their lack of ability and leadership,” said Assembly candidate Boracchia about the incumbents. He said taxes have continued to rise with the current elected group. “My feeling is that government should be small, much smaller than it is. It’s too intrusive.”
“I hope Monmouth County always stays Republican. I’m Republican, I’m conservative,” said Peters, the sheriff’s office candidate. “But I think sometimes politicians are in office too long, whether Democrat or Republican, and sometimes they take things for granted and it becomes an entitlement culture.”
Declan O’Scanlon of Little Silver, who has been a 13th District assemblyman since 2008, quickly ticked off his and Republicans’ accomplishments under the Christie administration. He pointed to state employee pension and health care benefits reform and especially to the 2 percent property tax cap, calling it “the single greatest transfer of power from politicians in Trenton to the local level.”
O’Scanlon said that challenge uses resources now that the party should be using for the general election in November to help the GOP minority win additional seats in Trenton. “Ronald Reagan would be turning over in his grave hearing how these particular Republicans were behaving,” he said.
“I can’t take a primary challenge from the tea party lightly,” Bennett said. “They’ve demonstrated repeatedly their ability to get votes out.”
That is the key and the strategy, he explained, forcing the organization to spend money. “I would rather be spending those resources in November,” he said.
In addition to the county races, the 13th District is made up of 16 Monmouth County municipalities in the Bayshore area, from Aberdeen to Monmouth Beach, and includes Fair Haven, Little Silver and Rumson, and Marlboro.