May 25, 2019 | 69° F

In the final days of the NJ governor's race, these are the issues that Rutgers students are prioritizing

Murphy currently maintains a 14-point lead over Guadagno in the polls

Photo by Dimitri Rodriguez |

With voting less than one week away, Rutgers students opened up about the issues that are shaping New Jersey’s gubernatorial election. Among students’ top concerns are education, marijuana legalization and environmentalism.

It is officially November. Fall is in full swing, and for those who stay informed regarding state and local politics, that can only mean one thing — New Jersey is on track to hold its gubernatorial election next week.

On Nov. 7, registered voters will head to the polls to cast their ballot in the vote for governor. Taking into account third party candidates, there are seven candidates in the running, but the competition has been primarily dominated by Democrat Phil Murphy and his Republican opponent Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno (R-N.J.), according to NJ Advanced Media.

The latest poll of likely voters shows Guadagno trailing Murphy by a 14-point gap.

With a new governor on the way, many New Jerseyans may research potential candidates and their views. Yet a problem has arisen during this election — it is barely getting any attention. In fact, NJ Advanced Media reported that 53 percent of likely voters do not know Murphy's stance on the issues, while 57 percent said the same about Guadagno.

Two important issues in the upcoming election, according to students at Rutgers University, are environmentalism and marijuana legalization. 

New Jersey is unique in that the gubernatorial election is held in an off-year, rather than during the same year as national elections. Prior to changes to the state constitution in 1994, the governor served a term of only three years. 

This stipulation was reportedly written into the state constitution to insulate local elections from national politics.

This election can be seen in many ways as a litmus test on the current state of national politics, though voter turnout is expected to be low. 

Recently, Murphy took a stand against President Donald J. Trump’s threat to crack down on "sanctuary cities" by declaring that if he were elected, Murphy would make New Jersey a "sanctuary state," The Daily Targum reported. In turn, Guadagno has used his statement to make a series of ads, claiming that Murphy is soft on immigration issues.

Of the likely voters registered in the Garden State, exit polls from the presidential election show that nearly 20 percent were from the age group 18-29.

This is why Rutgers students are expected to have such a notable impact on the election's outcome. 

Genevieve Tarino is a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences senior studying environmental policy, institutions and behavior. She said the issues most important to her this election are obvious given her field of study.

“The most important topics in this election are environmental issues and recreational marijuana legalization,” Tarino said. “Our economy doesn’t exist without a functioning and well-balanced environment. We need to plan for posterity and think critically about the detrimental effects of our actions. The environment needs to be protected.”

In terms of legalizing recreational marijuana, Tarino said the state needs to get on board now to give New Jersey a good stake in the growing industry. She said the tax revenue that the state can bring in is enormous and will eventually benefit all parties involved in the long term. 

Matthew Choucrallah is a School of Criminal Justice junior at Rutgers—Newark, and believes that the most important issues in the gubernatorial election are environmental issues and that New Jersey needs to develop a green economy in order to be self-sustainable in the future.

“For me, the most important changes I want to see come out of this election are regarding environmental initiatives, drug laws and education reform,” Choucrallah said. “It would be a very smart tactical move for New Jersey to follow in Colorado’s footsteps and legalize recreational marijuana. The state government will gain tax revenue with it. With that money, I think that they can even fund environmental projects and green initiatives that will help New Jersey thrive in a future ravaged by climate change.”

He elaborated further on his views of the state's education policy, which is also a hot topic among students at the University.

“The budget should allow more spending for education on the whole,” Choucrallah said. “There needs to be legislative reform focused on refinancing student debt in New Jersey as well. If that was put on the table and bills were being written, I’d even be in favor of funding free community college.”

While some support specific policy ideas like plans to mitigate student debt with federal funding or additional environmental regulations on corporations, other students are not quite so sure what they want out of this election.

Nicole Malzone is a School of Nursing senior who said she is not quite sure what is actually important this election.

“To be honest, I’m not too familiar with the issues currently being debated between the two candidates, but I do know that we need to clean up Christie’s mess,” Malzone said. “I feel like there are too many distractions, misleading headlines and scandals nowadays that it’s hard to keep up with what really matters to New Jersey. Plus, I haven’t really heard anything about it lately.”

Students decisively trend toward the Democratic Party, and Murphy is leading in polls, but in the past, polls have been incorrect. Considering this is an off-year election, many may wonder if students and young people will vote in large numbers.

“I'll be voting for Murphy because I'm a sucker for the progressive and environmentally friendly platforms championed by Democrats right now,” Tarino said. “(Guadagno) was deeply entangled in that hot mess of an administration. In my opinion, she and Christie deserve to share a jail cell after all that they have done.”

Choucrallah echoed a similar view.

“I’m voting for (Murphy),” Choucrallah said. “He’s the only one who’s platform remotely lines up with my views or would even consider any ideas that voters can bring to the table. Guadagno seems like she will just be a continuation of Chris Christie’s policies which weren’t the best for our state.”

Students can check their local polling location for a time schedule and additional information. 

Daniel Israel

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