By KATIE MOEN
AREA — Senator Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) has not officially announced his intentions to run for governor in 2024…at least not yet.
Last month, however, as part of a non-partisan conversational series hosted by Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU), the longtime Republican representative of the 21st District said he is certainly giving it some consideration.
The discussion, hosted by political analyst Peter Wooley and sponsored by the university’s School of Public and Global Affairs, covered many of the same topics posed to other potential gubernatorial candidates — including Jack Ciattarelli, a former assemblyman who ran against Governor Phil Murphy in 2021 — during similar events held earlier this year. Throughout the course of the 90-minute conversation, Sen. Bramnick touched on the challenges surrounding NJ Transit, affordable housing, overdevelopment, gambling, pensions and pay-to-play politics.
Though Mr. Bramnick was able to secure a second term in the State Senate last month, this year’s election cycle proved to be a challenging one for New Jersey Republicans as a whole, with GOP representatives losing a number of coveted seats in the state legislature to Democratic rivals.
When asked about his party’s poor showing at the polls, Sen. Bramnick said that the GOP’s current national image — especially when coupled with the re-emergence of former President Donald Trump — probably did not help.
“He’s back in the news, and he’s presenting himself alongside people who think January 6 was just a little picnic,” the senator said, adding that the GOP’s recent decision to appoint Mike Johnson, a congressman from Louisiana who has repeatedly denied the results of the 2020 Presidential election, as the new Speaker of the House of Representatives, also was likely problematic.
“The image of the Republicans from Washington, where they can’t pick a speaker — and then they pick a speaker who doesn’t believe the election was real — does not help Republicans in New Jersey,” Sen. Bramnick continued. “As long as we’re defined by these Republicans who won’t accept the decision of courts, we’re in big trouble.”
And while Mr. Bramnick did call for better representation, compromise and communication at the national level, he said there are still plenty of pressing issues to address right here in New Jersey.
“I want to start with residential housing,” Sen. Bramnick said in response to a question raised by Mr. Wooley about suburban sprawl and overdevelopment. “If the legislature wants residential development and affordable housing, it should pass a law. Show up and vote. Don’t leave it to the courts. This current system is costly and absurd.”
Mr. Bramnick, who served nine terms as a member of the General Assembly before being elected to the State Senate in 2021, used Westfield as one example of a community that has been “seriously impacted” by the state’s current litany of housing mandates.
“Right now, you have chaos in the court, chaos in the municipalities and you have overdevelopment because one judge sat there and decided how many units would have to be built in this neighborhood. It’s ridiculous,” Sen. Bramnick said, adding that the devolution of regional contribution agreements — a bygone system that allowed municipalities to pay money to redevelop urban centers instead of having to institute their own affordable- housing plans — also was at fault.
And while affordable housing and new development opportunities may be on the rise across the state, Sen. Bramnick said New Jersey will have to find a way to better balance its obligations to future and potential residents against the changing needs and concerns of its current population.
“People are concerned about crime in this state, they’re concerned about affordability, and they’re concerned about whether or not they want to stay here in the future,” he said.
Senator Bramnick also touched on NJ Transit and emphasized the need to improve commuter services throughout the state as a way to help stabilize the area’s fluctuating population.
“New Jersey Transit, without federal assistance, is going to have a $1-billion deficit,” he said. “The bottom line is money, and this is one area that I’d be willing to invest in. People say, ‘Republicans don’t raise taxes,’ but let me tell you something: if you don’t get people to work, people aren’t living in New Jersey. Simple as that.”
The conversation was livestreamed and can be viewed in its entirety on the School of Public and Global Affairs at the Fairleigh Dickinson University Facebook page.