WILLINGBORO — The race to become New Jersey's next governor will likely garner the most attention, but all 120 seats in the Legislature are also up for grabs in November.
And the elected leaders who sit in those seats will have a huge say about what legislation gets sent to the next governor.
With that in mind, Democrats Troy Singleton, Herb Conaway and Carol Murphy kicked off their election campaign Tuesday, promising to work tirelessly to represent the interests and values of the residents of the 7th Legislative District.
"State officials matter," Singleton said during his remarks at the Willingboro Senior Center. "When you see the degradation and demagoguery that’s coming out of Washington, right now what is buttressing and supporting our democracy will be state officials. It will be state attorney generals, it will be progressive governors, it will be state legislatures."
Singleton, of Palmyra, is running for the 7th District Senate seat of longtime Republican Diane Allen, who is retiring at the end of her term. Allen's decision created an open race for the Senate seat for the first time in decades.
An assemblyman since 2011, Singleton referenced his background as a Willingboro native and product of its schools. He credited Conaway with giving him his first job in government as a legislative director and said he looked forward to continuing his partnership with the longtime assemblyman, who has represented the 7th District since 1998.
"His commitment, his energy, his passion for the over 220,000 men and women of the 7th Legislative District has never wavered, has never waned," Singleton said. "I'm thrilled and honored to once again have this opportunity to continue serving with him."
Singleton also praised Murphy, who is running to fill Singleton's Assembly seat after serving as community relations manager for the New Jersey Schools Development Authority; chief of staff to state Sen. Linda Greenstein, D-14th of Plainsboro; and director of policy and communication for Assemblywoman Gabriela M. Mosquera, D-4th of Gloucester Township.
Singleton is running unopposed in the June 6 primary election and will likely face Republican Rob Prisco, a township committeeman from Riverside, in November.
Conaway, of Delran, and Murphy, of Mount Laurel, are heavily favored to win the Democratic nominations for the Assembly seats. A third Democrat, Jennifer Chuang, of Moorestown, is also running. The two Democratic nominees are expected to face Octavia Scott, of Florence, and Mike Piper, of Delran, who are running unopposed in the Republican primary.
Conaway, who is a practicing physician, considered running for the Senate seat but opted to seek re-election in the Assembly. On Tuesday, he said he was humbled to be representing the district.
"We understand how important the responsibility is, particularly in these times when we see so much discord being fomented in Washington," Conaway said. "And unfortunately, it doesn't just stay in Washington. It reaches right across the country and really right across the world. It just magnifies how important this next election is, and how important it is for people ... to run for offices for the right reasons."
Murphy told the packed senior center how she learned about the value of service from her father, an Army veteran and Bronze Star recipient who died as a result of Agent Orange exposure.
"Like all of you, I've experienced tragedies and struggles," she said. "I want to be on the front lines during the toughest times, fighting for you in Trenton."
She singled out issues such as funding for women's health care, equal pay and common-sense gun control as some of her top priorities. Like Singleton and Conaway, Murphy stressed that New Jersey needs to stand against some of the policy changes coming from Washington.
"Gov. Christie has vetoed Planned Parenthood funding for seven straight years, and a certain eighth veto is coming this spring. This will have left a hole of $60 million in women's health care funding," she said. "When you consider the assault on women's health care in Congress, it is critical we not only restore this funding, but make up for the tsunami heading our way from Washington."
Murphy also noted New Jersey's high property taxes, saying the state must foster shared-service agreements, fully fund schools, and eliminate tax breaks for "millionaires and billionaires."
"Special tax breaks for the rich have shortchanged New Jersey at least $4 billion since 2010. These resources could have funded schools, women's health care, the senior property tax freeze, and reduced your property tax," she said.
Singleton said he and his running mates would work every day to make residents proud to have them as their elected representatives.
"I can guarantee you will not be cheated in service by your commitment to this team," he said.