#JerseyRoadTrip: 21 counties in 7 days

I finished up a week long road trip last week, crisscrossing the state to hear from as many New Jerseyans as possible about what matters most to them. In the process, I visited all 21 counties in New Jersey.

I was amazed, encouraged, challenged and inspired by the New Jerseyans I met along the way. In every town and county I visited with my team, I noticed new and different things about our great state, but I was also reminded at each stop of a constant truth, best said by one our state’s greatest storytellers: in New Jersey, we take care of our own.

At each stop — whether at a small café or a giant chocolate factory, a prison or a college, a military installation or a soup kitchen — I encountered everyday New Jersey heroes. The people I met demonstrate extraordinary compassion, service and courage in the work that they do and the lives they lead. I couldn’t be more inspired by or more proud to represent them in the U.S. Senate.

Each of the New Jerseyans I came across during our week long road trip — nurses, national guardsmen, small business owners, prison guards, public defenders, prosecutors, doctors, factory workers, veterans, students, the formerly incarcerated, law enforcement and emergency responders — work hard at their jobs. They work to put food on the table, to send kids to school, to make our communities stronger and to make our state a better place.

These New Jerseyans don’t see a Democratic or a Republican way to do their jobs, they just do them. They don’t just talk about the futures they want for themselves and their families, they make their goals reality through their actions. These New Jerseyans, all New Jerseyans, deserve to be served by a federal government that does the same.

This road trip left me more motivated and inspired to get back to work in Washington to serve our state.

Here’s a recap of some of the highlights of my travels.

Day 1: Wednesday, August 3, 2016

We kicked off the #JerseyRoadTrip on Wednesday August, 3rd with a veterans roundtable and town hall at Sussex County Community College, alongside officials from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It was an honor to hear from many of our state’s heroes, our veterans, who came out to share their experiences.

I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to work closely with Senator Menendez and other members of the New Jersey delegation on addressing lapses in veterans’ healthcare and extending critical programs like the AL-TBI program for veterans suffering from traumatic brain injuries.

And I’m proud to have introduced legislation like the STARTUP Vets Act, which would provide much needed grant assistance specifically geared towards empowering veteran entrepreneurs.

But I also know there’s so much work left to do, our roundtable left me with a deeper understanding of the urgency of the challenges our veterans face.

This country exists because of our nation’s veterans, who generation to generation, have served courageously and honorably, never failing to rise to the challenges facing this great nation. We don’t turn our backs on our heroes when they need us, we step up for them.

I was so excited to visit the M&M Mars plant, which has been in Warren County since 1958. After meeting with some folks from Mars, I held a town hall with over 200 employees where we discussed everything from college debt to workforce development.
I was glad to end day one by participating in another town hall, this time at BASF in Morris County. BASF is over 150 years old and employs thousands of New Jerseyans, I was impressed by the work they are doing to innovate and become more energy efficient. I was proud to discuss my efforts to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act which will provide the EPA with more resources to better protect consumers from harmful chemicals.

Day 2: Thursday, August 4, 2016

I was eager to start Day 2 of our tour, particularly because two of our stops were going to be focused on our criminal justice system.

At our first stop in Cumberland County, we visited the Fairton Federal Correctional Institution, a federal prison where I had the opportunity to speak with officers and inmates about their experiences.

Seeing a federal prison firsthand and meeting with officers and incarcerated people was an experience that reinforced to me the urgent need to reform a system that puts costly confinement before rehabilitation, fairness, and common sense.

The United States of America incarcerates more people than any other country on Earth. Almost one in four incarcerated people in the world are imprisoned here in America.

And at the federal level, the majority of these people incarcerated are non-violent offenders.

Our broken criminal justice system has burdened tax payers, has broken communities, and torn apart families.

And the communities that can least afford it — people of color, the poor, and those suffering from mental illnesses — are being disproportionately burdened by our broken justice system.

These facts belie who we are as a people, they betray our national values.

But this isn’t who we have to be, we have a choice, more specifically, Congress has a choice.

I’ve been proud to be involved in criminal justice reform efforts in the Senate since I was elected. I’ve worked with colleagues from across the country and across the aisle on legislation that would start to fix our broken criminal justice system.

I am proud to have cosponsored the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, a critical justice reform bill that would start to fix our broken justice system. The legislation would enable prosecutors and judges to maintain critical tools for prosecuting violent offenders and high-level drug traffickers, while giving judges more discretion in sentencing and reducing mandatory minimum penalties for nonviolent low-level drug offenders.

And our bill has the support of over 400 different groups from a diverse array of political, geographic, professional and religious backgrounds.

We put this sentencing reform bill forward because we know that so many states have already led the way. California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Utah have all lowered their prison populations and simultaneously saw crime drop.

Fixing our broken justice system isn’t a northern issue or a southern issue, an eastern or western, black or white, or Republican or Democrat, it’s a deeply American issue.

We have a crisis in our criminal justice system, and its time Congress addresses it.

I am eager to get back to work and to vote on this bill.

Later in the day, we continued our conversation on strategies to reduce mass incarceration and reform our system with U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Camden County Chief of Police Scott Thomson, and the Reverend William N. Heard at Kaighn Avenue Baptist Church in Camden.
I joined New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney at the PSEG Nuclear Plant in Salem County where we discussed the role of nuclear energy in helping to create a more sustainable energy future.
I also visited Rowan University, where I was glad to speak with over 150 bright students of the Educational Opportunity Fund Class of 2020.

Day 3: Friday August 5, 2016

We started Day 3 early with a meeting with business and elected leaders in Cape May County to discuss tourism and economic development. Then I moved north to Atlantic County to visit Egg Harbor Township and Atlantic City’s 177th Air National Guard Fighter Wing. I have been working with Congressman Lobiondo and the brave men and women of the 177th Fighter Wing to update the capabilities of their fleet of F-16 fighter jets and to obtain a F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to be housed on the 177th’s base.

We then headed to Long Beach Island to meet with officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Philadelphia District and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to discuss ongoing beach replenishment efforts. Even though Superstorm Sandy struck New Jersey almost four years ago, our recovery throughout the state and especially along the shore is still an active process.

As Mayor of Newark when Superstorm Sandy hit, I saw firsthand the devastation that the storm brought and the goodness it brought out in so many New Jerseyans. From courageous first responders to compassionate neighbors, New Jerseyans responded to the storm by coming together. But the severity of the storm has necessitated a years-long recovery and a commitment from the federal government to support areas most affected by the storm. Over the past four years, New Jerseyans have diligently and patiently worked with federal agencies to put their lives back together

I’ve been proud to partner with Senator Menendez and many of our colleagues in the House as we work to make sure federal agencies like FEMA and the SBA are held accountable to the people of New Jersey. We’re also working to make sure that when the next big storm hits our shoreline, we’ve rebuilt our infrastructure so that it can withstand it.

Day 4: Saturday, August 6, 2016

On Day 4, I traveled to Somerset County and then to Lambertville and had a blast visiting some amazing small businesses with Mayor David Delvecchio.

New Jersey small businesses aren’t just businesses — they are so often meeting places and centers of innovation that nourish, nurture and empower our communities.

Our small businesses are engines of economic growth that propel our state and provide meaningful opportunities for our workforce. New Jersey small businesses account for over half of all private sector jobs in our state.

In order to enable our businesses throughout New Jersey and America to create more jobs, we need federal policies that encourage growth and expansion. As a member of the Senate’s Small Business Committee, I was proud to introduce the Manufacturing Investment Company Act of 2015 to enable small businesses to finance expansion plans, particularly when it comes to manufacturing.

I’m also working with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to expedite the availability of small business loan data, particularly for minority and women owned businesses. If we’re going to remain competitive in a global economy, we can’t afford to leave anyone on the sidelines.

Day 5: Monday, August 8, 2016

I started the fifth day of the Jersey road trip by participating in a forum with the Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy alongside Senator Menendez at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston. Dr. Murthy is currently traveling across the country on a mission to work with states, cities, and communities to tackle the opioid epidemic.

Communities across New Jersey and the country are dealing with a major public health crisis, families have been broken and communities torn apart by the harrowing disease of opioid abuse and heroin addiction. Here in New Jersey, the heroin death rate is more than three times the national average. We know that this is an epidemic that doesn’t discriminate: opioid and heroin abuse and addictions cross geographic, economic and racial lines.

To tackle this crisis, no one group can do it alone. Doctors and nurses working tirelessly on behalf of their patients can’t do it alone. Law enforcement officials putting their lives on the line every day for their communities can’t do it alone. Local and state officials working on highly specialized strategies can’t do it alone. Even President Obama, his administration and dedicated officials like Dr. Murthy can’t do it alone.

Congress had the opportunity to help strengthen these efforts through a bipartisan bill, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2015. I was proud to cosponsor this bill which would have provided real support to the agencies and officials that need it, increasing resources to help addicts get treatment, expanding the availability of naloxone to law enforcement and promoting best practices for treatment and intervention. But when the Democratic amendment that would actually fund this bill’s intended purpose was struck down, the bill was gutted of its most effective means to provide support to the people fighting this crisis. There’s no excuse for why this bill wasn’t properly funded.

I was honored to attend the swearing in ceremony of Judge Brian R. Martinotti to serve as a United States District Judge for the District of New Jersey. Judge Martinotti is the first Bergen County resident since 1929 to be appointed to a federal district court. I was proud to recommend Judge Martinotti to President Obama as one of my first judicial recommendations. I know he will serve our state and our country skillfully and honorably.
We ended the day with the Bergen Office of Emergency Management for a demonstration and test flight of their Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) equipment — or, drones. Our first responders, police and fire departments do so much to keep our communities safe and they deserve to have the best tools and resources to do their jobs effectively and safely. I am excited by the potential lifesaving uses that new technologies like drones can have for our first responders and the communities they serve and have been proud to work with colleagues across the aisle to promote innovation in this field.

Day 6: Tuesday, August 9, 2016

We kicked off the second to last day of our tour with a roundtable with leaders from New Jersey’s Latino community at William Paterson University.

New Jersey’s Latino community is such an important and valuable part of our state. I was excited to sit down with some of our state’s Latino community leaders and hear their perspectives on some of the most urgent issues facing our state and our country.

When it comes to addressing challenges that Latino communities face, the stakes are high for all Americans. Yet for all of the rich contributions people of Latino heritage bring to our state, huge gaps in opportunity persist for too many Latinos and their families.

For too long, our country’s broken justice system has unfairly burdened Latinos and Latino communities across the country. From the school to prison pipeline to the juvenile justice system to mandatory minimum sentencing — Latinos are overrepresented in our broken justice system. We need to pass comprehensive criminal justice reform legislation to begin to fix these deep seeded issues.

We need to pass comprehensive immigration reform. We can and we must provide pathways to citizenship while also doing more to secure our borders.

And more than just disavow, we need to counteract and defeat the rhetoric that suggests Latino Americans are somehow less patriotic or less deserving of the rights and opportunities of this nation. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Next, we headed over to Hudson County Community College where I had the opportunity to discuss the value and power of apprenticeship programs. Here in New Jersey, the youth unemployment rate is higher than the national average. We know that apprenticeships are a proven way to enable young people to learn valuable skills while providing businesses with a meaningful tax credit and that we should be doing more with them. I was proud to introduce the bipartisan LEAP Act, which would provide a paid-for federal tax credit to businesses to develop apprenticeship programs. We can and we should leverage the power of apprenticeships for the good of young people and businesses alike.
At Kean University, I was proud to host a diverse group of people, from advocates to public defenders to formerly incarcerated young people for a forum on the juvenile justice system. Our justice system’s failures often weigh heaviest on our young people, and our juvenile justice system desperately needs reform. If passed, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act would ban cruel and unnecessary solitary confinement of juveniles in federal custody, a practice that has destroyed too many young lives already.
I was so happy to visit Elijah’s Promise again, Eiljah’s Promise is a New Brunswick community soup kitchen that doesn’t just offer a warm meal, but innovative training and employment programs for those looking for work. I’ve been moved by the people I’ve met there during my many visits over the last 2 years.

Day 7: Wednesday August 10, 2016

I began the final day of our Jersey road trip with some amazing and inspiring young people at the Alice Paul Institute in Mount Laurel. I had the opportunity to learn about the work of the courageous and inspiring New Jersey suffragist, Alice Paul, and talk to some of the young women carrying on her legacy who make up the Institute’s Girls Advisory Council.

We simply cannot expect to succeed as a nation unless we’re ensuring that women and girls across the country have equal opportunities at success.

The young women I spoke were intelligent, inspiring and courageous — they reflect the very best of who we are as a country and deserve to live in an America that sees and empowers the very best in them.

There’s no reason these young women shouldn’t grow up in an America that pays them equally for the work they do, that empowers them to start and run their own businesses, that encourages them to pursue careers in science, math and engineering, that respects their right to make their own healthcare decisions and that doesn’t force them to choose between having a family and a successful career. There’s more we can be doing at the federal level to make this America real for them and for all of us.

Our second to last stop on the tour was a visit to one of New Jersey’s largest employers at Bristol-Myers Squibb in Lawrenceville.
We finished our road trip with a visit to the 40th Annual Italian Festival in Ocean Township. I had so much fun hanging out with Mayor Siciliano and all the New Jerseyans who came out to enjoy the delicious food.

I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to travel from end to end of our state and meet so many inspiring New Jerseyans. I’m so thankful for my staff and their commitment to seeing all 21 counties in 7 days. None of this trip would have been possible if it weren’t for my dedicated and caring team.

If I didn’t make it to your town this time around, please don’t hesitate and reach out to see if we can plan something in the future.

This road trip left me feeling inspired and encouraged to get back to work in the Senate. There’s more the federal government can be doing to empower New Jerseyans.

I strongly believe in the ability and promise of the U.S. Senate to bring about positive change for New Jersey and our country, and I look forward to getting back to work.