Women to Watch: Interview with Jennifer Williams, candidate for NJ General Assembly District 15
Jennifer Williams is a Republican candidate for the General Assembly in New Jersey’s 15th district, an area that includes Trenton, the state capital. Jennifer is a life-long resident of Trenton NJ and a first-time candidate. She is one of RWFP’s 2019 Women to Watch — these candidates are committed to working through the legislative process in a bipartisan way in order to create effective policy at the local, state, and national levels.
Why are you a Republican? What does being a Republican mean to you?
I am a Republican because I believe in limited government, individual liberty and freedom. I believe that our government should not be putting barriers in front of us. We have great opportunity to succeed in life if we work hard and sacrifice and believe in ourselves. We can and should have the chance to do anything. However, I believe that equalization of outcomes rather than equalization of opportunities creates problems across all demographics. Being the best we can be requires the freedoms that are enshrined in our Constitution. Overall, I still believe that the Republican Party is usually the best party for protecting those freedoms.
However, as Republican women have seen for a long time — we have to be a greater force inside our party to make sure our leaders don’t betray our principles and that women are stepping up to run for every public office available. I agree with the late Republican U.S. Senator Edward Brooke who said, “in order to change the party, you need to do it from within not without.” What motivates me every day is knowing that my being part of the Republican Party and not leaving is making it better.
All politics is local — what is happening in your community?
New Jerseyans are tired of runaway taxation, ridiculous property taxes structured to support school budgets, obscene government spending and our high cost of living. Plus, we have local issues like poor drinking water and infrastructure issues. It is scary how many people have created an “exit plan” to leave New Jersey when they retire or their kids grow up. And younger and younger people are working on one.
In 2018, New Jersey once again ranked #1 for out-migration according to the United Van Lines National Movers Study. That is not a joke, but a fact. We also had twice as many people run away from our state as ran to our state. Who will stay to create businesses, lead organizations or even make sure that the trains run on time or a lot better than they do now?
I estimate that 7 out of 10 doors I have knocked on have people planning to leave the Garden State. The toughest stories to hear are that of grandparents who have to sell their homes to move in order to see their grandkids. They are moving to Florida, South Carolina, Texas and other states because they cannot afford to stay. It is heartbreaking. Jersey was never cheap, but it has never been this bad. That is why I am running for the Assembly now. I want my children to choose to live in New Jersey, not have New Jersey choose for them.
Voters are also talking a lot about the environment. In my district, clean drinking water is a big issue. We have lead lined pipes. We are forced to buy bottled water, which is not only another cost to everyone and especially to low-income residents who can least afford these extra expenses. This also results in more solid waste — all those bottles are not recycled. What I will do if I am elected to the Assembly in November is to put forth legislation to create a no- or low-interest loan program to help municipalities that have municipally owned water systems. Privatizing the water system does not solve the problem. These water issues will not just go away.
Why do you think the cost of living in NJ is so high?
A lot of it is driven by the education system. We have an administrative structure that is unnecessary. We also have a culture of “we can’t do anything about this.” People just accept education funding. My generation, Generation X, we are seeing the writing on the wall that we can’t function as a state fiscally the way we are now. We will be the ones who will carry the burden. Other states have property tax systems that are not built around school systems. We need to look at alternatives.
It is not just education. Beach fees, taxes on Airbnbs, taxes on shipping and handling fees, there are a lot of costs NJ passes onto the middle class. We need to change the government dogma of runaway taxation.
What will be your strategy to get bills passed in Trenton?
Compromise is not a dirty word. I want to work on both sides of the aisle and in the middle. At the end of the day you have to be willing to keep your eyes on the prize. Are we going to fix our state and make it more fair and equitable for everyone, or go by the way of California and become a stratified state? A formerly golden state where you have the wealthy, the poor and a dwindling middle class? That’s what I’m really fearful about. We can’t give up.
We cannot solve the problems with just more taxes. For example, the recently defeated “Millionaires Tax” sends such a bad message. It penalizes success. It is not going to help our state. Over time a millionaires tax will inhibit other generations forcing the most economically successful to move out of NJ. We can’t accept mediocrity. Mediocrity to me is un-American. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be the best we can be. By lifting up yourself you lift society up.
Is there a story that you like to tell that gives people insight into what makes you tick?
I am the youngest of seven from an Irish Catholic working class family in Trenton. My Dad served in the Pacific in WWII. I have five older brothers and two nephews in the military: four Marines and one each in the Air Force, Army, Navy and Coast Guard. While I didn’t serve in the military myself, service has always been very important to my family and to me. When my older brothers would come home on leave, I had so many great opportunities to sit on our kitchen radiator and hear them talk about the world and their experience. Eventually, I got old enough to ask questions and get their perspectives on the geo-political conflicts of the day and how they can impact our lives.
This all came home for me when I was in high school. On July 13, 1985, the very day of Live Aid and which happened to be the day of my lone sister’s wedding — my brother’s ship was sent to the coast of Beirut, Lebanon because of Hezbollah’s hijacking of TWA Flight 847 and their killing of Navy diver Robert Stethem at the Beirut Airport. My brother’s leave was immediately cancelled and his ship was stationed off the coast of Lebanon to be ready if a rescue attempt could be launched to save the 146 passengers and crew onboard the TWA plane. We terribly missed him at my sister’s wedding and he had made all kinds of arrangements to fly home from Gibraltar — until duty called. World events became very personal for our family during that time and I’ll never forget how faraway decisions made at a macro-level can influence what happens on the micro-level.
Anything else you would like to add?
There is one thing I’d like to add: I feel that what I’m doing is not only a blessing, but the epitome of being a good American — running for public office, being in the arena of ideas and working to make my community better. The signers of the Declaration may not have envisioned women as political leaders and public officials, but the fact that our founders gave us a framework where today I can be running for elected office is of great importance to me. Running for elected office has been one of the best experiences of my life. I love the feeling of knocking on a voter’s door — you don’t know who will open it or what they will ask of you or if you can get them to vote for you by meeting them. It is quite an adrenalin rush.
You can learn more about Jennifer and her campaign by visiting her website.