Congressman LoBiondo Meets with Potential New Constituents
The Tuckerton Republican Club invited Congressman Frank LoBiondo to speak at their regular May 24 meeting and beforehand he had spent a few hours with Tuckerton Mayor Buck Evans and council members touring Tuckerton Seaport.
“I already represent the blueberry capital of the state, and now I’m thrilled to be representing the decoy capitol of the world,” said the tanned congressman, whose district includes the Hammonton blueberry farms in Atlantic County.
LoBiondo is the representative for the 2nd Congressional District, which encompasses all of Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Salem counties, part of Burlington and Camden counties and now starting in January, a portion of Southern Ocean County that will include Tuckerton, Little Egg Harbor and Eagleswood townships, Long Beach Island and part of Stafford Township.
LoBiondo explained that after the 2010 census, New Jersey lost one congressional district. Because there was a big population shift from North Jersey to the southern states, the redistricting committee decided the 2nd District would pick up an additional 50,000 souls.
“I was thrilled when I got the news that I would have the opportunity to represent this area of our state,” he said, and started to introduce himself to his new constituents –that is, if he’s re-elected in November.
“I grew up in Rosenhayn, near Vineland and Bridgeton,” he said. “My dad came from Sicily when he was 6 years old, with his family of 12. My dad’s family made a living hauling produce and eventually started their own trucking business. I worked in the family business for 26 years. I am the only congressman who has his CDL (commercial driver’s license). You never know when it will be needed,” he joked.
LoBiondo started his political life as a Cumberland County freeholder, a position he held for one term before jumping to the Assembly, where he served seven terms and worked closely with Senator Leonard T. Connors (now retired) and his son, Sen. Chris Connors, he said. He was elected to Congress in 1994.
“I live in Atlantic County with my wife, Tina, and our two rescued Weimaraners.”
LoBiondo serves on three committees in Congress. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has the Army Corps of Engineers under that umbrella. As a senior member of the committee, he is chairman of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee. His district includes the new Federal Tech facility in Atlantic County, and the largest Coast Guard Training Facility in the nation, based in Cape May.
He also serves commercial and recreation fishing concerns. “I am thrilled that this new part of the district shares the same issues as those farther south,” he remarked.
His position on the Armed Services Committee is apt, as there are a number of military bases in the 2nd District, including the Premiere F-16 base in Pomona. “If alerted by NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command), they can be over top Washington and New York in less than nine minutes. It’s extremely important to the country and the state.”
He is a new member of the House Intelligence Committee. “Most everything is classified and deals with 16 separate intelligence agencies. Most of us only know the FBI and CIA, but there are more than 130 agencies tasked with keeping the bad guys from coming over here and doing bad things. It’s an interesting committee.”
“I believe in grassroots constituent services,” he continued. “The federal government’s mission is to cut through red tape and help you, but by law I can’t do anything to help you until I represent you,” he said, angling for votes. “If everything goes well, I’ll be sworn in January and I look forward to the opportunity to work with you.”
LoBiondo said he loves doing “the people events, the church BBQs, fire company dinners. This is where the real world is. Washington is not the real world. It’s right here, where you have to make it every day. I grew up in a rural area where hunting and fishing were a big deal. And I am thrilled to represent the decoy capital of the world,” he said, a reference to his stop at the museum exhibits of antique and modern waterfowl hunting decoys at Tuckerton Seaport.
A member of the audience asked LoBiondo if there would be any military construction in the near future; he was disappointed with the answer.
“Nothing for a few years. All federal spending has stopped or is slowing down; and if you consider that for every dollar we spend, 45 cents is borrowed, it’s understandable. But the safety of the country is our top priority. We just have less dollars to do it with.”
Former Tuckerton Councilman Bill Marshall asked if he dealt with veterans’ issues and LoBiondo said he is committed to providing more county-based services for veterans. “Now if one of our veterans needs major medical services, they must travel to Wilmington, Philadelphia or East Orange and it creates hardships. We have built a new clinic in Vineland with $30 million in federal funds. It’s a model for the rest of the country. We’ve also convinced the VA to create a pilot program for any veteran experiencing a hardship to get the services they need from doctors in the towns where they live. This is especially important for dialysis patients. But we need to continue to get veterans to register with the VA. The VA’s decisions for funding are based on enrollment. We have enrollment clinics with the VFW, American Legion and other service organizations to get the word out. I will work with Ocean County to build on what’s already being done.”
LoBiondo stated his position on offshore oil drilling and it is a resounding no.
“It’s not a news flash that our country is in an energy crisis. Who would have thought we would be high-fiving over the price of gasoline going under $3.50? I’ve had so many questions about the energy situation that I prepared a position paper on what we should do about that. And despite the need for energy for all of us, drilling for oil off the coast of New Jersey is wrong. Some states have held referendums and voters have voted that they want drilling off their coast – Virginia did this. New Jersey has not done that. There is too much at stake to allow drilling off our coast. Besides, preliminary studies done years ago show there is very little oil off of New Jersey.”
LoBiondo said another nuclear plant is being built in Salem County but the hope for the future is in natural gas. “Our natural gas deposits is a huge benefit to our country. Natural gas products are being developed for cars. If we used natural gas compared to gasoline, it would cost $1.70 a gallon. The Jitney fleet (in Atlantic City) is run on natural gas and more filling stations are being built by the private sector.”
LoBiondo is also pushing for the Keystone pipeline. “It’s very short-sighted not to do the pipeline. We are spending hundreds of billions of dollars to buy foreign oil from people who are not our friends. It’s insane to be sending so much money to OPEC nations that we can’t rely on.
“On the other hand, there are enormous oil fields in Canada, our friend and allies. If they don’t sell it to us, they will build the pipeline west and sell it to China. China is not our friend.
“It would produce thousands of jobs almost immediately.”
Another of LoBiondo’s platform position deals with federal regulations.
“Part of what I’ve been doing this year is meeting with all the chambers of commerce to get a feel for what’s happening in the centers of our business communities. Business can be broken into two categories: there are the businesses that are barely hanging on, and those that have strengthened but are not spending the money to hire because of uncertainties about taxes. The current administration favors letting the Bush-era tax cuts expire. Questions around the Obama health care bill create another huge uncertainty. When it was first put forward by (former House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi, it was said to cost less than a trillion dollars. It took two years of study to determine the original estimate was off by half. It will cost almost two trillion. We still don’t know if that difference is going to be made up by bills or fees or taxes. What does it tell us when the government is set to hire 10,000 new IRS agents?”
“Other regulations that burn me: Commercial fishermen have been telling me about the EPA’s regulations concerning incidental deck wash. If during a rain event water runs off a fishing boat and it’s not clean, under the rules they can get a $10,000 per day fine.
“Recently the EPA decided the clean air regulations weren’t strong enough and there are still too many particulates in the air. The answer to that is to regulate dust on farms. ‘Saturday Night Live’ or Jay Leno could have fun with that! I have a mental picture of one of our farmers driving his pickup into the field with two EPA agents running behind him.
“The EPA has also ruled that no new coal-fired electric plants will ever be built and that within five years, we will eventually shut them all down. That will result in a 15 to 30 percent increase in our energy bills. Our country is abundantly rich in coal. West Virginia is a coal state and during the primary, Obama received 59 percent of the vote while 41 percent went to a convicted felon in jail.
“Regulations are going to strangle us. We need decisions made on common sense and sound science.”
To a question posed to him on domestic manufacturing, Tuckerton Councilman Tony Foglia asked if the government could require that all government purchases be made in America. “Wouldn’t it make sense that taxpayers’ dollars be spent domestically and put America back to work?”
LoBiondo said, “Buying American products is in all bills. But the bulk of spending is done by the private sector. Very few things are made in America and that has to do with our free trade agreements. How we got there (former President Bill) Clinton pushed the free trade agreement with China; it was a very close vote but it passed. It’s not fair trade at all. We don’t impose tariffs on China but they do on our products. It’s a one-way street. They take all of our money. This encouraged business to move to other countries, and killed our manufacturing. I shudder to think where we will get our steel if we need it tomorrow. The Chinese are eating our lunch, stealing our intellectual property. They steal our ideas, build products and send them back to us subsidized by our own government.
“Your government owns General Motors, who recently built a new plant in Mexico. Our trade policy is upside down.
“It’s hard to get people to buy American when they see two products in the store. The American-made product costs $1.50 and the China-made is 50 cents but they employ slave labor and have no environmental rules.
“We’re killing our farmers with regulations, bringing product in from South America where there are no regulations. The whole thing is upside down. I get so angry my hair catches on fire.”
LoBiondo, as chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, oversees the Army Corps of Engineers and this year the president sent his budget with zero for the Army Corps. “It’s very hard to build from zero. It was done before, in the Bush era. It’s hard for me to explain to my colleagues in the middle of the country that we need beaches. I tell them it’s not about beaches but it’s about jobs and the economy of the state. If we don’t have beaches, we don’t have tourists. Last year, $38 billion in tourism came to the state of New Jersey.” LoBiondo said the Army Corps funding gets put in the budget at the end of the year in a catch-all spending bill. “And we hope the right numbers get plugged in. It’s an upside down way to do things.”
After the handshaking and cutting the cake, LoBiondo took time to talk personally to some potential new constituents. Tuckerton Mayor Buck Evans said LoBiondo’s experience and positions on these important committees could prove to be good for the area. “I like (freshman Republican) Congressman Jon Runyon very much, but LoBiondo’s got the experience,” he said.