New Jersey State Sen. Edward Durr felt something familiar when Republican Mayra Flores claimed victory last week in a South Texas congressional district that Democrats had taken for granted.
Seven months earlier, Mr Durr, a furniture truck driver, made headlines when he ousted Democratic state Senate speaker Stephen Sweeney – a key power broker in Trenton who had held the position for 12 years – with a low-budget campaign centered on COVID -19 restrictions and the impact on small businesses.
“The core of it was that the Democrats weren’t listening. We listened, we went out and reached out to people and listened to them,” Mr. Durr, a first elected official, told The Washington Times.
“They’re still not listening and that’s one-off evidence -[Ms. Flores] wins in a Democratic riding. They weren’t listening and I don’t think they will be listening in November.
Ms. Flores’ victory in a special election for the seat vacated by Democratic Representative Filemon Vela is seen as a canary in the coal mine as Republicans attempt to retake the House in Washington, although signs of a potential red wave began last year.
With most observers focused on New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s victory for re-election in November closer than expected, Mr. Durr quietly eliminated the second-tier Democrat from the state. In Virginia, Republican Glenn Youngkin won the gubernatorial race in a blue-leaning state.
Months into his job, Mr Durr said his constituents were concerned about high consumer costs – a major topic as inflation tears the economy apart – although he is still alert to the potential return of mandates COVID-19, an issue that has driven his campaign. last fall.
Durr sponsored a bill that would require the State Department of Military Affairs and Veterans Affairs to assist service members discharged due to their COVID-19 vaccination status to have their designations changed and registered as honorable. Another bill targets warrants that would require the masking of minors without parental consent.
“When it comes to COVID, I think our government has gone too far,” Durr said. “I believe the parent has the right to decide whether their child wears a mask or receives an injection.”
He delved into other national debates about parental choice, including the extent of appropriate sex education in younger grades. He introduced legislation banning the teaching of sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through 6th grade. Parental consent would be required for students in grades 7-12 for courses that incorporate these topics.
“They don’t even teach cursive writing anymore, which is sad. Go back to the basics of what they should be teaching,” Durr said.
Mr. Murphy, a Democrat, said Republicans were trying to score political points by attacking an agenda that emphasizes inclusiveness. But he admitted that a handful of sample lesson plans in the state didn’t “reflect the spirit of the standards.” The governor asked education officials to review the standards.
Accustomed to taking on powerful New Jersey Democrats, Mr. Durr recently argued with the governor over the best approach to gun violence following horrific mass shootings.
Mr Durr told a YouTube interviewer last year that what motivated him to run for office, more than anything, was not being able to get a concealed carry license in a state that has very strict laws. strict on firearms. Now in office, he sponsored a package of gun bills that would remove capacity limits on ammunition stores and remove the 30-day waiting period between handgun purchases.
Mr. Murphy berated Mr. Durr by name following the school tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, and challenged the legislature to vote on bills that would relax New Jersey’s gun limits.
“Let the people of New Jersey see who votes yes to high-capacity munitions magazines, as Sen. Ed Durr wants,” the governor said.
Mr. Murphy also criticized Mr. Durr for his efforts to facilitate concealed carry eligibility and a bill that would repeal a state red flag law that allows the seizure of firearms in certain circumstances. .
Mr. Durr said he was fine with holding votes.
“I think they should be put to a vote, I think people should know what their legislators’ position is on the issues,” he said.
To tackle the violence, Durr said he wanted to focus on people who wield guns irresponsibly and that mental health care reform should focus on rather than limits on gun owners. abiding firearms.
“I think we don’t provide enough facilities or treatment, counsellors, there aren’t enough,” he said. “We don’t fund it properly.”
Mr. Durr resonated with voters last year with just a few thousand dollars in campaign finance and a smartphone to record his ads.
But getting anyone to listen to his ideas in Trenton will be a challenge. Democrats control both houses of the legislature and the governor’s mansion, so pulling one of his bills from committee is a huge task.
“He is stuck in the furthest corners of the back benches. Such is the fate of members of the GOP, especially those who overthrow one of the Lord Proprietors of the State of New Jersey,” said Ross Baker, professor of political science at Rutgers University.
Durr said the reluctance to give Republican bills a hearing is holding back bipartisan action. He said a prime example is “Billy Cray’s Law,” a bill he sponsored that would require adult group homes to give residents the choice of installing electronic monitoring devices in common areas. It also offers residents the option of having electronic monitoring in their rooms. The bill is named after a man who died at an adult home after being assaulted by another resident.
Some groups have expressed privacy concerns, but Durr said the bill would promote choice among home residents and attract broad support if Democrats introduce it.
He said he would argue for all of his bills despite the long odds.
“I’m going to keep pounding on the door. I keep hearing people say, “This is New Jersey and it’s never going to happen.” I was told that I would never be a senator. If you keep trying, there is a possibility that something will happen. But you have to try,” he said.
Mr Durr made national headlines with his win last year, with pundits dubbing it the upset of the year, even as Mr Youngkin beat former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat who wanted to return to his old job.
Mr. Durr’s first task as a senator was to reconfigure his work schedule. He’s still a driver for Raymour and Flanigan, so he’s rearranged his hours to meet his commitments in Trenton, especially Mondays and Thursdays which tend to be busy legislative days.
He said people constantly ask him if Trenton is different from what he expected, but he doesn’t know what to say.
“I never really thought about Trenton. I did my job, I paid my taxes,” he said. “I think I’m figuring it out.”
Mr. Durr represents the 3rd legislative district of suburban Philadelphia, which covers parts of Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties.
He is in a two-year cycle and “absolutely” plans to run for re-election in 2023. He could face his former opponent, Mr. Sweeney, who told Politico earlier this year that “the redistricting will not deter me if he decides to fight for his old seat.
Changes to the legislative map have made things harder for Democrats, especially when blue-collar workers have shifted to the GOP.
“These South Jersey Democrats outside the suburb of Camden are turning to the GOP in sufficient numbers to make it difficult for Sweeney to come back,” Baker said.
For his part, Mr Durr says he has other issues on his mind.
“I don’t really know, and I’m not concerned about what Sweeney is going to do,” Mr Durr said. “I am concerned about what I can do for my constituents.