By Alyana Alfaro
Peter Jacob is a social worker that is looking to oust Congressman Leonard Lance from the position he has held since 2009. Jacob, a Democrat from Union, has never held elected office but he thinks he is the right candidate to represent CD7, give the district the progressive voice he feels it needs and "bring the public back into public service."
"I believe I am the right candidate for the seventh district because I believe in economy and democracy that works for every citizen of our great nation," Jacob, 30, said. "I am not running to climb a political ladder. I am not a career politician. What I will do is ensure that my fellow citizens and future generations are able to thrive in the same American Dream that my family was able to."
Jacob's parents came to America from India in the 1980s and eventually opened a security system company, something that he said shaped his ideas for what the U.S. federal government where he is pursuing a seat needs to become.
"My parents came to this country in the 1980s with $20 in their pockets and hearts full of hope," Jacob said. "They came for a better life full of liberty and the pursuit of happiness. My goal is to rebuild the district into something that champions social and economic and political progress while fighting the corruption in politics. The government was meant to be of, by, and for the people."
For Jacob, some of the most important issues facing CD7 and the nation revolve around climate change and the environment, something on which he says Lance has failed to provide leadership.
"The most important issue of our lifetime, perhaps the issue that my generation will have to answer is climate change," Jacob said. "The United States has the technology and the wealth and the spirit to be the global leaders in the clean energy movement. Sadly, so many establishment politicians have been paid to protect the fossil fuel industries and profits rather than the global ecosystem that we all depend on for survival."
According to Jacob, a proposed natural gas pipeline that would run through Hunterdon County is demonstrative of the shift that needs to occur in order to support a sustainable future for CD7 and the rest of the U.S. The pipeline would be fed by natural gas extracted by hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking. Fracking technology involves pumping water and chemicals into the ground during the removal of the gas from underground. Lance has been opposed to the building of the pipeline but, according to Jacob, his support of the much-debated Keystone XL pipeline demonstrates that he is not dedicated to the issue of clean energy.
"There isn't anything natural about injecting toxic chemicals into the ground and being able to light your tap water on fire. We don't need cancer-causing chemicals in our water," Jacob said. "My congressman supported legislation to make it easier to build such natural gas pipelines. The fracking industry has been able to procure exceptions for their extraction methods. Lance had his chance in my opinion."
Another issue that Jacob said needs reform in New Jersey and nationally is campaign finance.
"The main issue of this election I believe will be campaign finance reform," he said. "Our democracy has been seized by the big business, special interests who only have allegiance to their bottom lines and not to the people of the nation."
Additionally, Jacob said he wants to take the fear out of politics, something that he said Republicans are using to control constituencies.
"What we are hearing so much now-a-days from the Republican Party is fear," he said. "We are hearing from the demagogues like Donald Trump and reiterated by my own congressman is fear. Fear of immigrants, fear of ISIS, fear of the American people. Fear is not a value of a nation that prides itself on being the home of the brave. We have a name for those that use fear as a weapon and they are called terrorists."
CD7 is one of the most Republican districts in New Jersey due to the district's span of the heavily Republican Morris, Warren, Somerset and Hunterdon Counties. Because of the mainly GOP voter base, Jacob could have a difficult time gaining traction in the district, though he said he is not deterred. According to Jacob, though it is still very early in the race, he has been able to tap into the progressive base in his district.
Another thing that might make it hard for Jacob to make gains in CD7 is his lack of establishment support. As a newcomer, Jacob is outside of the realm of bosses that typically shape New Jersey elections. However, Jacob believes that the current climate in the nation--where a presidential candidate like Bernie Sanders who lacks establishment support is able give former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a legitimate run for the Democratic Party nomination in 2017--bodes well for his candidacy.
"What we are seeing now is the people are very much behind Bernie," said Jacob who is endorsing Sanders for president. "Look at what happened eight years ago with Barack Obama. We had Hillary and this virtually unknown, young U.S. Senator who took the party's nomination. So, I think a lot has changed in politics."
According to Jacob, the election of candidates like himself could help make the American Dream attainable again.
"We cannot be free if we have to worry about access to clean water, air or food," he said. "We cannot be free if we have no idea how we will be able to pay off our children's college education or how we will be able to pay off our student loan debts. How will the next Bill Gates or Elon Musk start their new businesses if they are forced to work tirelessly at a low-wage job or hang on to a job because of health care? How can we be free if we are lying awake every single night worrying about how our bills are going to be paid tomorrow?"
Jacob is not the only candidate who appears to be making a run at Lance's congressional seat in 2016. Morris County Republican Craig Heard also confirmed to PolitickerNJ that he is considering pursuing the congressional seat in CD7. Last week, Heard unwittingly announced his candidacy on Twitter in what was supposed to be a private message.