Rep. Scott Garrett (R)
New Jersey 5th District
The northern edge of New Jersey was settled three centuries ago by the Dutch, for whom this plateau of land behind the Hudson River Palisades seemed a natural part of Nieuw Amsterdam. The Dutch influence is seen in old, steep-roofed farmhouses and in many of the place names—Bergen County, Cresskill, Closter. And some “Dutchness” remains in local communities. But overall, northernmost New Jersey has the well-settled look of so many northeastern suburbs, with touches of both affluence and small-town hominess, criss-crossed at its edges with limited-access highways and shopping centers. In the late 1950s, Paramus was transformed from celery farms to the site of two of the nation’s first large shopping malls—and constant traffic jams. Not far away are Saddle River and Franklin Lakes, with million-dollar houses on multi-acre lots, and Park Ridge, with office buildings and condominiums. This area may look like WASP suburbia on the surface, but in fact it is home to successful people of all ethnic groups, many of them descended from those who first saw the Statue of Liberty from steerage and passed through the inspection queues at Ellis Island. A curiosity: Asian women in Bergen County have the nation’s longest life expectancy, 91 years.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 5th Congressional District of New Jersey comprises most of northern Bergen County, plus a swath of North Jersey stretching west to the hill-enclosed upper reaches of the Delaware River, crossing one ridge of mountains after another, and then running south to Interstate 78. About 60% of its population is in Bergen County. To the west, little subdivisions set amid the lakes of western Passaic County are filling up with young families. Farther west are once rural, now more or less suburban Sussex and Warren counties. In 2008, the recession took a toll on many of these suburban enclaves as foreclosures and a large inventory of unsold homes sent property values plummeting. Politically, this area has long been solidly Republican, although as with the rest of New Jersey, it has moved toward the Democrats since the 1990s. In 2004, Republican George W. Bush won the district 57%-43%, his second-best showing in the state. In 2008, Democratic nominee Barack Obama lost it 54%-46%.
Rep. Scott Garrett (R)
Elected: 2002, 4th term.
Born: July 9, 1959, Englewood .
Education: Montclair St. U., B.A. 1981, Rutgers U., J.D. 1984.
Family: Married (Mary Ellen); 2 children.
Elected office: NJ Assembly, 1990-2002.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1984-2002.
The congressman from the 5th District is Scott Garrett, a Republican elected in 2002. Garrett grew up on a farm in Wantage, where his parents grew tomatoes and Christmas trees. The family’s main income came from his father’s job as a salesman for Uniroyal. A conservative from the start, Garrett questioned his high school administration’s spending practices and kept a picture of David Stockman, the father of Reaganomics, at his desk. He graduated from Montclair State College and Rutgers law school, and became a trial lawyer in Sussex County. He’s a born-again Christian who meets most Saturday mornings for three hours with a small group that calls itself Joshua Men.
|Scott Garrett (R)||172,653||(56%)||($1,726,631)|
|Dennis Shulman (D)||131,033||(42%)||($1,194,535)|
|Scott Garrett (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (55%), 2004 (58%), 2002 (59%)
In 1989, he was elected to the New Jersey General Assembly, where he quickly became one of the most conservative members. In 1998 and 2000, he challenged veteran U.S. Rep. Marge Roukema, a moderate Republican, in the primary. He attacked Roukema for supporting abortion rights and gun-control laws. She pointed to her conservative votes on economic issues and was backed by the conservative House Republican leadership. Each time, Garrett carried the western part of the district but Roukema ran strongly in her Bergen County base, winning by 53%-47% in 1998 and 52%-48% in 2000.
In 2001, Roukema announced that she would not seek another term. Garrett ran again in 2002. His challenge in the primary was to sell his views in Bergen County, where Sussex County is viewed as a distant province somewhere near Idaho. Two well-known Republicans from Bergen entered the race: state Sen. Gerald Cardinale and Assemblyman David Russo. They argued that nominating Garrett would put the seat at risk. But Garrett won the primary with 41% to 26% for Russo and 25% for Cardinale. Garrett won 81% of the vote in Sussex and 68% in Warren. But he won just 25% in Bergen County, raising Democratic hopes. The Democratic nominee was Anne Sumers, a former Republican who switched parties in early 2002 and stressed her agreement with Roukema on most issues. With help from the national Democrats, Sumers attacked Garrett as an “extremist,” pointing to his support for limited federal aid to education. Garrett pounced on Sumers’s failure to vote in local school board elections and her musings on a liberal website, where she characterized American patriotism as “jingoistic.” At the urging of the House Republicans’ campaign committee, Garrett soft-pedaled some of his more conservative views. Sumers outspent Garrett, $1.6 million to $1.3 million, including nearly $400,000 of her own money. But national Republicans spent heavily on issue ads on Garrett’s behalf. This turned out to be less of a contest than many people expected. Garrett won 59%-38%. In Bergen County, which cast 64% of the total vote, he led 55%-43%.
In the House, Garrett is the most conservative member of the New Jersey delegation and a budget hawk. His vote against the Republicans’ Medicare prescription drug bill in 2003 angered GOP leaders and limited Garrett’s influence in the House. When the state delegation sent a letter to President Bush opposing oil exploration off the New Jersey coast, Garrett was the only member who did not sign it. In 2008, he was among 17 House members who opposed extension of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and among 10 who voted against fighting AIDS in Africa. In 2006, the House passed his amendment to require disclosure of earmarks in tax bills as well as in spending measures.
Garrett got a furious reaction in July 2007 when he challenged as “overspending” $34 million for Alaska natives in the education appropriations bill. Angry that he had not received a warning, Republican Don Young of Alaska told the House, “I suggest New Jersey ought to elect some new representatives.” Garrett lost the amendment, 74-352. As the Republican Conference became more conservative, Garrett became more of a presence. Even though many of his constituents work on Wall Street, he opposed the bailout of the financial markets in 2008. “I am wary of using taxpayer dollars to prop up failing businesses,” he said.
In 2009, he leapfrogged other members and became the ranking Republican on the Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Insurance, and Government-Sponsored Enterprises at the Financial Services Committee, which has authority over the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac housing finance authorities. Garrett has clashed repeatedly with full committee Chairman Barney Frank, a Democrat from Massachusetts.
Garrett has faced serious re-election challenges. In 2006, Paul Aronsohn, who was communications director for Democratic Gov. Jim McGreevey, called Garrett “too extreme, too disconnected to the people he represents.” He raised nearly $600,000 and cut Garrett’s margin in Bergen to 51%-48%. But with more than 60% of the vote in Sussex and Warren, Garrett won 55%-44%.
His 2008 challenger was unconventional, and the contest attracted national attention. The Democratic nominee was Dennis Shulman, a blind rabbi and psychologist who was a first-time political candidate. He got help from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, labor unions, and robo-calls featuring former President Bill Clinton. Shulman criticized Garrett as too conservative, a recipient of money from special interests, and a participant in a “corrupt” tax break for farmland on which his brother grows Christmas trees. Garrett countered that Shulman was the “extremist,” and he emphasized his independence from President Bush. Garrett spent $1.7 million to Shulman’s $1.1 million. Garrett won 56%-42%, carrying all four counties, including 53% of the vote in Bergen.