Sex education emerging as issue in 4th district Senate race

August 9, 2023

New Jersey Globe

By Ricky Suta

Del Borrello promises to use senatorial courtesy to block school board member who voted to change gender language rules; Moriarty stops short of agreeing

The Republican candidate for State Senate in the 4th district is using a state Board of Education member from South Jersey to highlight his opposition to controversial new gender identity rules – and to remind voters that he would become the first Republican in two decades to exercise senatorial courtesy in Camden County.

Christopher Del Borrello pledged to block the renomination of Elaine Bobrove, a retired educator and union leader from Haddon Township who voted to segregate sex education classes based on gender identity and eliminate multiple instances of gendered language from the state’s education code if Gov. Phil Murphy seeks to renominate her to a second term.

The proposal, which passed on a narrow 6-5 vote, could be a politically hot issue that Republicans can capitalize on before the November midterm election.

“The six members of the State Board of Education, including Ms. Bobrove from Camden County, who voted ‘yes’ for this nonsense should never be reappointed, and any Republican senator who can prevent that should,” Del Borrello said.  “If I am elected to the State Senate in November, I can promise 4th legislative district residents today that any attempt to reappoint Ms. Bobrove to the State Board of Education when her term expires will fail.”  

The move may be simply symbolic, since Bobrove is 85 years old and can remain on the state board as a holdover.     

Del Borrello’s opponent, nine-term Assemblyman Paul Moriarty (D-Washington Township), told the New Jersey Globe that he opposes the Board’s equity code.

“Four days ago, I demanded the BOE go back to the drawing board and stop mandating policy to the entire state without getting input from parents and educators, who are the most important actors in a student’s education,” Moriarty said in a statement. “I’m happy Del Borrello agrees with me that the BOE got it wrong and that they need to correct their course. As an assemblyman or a senator, I will always hold boards and individual members of government accountable to the people of this state and especially to the parents of school children.”  

“I’m glad Chris is reading my Facebook posts, so he knows what issues to weigh in on,” he added.

Although he has been forceful in denouncing the State Board of Education’s policy, Moriarty did not comment on whether he would use senatorial courtesy to block Bobrove.

Del Borrello’s attack shows that sex education could be a potent election issue this year, especially in a Camden-Gloucester district that was redrawn to be much more competitive; a similar strategy worked for the GOP in Virginia’s 2021 gubernatorial election. But it’s also significant that Del Borrello is injecting senatorial courtesy, an unwritten rule that gives senators veto power over nominees from their home counties and any towns that they represent, into the election.

“The choice voters have before them this November is crystal clear,” said Del Borrello, a former Washington Township councilman who now lives in Camden County. “You can vote Republican, protect the rights of parents, and push back against the extreme, far-left nonsense coming out of Trenton, or you can vote for Democrats and accept the outlawing of gender-specific language in our schools and paving the way for biological boys to compete against biological girls in sports.”

This focus signals to voters – and, perhaps more importantly, to donors – that Del Borrello will be a strong check on any Camden County nominee from the Murphy administration. The idea that members of the entrenched Democratic machine led by powerhouse George E. Norcross III would need the approval of Del Borrello potentially galvanizes the base of both parties.

If he wins, Del Borrello would have veto power over all Camden County nominees; every county judgeship would be subject to his approval. Moreover, if he and other South Jersey GOP candidates are successful, Republicans will have senatorial courtesy in eight counties in South Jersey.

Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Institute of New Jersey Politics at Rider University, said Del Borrello’s focus on senatorial courtesy is “curious.”

“He is looking to be a disruptive force to shake things up,” he said.

A Del Borrello win would further accentuate the gains made by Republicans in South Jersey over the last four years while emphasizing a decline for Democrats in the region.

Changing demographics and legislative redistricting have made the 4th district one of the most closely watched contests in the state.

As 20-year-incumbent Fred Madden (D-Washington Township) retires, both parties see their political fortunes tied to this campaign. South Jersey Democrats view the Moriarty vs. Del Borrello race as critical to showing their vitality, while Republicans see it as a key avenue to expand their political prospects into formerly solid Democratic territory. 

The district is no stranger to competitive races; when Madden challenged State Sen. George Geist (R-Gloucester Township), it was the most expensive legislative campaign in state history up to that point – and was decided by a mere 63 votes.

Rasmussen said that the 4th district will be in the “very top tier” of races for Republicans and Democrats, along with the adjacent 3rd district, where State Sen. Ed Durr (R-Logan) unexpectedly ousted Senate President in 2021. Durr now faces former Assembly Appropriations Committee Chairman John Burzichelli (D-Paulsboro), who lost his bid for an eleventh term two years ago.

“Republicans think they can make gains, but Democrats also believe they can reverse the damage and make gains,” Rasmussen said.

Senatorial courtesy

Steady gains in South Jersey Senate races have enabled Republicans to build a red wall of courtesy, forcing Murphy to bargain with GOP senators – as well as Democrats – on state government nominations.

Republicans flipped the Atlantic County Senate seat in 2017 after a decade of Democratic occupancy, and won Jeff Van Drew’s old Cape May-Cumberland seat in a 2019 special election. Durr’s upset over Sweeney shifted courtesy in Gloucester and Salem to the GOP; Republicans, who briefly lost courtesy in Burlington when State Sen. Dawn Addiego (D-Evesham) switched parties in early 2019, won it back after beating Addiego in 2021.

This year, however, Democrats can tear down big pieces of that red wall of courtesy as they contest Senate seats in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 8th districts.