It’s difficult for American history buffs not to get excited about a candidate who nails a Civil War Who Wants to be a Millionaire question about the Monitor and Merrimac, but notwithstanding the $100,000 cash haul he won on the TV game show, Brent Sonnek-Schmelz intends to put his focus less on the 19th Century and wholly on the here and now.
Backed by both the Monmouth and Middlesex County Republican organizations, the business owner/attorney from Atlantic Highlands wants to focus on economic issues going forward as he pursues the Republican nomination in CD6 for a chance to go up against U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone in the November general election.
Originally from Westfield, with an undergraduate degree from Middlebury (also Pallone’s alma mater), a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business, the GOP candidate moved to Atlantic Highlands in 2007 where he occupies a seat on the local board of education.
“What’s motivating me to run as that I reached out to Pallone’s office a number of times and never got a response,” Sonnek-Schmelz, 39, told PolitickerNJ. “Constituent service is so important.”
Rather than get discouraged, he decided to personally run against Pallone, who for years has handed every Republican thrown at him, from state Senator Joe Kyrillos (R-13) back in the 1990s to then-Atlantic Highlands Mayor Anna Little in 2010 and 2012.
“There are a lot of things he has not done well, including, as I said, just a general sense of not really listening to constituents,” said the Republican hopeful.
Sonnek-Schmelz said he believes time in office has something to do with what he perceives as Pallone’s constituent resistance.
He favors term limits, in fact: ten years and out. “There are lots of congresspeople doing a wonderful job over a longer period of time, but too many have been there for too long.”
If elected, the Republican candidate said he would make constituent service his top priority. “I want to be the voice of the people every day,” he said. He would focus on small business and jobs creation. “I know the agony people go through everyday with so many hurdles and roadblocks throughout the regulatory system,” said the co-owner of the family business Soccer Post.”I’m going to focus on streamlining the process so that the basic structure allows them to succeed in business.”
He also wants to get rid of Obamacare and roll back the Affordable Care Act. “Its implementation was very painful to people. Premiums, co-pays and deductibles are up and benefits down for a lot of people in my district.”
Focused on his own campaign, which he promises will be well-funded and aggressive in the Democratic-leaning district, Sonnek-Schmelz does not at present have a preferred presidential candidate.
“i am supporting whoever is above me on the ticket,” he said.
Two weeks ago, an energized Pallone at the Monmouth County Democratic Convention derided Republicans – and the party prez front-runner Donald Trump in particular – as nativist blockades to human progress, drawing a very positive response in the roomful of party diehards.
Sonnek-Schmelz doesn’t necessarily see his party’s current volatility as a bad thing.
“If you look at our party, we have the opportunity here,” he said. “In times of turmoil, there is the greatest opportunity for change and good. We have the opportunity to double down and address why people are unhappy or feel left behind by the pace of the world. The Republican Party can and will make sure we remain the land of opportunity.
“Hillary’s not the greatest candidate on the other side and Pallone’s run for 28 years,” Sonnek-Schmelz added. “Some say it’s never a good year, but I think I’m going to be a great candidate. I’m going to go at it hard. I’m going to run the kind of campaign that has not happened for a long time in this district.”
He says he a great network and plans to raise competitive money.
On the issues front, the candidate decried President Barack Obama’s decision to stay in Cuba in the aftermath of the Brussels terror killings.
“I think President Obama needs to reassess how he acts in times of crisis,” he said. “That is not the right response for the leader of the free world.”
Whatever his personal views on the subject, he accepts the Supreme Court’s safe and legal abortions as the law of the land. “I’m not going to spend time on [abortion]. My job is to focus on economic issues,” he said.
Regarding the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate’s opposition to giving Obama Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland a hearing, Sonnek-Schmelz said, “Obama clearly has the right to nominate someone, and the senate has to determine how to deal with that. ..The senate has some obligation. The question is around when. Are they obligated within eight months or after?”
On foreign policy, he describes himself as a devotee of Theodore Roosevelt’s “speak softly and carry a big stick” philosophy.
“I think that torture in any way, including waterboarding, gives us false answers and it’s often wrong,” he said.
Taking a question apropos of Trump’s campaign decree to ban MUslims fromthe United States, Sonnek-Schmelz said, “We’re a nation made up of a variety of backgrounds. Banning Muslims is a very slippery slope, similar to when we interred Japanese Americans in WWII. We have to be really careful about who we let across the border. If you look at the situation in Europe, there are too many people flowing through who are ISIS. …We have to manage the process a lot better. We can’t have a leaky faucet.”
Regarding the national and state level push for a $15 minimum wage, Sonnek-Schmelz said that hike would hurt small businesses.
Ultimately, said the candidate, “It’s alll about jobs and the economy, transparency, and efficiency in government. Bottom line. That’s what I care about: making sure people can care for their families. Government right now is too big, too complex, and too convoluted. I’m an attorney with two ivy league degrees, I’m a smart guy, and much of the time I can’t understand what’s going on. We have to change it.”