Peter Rohrman, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and current IT network engineer, is running as the Libertarian Party’s candidate for governor, hoping to bring new ideas to a governor’s race that has been dominated by Democrat Phil Murphy and Republican Kim Guadagno.
“My whole life I have always been the type of person to read the newspaper, pay attention to what is going on in politics, and get really angry,” Rohrman told Observer. “About four or five years ago, I just saw exactly how far government intrudes into our lives and it was just an amazing wake-up call where I just had to start getting involved. I was never really a Republican and I couldn’t be a Democrat but I just couldn’t look myself in the mirror anymore if I didn’t do something.”
After he got involved with the Libertarian Party, Rohrman, 47, ran in 2015 and 2016 for Bergen County freeholder. He lost both races, but he said he continues to be encouraged by growth in the party, now the third largest in the state with 7,464 voters registered as Libertarians.
But those numbers are a drop in the bucket compared with Democrats (2.1 million), Republicans (1.2 million) and unaffiliated voters (2.3 million), and independent candidates have never done well in New Jersey statewide races in modern times.
“Even if I don’t win, this campaign will be used to spread the message more and more,” Rohrman said.
Guadagno, the state’s lieutenant governor under Gov. Chris Christie for the past seven and a half years, has described some of her own political views as libertarian in the past, noting she is pro-choice and not opposed to same-sex marriage.
“I would call myself a libertarian,” she told the New York Times in a June interview. “Stay out of my house; stay out of my home. Don’t tell me what to do with my body and my family. That’s really where I am on it.”
Rohrman rejects that characterization, claiming that Guadagno’s property tax plan is more “socialist” than it is “conservative.” Guadagno claims that if she wins, she will reduce home owner property taxes by up to $3,000 per household by capping the portion of property taxes that go to schools at 5 percent of household income.
“The past eight years she could have used her position at lieutenant governor to advocate for freedom, to advocate for lower taxes, and she didn’t,” Rohrman said. “Her cap on property taxes isn’t really a cap. It is a socialist program. These taxes still have to be paid so she is proposing to have the state pay for it. This is stealing from other people to pay your taxes.”
Rohrman calls his own tax plan “fiscal democracy.” It involves cutting a swath of taxes including property, sales, corporate and gas taxes, public access fees, vehicle registration fees, and all government licenses fees. Instead, an individual would be required to pay 10 percent of total income to the government each year, picking and choosing which programs to fund.
Rohrman estimates that such changes would save $13,000 annually for the average household. But it amounts to a radical and somewhat unpredictable restructuring of state government that could mean losing vital public services.
The plan would only work if voters approved a constitutional amendment gutting the Legislature’s power to spend money, essentially scrapping the appropriations clause, one of the strongest in the state constitution, and freeing up the state’s $34.6 billion a year in tax revenue for Rohrman’s a-la-carte plebiscite spending arrangement. It would basically end representative government in New Jersey.
“My plan would move the power of appropriations away from legislators,” Rohrman said. “Under my plan, if the people don’t want it, they don’t have to fund it. Legislators can have any program they want as long as they can convince people to fund it. We have competition everywhere, but not in government.”
Aside from his tax plan, Rohrman’s also wants to bring legal, untaxed marijuana to New Jersey, agreeing with Democrats such as Sen. Cory Booker that it would be an effective tool for criminal justice reform. Rohrman also would issue pardons for nonviolent criminals who were arrested for low-level drug offenses. Rohrman also wants to expand school choice and loosen rules for gun ownership in New Jersey.
Rohrman is a lifelong New Jersey resident who has lived in Bergen County for most of his life. At 18, he joined the Marines. He served in the Gulf War and was on the ground for Operation Desert Storm. He has two children: 15-year-old Ben and 13-year old Peter Jr.
Rohrman’s campaign is currently in the final fundraising push, an effort by the candidate and his running mate Karese Laguerre to debate alongside the major party candidates. The libertarian ticket has yet to raise the $430,000 required by law to participate in the debates.
“I don’t believe in large government; I believe in small government,” Rohrman said. “I believe in personal freedoms. I believe in peace and tolerance and free markets. You have been voting Democrat and Republican for 150 years. Voting for a Democrat or Republican again isn’t going to magically change anything.”