This story was written and produced by NJ Spotlight News. It is being republished under a special NJ News Commons content-sharing agreement for 2022 election coverage. To read more, visit njspotlightnews.org.
If Republican Paul Degroot is going to lure voters, he may need to do a better job explaining where he stands on key issues like inflation, climate change, gun rights and social justice
Democrat Mikie Sherrill looks for a third term representing a district that was historically Republican-leaning until she won in November 2018 with 56.8 percent of the vote. The district continued to be competitive in the 2020 general election, when Sherrill won again with 53.3 percent of the vote.
Now after redistricting, the 11th District is set to skew more Democratic. Challenging Sherill is Republican Paul DeGroot, a veteran county prosecutor from Montville. Here’s a look at Sherrill and Degroot, their backgrounds and where they stand on key issues.
Mikie Sherrill (incumbent)
Sherrill is running for her third term after first being elected in 2018’s “blue wave” that swept Democrats into office.
Prior to Congress, Sherrill served nine years in the United States Navy, ending her career as a lieutenant commander. She was a helicopter pilot who flew missions in Europe and the Middle East. After leaving the military, she earned her law degree at Georgetown University and went on to become an assistant United States attorney for the District of New Jersey in 2015. She left in 2016 and started her congressional campaign in 2017.
A main area of focus for Sherrill has been affordability. Sherrill has run her campaigns on making North Jersey a more affordable place to live and to grow the economy with increasing job opportunities. She helped pass the Restoring Tax Fairness for States and Localities Act, which increased the tax deduction cap for state and local taxes in 2019.
She was also vocal about her support for removing the SALT deduction cap in the Build Back Better Act in 2021. She said removing the cap would allow more families to deduct state and local taxes from their federal tax bills. She also supported several provisions of the Build Back Better Act, which aimed to provide middle-class tax relief and paid family and medical leave and to curb the cost of prescription drugs.
Veterans affairs is another area of interest for Sherrill. She has sponsored bills to streamline the Department of Veterans Affairs; oversee the efficacy of the burn pit program, which provides veterans exposed to toxic burn pits with health care; and provide mental health services to veterans.
Sherrill serves on the House Armed Services Committee; the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and the House Education and Labor Committee.
Sherrill, 50, lives in Montclair with her husband Jason Hedberg and their four children.
Inflation and economy
Sherrill voted to pass the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). This was notable because it did not include removing the cap on state and local taxes, known as SALT, that she and her colleague U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) pushed.
“No SALT, no deal” sums up their attitude toward economic bills, but Sherrill said she supported the measure because it would not raise taxes for her constituents and would instead “lower their costs.” She also supported the inflation act’s provisions that would lower prescription drug costs and invest in clean energy and provide green jobs.
Voting and elections
Sherrill has said she believes President Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election and has rejected the false claims by former President Donald Trump that the election was stolen.
Sherill is the chair of the Environment Subcommittee on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. According to her campaign website, she has fought for legislation to “address flood mitigation, lead in drinking water, climate resilient infrastructure, and scientific integrity.”
She was a champion of the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act, which will “protect our public lands and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a program that has directly supported the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and Morristown National Historical Park,” as written on her campaign website.
Sherill also has sponsored and cosponsored several bills in Congress that would invest in clean energy and provide more green jobs. She also sponsored a bill that would improve forecasting of floods, tornadoes and hurricanes; her district suffered significant damage from Tropical Storm Ida.
Sherrill supports a person’s right to choose whether or not to carry her pregnancy to full term. She voted in support of the Ensuring Access to Abortion Act of 2022 and the Right to Contraception Act.
Sherrill supports a federal assault weapons ban and “common sense gun-safety” measures. She voted in support of the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, which required thorough background checks for those purchasing guns in this country. According to her campaign website, she has also voted to “reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act that closes the boyfriend loophole, close the hate crimes loophole for gun purchases, and ban bump-stocks, which allow individuals to convert firearms into fully automatic weapons.”
Criminal justice reform, which some see as a subset of social justice, became an area of interest for Sherrill after her time spent in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. She established the first federal re-entry program for New Jersey residents who were formerly incarcerated. She also has sponsored police reform legislation to “promote good police training” and “end programs that lead to the militarization of local police forces.”
She also says she wants to expand on the First Step Act, which was signed in 2018 before her time in office. The law was a bipartisan effort to reduce the size of federal prison populations by curbing recidivism and reforming sentence timelines for those who committed certain offenses. She calls the reform a “good first step” on her campaign website, alluding to its name, and added that more needs to be done.
More information about Sherrill is here.
DeGroot is a lifelong New Jersey resident who worked for 25 years in the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office. He was promoted to chief prosecutor for the Homicide, Narcotics and Government Corruption units, overseeing over 100 trials, according to his campaign website.
One of DeGroot’s campaign promises is to tackle crime, which is a major talking point for the Republican party at large. He said on his campaign website that he is best suited for the role with his background as a prosecutor, and has tweeted that “lawlessness” has proliferated under Sherrill.
DeGroot is also running his campaign on energy dependence, saying on his website that oil prices have “skyrocketed” under President Joe Biden.
At a campaign fundraiser in February, he told the audience, “Energy independence allows us to control foreign policy, and lower prices at home, which in turn lower the price of all things that touch upon transportation.”
He added that he would want the country to become energy independent in a way that would also protect the environment.
He is also campaigning to end, what he calls on his campaign website, “indoctrinating our students with leftist ideology.” He also said that he will “work with parents to make sure our public-school curriculum teaches students marketable skills, not socialist propaganda.”
DeGroot lives in Montville with his wife Sharon and their two children.
DeGroot believes that the country needs to tackle inflation. It is not known if he supported the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) but he has tweeted a few times criticizing Sherrill for supporting the act without any provisions to remove the deduction cap for state and local taxes.
Voting and elections
InsiderNJ has quoted DeGroot saying that Biden won the 2020 election and that the race is over, which contrasts with the opinions of some fellow party members who believe the false claim that the election was “stolen” from former President Trump. DeGroot also supports laws that require IDs to vote.
DeGroot’s position on climate change is not immediately known. However, he did criticize Sherill for voting to pass the America Competes Act, which included significant investments in climate change mitigation.
He said in a February press release that fighting against fossil fuels, as the bill does, would not make America economically “competitive.” However, in a campaign speech also from February, he said it was important to protect the environment for the future of children.
DeGroot has not publicly commented on the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn federal protections of abortion, instead saying in a news release that states should decide abortion rights.
DeGroot’s position on gun control is not currently known; however, he did state at an August campaign event that he supported “red flag” laws that would take guns away from people facing mental health crises. InsiderNJ also reported he said he has backed “guns off the streets.”
DeGroot has lambasted the left for what he calls their “attempts at ‘social justice’ (which) have been to embolden criminals to commit more crimes against you, your family and your property.” He is also against “leftist ideology” in K-12 education, alluding to the GOP’s fight against critical race theory in classrooms – a college or law-school course.
More information about DeGroot is available here.