Get to Know Our State Representatives: Assemblyman Umba and Senator Durr
March 2, 2023
In the State of Jersey, officials are elected to represent the citizens of their respective districts. At the state level, New Jersey has both an Assembly and Senate. We reached out to a variety of officials at the state level with an interview request. While we understand that many of these officials have busy schedules that may have limited availability, we are especially appreciative of the time that New Jersey Assemblyman Brandon Umba and State Senator Edward Durr to meet with us via Zoom.
Our goal was to better understand the role that each serves in state government, and how their own high school experiences influenced their desire to serve in government.
State Senator Spotlight: Edward Durr
State Senator Edward Durr (R) of the 3rd Legislative District of New Jersey was sworn into office on January 11th of 2021, after a surprising upset defeat over longtime New Jersey Senate President, Steve Sweeney (D).
Durr is currently two years into a four-year term. Durr’s district, located in the far southwest corner of the state, includes Glassboro, Swedesboro, Salem, and Pennsville Township. As a New Jersey State Senator, Durr represents the people of his district at a higher level than a state representative in the lower house. One major responsibility of Durr and his fellow senators includes voting upon an annual budget authored by the Office of Management and Budget and Governor Murphy.
“We go and end up voting on that budget and go and make our proposals of what we think, then it goes back and forth like that and by June, the budget is mandated for what goes through for the following year,” he explained.
Besides just mandating the budget, Durr also carries certain responsibilities that he didn’t even know coming into office, including something called “senatorial courtesy.”
“That deals with judgeships, and commissioner appointments, like right after I got elected I got to weigh in on the DOJ commissioner, Victoria Koon, who was nominated by Governor Murphy and since she lived in the district and my county, she needed my approval to become the commissioner. That’s a unique power each senator holds,” he stated.
We also asked Durr about his adolescent life, and why he got involved in politics.
Durr was born in Camden, New Jersey and was raised in South Jersey. He found a passion for politics in a valuable high school course that is not taught in most of today’s schools. Durr didn’t originally think he would be anywhere close to politics until very recently when he was inspired to bring change to the county and district he lives in.
“I had civics [class] in high school, and that dealt with [the] state and federal governments and the educational part of it, and that always piqued my interest. I’ll be honest, I never really saw myself as a politician till just recently; it always piqued my interest, and it motivated me to vote right out of high school.”
Senator Durr had a specific message for young voters about local government.
“You could vote for the president, congressional, the U.S senators, but if you really want to effect change in your home, you vote for your school boards, you vote your council, you vote for your mayor, you vote for your state senators or governors, that is local, that will affect you immediately.
Durr stresses the importance of voting not just for your president, but for your all-around local delegates. He believes they play a bigger role in the action of local law than say a governor or president.
In a parting message to young students who aspire to become politicians, Durr states, “You have to actually want it. If you want it, I say go for it. If you go for it, align yourself with good moral people that will stand by you no matter what.”
Durr and his Republican colleagues are currently the minority party in the State Senate and have already implemented many new laws that reflect the values of his voters.
Assemblyman Spotlight: Brandon Umba
State Assemblyman Brandon E. Umba (R) of the 8th Legislative District of New Jersey was sworn into office on January 11th, 2022.
Umba is currently in his second year of a four-year term; his current role is as a Business Administrator for Manchester Township, New Jersey. During the Assemblyman’s six years in Lumberton Township, his role was to lower the township’s property taxes all the while increasing the staff board in the Police and Public Works departments, building a new Public Safety Building, helping rebuild recreational places for the public, and helping make flood-prone properties safer.
While studying in college, he interned for Congressman Frank LoBiondo and served a semester in the Republic of Ireland. There, he worked as an intern for Michael D Higgins, who ended up becoming the President of Ireland, and to this day he is still in office.
“[Being a State Assemblyman] is similar to a congressman. I am a member of the lower house of the legislature in New Jersey, so there’s a lower house which is the senate. Our job is to enact laws or pass laws to the government’s desk so that they can enact them. Similar to what congress does when they enact laws.”
His oversight is of a township in Southeast New Jersey. He enacts local laws and deals with business matters within the communities that he oversees.
He emphasized how important relationships are in government.
“The only way you can get things done is where you need to form relationships. You have to create a friendship network. Similar to politics, government, and also in business. That’s basically the one thing that I learned from High School. It is about building your network and building the others around you.”
Assemblyman Umba stresses the importance of making and maintaining relationships within his field, which is politics. He says that in all career fields, this tactic is useful and usually beneficial for the person.
“So, your vote matters. Everybody should vote. Regardless of your viewpoint. Every election is important, but your impact on your community, your state, and your county, is bigger on the scale when you look at local elections, and state elections. You don’t feel those effects until after, maybe 10 years. In a local government, you can pass a resolution and it helps the community right then and there. I run a local municipality, and if you don’t pick up somebody’s trash, you’re gonna hear about it. So I’d say your vote matters more on a county level than state level because these votes can make instant impacts on your life.”
The Assemblyman explains why your vote matters. He goes through what it means to vote locally and what types of aspects of your life it can affect. He explains that local elected officials and their quality of them can depend on the quality of your life and that there is a possibility that it could possibly be subject to change.
“I didn’t know how slow the government was growing into politics. Bills to help the kids who are behind because of the pandemic don’t get passed because the government is so slow to act. It can take years to pass an act that is needed to fix something right away. It takes a lot of lobbying and getting people to vote for certain things. The long duration of trying to get a bill to the finish line is really something that I was surprised with.”
Umba stresses the amount of time it actually takes for certain bills to be passed. In his specific position, he advised that it’s wise to get a group of people with level of beliefs as him and it takes a lot of convincing for a bill to get passed. This way of going through the process basically makes everything go slower and that this is just the way it is at the moment.