The following is an edited transcript of an MDAdvantage podcast with Steve Adubato, PhD, and Senator Christopher “Kip” Bateman, that was recorded on October 14, 2021. Senator Bateman, who represented the 16th Legislative District, spoke to us about his family legacy of service, current partisan politics, his decision to not seek another term as New Jersey Senator and his plans for the future.
ADUBATO: Senator, before we start talking about your public career over four decades and your decision to step away, let acknowledge that there’s a family legacy of public service. To give some background: Your dad, Ray Bateman, was a distinguished member of the State Legislature, the Republican leader in the State Senate, and he ran for Governor. You have served in the Legislature since 1994, first in the Assembly and then as a State Senator. Given your public career as somebody who has successfully made a difference in the lives of others, why step down at this critical point?
SENATOR BATEMAN: A couple things contributed to that decision. First of all, after the last redistricting, my district became very competitive. Right now, I think there’s 21,000 more Democrats in my district. I was hoping for a new district after the redistricting, but they put that off. Also, I had open heart surgery in January, replacing my aortic valve. And I have a new grandson. There’s no question that I think I could’ve won, but it was not going to be easy. So, I decided that almost 40 years of public service is enough. I want to spend some more time with my family. When my kids were growing up, I was mayor, a freeholder, assemblyman, senator, and a lot of times, I was away from my family. Now, I want to be able to spend some quality time with my grandson and my children. So it was a tough decision, but I think it’s the right decision. I’m going to still be involved in other ways, but it was a good opportunity for me to step aside.
ADUBATO: This podcast is not about politics, per se, but in the past, Senator, we’ve had many conversations about the state of the political environment and the lack of civility. Certainly, people disagree—Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, liberals. That’s not the point. There’s something different going on. What is your take on that?
“Too many representatives won’t give an inch if they think it’s going to help the other side. Both Republicans and Democrats are guilty of that.”
SENATOR BATEMAN: No question about it. This is true in Trenton, but especially in Washington. Sometimes, Washington is an embarrassment. Too many representatives won’t give an inch if they think it’s going to help the other side. Both Republicans and Democrats are guilty of that. My dad taught me early on: When you go to Trenton, make friends on the other side, build relationships because you’re not always going to be in the majority. That was the best advice he could’ve given me because over my almost-three decades in Trenton, I developed some great friendships on the other side. Sure enough, the power switched from Republican to Democrat, and they remembered that. Dad told me stories that he and the other legislators used to fight like hell on the Senate floor and then go out to have dinner and drinks with each other. We don’t have that today.
I was fortunate enough to develop some great relationships, and it certainly helped me in my career to pass some meaningful legislation. To solve any of today’s problems, it’s going to have to be in a bipartisan manner, especially with the environmental issues. You need to have both parties involved—that’s how we were successful in passing some significant legislation. The friendships I had made certainly didn’t hurt. They helped.
ADUBATO: You’ve been a lifelong Republican. It’s part of your family legacy. Yet, you’ve told me publicly that the Republican Party has changed significantly. What do you mean? And where is your place in the party moving forward?
SENATOR BATEMAN: I think we have focused too much on some of the extreme moral issues, and I don’t think our message is resonating with the voters. I’m a moderate Republican, and unfortunately—Senator Smith told me about four years ago—that’s a dying breed in New Jersey. You’re always going to have your extremes to your left and right, but most people I’ve met in my life, in my political career, are somewhere in the middle. People are somewhat more moderate. And so we need to send a better message because our tent’s getting smaller and smaller, especially in New Jersey. There’s a million more Democrats registered than Republicans, so obviously, our message is not getting to the people, or they don’t like the message they’re hearing. I just think that we have to get over the Trump days and really focus more on conservative fiscal issues. New Jersey’s become a state where you really can’t afford to live anymore, so we really should be focusing on the economic issues and working in a bipartisan manner on the environment and on getting our fiscal house in order.
“We were able to successfully get on the ballot a constitutional amendment that would provide permanent funding for farmland preservation, open space, historic preservation and blue acres.”
ADUBATO: Senator, let’s be specific. In your many years of service in the state house, what legislation are you most proud of?
SENATOR BATEMAN: The legislation that I’m most proud of took three or four attempts. I was working with Senator Bob Smith, the Chair of the Senate Environment Committee for many years and still counting. We were able to successfully get on the ballot a constitutional amendment that would provide permanent funding for farmland preservation, open space, historic preservation and blue acres. It passed in 21 counties, and it became a law. That is funding into perpetuity every year. It’s 6 percent of the corporate business tax, and this money goes to obviously very good causes around the state. That was probably one of my proudest moments. I also was proud years ago, back when auto insurance was a big issue in the gubernatorial campaigns. I was fortunate to sponsor the Auto Insurance Reform Act, which really made auto insurance more accessible and more affordable. That was a lasting legacy. More recently, for maybe the last seven years, I’ve been fighting the PennEast Pipeline. They wanted to put a pipeline right through some of the most environmentally sensitive areas of the state, and with a group effort — Republicans, Democrats, local, county, state, federal legislators — we were able to defeat that. We sent an important message that we have to be careful where we put these pipelines. We have to be aware of the environment and environmental ramifications.
ADUBATO: But Senator, none of these issues are Democrat or Republican. None of them.
It strikes me that when you’re talking about auto insurance; or about a cleaner, safer environment; or clean drinking water; or protecting open land, you’re not talking about partisan issues. It seems they are all in the interest of the state and the nation.
SENATOR BATEMAN: Absolutely.
ADUBATO: I want to follow up on your accomplishments. In the summer of 2021, Governor Murphy signed the Timothy Piazza Law. What is that all about?
SENATOR BATEMAN: Tim was an outstanding 19-year-old student and athlete from Readington Township who went to Penn State. While pledging for one of the fraternities, he was forced to drink way too much alcohol. Then, when he was obviously drunk, nobody watched him, and he fell down the stairs. Concerned about calling the EMTs, they moved him to a sofa, and no one was responsible enough to look after him and call for help immediately. If that had happened, he’d still be alive today. His neighbor, Matt Prager, approached me suggesting that I introduce antihazing legislation to prevent this from happening in the future. I did that, and now hazing is a fourth-degree crime if there’s bodily injury. Hopefully, this sends a signal that this is inappropriate behavior. Unfortunately, around the country, this happens every year. His parents, Jim and Evelyn, have made this a cause, going around the country, working with other states to pass legislation similar to what we passed here in New Jersey. In fact, New Jersey has the strongest law to date. The Governor came out to Raritan Valley Community College to sign the legislation, and the Attorney General also spoke. It’s important because the last thing you want to do is send your daughter or son to college and have this happen. Hopefully, with this legislation, people will be more careful about hazing. The fight’s certainly not over, but hopefully this will send the right signal that we take this seriously and hold college and the fraternities responsible. They need to act better.
ADUBATO: I can’t imagine anyone arguing against that. Now, let me ask you, in spite of the political environment, is there something about your public service, particularly in the state house, that you’re going to miss?
SENATOR BATEMAN: Yes, absolutely. I’m going to miss the people; I’m also going to miss helping constituents. People have so many different problems, and they come to us, and we always try to help. When we are successful, it’s very rewarding. So, I will miss helping people. Also, I’m going to miss the camaraderie with the Senate. But I’m still going to be involved in some capacity, just not as an elected official.
ADUBATO: Thank you. Through every conversation we’ve ever had, every interview, every offline conversation, every dinner or celebration, it’s obvious to everyone that you’re a really good guy, but you have also been a great public servant. You care deeply about people, and that is part of your family legacy.