Ask Scott Salmon why he wants to take on the challenge of unseating Republican House member Leonard Lance (R-Dist. 7) and he’ll dive into a powerful chapter of family history.
“My grandparents escaped Nazi Germany in 1939 just one month before the Germans invaded Belgium, where they had been living,” he told NJJN in an exclusive interview. Through the stories of his grandfather, he said, he developed a distinct appreciation for standing up to oppression and bigotry. “As I grew up I learned the lessons [my grandfather] taught about the Holocaust. They were very important.”
That legacy is one of the engines driving his congressional ambition. “I want to fight for freedom and equality,” said the Democratic candidate of his first run for public office.
Salmon’s other driver is the current chief executive of the United States, and national politics, and the foibles of Pres. Donald Trump, which dominated our conversation at a Westfield Starbucks.
While Salmon acknowledges that anti-Semitism is always lurking “beneath the surface” — in law school a classmate told Salmon he wished he “should burn in an oven” — he blames the rise in racially motivated incidents throughout the country squarely on Trump’s shoulders.
“We’ve seen it become acceptable for people who harbor those beliefs to come forward,” he said. “With Pres. Trump becoming an authority figure, they think these beliefs are OK.” One of his legislative goals, he said, is to sponsor strong hate crime laws “to push that genie back in the bottle.”
“I want to stand on the stage and say ‘No, it’s not OK,’” said Salmon.
Though the sitting congressman is the clear frontrunner, Salmon rejects the notion that Lance is a sure winner in the 2018 election. That’s because he senses the Republican voters in his district could take out their anger at Trump on Lance.
“Normally I don’t think Democrats have a chance of defeating Leonard Lance, but this year we do,” he said, even as he noted that Lance was reelected in 2016 by 11 points ahead of Democrat Peter Jacob.
Salmon, 27, grew up in Scotch Plains, attended Temple Emanu-El in Westfield, and returned to his hometown after graduating from Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania and Washington and Lee University School of Law in Virginia Now he is an associate in the Princeton law office of Hill Wallack LLP, and specializes in business franchise law.
Asked what he disliked the most about Trump, Salmon hesitated for a second, then said it was that his behavior was reminiscent of a U.S. president in office long before Salmon was born. “You have to go back to Richard Nixon and the damage he did to the government,” he said. “Since then I think people are not looking at their government or their country in the same way.”
He didn’t mince words when he called the Trump administration’s tax reforms a “disaster” (oddly enough, one of the president’s favorite terms), and said it was shameful for the Republicans to take money “from people who need it most, and giving it to people who need it least.”
Despite the federal investigation into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to interfere in the U.S. election, Salmon doesn’t believe the president will be removed from office “unless the Republican Party realizes he has become a liability to them winning elections.”
He also took a shot at Trump with regard to the sexual harassment scandals that have taken down prominent men in politics, Hollywood, and the media in recent months. “The one person who is exempt from this is the president. That presumed invulnerability impairs public confidence in the solemn motto of equal justice under law.”
Turning to foreign affairs, Salmon said he believes a two-state solution is the only way to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians. “The United States may be able to bring the two parties to the negotiating table, but at that point, we have to leave them to make the concessions they need to make.”
On the looming threat from North Korea, Salmon said that rather than engaging in a military conflict, the U.S. should fight a “culture war” with the authoritarian regime. “If we can build a radio tower on the DMZ [the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea] and get the masses of North Koreans to the internet, it is the best thing we could be doing toward creating peace there,” he said.
He also advocated normalizing relations with Cuba to create “a free exchange of people and ideas,” something President Barack Obama had made headway on before Trump reversed his predecessor’s policy.
Salmon said a multinational treaty with Iran “has done as good a job as possible in stopping their efforts to build a nuclear bomb.” That said, the Iranian government has “diverted their efforts to missiles and funneling money to Hezbollah, which is now the strongest it has ever been,” he said. Moreover, he said the U.S. has made missteps in fighting global terrorism, in particular, by not aiding developing countries.
“Many of the terrorists were born in countries where the United States should have stepped in to rebuild their homes and their schools,” he said. “They are seeing that the United States is not doing this and so they have become fighters against the United States.”
On the domestic front, Salmon said he supports a combination of “strengthening mental health laws and passing gun safety reforms” to combat the increased frequency of mass shootings in the U.S.
Though some would consider his youth a disadvantage for his campaign, Salmon said “my age is one of the big benefits I have over the other candidates.” After all, he said, he is “energetic and may say things that are unpopular because that is the right thing to do.”