Even though women make up more than half of New Jersey's population, there are now none in the state's congressional delegation. Sheila Oliver wants to change that and believes she's the woman for the job.
Oliver has been a member of the New Jersey Assembly since 2004 and is the first African-American woman to be speaker. She has held the post since 2010.
As one of the state's most powerful Democrats, she said she's troubled that her party has not sent a woman to Washington to represent it since the 1800s.
"We have a great deal of concern about that. We have a very diverse state," Oliver said. "There are a lot of diverse interests and constituencies, and our congressional delegation should reflect the issues that are important and the concerns that New Jerseyans have."
Oliver said New Jersey needs a U.S. senator who will focus on ways the federal government can commit to a national policy to revive the economy in suburban and industrial areas. She also said she wants sensible immigration reform, saying deportation of undocumented immigrants is never going to happen.
"The House would like to see perhaps giving a road to citizens to young people who came here when they were children but not their parents. We all know that the family unit and keeping the nuclear family together is an important societal value that we have," she said.
Another priority for Oliver is having a national commitment to support students in higher education.
"We know that we have severely and significantly underfunded higher education in our state, and the affordability and access is getting out of reach. In the 21st century to succeed and aspire to the middle class, you need a college education to get you there," she said.
The polls show Oliver trails the other Democrats in next week's primary. She said she believes that's because they got a jump on fundraising.
"The lack of lengthy preparation is of no issue to me. I will do the best that I can given the circumstances," Oliver said.
As speaker, Oliver said, she's worked with people throughout New Jersey to deal with a variety of issues. That's statewide experience none of the other Democrats in the Senate race have, she said.
Every poll so far shows she has the least voter support of any of the four Democratic candidates.
That doesn't deter her in her desire to win, but she said just being a candidate is a worthwhile experience.
"I think that the relationships that I have formed, some of the issues that have been articulated to me by residents of this state will make me a better legislator when we return for our lame-duck session and subsequently our next session that begins in January."
Many other candidates have run statewide in New Jersey once to get known by voters and then a second time to have a real shot at winning.
If she doesn't win the primary, Oliver is undecided about seeking another term as Assembly speaker. She said no one should hold the position for an extended period and other members of the Legislature should have the opportunity to move into leadership roles.
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