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The Story of My Naturalization Process

By Darya Hrybava, Events and Communications Specialist at the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy

It was a very special week for me, as I successfully passed my naturalization test and became a U.S. citizen. My naturalization ceremony took place on the same day, which is rather uncommon. In most states the ceremony happens about six to eight weeks after the interview, but New Jersey is one of two states that offer the opportunity of having both the test and the ceremony on the same day. Also, it was interesting to learn that naturalization ceremonies can take place not only in a federal courthouse or immigration offices, but in many other locations as well, such as schools, stadiums, and even on boats. For example, Stockton University hosts naturalization ceremonies. Some of the ceremonies feature special speakers and can last many hours. Mine was quite small and short, but I was quite happy about it, as I could not wait to become a citizen.

Part of the naturalization test is the civics exam. I knew most of the answers to the questions in the book that I was given to prepare for the test, as I have a B.A. in Political Science and work in the Hughes Center that conducts research on public policy and promotes civic engagement. However, it was still very interesting to learn about various parts of U.S. history. It made me feel all the more connected to and appreciative of this place I call home. It is somewhat dismaying that research studies, including some conducted by the Hughes Center, show low levels of political knowledge and engagement among American citizens. Perhaps a basic civics class should be added to the standard American public education curriculum.

At the ceremony we were told that afterwards we would be able to register to vote right outside of the room. Because of my work over the last few years in the Hughes Center for public policy, which encourages people to vote and participate in the democratic process, I am well aware of the data that show that voting rates are quite low among eligible voters. I therefore thought I should set a good example and register myself to vote. I did not expect that many people who took the oath with me would do the same, but I was pleasantly surprised to see a long line by the registration table. The right to vote is both a privilege and a responsibility of citizens, and I am honored to be able to participate in a democratic process that is unfortunately unavailable to many people around the world.

Learning from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: The Policy Implications of Squirrel Hill, Part 2

By Dr. Michael W. Klein, Interim Executive Director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy

Step One to get my head around the mass murders, spurred by anti-Semitism, in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27 was how to talk with elected officials. Step Two is figuring out what to say to elected officials.

What policy changes would help to prevent the next mass shooting? Since the tragedy at the Tree of Life Synagogue, The Washington Post has suggested restoring the federal ban on assault weapons.

The gunman in Pittsburgh used an AR-15 assault rifle and three Glock .357 handguns. The rifle and the handguns were semiautomatic, meaning they fire one bullet with one squeeze of the trigger, then automatically reload and are ready to fire again. The AR-15 is different from its military cousins – the M16 and the M4 carbine used by soldiers and Marines – because it cannot fire in “burst” mode (three rounds with one trigger pull), or in fully automatic mode (firing until the trigger is released or the ammunition runs out). Fully automatic weapons – like machine guns – have been significantly regulated under federal law since the National Firearms Act of 1934.

But make no mistake, the AR-15 is plenty lethal. It shoots bullets more than twice as fast as most handguns. With a standard 30-bullet magazine, which can be quickly replaced, the AR-15 can fire more than a hundred rounds in a few minutes.

Congress and President Clinton outlawed most assault weapons and limited the size of magazines in the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. Title IX of it said: “It shall be unlawful for a person to manufacture, transfer, or possess a semiautomatic assault weapon.” Section 110102(b) defined “semiautomatic assault weapon” in four subparagraphs, covering specific brands and models, and specific characteristics of semiautomatic rifles, pistols, and shotguns. The “Colt AR-15” was on the list.

The ban on semiautomatic assault weapons expired in 2004, ten years after its enactment, under the terms of the law itself. Was the law effective during its ten-year existence? Looking at the issue in 2012, using data compiled by authors at Mother Jones, Dr. Sam Wang at Princeton University (whose Princeton Election Consortium is lauded for its accuracy) wrote:

Since the expiration of the gun ban in 2004, the number of [mass] shootings per year has doubled, and the number of victims per year has nearly tripled.

The data defined “mass shootings” as indiscriminate attacks in public places resulting in at least three victims (between 2013 to now) or four victims (between 1982-2012) killed by the attacker.[1]

In a postscript to his piece, Dr. Wang noted competing analyses that reached different conclusions over the correlation between the ban on assault weapons and the number of mass shootings. Still, he could not escape the connection between semiautomatic guns and the number of people they kill. “[T]hese acts are always with us,” he wrote, “but advanced weaponry creates an efficiency of scale to allow the possibility of large killings.”

The results of this past Election Day make it likely that if the House of Representatives reconsiders the ban on semiautomatic assault weapons, the Senate would stall the measure. While the debate over an individual’s right under the Second Amendment to own a semiautomatic assault weapon can seem intractable, UCLA Law Professor Adam Winkler’s book, Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America, puts the issue in historical context, noting that the Founding Fathers balanced gun rights with public safety needs. Professor Winkler was this year’s Constitution Day keynote speaker at Stockton University, and I had the good fortune to hear him speak.

Stockton University’s Constitution Day 2018 keynote speaker Adam Winkler with Michael Klein, Interim Executive Director of the Hughes Center

Aside from restoring the ban on semiautomatic assault weapons at the federal level, elected officials at the state level could address the connection between mental illness and gun violence. One option includes “red-flag” laws – formally known as “extreme risk protection orders” or “gun violence restraining orders” – that allow judges to take guns away from people who are deemed to pose a risk to themselves or others. Law enforcement officers or family members of a mentally ill person can petition a judge for that person to receive involuntary mental health treatment based on a pattern of behavior, and to store their guns for safekeeping, until the judge determines it is safe to return the guns.

Thirteen states have enacted red-flag laws, eight of them after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. in February 2018. Governor Phil Murphy signed New Jersey’s red-flag law, called the Extreme Risk Protective Order Act of 2018, on June 13, 2018, which takes effect in September 2019.

Known already as a state with one of the nation’s toughest gun laws, New Jersey may yet take more steps. Governor Murphy is exploring a new package of bills that would, among other initiatives, update the law regarding ammunition purchases, add a new crime for making “straw purchases” of guns for people already banned from owning a firearm, and increase funding for community-based gun-violence prevention programs.

Institutions of higher education can play a greater role in shaping policies on gun safety and mental health. Here at Stockton University, the Hughes Center is working with faculty experts in Criminal Justice, Sociology, and Physical Therapy to explore research on gun violence, mental illness, and community trust. Our colleagues at Rutgers University recently received $2 million to establish New Jersey’s Center on Gun Violence Research, which will conduct cross-disciplinary research on the causes, consequences and solutions to firearm-related violence, including homicides, assaults, suicides and accidental shootings.

Our democratic process depends on well-informed policies to protect our safety and our rights. It also requires courageous leaders who inspire – as Abraham Lincoln said in his First Inaugural Address — “the better angels of our nature.” My third blog post about the shootings in Squirrel Hill will explore that topic.

[1] The statistical change from four victims to three is the result of the standard used under President Obama’s January 2013 mandate for a federal investigation of mass shootings. Mark Follman, Gavin Aronsen, and Deanna Pan explain this in more detail in A Guide to Mass Shootings in America, sadly updated through Oct. 27, 2018.


Learning from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: The Policy Implications of Squirrel Hill, Part 1

By Dr. Michael W. Klein, Interim Executive Director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy

Mister Rogers’ neighborhood was, literally, Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh. Fred Rogers, the compassionate creator of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, lived three and a half blocks from the Tree of Life Synagogue, where a gunman killed 11 people and wounded six others, including four police officers, on Oct. 27, the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history.

Memorials outside the Tree of Life Synagogue (Photo by Mary Ann Dunham)

One of my best friends from law school, Mary Ann Dunham, lives in Squirrel Hill, down the street from Mr. Rogers’ old house, and she pointed it out when I visited Pittsburgh for the first time over 20 years ago. Mary Ann has shared her poignant and emotional experiences since the shooting, and I am grateful for her photographs that accompany this blog entry.

The Squirrel Hill neighborhood the morning of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue on October 27, 2018 (Photo by Mary Ann Dunham)

I am thinking a lot about Fred Rogers and the advice he might give about this moment in American history. Step One would be to tell elected officials what you think. Fred Rogers did this himself in 1969. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood had been on the air nationally on PBS only since February 1968. The Nixon administration, in its first year in office, planned to cut in half a $20 million grant proposed by the Johnson administration to PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. On May 1, 1969, Mr. Rogers appeared before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Communication. He brought, but did not read, a 10-minute statement, saying, “I’d just like to talk about it, if it’s alright.” This is a good lesson for anyone testifying before a legislative committee: talk, don’t read.

Senator John O. Pastore, the chair of the subcommittee, initially looked on impassively as Mr. Rogers spoke about his program’s budget and his concern about the “bombardment” of cartoons in children’s programming. Mr. Rogers said to Sen. Pastore, “I’m very much concerned, as I know you are, about what’s being delivered to our children in this country. And I’ve worked in the field of child development for six years now, trying to understand the inner needs of children.” Senator Pastore, taking interest, asked for a copy of the program.

Mr. Rogers went on to say, presciently:

This is what I give. I give an expression of care every day to each child, to help him realize that he is unique. I end the program by saying, “You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you, just the way you are.” And I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health. I think that it’s much more dramatic that two men could be working out their feelings of anger — much more dramatic than showing something of gunfire. I’m constantly concerned about what our children are seeing, and for 15 years I have tried in this country and Canada, to present what I feel is a meaningful expression of care.

Fred Rogers testifies before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications on May 1, 1969

After Mr. Rogers explained that he hosted the program, acted as the puppeteer, wrote all the music, and wrote all the scripts, Sen. Pastore said, “Well, I’m supposed to be a pretty tough guy, and this is the first time I’ve had goose bumps for the last two days.”

Mr. Rogers concluded by reciting the words to his song about the good feeling of control that children need to know they have. “What do you do with the mad that you feel?” is the opening line. At the end of the song, Sen. Pastore said: “I think it’s wonderful. I think it’s wonderful. Looks like you just earned the twenty million dollars.”

You can watch this remarkable moment – a humble man changing a powerful senator’s mind – starting at the five-minute mark of the video of Mr. Rogers’ testimony.

But even Mr. Rogers can’t speed the work of Congress. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, according to its appropriations history, received $9 million in FY1969, $15 million in FY1970, and – finally — $23 million in FY1971.

Mr. Rogers proved that the right words to the right leaders can eventually change policy. My next post will explore the policies that could address the tragedy in Squirrel Hill.

Remembering Bill Schluter: Senator, reformer, and friend

By Dr. Michael W. Klein, Interim Executive Director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy

Since starting at the Hughes Center for Public Policy in January, I have been struggling to think of an appropriate inaugural entry for our blog. The legacy of public service of my friend Bill Schluter, who died on August 6, has finally inspired me to write.

Bill was serving as the senator in Legislative District 23 when I was lucky to be working for an equally dedicated public servant, then-Assemblyman Leonard Lance. I learned quickly that the Schluter and Lance staffs worked in synch, particularly on scheduling. An entry marked with Bill’s initials – “WES” – likely meant that Assemblyman Lance would be attending, too.

Bill could see the future, in a way. In early 1993, during a meeting with municipal officials from Districts 23 and 24 – spanning Hunterdon, Warren, Sussex, Morris, and Mercer counties – Bill warned about the consequences of a new, 20-mile stretch of Interstate 287, soon to be completed between Suffern, NY and Montvale, NJ. Bill knew that trucks on Route 287 bound for New Jersey would bypass the tolls on the Turnpike by taking Routes 206, 202, and 31, roads intersecting his district – including his hometown of Pennington – that were not meant for those big loads and heavy traffic.

It’s as if Bill had already read an article in The New York Times that appeared three years later, on June 2, 1996, which said:

What is happening alongside the new stretch of Interstate 287 was widely predicted, but what is going on in Pennington, a small town 60 miles away, was not. Pennington, five miles north of Trenton in Mercer County, straddles Highway 31, a winding, hilly two-lane road flanked by residential drives, small shops, stands of trees and fields.

Interstate 287 transformed this pastoral road into a truck route, and every diner along it has become a de facto truck stop. In 1991, when New Jersey Turnpike tolls were doubled, the trickle of trucks here became a steady stream. The opening of Interstate 287 made it a torrent.

The only issue more vexing to New Jerseyans than traffic is property taxes, and Bill tried to tackle that, too. His idea was a constitutional convention dedicated to the single issue of property taxes. In 2000, Bill helped to found Citizens for the Public Good, a bipartisan group with a mission “to act as a forceful advocate for fundamental reforms.” After first focusing on campaign finance reform, Citizens for the Public Good turned its attention to property tax reform in 2002.

Rather than an advocacy campaign, Citizens for the Public Good – technically, its 501(C)(3) offshoot, the Coalition for the Public Good – directly engaged the people of New Jersey with a Citizens’ Tax Assembly. Statewide recruiting brought in about 600 nominations, resulting in 100 delegates. In the end, 92 of them traveled to the State House over the weekend of September 13-14, 2003 – two whole days! – for wonky discussions, in large settings and small groups, about property tax reform. Continuing to be inspired by Bill and his organization, the delegates met again on June 12, 2004 to hash out specific policy recommendations and the structure of a constitutional convention. In September and October of 2004, four regional forums, each with its own set of delegates totaling 125 people, met in day-long sessions in Cherry Hill, Jersey City, Morristown and New Brunswick.

Bill Schluter was a driving force behind all of it, and he somehow convinced me to serve as a moderator each time.

While Bill’s vision of a constitutional convention did not materialize, the work of the Citizens’ Tax Assemblies was impressive and still offers common-sense and provocative ideas for New Jersey, which you can find in three reports:

Redistricting caught up to Bill in 2001, and instead of running for reelection, he ran as in independent candidate for governor. To manage his campaign, he hired Doug Friedline, who had successfully run former pro wrestler Jesse “The Body” Ventura’s independent gubernatorial campaign in Minnesota in 1998. At a fundraiser in August 2001, Bill was dwarfed by the 6-foot-four-inch, 250-pound Ventura, but he managed to raise up to $50,000 at the event.

While perhaps not resembling a pro wrestler, Bill was an outstanding athlete. He ran in the New York City Marathon in 1993 at age 66, but when I saw him on crutches outside the Union Hotel in Flemington, I did not ask how it went.

Years later, I would see Bill most every morning at our gym, the Pennington Ewing Athletic Club. He was usually riding a stationary bike, reading a newspaper, magazine, or book. Reading, pedaling, reading pedaling. He’d greet me the same way every time: “Hiya, Mikey!” Then he’d want to discuss the latest political gossip or policy issue of the day.

“Mikey” was not the only nickname that Bill had for me. I was also a member of the “Lance Mafia,” the small group that served as legislative directors over the years to Assemblyman and then Senator – and now Congressman – Lance.

Bill loved politics, and he was the best master of ceremonies at fundraisers I ever saw. After introducing each guest speaker, Bill kept close watch of the time. Anyone who went too long would get the hook…one time literally, with a shepherd’s crook that Bill had somehow brought with him.

I still have more to say about Bill Schluter – his tradition of holding his own fundraisers during peak strawberry season, so he could give away pints of fresh strawberries to everyone as they left; his maverick streak that led him to support John Anderson for president in 1980, instead of his party’s candidate Ronald Reagan; our shared connection to Princeton University (“are you going to Reunions this year?”) – but in the spirit of Bill, I hereby give myself the hook.

Stockton’s Hughes Center for Public Policy Launches Online Forum, ‘Policy Hues’

Stockton’s Hughes Center for Public Policy Launches Online Forum, ‘Policy Hues’

For Immediate Release; with photo of Figart

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Contact:    Maryjane Briant

                        News and Media Relations Director

                        Galloway Township, NJ 08205


                        (609) 652-4593

Deb 1









Galloway, NJ – Concerned citizens have another forum in which to engage on today’s public policy issues with the start of “Policy Hues,” a new blog ( hosted by the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

Policy Hues will feature blog posts from Dr. Deborah M. Figart, professor of Education and Economics in the School of Education and a Contributing Policy Analyst for the Hughes Center. Figart is also director of the Stockton Center for Economic & Financial Literacy, which serves as the southern regional office of the New Jersey Coalition for Financial Education (

Dr. Figart received a Ph.D. in Economics from The American University in 1986 and a B.A. in Economics, summa cum laude, from Wheaton College (Mass.) in 1981.

Dr. Figart is an internationally known scholar in the field of labor and employment issues. She has written on the subjects of equal pay, working time, emotional labor at work, minimum and living wages, job evaluation and career ladders.

With her academic background rooted in her knowledge of economics, Dr. Figart will provide commentary on other public policy issues including those affecting the workforce, financial literacy and economic development.

She is the author or editor of 18 books or monographs, including: Women and the Economy: A Reader (M.E. Sharpe, 2003); Living Standards and Social Well-Being (Routledge, 2011); and Handbook of Research on Gender and Economic Life (Elgar, 2013). Some of her current research is on financial exclusion in the U.S. and the student loan debt crisis.

Dr. Figart currently serves on the Board of Trustees of Novadebt, a non-profit credit counseling corporation. She recently completed terms as a member of Atlantic County Advisory Commission for women and coeditor of the Review of Social Economy, a peer-reviewed journal in economics.

“We are pleased to have the distinctive voice of Dr. Figart in providing commentary on contemporary policy issues,” said Daniel J. Douglas, director of the Hughes Center.

“We encourage members of the public to read and comment on the blog posts,” said Douglas.

In addition to Dr. Figart’s blog posts, Policy Hues will also include columns from Carl Golden, press secretary for former New Jersey Governors Tom Kean and Christie Whitman. Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the Hughes Center.

The new blog expands the Hughes Center’s web and social media presence that includes a website (, Twitter handle (@hughescenter or (, and Facebook (

About the Hughes Center

The William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy ( at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey serves as a catalyst for research, analysis and innovative policy solutions on the economic, social and cultural issues facing New Jersey, and is also the home of the Stockton Polling Institute. The Center is named for William J. Hughes, whose distinguished career includes service in the U.S. House of Representatives, Ambassador to Panama and as a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Stockton College. The Hughes Center can be followed on Twitter @hughescenter and found on Facebook at