While same people can identify their professional life in one word—for instance, education, business, transportation, communications—Herb Conaway Jr. might have difficulty coming up with just one. Doctor, lawyer and politician all describe the Bordentown native and long-time public servant.
Recently reelected to New Jersey’s 7th Legislative District representing Burlington County, Conaway, a Democrat, will begin his 21st year as a member of the General Assembly in January. Conaway served as deputy speaker of the Assembly from 2002 to 2005 and as majority whip from 2014 to 2017.
Explaining his role as majority whip, Conaway says, “The duties of the whip come into focus when we have close votes. We don’t have a number of them, but they will come up from time to time. The whip helps the leadership in making sure we can batten down the numbers we need for passage.”
In the most recent sessions, he served as the chair of the Committee on Health and Senior Services and deputy chair of the State and Local Government Committee. He has also served on the Appropriations Committee.
Born in 1963 to parents Eva Christine Conaway and Herb Conaway Sr., Conaway attended Bordentown schools before driving a few miles north to major in politics at Princeton University, graduating in 1985. Conaway then enrolled in the medical school at Thomas Jefferson University, a school that accepts only four percent of applicants.
Conaway currently serves as the medical director of the Internal Medicine Clinic at St. Francis Hospital in Trenton and is a member of the clinical faculty for the Internal Residency Program at St. Francis.
Adding four years of medical school and three years of internships and resident training to his Princeton background wasn’t enough for Conaway, though. He joined the Air Force and served as a doctor at Burlington County’s McGuire Air Force Base in 1992, while also attending Rutgers School of Law. After Rutgers, though, Conaway chose not to practice law and medicine at the same time.
“When I graduated, our baby would have been approaching two years old and at the time I was finishing, I was launching into my first campaign for the assembly,” he said. “I just didn’t have time to squeeze in studying and passing the bar exam.”
While serving at McGuire, Conaway did find time to awaken an old interest.
“I’d always wanted to fly and I had joined the Civil Air Patrol in high school,” he said. “I always thought a pilot’s license would be a great thing to do, so I kept it in my mind. The air force had an aero club on the base, and I thought it was time to check that box. I’ve thought about going back to it, but the busyness of life can overtake us.”
He says he completed the training, but starting a family sidelined further training.
Conaway says he uses all of his education on a daily basis as a practicing physician and a member of the Assembly. The undergraduate degree in politics and the law degree come in handy, he says, as he works in the halls of the legislature.
‘I would say that the reason I have had the longevity I’ve had is that I’ve approached the job as the privilege that it is.’
Proudly reflecting on his parents and their influence on his life, Conaway notes that his late mother was a supervising nurse for most of her working life at St. Francis Hospital, while his father taught history, first at the Bordentown Military Institute and later at Bordentown Regional High School.
“My dad is still living and going strong,” Conaway says. “He is doing a little bit of everything. He has some rental properties that keep him busy and he cuts my sister’s grass. He’s 82, but he still rollerblades and believes in keeping himself fit.”
Conaway’s own children, Alexandra, 22, and Clark, 17, keep him busy outside of work as he follows their educational and sports accomplishments. At this time of year, Conaway is attending a lot of soccer tournaments while looking forward to his son’s transition to basketball for the winter season.
As a legislator, the bills Conaway sponsors tend to focus on family, health, the military and the environment. When reminded of that, he says, “That’s a fair assessment. I am the only physician in the legislature. Bill ideas which people have from all corners tend to come to me. People do often focus in areas in which they have the most expertise and mine, of course, is healthcare policy.”
As a practicing physician, Conaway is all too familiar with the issues of both tobacco and opioid addiction in New Jersey, especially among New Jersey’s youth. Conaway serves on the board of directors of the Truth Initiative, a national organization dedicated to achieving a culture where all youth and young adults reject tobacco.
“Our focus is to eliminate smoking in young adults from 18 to 24, and I’m pleased to say that we just voted to look very closely at preventing addiction to opioids,” he said. “So, we’re branching out a little bit given the current national crisis in that area, and we’ll be spending some of our resources, both financial and scientific, to study that addiction.”
With 20 years of service in the Assembly now, Conaway notes his tenure is longer than average and he is unsure if he will continue to serve as the whip when the assembly convenes again in January, though he says he would be happy to stay on.
Looking to the future, Conaway says he won’t be pinned down about other opportunities for service, although he did speak at length about the energy created in favor of the Democratic party by elections in several states in November, including New Jersey.
“Right now, there is a lot of focus on the 2018 Congressional cycle,” he said. “You can imagine in the wake of the last election and the big victories in New Jersey and Virginia, there is a real energy in the electorate. I’ve seen more young people involved in this recent election than I’ve ever seen in my 30 years of politics. I’m very heartened by that. People are remembering their civics lessons and taking up their responsibility in the process and acting in a peaceful way to bring about much needed change in our country. The recent wins, in some cases in places Democrats had not won before, was more broad-based and gives people a hope that change is coming.
“The biggest threat to democracy in my view is political gerrymandering. If you can get yourself elected or reelected by talking only to a small number of people, that leads to divisiveness in our public speaking. These districts, and how they’re drawn, are setting the tone in the halls of congress.”
Returning to his long service, Conaway reflected on the reasons he has been reelected so many times.
“I would say that the reason I have had the longevity I’ve had is that I’ve approached the job as the privilege that it is and I try to honor that in my public service,” he said. “I am pleased that people call me the voice of reason because I am. I like to be reasonable in my thoughts and deliberations and I treat everyone with respect. I try to be responsive to the people that do the voting. I think that has paid off in the long term and I thank the people. It has been a privilege to serve and I thank all those who have supported me, as well as those who have not supported me but who have engaged with me to get something done for the state of New Jersey.”