Here in the decidedly blue state of New Jersey, where we reliably vote for Democrats even if Scooby Doo was the candidate, we have the unique opportunity to stem the tide of the tax-and-spend liberal Democrats we elect to the Governor’s mansion. The parallels between the national mood in 2008 and the mood of the state of Jersey in 2009 is amazing. In 2008, we heard of “change” and “hope” and, quite frankly, that could have actually been Scooby Doo standing on the podium giving that speech. The mood of the country was against George Bush, and by extension, the Republican Party. In fact, Obama and his army of Obamatrons got up there and railed against “the same failed policies of the past eight years.” They still do it when presented with the shortcomings of all their spending. We constantly hear, “It is not perfect, but what are we to do? Follow the same failed policies of the past eight years?” Then they say that we tried that and the people spoke in November 2008 and gave Obama a mandate, although a 53-46% vote wouldn’t necessarily be considered a “mandate” in my book. Maybe 60%, but not 53%.
In New Jersey, we have a similar situation this year. Current Governor John Corzine’s popularity rating is akin to George Bush’s near the end of his Presidency. The state is on the brink of financial catastrophe facing a $4 billion budget deficit. Corzine has warned of difficult cuts and possible increases. Never mind the fact that the State has the highest property taxes in the nation. We also have an income tax, a business tax, sales tax at 7% which was increased by Corzine from 6%, a state lottery system, casinos with taxes on their gross revenues, alcohol taxes, some of the highest tobacco taxes in the nation, and the list goes on. Throw in that we also have numerous toll roads in this state- the Atlantic City Expressway, New Jersey Turnpike & Garden State Parkway- all with their own toll structures, all just recently increased by John Corzine. He has raised car registration fees, realty transfer taxes, slapped surcharges on new developments, and just about anything they (the Democrats) can think of to raise revenue to “balance” their budget. And if you ask any Democrat how we got this way, chances are they will say that it was because of previous Republican practices. Well, Republicans have not held the Governor’s Office since 2001 when Whitman left to become Bush’s EPA nominee. From there, we have an interim Governor, then James McGreevey (you remember- the gay governor), who resigned, replaced by Codey who was replaced by Corzine. Clearly, the past eight years of Democratic policies have failed the state.
While they have increased taxes and fees, they allege that they have made “painful” budget cuts. If you go to the New Jersey Government web site, you can perhaps see one of the biggest problems. The state lists 16 departments of government. To the right, they list 67 agencies of government. Just looking at the names of them, probably 90% of their duties could be handled by 2-3 bureaucrats within an existing department. Some of them were created through the outright arrogance of Corzine himself. For example, via referendum, the voters of New Jersey negated a bond issue for the creation of a stem cell research program in New Jersey. The vote was not even close. Corzine’s response was to create commissions on brain research and spinal cord research. The list could go on and on, but the bottom line is that Corzine is just like Bush was in 2008- weakened, unpopular, and vulnerable.
Therefore, it is very possible that a Republican may be voted in as Governor this year. Corzine has basically unlimited funds from his days at Goldman-Sachs and he has shown that he has no qualms about using his private fortune to buy his way into elected office. On the Republican side, there are basically two candidates- Steve Lonegan and Christopher Christie. This should be an interesting battle within the party that hopefully does not hurt unity in the party. Christie is the former federal prosecutor in the state who made a name for himself by going after corruption wherever he found it. Lonegan is the former mayor of Bogota, outside New York, who made a name for himself going after illegal immigrants and Corzine. In fact, he has twice sued the Governor claiming he violated the State Constitution by increasing state debt without voter approval (stem cell research and new school construction funding). He currently has a suit against the State’s “affordable housing” plan that forces low-income housing on all communities. Additionally, he has sued McDonald’s for Spanish-language billboards saying it promotes the non-use of English.
I have recently been debating a local colunist and radio show host about the virtues of both Republican contenders. The debate comes down to Christie’s record fighting corruption versus Lonegan’s lone-ranger stance against fiscal malfeasance at all levels of the state government. Hence, I am sort of reminded of John McCain’s economic policy which essentially consisted of railing against pork-barrel spending and promotion of his maverick image. In a real sense, this sounds like Christie’s self-promotion of his “bipartisan” fight against corruption. Lonegan’s record, on the other hand, shows that as Mayor, he trimmed and froze the municipal budget and there were no tax increases, consolidated services, took on the local municipal unions (even the FOP) and won, and has carried that fight to the State level as a private citizen. He even stood by his self-imposed two terms as Mayor of Bogota. And did I mention that Bogota is not exactly Republican territory?
The battle for Governor presents the Republican Party with a unique opportunity- not only in this state, but nationally. Looking at the election calendar this year, the battle for Governor in New Jersey is one of the most important in a bland year. This is a chance for the Republicans to take down a Democratic Governor in a Democratic state in a Democratic region of the nation. Given the recent national losses in the Northeast, this could be a momentum turner for the Republican Party. It will not be easy fighting the largesse of Corzine and the liberal media outlets in New Jersey (incidentally, the largest media outlets are in NYC and Philadelphia). My only hope is that the Republicans don’t fatally shoot themselves in the foot before they have the chance to take on Corzine.