Republican State Assembly candidate Jay Weber visited the College Republicans on Nov. 29 to talk about corruption in New Jersey, how to reduce it and how Republicans can make a comeback in the Garden State. Weber said that corruption might not be a winning election issue for Republicans, but clean governance is worth pursuing.
According to Weber, unethical behavior in New Jersey is a bipartisan issue.
“We’ve really earned our reputation as the Louisiana of the North,” Weber said.
Weber said the public sentiment is that as long as politicians vote the “right way” for a voter, private conduct doesn’t matter.
According to Weber, people generally believe that both Republican and Democratic politicians are the same when it comes to integrity: they both don’t have any.
“People just don’t believe that one party is more ethical than others,” Weber said.
The large size of New Jersey government, from state to municipal, contributes to unethical behavior, Weber said. According to Weber, the approximately $60 billion that New Jersey spends at all levels of government makes for a “big pie” of money that politicians want to get their hands on.
In general, Weber said, politics is a battle between the “taxpayers and the tax-eaters.” Tax-eaters, he said, like public employees unions, are strong, powerful and well-organized, whereas taxpayers are not.
Weber also accused the New Jersey Supreme Court of being an activist court. He said its decisions, ranging from Abbott v. Burke, where it required the state to heavily fund urban schools, to the recent gay marriage opinion, took power away from the legislature.
Weber said when the court takes the role of the legislature, it makes voters feel like they can’t make a difference, which adds to the apathy in New Jersey politics.
Weber said solutions for cleaning up corruption included a ban on dual-office-holding, where a state legislator holds several government jobs, tougher nepotism bans and an end to pay-to-play, where contractors give campaign contributions and receive contracts in return.
Weber said that he thought that pay-to-play laws were important, but were no “silver bullet.” Campaign contributors simply weren’t dumb enough to make the contracting arrangements explicit.
A strong U.S. Attorney was important, as was an Attorney General who was serious about the problem of corruption in the state, Weber said. He praised current U.S. Attorney Chris Christie for his work in cracking down on corruption in the state.
Thomas Sales, senior political science major, said that Republicans have failed to cash in on Democratic ethical missteps.
“Republicans failed miserably to make (corruption) a winning campaign issue,” Sales said.
Weber said that corruption wouldn’t rank on most people’s “top three” issues they worried about, but stamping it out was important nonetheless.
While Weber’s talk was meant to build on the College Republican’s showing of “Street Fight” the night before, a 2005 documentary following Republican challenger Cory Booker’s unsuccessful 2002 bid to unseat long-time Democratic mayor of Newark, Sharpe James, Weber also talked about New Jersey politics in general. Weber said he had a “very broad mandate” about what he was to talk about, and he kept his talk informal and question-driven.
Weber called James the “poster boy for abuse and corruption in New Jersey.” He cited James’ “double-dipping” as mayor of Newark, for which he earns $213,000 more than any state governor or state senator.
Weber emphasized the role of students in local campaign politics and encouraged the College Republicans to make a difference.
“If there’s anything we need in this state, it’s young, excited, College Republicans,” Weber said. “It doesn’t take a lot to make a difference.”