Several recent polls show that Gov. Jon S. Corzine is somewhat above 50 percent in his approval rating. These poll numbers are surprising to me.
Since Gov. Corzine’s inauguration, New Jersey has seen a sales tax increase with threats to raise more taxes, as well as an increase in violent crime in urban areas, the slashing of aid to colleges (including this institution) and several high-profile Democratic Party scandals. Plus, there was a week-long government shutdown in which seasoned Trenton politicians went toe-to-toe with the then-new governor. This event, in which people suffered because of an argument over which way to raise taxes on the middle-class, ultimately led me out of the Democratic Party and left many frustrated. So why is Gov. Corzine doing so well?
One theory is that people want to like the governor. The image of the bearded friendly executive “uncle” who came late to politics is a sharp contrast with ex-Gov. Jim McGreevey who was seen as a wheel-and-dealer. They seem to think Gov. Corzine is giving New Jersey politics a more respectable image.
Yet there is not much to back this up. Gov. Corzine has done little to put an end to business as usual among money- and power-grubbing legislators, mostly from his own party. He has tepidly supported reforms on certain earmarks and dual-office holding (a good, but not bold step), but has expanded rather than reformed state government. The governor has showed earnest concern about the state’s transportation challenges, but has not come up with a fiscally responsible way to fix them. (And no, selling the Turnpike to Goldman Sachs does not seem sound to me.) As many other governors around the nation, both Democrat and Republican, cut taxes and invest in their state’s future, Gov. Corzine seems to be doing neither.
Moreover, New Jerseyans seem to be in disagreement with the governor on selling the Turnpike and Parkway, as well as illegal immigration. Even 60 percent of the governor’s backers oppose selling the state’s toll roads. There seems to be a groundswell to move toward tougher enforcement of laws on illegal aliens after the recent killings in Newark’s West Ward, yet Gov. Corzine seems to be taking a stance against tougher standards for illegal immigrants.
Another theory for Gov. Corzine’s high ratings during a difficult time is that people like to blame a nameless, faceless entity. In New Jersey politics, this is the erudite and intellectual State Legislature. The Legislature includes such rocket-scientists as Sen. Joe Coniglio of district 38, which includes Paramus, who was last seen at the center of a serious federal investigation into his contract at a hospital outside his district.
Many New Jerseyans don’t know or want to know these individual legislators so it is easier to sometimes blame them for the state’s ills. The governor, on the other hand, is in the news almost every day, and unlike Gov. McGreevey who alternated between being boisterous and angry, Gov. Corzine usually comes off as calm and controlled. Therefore, he seizes the high ground and can blame the Legislature for any failures, as he did during last year’s government shutdown.
Of course, my party, the Republicans, needs to be much more pro-active. Being just the party of saying “no” keeps you in the minority and we must expand our base beyond the wealthy suburbs and rural areas we dominate in. We have exceptional legislators like Jon Bramnick, Bill Baroni and Kevin O’Toole, but we need a more effective communication machine to get our message out. New Jerseyans will choose smaller government, freer markets, lower taxes and toughness on crime, but only when they trust Republicans with quality-of-life issues and with earnest, confident leadership. This is how great Republicans like Tom Kean Sr. and Rudy Giuliani won in Democratic strongholds before. Until then, people will continue to give Gov. Corzine high marks for being simply a “nice guy.”
As you start this school year and vote in November’s state elections, remember that your tuition is so high because this nice guy and his friends in the legislature took aid to colleges and dumped it into other projects to help them keep their power. And I hope you will join the Republican Party, which is really the party of growth and progress in the Garden State.