Corzine’s small ‘d’ democracy excludes students

Any avid readers of or the Newark Star-Ledger are probably, by now, well versed in Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s plan for the economic revitalization of the Garden State.

One of the more controversial elements of Corzine’s four-step plan is Corzine’s plan to increase tolls on all N.J. toll roads, beginning in 2010, in scheduled 50 percent increments.

In order to sell his plan to the people of New Jersey, Corzine promised, in his January State of the State Address, 21 town hall meetings dispersed throughout all of the state’s counties. As a freelancer for a northern New Jersey newspaper, I had the opportunity to cover Corzine’s Jan. 16 Morris County meeting at the County College of Morris.

Prior to the town hall meeting, I gained admittance to a round table discussion where I was given the opportunity to grill the governor, with other members of the press, regarding whatever issues I desired. Some reporters asked about illegal immigration, others about infrastructural problems, but I had one issue on my mind: funding for higher education.

Before Corzine showed up (he was late, of course), I was force-fed a digestible packet of information regarding his magnificent plan for the salvation of the state by his intolerable press lackey.

This was everything I had hoped for and dreamed of. I was prepared to do my democratic and journalistic duty by being a professional, complete prick to Corzine.

For this particular encounter, I put my grudge as a student at a state college affected by budget cuts aside, and refrained from asking the difficult questions that I had contemplated asking.

My better judgment combined with the over-talkative nature of a self-important editor from another paper prevented me from asking any questions that day. Little did I know that another chance at redemption was looming in February, but more on that later.

What struck me most about this close encounter with Corzine – who was professional, yet ineloquent and consequently, impossible to quote – was what he and Brad Abelow, his chief of staff, kept calling the town hall meetings: “an exercise in small ‘d’ democracy.”

When I first heard this, I thought to myself, “Gee! Isn’t that nice of the governor to take time out of his busy schedule to meet with the great, unbathed masses of New Jersey! He actually cares!”

Truth be told, Corzine did and does care a great deal about the financial prosperity of New Jersey. It was written all over his face, and I could see the fear in his eyes as the unbathed masses he was attempting to pacify picked apart his beloved plan in the college auditorium like half-starved piranhas seizing to the corpse of a crippled land mammal.

Now that was “small ‘d’ democracy.”

But apparently, Corzine’s infinite benevolence to his governed people does not extend to College students, or higher education students throughout the state, for that matter. Corzine’s Mercer County town hall meeting was held on Feb. 9. Before the meeting, he had scheduled a round table discussion to be held with members of the student press from colleges and universities statewide.

As aspiring student journalists statewide salivated at the prospect of tearing Corzine a proverbial new one, the round table was conveniently canceled.

Apparently, “small ‘d’ democracy” doesn’t apply to the 18-24 voter demographic. And honestly, why should it?

If you’ve made it this far into this article, odds are, you care about the financial future and prosperity of your beloved Garden State. It’s also more likely that you vote. But the fact of the matter is, most college-aged men and women don’t vote, therefore, there is no reason for Corzine to listen.

Our complacency and apathy are the reasons why we have to supply our own toilet paper, why funding for the Outstanding Scholar Recruitment Plan was eliminated and why the College has been forced to eliminate certain academic programs.

The state budget for the new fiscal year is now in the making, and reliable sources have told me that the College will receive no additional funds this year – not even to keep pace with inflation. If students don’t act soon, and strive to reinstate affordable, high-quality higher education, the prospects of our already crippled state will only further deteriorate.

Remember, soon we will inherit the financial missteps of our state. To not act accordingly now epitomizes the failure of “small ‘d’ democracy.” Besides, making Corzine and the representatives in Trenton squirm can be both exciting and therapeutic.