Monday, October 19, 2009

For New Jersey: Daggett

As a general rule the Political Heretic endorses in national elections or on matters of national importance (situations when civil rights or civil liberty claims are implicated). He will make an exception for a gubernatorial election in his/his neighbor's backyard.

In two weeks, New Jersey residents will go to the polls to vote for one of three major candidates seeking to lead the Garden State out of its fiscal crisis.

The embattled incumbent, Governor Jon Corzine faces two challengers. Chris Christie, the Republican, gained political brownie points and state-wide recognition prosecuting mayors, township committeemen, and local developers embroiled in political corruption scandals during his stint as a U.S. District Attorney. Chris Daggett, who is running as an independent, once served as a regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

New Jersey pundits view Daggett as a spoiler whose entry into this race may cost Chris Christie his chance to unseat a very unpopular sitting governor who until recently was trouncing the incumbent in the polls and if, in fact, Daggett costs the Republican challenger the election the Political Heretic won't be too disappointed since Corzine is, in his view, the lesser of two evils. New Jersey had its spate of exceptionally poor governors. Corzine wasn't the first gubernatorial failure and he probably won't be its last.

But the Garden State and and must do better and he urges New Jersey's voters who might otherwise settle for Chris Christie or Jon Corzine to give Mr. Daggett a second look. As an independent, Daggett faces an uphill battle against an uphill battle against the two-party system but these are not insurmountable. Mr. Daggett can win a three-way race against an unpopular incumbent who cannot be saved by his Democratic party label and a conservative Republican challenger in a Democratic and progressive-leaning state. Former Governor Jesse Ventura, a professional wrestler with virtually no experience in government did it by running against two establishment candidates in Minnesota's gubernatorial election.

Disenchanted Democrats who want to punish Corzine but cannot find themselves voting for the candidate who caters to the religious nuts will find Daggett's culturally libertarian platform more palatable. Daggett supports abortion rights and says he would sign a bill allowing gays to marry. In this respect his views are more in line with the views expressed with The Political Heretic. The Sierra Club endorsed him so it must not have too many problems with his environmental record. He says he supports the second amendment but his wording is vague enough to allow for some gun regulation.

Socially moderate Republicans who want a reform-oriented, fiscally conservative alternative might like his plan to cut property, income and corporate taxes.

The Political Heretic urges voters to send Daggett to the governor's mansion for two reasons. First, his candidacy provides them with the opportunity to declare their independence from the corrupt, county fiefdoms and local party bosses that control New Jersey's Republican and Democratic parties.

Corzine promised change when he ran for governor four years ago but has failed to deliver. Christie promises change but will owe the party bosses that backed him, but Daggett, by running as the independent in the race, however, is the embodiment of change.

New Jersey needs change. Residents face high property taxes but the state has little to show for the money it has collected. Abbott funding hasn't saved the urban school system that is failing its students. The state's Transportation Fund is depleted but New Jersey's voters wouldn't have known it while driving on the state's poorly designed and out-dated road system. Public employees and politicians can dip into the state's pension fund two or three times if they hire themselves into two or three no-show government jobs and the remaining public employees receive compensation packages that far exceed in value the packages they would receive in the real world. New Jersey has too many layers of government. We don't need to pay for the village councils for the police departments serving 2.1 square mile boroughs. Nor should we force the average taxpayer to pay for separated K-8 and 9-12 regional school districts when they can be merged into one school district. Smaller school districts should be merged into one.

Corzine had four years to deliver and has failed. Yes, he signed into law a bill that limits double dipping but it was grandfathered in to exempt most politicians now serving in Trenton. The governor has wisely pushed back against the public employees unions by imposing furloughs and one of the 14-recognized state holidays but this is small change when most public employees aren't forced to contribute to their health insurance premiums or when part-time workers are entitled to pension benefits, or when public workers are entitled to 13-to-14 paid holidays.

Yes, the governor has faced some stiff opposition from the public unions which represent a public workforce that is so far disconnected from the economic reality facing most workers. Yes, the governor would benefit from a legislature that is filled with reformers and yes, the governor inherited the fiscal mess that was created by the governors that preceded him and yes, the governor is required, by law to balance the budget.

But he brought some of the criticism on himself. Corzine's negotiating position and claim to be a taxpayers' advocate was compromised by his intimate relationship with Carla Katz, the president of a local Communications Workers of America which was negotiating for the state workers' behalf and when he supported a 5% raise in judges salaries one year after a substantial pay raise.

The Republicans have used his predicament to score some cheap political points even though they have failed to cut spending when they were in power. Its easy to criticize the administration in power on government spending when the opposition doesn't have to propose the cuts that need to be made. And its easy to propose ethical reform when you don't represent the party that is in power.

The Republicans rightly criticized the governor for efforts to lease the state's authority-run limited access highways but failed to offer an alternative means to fund the roads' infrastructure. The money that is needed to fund transportation projects has to come somewhere. If the agencies which run the limited access highways aren't going to be merged, if employees will not be fired and if higher-level positions aren't cut, the state has to raise taxes or fees to pay for road and bridge repairs.

Christie promises the world. He promises corporate tax cuts, income tax cuts, and property tax cuts to some unmentionable rate (you won't find it on his web site) and promises to offset the obvious loss in revenue (how much is dependent upon how much those tax cuts are cut) by (a) creating several fiscal watchdog groups while eliminating patronage positions and (b) cutting the compensation programs offered to public employees utilizing some of the above-mentioned reforms and by streamlining the bargaining process.

The Political Heretic supports the modifications Christie promises to make on public employee contribution reforms but questions whether the state could afford tax cuts that benefit the wealthy while the state is in this dire fiscal mess. Income tax cuts provide relief for everyone but they substantially provide more relief to those in the higher income brackets than they provide those in the lower income brackets. Providing tax relief to the average lower-to-middle-class worker is understandable. Providing that relief to someone who could afford to pay those taxes is not if and when that money is needed to provide for the government services we all take for granted - road repair, education funding, environmental cleanup, disaster-relief, etc. But as a whole Christie offers the generic Republican platform. You can substitute Chris Christie with any Republican and you will get the same thing. A return to former Governor Whitman's fiscally imprudent borrow and spend, tax cut and borrow formula.

Daggett promises property tax relief, corporate and income tax relief too but he at least puts some numbers on the latter two and offsets his taxes in part by expanding the sales tax's reach to include vacation home and condominium rentals, among other services not yet taxed and by linking such tax relief to a cap imposed on local government spending. Towns and school boards that exceed the tax would forfeit their residents' shot at property tax rebate. The Political Heretic questions whether the state can afford to cut any taxes but believes that we could benefit more from modified tax cut plan that mirrors Daggett's on property taxes (minus the corporate and income tax cuts) without borrowing as much as we would under Christie's plan.

Both, Daggett and Christie promise education reform. Both support charter schools (Corzine does not) and both, to varying degrees, support school vouchers. The arguments for and against school vouchers are overrated. School vouchers save some of the more disciplined students from failing school districts. Conservatives say they promote competition.

They do not since they are too few in number to offer their services to every student who otherwise trapped within the known failing school districts. Liberals say money that is given to the private schools is diverted from the public schools that could use the money. They could, but the school boards don't know how to spend that money properly anyway and to the extent that the tax payer is spending the money it is better utilized in schools that are teaching their students how to read and write than on schools that aren't teaching them how to read and write.

Christie supports school vouchers across the board but money shouldn't be diverted to pay for a student to go to a private or religious school when he or she can receive a good education in a successful public school. Daggett would properly limit his school voucher program to several pilot programs in failing districts. Specifically he would push for legislation to have such programs set up in Newark, Camden, Elizabeth, Trenton, Passaic, Orange, Jersey City, Paterson, Lakewood and Perth Amboy.

Mr. Daggett also, to his credit, proposes public school reform - something Christie does not. Daggett would have the state abolish teacher tenure and replace it with five-year contracts with extensive supervision for mediocre teachers and encourage merit pay. Chris Christie does not.

On two social issues, the Political Heretic favors the governor and Chris Daggett over the Republican nominee - abortion and gay rights. Both support a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy and both said they would have no problem signing marriage legislation. In our country, people are allowed to engage in activities that others would find abhorrent. The state cannot penalize behavior that does not conform with popularly-held religious beliefs. In this respect, Christie's opposition to abortion rights and gay marriages is antithetical to religious liberty.

New Jersey's voters should oust Corzine. His views on tax cuts may be far more superior than the views expressed by either Daggett or Christie but he has done nothing to warrant a second term and Chris Christie has done nothing to prove he would be anything but the generic Republican proposing generic solutions that will not solve New Jersey's complicated problems. New Jersey's politicians need a wake up call that can only be delivered by the mass repudiation of the two-party system that has failed this state under Republican and Democratic governors alike. Daggett provides New Jersey with an imperfect but suitable alternative for change in a political environment most conducive for change. Garden State voters should pull the lever for Daggett.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why use the term "religious nuts". Our country was founded on freedom of practicing one's choice of religions, so don't you think everyone deserves some respect? I certainly don't adhere to a lot of beliefs and creeds, and think some only exist for the financial gain of the elite, but don't cut down people for believing (or not-believing). It's called tolerance -- which you apparently don't have.