The Star-Ledger today endorses independent candidate Chris Daggett and recommends his election as the next governor of New Jersey.
The newspaper’s decision is less a rejection of Gov. Jon Corzine and Republican Chris Christie than a repudiation of the parties they represent, both of which have forfeited any claim to the trust and confidence of the people of New Jersey. They share responsibility for the state’s current plight.
Only by breaking the hold of the Democratic and Republican mandarins on the governor’s office and putting a rein on their power will the state have any hope for the kind of change needed to halt its downward economic, political and ethical spiral.
New Jersey needs radical change in Trenton. Neither of the major parties is likely to provide it. Daggett’s election would send shock waves through New Jersey’s ossified political system and, we believe, provide a start in a new direction.
It would signal the entrenched leadership of both parties — and the interest groups they regularly represent — that an ill-served and angry electorate demands something better.
The lamentable fact is that the two parties are, themselves, little more than narrow special interests. Their competition for short-term political and/or monetary gain has jeopardized the state’s long-term economic health and left it with a tarnished national reputation.
Where the major parties have differed, their differences have been inconsequential. Where they’ve been the same, their similarities have been destructive.
They have contributed equally to gross overspending in Trenton by consistently pandering to the pay, pension and retirement policies demanded by powerful public employee unions. Democrats have financed the spree with tax hikes, Republicans with borrowed money, and both with pension-fund raids.
How do we now signal them that this has got to stop if not by rejecting their anointed candidates? How if not by electing Chris Daggett?
The most disappointing of the three candidates is Christie. Six months ago he seemed an almost certain winner, a highly successful federal prosecutor facing an embattled governor saddled with a collapsing economy and soaring budget deficits. He could run a rocking-chair campaign, it seemed, make only safe commitments, avoid controversy, and win.
Unfortunately, that’s mostly what Christie has done — a strategy that looks less promising now that his double-digit early lead has melted away.
Christie’s game plan for dealing with a looming, record budget deficit of $8 billion has been a work in progress. After pledging for months to cut taxes deeply despite the budget red ink, he disclosed Friday in an interview with The Star-Ledger’s Tom Moran that he has put most of the tax reduction on the shelf until the economy begins to recover.
But he’d still lower income taxes on the state’s wealthiest households by roughly $1 billion and restore a portion of the nearly $600 billion in property tax rebates rescinded last year — a neat trick while still balancing the budget.
Christie’s principal claim on voter support is based on his record as U.S. Attorney for New Jersey — and it’s not without merit. The Star-Ledger opposed his appointment to that post originally, only to be pleasantly surprised as Christie surrounded himself with capable, qualified people and performed well.
But his sketchy budget plans and his relative lack of familiarity with the details of state government, as evidenced in debates and before The Star-Ledger editorial board, give us pause.
Corzine is an eminently decent and likable man, and not without achievement. We especially salute his unflagging commitment to state education and his success in changing the Abbott school aid formula to ensure that money intended to help poor children follows them whether or not they live in specific districts.
But his shortcomings as a leader are serious. They’ve become all too apparent in his dealings with public employee unions, an often unruly Legislature and a Democratic Party that is, at best, an ethically compromised ship and, at worst, harbors a corrupt crew.
The governor may be the nominal leader of his party but there’s mounting evidence its commanding figure is George Norcross, an unelected South Jersey political deal-maker who’s currently rearranging the Democratic leadership in the Senate and Assembly.
Corzine is the chaplain on a pirate ship, not really its captain.
Like Christie, neither Corzine nor Daggett has adequately explained how he’d tackle the vast budget deficit. All three, to some degree, are like Dickens’ hapless Wilkins Micawber, hoping "something will turn up." But only Daggett has produced anything close to a coherent plan to cut property taxes. He’d chop them by up to $2,500 per homeowner — but only if their municipalities kept spending increases in line with the Consumer Price Index. In effect, he’d require local officials to choose between their union supporters and taxpaying voters. It’s not a panacea, but at least a start.
As for government experience, Daggett, who has a doctorate in education, has at least as much as his rivals, having worked for both Democratic and Republican governors and served as regional administrator of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. His mastery of detail is impressive.
The reservation one hears about Daggett among the surprising number who say they’d like to vote for him is that he can’t win. And, indeed, the ballot position assigned Daggett and other independents makes his task daunting. You’ll have to hunt to find him.
But the value of a vote is not limited to picking a winner. The real value lies in the signal it sends about what the voter believes is best for the city, county or state — not merely at the moment, but long-term.
We believe Daggett is best.
For disappointed Democrats and Republicans, a decision to vote for Daggett will mean a break with party loyalty — no easy thing. What we’re suggesting is a temporary suspension of that loyalty as a way to begin changing the corrosive culture of Trenton. Daggett would owe nothing to either party establishment; he’d be free to recruit best talent wherever he found it. As he told The Star-Ledger editorial board, he’d feel no obligation to honor the traditional Democratic-Republican deal that requires bipartisan balance on the Supreme Court. He’d apparently take the best he could find regardless of party affiliation — or lack thereof.
For too long, the cliche about New Jersey’s two great parties has seemed all too true — that Democrats are corrupt, Republicans incompetent. Nothing will cause them to change their ways for the better except repudiation at the polls Nov. 3.
The election of Chris Daggett would deliver that repudiation and put a highly qualified occupant in the corner office at the Statehouse.
I don't know whether to be impressed or scared. Both parties over the years have contributed to my weird, wonderful state's financial clusterfuck. The Star-Ledger raises some great points, and it's a very ballsy move. But while Corzine and Christie both disgust me, Christie downright scares me. I just don't think Daggett could win, and I fear a vote for him would be a vote for Christie (damn those memories of the 2000 election!)