Governor Christie Kicks Ass and Takes Names

I couldn’t bring myself to vote for Chris Christie, because of his extreme anti-gay position, and I imagine I’ll have occasion again to oppose him on that topic.  In the meantime, I love listening to him talk about the budget and take on the teachers unions, as in the video above.  If you don’t have the time or patience to watch all 9:50 of it, skip ahead to the 9 minute mark and you’ll get a good flavor from his peroration.

The governor also is making good use of social media to take his message to people directly and unfiltered.  Every video turned out by his communications staff ends with the screen shot below, urging people to connect with Christie on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.  He inherited a budget deficit more than one-third as large as the entire state budget, and he’s going to have to make a lot of cuts in a lot of places to avoid raising taxes, as he has promised not to do.  I like his chances — listening to him is like a breath of fresh air compared to most politicians.

Why Christie’s on the Right Track, in Three Paragraphs

New Jersey’s new governor is determined to reverse the state’s “failed experiment”, which consists of taxes chasing deficits in an ever-ascending spiral.  A Barron’s article does the most concise job I’ve seen of explaining what he’s up against, and why his efforts should be supported.

Photo: NY Post

Unlike his predecessors, Republican Gov. Chris Christie has recognized that high taxes were a problem, not the solutions to the state’s fiscal woes. The Tax Foundation ranks New Jersey as the highest in the nation in state and local taxes as a percentage of income. It’s especially bad for top earners: 4.4% of individuals account for 55% of personal income-tax revenue.

Even though the state faces a $10.7 billion deficit — equal to more than one-third of the total budget — in fiscal 2011 starting July, Christie has refused to raise taxes and further increase this tax burden. Indeed, he has recommended not renewing a 2% “millionaire tax” enacted by former Gov. Jon Corzine, so that the top state income-tax bracket will revert to 8.97%, still among the highest in the nation.

In addition, New Jersey homeowners pay the highest property taxes in the nation, $7,281 on average annually. That represents a 90% increase from 1999 to 2009 — a trend that is driving wealthy New Jerseyans to other states — mainly Florida, Pennsylvania and even New York, according to Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy. As [municipal bond analyst Howard J.] Cure notes, for years the migration went in the other direction across the Hudson as heavily taxed New Yorkers sought relief in New Jersey.

When your budget deficit is more than a third of your total budget, you need more than tweaks and nudges to return to financial stability.  I strongly suspect that some additional taxation will occur, but when your taxes are the highest in the nation, “no tax increases” is the right starting point for debate.  In any discussion of New Jersey’s finances, the burden of proof should be on anyone who opposes spending cuts.  After taking on the powerful teachers unions, I hope Christie continues to play hardball.

New Jersey Is “A Failed Experiment”

New Jersey “should be seen as the failed experiment for other states and the country … Spend beyond your means and then kill your tax revenue base by raising taxes 115 times in eight years, and then you’re New Jersey.”

Who is this trash-talking, Jersey-bashing heretic attacking my beloved adopted state? Well, he’s the new Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie.  And I find myself liking him more every time I hear him speak.

I reluctantly voted for Corzine in November, because of Christie’s vow to support a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.  Then the cause of same-sex marriage in New Jersey suffered a serious setback when the Senate refused to pass a bill in the waning days of the Corzine administration.   That battle eventually will be refought, and I expect  I’ll take my shots at Governor Christie then.

But for now, I’m pleased that Christie’s fighting the good fight on fiscal responsibility.  The screen capture above from Christie’s recent interview with MSNBC’s token conservative, Joe Scarborough, tells the story starkly.   Firing up my calculator, the state budget deficit works out to be more than 36% of the total state budget.  It may not be an apples-to-apples comparison, but Obama’s larded-up federal budget deficit appears to work out to “only” 33%.

Christie is making the right kind of enemies.  One foolish teachers union official undermined the union’s cause by essentially praying for Christie’s death.  And what did the governor do to provoke this death wish? From The Daily Riff:

The proposal by Christie: No job cuts in the education sector if teachers contribute 1 and 1/2 percent of their salary to pay for benefits (approx. $750. per year) and have a one-year pay freeze.  If not, approximately 1300 jobs will be cut.

Wow, the teachers might have to pay a whole $750 per year (63 bucks a month, about the same as their union dues) for their generous public-employee health insurance. Between the reasonableness of the proposal and the outrageousness of the death wish, I think the governor will be on pretty solid ground when the layoffs inevitably start.

The 11-minute Scarborough interview is worth watching in its entirety for its look at the plain-spoken and candid governor, who talks to voters like adults.

Ex-Cons and Ex-Governor Describe a Ministry for Felons

Alvin Valentine describes his criminal past, as Evan Misshula and Jim McGreevey look on. Photo by Nina Nicholson.

Now that the Web Goddess is the head of communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, I’ve been writing occasional articles for diocesan publications.  Recently I had the opportunity at a diocesan event to cover former NJ Gov. Jim McGreevey and two ex-cons as they discussed Exodus Transitional Community, which helps formerly incarcerated people make  a transition back into society.  An excerpt:

McGreevey is a member of the Newark Diocese’s Prison Ministry, and became involved with Exodus as part of his field education at General Theological Seminary, where he is seeking a Master of Divinity degree.

More statistics: 730,000 people walk out of prison every year.  One third of them will be back in jail in a year; two-thirds of them will be back in three years.  The prison system “engenders complete dependency as a means of satiating or controlling prisoners,” McGreevey said, and then spills them out into the job market with atrophied social skills and “the scarlet letter of a previous felony conviction.”  The current re-entry program, “such as it is, is a complete and utter failure.”

Read the whole thing.

I wasn’t blogging when McGreevey resigned in 2004, but if I had been, I would have had harsh words for his conduct.  Now I applaud him for this work.  Surely it’s in society’s best interest to improve the job prospects of people emerging from prison.

The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage

After the New Jersey Senate’s disgraceful vote to deny equal rights to same-sex couples, the fight for marriage equality turns to federal court.  Testimony began today in the effort to overturn California’s Proposition 8.

A fascinating subplot can be found in the fact that the lead legal adversaries in Bush v. Gore have joined forces to make the case for marriage equality.  The Republican, Ted Olson, is featured on the cover of Newsweek this week with an eloquent explanation of why he took the case.  An excerpt (emphasis added):

Many of my fellow conservatives have an almost knee-jerk hostility toward gay marriage. This does not make sense, because same-sex unions promote the values conservatives prize. Marriage is one of the basic building blocks of our neighborhoods and our nation. At its best, it is a stable bond between two individuals who work to create a loving household and a social and economic partnership. We encourage couples to marry because the commitments they make to one another provide benefits not only to themselves but also to their families and communities. Marriage requires thinking beyond one’s own needs. It transforms two individuals into a union based on shared aspirations, and in doing so establishes a formal investment in the well-being of society. The fact that individuals who happen to be gay want to share in this vital social institution is evidence that conservative ideals enjoy widespread acceptance. Conservatives should celebrate this, rather than lament it.

Today’s NJ Gay Marriage Vote Hurts Real People

William and Michael.  Sharon and Cheryl.  Chris and Chris.  Kevin and Bill.  John and Billy.  Ulysses and Gary.  Elaine and Lauren.

These are not pseudonyms or hypotheticals — they are actual gay and lesbian couples in my life, people I cherish, good Christians in long-term committed relationships, some of them for 30 years and more.  Today the New Jersey Senate spat on their relationships, and I am pissed.

The Web Goddess and I voted for different candidates, but on this issue we are united, standing proudly to the left of our President.  We’re confident that our marriage will not be damaged if our friends are allowed to marry as well.  The idea is so bizarre that I should not have to type those words, but there they are.

Same-sex marriage is a straightforward civil rights issue, and the only acceptable outcome is full marriage equality.  I believe I’ll see it in my lifetime.  But New Jersey took a step in the wrong direction today, and I weep for my friends.


Lobbying for Marriage Equality in New Jersey

gaypridemarchT-blue copyThe Web Goddess and I are headed to Trenton Monday morning to lobby for pending legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage in New Jersey.  We’ll be car-pooling with friends both gay and straight from St. George’s Episcopal Church.

I’m covering the event for Maplewood Patch, a charter member of the Maplewood BlogolopolisTM.  Patch already has my preview story posted.

I’ll be wearing the snazzy T-shirt at left, designed by the Web Goddess of course, and available from Cafe Press.

This week is the last chance for at least four years to establish marriage equality legislatively in New Jersey.  If the state Senate Judiciary Committee votes the bill out of committee Monday, the full Senate is likely to vote on Thursday.  Democratic Governor Jon Corzine has said he would sign the bill.  Republican Governor-elect Chris Christie has said he would veto it.  At the committee hearing, the Right Reverend Mark M. Beckwith, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark and the Web Goddess’s boss, will be testifying in favor of the bill.

Count One Lackluster Vote for Corzine

Back in July I wrote that I probably was going to vote for Democrat Jon Corzine for Governor in New Jersey, and that he probably would lose, making me a red state voter turning blue in a blue state turning red.  But a funny thing happened on the way to November — the race tightened up.

(I planned to upload a graph showing the tightening survey results, but the @#$^& WordPress upload function isn’t working, again.  The troubleshooting tips start with “reinstall WordPress”, and the reinstall process starts with the instruction to back up your database and files, along with a link to the handy 27-step backup process.  Not today.  So: imagine a red line well above  a blue line at the left of the graph, converging into a red/blue/red/blue dance at the right. Or I suppose you could look at the actual graph at Real Clear Politics.)

Where was I?

Republican Chris Christie lost his chance at my vote when he pledged to veto any legislation enabling same-sex marriage, and to support a state constitutional amendment to the same end.  But it’s one thing to cast a protest vote for the Democrat in what looks to be a lopsided race.  When I realized my vote actually might be meaningful, I had to take another look.

Ex-prosecutor Christie pledges tax cuts and clean government in a corrupt, high-tax state, and I’ll count that as a silver lining if he wins.  But there’s no guarantee he would actually be effective at cutting taxes and fighting corruption, whereas he undoubtedly would follow through on his anti-gay veto threat.

Republicans apparently will sweep the races in Virginia, New York City and NY-23, and a GOP victory in New Jersey would add to the perception of an anti-Obamanomics backlash.  Another silver lining, if it happens.  But I reluctantly hope Corzine wins, and I did my part today.

Loading Up the Corruption Bus in New Jersey

(Welcome, New York Times readers. You might be interested in other posts about New Jersey and Maplewood.)

Corruption BusMy adopted home state of New Jersey has a long sordid history of political corruption.  We’re not yet five years removed from Gov. Jim McGreevey’s resignation after the revelation that he had appointed his unqualified boyfriend to a $110,000 state public safety job. We’ve also had Abscam in the 1980s, indictments of five of the last seven Newark mayors, and the list goes on and on.

So I didn’t pay too much attention to the mass arrests last week, until I stumbled on a long Wall Street Journal article putting it in historical perspective.  Here’s the set-up:

This latest episode featured 44 people, an unprecedented number even for New Jersey, being charged in an investigation into public corruption and international money laundering. The bust included five rabbis, three assemblymen and two mayors, prompting one late-night caller on the state’s talk radio station, New Jersey 101.5, to ask, “Where’s the partridge in the pear tree?”

There’s lots of colorful detail, going back to Colonial days, but what appealed to my libertarian sensibilities was the author’s attempt to explain why there’s so much public corruption in the state.

[T]he state is enormously over-governed. In most states, the local unit of government is the county; in others, it’s the municipality. In Jersey, we have both, and lots of them. There are 566 municipalities—California, with four times the population, has only 480—and each has a mayor and/or councils. The 21 counties have their various freeholder boards and utility commissions and there are also 120 state legislators. When that many people have their hands in the cookie jar —and there are that many cookie jars—is it any wonder that you get people selling Oreos out of their trunk in the parking lot to make a little extra cash on the side?

Most of the corrupt pols in this deep-blue state have been Democrats, and the recent batch is no exception.  It’s annoying to me (yes, I take it personally) that the arrests came just days after I announced my tepid support for the re-election of Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat.  A headline on sums up the situation pretty well: “Corzine is Not Corrupt — But the Corruption Scandal Dooms His Campaign.”

I can’t bring myself to vote for likely future Gov. Chris Christie because of his fervent opposition to marriage equality for same-sex couples — including a veto promise and support for a constitutional amendment.   But he’s already so far ahead that he doesn’t need my vote.  As the Journal article notes, he’s a former U.S. Attorney with a 130-0 record in prosecuting corruption cases.  Sounds like a silver lining to me.

(Photo: Associated Press)

How “Blue” is New Jersey — and for How Long?

I market my blog as the musings of “a red-state voter in a deep blue state.”  It’s a catchy line, and it lends itself to a jazzy 125×125 logo — created by the Web Goddess, naturally. But sometimes I’ve wondered if New Jersey really is as “deep blue” as, say, Massachusetts or Vermont.  (I’m sure as heck in a deep blue town.)

KP-EntreCard 129Then today I saw this from fellow New Jersey blogger TigerHawk:  “Forty-nine states have elected a Republican to state-wide office since New Jersey last did.”  So by that metric, at least, it’s the bluest state in the nation.

The irony of my self-identification is that in the current governor’s race, I’m almost certainly going to vote for the Democrat — who probably is going to lose.  Which would make me a red-state voter turning blue in a blue state turning red.

I went looking for more info on New Jersey’s red/blue divide and found this from PolitickerNJ:

The last time a Republican statewide candidate won New Jersey was in 1997 [Christie Whitman’s re-election].  Since then, 49 other states have elected a Republican to a statewide office. But also consider this: the last time New Jersey re-elected a Democratic governor was 32 years ago [Brendan Byrne’s re-election].

One of those two streaks will end this year. As of this week, Republican Chris Christie leads Democrat Jon Corzine by a wide margin, 53-41 percent.

My slogan and party affiliation incline me toward Christie, and I’m impressed by his law enforcement record as the state’s U.S. Attorney.  Earlier this year, a friend who follows my blog suggested I get involved in the Christie campaign, and I looked into that. The deal-breaker was his strong stands against abortion rights and against marriage equality for same-sex couples.  (I was on the other side of those issues from McCain as well, but in a presidential election, national security trumps all else in my mind.)

On marriage equality especially, the choice in New Jersey is stark.  Corzine supports “full marriage equality and is committed to signing marriage equality legislation in 2009.”  Christie says on his website:

If a bill legalizing same sex marriage came to my desk as Governor, I would veto it. If the law were changed by judicial fiat, I would be in favor of a constitutional amendment on the ballot so that voters, not judges, would decide this important social question.

Sorry, no sale.  Maplewood, my home for 10 years, has a high concentration of gay residents.  My gay friends, neighbors and fellow parishioners deserve the same marriage rights that the Web Goddess and I enjoy.

Christie hammers Corzine for raising taxes, and says he’ll cut them.  Fair enough… but I don’t see Corzine as a spendthrift.  From Corzine’s website:

Governor Corzine reshaped and resized state government. He eliminated and consolidated departments, sold state cars, tore up gas cards and closed office buildings. He reduced the state workforce by 7,000 employees and achieved additional savings by increasing the retirement age from 55 to 62, capping pensions, and asking state workers to contribute for the first time toward the cost of their health care. This year, he even negotiated a 7.5 percent wage cut for public employees.

Because Jon Corzine made the right choices, he is the only New Jersey governor in over six decades to reduce the size of state government. The budget that he signed into law on June 29th is $1.8 billion smaller than the first budget he signed in 2006.

Sounds good to me.  Besides, I kinda like the guy.  Maybe it’s the beard.