“One to a Customer” — Now!

By Steve Adubato, Ph.D. There is something about New Jersey politics that sets us apart from the rest of the country. I’m not talking about “pay to play” or even the wacky budget circus that goes on every year that threatens to shut down state government. Rather, it is the absurd practice of allowing, in fact encouraging, politicians in our state to hold more than one office at a time. Consider the numbers. Let’s start with the legislature. 33% of New Jersey legislators received income from a government agency other than the legislature. And 20 of 120 legislators hold another office. While five Republicans in the legislature hold a public office, three times as many Democrats, 15 to be exact, have another public title. (Okay, so the Democrats are worse than the Republicans when it comes to dual office holding.) A new report put out by New Jersey Policy Perspective (www.njpp.org) entitled “One to a Customer: The Democratic Downsides of Dual Office Holding,” written by Tom O’Neill, attacks the problem head on. There has never been a serious effort to ban dual office holding in the state. What’s worse, outgoing Newark Mayor, Sharpe James, who is also a State Senator representing Newark, cynically put in a bill immediately after he was elected to the State Senate calling for a ban on dual office holding. Only catch was that Mayor/Senator James knew that there was absolutely no way his bill would ever see the light of day. That’s because the legislature protects its own. Sure, Democrats will blast Republicans in an election for the Republican holding two offices and the Republicans will do the same to the Democrats. That’s just campaign politics. It’s a charade. What would be real is if after the election, those same politicians would seriously pursue an effort to put an end to dual office holding. So why is holding two offices so bad? Consider a few facts cited in the “One to a Customer” report. First, it’s just simple logic that no citizen should get a public salary from more than one source. If you are elected to the legislature, your other job shouldn’t be in elected government. You are supposed to be a teacher, a lawyer, a doctor, a social worker, anything other than a local elected official”Just not a local councilman or mayor in the same geographic area you represent in the legislature. It is an obvious conflict of interest. Think about it. How is a legislator supposed to look at his or her own 180,000 constituents all in the same way if they also represent a particular community in their district? Clearly, they are going to favor the community they represent. Further, when it comes to voting on state aid to local governments, that same legislator/local government official will have his or her judgment skewed by his or her status. Also, his or her ability to bring in more “pork-barrel” projects (that’s state money going to a particular local project) is enhanced. Some think that is a good thing, but not when the state is $4 billion in the hole and everything, particularly pork-barrel projects, needs to be on the table. It’s bad enough if a state legislator represents a small community with a population of under 50,000, but it is insane when a legislator is the council member, or worse, the mayor, of a big city. Consider Sharpe James. Newark is the biggest and in many ways the most troubled community in the state. How was Sharpe James supposed to govern the city of Newark as its chief executive but still be an active and contributing member of the State Senate? The answer is that he wasn’t. James consistently missed votes and didn’t attend legislative sessions. But that didn’t matter, because his political base as mayor of Newark virtually ensured his election to the State Senate. So much for political accountability. And Senator Joe Doria is a great guy. In fact, as a former legislator, I served with him in the lower house. But as talented and smart as Joe Doria is, it doesn’t make sense that he is also the mayor of Bayonne. The fact that he can be both a senator and the mayor because of his political clout still doesn’t make it right. Aren’t there enough talented citizens in this state so that so that there can truly be “One to a Customer?” And notice, every single dual office holder in the last legislative session was a man. Like I said, just because you can do it, doesn’t make it right. Further, dual office holding in New Jersey has clearly stood in the way of more women being elected to public office. In fact, New Jersey lags way behind the rest of the country in the number of women elected to public office. So here’s the deal. For years, politicians in the state have been threatening to end dual office holding. New Jersey citizens are largely apathetic and clueless as to the extent of the problem. Translation — Other than compelling reports like “One to a Customer,” there is not much impetus to change the status quo, but that still doesn’t make dual office holding right. I say, as soon as Governor Jon Corzine and the legislature get finished with this latest budget mess, the governor, along with those of us in the mainstream media, launch a campaign to put an end to dual office holding. And forget about that whole “grandfathering” thing that allows those currently holding two offices to keep them. Rather, it should end immediately. One office to a customer, starting now. No exceptions.

“One to a Customer” — Now!