Cissy Laureys’ son says ‘anybody but Corzine’

When it comes to the race for New Jersey governor I'm in the anybody-but-Corzine camp. That may not seem much

When it comes to the race for New Jersey governor I'm in the anybody-but-Corzine camp. That may not seem much of a declaration seeing as I've lived nearly all my 42 years in heavily Republican Morris County. But it takes an awful lot to say I'm as willing to vote for former US Attorney Chris Christie in November as for former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, the two frontrunners in a tightening GOP primary race.

You see, in 1994 Christie unseated my then 62-year-old mom, Cecilia Laureys, in her GOP primary bid for reelection to the Morris County freeholder board. Two years later, a Superior Court judge found that Christie had made "false" and "defamatory" remarks about my mom during that '94 primary campaign. A year after that, the political tables turned again, and mom regained her seat in another GOP primary while Christie lost badly (sixth out of a field of six) in his bid at reelection.

I mention this episode not to relive the past, but to explore what relevance it may have to the decision state Republicans must soon make. Mom, who retired as a freeholder in 2006, long since forgave Christie for the defamatory remark he made in a 1994 ad (wherein he said she and two other "current incumbent freeholders" were "under investigation" by the Morris County prosecutor). If mom can forgive, so can I. Forgetting is harder.

My first impression of Christie 15 years ago was that he was a young man very much in a hurry to be somebody. He was a Don Quixote of government ethics in those days, the self-anointed knight who tilted at windmills and called them dragons (because dragon slaying was what you needed to do to get elected and quickly move up the ladder to higher office.)

In a mailer Christie sent out in 1994, which I still have, he ripped mom and her two incumbent running mates for awarding a "no bid" contract to an architectural firm that had once contributed to their campaign. Christie left out that the total sum donated by anyone affiliated with that firm was $135. Nor did he tell voters the same candidates he was attacking had first voted to cancel a $4 million design contract before joining with other freeholders to replace it with a $2 million "no bid' contract to the architect in question. To put to rest any further claims of impropriety, mom and her mates even returned the $135. But Christie never let up with his farfetched pay-to-play allegations.

Today, ironically, Christie defends his taking of $23,800 in gubernatorial campaign money from principals, associates and spouses of a law firm to which he gave a $3 million no-bid contract as US Attorney. He justifies the awarding of this contract by saying it ultimately saved taxpayers millions of dollars. This was the exact argument he refused to accept from his opponents in ‘94, when he savaged them for taking $135.

That's the problem with playing the part of headline-seeking crusader; the holier-than-thou sword you wield is doubled-edged. (See disgraced ex New York Governor Elliot Spitzer.) By refusing to live up to his own unforgiving ethical standards on contracts and contributions circa 1994, Christie opens himself to the charge that either (a) he was merely posturing to score points when challenging for the only elected office he's ever held, freeholder, or (b) that he doesn't believe his own words now when he rationalizes his recent no-bid exploits as a US Attorney.

To give credit where due, the overall record of Christie's US Attorney office – 130 public-corruption cases prosecuted without defeat – deserves praise. When finally presented with a veritable lair of honest to goodness dragons (ferocious fire breathers like former Newark mayor Sharpe James and scaly backroom lizards like Camden State Senator Wayne Bryant) Christie empowered his staff to feverishly hack away. Christie also recognizes something Lonegan can't or won't: that waste and malfeasance are as epidemic at the local government level as at the state level, and that they're costing New Jersey a lot.

Somebody must explain to myopic conservatives that 593 school districts and 566 municipalities in a state as geographically small as ours add up to Really Big Government.

To date, though, tough guy Lonegan has lacked the guts to touch the "third rail" of state GOP politics: home rule. Perhaps Lonegan was able to easily cut costs from within in his former life as Mayor of a city of 8000. Common sense says otherwise for smaller towns, which must partner creatively to maximize operating efficiency. Christie, to his credit, says we can't be afraid to regionalize government services where doing so may be of benefit local taxpayers. Christie also deserves credit for his prosecution of local municipal politicians. It proved that if ultimate power ultimately corrupts, then having so many local seats of power creates more opportunity for local corruption.

Unfortunately, a prosecutor's zeal won't do much to fix most of our state's problems. How, for example, would Christie undo the bad consequences of our well intentioned but wrongheaded activist State Supreme Court? How would he reverse the Court's "Abbott" ruling, which wastes unconscionable amounts of our income taxes propping up perpetually dysfunctional urban school districts? Under a Governor Christie, what kind of choice would students hurt by Abbott have to go elsewhere?

This is a serious issue. And Lonegan's stance – which amounts sweeping the court of non-tenured pro-Abbott justices as their initial terms expire – is a powerful one. If Abbott funding ends, and the broken schools stop getting endless state government bailouts, public outcry for school vouchers to better schools will grow. As for Christie's Abbott position, except for detail-free platitudes about School Choice, he has none. Moreover, I don't see Christie going toe-to-toe on Abbott with current Corzine-appointed NJ Supreme Court Chief Justice, Stuart Rabner, who was a former prosecutor in Christie's US Attorney office.

More than anything, I worry that unionized state workers and teachers – who enjoy better employer benefits than most of us who pay for their healthcare and pensions – think taxpayers serve at their pleasure. I blame Corzine for indulging that attitude. His Jimmy Hoffa-like love of organized labor, and the proxy power it can give him that his billions can buy, is genuinely creepy. When Corzine does cartwheels trying to save unionized state workers from looming layoffs through job furloughs – and they pushback hard as though Recessions are only for us plebian private-sector taxpayers – we should all acknowledge who really runs our state government at present. Hint: It's not Jon. It doesn't take a genius to know Lonegan or Christie will show more spine than Corzine.

Bottom line: Though Trenton remains ground zero for super-sized government, local elected officials also need to understand that middle-class taxpayers are at break point. I'm fond of the few family and friends who can still barely afford to live in this state. But my home-based business could be run as easily (and far more cheaply) from a house in Pennsylvania.

I know state bureaucrats and our Supreme Court need the wakeup call Lonegan wants to send. And I want to believe Christie has matured enough to deliver a call of that sort. But so far, I only see an over-calculating politician who's afraid to risk his narrow chance of becoming Somebody Bigger by pointedly saying how he'd shake things up. You can't turn Blue New Jersey purple without a riveting message, especially if your Democratic opponent is ready to outspend you $10 to $1.

On the flipside, there's lots of local government lunacy I fear Lonegan will never muster the nerve to call out. But if he ever wants to be more than a paint-by-numbers conservative (think Brett Shundler) he'd better find that nerve. Pronto.

When you're like me – trying to provide for a wife and three kids while being bled out by the nation's highest property taxes and second highest state income taxes – it hurts to see two, three, or four adjacent towns that could be sharing many more public resources (police, fire, etc) yet aren't. It also hurts to see inept but tenured K-through-12 teachers enjoy job protection at the expense of being able to pay competent newcomers better, something Corzine won't dare talk about with our teacher's union.

At risk of stating the obvious, it's wrong to expect working families to continue to foot the bill for such costly municipal extras and embarrassing educational inadequacies. Home rule isn't a suicide pact. Local governments and school districts can't continue to have everything free from any logical pursuit of economies of scale or merit pay. If Jerseyans want to pay less property and income taxes, they need to speak out against oversized, fiscally unjust government wherever they see it.

This brings me to a newsflash for Gov. Corzine: It's the height of financial injustice to expect shell-shocked taxpayers to subsidize the sending of illegal immigrants to New Jersey colleges at in-state tuition rates. According to Corzine's own experts, there are 28,000 illegal immigrant students in our state high schools at this minute. In other words, a lot of my property and "Abbott" state income­-tax dollars are being used to put immigration cheaters through NJ elementary and high school. Now Corzine wants us to help put them through college too?

If Corzine's goal in supporting state college tuition breaks for illegals was to drive honest families like mine from the state, he may get his wish soon enough. The oldest of my three sons will finish high school in four years. It already costs $6000 less a year on average for Pennsylvanians to go to one of their state colleges than for Jersey residents to go to one of ours. So, if my wife and I move to PA by 2012, I know we cut our boys' college-loan burden by tens of thousands of dollars. Between PA's lower taxes, lower home prices, and lower interest payout over the life of a 20-year mortgage, I could hold onto hundreds of thousands of dollars more of my money through 2032 if I made that move, which would greatly ease my struggles to save for retirement.

Whoever our Governor is in 2010, he needs to push for less-costly government at every level. New Jersey needs greater transparency and a stronger end-to-end "chain of custody" for our property and income tax dollars. It's insanity to protect "home rule" while lifelong middle-class Jerseyans scurry from a state that they can no longer afford to call "home." The only thing more insane is to reelect a Governor who seems to think the customers (taxpayers) exist to serve the company (state employee unions).

The good news is that unless Corzine is ready to give every financially stressed Jersey homeowner the money to pay off their mortgage loans – as he did for his onetime girlfriend and former state employee union head, Carla Katz – he will remain very beatable. Like I said: Anybody but Corzine. Cissy Laureys’ son says ‘anybody but Corzine’