The following letter was sent to Republican state legislators, county chairs, state committee members, and New Hampshire GOP leaders.
Shortly after Chris Christie won the Republican nomination for Governor of New Jersey, he and the Republican State Committee were asked by members of that Committee to embrace the platform of the national Republican Party that was debated and passed at the Republican National Convention in 2008. Christie declined to endorse that platform and those who he had selected to run the State Committee promised to put a committee together to draft a “statement of principles” for the NJGOP. That was in 2009. That committee has yet to meet.
We have since had another Republican National Convention, with an updated party platform debated and passed by the delegates assembled in the Summer of 2012. Governor Christie was the keynote speaker at that convention, but he has steadfastly refused to embrace or to allow his state party to endorse the platform that was democratically chosen at that convention.
The Governor actually went a step further and wiped out those who had drawn attention to the fact that the NJGOP did not have a set of guiding principles for its members, candidates, and elected officials.
In 2013, Christie’s re-election campaign manager Bill Stepien (of Bridgegate notoriety) and National Committeeman Bill Pallatucci put together a campaign to defeat sitting members of the State Committee who supported the national Republican Party platform and candidates who had said they would do so. They used state party funds, supposedly under the control of the State Committee, to defeat sitting members of the State Committee, without any formal vote allowing them to do so.
Their chief target was Gloucester County State Committeeman Rob Eichmann, a conservative who was hospitalized, suffering from cancer, and who was in no position to fight back. The Governor’s people ignored pleas to take this into consideration and launched an aggressive and negative campaign to defeat Committeeman Eichmann using the State Committee’s own money. Eichmann was defeated along with the other conservatives who supported the Republican Party platform. Rob Eichmann died a few months later, aged 48.
I’m bringing all this up because it is very likely that by this time next year, Governor Christie will have left office to run for President of the United States. Since his nomination in 2009, he has run the New Jersey Republican Party like it was a personal fan club.
Under the watchful eye of former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly, elected Republicans in the Legislature were gradually bullied into silence. Kelly (also of Bridgegate notoriety) would improperly barge into Republican legislative caucuses and stand there, smart phone in hand, using it to report back to the Governor’s office on any elected legislator who dared to veer off-message.
What was “off-message” was everything not pronounced upon from the Governor’s office, which turned legislative leaders into handmaidens waiting to do the Governor’s bidding. Negotiation was only done between the Governor’s office and urban Democrat Party bosses, with the result that their power has grown while Republican strength has diminished.
Bridgegate and the rebellion by the Senators who stood behind Tom Kean Jr. started us down the path of change and change is coming. The question is: “Will the NJGOP be ready to tell people what it stands for when it no longer has the Governor to point to?”
At the end of this month Governor Christie is travelling up to New Hampshire for a fundraiser to help the state party there. Back home, the NJGOP is broke and more than $300,000 in debt.
The New Hampshire Republican Party has a platform, debated and passed by a vote of delegates called together for this purpose on September 29, 2012. It can be accessed here: http://nhgop.org/about/platform
In contrast, the NJGOP has a paragraph that reads like it was written by some political flim-flam artist: “The New Jersey Republican State Committee stands for a prosperous and safe New Jersey. We envision a New Jersey with: a dynamic and flourishing economy where both businesses and workers thrive; strong and healthy families; and reformed, responsive and ethical state and local governments that serve the people with effectiveness and efficiency while protecting individual liberty.”
It’s a fantasy statement coming from a party in a state with the highest property taxes in America, one of the worse places to do business in America, with high unemployment and under-employment, a high rate of home foreclosure, record child poverty, a lack of government transparency, and an ongoing history of political corruption. Besides, that statement could have just as well been written by Democrats or even Socialists. Everybody wants those things, it’s how you propose to get there that matters. What is the proper role of government and of the individual in achieving these goals? We need a thinking person’s statement on the NJGOP website, not some cotton candy pablum.
It is time for New Jersey Republicans to start thinking again. It is time for us to go back to first things and to begin again to think about who we are, what we want to do, and how we want to do it.
And as the Big Man departs, it is time for a BIG IDEA or two to replace him. In the Legislature, conservative Senator Mike Doherty has led the way with his Fair School Funding proposal, and Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean Jr. has again started producing position papers, but to date, the state party has been a “no idea” zone.
In closing, allow me to float my own BIG IDEA. As a finance professor, a conservative, and a libertarian, I am well aware of the corrosive effect taxation can have on the very people it sets out to help. To me the very worst tax in New Jersey’s battery of taxes is the state income tax and that’s because it is a fraud, a bait and switch palmed-off on a gullible public.
New Jersey’s state income tax was sold as a means to reduce the state’s reliance on local property taxes to fund education. It was sold as a means to ensure that the state’s economically distressed children would receive a quality education. It was sold as a 2 or 2.5 percent tax on income.
Today New Jersey has the highest property taxes in America. The State Supreme Court’s own study indicates that half of the state’s distressed children must rely on property taxes to make up their share of school funding. The top state income tax rate in New Jersey is 8.97 percent.
The State Income Tax was the Big Lie of the 1970’s.
The politicians allowed it to become the plaything of a group of rich, power-hungry lawyers on the state’s politically-appointed, unelected Supreme Court. This fail-safe of the establishment underwrites urban political machines and corrupt patronage while it subsidizes the property tax payments of wealthy professionals who commute to Wall Street and those of rich law firms in newly gentrified, tax-abated, high rises. And across the state there are more people going to bed hungry, more families losing their homes, more productive citizens just giving up the search for a job — while rural and suburban poverty levels rise towards those of the underserved communities lorded over by newly-rich enclaves.
Maybe it is time to start talking about getting rid of the State Income Tax?
Murray Sabrin, Ph.D., is professor of finance at Ramapo College and blogs at www.MurraySabrin.com