Daily Archives: November 9, 2009

Lessons Learned By Governors Races

The following commentary was published on Politico this past Friday and was written by DGA Executive Director Nathan Daschle. It’s an interesting take on what the results of last Tuesday’s election really means for New Jersey and Virginia as well as, the rest of the Democratic Party in general.

Spend enough time in politics, and you will have your share of good election nights and bad election nights. The key to surviving the bad is learning from the results without dwelling on them; look forward, not backward.

Reflecting on Tuesday’s elections, I am disappointed, but not discouraged. The losses came from two electorates with an affinity for demonstrating their independence from the White House. For 24 and 36 years straight, New Jersey and Virginia, respectively, have elected governors of the opposite party of the president. Couple that streak with the worst recession since the Great Depression, and it would have been an unprecedented upset if we had won either of these races.

Democrats need to sift through the data, analyze it, and pull out lessons that are instructive for moving forward. At the same time, it would be a costly mistake to simply assume that the Republicans’ talking points about this election are valid. There are several things that Tuesday night’s results do NOT mean:

1. They do not signal that a Republican “comeback” is imminent. Virginia and New Jersey have gone against the White House for 24 straight years. Unless there’s been some under-the-radar comeback every four years since 1985, there is no more indication of Republican resurgence today than there was last week.

2. They do not indicate that President Obama has been politically weakened. Exit polls indicate (and common sense shows) that these were isolated races that, while subject to historical trends, were not a referendum on our president.

3. They do not mean that Democrats are in trouble in 2010. To the contrary, we found some encouraging evidence in the exit polls. In New Jersey, for example, voters embraced Gov. Jon Corzine’s agenda on the economy by a 58-36 margin. He was defeated because other local issues superseded his economic agenda, but we are encouraged that voters preferred our economic message to the Republicans’ attempt to return to economic policies that put Wall Street ahead of Main Street.

There are, however, some important lessons that Democrats should take to heart:

1. Democrats still carry a burden of proof with independents and surge voters. These voters don’t want to let Republicans give tax breaks to the wealthy while working families struggle, but our incumbent governors and challengers need to underscore how they’re creating and saving jobs. There’s no question that Democrats have the right vision and plans for restoring prosperity to this country – our charge is to get our message out and, for incumbents, show results.

2. While Republicans with no solutions will continue to use federal issues as red herrings in state races, we must show at the national level that we can govern. The American people expect results. They need to see how they’re better off with Democrats in charge. I am confident that we’ll make significant progress on health reform and the economy. And in the meantime, our gubernatorial candidates must know that when their opponents try to box them in on federal issues, it’s because they have no ideas on the issues that matter.

3. The Republican Party is in disarray and not remotely ready to lead. If this year taught us anything about the other side, it’s that they remain a house divided. Who are their leaders – Michael Steele, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin? What do they stand for? Bob McDonnell is a conservative who campaigned as a moderate. Chris Christie won despite himself; certainly not because of a compelling philosophy or agenda. In NY-23, the GOP civil war was on full display. A party still groping for an identity won’t attract voters to put them over the finish line.

Tuesday night was the opening battle; now starts the war. We have 37 races next year, including contests in marquee states like California and Florida. Fortunately, Democrats are well-prepared for the fight to come. In part, this is because we used our resources effectively this year: the DGA made record investments in both New Jersey and Virginia, but we resisted pressure to overspend and draw down our 2010 account.

More importantly, however, we are prepared because we have placed Tuesday in the appropriate context; the results are instructive but not foreboding. Democrats have a lot to accomplish, and so long as we continue to advance our agenda and get real results, voters will keep us in power.

Nathan Daschle is executive director of the Democratic Governors Association.


Filed under Democratic Governors Association, Nathan Daschle, Politico.com

Assemblyman Thomspon’s Attempt At A Smackdown Results In A Returned Jab

Below is an email exchange that was sent to me, between 13th District Assemblyman Republican Sam Thompson and former Independent Candidate Sean Dunne.

Dunne ran as an Independent for the State Assembly this year and took exception with how Thompson presented himself during interviews with the Asbury Park Press and the local Independent and the subsequent endorsements by those papers of Sam Thompson and his running mate Amy Handlin.
Mr. Dunne wrote a scathing letter to the Asbury Park Press (which I posted) that addressed their overtly biased favortism for Mr. Thompson’s candidacy in the 13th District. The letter went on to say how Thompson supported the construction and delpoyment of Liquid Natural Gass (LNG) terminals along the bayshore and how one of Thompson’s secrataries, Lucille Panos, is a classic pension fund double dipper.

Mrs. Panos is an elected Councilwoman in Old Bridge who earns a $6,000 stipen for that position and as a member of Sam Thompson’s staff earns another $27,500 a year towards her State pension.
On a personal note, it is also an affirmation of this blog’s influence and readership. The MiddeltownMike blog was the only place that Mr. Dunne’s letter was published.
I feel that the email is very telling, it show the level of entitlement in which Sam Thompson feels is owed to him as an assemblyman:
November 7, 2009

Dear Mr. Dunn:

A blog that you had posted and a flyer that you had distributed in the campaign has been brought to my attention.

Sir, if you choose to attack in any way, that is your prerogative and I rarely bother with responding to opponents’ distortions relative to myself. However, I will not tolerate statements that print distorted pictures of my employees in and attempt to take a shot at me.

Your inferences with regards to Lucille Panos are totally unjustified and border on defamatory.

It is true Lucille Panos is employed by my office, but at a rate of $27,500. She is not employed for “Special Services.” I assume you use this term to suggest this may be a no show job. Ms. Panos is one of three Legislative Aides employed by my office as well as one full-time unpaid, volunteer aide. She is a full-time employee and you will find her in my office from 9-5 Monday thru Friday, the same as all State employees. She is not entitled to “Special Projects.” Nor is anyone else in this office. Instead, she and all staff members devote all of their time to providing constituent services, responding to correspondence, telephone calls and working one-on-one with constituents to resolve their problems which run the gamut of homestead rebates, property tax freeze, enrollment in prescription drug plans, ascertaining the most suitable Medicare Part D plan, resolving disputes with healthcare plans, assistance with utilities, etc.

Ms. Panos, as well as al of my staff members, do an outstanding job of providing all of these services, far and above the level you will find in any other legislative office in the State.

As for her salary, it is actually $27,500 not $29,500. As none of my employees had received any raise for several years due to unavailability of funds, this year I was able to persuade leadership to provide and additional $5,000 on a one time basis to distribute to my staff but this did not increase their base salary and there is no guarantee that I will be able to get it again next year.

As you had this information, you obviously have access to the State payroll data, probably from the APP web-site. If you will check it further, you will find she is the lowest paid of my threes employees – not because of the quality of her work but simply because she was hired years after the other two and that was all the salary funds I had left. I assure you, her performance merits a much higher pay. If you go further and compare her salary with that of staffers in other legislative offices, I have no doubt it will be among the lowest.

As for the “handsome pension” at taxpayer expense that she is in line for, if she continued in government employment until she reached 27 ½ years of service her $29,500” State salary plus her gigantic $6,000 council stipend would entitle her to a “handsome” pension of $17, 750/year. WOW!

Should you doubt the above statements about her work, we do have a database some 17,000 constituents we have serviced one–on–one. Further, I would be delighted to take you to any of several locations where you can wander around on your own and inquire relative to the quality of the services of Lucille Panos and my office. If interested, let me know.

You owe Ms. Panos an apology.

Sam Thompson

Dunne’s reply:

Dear Sam,

I do not know of the blog you are referring to, as I don’t run a blog. My campaign did include a website and a Facebook profile, but we didn’t use a blog. However, perhaps someone has taken information I have sent out and published it on their own blog.

Just to be clear, I have no doubt your office fills out forms and provides other advice to consituents. NJ runs confused government services that many people are very frustrated with. Many taxpayers want this improved, because accessible services are the least they should get for their money. Instead, we have offices like yours that have three full-time employees that must decipher forms for people. This is very symbolic of New Jersey fiscal policy. Why save money and make government services easy to access, when we can instead pay three full-time people in one District office to translate the confusion?

As for the other information that you discuss in your email to me. I would suggest you examine the Data Universe section of the Asbury Park Press site. If you feel that the information is a distortion, you should immediately contact them. Go to the section and conduct a search for Lucille Panos.

It states the following:

This does not appear to include the bonus you obtained for her, as it refers only the year 2008, so as you said, her earnings from your office are actually $32,500. If you do not like the work she provides for your office to be defined as “Special Services”, then I would once again advise you to contact the Asbury Park Press. Perhaps you feel that readers of the website will think that the title, “Special Services”, implies a no-show job. If so, you might be able to persuade them to change that label.

I do not follow your claim regarding Lucille Panos and Special Projects, so I am unable to comment on it. I don’t even understand what “Special Projects” are. I can only say that I have never mentioned anything regarding “Special Projects”.

You have made it clear in your email that you would like Panos to have a much higher pension, as you want to increase her salary even more. I’ll therefore wait, along with other taxpayers, to see how handsome her pension might become.

Your claim that I make distortions regarding your own positions is totally false, and I consider that an insult. You stated in our meeting with the Asbury Park Press that you have no problem receiving nearly $50,000 a year. You also called yourself a full-time legislator in the Independent. I wish this were a distortion, but unfortunately for taxpayers, it is not. I cannot think of one other area of employment where someone would say with a straight face that they deserve a full-time salary for a part-time job because they consider their work a full-time job. But again, this is New Jersey.

You told me twice that you supported the construction of Liquefied Natural Gas Terminals off the Jersey Coast. First at Hazlet Day, and second at the meeting with the Asbury Park Press when others were present. Again, I wish this were a distortion, but unfortunately it is not. I hope you reconsider this position on this project, because it is a terrible plan.

To claim that I distort your positions on any of the above is an outright lie, and you now owe me an explanation.

I do not take lightly an accusation that I lie, which is why I immediately responded to your unfounded claims. It’s amazing that providing information to voters is considered an “attack”, but I guess that’s one more part of the problem in New Jersey politics.

I have no doubt that you could take me to places where people are pleased with the services your office has provided. I’d be more than happy to take the tour you suggest, as I am always eager to learn. However, this should be a two-stop tour. First, we’ll have a meeting with people your office has helped. Second, we’ll meet with taxpayers that I’ve met who are absolutely sick of this kind of politics. I’m sure we both could learn something from that tour.

I look forward to hearing your explanation of how I have distorted anything about your positions or political beliefs. When you realize that your claim is unfounded, you can then issue your apology.

Yours sincerely,
Sean Dunne


Filed under Asbury Park Press, Sam Thompson, Sean Dunne, state pension system, the Independent

Corzine Accomplishments Tempered By Tough Times

Here is a very nice article that appeared over the weekend on the Philadelphia Inquirer website that I thought i would pass along. It talks about Governor Corzine’s accomplishments while in office and what kind of legacy he can point to in the future:

As Gov. Corzine heads into what are likely to be the final weeks of his political life, following the failure of his reelection bid on Tuesday, it’s unclear whether the bearded Midwestern native with the down-to-earth demeanor and the sweater vests will be remembered more for his legislative accomplishments or for the car wreck that nearly took his life in 2007.

Will people recall that the former Wall Street maven spent over $120 million of his own money on his campaigns and poured millions more into party coffers? Or will his legacy be the work he did for New Jersey’s schoolchildren?

“I think a good part of his legacy will have something to do with his car accident,” said Mary Forsberg, interim president of New Jersey Policy Perspective, a left-leaning think tank. “It’s really a sad thing. From our point of view, he did a lot of good, progressive things.”

Corzine’s accomplishments – or lack thereof – must be viewed in the context of a brutal nationwide recession, say many observers.

“Legacy changes as time goes on,” said Senate President Dick Codey, who preceded Corzine as interim governor after Gov. Jim McGreevey resigned. In the end, he said, Corzine “will be known as a man who tried to do the right thing for the state of New Jersey and got caught up in a very, very horrible recession.”

Among the campaign pledges Corzine was forced to abandon was a promise to increase property tax rebates by 40 percent over four years.

Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University, characterized Corzine’s governorship as one of “unfulfilled promise.” Corzine waded into the muck of New Jersey politics and was unable to make much headway, Baker said.

“Democratic governors as a group tend to be trapped in the feudal politics of New Jersey,” he said. They depend so heavily on county and regional political bosses, legislative bosses, and public-employee unions that they have trouble standing up to them, Baker said.

In his efforts to trim state spending, Corzine won significant concessions from public-employee unions. He forced workers to contribute to their health insurance for the first time, increased the retirement age from 55 to 62, and cut 8,200 jobs from the government payroll through attrition.

But to a skeptical public, those accomplishments were overshadowed by Republicans’ questions concerning his romantic relationship with Carla Katz, then head of one of the state’s largest public-employee unions.

Corzine’s relationship with the Legislature, controlled by fellow Democrats throughout his tenure, has sometimes been torturous.

In his first year in office, he faced off against Assembly Democrats over raising the sales tax. The battle resulted in a historic shutdown of state government. Corzine spent many nights on a cot he ordered wheeled into the Statehouse in a grand gesture intended to push lawmakers toward a resolution. Though he was successful in getting the tax increased to 7 percent from 6 percent, the 2006 incident foreshadowed many more periods of tension with the legislative branch.

On issues where Corzine was able to find allies in the Legislature, he was able to effect significant change, particularly on social issues. In 2007, New Jersey became the first state to abolish the death penalty since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976.

Last year, the Garden State became the third state to adopt paid family leave, which grants workers up to six weeks to care for sick family members, newborns, or newly adopted children.

In 2006, Corzine signed the civil-unions law, which extends to gay couples most of the rights of married couples. He also helped expand medical coverage for children in New Jersey, resulting in 100,000 more children being enrolled in the state’s health insurance program, according to the administration. Implementing court-ordered preschool programs in poor school districts was another achievement.

According to Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts Jr., those accomplishments reflect Corzine’s priorities.

“He has been front and center in fighting for people who needed someone there for them, and I don’t think he got the credit for it,” the Camden County Democrat said.

Battered by a withering economy and the nation’s highest property taxes, New Jersey voters on Tuesday said they believed Republican Christopher J. Christie would do a better job of reining in spending and helping the state recover.

“Gov. Corzine’s legacy will be that his ambitions exceeded the state’s ability to support them,” said State Republican Chairman Jay Webber. “He wanted to spend more and raise taxes to spend more, and on Tuesday people said that they want to go in a different direction.”

But Ingrid Reed, New Jersey project director at Rutgers’ Eagleton Institute of Politics, said Corzine deserved credit for cutting the state budget.

“He really did reduce the state budget, which really has not happened before in New Jersey,” she said. He “has set a kind of standard for being responsible about the state budget.”

Corzine often pointed out that during his administration, he put more money into the state pension system than the previous three governors combined.

His efforts to change the school funding formula also will impact state spending for decades. Under the new formula, state aid is directed to any district with poor students rather than just the poorest districts.

Corzine took no time to tout the revised funding formula, instead diving into his 2008 proposal to pay down state debt and fund transportation by raising tolls up to 800 percent over more than a decade. The governor famously abandoned the plan midway through a scheduled 21-county road show to sell it directly to residents.

Likewise, the governor’s progress in ethics reform – which admittedly fell short of his ambitious goals – often was overshadowed by high-profile arrests of politicians by Christie, the U.S. attorney.

Corzine all but did away with the Trenton tradition of “Christmas trees,” earmarks inserted into the state budget at the last minute without public scrutiny. And he shamed the Legislature into accepting a ban on dual office-holding, though the measure grandfathered in a number of politicians who earn multiple paychecks.

But those accomplishments meant little to the public when Democratic State Sens. Sharpe James and Wayne Bryant were convicted, or when 44 people were arrested in July and accused of international money laundering and political corruption.

Joseph Marbach, a political analyst at Seton Hall University, believes it is unfortunate that people may focus on Corzine’s missteps rather than his accomplishments.

“Politics doesn’t necessary come naturally to him,” Marbach said. “That hindered some of the possible accomplishments he might have been able to achieve.”

Former Democratic Gov. Brendan T. Byrne said he called Corzine several times to urge him to trumpet some of his achievements, but Corzine declined.

“It wasn’t his nature,” Byrne said. “I don’t think he’s the kind of politician who’s built for this business.”

In the final assessment, Byrne said, history will be kinder to Corzine than voters were this week.

“He had no money to do anything, but he had good instincts, and I think that he’ll be remembered for that,” Byrne said.


Filed under Gov. Jon Corzine, The Philadelphia Inquirer