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.