Thursday, February 7, 2008

FLASHBACK: Asbury Park Press, 2004

Asbury Park Press (Neptune, NJ)
December 5, 2004

GOP taps momentum for real government reform
Author: Reader

Section: C
Page: 03

FEW could have imagined the tumultuous years ahead when I became chairman of the state Republican Party in 2001. Through skewed redistricting, a 2002 Senate ballot-switch and endless gubernatorial scandal, we strove to regroup as a party. And I am proud that Republicans are promoting an optimistic agenda of reform and put New Jersey back on the map with a strong presidential showing in November.

Over the past three-and-a-half years, optimists have had their work cut out for them in Trenton. It reminds me of President Reagan's favorite joke about the guy in the horse stable, who waded through the bad in search of the good. When he was found digging into a pile of manure, he explained, "With all this manure, there's gotta be a pony in here somewhere."

Amid the stench of corruption, many New Jersey voters have been searching for the pony in the pile. And I think we found it - the good that has come out of the bad. It is the unprecedented opportunity for lasting change now before us. Never in recent memory has the people's will and political momentum been so aligned to reform New Jersey from top to bottom.

A blueprint for reform of ethical standards, campaign laws and fiscal policy is taking shape. It begins with money - both the amount and the source. One of my chief responsibilities as party chairman was fund raising to keep our party strong. I know that viable campaigns are vital to the democratic process. I also know the current system is broken.

Sweeping pay-to-play reform will end the pattern of charging campaign contributions as the price of admission for government contract-bidding. What's more, in a state where the appetite for campaign funding is insatiable, a pay-to-play ban will starve the beast. We will never eliminate money in politics, but we can curb this abuse.

Beyond campaign finance is the less discussed issue of our state's campaign calendar. New Jersey is one of few states that holds off-year elections, rather than electing our governor and state legislators in even-numbered years. Changing to even-year elections in New Jersey is worth serious consideration.

With hard-fought state or national elections every year, partisanship rarely takes a breather. Just as one set of tough races ends, candidates are already at the starting gates for the next November. Fund raising never abates and rhetoric rarely cools down.

As chairman, I have been in the trenches and seen the results. Ours is a caustic political culture that generates too much heat and too little light, making bipartisanship a rare phenomenon. All of us lose when politics trumps good public policy. The yearly election cycle contributes to that climate.

In addition to reconsidering the timing of state elections, there are some names that belong on the ballot and some that do not. To eliminate even the appearance of impropriety, we should end dual officeholding. While we're at it, nepotism in state jobs should be banned as well.

There is also now a growing consensus that New Jersey needs an elected lieutenant governor. We would be best served by a line of succession to the highest office in the state that begins with a man or woman elected statewide. Also on the ballot should be a state auditor. An elected fiscal watchdog will have both the independence and incentive to uproot abuse and inefficiency that costs taxpayers millions.

Ultimately, however, even the most aggressive auditor cannot restore fiscal responsibility. That will take a new commitment to economic freedom. A recent Pacific Research Institute study reported that Trenton's tax-and-spend addiction ranks as the 49th worst fiscal policy nationwide. It's more evidence of the urgent need for property tax reform, spending caps and voter approval of state borrowing.

Our fiscal policy, both revenue and spending, is a strain on family budgets and a drain on job creation. Any state constitutional convention on reform should address both sides of the ledger, including a school finance formula that shortchanges middle-income districts in need.

But even with the problems that need fixing, we cannot forget how much we have to be proud of as a state. We don't deserve to be viewed through the tarnished lens of corruption, because it doesn't reflect who we really are. Having served as chairman, one of the opportunities I'm most grateful for is traveling to every corner of the state. New Jersey is still among the best places to raise a family, with excellent local schools, strong neighborhoods and a great quality of life.

Over the years, my constituents' confidence has meant a great deal to me. As I move on from my post as chairman, I look forward to devoting even more of my energies as a state senator for Monmouth and Middlesex counties, to help lead the effort to restore economic freedom and people's faith in their own government.

State Sen. Joseph M. Kyrillos Jr., R-Monmouth and Middlesex, served as Republican Party state chairman from June 2001 through November 2004.

Copyright (c) Asbury Park Press. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc.
Record Number: asb20041205048


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