Sunday, January 26, 2014

What's The Matter With Jersey?Understanding the Garden State's Deep and Bipartisan Culture of Corruption

Republican Chris Christie and Democrat George Norcross - deal makers
To understand what's going on in New Jersey - and what Chris Christie's bipartisanship is about, you need to know that the biggest player on the Democratic side is George Norcross - the deal maker.  The Governor of New Jersey has almost no constraints.  He appoints everyone.  He can veto any legislative appropriation (the line item veto) but still the money must be appropriated by the Legislature.  So an opposition party majority has leverage.  To do what?  To make deals: to move around assets like universities, arenas, build roads and bridges.  That is what New Jersey politics is about.  It is not about the petty corruption which is no more common in New Jersey than anywhere else. Brian Murphy explains. 

But there is one more very important element to add to Brian Murphy's observations: except for the initial appointment process, the judiciary has been completely insulated from this ordinary political horse-trading.  Once a judge was appointed to the initial seven year term, renomination and confirmation for tenure was assured by custom (except for misconduct, incompetence, or temperament issues).  
Mandatory retirement at age 70 assured governors and legislators of a steady pool of vacancies to fill , allowing a high degree both of bipartisanship and a generally centrist judiciary.  When Chris Christie came in he broke that mold - as he announced he would.  His refusal to nominate for tenure John Wallace - a very senior judge who had given up tenure on the Superior Court - who had only eighteen months to go to retirement broke that egg.  Democrats rebelled and the Supreme Court appointment process has been broken.   Like Humpty Dumpty there has been no putting it back together.  

The recent shocker was Christie's refusal to nominate for tenure the most conservative member of the Supreme Court - Helen Hoens - the wife of a close adviser and prominent statehouse and court reporter.  She had served for almost twenty years as a judge and was universally respected for diligence and competence.  She was sacrificed in favor of Fausto Fernandez, an apparently well-liked south Jersey trial judge of no particular distinction.  Speculation for the choice includes his Cuban-American ethnicity and apparent acceptability to the Norcross wing of the Democratic party - the most prominent member of which is Senate President Stephen Sweeney.  But the standoff with the Democrats is not over.  Two vacancies remain n the high court. And Chief Justice Stuart Rabner's term expires June 29! 

That horse-trading has entered the tenure process - along with the many other attacks on judges when Christie disagrees with them - has deeply alarmed the entire state bar.  The  judiciary and bar have long rightly considered themselves a bastion of competence and integrity.  They fear that the state's highly regarded judiciary will be swept into the vortex of horse-trading and deal-making.
- gwc
What's The Matter With Jersey?Understanding the Garden State's Deep and Bipartisan Culture of Corruption:
by Brian Murphy

George Norcross III, an insurance executive and former chairman of the Camden County Democratic Party in South Jersey, was seen everywhere in the state house. Norcross had gotten rich by selling his insurance business to Commerce Bank, which was then winning accounts with municipalities, state authorities, county governments, and other public entities across the state. He was on the board of directors of Cooper Hospital in Camden. He was a key fundraiser for McGreevey. He recently bought a majority stake in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Norcross was and remains a hand visible and invisible in New Jersey politics, and one cannot understand the state without appreciating the alliances he forged in North Jersey that allowed him to hand-pick the current assembly speaker and senate president while also backing Chris Christie’s 2013 re-election campaign. Those alliances are not grounded in goodwill, but are the product of hard-fought back room politics and are sustained by the lifeblood of all New Jersey political alliances: money....
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