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Jewish World Review Nov. 7, 2005 / 5 Mar-Cheshvan, 5766

George Will

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Corzine & corruption

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Sen. Jon Corzine, the New Jersey Democrat, brings his characteristic grandiosity even to his buyer's remorse. In 2000, the former chairman of Goldman Sachs pulled $60.2 million from his wallet to buy a U.S. Senate seat. But just four years after the most expensive Senate campaign in American history, he decided to escape from that seat — for which he paid $27,489.03 a day, prorated over six years — and try to become governor.

His Senate colleagues, their feelings injured, may wonder, "Was it something we said?" New Jersey should wonder whether some future Corzine whim might make him flee from Trenton, the pleasures of which might pall on someone of his restless ambitiousness.

But before he can regret purchasing the governorship, he must deal with Douglas Forrester, the Republican candidate who has come from double-digit deficits in polls two months ago to within 4 points in a recent poll. Forrester, too, is a rich businessman, and is largely financing his own campaign — this is the world that campaign finance reformers have made, with contribution limits that make fundraising more difficult. Since securing the Democratic nomination, Corzine has outspent Forrester by $15 million.

When Arch Moore was running against West Virginia's Democratic governor Jay Rockefeller in 1980, a popular bumper sticker said: "Make him spend it all, Arch."

Forrester cannot make Corzine spend all his $260 million, even if, as in 2000, Corzine pays to bus people in from Philadelphia homeless shelters and halfway houses to do whatever such people are paid to do on Election Day. And even if, as in 2000, Corzine's version of faith-based campaigning contributes much more than 30 pieces of silver to some churches whose clergy then endorse him. In 2000, Corzine — who of course in 2002 supported the McCain-Feingold campaign finance restrictions for others — outspent his opponent 10-1, but won just 50-47.

Never mind Corzine's campaign spending and the $470,000 "loan" that he made and forgave to his former girlfriend who heads one of the state's largest public employee unions, with which the next governor will negotiate. He has done well even while doing good, as he understands that, in the Senate. The Bergen Record reports that Corzine, while on the Foreign Relations Committee, voted for a treaty containing "a narrowly crafted clause" that conferred a lucrative tax exemption on Corzine and some other wealthy investors in a Japanese bank.

Forrester's two issues — the ideal number — are corruption and property taxes. New Jersey leads the nation in both. At $1,908 per capita, property taxes are almost double the national average. And assuming, perhaps rashly, that Hurricane Katrina disrupted business-as-usual in Louisiana, New Jersey may now have, temporarily, the nation's most persistently corrupt politics. When New Jersey's last elected governor resigned after revelations of his affair with a male assistant, the state seemed to merely shrug, perhaps because peculation was minimally involved, for a change.

Forrester's problem is that New Jersey has become a deep shade of blue. In 1988, George H. W. Bush's winning margin was 13.6 percent. Just eight years later, Bill Clinton's winning margin was 17.9 percent. Some Corzine ads end: "Doug Forrester: George Bush's choice for governor. Is he yours?" New Jersey's choice is to protest high taxes and culture of corruption, or forever hold its peace.

In politics, boredom can be, if not a virtue, a sign of one — impatience with impotence. Under Corzine's chairmanship in the 2004 election cycle, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee raised more money than its Republican counterpart, yet Democrats suffered a net loss of four seats and he recoiled from the prospect of a protracted Senate service in the minority.

A New Jersey governor is an American caesar. The most powerful of all governors, he or she is the only state official elected statewide and appoints the other state officials. Still, some people suspect that Corzine wants the governorship because he has his eye on another property 16 blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Senate with which he has become disenchanted. Many more presidents have come from governorships than from Senate seats, and New Jersey's governor gets attention in the largest media markets in two contiguous blue states — Philadelphia and New York City.

Forrester says wryly — and accurately — that he would be in the Senate from which Corzine is fleeing if in October 2002, the Democrats had not dumped his opponent, the ethically challenged Sen. Robert Torricelli, and replaced him with a then-retired Sen. Frank Lautenberg. Oh, New Jersey.

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