Musings on Sports, Politics and Life in general

Posts tagged “New Jersey

Is This It for Mitt?

Will this say "Romney Defeats Obama"?

Super Tuesday came and went, only it wasn’t quite so super. If anything, the results only served to muddle the outcome further in what was an already muddled Republican primary. If you listen to the MSM, Mitt Romney solidified his role as front-runner after expanding his lead in delegates.

Ah, if only it were so simple. But nothing about this primary season has been simple. The principle reason for quagmire is that the Republicans decided this year to change things up and award delegates proportionally, but left it to the individual states to decide how the apportionment would work. State party bosses, being state party bosses, largely decided that the popular votes wouldn’t matter and state political conventions would ultimately decide how many delegates each candidate would receive. Craziest of all these is Missouri, which held a non-binding primary last month and will hold non-binding caucuses next week. It’s a system only Boss Hogg would appreciate.

The net result of all this inside horse-trading (aside from having only a relative few delegates actually apportioned) is the current morass. If, as in the ancient past (read: 2008) delegates were awarded on a winner take all basis, Romney would have commitments from 513 delegates, Rick Santorum 197 and Newt Gingrich 101. Instead, we have estimated delegate counts. Depending on the source, Romney has between 379 (CBS News’ count) and 430 (Fox News) delegates. My own personal count gives Romney 386 delegates. Regardless of which count you take, there are only two I’ve seen that give the front-runner more than 50% of the delegates contested thus far.

And that brings us to the current problem for the GOP. It is becoming increasingly possible that they will arrive at their convention without a candidate who has amassed 50% of the delegates needed to secure the nomination. Not necessarily probable, but possible. After all, there are three winner-take-all states (New York, California and New Jersey) that profile favorably for Romney and they combine for 317 delegates. If combined with his current total, that would mean he would need to win about 40% of the remaining delegates in the other states not yet voted, in order to reach the 1,144 required. It should be a doable task for establishment’s preferred choice.

Only, therein lies the problem for Romney and the establishment. They want the primary season over so they can focus on the general election. New Jersey doesn’t vote until June 5th – and if Romney hasn’t secured the nomination by then, it will mean enough of the party isn’t supporting the eventual nominee to signal significant weakness to the nation. A comparison can be drawn to 1948, the year Harry Truman became the original “comeback kid” (sorry, Bill Clinton). By all normal election standards, Truman should have been walloped that year: unemployment was rising, the economy faltering, the Soviets detonated their first atomic weapon and Winston Churchill’s infamous “Iron Curtain” was now a reality Americans faced with fear and trepidation. But the Republican nominee, Thomas Dewey, was about as inspiring as dry toast and succeeded in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Not unlike Romney, Dewey was perceived by many fellow Republicans as aloof and calculating – a politician’s politician. Also not unlike Romney, Dewey was disliked by the conservative wing of his party (who preferred Ohio Senator Robert Taft). The intra-party fight lasted into the convention, where it took three ballots to nominate Dewey.

Some 64 years later, the Republican Party seems to be repeating history. Certainly, the political calendar isn’t favorable to Romney. What he needs is a convincing win outside of New England to demonstrate he can bring the party together and he seems to be pouring money into Kansas, in the hope he can get it there. But after Kansas comes Alabama, Mississippi and Missouri, three states that do not favor Romney. Since it’s also highly likely that Santorum and Gingrich will split the lion’s share of delegates from these four states, one or both will probably close the gap with the Romney. The GOP nightmare scenario gets that much closer at that point. If the voting holds as it has thus far, with southern and evangelical voters opting for anyone but Romney, the current front-runner can’t cross the 1,144 threshold before New Jersey’s June 5th primary.

But there are two other pitfalls Romney will need to avoid if he wants to secure the nomination, even at that late date. First, he’ll need to ensure that those party conventions are stoked to vote for him (far from a sure thing at this point). Second, he needs to wrap up as many of the uncommitted delegates as possible. There are currently 93 of them; current projections indicate there may be as many 255 by the convention. That will be a powerful voting bloc, one as capable of tying up the 2012 Republican Convention as those of Earl Warren (yes, the man who later became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court) and Harold Stassen in 1948.

So, Romney still seems best positioned to become the Republican nominee. But party fratricide seems even more certain to deliver him as weak and badly wounded nominee. In 1948, the Republicans thought they could take on an unpopular incumbent presiding over a moribund economy and uncertainty on the world stage with an unpopular candidate and win. Will 2012 prove to be a repeat of that disastrous strategy?

How Bret Schundler inadvertently saved NJ’s schools

All of the furor over the NJ Department of Education’s faux pas, the one that “lost” $400 million in federal education aid, overlooked an important fact. States that are eagerly lining up for the “Race to the Top” funds are simultaneously throwing away more of their discretion in how to educate their youngest citizens. You may be asking yourself how that could be true; after all, isn’t the “Race to the Top” about improving educational opportunity?

Nominally, the answer to that question is yes. But like most federal diktats, the “Race to the Top” became a maze of byzantine rules and regulations far more than a program funneling money to states with innovative ideas for promoting education. The reason New Jersey was denied acceptance into the program is bizarre, even in bureaucratic terms. The scoring criteria included a minimum per-pupil spending increase. Had state officials used budget data from 2008 and 2009, the increase would have been represented; because they used current budget data, the state’s reduction in per-pupil spending was presented.

Only in the bizarro world of Washington D.C. would the state that ranks third in per-pupil spending wind up penalized for getting its fiscal house in order. Yes, New Jersey cut per-pupil spending this year, but what of it? Integral programs to education are intact, despite the hew and cry raised by the NJEA during the long debate leading to the final budget (unless, that is, you consider ice dancing and lacrosse integral to education).

Bret Schundler wasn’t fired for a clerical error. He was fired for lying to the governor about the clerical error. In that respect, Governor Christie had no choice but to fire Schundler; no leader can have morally challenged people on their executive team. But somebody should award Schundler a “Best Mistake of the Year” award. By losing out on those funds, New Jersey is exempt from federal oversight of any “Race to the Top” program mandates. Is it that important? Yes, if you think that the federal Department of Education has yet to live up to the stated reason for its creation. (The unstated reason, of course, was President Carter’s tit-for-tat with the NEA during the 1976 campaign).

In 31 years of federal mandates, administrated by the ED, American children continue to fall further behind their contemporaries in other nations. “No Child Left Behind” has effectively left an entire generation of children behind, unprepared for entry to either college or the workforce. Recent studies consistently demonstrate that higher percentages of students require remediation upon entry to college today than 30 years ago. The Department of Education is meeting its stated mission of ensuring that all students receive the same level of education. Even if the level is well below what an actual education should be.

Due to a clerical error and Governor Christie’s returning power to local school boards, New Jersey is poised to surge to the top in primary education. Which seems a far better option than a Race to the Top.

Grading the Governor

It’s been barely four months since Chris Christie took the oath of office as Governor of the Great State of New Jersey. (Please hold the New Jersey jokes for later). For those of who do not reside in the Garden State, Christie was elected for three reasons: (1) to repair the state budget and get taxes under control (especially New Jersey’s insane property taxes); (2) revive the business climate and (3) because he ISN’T Jon Corzine. Well, on the last point, he’s succeeded – nobody will ever confuse Christie with his predecessor. The question is, how is he doing on the first two points?

That probably depends on who you talk to, but one thing is for sure: Christie isn’t only attacking the state budget with zeal, he’s also attacking municipal and school district budgets. In this regard he deserves some credit: he is the first governor since Brendan Byrne in the 1970’s to link all three in an unholy alliance. Of course, Byrne’s solution was to institute the state income tax – which, while it sounded great on paper has had the effect of only bloating the state budget. (We’ll chalk that one up to an “OOPSIES” moment.)

The crux of the issue, for the uninitiated, is this: most of New Jersey’s services are provided by local municipalities and school districts. These entities only have three sources of revenue: state disbursements, local property taxes and local fees. Where Christie has run afoul of both the municipalities and school districts is that he has either frozen or cut the state disbursements for numerous local programs. This has led to a particularly bitter fight with the NJEA, New Jersey preeminent teachers union. With most districts now receiving less in state subsidies, they are faced with the prospect of either raising property taxes to cover the reduction or reducing staff and programs. Of course, there’s also the often under-reported issue of how many districts have used the state’s largesse in the past; for instance, the Jersey City Schools District has put that money into a “rainy-day” fund. The reality is that JCSD could keep services exactly where they currently are without any state assistance whatsoever.

Of course, to hear the teachers union, this is tantamount to the classic line from “Ghostbusters:” Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria! Realizing that they aren’t likely to get the Governor to rescind his executive order, they’ve gone into full attack mode. And by full, I mean attacking on all fronts. It’s become almost amusing to pick up a copy of the Newark Star-Ledger or Bergen Record and see some of the things being said. Eventually, I’ll figure out if the Governor is simply “a fat pig” who obviously didn’t graduate from a public school “because he can’t add 2+2,” and if the state’s Education Commissioner, Brett Schundler, is really an “apostate from Hell.” (These are actually mild statements; in case you hadn’t heard, the NJEA also put a hit on the Governor and tried to contract the Almighty to do the deed). The rhetoric from the state house has turned equally vicious, in true Goodfella’s fashion. (Hey, I’m allowed. I live in the town where The Sopranos was filmed. SO…shuddayamouf). Christie has likened teachers to drug pushers, among other things. What makes this especially entertaining is that this highlights a diametric opposition of two incredibly powerful forces in state politics – the NJEA is the state’s largest union in what is a traditionally pro-union state and the Governor is, well..the Governor.

The real test comes today, when citizens across the state vote on their local school district budgets. Ordinarily, these elections are pretty tame affairs marked by low turnout and high margins of passage. but since Christie threw down a gauntlet earlier this month – challenging the state’s voters to not pass any budget that doesn’t include a wage freeze for teachers. How low and how high? In a typical year, voter turnout would be around 20% and over 90% of school budgets are passed. The all time low is 54% of school budgets being approved – a number that may well be surpassed this year, given that a Rasmussen poll finds 65% of New Jerseyans siding with the Governor.

So, will this be the year when New Jersey’s citizens finally stop saying “Enough with property taxes” and actually start doing something about it? Chris Christie is hoping so. He’s set this election up as the first real test of his political clout and chosen the State’s biggest union – and most powerful lobbying group – as his intended target. If he succeeds in getting voters to reject the proposed budgets in the 86% of districts seeking an increase, he will have won a significant victory and the odds go up that he will be able to ram through his proposed “Slim-Fast” budgets over the next three years. So, for now Christie gets an “incomplete” on this issue.

I’ll post an update here tomorrow and tackle the other main issue, reviving the NJ business climate. In the meantime, I’ve included two more links after the break for your reading enjoyment.

UPDATE: It looks as if the voters in this state have rejected 54% of the proposed school budgets, an all-time high. This round goes to the Governor. Grade, so far: B-