User-agent: * Allow: / Trenton Butcher Block: Canary in a Coal Mine. Tom Goodwin Looses State Senate Race

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Commentary on national and local events from the standpoint of a Trenton city resident and state worker.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Canary in a Coal Mine. Tom Goodwin Looses State Senate Race


Here, Senator Tom Goodwin stands to the right (blue tie and glasses) in this photo of Governor Christie signing into law the two-percent property tax law at the Nottingham Ballroom in Hamilton Township this summer.  Assemblyman Goodwin received heavy backing from Christie and the state GOP to win a midterm election for the unexpired state senate seat previously held by Bill Baroni who resigned to take a post in Christie's administration.  Goodwin lost the 14th Legislative District senate race this November to Linda Greenstein, a liberal Democrat and supporter of public employee unions.  Next November, all seats in the state legislature are up for grabs.  Could Senate President Stephen Sweeney (right, red tie) also get kicked out. (Photo from The Trentonian)

 Looking at the newspapers following election day, at first all looks well for Governor Christie and his fellow Republicans.  After all, in Washington, the GOP took control of the House of Representatives and narrowed the Democratic majority in the Senate, a firm rebuke to the Obama administration.  In addition, the GOP now controls a majority of the nation's governorships, including the seat in neighboring Pennsylvania won by Tom Corbett, who Governor Christie identified as a protege.

Since being elected governor of New Jersey in November 2009, Chris Christie has become a regular on the national television talk show circuit, and has become a household word nationally.  Many people in other states look up to him for the way he was able to quickly cut the size of government in New Jersey.  They went ahead and elected many other new governors who indicated that they want to follow in his footsteps.

So what do we have here?  Is it the makings of a long-term movement or is it just a flash in the pan?  Are all those new governors getting in on the ground floor on the next big thing in politics or are they just getting in line to follow all the other lemmings off a cliff?

As someone who spent time living in western Iowa and served boot camp with the US Army at Ft. Leonard Wood, which is located in the Ozark Mountains of southern Missouri, I know we live in a big country and that opinions and beliefs vary widely across this great land.  So I don't want to predict what will happen in other more rural and conservative places.  Perhaps less services and control of the governmental apparatus by the rich and powerful is just their cup of tea in places like Waynesville, MO or Bronson, IA.

I can however speak for the people of Mercer County, NJ for here the people have spoken earlier this month, and the results do not portend well for the political future of Christie and his followers in the legislature or in local government.

In local elections, the voters sent two Democrats back to the Freeholder board (for folks in other parts of the country, in other states this type of body is usually called the Board of County Supervisors).  We also returned a Democrat back to the County Clerk's job.  In fact, there are no elected Republicans serving in our county government.

More importantly, two Republican officials who were quite vocal in their support for Christie's policies lost to Democrats.  First, Tom Goodwin who was appointed to a state senate seat in the 14th district that was held by a Republican, Bill Baroni, who accepted a job in the Christie Administration and resigned his job as Senator.  In New Jersey, appointed legislators must stand for election for the remainder of their unexpired terms at the time of the next general election.  So, Mr. Goodwin had to run in an off-year for the one year remaining on his unexpired term.

Mr. Goodwin ran as a tax cutter and as a supporter of Christie with the heavy backing of the state GOP who saw this senate race as a test of Christie's popularity.  Goodwin made a point that he was one of the main sponsors of legislation to cap local property tax increases to two percent per year.  He even had Christie come to his district to do the signing ceremony and stood at the front of the room with the governor and Senator Sweeney for the signing.  He said he was a businessman who believes the governor's policies will revive private sector jobs and portrayed his opponent as a liberal union lover.

Well, both Goodwin and the governor got egg on their face when Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein wound up winning this close race.  The main factor in this race was Hamilton Township, which is a Trenton suburb heavily populated by state workers and state retirees, two groups in Christie's crosshairs.  This is the largest municipality in the 14th district.  What the Governor and Goodwin failed to realize is that even though Hamilton usually votes Republican,  when push comes to shove people are more concerned about their own welfare than they are about party identification.  If your elected representative talks about talking away your benefits and cutting your pay, perhaps you would consider voting for the candidate in the other party who wants to help you.  Add to the newfound Democratic fervor of erstwhile Republican civil servants are parents who lost bus service for their children and had class sizes increased due to Republican-driven school aid cuts, and you got a Democratic victory.

The other example is Ewing Mayor Jack Ball who also lost this November.  This Republican was one of the first governors to speak out publically in favor of the governor's property tax cap proposal.  At the same time he was trying to get an ordinance passed limiting the amount of garbage homeowners could put on the curb.  When this was rejected, he said that people have to realize that service cuts are necessary to keep property taxes low.  After the cap was approved, he supported police and teacher layoffs this summer.  He said these were needed to keep tax increases within the cap and that it is going to be painful, but people have to make due with less police protection and poorer quality schools.

What is significant here is that property taxes are higher in Ewing than on similar residences in surrounding municipalities and that people still rejected the Republican approach.  Although the municipality has some state employees living there, it is not the haven for state workers that Hamilton is.
The anger at the Republicans came from ordinary homeowners working in private industry that want to keep their good schools and not get overrun by hoards of thugs coming in from neighboring Trenton to take advantage of the township's lowered police protection.

Here you have it.  Two Democratic victories for seats held by Republican incumbents.  The Republicans lost because they polarized the voters.  The angered public employees, public retirees and disaffected homeowners ganged up and voted Democrat.  The Republicans managed to accomplish the opposite of what the hoped to do.  They united and energized the Democratic constituency so that they would go in large numbers to the polls and vote Democratic.

I know many Republicans have had secret doubts about Christie's radical proposals.  That's why nobody tried implementing them until he became governor.  They now feel they have a duty to get behind their leader and back him.  However that support will only continue so long as it is not the ticket to political suicide.

In November 2011 all Senate and Assembly seats are up for grabs.  My guess is that teachers, police, state, county and municipal office workers and government retirees will have been angered enough  by Christie and his supporters to vote Democrat.  Since more people work for state and local government than work in construction and manufacturing combined this is a formidable force.  Add disaffected homeowners and retired government employees and it will be a tide that the Republicans won't be able to counter.  Look for Democratic legislators in places that never elect Democrats like Sussex or Cape May counties.  That's right, a sea of blue from High Point to Cape May.

Think what that will do to that unified Republican support for the Governor at the local level.  My guess is it will shatter like a glass at a Jewish wedding.  And so will any support outside the state for Christie's election to the presidency.

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