Election Day, Nov. 7, may seem far off, but for Democrat Phil Murphy and Republican Kim Guadagno it is not at all. This past week, both gubernatorial candidates named their choices for lieutenant governor. There was no drama. No political games. It was a straightforward business. And we hope it is a precursor of a campaign that will remain focused not on personalities, but public policy. We are hopeful.
Murphy, a former U.S. ambassador to Germany and Goldman Sachs executive, has never held elected office. Guadagno, the state’s first lieutenant governor, was a county sheriff and a prosecutor. Their respective choices fill voids in their resumes. Murphy chose Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver, a former Speaker of the Assembly. Guadagno chose Woodcliff Lake Mayor Carlos Rendo, a Cuban American.
But as Gov. Chris Christie said this past week, no one votes for governor based on who his or her running mate is. And in this election cycle, they will not be voting for the most outsized personality either. And that is good.
What we hope to see in these coming months is a frank discussion on how to reduce property taxes. Not just promises, but concrete proposals to trim government costs. The driver of property taxes are schools and municipal expenses, like police departments. We constantly hear much about sharing services – but what we see are towns grabbing at the low-hanging fruit. No one wants to really shake the tree.
It is almost too easy to criticize all that went wrong with Christie’s tenure as governor, but early in his first term, he shook the tree. He and his “tool kit” for reforms brought about a 2-percent cap on municipal spending, with some exceptions, teacher tenure reform, and significant concessions from public employees with regard to pensions and benefits.
Whether these reforms were all fully implemented is another discussion, but there was a reason why Christie was once a serious contender for president. Murphy and Guadagno should take away one good lesson from early Christie: the public is not averse to a governor grabbing the “political third rail.” In fact, that is what they want to see.
So we ask two thoughtful candidates to be bold and aggressive in their campaigns. Put forth ideas that will not only challenge voters, but also your opponent to bring their A-games. But do not be careful in your goals.
Careful will not fund light rail in Bergen County or improve the state’s ailing infrastructure. Careful will not improve educational opportunities in struggling public school districts, while reducing the tax burden on middle-class ones. Careful will not deal with the scourge of drug addiction or the heroin traffic in cities like Paterson.
Careful won’t reduce the debt. Fix pensions. Improve the state’s credit rating.
So we say to Murphy and Guadagno, , be bold. But also, be respectful – of voters and your opponent. Civility starts somewhere and it should start at the top. It is months before we will endorse in this race, yet we believe both candidates are capable of improving the level of political discourse in New Jersey.
Most voters do not know much about Murphy or Guadagno. It is a challenge for both campaigns to overcome. But it also means the candidates are starting with clean slates. Write on them well.
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