Though 2009 is an off-election year for most of the nation, that's not the case in New Jersey. In the Garden State, we've got elections for the Governor and the state legislature. And, as evidenced by the fact that President Obama will soon be here to campaign for the re-election of incumbent Governor Jon Corzine, the nation is watching.
In a way. that's too bad. No matter the outcome of the races here, the national news media will likely interpret it as a litmus test on Obama and the Democratically-controlled Congress. There are some big issues here but much of it is local and not reflexive of national issues.
Governor Jon Corzine is an independently wealthy businessmen who previously served as one of the state's Senators. Many in the state hoped that the Democrat's seeming independence would translate into some real political independence, at least when it came to taking on the entrenched interests in New Jersey. We hoped in vain. He hasn't been a disaster as governor, but neither has he been all that impressive. He has had some real accomplishments in the area of equalizing school district funding; he's undertaken some decent environmental initiatives. But on the question of getting the state to give up some of its costly local fiefdoms of power, Corzine has been mostly silent.
Which is not to say that I will vote for his Republican opponent, Chris Christie. As a federal prosecutor appointed by President George W. Bush, Christie racked up some decent credentials, taking on political corruption in the state. But as a candidate he's been less than impressive, expressing a litany of objections to Corzine's ideas and proposals while offering few nuts and bolts of his own. Christie's got a prickly style and doesn't like to be challenged (stunning when you consider that he's a Jersey natives...and this is a state with contentious people). He had a substantial lead in early polls and seemed eager to squirrel that away for a November victory. Lately his lead has shrunk and the race has gotten highly competitive, largely because Christie didn't bother to capitalize on his lead.
Enter a third party candidate, who joined the race in August in order to express his dissatisfaction with business-as-usual in New Jersey politics. Chris Daggett is an Independent who has served in state government, mostly for moderate Republicans. He's got volumes of education experience and a sound environmental track record (and the endorsement of some environmental groups). He has defined some good plans for taking on the state's problems (too much local control, insane property taxes, and the epidemic of pay-to-play). Daggett seems to be the real deal; so impressive that he received the endorsement of the state's leading newspaper.
I'm a liberal Democrat and under normal circumstances would cast a ballot for Jon Corzine. But I have to say that I'm giving that some very serious second thoughts to that approach this year. JT is avidly watching the race; he expects to cast a ballot in the 4th grade election at school. So we'll have plenty to talk about as we watch tonight's gubernatorial debate. Our vote lies in the balance.