I got a call the other day from the Daggett campaign, the independent candidate for governor of New Jersey, to meet for a rally before the second and last debate in the race. The debate was yesterday at William Paterson University in Totowa NJ. All of the usual suspects were there. Corzine’s crew brought in a lot of union guys. The Republicans had their anti-choice crowd. There were a surprising number of conspiracy theorists who turned out to protest childhood vaccinations and specifically the H1N1 vaccine. Don’t even get me started.
And then there was the Daggett campaign. We had about as many ralliers as the other two campaigns and some nifty bright green signs and T-shirts. Green sort of speaks to Daggett’s environmental creds. He’s been endorsed by the Sierra Club. By the way, Daggett’s campaign staff is drop dead gorgeous. His rally coordinator is so hot you could bake cookies on him. One of his staff, a tall beautiful blonde, was wearing a very fashionable sweater minidress that showcased the most amazingly long, perfect legs. Just before the debate started, she strutted across the loge, like Joan Holloway on a mission, right in front of a bunch of Corzine supporters. Their jaws dropped and every pair of eyes, mine included, followed her shapely gams right up to her callipygian butt. Well done! You can be smart and smokin’ hot. Too bad you missed it, myiq.
The debate was sponsored and obviously controlled by the local Fox affiliaate. I managed to snag a ticket for the debate literally minutes before it began. (Thank you, hot cookie guy!) I don’t know the criteria that was used to give out advanced tickets but it was clearly rigged in Chris Christie’s favor. Like I said, there weren’t an overwhelming number of Republicans outside but, judging by the cheering and applause, Republicans inside Shea PAC outnumbered the other campaigns by about 2:1. Bostonboomer, who liveblogged the debate last night, reported that the Fox commentators talked over Daggett’s responses and occasionally Corzine. allowing Christie to pontificate in his big beefy goodness without interruption. As we were outside during the rally, one Republican operative approached our group and said, “How does it feel to be marginalized?” He seemed disturbed. We were cheerily unperturbed. We know there are a lot of New Jerseyans who are registered ‘unaffiliated’. All they need is a good reason to vote for the third guy. (Note to Daggett’s campaign: I know your poll position is crappy. So, why not take a cue from Joe Lieberman’s senate campaign in 2006 and create and ad with a snappy mnemonic so that voters can find you?)
Now, onto the debate. I was transfixed. I’ve never been to a live debate before. And while this wasn’t as high stakes as a presidential debate, I have to give a lot of credit to the organizers and the candidates for sticking to the rules. There were no gotcha questions. The Lightening Round was a chance for the candidates to reveal their personalities and turned out to be pretty funny.
In short, this should be a model for all debates going forward. I learned a lot about all three candidates and their approach to fixing what ails New Jersey. But it was Daggett who stole the show. Seriously, guys, I could vote for this man for president. He’s got that Hillary Clinton policy wonk thing down cold. He was well prepared for most questions and for the ones where he didn’t have an immediate answer, I got the sense that his mental gears were clicking.
Daggett could have a lot of appeal to both Democrats and Republicans. He is liberal on social issues, prudent and conservative on fiscal issues. He emphasizes tax cuts for homeowners and corporations. I’m a little worried by how he intends to pay for it but his idea of expanding the sales tax to items that the upper middle and upper class purchase is a step in the right direction. In fact, he could go even further and impose a small sales tax on most consumer goods (2-4%? It would still be lower than surrounding states). In New Jersey, we don’t have a sales tax on food or most consumer items. There is a restaurant tax but if you go to the grocery store, no tax on most products. New York, by contrast, has up to a 9% tax on just about everything (See Ann’s comment for more precise details). So, you can see why New Jersey is an attractive place to shop. On the other hand, our property taxes are through the roof. For example, I pay more than $500 on my little townhouse – per month. Yep, after the ridiculous federal, social security and state income taxes are paid from my generous paycheck, reducing me to just average Jane Bagodonuts, I pay more than $500 per month on a house with no property. Personally, I don’t mind shifting some to that tax to consumable goods. Let the people who buy the luxury cars and high end consumables pick up the tab. Daggett also proposes a tax on gas to pay for transportation infrastructure and mass transit. I think this is a good idea, especially if it encourages more use of mass transit in a state as congested as New Jersey.
Where I had some issues with Daggett was his approach to health care. His opposition to the public option is not necessarily a dealbreaker for me. I think policy wonks are able to see permutations to solving these kinds of problems because they understand the mechanisms of government. So, if we ended up with a German type of health care, ie private insurance but highly regulated, that would be Ok with me as long as everyone is covered, insurance companies and health care providers are held accountable with mandates for basic policies and public funds are used to provide subsidies for those individuals who can’t afford it. I don’t think that’s what we’re getting with Obamacare where the mandates seem to be falling more heavily on the individual and choice of insurance company is limited. While single payer would eliminate a lot of our administrative headaches and it works for other countries, it’s not the only answer. There’s no reason to suppose it couldn’t work here but we can’t rule out other models that check the health care industry just as well.
Daggett also didn’t have an answer for how to fund state colleges and universities. Well, he’s got a couple of weeks to come up with an answer. To be fair, Corzine and Christie weren’t any better on this question. Corzine points to state financial aid grants as a sort of bandaid on the problem. Christie got all sentimental about sending his four children to local schools but added nothing to the conversation. Daggett at least acknowledged that there was a problem with the underlying structure of state aid to colleges and universities that needed to be addressed. He just needs to find a funding mechanism. Might I suggest one? Ok, this is going to sound crazy and bring out the MADD crew but most New Jersey restaurants do not have liquor licenses. Yep, if you want to go out to a nice, new restaurant for a special dinner, you’d better call ahead because you might have to brown bag it, and drink everything you bring with you. There aren’t that many licenses available and most of them are bought up by big chain restaurants and, I suspect, the mafia. If you go to New York or Pennsylvania, this is never an issue. You can get a nice glass of chard just about anywhere. So, sell more liquor licenses, license grocery stores to sell wine and beer and watch the revenue flow in. This leftover from Prohibition is only benefitting organized crime.
The dynamics of the debate were also pretty interesting to watch. After Daggett’s responses to questions, Corzine frequently agreed with him in response but never once referred to him by name. Corzine continued to frame the debate as between two party representatives, him and Chris Christie. I think that might have worked in any other year when there wasn’t such a strong, articulate, engaging third party candidate. I’m not sure it will work this year. In Daggett’s closing statement, he makes a point of reminding the audience that in spite of what Corzine and Christie’s wishful thinking, there *is* a choice this year. There is a third party candidate who offers something new, different and positive.
PS: This race is phenomenally expensive and Daggett has chosen to run on public funds. Corzine has spent $20 million on ads attacking Chris Christie’s waistline. Daggett is trying to run a positive campaign on limited funds. Just sayin’.
Note: The second debate will be televised tomorrow. I’ll try to do another live blog because I think it is important to think outside the box, especially when there is a viable third party candidate like Daggett. These people need more attention and support to give voters more choices and keep the other parties on their toes.
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Filed under: NJ Governor's race 2009 | Tagged: Chris Christie, chris daggett, gas tax, health care, Independent for New Jersey Governor, Jon Corzine, New Jersey, New Jersey Governor, property tax, second debate |