"I am ruling out a tax increase," the new Governor of debt-ridden
New Jersey declared the day after his election. He said he is
embarking on "an agonizing reappraisal of what government should do,
and perhaps more importantly, what government ought not be doing."
Is this a disciple of Ronald Reagan speaking? A politician who is
truly dedicated to less government and lower taxes?
No, this is a liberal the day after his campaign against a
principled conservative ended. Jim McGreevey, who voted for a massive
New Jersey tax hike in the '90s, is talking like an anti-tax
Credit the man he defeated, Bret Schundler, for this apparent
transformation. Schundler, in his concession speech the night before,
had pointedly warned McGreevey against resorting to tax increases.
Schundler's vigorous campaigning forced McGreevey to promise not
to increase taxes. "We are going to look to him to do that, and we are
going to hold him to those promises," Schundler said.
In addition to promising not to raise taxes, McGreevey declared
that "I am committed for New Jersey state government to be operated in
a cost-effective, fiscally conservative and responsible manner. And we
will have to make difficult decisions." He is singing from the
conservative song sheet.
Few really expect McGreevey to live up to his post-election
conservative talk. But Schundler, a relentless former All-State
football player, will keep on the pressure during the next four years.
Schundler proved his influence when he single-handedly stopped a
plan to build a costly new sports arena in Newark. All the political
powers supported the plan, which included goodies for them, but
Schundler derailed it by demanding that it be put to a vote of the
McGreevey now agrees with Schundler about that issue, too. The
day after the election, McGreevey described the plan for the new sports
arena as "a $1 billion pork fest" and promised to oppose any plan that
would burden taxpayers.
Bret Schundler's scrutiny and sharp criticism of government waste
have changed the landscape and the vocabulary for all Garden State
politicians. His principled stances combined with his populist appeal
have liberals worried about what he will say next, even after his
McGreevey and the national Democratic Party defeated Schundler
only by pouring unprecedented resources into a negative campaign.
McGreevey's side outspent Schundler's by a margin estimated to be at
least three to one.
Every major newspaper endorsed McGreevey, who then ran ads
featuring those endorsements. Moderate Republicans, including the
acting Governor, refused to endorse the conservative Schundler.
The "big tent" that moderates and the media use to club
conservatives into supporting moderate candidates does not work both
ways when a hard-charging conservative like Schundler wins the
nomination. Even President Bush's own Cabinet member, left-leaning
Christine Todd Whitman, was vocal in her criticism of Schundler at a
pivotal time early in the campaign.
The race for Governor of Virginia was similar and the outcome was
the same. The liberal Democrat vastly outspent the conservative
Republican there, and President Bush was a no-show.
Although the liberal candidates in both New Jersey and Virginia
spent far greater amounts of campaign money, they still could win only
by talking like conservatives. Mark Warner even courted the pro-gun
vote to put him over the top for the Virginia governorship.
As for Hillary and Bill Clinton, their old-fashioned liberalism
fared poorly. Neither Senator Hillary's endorsement nor Bill's new
office in the Big Apple were able to save Mark Green from his loss to
Republican Michael Bloomberg for mayor.
Democratic National Chairman Terry McAuliffe funneled massive
resources into the New Jersey and Virginia races while the national
Republicans stayed away and kept their wallets closed. McAuliffe
crowed that the election results were a referendum on the Republican
Party's "stale ideas."
Even the liberal Newark Star-Ledger, which had endorsed McGreevey
"by a mile," brushed off McAuliffe's comments as "nothing but
predictable spin." The liberal candidates know they won because they
talked like conservatives.
President Bush, unfortunately, was missing in action all during
these important campaigns, even before 9/11. He refused to fundraise
for the New Jersey or Virginia gubernatorial candidates, with his
spokesman using the pretext that the elections were merely local.
Meanwhile, conservatives and pro-lifers elected 12 new Republicans
to Virginia's House of Delegates, sweeping to a 64-35 majority, where
they can help Mark Warner stick to his conservative promises. Virginia
law term-limits the Governor, but not the legislators, to four years.
In New Jersey, the moderates are thoroughly discredited by their
disgraceful opposition to the Republican nominee. Symbolizing the end
of the moderate stranglehold, New Jersey Congresswoman Marge Roukema
just announced her retirement, yielding her seat to likely capture by a