Public faith in government may be at an all-time low, both at the State and federal levels. The current fight on Capitol Hill between Democrats and Republicans over whether or nor the country will go into default is frightening to many Americans, especially working class families. On the State level, New Jersey has been involved in an imbroglio over the past year about how to deal with a dwindling economy and still meet the needs of the State’s most vulnerable citizens. Perhaps the infighting became the most intense during the debate in the Legislature over the Pensions and Benefits Reform package, and later, the Governor’s line-item cuts of many programs for needy citizens. New Jersey will be unable to climb out of the abyss unless we all work together toward a common goal.
In order to reach that goal, the voters must have faith in Government. Elected officials must be viewed as public servants, rather than as self-serving politicians. Yet, demographic research suggests that the average citizen has simply lost faith in government. The well-publicized controversy surrounding State Senator Teresa Ruiz (D-29) may serve as an illustration of the public’s view of the State Legislature. Several people have been indicted and accepted plea deals for their involvement in voter fraud during Senator Ruiz’s 2007 election campaign. One of those people is Ruiz’s husband, Samuel Gonzalez, who served as an Essex County Freeholder at the time that the indictments were handed down. Along with those who have accepted plea deals, at least one, Angel Colon, is likely to go to prison. The others have been accepted into judicial intervention programs that may eliminate jail time.
The legislature must be willing to clean house in order to retain any degree of credibility. The Democratic Party, still recovering from multiple convictions and imprisonments among elected officials in recent years, cannot afford even the hint of voter irregularity, especially in an election year. Attorney General Paula T. Dow and Criminal Justice Director Stephen J. Taylor have charged that fraudulent absentee ballots were submitted during Ruiz’s election. No matter what type of resolution is made, her election will always be suspect, especially with those close to her accepting plea agreements.
The scandal can follow the Democrats through election-day, unless they take an unequivocal stand to purge any questionable elected officials or staffers. The rest of the nation is watching, and we must erase New Jersey’s reputation as the “Soprano State”. Party leaders must recognize that their candidates must have reputations that are “above reproach”.
The indictments and recent plea deals place every legislative decision into question. Votes in the Legislature regarding collective bargaining, pensions and benefits, and teacher tenure, for example, may now be viewed as political chicanery by back-room bosses who may benefit from the outcome.