New Jersey’s corruption culture appears to be holding steady

If Gov. Jon Corzine wins a second term Tuesday, New Jersey voters will have two things to thank: Goldman Sachs and Chris Daggett campaign headquarters.

Goldman Sachs is where Corzine made most of the astonishing $24 million he has plowed into his re-election campaign (compared to the $9 million spent by his Republican opponent, former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie).

And Daggett is the third-party candidate who’s never been higher than 20 percent in the polls, but whose candidacy may very well determine the outcome of the race.

Christie has run a less than perfect campaign, but should Corzine eke out a win, credit must go to his money and to Daggett. Why? For the simple reason that the case against Corzine is so overwhelming.

New Jersey residents have the highest state and local tax burdens in the country. They pay the highest property taxes in the country. According to the Tax Foundation, New Jersey has the worst climate for business of any state in the nation. So, not surprisingly, it has the highest unemployment rate in the country.

Credit for much of this high-taxing, high-spending, job-repelling record goes to Corzine. As governor, he hiked the state sales tax by 16 percent. He eliminated property tax rebates for middle-class homeowners. He has raised taxes on top wage earners, alcohol, cigarettes and businesses, and he’s not showing any signs of stopping. His latest proposal would raise taxes on gasoline.

On top of his abysmal record on taxes, Corzine has presided over an era of public corruption that’s remarkable even for New Jersey. He unapologetically gave $400,000 of his own Wall Street money to a Bergen County Democratic machine boss who was convicted this month on federal felony corruption charges. And this summer, an FBI bribery sting that resulted in the arrest of no less than 44 state officials also included a raid on a member of Corzine’s Cabinet. The result is, in a state that President Barack Obama won 57-42, the race for governor is too close to call.

Corzine has tried valiantly to change the subject by using his millions to unleashed a vicious and dishonest media attack on Christie. His high-priced mud slinging hasn’t improved his standing in the polls much, but it has hurt Christie. And thanks to the presence of third-party candidate Daggett, the anti-Corzine vote is now dangerously split.

On merit, Daggett is a poor alternative to Christie for frustrated New Jersey voters, who’s a respected former federal prosecutor who had the guts and the principle to do what Corzine has never done: take on the culture of corruption in New Jersey politics. He won convictions or guilty pleas from more than 130 public officials — both Republicans and Democrats — without a single loss.

Daggett, on the other hand, has campaigned on a series of pie-in-the-sky promises that sound good until you look at the details. He’s promised to lower property taxes, but he would “pay for it” by raising other taxes. And he’s cynically said that Christie can’t win the race, publically asserting, “It’s either going to be Jon Corzine or me.”

Thanks to his own candidacy, Daggett may well be right — about Corzine, that is.

In these waning days of the campaign, Corzine is bringing in the Democratic Party’s heavyweights to vouch for him. President Bill Clinton was in the Garden State this week and Obama will be there Sunday.

Democratic strategists claim that a victory for Corzine will be a vindication of Obama and the Democrats’ big-government agenda, including health care.

It won’t. If anything pulls Corzine across the finish line next week, it won’t be Obama and government-run health care. It will be Wall Street money and Chris Daggett.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has published 19 books, including 10 fiction and nonfiction best-sellers. He is the founder of the Center for Health Transformation and chairman of American Solutions for Winning the Future. For more information, visit www.newt.org. His exclusive column for The Examiner appears Fridays.

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