Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The "Lion" Passes On

Today is a sad day in American politics regardless of which side of the aisle you hang your hat. Ted Kennedy's death after a long fight with brain cancer, leaves a major void in our political reality. Why? Because this man was respected by both parties - Republican and Democrat - for the passion of his discourse and his unwavering belief in helping those less fortunate than himself. Many times, his was the voice of reason that carried the day to solutions that affected large numbers of Americans.

Was he flawed? Of course he was. But name one human being without fault-you can't. Did I agree with everything Kennedy had to say? No. After all, I'm a Republican. But I did respect the man and his dedication to public service and the energy he devoted to causes he believed in.

The highest compliment that opposing warriors can give each other on the field of battle, is to say they fought valiantly with courage and honor.

To Sir Edward. May the "Lion" continue to roar in the heavens above.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Truth or Dare

My earlier posts mentioned testimony I was preparing to give at the New Jersey Assembly's GOP Policy Committee Hearings on Corruption, chaired by Minority Whip Jon Bramnick on Monday August 17, 2009.

After several radio interviews, television segments, countless articles from California to New York in newspapers, blogs and special interest newsletters, I can realistically say I think I've touched a nerve.

Who would have thought that suggesting people running for office should take a voluntary polygraph, would generate so much attention. Some folks initial impression was very critical and almost a, "what is this guy thinking?", kind of attitude. However, once people heard an explanation of the thought process behind it, low and behold, they began to actually entertain the possibility!

Let me explain. First of all, I am not a nut case who routinely comes up with crazy ideas to solve problems. In fact, I had prepared a list of 12 suggestions/recommendations for the committee to address the corruption problem.

What bothered me though, was the fact that almost any suggestion/recommendation given by the witnesses at the hearing, including what was on my list, dealt with corruption AFTER the crooks were already in office. Ethics training, elimination of dual office holding,transparency in government legislation, more in depth financial disclosure statements, consolidation of services, term limits and increased jail time, were all very good suggestions. But still, none of them keep the bad apple out BEFORE it got into the basket. They only dealt with them AFTER they were in office.

So, as I looked at my list, one item that really struck me as "out of the box", was the use of a polygraph examination as a voluntary option once a person became a declared candidate for elective office.

I am a former law enforcement officer, and have taken the polygraph test several times. They were not fun, and I had nothing of substance to hide!

What I noticed, however, was that for those folks who had a little something in their background, the polygraph was a factor in them deciding NOT to pursue a law enforcement career. In essence, it helped weed out folks early in the process, which saved a lot of taxpayer money.

I think this same "weeding out " function could be another tool to use in trying to reduce the amount of corruption we have in this country. Honest folks have nothing to worry about. The crooks are the ones who need to think twice.

Obviously for something this controversial to be enacted, it will take a tremendous amount of legal review and debate to even come close to becoming a reality.

One thing is certain, for us to get a handle on corruption, we need to have "out of the box" solutions. Heck, I knew I was on to something when Sam Antar, a former white collar criminal who also testified before the committee, thought the polygraph for politicians was a great idea!

Antar stated that all the laws, regulations, ethics training and the like, didn't matter one iota to the criminals. But having to take a polygraph? Well that was a different story. In fact, Antar's boss required his people take regular polygraphs to ensure that weren't talking to the Feds or stealing money!

Maybe I'm on the right track. Judging by the feedback I've been getting, at least people are thinking about different ways to deal with corruption on the front end, including this polygraph idea. One thing is certain, to paraphrase Albert Einstein's theory of insanity - we cannot continue to do the same thing and expect different results.

I think I'll explore this polygraph option a little further. Tell me what you think. Feel free to offer suggestions of your own. This is going to be interesting.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Talk About Stirring Up A Hornets Nest!

On Monday, I had the privilege to testify before the NJ Assembly GOP Policy Committee concerning corruption in New Jersey. The committee was looking for suggestions and ideas from the public and others, to help in addressing this unending problem in the Garden State. My suggestion caused reaction from "coast to coast". I'll go into more detail later.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Kleptocracy - "Rule by Theives"

Corruption and New Jersey politics seem to go hand in hand. The recent arrests of 44 people including Assembly members, mayors, council members and others from around the state on top of the numerous arrests made under former U.S. Attorney and current gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie's watch, show that obviously something is seriously wrong with the system and we need to find ways to fix it - in a hurry.

To that end, the Assembly Republican Policy Committee of the New Jersey State Legislature has created a subcommittee, chaired by Minority Whip Jon Bramnick, to conduct public hearings to address the corruption issue, and asked yours truly to testify.

As I prepare my testimony for the hearing, I am struck by how daunting the task is to rid the system of crooks. For the purpose of this blog, I'm not going to spout statistic after statistic of demographic data, type of crime, standing nationally or other numerical compilations.

Nor am I going to talk about the root causes of corruption or the conditions that could lead to corruption like those cited in Wikipedia, such as lack of government transparency,weak accounting practices, opportunities and incentives, and campaign financing to name a few.

And I don't believe for a minute, that New Jersey is the lead dog in the corruption pack. Other states such as Illinois with former governor, "You don't just give away something for nothing", Balgojevich doing it "the Chicago way", or Louisiana's fine unethical history, popularized by a fellow named Huey Long, deserve consideration for the honor as well.

What strikes me as the real cause of the corruption problem, is the audacity, stupidity and arrogance of the culprits themselves. Read Bob Ingle's book, The Soprano State, and you will understand the term, "You just can't make this stuff up".

That is the real problem and no amount of legislation, governmental controls or reforms can change that. These measures may reduce the problem, but they will never eliminate it. Maybe that's what we should strive for - reduction not elimination.

If a person wants to take money, they are going to do it regardless of the consequences. That goes to character and integrity. You either have it, or you don't. It's just that simple.

I have no sympathy or tolerance for elected officials who betray the public trust. I wish there was an alert system that would flash lights and sound the alarm to let us know ahead of time who was going to be a crook, but we don't. So we will continue to use our best judgement when we go to the voting booths, and we will rely on law enforcement to strip the bad apples from the tree.

Sounds like gloom and doom, right? Well I'm a "glass is half full" kind of guy, who believes anything worth having is worth fighting for. A clean, ethical political process is necessary to restore faith in government within our state. The task of weeding out corruption is daunting, but we must continue to try.

So, for the hearing, I will present a few suggestions, because I do feel that we can't make it easy for the bad guys. The alternative is....well....there is no alternative.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Christie Whitman - Flight of the Centrists

I was perusing the Washington Post Newspaper and spied the familiar name of Christine Todd Whitman, former Governor of New Jersey and former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Whitman had written an essay called, Flight of the Centrists,why President Obama is losing the middle and what the Republicans should do in response. The essay was originally published in The Ripon Society, "a Republican public policy advocacy organization representing all Americans through moderate, progressive policy formation that uphold traditional common sense Republican principles."(Mission statement,The Ripon Society)

The essay points out the declining popularity of President Obama and reasons for it. Whitman also talks about the lack of bi-partisanship on the well publicized health care reform package, and the President's rush to get it done through a partisan basis-period.

What struck me the most about the essay,however, was the importance that Whitman gave to the need for Republicans to reach centrists to win elections. This has been a consistent theme of Whitman's throughout her career. She took a lot of heat for it, and still does, from elements of the New Jersey Republican party, who somehow feel that unless you are a staunch conservative, then you can't be a true Republican.

Whitman makes the case in the essay that "we as Republicans need to rebuild our support among a constituency that is crucial to the GOP's future electoral success. To reach centrists, we need to return to the party of idea's. We cannot afford to simply discredit the Democrats' programs; we have to propose solutions and show why ours are the tight ones for America."

Whitman is particularly forceful about our legislators focusing on the issues that are important to the majority of Americans, and not just to the interests of a minority of voters. Whitman references the Senate Republicans who decided to focus on a concealed weapons bill while the health care debate was raging through the country. "Instead of focusing on issues that appeal to a minority of voters, we should focus on the core conservative principles of limited government that have served our Party well and made our country great."

I agree with Governor Whitman. Only I'd like to take it a step further. Until the Republican Party embraces the differences within, it will never be able to attract new members unto its ranks. Our enemy is not the Democratic Party, it is ourselves. We are perceived to have become an intolerant, narrow-minded, non-inclusive party, hell bent on self-destruction.

In more cases than I would like to acknowledge, I have to agree with that assessment. It wasn't always this way, nor does it have to continue. But to realize effective change, we must learn to respect divergent views within, and find ways to come together for the good of the Party.

I recommend that we stop labeling ourselves as moderates,RINO's(Republicans In Name Only), conservatives or whatever. Let's simply call ourselves Republicans, and get back to being the party of innovative, constructive ideas to benefit all Americans.

As Whitman says in closing the essay, "We need to earn back the voter's trust, and that takes positive actions as well as thoughtful criticism."