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.

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