The RIGHT message for New Jersey GOP
by George Ajjan
No doubt, the Republican Party in New Jersey had some notable successes in the recent election. To further the achievements it realized in 2007, the GOP must move forward understanding the importance of message and image: message, because Republicans must clearly explain to voters why they deserve the chance to set the state's agenda; and image, because the GOP will only win in New Jersey as a party proven to unite, not divide.
As far as message goes, 2007 presented a golden opportunity, albeit somewhat awkwardly seized by the GOP agenda set forth in Trenton. It was a mixed bag - pledges to cut $1 billion in spending were admirable, but mired in a cumbersome 9-point plan. And notably absent was a vow to repeal the sales tax increase enacted just a year ago, which should have been a no-brainer. But on the plus side, one component paved the way for future success and established a means of uniting the various factions of the Republican Party: Initiative and Referendum – using ballot questions to let the people of New Jersey decide directly on key issues.
Given the option this year, the public convincingly rejected funding for stem-cell research and another property tax "rebate" scheme – in no small part due to the effort mounted by Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, who boiled the 10-point NJGOP plan down to one sentence: Stop higher taxes – vote NO on all ballot questions. However occasionally brash his approach may have been in the past, the ballot question romp validates Lonegan's claim that NJ residents are conservatives at heart and will respond enthusiastically to a bold small-government agenda. Thus, it should not be difficult in the future for the NJGOP to unite behind returning to a 6% sales tax, for starters. The party could use future ballot question initiatives to let the voters themselves block funding for more big government programs, in spite of Democrat bosses.
That will require strong leadership in Trenton, and an incoming class of younger, sharper Republican State Senators shows promise. But if the GOP is to win over voters with a convincing fiscal agenda, our campaigns must also promote inclusion. Unfortunately, some in the party still rely on divisive tactics, including those that hint at racial or ethnic prejudice. 2007 saw two such examples, in both the primary and general elections.
Most prominently, District 40 State Senator-elect Kevin O'Toole's Republican Primary election opponents deliberately sought to make his Korean heritage a campaign issue. Simultaneously, they attempted to discourage voting for O'Toole's running mate Scott Rumana through cowardly anonymous phone calls claiming that Rumana was Muslim, which aside from being irrelevant outside of 15th century Spain, is untrue – Rumana's paternal grandparents emigrated from Turkey as Christians of the Assyrian and Armenian rites, and his mother's family is of Irish extraction. Appropriately, O'Toole referred to his team's victory as a "defeat for the politics of hate."
Fear mongering surfaced in the general election as well, as District 39 State Senator Gerald Cardinale tried to connect his Democrat opponent to terrorism because his law partner headed the New Jersey chapter of a civil rights group, the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). Cardinale sought to convince voters that the ADC was not mainstream and promoted a violent agenda, rather ironically buttressing his claim with the opinion of a radical Jewish group that has been implicated in murdering a leader of the ADC, and attempting to blow up the office of an Arab-American Congressman – not exactly an objective source.
To be fair, Cardinale points out that his campaign never attacked Arab-Americans at large, only the ADC. He also made it publicly known that he has Arab friends, which will be useful to know should he ever face Archie Bunker in a primary.
Nevertheless, Cardinale won the election with ease, because he has consistently advocated for Bergen County taxpayers and advanced a conservative agenda that suits his constituents. His last-minute foray into ethnic imagery was superfluous and irrelevant. NJ residents are not asked their opinion on Israeli settlements in the West Bank before Trenton bureaucrats fleece them; rather, Garden State inhabitants of all backgrounds suffer together in a state paralyzed by out-of-control spending and incessant taxation.
Cardinale has a strong record of opposing that trend, and should focus on making that his legacy. Similarly, uniting citizens in opposition to unaffordable big government should be the image projected by the Republican Party. Hair-brained schemes that seek to divide citizens along ethnic lines should be ripped out of the GOP playbook for good. That's O'Toole’s view:
"Republicans succeed when we bring all people together with our message. There should never be a place in our party for divisive tactics concerning Asian-Americans, Arab-Americans, or any other group."O'Toole's sentiments should have a familiar ring – in his farewell address, Ronald Reagan remarked that he wanted to be remembered for appealing to people's best hopes, not their worst fears. And so must the Republican Party of New Jersey.
The author, a Republican activist, blogs at http://www.georgeajjan.com
o --- This article first appeared on Inside Bergen December 21, 2007.