It's Steve Lonegan's Party Too

Steve Lonegan, author of 'Putting Taxpayers First'In Spring of 2005, I attended a book signing in Ridgewood featuring former NJ Governor Christie Whitman, in promotion of her book It's My Party Too. Here we are 2 years later, and last week I found myself attending a corresponding event for one of Whitman's strongest critics: outgoing Bogota Mayor, Americans for Prosperity NJ head, and probable GOP contender for the 2009 gubernatorial nomination, Steve Lonegan.

The timing of the event couldn't have been better for Lonegan, coming only 2 days after a stunning defeat of 2 ballot questions (bogus "rebates" and stem cell research) largely spearheaded by AFP under Lonegan's leadership.

As a history aficionado, I took great pleasure in Lonegan's approach - he began his talk not with a fist-pounding rant against liberalism (which I wouldn't have minded terribly), but rather a didactic chronology of New Jersey's economic history over 2 centuries. He started with NJ's leadership in the agricultural field (after all, we are the Garden State, are we not?) and early adoption of manufacturing (insert standard plug for Paterson, the Great Falls, and Alexander Hamilton here). Lonegan pointed out that NJ was a manufacturing leader in the US, and became so with no government subsidies. This continued, he mentioned, up through the 1970s, when NJ once again led the nation in the transition to hi-tech industries and financial services. Lonegan pointed out that at one point 80% of office space was constructed to serve the financial sector. (continued...)

In last twenty years, however, this trend has been severely diminished. Lonegan traced the decline and began on April 24, 1966 - when NJ instituted a 3% sales tax at the behest of the American Federation of Teachers. It was meant to be a temporary sales tax to solve the property tax crisis - originally NJ had no sales tax and no income tax. But a slippery slope it was - by 1970 our sales tax had reached 5%, the highest sales tax rate in the United States. And the lottery was added in 1971 for senior services, not to mention gambling revenues.

Steve Lonegan, author of 'Putting Taxpayers First'Today, we have the worst progressive income tax in the country. People are fleeing New Jersey, Lonegan argues, because they can't stand the fiscal oppression any longer. But basically they are conservative people - the problem is that Republican leaders think everyone in New Jersey is a liberal - and he proudly proclaimed: last Tuesday, the people proved the party elites wrong. This, to Lonegan, is a vindication of the arguments he outlines in his book Putting Taxpayers First.

He then walked us through some of the chapters, particularly the one on education. Lonegan asserted that NJ was built upon a belief in local education. This is his trademark issue, as the Mayor of a small town like Bogota. He argues that small towns are good things, and lead to education reflecting the values of the community's parents - that, he says, was the impetus for the chartering of most NJ towns. In the case of Bogota, Lonegan explains, Dutch farmers who principally inhabited the town didn't want to send their kids to the "big city" (Hackensack) for education.

Meanwhile, New Jersey now has the most expensive education system in the country, and expansion into universal pre-K will make that trend even worse. Lonegan blasted the court orders that have countermanded local zoning boards and led to manipulation of the housing market. The local level, he says, will always do a better job - even if the local level is Newark. And the courts are not in the business of justice, they are the tool of the elected to do their "dirty work" - they are "black-robed oligarchs". This is Lonegan's favorite chapter in the book.

He refers to himself as a "disappointed Republican", especially as the result of bonding without voter approval, as was practiced in the Whitman years. He laments that in 5 years, NJ will have over $40 BILLION in debt. In 1966, when the sales tax was first introduced, we had NONE! The only state with a larger deficit that NJ is Louisiana - but they had Hurricane Katrina.

Much of this disaster, of course, results from unnecessary payroll growth. Accordingly, Lonegan turned his attention to the public employee unions, without neglecting to first mention that his blue-collar grandparents were union members - particularly his grandfather belonged to the IBEW, which Lonegan describes as one of most socialist unions out there. But he recognizes and respects the right of workers to band together for their own protection from employers.

From whom, though, do the government unions protect workers? The taxpayers???

Lonegan then focused on the end of the book, which he calls his "Blueprint for Victory", also known as "Lonegan '09". It is based around the idea that "we have sacrificed the value of independence for the vice of dependency." Government programs, Lonegan says, have simply replaced the family unit, which has been relegated to being little more than a convenient living arrangement. He spoke with conviction about inner cities in particular, where the trends perpetrated by the state have made men obsolescent, effectively condemning them.

How is it, asks Lonegan incredulously, that the home state of a great inventor like Thomas Edison now must depend upon government subsidies? To answer it, fiscal and social conservatives must come together to stand for what we believe in. But Lonegan, like his ballot question campaign, is focused on the fiscal side. Good social conservatives, he said, use church and other private organizations to advance their agenda - not cajole the government to impose their values on everyone.

He actually gave Christie Whitman credit for a fiscally conservative approach in 1993 - Lonegan says she ran as a conservative, and thanks to the advice of Larry Kudlow and Steve Forbes, governed that way for the first year. NJ led the conservative movement going into the GOP takeover in 1994. Then the NJGOP backpedaled.

But NJ can lead again. The "juggernaut of liberalism" had been running through the Garden State unimpeded until last Tuesday, Lonegan asserted. We must fight, and maybe even lose on the way to winning. He closed by tipping his hat to George Washington, who explained that he fought so many battles in New Jersey during the American Revolution because "that's where the redcoats are."

For Lonegan, New Jersey is where the liberals are.