Recently in my hometown of Flemington, a Republican member of the Borough Council, called for clean and ethical campaigns in the coming fall elections. Great idea, I thought. Ironic, though, when called for by the Republican Party.
The Councilmember stated [in the May 17th Hunterdon County Democrat newspaper] that he would like to see the Council draft a resolution in support of ethical campaigning; that the Council ban taking campaign money from “state organizations, county organizations or even private organizations because that money comes with strings attached.” While I agree with the sentiment he expressed, I was wondering if he understood the irony: The irony, of course, was that it was his Republican Party that had acted in the fall elections in the manner he found so offensive. It was his Party that made allegations of corruption that they knew were not true when they said it, said it anyway, and the newspapers declared were not true, also. His Party, not the Democratic Party.
It was his Party which took substantial cash from a local attorney, and then rewarded him with a job as the Flemington Public Defender, and a place in the New Jersey pension system----those were the "strings attached”.
It was his Republican Party that over the years rewarded a local business owner with an economic development consultant contract worth close to $80,000 in return for her support in recent elections. More strings attached.
It was his Party which engaged in the campaign that the Courier News called the “nastiest ever” in Flemington ---- using Karl Rovian-type baseless personal attacks on the integrity and veracity of his Party’s Democratic opponents.
And it was his Party’s candidate who refused to sign an ethical campaign pledge in the February 2006 special election. His Party spent thousands more than the Democratic Party candidates, and moved political campaign cash around from the County Clerk’s campaign to the local Flemington campaign.
So, I think the answer to his concerns are, first, cleaning up the mess in his own Republican Party, and then see what the Borough Council can do. Such is the irony.
In the last quarter century, the American voting public has seen a disturbing trend take place: An alarming decrease in the percentage of those who are registered to vote going to the polls on Election Day. According to David Wallechinsky in Parade Magazine, "One of the more shocking statistics also relates to elections. In a recent survey of the percentage of voting-age citizens who actually cast a ballot in their country’s elections, the United States ranked only 139th out of the 172 nations that held elections." There is an equally alarming increase in the negative tone of campaigning and 'politics of personal destruction' in federal, state and especially in local campaigns. Such was the type of campaign conducted by his Party in Flemington.
I truly believe that in order to change this, we must begin locally at the grass roots level---within each political party.
Basic retail politics in local elections in Flemington used to be the traditional knocking on your neighbor's door, handing out flyers with good ideas for your community, and attending coffee gatherings in the local church or temple meeting room or school community room.
Unfortunately, this has been replaced by the same kind of negative tone and broad-based personal attacks that is typical of the 'Karl Rove/Swiftboat’ variety of campaigning in national elections. And that is not good. There are several things that residents can do right away:
Demand debates by local candidates, sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Letters to the Editor of the local community newspaper requesting in depth coverage of the local race and debate. A voluntary 'Truth in Campaigning' state-wide statute or local ordinance. Fair campaign practices. A "Clean Campaign Pledge" signed by the candidates. For some really great ideas, see an article by Seton Hall Law School Prof. Paula A. Franzese, the Chair of the New Jersey State Ethics Commission, at: http://www.cleancampaigns.net/3.html
Your elected officials, your local newspaper, and your neighbors can all be persuaded to do the right thing---and require the highest standards in New Jersey for clean political campaigns in local elections.