While Governor Jon Corzine’s affair with Carla Katz and his near-death auto accident captured innumerable headlines, he nonetheless implemented significant progressive policies in the midst of America’s Recession.They still resonate today. Like Phil Murphy, Corzine came from Goldman Sachs, both spent lavishly on their campaigns, and the state budget was severely stressed upon their assuming office.
After leaving Goldman Sachs as Chairman and Chief Executive, Corzine spent more than $62 million to become a US Senator. In his campaign he urged government programs including universal health care, universal gun registration, mandatory public preschool, and more taxpayer funding for college education. (Sound familiar?) He pushed affirmative action and same-sex marriage. There he sponsored progressive bills on such matters as America’s forests, Medicare, financial privacy protection, and humanitarian relief.
Leaving the Senate only after being elected as governor in 2005 allowed him to appoint a Democratic successor – Sen. Bob Menendez. Corzine’s campaign was another lavish one which he won with 54% of the vote against Republican Doug Forrester.
After only a few months in office (2006-2010) and facing a deficit of roughly $4.5 billion in the state’s $31 billion budget, he and the Legislature could not reach agreement on his proposal to help balance the budget. Needless to say his 8-day government shut-down was not popular. While It became an object lesson to avoid for future politicians, there will likely be tension between Murphy and the current legislature over spending priorities in our present starved budget.
The looming Great Recession soon put a crimp in his budgets, but he continued to promote progressive social issues. He signed into law legislation repealing the death penalty, creating a medical marijuana program, racial profiling reforms, harm reduction syringe exchange, lead-safe maintenance requirements, the toughest U.S. carbon law, family leave insurance, a residential development solar energy program, and three bills to make it easier for former inmates to readjust to life outside prison.
In 2006 he signed a law making NJ the third state offering civil unions to gay couples. He later pledged to sign a Marriage Equality bill, and the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the proposal. (see picture) The full Senate voted down the bill and the House never voted on the matter. It took the NJ Supreme Court in 2013, against Christie’s wishes, to enshrine Marriage Equality into the law of our state
As is not unusual in politics, for some of his goals Corzine had to live with compromises. Although as senator he supported marriage equality he had to settle early on with civil unions to get the legislature to pass a bill. With syringe exchange he had to agree that the state would not provide any funding. Murphy would do well to heed former Governor Corzine. After leaving the governorship he told a group of graduate students: “Be ambitious but don’t be afraid to collaborate, and take the long view.” Good advice for Murphy who has equally expansive social plans, but will need to collaborate with the legislature, and with limited budget funds will be able to achieve many of his goals only gradually.
With property taxes continuing to rise and people tiring of the recession he ran for re-election but lost to Chris Christie 44.5% to 49% for Christie and 5.7% for Independent Chris Daggett. Veteran legislators said about key reasons for his losing: failing to rein in taxes and firm up the state’s shaky finances. ironic given his financial background. Nonetheless, he retains a legacy on a host of progressive policies.