Weekly Wrap: Frustration Mounts

By: - October 23, 2009 12:00 am

In some of the states hit hardest by the recession, frustration among voters and in the media over the way state government works – or doesn’t work – seems to be boiling over.

In New Jersey, which, along with Virginia, is one of only two states with gubernatorial elections this year, the state’s largest daily newspaper, The (Newark) Star-Ledger , this month endorsed independent candidate Chris Daggett, breaking “a long tradition of endorsing either Democratic or Republican candidates for governor,” according to an account on newjerseynewsroom.com.

The endorsement “is less a rejection of Gov. Jon Corzine and Republican Chris Christie,” The Star-Ledger wrote, “than a repudiation of the parties they represent, both of which have forfeited any claim to the trust and confidence of the people of New Jersey. They share responsibility for the state’s current plight.” Sending an independent candidate to Trenton, the paper said, would “send shock waves through New Jersey’s ossified political system and, we believe, provide a start in a new direction.”

In neighboring New York, The New York Times editorial board this week levied even harsher criticism at the state legislature, assailing it as a “national embarrassment, a swamp of intrigue and corruption, a $131 billion monster controlled by a crowd of smug officials whose main concern is keeping their soft jobs.” Unless state lawmakers make major changes to the way Albany operates, the paper said – including improving budget transparency, reforming campaign finance laws and creating an independent ethics watchdog -“it will be up to the voters to get them out, all of them.”

Polling shows that voters in some states are indeed disgruntled at their elected leaders. In Arizona, just 14 percent of voters believe the state legislature is doing a “good” or “excellent” job, and Gov. Jan Brewer (R) – who took office in January and became embroiled in a protracted budget standoff with lawmakers during the summer – has an approval rating of 24 percent, The Arizona Republic reported in an extended series about Arizona’s problems.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Ed Rendell and the General Assembly saw their approval ratings plunge to “dismal depths” during a 101-day budget impasse of their own, The Philadelphia Inquirer noted in September, with Rendell’s approval ratings at their lowest point ever. “Not one of the 643 Pennsylvanians surveyed graded the legislature’s job performance ‘excellent,'” the paper said.

In California, a Field Poll this month found that “only 13 percent of California’s registered voters approve of the Legislature’s performance, the lowest rating since the survey group started measuring opinions of that institution in 1983,” The Sacramento Bee reported .

Even the chief justice of the California Supreme Court, Ronald George, has offered unusually blunt criticism of state government, calling it “dysfunctional” and criticizing a voter-initiative process that has placed lawmakers in a “fiscal straitjacket,” The New York Times reported . “Californians may need to consider some fundamental reform of the voter initiative process,” George warned. “Otherwise, I am concerned, we shall continue on a course of dysfunctional state government, characterized by a lack of accountability on the part of our officeholders as well as the voting public.”

Expect to see much more finger-pointing about state fiscal problems – both causes and responses – as next year’s 37 gubernatorial races heat up. Massachusetts state treasurer and independent governor candidate Timothy B. Cahill this week provided what may be a preview, claiming that Gov. Deval Patrick (D) and state lawmakers “ignored his warnings about overspending last year and put together a budget that relied on overly optimistic revenue projections,” The Boston Globe reported .

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