Sunday, May 28, 2017

Hey! New Jersey's Electing A Governor! Pass It On.

And you probably thought that Chris Christie had appointed himself governor-for-life. Of course, I wouldn't put it past him, but his approval ratings are even lower than Trump's, so he'll need to leave next January. And with all of the fun and excitement going on in DC these days, I can't really blame you if you haven't been paying attention to the election here in the Garden State. The primary elections are on June 6, though, so it's time to wake up.

Remember that just last year at this time we were considering the idea that Governor Christie might be the Republican vice-presidential nominee or some other important appointment in case (never happen) Donald Trump got elected president (shudder). Now the governor is scuffling toward the exit with little more than a final-year push to address opioid addiction. You know, the kind of help that people desperately need but that won't necessarily be covered in a Trumpcare health plan. It's a remarkable fall for such a large personality and for someone who craves the attention, affirmation and fealty from those around him.

As usual, though, there is no shortage of contenders, And the Republicans and Democrats do differ sharply on the issues. Christie's Lieutenant Governor, Kim Guagdano, has the unenviable task of hoisting the successor's flag, all the while running away from Christie and towards Trump. Sort of. Guadagno can't run as an outsider because she's been an insider for 8 years, and over that time she really hasn't made much of a public impact. On the Democratic side, the race will likely come down to one between Phil Murphy and John Wisniewski, although Jim Johnson was impressive in the debate earlier this month.

The big issues are property taxes, which continue to increase despite Christie's cap on municipal spending, and the increasing difficulty of getting from one place to another in the state dues to a crisis in infrastructure. All of the candidates are suggesting that the school aid formula needs to be addressed, with the Republicans saying that public workers need to pay more for their health insurance benefits and that schools in the suburbs should get more state aid at the expense of urban districts. The Democrats, especially Murphy, are trying to protect benefits, and all of them support cleaner energy and higher taxes on high earners. The Democrats also favor legalizing marijuana and taxing it to get more money for the state.

The most immediate need, though is money to improve the state's roads and rails because both systems are at their breaking points. Traffic in the Garden State has always been terrible, but road repairs are needed to keep what's moving moving. The trains are going to be a nightmare this summer as Amtrak shuts down tracks in New York's Penn Station after the derailments of the last few months. This will cost billions and will remind people that Christie vetoed the plan for a new tunnel to Manhattan early in his term because, as a potential national Republican candidate, he couldn't be seen as raising taxes or spending on anything that's necessary.

The train problem is also likely to make the car problem worse because people still need to get to work, so they'll get into their cars if mass transit is spotty. And it will be. The other answer is to take the bus, but that would mean more buses, more gridlock and more traffic. It doesn't look as though federal help will be arriving anytime soon as health care, taxes and defending oneself against legal attacks will be keeping Washington busy until at least the beginning of next year.

As for the schools and property taxes, the divide in New Jersey pretty much mirrors the divide in Washington. The Republicans want more money for school choice programs and Charter Schools, and they want public workers to pay more for their pensions and benefits because, well, they have better benefits than everyone else. Of course, the real benefit would be to get every worker the type of benefits that public workers have, rather than taking a livable retirement away from them. But you know Republicans; they think that unions are destructive and that management knows best.

Of course, Democrats were not much better, especially those who sided with Christie in the benefits reform bill of 2011 which resulted in a massive reduction in take-home pay for public workers who were already employed when the bill was passed. This is a main reason why middle class recovery has been slower in New Jersey than in other states. The Democratic candidates running now say they will protect worker's benefits and improve the pension system, but I'll believe it when I see it.

New Jersey should be a Democratic pickup come the fall, but I'll also hedge that bet a little until I see who wins the primaries.

Get out and vote on June 6.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Witch Hunting for Nuts

The good thing, and perhaps the only good thing, about the Trump (shudder) Administration is that you never really have to wait very long before the real story becomes apparent. This is decidedly not a regular presidency or White House where the shrouds of secrecy and intrigue hide covert actions for months or years at a time. They do try, the people with some political experience, to navigate Trump through what should be safe political harbors, but then he slams his foot on the speedboat's gas and heads towards the bathers. And the bathers are the ones who voted for him.

Such has been the previous, tumultuous week in a fast-moving storm that seems to have no sunshine behind it, only darker clouds.

It's clear that the president dismissed James Comey for delving too deeply into the matter of Russian interference in the election and the extent to which Trump campaign/ administration workers involved themselves in that contretemps. Trump also clearly believe(s)(d) that firing Comey would lessen the pressure the FBI guy was putting on the administration. Calling Comey "nuts" was just Trump projecting his fears and insecurities.

Which he does a lot.

In fact, I've come to believe that when Trump uses words like nuts and witch hunt, he's actually referring to himself because that's the type of behavior he's exhibiting and the type of management style he's using in the White House. Further, the country seems to be turning a corner on the president and his credibility. People like Trump, who think that they're always right and are bolstered by people who are loyal to him, tend to believe that those who disagree with them must have something wrong with them. It's difficult to run an administration on that, as we're learning. And the worst part is that it's getting even more difficult to see anything the president says as having the weight of probity or thought (if it ever did).

He's also making it difficult for the Republicans to project a unified message on their agenda because Trump's tweets keep getting in the way. And besides, the conservative agenda is not widely popular anyway, as the fight against the ACA repeal proves. Add in the other components such as huge tax cuts for the wealthy, and you have a real problem. And when James Comey makes his public testimony, the country will stop and listen.

Trump will not be impeached, and I would urge those who are calling his behavior and words treasonous to redirect their energies to 2018 and to confronting legislators who support his agenda. Let the Mueller investigation run its course and see where it leads. In the meantime, Trump will continue to hurt himself by trying to explain his actions and contradicting his aides, and his aides will leave because it's really the president who can't be trusted.

And just remember what types of people invoke witch hunts.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Comey Storm

The editorial boards of these reliable conservative newspapers were geniuses in the fall, and they're geniuses now because they saw what other Republicans refused to see: that Donald Trump was, and is, not fit to be president. I'm not psychoanalyzing him. I'll leave that to the professionals. He doesn't have the personal skills or ideas or knowledge to be an effective president, and the entirety of his tenure has proven that.  What he does is not presidential, what he says is not presidential and what he sees as his role in the national conversation is not presidential.

In and of itself, Trump's firing of James Comey should not have been big news. Comey's been living on borrowed time since the inaugural, and would have been roundly sacked at 12:02 pm on January 20 had Hillary won. But the Trump White House looks like a rat's nest with people peeking their heads out to see if there's a trap. Good public servants have dutifully explained what the talking points said and have gone about their business. Legislators have responded appropriate to their party.

Then the president (shudder) weighs in. And by now it should be crystal clear that he has little sense of protocol or how to shape a message, nor, it's clear, does he want to acquire those skills. It's all personal. Venomous. Vindictive. Vile. Accusatory. Threatening.  This is not presidential and it never will be. There is no normal here.

As for the actual content, clearly, Comey has something on Trump, or Trump has something on Trump, and Comey should just come right out and say what he has and see if Trump releases any tapes. If they exist. This is how you confront a bully. I think one of Hillary's big mistakes in the debates was not taking Trump's offer to release his tax returns if she would release her deleted emails. As soon as he proposed it, she should have extended her hand and said, "Deal. We'll release them on the same day."  Comey needs to do the same thing in response to Trump's threats. The country is bigger than one person's personality.

As I said before, my life has become much easier now that I reject anything that comes out of Trump's mouth, twitter feed or pen. And now that he's essentially said that his administration will say anything or even cancel press briefings, my life is getting even more relaxing. The problem is that we still live in a democratic republic that demands an active press. Shutting down the process is dangerous.

And finally, let's not overplay Trump's dysfunction. He has done nothing impeachable nor can people who oppose him gain anything by demonizing those who voted for him. What we need is a responsible opposition that focuses on the issues such as health care, taxes, immigration and jobs and makes clear what we think the country should do about these things. That's what voters will eventually use to make their choices. There is plenty of time to identify quality candidates and to begin the process of making a case. 

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, May 7, 2017

You Think This Is About Health Care? Sucka.

This is not about health care, and as a matter of fact, the Republican self-immolation this past week has never been about health care. Or health insurance. Or health. Or care.

It's the taxes, stupid.

That's what the Republicans care about. That's what they think will make them healthy and insure their political future. Taxes. as in lower taxes. As in lower taxes than Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush would ever consider because as repellent as their political and economic philosophies were, they were rooted in real-world and real-economy assumptions. Those assumptions turned out to be wrong, as is amply evidenced by the deficits they created and the fact that economic growth never reached the heights it would need in order to pay back the Treasury for their rashness.

And Reagan even raised taxes over the course of his term in office to cover part of the shortfall. W's dad gave up his political career when he raised taxes and set the stage for the Clinton boom in the 90s that was further fueled by the tax hikes in Bill's budgets.

But now we have the ultra-right wing sycophants who forget or, my assumption, never learned those lessons. They've wanted to cut taxes for the past eight years and now they have the ultimate know-nothing in the White House who's going to make their dreams come true.

In order to do that, though, they need to claim the money that President Obama used to revolutionize the health care system. To make sure that uninsured Americans can get affordable health insurance, which they are getting thanks to government subsidies, and to make sure that those people who have pre-existing conditions or are women or are elderly and should not be denied or price-gouged, taxes went up for the wealthy. And corporations. That's obviously too much for the GOP to handle, so repeal became the rallying cry.

Well, when you're goal is to repeal, not make people healthier, then repeal is what you get. Except, the bill the House passed last week is not repeal. It just guts the best parts of the ACA while making the most vulnerable and sick people in this country subject to paying far more for health care.

Like they used to. When America was great. We're going to make it great again by making health insurance more expensive, less comprehensive, unfairly discriminatory, and less job-friendly.

But at least taxes will go down, way down, for the already wealthy and to pay for the cuts Donald Trump will sell our intellectual and cultural soul. Because in the end, Trump only wants victories. He knows nothing about health insurance, or about how to be president for that matter, and only counts wins and losses. He considers the vote last week a win. It was not.

Let's hope that the Senate proposes an actual health care bill that benefits real people. Otherwise, 2018 will not be kind to the Republicans.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest