Structural Problems in N.J.'s Antiquated System

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," Aug. 16, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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BRIT HUME, HOST: The new edition of "Newsweek" speaks of, quote, "down and dirty New Jersey politics." "The Christian Science Monitor" speaks of, quote, "recurring state scandal," and a, quote, "culture of corruption." What are these publications talking about?

For answers, we turn to Ingrid Reed of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University (search), that of course, in New Jersey. Ms. Reed, welcome.


HUME: First of all, let's talk just for a moment about this succession question.

REED: Yes.

HUME: If McGreevey (search) doesn't agree to step down, is there any way that he could be gotten out of office short of December 15 or November 15 or whenever it was he said he was going to step aside?

REED: The decision to resign and the date is his. The Constitution doesn't speak to when you leave after you've said that you are going to resign. So although three months is a long transition period, longer I think than we experience in our country, it's really up to McGreevey.

I think there are people who are not sure what will happen in the intervening period of time. In McGreevey's resignation speech he in effect forecasts that there might be other news, other difficulty for him in governing. And that that was one reason he was resigning. We don't know what will be happening next with regard to his case.

HUME: Well, do you sense mounting public or political pressure on him that might be enough to convince him to step aside?

REED: Well, there are two kinds of pressure. Polls show that voters are evenly divided on whether or not he should stay throughout the three-month period or resign right away. Also, newspapers, who are very powerful in New Jersey — we have very good daily newspapers — I think most of them, except for one, has urged the governor to step aside and in effect give New Jersey an opportunity to move on.

HUME: All right. Now let me ask you about these claims you're hearing. I see the characterization continually of the state as having a culture of corruption. What's the problem?

REED: Well, this case of Golan Cipel (search) is really one of the governor appointing a person who doesn't seem qualified for the office at a very high salary. And is often pointed to as the first case of a number where the governor has shown poor judgment in the use of public funds for trips.

HUME: Right.

REED: Poor judgment in the appointment of associates and then actual indictments being brought against people who are very close to the governor. Basically those indictments all relate to campaign finance — although his Commerce Commission chair stepped down recently for nepotism issues with his chief of staff and conflict of interest. So we have a series of disclosures of mistakes in government. This is not an isolated case.

HUME: Well, is this in just a McGreevey administration problem? Or is there something about the way the state's government is structured that leaves it open to this kind of thing? What's going on?

REED: Yes, I think to some extent it is a structural problem. We have a very powerful governor, as a result of what is called a Modern Constitution that was adopted in the late '40s. But we also have an old entrenched system of party bosses at the local level, basically the county level, being in control of the political apparatus and money. And so while the governor is very powerful in his appointments and managing government, it's really the party bosses at the lower level that can dictate...

HUME: What? Do they dole out the campaign money? Is that it?

REED: That's it. Campaign money and who gets appointed. And of course, since the governor is CEO, there are a lot of contracts that are awarded that are obviously looked to, which will then engender more financial support. So, McGreevey isn't the first governor to have run into these kinds of problems. This is a problem that New Jersey has to face. It's succession problem, which is antiquated. It doesn't work. As well as...

HUME: Because there is no lieutenant governor? Is that the reason?

REED: That's right, we have no lieutenant governor. The person who would take over would be both the Senate president, as well as the acting governor. A real conflict of interest in our system of government in the United States; so New Jersey in effect has to modernize...

HUME: Do you sense that modernization that the people are talking about is something that could be triggered by this round? Does this provide impetus for that or what?

REED: There are a lot of people who think that's the case and that it does take a crisis to get campaign finance reform and government structural reform. It needs to be pressed, obviously. The legislature needs to be engaged. But there is pretty good evidence that we've come about as far down as we can go and that we really do have to address these problems now.

HUME: What's your guess? Will McGreevey stay on or will he be forced out?

REED: I suspect he won't stay on for his three months. But he probably will stay on beyond the deadline for his special election, unless the parties can come to a very quick arrangement.

HUME: Got you. Ingrid Reed, thank you very much for coming.

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