Much Ado About Nothing
Elections these days are a peculiar business. The voters are increasingly puzzled by the growing similarity between the major parties. And the candidates are often perplexed by the need to defeat opponents with whom they may well be in fundamental agreement.
Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the New Jersey gubernatorial race, now entering its final stages. The incumbent, Democratic governor Robert B. Meyner, has stood largely on his record. His opponent, Republican state Senator Malcolm S. Forbes, basically supports much of this record. Yet, for campaign purposes, he has been forced to find or create issues where little fundamental disagreement exists.
To complicate matters, New Jersey has had a Republican-controlled legislature under a Democratic governor for the past four years, thus allowing each side to claim credit for the "good" things done, while blaming the opposition for the "bad".
As in many campaigns where the candidates find it hard to clash on any important issue, there has been a good deal of mudslinging. Accusations of conniving with crooks and winking at scandal have been hurled back and forth. Forbes has made the so-called Insurance Scandal a chief point of his campaign. He claims that Democratic state officials were derelict in their handling of the Loyalty Insurance Group investigation. John R. Cooney, president of the parent company of the Loyalty Group, was indicted last May on charges of defrauding the companies of $262,000. He has since pleaded no defense. Forbes finds a "shocking" suggestion of "collusion" between the investigators and Cooney.
On an even grander scale, he has accused Meyner of permitting "a complete breakdown at the state level in the law enforcement machinery," and has hinted darkly that the administration is covering up a "major garbage collection scandal" in Bergen County until the election is over.
In retaliation Meyner has attacked Forbes's attempted elevation of Lloyd Marsh to the Republican state chairmanship. He has called Marsh a man who "borrowed $25,000 for that party from Joe Bozzo, an admitted confidant of such racketeers as Joe Adonis and the late Willie Moretti." In defense, Forbes has simply said, "I turned to Mr. Marsh as a pro, who knew the business of practical politics."
Just how much truth lies behind all the scandalmongering is hard to ascertain. On the Cooney affair, the bi-partisan state Law Enforcement Council came to no significant conclusion. The Republican majority found Meyner "derelict" in his duty; the Democratic minority exonerated him completely. It might be relevant to point out, however, that Meyner was elected partially as a reform governor, that he conducted a careful investigation of the Hoffman case (former G.O.P. governor Harold G. Hoffman stole some $300,000 from the state), and that under his administration the Joe Adonises and the Frank Ericksons seem to have disappeared.
A second major issue in the campaign has been state expenditure and taxes. Forbes has attacked Meyner as the "spendingest" governor in New Jersey history (his budgets have totalled $292 million more than those of his predecessor, Republican Alfred E. Driscoll). Actually, the issue is not at all clear-cut, for Forbes has also said that he would not reduce the budget, but would simply redirect it into different, and supposedly more fruitful, channels.
The large budget has led directly to the most made-up issue of the campaign--taxation. Both candidates need money to support their programs, yet apparently neither will tax anybody to get it. Forbes has created the issue by claiming that Meyner, if reelected, will institute a state sales or income tax, and he has pledged himself to fight these new taxes. Under pressure, Meyner has also qualifiedly declared himself against the two taxes. And both have let it be understood that they will not increase taxes on real property owners.
The basic problem in the financial issue is that many needed state services have been provided and expanded over the past four years--services that both candidates agree are desirable--yet both are afraid to tell the people that someone will have to pay for them. Under Meyner's administration, direct state aid to education has tripled, new roads have been built, and better health facilities have been provided. Forbes finds it hard to argue that these are undesirable ends, hence he has been forced to claim that he could provide the same services more efficiently and without instituting new taxes. Or, occasionally, he has claimed that credit for the new services belongs to the Republican-dominated Legislature.
In the absence of any real local issues, the campaign has taken on national overtones. It is automatically assumed that Meyner has presidential aspirations for 1960. And the Republicans have come to regard the election as an important national morale factor.
Meyner has tried to campaign solely on local issues, probably in an effort to avoid bringing the highly-popular President Eisenhower into the state. But Forbes has relied greatly on Ike's popularity in traditionally Republican New Jersey. He has told Negro audiences that a vote for Republican candidates is "the only way you can tell the President he did right" in Little Rock. And a long train of Republican national figures, from Vice-President Nixon and three cabinet members down to a group of campaign strategists, has entered the state on Forbes's behalf. If Forbes wins, and most experts feel the race will be very close, it will be due to this national support, for he has not offered the voters anything substantially better than Meyner's sound administration.