By Jack Kemp
July 19, 2001 for Townhall.com
Jersey City, “The City of New Beginnings,” is probably the most diverse city in America: 41 percent of its citizens speak a language other than English at home, 25 percent are foreign-born and 14 percent have immigrated to America in only the last 10 years. Yet for the last decade Jersey City has been governed by a progressive conservative Republican mayor, Bret Schundler, who won in a landslide at his last re-election to become Jersey City’s longest-serving mayor in 50 years: all in a city that is 65 percent minority, largely working-class and only 6 percent Republican.
In spite of Schundler’s impressive track record, however, the pundits cite unbelievable polls that have him down by 13 points to Democrat Jim McGreevey, mayor of Woodbridge, N.J. McGreevey casts himself as a populist and offers the standard liberal platitudes and palliatives. He seeks to empower politicians in order to entitle the people, using the tax system for social engineering and income redistribution and using tax dollars to provide more top-down government solutions, more spending, more regulations.
Schundler, on the other hand, is a new kind of Republican who seeks to empower the people, not politicians. In fact, he founded Empower the People, a New Jersey nonprofit citizen education and issue advocacy organization that provides ordinary citizens a forum to organize and enact public policies that will give them greater power over their lives, such as lower tax rates, school choice and enterprise zones.
Schundler is a big-city mayor who actually moved into the inner city to live. The GOP needs his kind of urban agenda to recapture minority voters who naturally respond to the Republican message of hope and opportunity and who always had supported the Party of Lincoln prior to Barry Goldwater’s vote against civil rights in 1964 and Proposition 187 in California. By taking on and defeating the Republican establishment, Schundler has positioned himself to woo Democrats to vote for him for governor just as he convinced more than 70 percent of Jersey City Democrats to vote for him as mayor. The pundits forget that during the primary campaign, polls showed Republican acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco ahead of Schundler by 37 points and Rep. Bob Franks ahead by 22 points. With a solid 14 percent of the electorate still undecided in its choice for governor, Schundler is well within striking distance of McGreevey.
The tendency to become cautious after a major and unexpected political win is the greatest peril for any politician. Now is the time for Schundler to raise his empowerment agenda high and push forward with even bolder proposals.
For example, he supports eliminating tolls on the Garden State Parkway because the tolls no longer make economic sense. Each 35-cent toll costs 13 cents to collect. Traffic jams created by the toll-booth bottlenecks pollute the environment and impose incalculable costs on the supply side of the economy in terms of lost business and worker productivity.
This same supply-side logic applies to New Jersey’s capital gains tax, which at 9 percent is one of the steepest in the nation, and to the state’s death tax, from which New Jersians no longer will be cushioned by the offset to the federal death tax, which is being phased out. Both taxes cost more in lost economic output and compliance costs than they raise in revenues, and both should be totally eliminated.
When voters listen to him talk about cutting tax rates, they realize more is at stake than simply putting money in people’s pockets. Eliminating the capital gains tax and the estate tax and lowering tax rates on personal and corporate income really means eliminating and lowering barriers to economic opportunity.
Schundler’s motto is “The good fight is the good life,” a proposition he is living out. He set the standard for modern political leadership by lowering tax rates, reducing crime, creating jobs, saving the city’s bond rating and bringing it back from the brink of bankruptcy. He provides the vision of empowering and uniting the citizens of New Jersey through lower taxes, stronger economic growth, education reforms and a commitment to urban economic recovery and home ownership for all, and equally important reaching out to minority men and women and African-American voters in dramatic fashion.
Not only is this a winning agenda, it will rekindle the fires of the Lincoln wing of the Republican Party.