I recently had a conversation with a friend who was quite active in New York politics. He served on many a presidential campaigns and was the campaign voice for several local and statewide officials in New York. He has long since retired and moved away but during this conversation I mentioned Frank Lautenberg’s name and he said “Lautenberg, is he still around?” I chuckled and explained that you wouldn’t know it but he is still there. I really had no obvious evidence to point to his existence but I assured him that Frank was still there and that he was running to stay there.
After that conversation, I got to thinking , why did Frank Lautenberg run again? I mean back in 1982 Lautenberg ran for the United States Senate and he started off as a major force. During his first term he was the impetus behind the raising of the legal drinking age to 21 in all states by linking federal funding for their highways to their raising the legal age. He also revolutionized the airline industry by successfully authoring legislation that eliminated smoking on planes. But since then his, legislative activism and personal leadership has waned, In 2001, after 3 terms in office, he fittingly retired, only to come out of retirement to replace Senator Bob Torricelli on the ballot in his doomed re-election effort. Although state and party laws deny anyone the ability to replace a nomination within days of an election, the New Jersey Supreme court decided that laws do not matter and allowed Torricelli , who was under investigation for criminal conduct, to be taken off the ballot and replaced by someone who had a better chance to win the election. That person was Lautenberg.
Lautenberg didiwon that election, but what did Lautenberg’s return from retirement bring us? Aside from proving that the law did not matter and that he was above it, his six years since then have produced little, very little.
Oh Frank is a reliable liberal vote in Washington. He was counted on to support opposition to the efforts to combat terrorism. He was counted on to vote for any and every tax hike that came out of the collective congressional agenda. But aside from being a reliable vote for the liberal agenda, Frank did little for New Jersey and he did even less when it came to bringing any new energy for new ideas or directions. It seemed that Frank’s only major accomplishments were achieved back in the early 80’s when his once fresh voice led the way to sensible reforms that in some cases saved lives.
Credit must be given when and where credit is due and so, Lautenberg’s two landmark initiatives are to his credit. But after 24 years of legislating in the federal government on behalf of New Jersey, where is the credit that he once deserved to be re-elected for today. Since his 1982 -1988 stint, there is little merit that warrants electing Lautenberg to any of the terms since then.
The only level of increased activity that Lautenberg has demonstrated exists within his staff. It is a staff that has one of the largest numbers and highest payrolls in the senate. His chief of staff earns one of the highest salaries offered on Capitol Hill to any other colleague with the same title and responsibilities. As Lautenberg’s Chief of Staff, Daniel Katz has earned $81,183.59 just between October 2007 and March of 2008. Compared to others this is no measly sum of money. Yet, I do not begrudge Daniel Katz the money. He earns it.
He must work hard to control and motivate the other 52 staffers that account for Lautenberg’s senate activity. Daniel Katz must also work twice hard to make his inactive Senator appear busy and productive. It is a job that cannot be done alone. That is why Lautenberg’s staff includes 12 legislative assistants, aides and directors, who between October of last year and March of this year have been paid a combined total of three and a quarter hundred thousand dollars or to be exact $324,786.75.
Oddly enough along with having state directors and deputy state directors Frank also has a South Jersey Director and two Deputy South Jersey Directors and an assistant to the South Jersey Director. Now we all know that that New Jersey is famous for it’s extraordinarily large size. At 7,418 square miles it ranks as the 46th largest state in the nation. But these South Jersey, patronage, posts reflect less of a legislative need than a political need. Congressman Rob Andrews who challenged Frank for the democrat nomination is from South Jersey and most of the rumblings to replace Lautenberg come out of South Jersey.
These South Jersey directors have earned a combined $58,437.42 during the five months between October ‘07 and March ‘08. Add to this another $99,579.61 which has been paid to state and deputy state directors during the same time period.
The rest of Lautenberg’s staff consists of a rarely used speech writer along with an executive director, press secretaries, schedulers, constituent service directors, specialists, handlers and assistants, legal counselors, legislative directors, assistants and specialists. It also includes a legislative correspondent, director of correspondence, systems administrator, special project coordinators and numerous staff assistants.
In total, Lautenberg’ 53 staffers, and five month, nearly one and a half million dollar payroll ($1,437497.80), must work hard to make a sitting Senator who has little initiative to point to, look active and productive.
Everyday, leading up to his race for the nomination against Andrews, Lautenberg’s staff has produced countless press releases staking a position on an issue. In fact his staff has been responsible for the Herculean task of trying to demonstrate Frank Lautenberg as a constructive part of government in the face of his lack of real initiatives.
Let’s face it. Since Lautenberg’s first term 27 years ago, he has nothing to show for it. His latest claim is that he insured that the federal Homeland Security money provided to New Jersey is doled out on the basis of need. Accept for a press release, Frank did not correct the problem that existed in this area. Republican state legislators brought up a lawsuit against the state after revealing that Homeland security money was being given out only to districts that had Democrat lawmakers representing them. The Corzine administration was allocating money meant to shore up security in our state based on politics, not need. Frank Lautenberg’s press releases did not change this immoral activity, the threatened lawsuit brought about by Republicans did. But I guess if you have little effort or action of your own to point to, your staff must take every opportunity to make their boss look good.
Making Frank look good is a hard job though. In his days since 1982, Frank bitterly clings to his only major accomplishments, raising the drinking age and prohibiting smoking on airplanes.
His subsequent representation of New Jersey since then has not produced much else. In fact due to the democrats representing us in the U.S. Senate, New Jersey continues to be one of the lowest ranked states in terms of our return on the tax dollars that we send to Washington. Together, Lautenberg and Menendez have been unable to get much bang for our buck and through it all they maintain their liberal mantra that helps to continue the crisis of affordability that exists in New Jersey.
Perhaps the greatest shame in all this is not, the lack of initiative or leadership that an 84 year old man has in Washington, DC. but rather that the state of New Jersey does not have the ability to produce a citizen that can provide leadership in D.C.
Republican nominee Dick Zimmer is a worthy candidate. He has a good, proven twelve year record serving in congress as a representative from New Jersey. He has commendable views on policies pertaining to energy and the economy. His views on foreign policy are more attuned to the times and better suited for the times than the liberal, tea with terrorists approach that Lautenberg liberals take. But in New Jersey, none of this matters. The Republican party of this state has yet to get it’s act together and put forth an agenda that offers a clear difference from today’s ruling class liberals.
Even Dick Zimmer, as capable as he is, can not wage a decent campaign against Lautenberg. The state G.O.P. has been unable to raise sufficient funds for our candidates. Current fund raising records show that Dick Zimmer has raised a few hundred thousand dollars, while the aging, millionaire, founder of one of the nations largest payroll companies, Frank Lautenberg, has a couple of million for his campaign.
It is also a shame that New Jersey operates under such a shroud of hypocrisy. The hypocrisy of a candidate who first took office in 1982 by attacking his opponent, Millicent Fenwick, for her age which at the time was in her low 70’s. The hypocrisy of a man who came out of retirement and was resurrected by breaking laws that switched his name in place of a candidate that was losing. The hypocrisy of a man who is elected to office to do things for New Jersey but has actually accomplished little for New Jersey in over two decades.
It is all a shame but it is a shame that New Jersey deserves. We deserve what we get and in Frank Lautenberg what we get is an aging fat cat, devoid of ideas and drive and propped up by an over million and a half dollar staff that is occupied by patronage posts that are charged with making Lautenberg look productive.
There is one thing New Jersey will accomplish when it keeps Lautenberg on the job for us. It will break a record and make Lautenberg the longest serving United States Senator in New Jersey’s history. That s something but it doesn’t mean much when it comes to the benefits we have gotten out of that long service, or should I say lack of benefit.