Has There Been Too Much Change in NJ?

When there are major public policy problems, such as those that have confronted our state and nation over the past 10 years, solutions are few and far between.

Blame, however, always seems to be in abundance.

Democrats blame Republicans; Republicans blame Democrats; the public blames politicians from both parties, and everyone seems to find a way to blame the media.

In New Jersey, we have had our share of public policy problems over the past decade, and there has been the usual finger-pointing to identify the factors responsible for our troubles. But one factor that rarely enters the discussion is the fact that we have had so many changes in leadership over the past 10 years.

Think about it. As a nation, we are working hard to create and develop stable governments in other parts of the world. But here in New Jersey, we have had five different governors (Christie Whitman, Donald DiFranceso, Jim McGreevey, Dick Codey and Jon Corzine) since 2000 – and we will have a sixth later this month when Chris Christie takes office. (The number is even greater when all of those who served as acting governor for a day or more are included).

During this same period, we have had three Assembly Speakers (Jack Collins, Albio Sires and Joe Roberts) and three Senate Presidents (DiFranceso, Codey and John Bennett) – and both Houses will have new leaders when the next legislative term begins on January 12.

Our congressional delegation also has experienced its share of changes. The average length of service in the U.S. Senate is more than 12 years, but New Jersey has had four U.S. Senators since 2000 – Corzine, Robert Torricelli, Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg (who retired at the start of 2001 but returned to office two years later).

In the House of Representatives, where the average length of service is just under 10 years, four of New Jersey’s 13 congressional districts (3, 5, 7 and 13) have had a change in office since 2000. The 7th District has had three different Congressmen – Bob Franks, Mike Ferguson and Leonard Lance.

Change can be a good thing, but too much change can have negative consequences. Management experts believe that one of the components of successful organizations is strong leadership that provides a consistent sense of direction. According to HRVoice.org, “At any highly successful organization, the underpinning of its achievement is not ultimately about the engineering, science or the product itself. Instead, the success of the organization often hinges on inspiring, consistent leadership.”

That doesn’t mean we should all go our and vote for incumbents. One of the benefits of democracy is the ability to pick and choose our leaders – and we should exercise the right to vote with great care and thought.  Voters have been responsible for much of the leadership change that has occurred in New Jersey over the past 10 years. Other changes were triggered by resignations and retirements.

Regardless of the reasons, the fact is leadership in New Jersey has been in state of flux for the past 10 years. Such an inordinate amount of change cannot be good. We have had governors and legislative leaders with different priorities and philosophies, and we have lost seniority in Washington.

But most importantly, the numerous leadership changes that took place in New Jersey during the 2000s have resulted in a state without clear guidance and direction. That’s a recipe for trouble at any time, and it becomes an even greater problem when the national economy is in crisis.

Change is inevitable.  In the new decade, we will continue to pick and choose our leaders, and factors such as resignations and retirements will cause additional changes. A certain amount of change is good – and there are times when change clearly is warranted.

But a little less change in New Jersey over the next 10 years could make our state a better place.

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