Don’t be surprised if the news that former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger fathered a child with another woman while he was married to Maria Shriver is greeted with a collective yawn in New Jersey.
We’ve seen a sitting Governor come out of the closet, a rabbi charged with selling a human kidney on the black market, and a prominent political donor hire a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law and then send a video recording of the encounter to his sister. So you’ll have to excuse us if our response to the latest headlines is: “Been there, done that.”
Well, as anyone who ever has sat in traffic on a New Jersey roadway knows, we are the most densely populated state in the nation. One of the consequences of this dubious distinction is that issues of all types emerge here before they affect the rest of the country. Likewise, New Jersey is among the first to react and respond to them.
For example, when the automobile became affordable in the 1920s, thousands of New Jerseyans purchased cars. In fact, New Jersey had 718,000 registered cars by 1930 – a staggering figure considering the fact that the car had just become affordable a decade earlier. All of this helped lead to construction of the state’s basic roadwork years before other parts of the nation had the traffic volume to necessitate such actions.
Similar scenarios have taken place with environmental issues. In the mid-1980s, New Jersey began running out of landfill space for its garbage while states in the Midwest and elsewhere still had plenty of room. New Jersey responded with mandatory recycling – long before similar initiatives took place in other parts of the country. Along the same lines, the state’s many pollution and contamination problems eventually resulted in New Jersey becoming a national leader in identifying and cleaning up toxic sites.
More recently, the state enacted health care reform two years before President Obama signed a bill into law that contained many of the same provisions included in the New Jersey’s legislation.
Personal issues, scandals and outrageous behavior always will get people’s attention. But for New Jersey, the shock value of such items is starting to wear thin. Think back to the 2009 gubernatorial race when Chris Christie’s driving record and weight became frequent topics of discussion. Exit polls conducted on Election Day showed that such inconsequential matters had little impact on how New Jerseyans cast their votes. Instead, it was the economy, jobs, and property taxes that determined which candidate voters supported.
And that’s the way it should be. There are daunting challenges confronting our state in the 21st Century. The best way to address them is to focus on serious public policy issues, not the personal matters and tabloid headlines that grab our attention, but have little impact on our quality of life.
Our focus in New Jersey is not yet fully where it needs to be, but as long as we keep heading in the right direction, we should once again find our state a step or two ahead of the rest of the nation.
# # #