APP: Elect Kean to Senate

Elect Kean to Senate
10/29/2006 Asbury Park Press

The U.S. Senate campaign pitting Thomas Kean Jr. against Sen. Robert Menendez hasn't been pretty. But it has succeeded in getting people's attention and delineating the candidates' differences.

Kean's priorities have been clear from the outset of his bid for a Senate seat: restoring government integrity and reducing taxes. While we haven't been enamored with his campaign, which has hammered away incessantly at Menendez's shortcomings in those two areas, Kean clearly felt a need to contrast their candidacies on the two issues he believes matter most.

We support Kean largely because we share his views that those two issues are central to restoring faith in government and improving the standard of living for residents in New Jersey and throughout the nation. If elected, he would become the first New Jersey Republican to win a Senate seat in 34 years. It's long overdue.

Kean's rhetoric about the need for integrity and fiscal restraint has been matched by his actions since he went to Trenton in 2001, first in the Assembly and later in the state Senate, where he now serves as minority whip. He has been a forceful advocate for ethics reform, including a comprehensive ban on pay-to-play, and a consistent critic of the Democratic-controlled Legislature's profligate spending policies. He also has strong environmental credentials and has been on the right side on most issues.

While many of the issues Kean will have to face in the U.S. Senate are different from those he dealt with in Trenton, government ethics and taxation are no less important in Washington. Despite attempts by Menendez to paint Kean as someone who would carry the water for the Bush administration, it's far more likely Kean would carry on the tradition of his father, the former New Jersey governor and chairman of the 9/11 Commission, as a moderate, independent Republican. We also prefer Kean's temperate stance on withdrawal from Iraq to Menendez's call for the start of a phased pullout before year's end.

Kean's attempts to characterize Menendez as corrupt have come up short. But Menendez is clearly a tough party boss unafraid to use his power to advance his own interests and those of his friends and allies. In Congress, as in New Jersey, weak ethics laws have allowed lawmakers to benefit from public office without committing any crimes.

Two ethical issues raised about Menendez are particularly troubling: The conflict of interest in renting out a house he owned to a nonprofit agency dependent on federal contracts, an arrangement that netted him more than $300,000, and tape-recorded conversations in which Menendez's longtime friend and close political associate, attorney Donald Scarinci, pressured a psychiatrist to hire a doctor favored by Menendez or risk losing $1 million in government contracts.

Even if Scarinci wasn't doing Menendez's bidding, Menendez's close association with someone who employs such tactics raises red flags. Menendez also was instrumental in getting former state Attorney General Zulima Farber nominated to the post — something that speaks poorly of his character judgment and sensitivity to the need for ethics reform in New Jersey.

Ethics aside, Menendez also has one of the most liberal voting and spending records in the Senate — one that is out of step with most New Jersey residents, particularly those starved for tax relief. He also has a dismal record on illegal immigration. Americans for Better Immigration, a group that lobbies for stricter enforcement of immigration laws, gave Menendez an "F" for his votes on immigration issues — the only member of the New Jersey congressional delegation to receive a failing grade.

The negativity of the campaign has been a turnoff. But Kean's emphasis on ethics and taxes was appropriate. His blood lines are excellent. His record in the Legislature has been good. We don't agree with him on all the issues. But on most of the important ones, Kean is on the same page as us and, we believe, most New Jersey voters.

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