Buoyed by a ringing endorsement in the Oct. 11 Star-Ledger and poll numbers that show his independent candidacy on the rise, Christopher Daggett is optimistic about his chance to become New Jersey’s next governor.
“This is not a futile effort in the least,” he told NJ Jewish News on Oct. 14.
That day a Quinnipiac University poll showed him winning 14 percent of the vote. Republican Chris Christie and Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine are in a statistical tie — 41 percent for Christie, 40 for Corzine.
Those numbers don’t faze Daggett.
“I believe in the end I am going to win,” he said confidently, speaking via cell phone as he headed toward an editorial board meeting at the Atlantic City Press.
His role model is an unusual one: Jesse Ventura, the retired professional wrestler who ran successfully as an independent candidate for governor in Minnesota.
“Ventura had a 15 percent rating in the polls when he won the election for governor of Minnesota in 1998 with 37 percent of the vote,” said Daggett, who served as a deputy to former Republican Gov. Tom Kean.
The candidate said he believes one source of his appeal is his detailed pledge to cut up to 25 percent of homeowners’ property taxes and to strengthen the state’s public education system.
According to the Daggett campaign website, if he is elected, “all senior citizen property owners will receive the maximum cut of $2,500 per year.”
Moreover, “the $1.6 billion spent in this year’s budget for property tax relief programs — including homestead rebates, the senior citizen property tax freeze, and the income tax write-off for property taxes — would be folded into a property tax credit that would be deducted directly from homeowners’ property tax bills.”
Daggett said his message to the Jewish community “is no different than the message to every community. The state of New Jersey is in a near fiscal crisis. Neither party can fix it, and it doesn’t matter what interest group or religious group or nonprofit organization you represent.”
It’s a position that may disturb Jewish families who are seeking solutions from the state, such as vouchers, to remedy rising day school tuition.
“I don’t know why they should be exempt or get any kind of special break for that,” said Daggett, who holds a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts. “If it’s a private school, I still believe that people ought to pay for that tuition. I’ve got a lot of respect for the Jewish community and other communities that want to do that sort of thing, but we can’t afford everything in New Jersey and we’ve got to draw the line somewhere.”
Fiscally conservative, Daggett — and as regional administrator of the federal Environmental Protection Agency — tacks left on other issues. He supports abortion rights, “aggressive gun control laws,” gay marriage, and stem cell research. He opposes the death penalty.
He was born in Orange and raised in Linwood. He lives in Basking Ridge with his wife, Bea, and two daughters, Justine and Alexandra.
Another key issue for the state’s Jewish voters is the New Jersey-Israel Commission, an arm of the State Department that acts to promote liaisons with Israeli business, technology, and culture.
“All those things we ought to do, and with a wide range of countries. To the degree the Israeli community is interested in doing business with us, by all means we ought to take advantage of that,” said Daggett.
He said he could “absolutely” see himself traveling to Israel and other countries as governor to promote trade relations with New Jersey.
He cautioned, however, that he doesn’t want such trips to be “boondoggles. They’ve got to be specific missions with specific goals in mind and evidence that if we go on those missions they are likely to bear fruit, so they don’t look like a junket of some kind.”
The candidate added promptly he did not believe Corzine “abused the role of governor to do that. He has been pretty good at that overall. I’m a big believer of giving credit where credit is due, and I think he’s made a concerted effort, and I don’t think it has been excessive.”
But Daggett’s campaign did criticize Christie on spending after the Associated Press reported that the former United States attorney “exceeded the government’s hotel allowance on 14 of 16 business trips he took in 2008.”
“It seems to be another example of how there is one set of standards for Chris Christie and another for everyone else,” Daggett press secretary Tom Johnson commented in an e-mail to NJJN.
Although pollsters say Daggett is more likely to siphon off support from Christie rather than from Corzine, he is evenhanded in criticizing his rivals.
“Christie is pandering to anybody who will let him pander. He is not saying anything. He panders to the far right on one hand, but then his website doesn’t even acknowledge he’s a Republican. They are trying to make him an independent candidate. Hogwash.”
As for the Democrat: “Corzine is doing similar things. They are both making promises that can’t be kept,” said Daggett.
He called both candidates’ TV ads “intellectually dishonest. They are treating voters effectively with an element of disdain because they are saying, ‘You are not smart enough and too uninterested to have anybody propose a solution you can think about.’”