Gubernatorial candidates battle for moral high ground

Amidst a controversial Confederate flag scandal, and a sensational political corruption trial, Republican candidate for governor, Kim Guadagno, posted an ambitious, 11-point ethics, transparency and accountability reform plan on her campaign website.

“I hear a lot of complaints about ethics, but no plan,” said Guadagno. “My plan would simply tell people in New Jersey they can have faith in their government, again.”

Guadagno’s proposed prescription to drain the New Jersey swamp includes an elected attorney general — New Jersey’s is now appointed by the governor. She also wants to bar candidates from running for more than one job at a time, and cited her opponent, Democrat Phil Murphy’s running mate, as an example.

“Sheila Oliver is running for both the office of lieutenant governor and the office of Assembly. You got to pick one or the other,” she said. When asked if she was referring to running for or holding multiple offices, Guadagno replied, “Oh, I think in terms of running! I think the public needs to know who they’re voting for.”

Guadagno would also ban her staff from accepting unlimited gifts, even from so-called “friends.” She points to Sen. Bob Menendez, who stands accused of accepting lavish gifts in return for favors to a friend.

“We don’t run for these jobs to get gifts from friends or anyone. We run for these jobs to do something and to serve the public,” she said. When asked about the governor, for example, getting plane trips and tickets to Dallas Cowboys games or the King of Jordan paying for the Christies to stay at lavish hotels, she replied, “Well, you can use all those examples, but I’m looking forward and people in my administration will not be taking gifts. And if they take those gifts, they’ll have to disclose those gifts.”

The lieutenant governor’s task of pushing ethics reform is complicated by her relationship with Christie, whose administration will be remembered for the Bridgegate corruption scandal. Neither Christie nor Guadagno were ever charged.

“But let me say, that’s not something I would be involved in as governor. That’s not how I would run my office and that’s one of the reason’s why we’re sending out this plan today,” she said.

Guadagno’s plan would also mandate fuller financial disclosures for candidates, including releasing tax returns, as she’s already done. That’s another slap at Murphy, who only let reporters briefly read through his tax returns.

“I think the people of New Jersey have a right to know where there’s a potential for conflict. The financial disclosure forms we have now are just not specific enough,” she said, adding the same should apply to legislative candidates. When asked whether the president should release his tax returns, Guadagno replied, “The president is not somebody I can control.”

Guadagno’s plan would also withhold paychecks from lawmakers, the governor and cabinet members who miss budget deadlines and shut down the state government; ban departing administration officials from lobbying for five years; and fully staff and fund the Election Law Enforcement Commission. But Guadagno has refused to call for censure of Republican Assemblyman Parker Space, who posed with a Confederate flag emblazoned with the motto, “If the South would’ve won, we’d have had it made.” Space called it a joke, though now he’s reportedly lawyering up over the angry response. When Guadagno condemned bigotry, but not Space, Murphy called a news conference.

“The deafening silence that we are hearing from Kim Guadagno speaks volumes,” Democratic Lt. Governor Candidate Sheila Oliver said on Wednesday. “It speaks volumes about a candidate unwilling to take to task members of her own political party for their words and for their actions.”

“I think she’s got to call out the Confederate flag and Parker Space’s ‘LOL’ Twitter post,” said Murphy.

When asked about her message to the assemblyman, Guadagno replied, “That racism and bigotry is simply unacceptable.”

Guadagno did say Menendez should resign if he is convicted. Murphy said he really hadn’t thought about it. His spokesman said Guadagno isn’t credible, calling her ethics plan a “cynical political ploy.”