New Jersey: Louisiana North?

John Fund poses an interesting question: Why is New Jersey so corrupt?

It’s about how the elites of a major state, one with the nation’s second-highest per capita income and one of its most educated and skilled work forces, have allowed it to be so poorly governed by both parties over a span of decades. New Jersey’s political corruption has been legendary since the days of the late Mayor Frank Hague, who ran Jersey City for 30 years with such an iron fist that he told federal officials “I am the law.” Just two years ago, Sen. Bob Torricelli had to drop his re-election bid after the Senate Ethics Committee detailed his improper relationship with a donor. A spineless state Supreme Court allowed Democrats to replace him on the ballot even though a firm deadline for doing so had passed. The state’s politics are awash in allegations of conflicts of interest, raids on public treasuries and corrupt alliances between favored business interests and local officials.


How did the nation’s ninth-largest state compile such a record of mismanagement and corruption? Traditional explanations include the fact that the state is dominated by the huge broadcast markets of New York and Philadelphia, voters get shortchanged on local Jersey news. Others blame the state’s Byzantine proliferation of hundreds of self-governing towns, which they say allows the perpetuation of local machines. The electorate also bears part of the blame. Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Alan Caruba says that “something is terribly wrong with voters who have demonstrated a virtual death wish so far as any sensible governance of the state is concerned.”

He also blames a complicit media, a weak opposition party, a “machine” culture, and a too-powerful executive. It’s an interesting read.

I find the headline, “Louisiana North,” amusing even though Fund doesn’t actually draw the analogy in the article. The late Lewis Grizzard had an amusing bit years ago when a corrupt governor, Edwin Edwards, was re-elected when the only only alternative was a former KKK Grand Dragon, David Duke. Grizzard noted that Edwards should have been in jail but it was hard to find twelve people from Louisiana who thought stealing was a crime.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. McGehee says:

    He also blames a complicit media, a weak opposition party, a “machine” culture, and a too-powerful executive.

    All of which were also present in Georgia…

  2. Paul says:

    Now Now Now- Duke went to prison. -But so did Edwin. 😉

  3. Attila Girl says:

    Are we forgetting Chicago, here?

  4. David R. Block says:

    I lived in Louisiana during that election. The Edwards campaign’s unofficial slogan: “Vote for the crook, it’s important.”