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Thursday, January 12, 2006

Nominations: Identity or Quality

One of Jon Corzine's strongest campaign planks was his stance on reforming ethics in New Jersey. His appointment of Congressman Bob Menendez as his replacement proved a disappointment for many, including myself, on this matter (although I will stress that there is no hard evidence known to the public that Mr. Menendez has ever been unethical - there is a mountain of circumstantial evidence, though). I understand the politics behind his decision and the Machiavellian strategist part of me can go along with it. Such is politics - idealism has its limits in reality.

Corzine's second major pick is his nominee for State Attorney General - and we now know that pick is Zulima Farber. Since I'm still a relatively new transplant in New Jersey, I had to do a bit of homework on Ms. Farber - and I have to say that I'm impressed with his pick. In this case, I have to also say that her public support for the Governor should not impact anyone's ability to support her.

Interestingly enough, if our former Governor, Jim McGreevey, had not been so ethically challenged, Ms. Farber would not even be available to be AG. By all accounts, she should be sitting on the State Supreme Court right now. McGreevey used a paper-thin (actually a traffic-ticket-thin) excuse to withdraw support from Ms. Farber's nomination. While I will be the last to give public officials carte blanche to ignore the law, the details of this incident simply don't indicate anything of the sort took place.

To the side of one unpaid traffic ticket, Ms. Farber was the last appointed Public Advocate - a position designed to represent the interests of the people against state government powers (oddly enough, this anti-government position was eliminated by a Republican Administration). Her experience highlights the insanity of what is referred to as the "politics of identity". Despite having served faithfully, carrying cases against the state for the citizens of New Jersey - with no indication that she ignored any group - she was determined to not be "Black enough" to replace the first Black State Supreme Court Justice. So, one of the most qualified people was disqualified on a flimsy excuse and the color of her skin - big surprise! it became a divisive issue for the state. In that sense, Ms. Farber's life has much to say about the direction of American politics as a whole.

I'm not Black - so I obviously can't explain what it means to be Black. Nor can I adequately explain what it means to be Asian, female, or foreign-born. To some extent, I do believe that matters. We need, desperately, a more inclusive public voice for all people - and as long as some groups face issues that others don't, or to a greater extent than others, we will need to work to ensure their voices are heard.

However, Mr. Farber is not being nominated to be the Black Attorney General, nor the Hispanic Attorney General, nor the female Attorney General, nor the foreign-born Attorney General - she is nominated to be the New Jersey Attorney General. As such, her gender, the color of her skin, place of birth, or whether or not English was her first language simply shouldn't matter. Those are things wholly beyond her control, and while they may give her story more personality or make it more compelling, they should not be seen as a credit towards her job-worthiness. What makes her a good nomination is her previous work experience and the fact that she has always maintained a strong voice for ethics in government and public trust.

We see the same problem with the nomination of Samuel Alito. His religion should be no reason at all in the decision to support his nomination or not. Nor should his parents immigration or his family heritage. There is only one reason for such a move - to elevate the opposition's arguments to hysteria based on what a person is, rather than who they are. It is a move to detract from legitimate lines of questioning and to attack the credibility of anyone who dares raise a voice in opposition. (Let me say that the Democratic Party is not above stooping to this lowest common denominator, either - it wasn't Republicans who pulled down Ms. Farber from the State Supreme Court.)

The deciding factor to determine whether or not a person should be approved as a nominee - at the state or federal level - is whether or not their history indicates the ability to faithfully carry out the duties of their position. As much as I hate to say it, because it amounts to half-hearted support for Sam Alito, philosophical differences cannot be used as the sole reason for opposition - because there will always be philosophical differences between the majority and minority parties. If those philosophical differences lead to real concerns about their ability to faithfully conduct their job; then that should be explored. It could then be the basis for objection, but it cannot be the sole measure of it.

To say otherwise is to advocate for something less than the highest quality nominee. That doesn't serve the best interests of New Jersey or of the rest of the United States.


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