Profiles in Liberty: Steve Lonegan of Americans for Prosperity - New Jersey
Steve Lonegan runs the New Jersey chapter of Americans for Prosperity and is a former three-term mayor of Bogota.
During Mayor Lonegan’s time in office, Bogota’s municipal spending remained constant for all 12 years. Lonegan stood up to powerful public sector unions while keeping debt and tax increases far below inflation, despite massive state mandates and aid reductions. Lonegan set the model for how conservative mayors across the country should govern.
In addition, Lonegan ran for Governor twice and was defeated in 2009 by current Gov. Chris Christie.
You can follow Lonegan on Twitter @lonegan.
Matt Naugle: I first learned of you when you were Mayor of Bogota, New Jersey from the hilarious political documentary Anytown, USA. Did you like how you were portrayed in the movie and should people watch it on Netflix?
Steve Lonegan: This film gets a big “thumbs up!”
The moviemakers apparently intended to portray me as some kind of villain who was supposed to lose. Instead I won a massive victory as a conservative Republican in a town that several years later gave Barack Obama 64% of the vote. It shows that the way to win is to stand up for what you believe, not change your views based on what some pollster or political consultant says.
It should be required viewing for the Republican Party leadership.
MN: How did you become a conservative?
SL: I was born a conservative. I was raised in an Italian immigrant household. My grandparents both came here as teenagers from Italy in the early 1920’s seeking a better future for themselves and their future families. They wanted freedom from government and the opportunity to work hard and benefit from – and keep – the fruits of their labor. For them, that was hard work every single day in the garment district of New York City; working, saving and eventually investing in a home, never expecting a handout, in fact hating the idea of a handout. This was about individual liberty and individual responsibility. I was weaned on this mentality and it is the greatest gift parents or grandparents can give their kids.
I am a conservative because I will not sit back and be a casual observer while our country is lulled into the complacency of the entitlement state by Barack Obama and his allies. I do not want to witness the day people start leaving this country to find a better future for themselves or their families somewhere else in the world.
MN: Instead of attending RightOnline, the NJ-AFP chapter organized an anti-wind subsidy event. What is Global Wind Day and the Offshore Wind Development Act? Why is wind energy a bad idea?
SL: Global Wind Day is a UN social engineering initiative designed to build support for massive taxpayer subsidies for wind power, as evidenced by the New Jersey Offshore Wind Development Act which is backed up with $100 million in subsidies. Wind energy is not a bad idea. It’s just a bad idea if it can’t compete in the marketplace and requires taxpayer subsidies, as provided in the Offshore Wind Development Act. The entire sustainable communities/global warming/alternative energy movement is about redistributing America’s wealth to the rest of the world, and an assault on our economic freedom.
MN: Mayor Cory Booker was critical of President Obama’s attacks on private equity then was forced to apologize. What do you think of Booker?
SL: Newark continues to be the most expensive city in New Jersey to operate, relying on tens of millions of state government suburban taxpayer-funded subsidies to exist while massive salaries for government employees, lucrative pensions and extraordinary expenses continue. Recently, the State Economic Development Authority gave a massive $250 million grant to the Prudential Company to build an office building in Newark, ostensibly in an effort to keep them there. This is nothing but an example of massive government intervention in Newark in an effort to keep the city’s economy alive.
Newark is a phenomenal piece of real estate: it is adjacent to a major harbor, serviced by a major airport, located along the state’s best highways, and serviced by a major railroad system.
So why does Booker need massive subsidies to make this city successful? Newark receives 85% of its school budget from the state’s income tax fund, the result of major income redistribution. Yet the Newark school system, the most expensive in the state, is continuing to fail its students.
Newark, NJ is a magnificent example of why big government does not work. Cory Booker is part of that big government.
MN: Gov. Chris Christie, with his impressive sound bites, is becoming known as the “YouTube Governor.” Why isn’t Christie as conservative as his tough-guy public image?
SL: It’s entertaining to hear the Governor tell off some liberal politician or smarmy reporter, but it’s not a substitute for ending the oppressive tax and regulatory climate in our state – because that climate is as bad as ever. State spending is even higher than it was under Corzine, aid has been virtually eliminated to suburban and rural school districts and taxes continue to go up, whether it is the Nursing Home Bed tax, the unemployment tax or property taxes. The Governor has been given a unique opportunity to make significant cuts in New Jersey’s bloated welfare and regulatory state. He has done a number of good things. He pulled NJ out of the RGGI Cap and Trade program, vetoed the Millionaire’s Tax, stopped the radical Residential Foreclosure Transformation Act and has made some good changes to the pension system. But to turn the state around, he has to turn those YouTube moments into major decisive action. The taxpayers of this state will stand behind Scott Walker-style efforts, and the governor needs to take advantage of such an opportunity.
MN: Last month, you testified in the New Jersey legislature against a plan for the state to purchase up foreclosed homes. Why is this a bad idea and is Gov. Christie helpful on this issue?
SL: This is the single worst piece of legislation I have seen conjured up by and passed by the legislature, and even passed by majorities in both houses. This bill assumes the free market housing market cannot correct housing cost issues. It assumes the state has to intervene in the market place and buy up foreclosed homes and then redistribute these homes to those people whom some government bureaucracy deems as “in need.” This would essentially throw out homeowners who have put down a payment and then give their home to someone getting out of prison, sex offenders, drug addicts and others some state agency thinks should get a taxpayer-subsidized home in any residential neighborhood they choose. This is ridiculous market interference combined with radical social engineering on steroids. Thank goodness Governor Christie heeded our call and vetoed this bill.
Maybe the lunatic left got this out of their communal system, but I am afraid we have not heard the last of this nonsense.
MN: At age 14 you were diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa and are legally blind, but you have had a distinguished career and continue to be a leader in the conservative movement. How has your eyesight affected your life?
SL: No big deal. You play the hand you’re dealt.
MN: New Jersey is a heavily Democratic state with some of the highest tax rates in the nation. Can conservatism win in New Jersey?
SL: I’ve proven it can and will continue to win. As a conservative Republican running in a heavily Democratic town, I was able to win three straight elections by overwhelming margins and keep Republican control for eleven straight elections. I did it by keeping spending and debt flat, which allowed us to have the best municipal tax record of any town in the state – far below inflation.
New Jersey by its nature is a naturally conservative state. We are made up of hundreds of small towns and villages, and small local government is the backbone of conservative philosophy. These small towns all have churches and synagogues, local governments, and the local associations that Alexis D’Toqueville marveled about in his seminal Democracy in America. The blood, tissue, and brain cells of a New jersey citizen is no different than that of those in Pennsylvania, Virginia, or Texas. We just don’t have true conservative leadership in the Republican Party willing to take a principled stand.
MN: Should former Gov. Jon Corzine go to prison for his actions at MF Global? According to the Weekly Standard, he is still a bundler for Obama.
SL: Whatever you think of Jon, he deserves a fair trial by his peers before being condemned. I don’t think being a bundler for Obama is illegal, but you may want to ask the President’s campaign why he is still involved.
MN: Have you ever watched an episode of MTV’s Jersey Shore and are you a fan?
SL: A couple of times. 95% of my free time is spent reading. When I watch TV, it’s the History Channel or FOX News.
MN: Will you run for Governor again?
SL: I’m focused on building the strongest taxpayer advocacy group New Jersey has seen, and that’s the only thing on my mind right now.
MN: Final words of wisdom from Steve Lonegan?
SL: “Tu ne cede malis sed contra audentior ito.” - Virgil’s Aeneid