By Alan Steinberg
The primary election for the Republican nomination for United States Senate in 2012 now appears to be a contest between two members of the New Jersey State Senate, Joe Kyrillos of Monmouth County and Mike Doherty of Warren County. Kyrillos served in the State Assembly from 1988 until 1991 and in the state senate since then. Doherty served in the State Assembly from 2002 until 2009 and in the State Senate from 2009 until the present.The contest has been depicted in the media and in some political quarters as a race between a conservative Doherty and a moderate Kyrillos. This is, however, a most inaccurate portrayal.
Joe Kyrillos is a solid Reaganite conservative. By contrast, Mike Doherty is a Ron Paul conservative. Doherty supported Ron Paul for President in the 2008 election.
Senator Doherty has emphasized as his defining conservative issue his Fair School Funding plan, which he has introduced in the State Senate in the form of a bill. Under this legislation, each school district would receive state aid based upon a per pupil amount, multiplied by the number of its students.
The Doherty plan would clearly be held to be unconstitutional by the New Jersey Supreme Court. Under its Abbott v. Burke line of cases, the court has shifted a disproportionate amount of state aid from suburban districts to the state urban “special needs” districts. Senator Doherty’s legislation is effective in making a point, but ineffective in making change.
By contrast, in 1992, Senator Kyrillos proposed a constitutional amendment which would have been far more effective in preserving suburban state school aid. This measure would have effectively superseded Abbott v. Burke and limited the jurisdiction of the New Jersey Supreme Court to intervene in state school funding matters.
Specifically, the Kyrillos amendment would have prohibited the New Jersey Supreme Court from requiring that any school district be funded in an amount in excess of 120 percent of the state per pupil average. The amendment was considered at a joint Assembly-Senate public hearing in July, 1992.
The liberal media in New Jersey harshly criticized the Kyrillos amendment as having an anti-minority impact. At the public hearing, urban school officials and activists denounced the amendment as racist. In the face of these attacks, the amendment failed to get the necessary support of 24 Senators and 48 Assembly members for placement on the November, 1992 ballot.
In sponsoring and advocating this amendment however, Joe Kyrillos demonstrated both his judicial conservatism and political courage. In the election of that same year of 1992, Kyrillos ran against incumbent Frank Pallone for the U.S. House of Representatives. Yet he still sponsored the amendment, refusing to sacrifice his judicial conservatism as an expediency of the election.
The judicial conservatism of Joe Kyrillos was also much in evidence on November 14, 2006. On that day, he was the only member of the State Senate to vote against granting tenure to New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Jaynee LaVecchia.
Earlier in 2011, Justice LaVecchia issued the court opinion requiring the state to give the urban 31 districts an additional $500 million. In assessing the Kyrillos vote on Justice LaVecchia’s tenure back in 2006, one must understand that he would oppose the granting of tenure to any justice he perceived to be legislating from the bench rather than strictly interpreting the law.
Joe Kyrillos has a connection to the presidency of Ronald Reagan deeper than that of any other current elected official in New Jersey. He began his career as a special assistant to the then Secretary of the Interior Don Hodel during the second term of the Reagan administration.
After the completion of the Reagan administration, Hodel later served as president of the Christian Coalition from 1997 until 1999 and as president of Focus on the Family from 2003 until 2005. The social conservatism of his mentor, Don Hodel influenced Joe Kyrillos as well. It was much in evidence during the second term of the Whitman administration, when Kyrillos sponsored a constitutional amendment banning all third trimester abortions.
The tax reduction and pro-business ideology of Ronald Reagan has constituted the core of the conservative, free market philosophy of Senator Joe Kyrillos. He was a leading advocate of the Whitman income tax cuts. Most significantly, Kyrillos made history by his authorship and sponsorship of the New Jersey Business Employment Incentive Program, which gives rebates to companies who create a substantial number of new jobs.
Kyrillos also demonstrates his appreciation of the Reagan style by his effectiveness in securing the passage of legislation. While he is loyal to his conservative principles, he works well with senators of different political parties and divergent ideologies. Joe Kyrillos has demonstrated the ability to not only talk conservative change, but make it as well.
In writing this column, I do not mean to imply in any way that Mike Doherty is not a conservative. I simply want to correct any misperceptions about Joe Kyrillos. Far from being a moderate, he is the ultimate Reaganite conservative.
I must make a full disclosure, however. Joe Kyrillos is a good friend of mine. That is something of which I am most proud.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and eight federally recognized Indian nations. Under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman, he served as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission. He currently serves on the political science faculty of Monmouth University.