Mention New Jersey to anyone in the other forty-nine states, and their mind will likely go to The Sopranos, The Real Housewives of New Jersey, Jersey Shore, and corrupt politicians. Don’t forget rude drivers, oil refineries, and the fact that we’re number one (or dead last, depending on how you look at it) in property taxes.

Yes, my fellow Americans: look upon my home state, and see that it is a cesspool of fist-pumping, bird-flipping, spray-tanning jerks who send people like the recently indicted Bob Menendez to represent them in Washington.

Yet New Jersey has a nasty reputation it just can’t overcome as it relates to politicians. (Don’t forget, New Jersey has also had such illustrious governors as Jim McGreevey and Jon Corzine. Hudson County’s Bob Menendez is just the latest example of an elected official dragging us through the mud. It’s such a problem that it’s almost an industry. In fact, during his seven year tenure as U.S. Attorney before becoming governor, Chris Christie basically made a living out of busting corrupt public officials, posting over 100 convictions from 2002 to 2009.

Menendez pleaded not guilty to fourteen counts against him, the most intriguing of which include helping his friend’s three girlfriends obtain visas, free vacations at said friend’s villa, complete with private staff, in the Dominican Republic, and accepting “hundreds of thousands” in campaign contributions in exchange for using his influence to help his friend’s business interests. On top of these charges, the indictment also states that from 2007 to 2012, Menendez intentionally omitted the things he received from Melgen in his annual Financial Disclosure Reports. Furthermore, he kept his staff in the dark regarding his actions on Melgen’s behalf.

On the face of it, taking a pal’s offer of a free vacation at his luxurious home or flying around in his private jets doesn’t sound so bad. I mean, who among us wouldn’t accept such generous gifts from a friend?

The problem isn’t that Menendez has rich friends who gave him nice things or trips or favors. The problem is that he accepted them explicitly in exchange for the use of his power and influence on behalf of this one man’s interests. Menendez has of course proclaimed his innocence and maintains that he did nothing wrong. But if that’s the case, then why did he conceal the details of his activities on behalf of this friend of his, and then knowingly leave the gifts off of his required Financial Disclosure Reports for several consecutive years?

I don’t know how stupid he thinks the people of New Jersey are, but it just makes me glad I voted for his opponent in 2012.

I am sick to death of people like Bob Menendez further contributing to the negative stereotypes about my state when it has so much more to offer. I own a book called There’s More to New Jersey than The Sopranos, and I really wish I could just quote the whole thing here. But the title itself sums up the statement I’m making, which is that New Jersey has a lot more going for it than a history of ethically-challenged elected officials.

Culturally, New Jersey brings far more to the table than the things you’ve seen on TV.  You see, we’re the home of THE Jersey Shore, as in the geographical place, not the God-awful show featuring a bunch of New Yorkers posing as us. As for music, how about Sinatra and Bon Jovi? Of course New Jersey boasts my favorite musician of all time, the one and only Bruce Springsteen. As for sports, the Yankees have us to thank for Derek Jeter, the Giants and Jets don’t play in New York, and NFL Films is headquartered here.

New Jersey also is rich in American history. It says right on the New Jersey quarter that we were the Crossroads of the Revolution. Indeed, there’s a Revolutionary War battlefield a mere two miles from my house. The Statue of Liberty? That’s in New Jersey, but New York ripped us off. You may also have heard of this little place called Princeton University, from which James Madison graduated when it was called the College of New Jersey. I could go on, but you get my point.

So when you think of New Jersey, don’t think of the corruption, the crime, or the bad spray tans.  There’s a lot more good that our state has to offer.