Tuesday, December 27, 2011

I Went to Trenton to Govern, But All I Got Was This Lousy $38 Million

Governor Christie has had some major legislative accomplishments over the past two years including a 2% cap on property taxes and a public worker pension and benefits overhaul. Mind you, these laws have not necessarily made life better for New Jerseyans, as taxes have still risen and thousands of experienced public workers have either retired, fled or have been laid off because of them.

The past six weeks, though, have been another story for the guv'nor.

Despite his general popularity, the Republicans actually lost seats in the November legislative elections. Now Christie will need to rely even more heavily on the Democratic majority in the legislature and the Democratic power brokers in Essex and Camden Counties. Add in the disdain that Senate President Steven Sweeney has for Christie and you have a recipe for gridlock sprinkled with a tablespoon of revenge.

Then, the general consensus was that the lame duck legislative session was going to be one of the most active in years, with bills flying around State Street on teacher tenure and evaluation, property taxes, jobs, budget cuts and patronage. What's happened? Nada. Almost every issue was pushed to the formal session that begins in early January, and won't probably get any steam until the Governor's State of the State message in the middle of the month.

And in the spirit of the holidays, Christie picked a fight with Senator, and former Governor, Richard Codey over the permanent appointment of Commissioner of Education Christopher Cerf, accusing Codey of (gasp!) feeding information to reporters. Christie canceled Codey's security detail and fired Codey's cousin from the Port Authority board. That's politics through and through and shows that Christie will never be the warm, fuzzy leader he sometimes pretends to be.

But the true state of the Governor's clout was uncovered when New Jersey was actually awarded $38 million dollars in Race to the Top funds by the Obama Administration so it could implement a speculative teacher evaluation system based on student standardized test scores. Getting money should be a positive, but this award only dredged up the previous failure to even qualify for $400 million dollars in education funds because of the Governor's attitude towards the New Jersey Education Association. Not only did it cost the state money, it also cost Commissioner of Education Brett Schundler his job and showed that Christie would blame everyone but his leadership for the error. It's a pattern that he's repeated in every misstep since, and it's one reason why he would not make a good president.

He's ending the year by essentially becoming Mitt Romney's pit bull and possible vice-presidential running mate. Granted, he did only say that he would keep the door open, but that will only serve as a distraction in the coming year, as his flirtation with the presidency proved throughout the fall, because every time he doesn't get what he wants, the media will remind us all that he's got his eye on the national ticket. The Governor should just say no this time around and focus on the state.

It's still very possible that Christie will get some of his reforms through the legislature, but many in the state are tired of his outbursts and outlandish statements. Prosecutors like him are convinced that they are always right and that they have the ultimate truth on their side, so why compromise? We need to remember that the next time one runs for statewide office.

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