Tuesday, January 21, 2014

NJ State of Emergency (and it's not the snow)

Chris Christie was inaugurated for his second term as Governor of New Jersey today. It's also snowing quite a bit. That will make his downhill slide easier and the crash at the bottom more pronounced. He's embroiled in two scandals, both of which will turn out to have been his own making, and he made a state of the state address last week that was so devoid of usable ideas, it's probably DOA in a Democratic legislature that is in no mood to compromise with him over controversial issues.

The Bridge issue by itself could probably be chalked up to election year hi-jinx by a guy who doesn't understand nuance and positive energy. Now we have another scandal that cuts even deeper and shows a pattern of behavior among Governor Christie's appointees and running mate that could touch him. The results will not be pretty.

The story involves aid for Sandy storm victims, but is tied up in election year politics and the desire Christie had to win a huge, forty-point plus victory over Democrat Barbara Buono this past November.

His administration chose an ad agency to promote the shore using Sandy funds, which might be OK except that the agency it chose cost $2.2 million dollars more that the other bidder and promised to put Christie and his family in the ads. Not bad in an election year where about the only issue Christie could run on, because the economy was still in a shambles, was Sandy relief. That makes the Hoboken issue that much more relevant, because the city really could have used any or all of those millions to, let's say, help people who were flooded out or needed assistance with programs that might help them get back on their feet. Instead, we get the first-ever Lieutenant Governor making threats against a Christie supporter, Mayor Dawn Zimmer, to help a political friend.

New Jersey is already an ethical sewer. Did Christie and Guadagno really have to flush at that moment?

Christie's office did offer a rebuke to Mayor Zimmer, but never addressed the accusations against Guadagno and attacked MSNBC, the network that's been the main mouthpiece for the story. That's classic Christie and follows the larger Republican strategy when they're challenged: discredit the opposition and call them names. Ouch.

But now Mayor Zimmer is talking with prosecutors at their request. Double ouch.

There will be more subpeonas and an occasional leak of juicy information and the result will be a prolonged period of stalemate where the governor wants to move beyond the scandals and the legislature wants to air every stitch of dirty laundry to lessen Christie's influence.

As for policy, last week's speech in Trenton wasn't just a rehashing of his fight with teachers and other public unions: it was a renewed call to battle against them by proposing to take more of their income and break their power. The governor wants everyone else to contribute more for their pensions and health benefits, which would severely impact those middle class workers, while he works on a tax break for the wealthy and reneges on his promise to make full state pension payments.

That idea would be bad enough, but the real insight into Christie's thinking is his not-even-half-baked proposal to lengthen the public school day and year. His lack of detail was stunning for such a high-profile pronouncement. Clearly, he's going through the motions of checking off ideas from the conservative playbook in an effort to curry favor with the Republican right wing. Needless to say, reaction has not been positive, and for good reason.

First of all, where is the money coming from to install air conditioning and run electrical power for the rest of June and into July? Where is the money coming from to pay teachers past June 30? What will happen to shore businesses, camps, academic programs and enrichment activities that are a vital part of summer in New Jersey? Yes, the governor rightly said that the school calendar is outdated, but other industries have grown around it that are vital cogs in the economic and academic life of students and teachers. He hasn't addressed that, and my guess is that he probably won't. He'll just spend time bashing teachers for not wanting to give up summer vacation, even though the summer is just another two months where most teachers need to find an income so they can eat or not lose their houses.

Chris Christie only knows one speed when it comes to doing his job, and it's going to result in a crackup. A comeback is certainly possible, but the damage has been done.

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