5 Corrupt Things About New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
Photo Credit: AFP
Since last October, Chris Christie has been embraced by President Obama, friended by Mark Zuckerberg, and praised by Bill Maher. In a political time of fracture he’s seemingly been the healer; in a time of discord, he’s been portrayed as leading the singers in Kumbaya -- all five verses.
Nonsense. The only true bipartisanship the governor has managed has been the delicate balance between his glistening public persona and the ugly reality of his stewardship of an essential northeastern state. He is extraordinarily deft at it: he can annoy the rowdies who wouldn’t invite him to CPAC yet still get the Koch brothers to welcome him to their table and happily help him write his laws. Christie knows that conservatives come in two main types: the loud bullies who always back the wrong horse and always steer him straight to the glue factory, and the stealth guys in the suits who have all the money.
Embrace the president after Superstorm Sandy and you enrage the former. Bill O’Reilly tried to blame Mitt Romney’s loss on it. One of the interchangable umbrage merchants at the Washington Times called for Christie’s excommunication. The governor even caused Laura Ingraham to bray loudly about him becoming a Democrat.
But the political genius of Chris Christie lies in his awareness that you can piss off some of the people some of the time, just so long as you don’t rock the billionaires’ boats. More over, sacrifice the correct group of the overheated -- like the ones still clinging to a Romney victory only they and Romney believed still possible -- and you suddenly look like you’re putting the public interest over political dogma, and you stand out like a beacon to milder liberals looking for somebody on the other side who just might possibly not be stark raving mad.
As Christie tries to hone this high-wire act on a national stage and shove the Marco Rubios and Jeb Bushes off the 2016 stage, it is instructive to realize that the act is not new -- only the venue is. Stage dramatic budget cuts in front of the gullible local media and they’ll write encomiums about your courage that the hurried national media will devour amid their limited research. The national guys may find out about the $28 million Christie cut from healthcare for women and the elderly; they’ll never be told about the $260 million in his budget wasted on an Atlantic City casino that reported $35 million in losses in just its first three months of operation.
The national media sees the hug with Obama and the daring pushback against “Corzine Democrats.” It never sees the state teetering on the verge of 10% unemployment, nor the seemingly impossible reality of Christie advocating tax cuts that would drain more than a billion dollars from the money the state is taking in, while he still managed to increase his budget by a whopping 6.8% from 2011 to 2012.
And Christie bipartisanship -- maintaining his own image despite vast piles of facts that contradict it at every turn -- runs through not merely legislation but also ethics. This is New Jersey we're talking about: the four governors elected before Christie were: 1) the guy who went back to private business and lost $1.6 billion in customer investments in about 18 months; 2) the guy who resigned with his wife at his side at a news conference during which he announced he was gay; 3) the woman who claimed black men competed with each other to see who could produce the most children out of wedlock, and then personally frisked one of them during a police ride-along; and 4) the anti-gun liberal who desperately tried to hold onto the governor’s mansion by promising to crack down on “welfare mothers.”
Seen against the backdrop of that pile -- at least from a distance -- Christie looks clean. This is hardly the case; in fact it’s just another example of his amazing ability to look good while acting badly. In that light, we offer the five corrupt actions by Governor Christie.
1. Handed a No-Bid Contract to Firm With Questionable Political Ties
In the wake of Sandy, Governor Christie gifted a no-bid contract to AshBritt, a Florida-based debris-removal firm with eyebrow-raising political affiliations. AshBritt's founder and chief executive, Randal Perkins, has personally contributed $218,500 to political candidates and committees since 2001, nearly all of which went to Republican causes including George W. Bush and the Florida GOP. The firm has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on high-profile Washington lobbyists, including the company founded by Haley Barbour, the former Mississippi governor whom Christie identifies as a mentor. If AshBritt's name sounds familiar, it's because it was among those criticized during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for hiring subcontractor on top of subcontractor, leading some in Congress to accuse it of inflating the cost the government had to pay in reimbursements.
While it is not mandatory for all Jersey towns to agree to use AshBritt for debris removal, media outlets are reporting it's been implied that if they look elsewhere those communities won't get adequate FEMA funds.
Christie has dismissed criticisms of this contract as nothing more than "shoddy journalism."
2. Betting On Casinos, Not Women's Health
Christie's economics are often remarkably arbitrary. In his first three budgets, Christie cut women's health funding claiming the state didn't have the money. Then, he somehow found the aforementioned $260 million to spend on Revel, an Atlantic City casino (which just went bankrupt). In his fourth budget, he cut women's health funding again. Once again, the governor is also a miracle worker here; you can be seen as pro-business even if the business quickly goes under and you’ve poured enormous amounts of taxpayer money down a hole.
3. Lying To Kill ARC Tunnel
Christie employed inflated cost estimates to justify canceling the ARC rail tunnel to Manhattan, which would have created thousands of both short- and long-term jobs, cleared up congestion and lessened pollution caused by commuters. The result of Christie's action was to give him credibility as a staunch fiscal conservative within the national Republican party, which was likely his ultimate objective.
4. Moderate Talk, Tea Party Walk
Christie may have strengthened his reputation as a moderate through his public embrace of President Obama days after the state was ravaged by the post-hurricane storm, but even if they turn it into a statue it won’t erase his history of advocating for some of Congress's most extremist conservatives. Steve King (IA-4), Paul Ryan (WI-1), Susan Brooks (IN-5), Ann Wagner (MO-2) and Tom Lathan (IA-3) all received Christie's endorsement. What's more, each of those Christie-approved representatives went on to vote against the Sandy relief bill…just as their radical, right-wing track-records indicated they would.
5. Weakened Over 100 Essential Environmental Protections
In 2011, not long after his secret meeting with the Koch brothers, Governor Christie proposed a Department of Environment Protection waiver rule which would allow landowners to request exemptions from the DEP if a rule is considered "unduly burdensome." The vagueness of that phrase sparked concerns among environmentalists -- and many regular people who are fond of clean air and water -- that Christie's rule would provide too big of an advantage to large corporations and land developers who already carry enormous influence in Trenton.
Surely the timing of the proposal was merely a coincidence. Even though Koch Industries is a major polluter and leader in nearly every kind of unsustainable industry, and Christie had already proven his allegiance to the Koch agenda by pulling out of one of the Kochs’ biggest pet peeves, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), there couldn’t be linkage between these things, could there?
I mean, after all, this is Chris Christie. He can embrace the President and Charles and David Koch. He can draw praise for cutting health care while not even getting smudged by the fourth-worst statewide unemployment in the nation. He can be the hero of a hurricane and the endorser of fellow Republicans who kill bills meant to repair that hurricane’s damage. This is the man whose ability to get himself judged by one set of standards while actually operating with almost none could seemingly be summarized by a twist of the old phrase: Who you gonna believe? His reputation, or your lyin’ eyes?