Friday, June 7, 2013

Governor Chris Christie Defending Democracy, No Matter What the Cost

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie found himself caught between a rock and hard place recently, on the death of Senator Lautenberg, a liberal who served as a senator from 1982 to 2013 barring a two year break from 2001 to 2003. 

Frank Lautenberg was a real man of the people; gutsy and principled, he made an enemy of Richard Nixon in 1972 when he donated $90,000 to George McGovern’s campaign for president. He fought for his seat against some pretty powerful people, and often came in from behind to win. He was pro-choice, pro-environment, in favor of gun control, same –sex marriage. He played a big part in raising the minimum drinking age and banning smoking on planes. He was one of those politicians who loved his job and who wasn’t in it for power. 

When he died, Christie had to choose between filling the seat with someone of his own choice, or calling a special election a few months ahead of the national gubanatorial elections.

Most opinion seems to agree that Christie has his sights on being the Republican nominee for president and that his strongest argument will be that he was elected and re-elected governor in a blue state. He’ll be running against Democrat Barbara Buono who currently doesn’t appear to have much of a chance against him. He’s a popular guy.

But if he nominated a senator now, New Jersey voters would be voting for a Senator in November. So Cory Booker, a Democrat, would then be on the same ballot as Christie. And he’s a very popular guy too, but with Democrats, who are likely to come out in droves to vote for him. And then also vote for Buono. In a state that is a Democratic stronghold that’s a big risk for Christie and clearly he decided not to take it. Whether it was his primary motivation for choosing a re-election for the Senate seat before the November gubanatorial elections or not is hard to say.

What is clear is that his choice cost the taxpayer in the region of $24 million. He didn’t help his case when he snapped at a reporter accusing him of wasting taxpayers’ money “I don't know what the cost is and I frankly don’t care".  

This from a Republican who, just over a week before, had vetoed a proposal to establish early voting - and he knew what that cost was. It was $25 million. He also cut $8.6 million from college subsidies, $12 million from hospital charity care and $10 million from children’s after-school programs in poor areas. It’s hard to understand how he could have rationalized that as caring about the electorate. 

He, however, insists that all he cares about now is that New Jersey voters get to choose who they want for senator as quickly as possible, and that he will not allow party politics to override democracy.

That may be his primary motivation. It’s impossible to say. But actions have a way of speaking  louder than words. He also said that you can’t put a price on democracy. But you can put a price on a poor person’s health and education and child care. 

As to winning the Republican presidential nomination, would he give up on his values and shift with the wind like Mitt did? Time will tell. 

Right now he’s governor and has the right to do what he did. He still has to nominate somebody for the Senate seat until October. So far he’s been mum on that.