Following this month’s elections, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was hailed as the savior of the Republican Party and anointed by several “Beltway bloviators” as the presumptive frontrunner in the upcoming 2016 presidential primaries.
PEER has a field office in New Jersey led by the inimitable Bill Wolfe who has observed Christie up close and personal. From this intimate perspective, one thing is clear – projecting the Christie record onto a national stage would be an utter disaster and make the George W. Bush (the last Republican with cross-over appeal) era seem like a walk in the park. Here are a few reasons why:
- Disaster on climate change: To appease tea party elements Christie moved from a climate change skeptic to a full-blown denier (calling climate change “an esoteric concern” relative to Super-Storm Sandy in response to a question from Wolfe). Not only did he pull New Jersey out of the regional greenhouse gas exchange (RGGI) and abolish the Office of Climate Change, but then he raided the state’s alternative energy funds. As a result, the Garden State is rapidly shifting away from green to greater reliance on brown power.
- Sandy abdication of responsibility: His position on climate change has led to a reconstruction effort that makes the state more vulnerable in both the short-term and the long-term to the havoc wreaked by extreme weather episodes.
- Public health & pollution control fiasco: His “War on Red Tape” has prevented adoption of virtually all public health and anti-pollution regulations. As a prime example, he reduced New Jersey’s well-respected Drinking Water Quality Institute to a dead letter. Then he vetoed his own Department of Environmental Protection’s plan to filter more than 600 chemical compounds from the state’s increasingly fetid drinking water. Not surprisingly, pollution enforcement has plummeted.
Christie’s populist appeal as a straight-talking everyman also does not stand up to close scrutiny. As Mitt Romney’s VP background check revealed, Christie has fostered, not fought, the cozy corrupt world of Jersey politics. Nor has Christie been anything close to a reformer with respect to good government issues such as transparency or scientific integrity (where he put corporations in charge of public agency science).
Rather than make the hard choices and eschew fiscal gimmicks as he promised, the state’s embrace of dubious short-term fixes has only tightened, leaving New Jersey tied with Georgia as the state in greatest fiscal distress. One example of a short-sighted gimmick is emptying DEP special funds that support pollution enforcement actions – a move akin to eating the farm’s seed corn.
Christie will not be confused for someone who ever says they are sorry – no matter how red-handed he is caught. My favorite recent Christie whopper is his blaming $120 million in damages from leaving hundreds of New Jersey Transit locomotives and passenger cars stored in low-lying yards during Sandy on an unnamed “lower level manager” when it was his own top appointee. Then in his own “helluva-a-job, Brownie” moment, Christie said his hapless transit director did “an extraordinary job” for compounding the debacle.
I could go on and on, but the point is that if Christie is the best they got, God help the Grand Old Party.
Jeff Ruch, executive director, PEER (Protecting Employees Who Protect Our Environment)