Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Christie's War on the Environment Continues

Ever since he took office, Chris Christie has been an enemy of clean air and clean water. One of his first actions as Governor was to cancel the ARC Tunnel project. Not only was that project a job creator, but when completed, it also would have made train travel into New York City more attractive, taking cars off the road and reducing pollution-spewing traffic jams.

Then, in a paean to his Koch Brothers benefactors, he pulled out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, another program that would have resulted in cleaner air and would have helped to slow down anthropogenic climate change.

Now, his administration has blocked the direct sale of electric automobiles to drivers. Tesla, a premier innovator in practical electric vehicles, has a direct-to-customer business model which bypasses auto dealerships, which I predict will eventually go the way of rotary telephones and 8-track music players.

Besides obviously damaging our environment, these actions have another common thread – they were all done unilaterally without even consulting the supposedly co-equal branch of the state legislature.

Like the bridge scandal and the AshBritt scandal and the politicization of the Supreme Court, to name a few, Christie probably didn’t do anything illegal. But his actions were based on the best interests of his cronies, not the best interests of the people of New Jersey.

Without clean air to breathe and pure water to drink, all of the other problems facing us as a society pale in comparison. Instead of promoting for-profit schools and privatization of government services, we should be promoting electric charging stations, distributed power generation, renewable energy, and 21st century updates to our transmission systems. It is imperative that the environmental champions in our legislature speak out loudly and often to inform the public about Christie’s blunders, to educate and energize citizens to advocate for the environment, and to put the brakes on Christie’s harmful activities.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

End Game

We are entering a new phase of Christiegate. For now, at least, the multitude of scandals involving the New Jersey Governor is no longer dominating the news cycles. New Jersey reporters and legislators are appearing less frequently on the 24-hour news circuit.

So what’s next? How does this all end? Here are a few scenarios.

Scenario 1: Christie is forced to resign or is impeached.

In 1973, when President Nixon famously stated, “I am not a crook,” most people knew he was lying. But it took a smoking gun, the release of his taped conversations, to accelerate Nixon’s premature departure. Nixon’s fate was sealed when members of his own party realized he was a liability to them.

In Christie’s case, there will be no smoking gun. No single event that will cause a groundswell of action to force Christie from office. Like the fictional Frank Underwood, Christie is too smart to leave an unambiguous trail of evidence that would tie him to any of his corrupt actions. Like Underwood, Christie has no compunction to lay the blame on his subordinate loyalists and snooker the public to believe he was not involved. (Spoiler non-alert: I have not finished watching Season 2 of House of Cards, so if something does happen to Underwood, please don’t comment on it!)

Let’s not forget that Christie was re-elected by an overwhelming majority. Sure, the Democrats failed to support their candidate and the media (back then) was enamored by Christie’s style. But the vote is what it is, and the people of New Jersey (or at least those who bothered to vote) have spoken. Impeachment is a serious deal, and should not be used just because the leader’s policies are detrimental and harmful. Criminal activity must be proven before impeachment occurs.

Unless there is a smoking gun, the legislature will never muster the Republican votes in the Senate that are required to remove Christie. And Christie’s ego is too big to cause him to resign under pressure, no matter how ineffective he becomes as governor.

Scenario 2: Christie serves out the rest of his term.

Even if Christie’s 2016 presidential ambitions are put on the back burner, there’s always 2020 and beyond. Christie’s ego, ambition, and intelligence will not allow him to do a Sarah Palin and resign the governorship on his own accord.  So to avoid precluding a run for higher office, Christie will continue as governor through 2017 when his term ends. He’ll continue governing in a manner that will please primary voters in Iowa and South Carolina, at the expense of the poor and middle class in New Jersey. Education will suffer as he collects IOUs from the education-industrial complex. His taxpayer-funded self-promotions will continue with his Orwellian view of the “improvements” in the Garden State. By the end of his term, and in the subsequent years, his malfeasance on Sandy and the Bridge will be forgotten by all but the most partisan of us. He will be gracious and regal as his Democratic successor is inaugurated in 2017 and with the complicity of the media (who will have moved on to the next big story) he’ll go out as the elder statesman of New Jersey – well positioned for a future run as President, an appointment as US Attorney General, an oil lobbyist, or some other high-profile job.

Scenario 3: Christie runs for President in 2016

Christiegate may have legs in New Jersey, but not nationwide. With his recent erratic and irrational actions over the debt ceiling, Ted Cruz has angered the Republican establishment and diminished his chances for 2016. That leaves Christie and Rand Paul as the top contenders. Christie may decide to reach for the brass ring this time around, knowing that his party is starting to shun the crazies, and there may be a tougher competition for the nomination in 2020.

His likely opponent will be Hillary Clinton. While both parties will be well-funded, Christie will be able to call on the unlimited resources of his Koch Brothers allies and their ilk. Clinton will be attacked by the misogynists the same way that the racists have attacked Obama. And Fox News will amplify those attacks and distort Clinton’s record. There’s a path here by which Christie can win and become President. God help us.

Monday, February 3, 2014

This is not Schadenfreude

In describing Chris Christie’s fall from grace, many journalists have asserted that those of us who have sensed Christie’s incompetence and dubious ethical conduct from Day One are basking in the glow of schadenfreude. Not me.

I take no joy in Christie’s trials and tribulations. To me, he’s just another George W Bush political hack who got lucky and leveraged electoral victories first against an unpopular and charismatically-challenged incumbent and later against a challenger who was abandoned by her own party.

I take no joy in the fact that his presidential ambitions have gone down the toilet. The Republicans will end up nominating someone else in 2016, most likely someone even worse than Christie, and that is bad for the Republicans and bad for America.

I take no joy in the fact that aside from his personal failings, the damage that he’s done to New Jersey will take more years to undo than the eight (or possibly fewer) years that he will have occupied the Governor’s office. We’ve lost the momentum in rebuilding our infrastructure, are behind the rest of the nation in restoring some modicum of equity to the middle class, our business climate rankings have plummeted, and no progress has been made on an equitable tax system. Our environment has suffered under Christie, making future remediation more difficult and expensive.

I take no joy in the fact that this so-called corruption buster has become the epitome of the stereotypical New Jersey corrupt political boss. I take no joy that my beloved state continues to be the butt of jokes for late-night comedians.

I take no joy in the fact that our electoral system and our electorate is flawed, opting for “style” over substance, favors over ethics, and the continued influence of big money over the best interests of the average citizen.

Chris Christie will never be President. If he is unable to complete his term as Governor, his future will not be bleak. He’ll become a high-paid talking head on Fox “News”, or a high-paid lobbyist, or a high-paid investment advisor on Wall Street.

So there’s no joy in my mind about the unfolding downfall of an egotistical fraud. Let’s close this sordid chapter in New Jersey history and use it as a lesson to improve things as we move forward.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Christie Bullied a Local (and World) Hero

When Olympic medalist Carl Lewis announced that he was going to run for the State Senate back in 2011, a sense of pride permeated his hometown of Willingboro. Even though Lewis was living and running in the eighth district at the time (Willingboro is in the seventh), Lewis' roots in South Jersey were legendary. He established the Carl Lewis Foundation, coached track for youngsters in Willingboro and was involved in physical fitness advocacy throughout South Jersey.
Today, it was reported that when Lewis decided to run for the State Senate against Dawn Marie Addiego (who was originally appointed to the seat to fill a vacancy), Chris Christie threatened to withdraw support for a statewide physical fitness program in which Lewis was involved. You've got to give Christie credit - strong-arming a nine-time Olympic gold medal winner.

There was another problem, though. Even though Lewis owned homes in the seventh and eighth districts and held a New Jersey driver's license, he had voted in California in 2009 and after a protracted court battle he was declared ineligible to run for the senate seat. New Jersey's residency requirements are somewhat ambiguous, and the courts ruled in the GOP's favor. Addiego subsequently ran unopposed, and was re-elected in 2013 when the Democrats stood up an unspectacular conservative candidate not much different than the incumbent. There was some talk about running Lewis for Congress against Jon Runyan in 2012, but at the time, Lewis said, "there is zero chance I'm running for Congress."

District 8 is a Republican district, and Lewis would by no means have been a shoo-in. But the fact that Christie tried to bully him out of running and undoubtedly urged the GOP to pursue the lawsuit is another example of the behavior of the governor that is being exposed by BridgeGate, and the Hoboken Sandy relief effort.

This week, I spoke with Chris Walker, former Executive Director of the Carl Lewis Foundation and currently a Willingboro councilman. Walker emphasized that these revelations, although interesting in the context of Christie's travails, are not new, and that the threat to withhold support from Lewis' programs was reported in the press back in 2011. Walker went on to tell me that this is just another example in the pattern of Christie's behavior, and that he felt that the current investigations into that behavior are justified.

Lewis is now living in Houston, working as a volunteer track coach at his alma mater, the University of Houston, and serving on several Boards of Directors for local agencies there.

New Jersey's loss is Texas's gain. One has to wonder how much of this is due to Christie and the GOP.

Photo: Carl Lewis at his announcement to run for NJ Senate in April 2011. Senate President Steve Sweeney is at the right of the photo and Chris Walker is between Lewis and Sweeney.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Bridgegate is Not as Important as You Think

When the history of the Christie reign is written, Bridgegate will be an interesting, but unmemorable chapter.

That's not to say that this scandal is unimportant today, but the long-term effect of the ersatz "traffic study" will pale in comparison to many of Christie's other blunders.

What will be the overall effect of Bridgegate?

Maybe a 91 year-old woman died because of the delay in emergency response services due to Christie's traffic jams, but that's uncertain. But how many anonymous people have died and will die due to Christie's callous disregard of the availability of health care to poor and middle-class New Jerseyans?

Thousands of kids were late for school because their busses couldn't navigate through the unnecessary traffic. But millions of school kids will suffer due to Christie's negligence of public education, his vilification of schoolteachers, and his promotion of education profiteers.

Air quality in Fort Lee and surrounding areas suffered because cars and trucks were sitting idly, spewing out carbon monoxide and other toxic gasses. But that pales in comparison to the destructive impact of Christie's unilateral pull out from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Christie will not be impeached, nor will he resign over this matter - even if it is proven that he had prior knowledge (of which I have no doubt.) Maybe Bridgegate will scuttle his presidential ambitions, but his party wouldn't have nominated him anyway. He's just too sane and rational to rise to the top of the pile of cacophonous clowns that have hijacked the Party of Lincoln. The more important (and scary) fact is that New Jersey is stuck with his out-of-touch agenda for the next four years.

So let the investigation continue. It is important that the public know all of the facts. More of Christie's underlings will be punished, as they should be. But the man at the top will escape with, at worst, a slap on the wrist. Getting rid of Wildstein and Kelly needed to happen, but there are more than enough Christie cronies out there to fill those positions.

Hopefully when this is over, when Christie's luster is tarnished, the mainstream media will focus on the real harm that Christie's actions have done to our state, and on the problems he will exacerbate in the next four years.

Oh, and finally, a message to those Democratic mayors who supported Christie’s re-election. Good luck in collecting what was promised to you.