A Democrat recently told me that subpoena power is possible through a resolution and floor vote. So, if the Democrats are in control of a chamber ( and in New Jersey’s case they, you know, control both ), they can authorize a committee to issue subpoenas in order to force an appearance.
Earlier this month, the Assembly Appropriations Committee held a hearing on the failed Race To The Top Application but they opted not to go with forcing members of the Christie Administration to come before them. As we know, emails amongst those key officials appear to back up Former Ed Commish Bret Schundler’s claims that he told the Administration before Governor Christie’s now infamous August Press Conference that he never provided info during a now equally infamous videotaped oral presentation.
Anyway, the whole thing was a mess. ( So, what’s that famous Japanese saying about “disaster” also meaning “opportunity???” ) Democrats weren’t gonna simply drop the matter…even though that first hearing wound up being a bit of dud.
Enter The Senate Majority Leader. Barbara Buono vows to hold a hearing this week. She OPRA’s documents and doesn’t get them. Dems send out a release saying the Senate will grant her committee Subpoena power with a floor vote. After a long caucus meeting however, they opt against it.
According to one Democrat it was “an emotional caucus.” But in the end, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Governor Christie cut a deal. No members of the Administration would be called before the committee and the Admin would provide the documents being sought.
But when Buono walked into the Senate Chamber Monday after that caucus meeting she audibly mumbled, “Oy, Vey.”
I may be the world’s worst Jew, but I Certainly understand what that means.
Coupla points here…as one Republican said to me in regards to issuing subpoenas “no one who is an adult wants to go down this path.” It’s a good point. You quickly get into issues of Executive Privilege. Moreover, while you can make the witnesses show up, they don’t really have to say anything thanks to that pesky 5th Amendment of the US Constitution. So, you may wind up having a big messy fight and still learn nothing.
In addition, one has to ask what the aim of these hearings actually is. Are Democrats upset about how the money was lost? Or is this finally an opening to bash Christie? If it’s the latter than by all means, party stalwarts feel a knock-down-drag-out is in order. If the goal is to “get to the bottom of what happened” then subpoenas and all that would entail might actually prove a distraction.
There is a great line in the Jerry Sterner play “Other People’s Money.” The story involves a corporate raider taking over a small, New England copper company and liquidating it for profit. In one of the exchanges with the family attorney representing the business owners the corporate raider says he hates lawyers. When reminded that for someone who hates them so much he sure surrounds himself with a lot of them he retorts “lawyers are like nuclear missiles…they have theirs, so I have mine. But when you use them they foul everything up.” ( btw – He actually didn’t say “foul”)…but I think the larger point is that the same could reasonably said about giving legislative committees subpoena power over the Executive branch. It could get ugly quickly. Then again, it could stay anemic without it.