The Blind Side

The criticism of Governor Christie has often been that he has tendency shoot first and ask questions later. Or as one State House veteran put it, ‘The Governor likes to begin a conversation by tossing a hand grenade into the room.’

There is something to be said for this as a negotiating tactic, but there are also potential pratfalls. Critics say the situation with LeRoy Seitz appears to be one of those.

On two consecutive days the Governor went after Seitz personally for his recent re-up on his Schools Superintendent contract in Parsippany-Troy Hills. The guy already makes more than 210, and by the last year of his five year new deal he’ll be making more than $230,000. That is indeed a lot of money.  But there are plenty of government positions that pull in big $’s. Anyway, not the point.

Here is what is interesting…school officials say they never received a single phone call from anyone connected to the Governor telling them to dial it back. In other words, there was no back channel attempt to prevent the contract from being approved. Instead, after a months long negotiation process the Governor decided to single Seitz out in a public forum on the day of the vote.

Moreover, we were recently told that Kathleen Serafino, the County Superintendent signed off on the contract. She is answerable to the Administration. The County Supes are representatives of the Department of Education which is located in the Executive Branch of Government.

Christie first announced in July that there would be caps on these salaries. The policy is winding it’s way through and could be implemented by February ( Legislature not needed on this one, although some were surprised at the way the Governor described the necessary public hearings to get this done…as if public hearings are for sissies ).

Finally, there is the Mendham connection. The Mendham Township School Board re-upped Superintendent Kristopher Harrison’s contract back in September. It also exceeds the cap. Then the Mendham School Board President tells the Daily Record that they approved it knowing that a cap was imminent ( !!! ). Wow. Mendham is of course Christie’s home town, and officials there were spared a public lashing.


Essex Connection Rises Again

Is it take 3, or take 4 now on women’s health funding? I have sorta lost count. Christie knocked $7.5 million for women’s health funding outta the budget, and Dems ( particularly women legislators ) have been trying to get it restored ever since. They have gotten no help from their women counter-parts in the Republican caucus.

Well, now it appears as though the coalition is fraying in the Dem caucus as well. After the last override, advocates decided on a new approach. they would move some money around, but split the bills in two. One bill would restore the state’s portion, the other would once again go after federal matching funds that would otherwise be lost.

Senator Weinberg signed on for the first bill, and she approached Senators Ruiz and Gill for the second one. Both lawmakers agreed to sponsor it and had their names attached to it…until yesterday when they were mysteriously withdrawn.

So, what is going on here? I have sought the reason, but have not gotten it, which has left others to speculate. Some believe that once again we are seeing the Joe D-Essex County influence here. By now, the closeness of Gill and Ruiz to the Essex machine in terms of gainful employment have been well documented. We also know about the strong alliance between those Essex Dems and Christie. Could this be an attempt by the Governor to snub this issue out once and for all?

Possibly. And while it may not prevent a vote, the Governor can certainly flex his muscle and make sure that his allies in Essex don’t help the process along. Both bills are supposed to go before committee Monday.

Is this all idle speculation??? Enquiring Minds Want to Know!!!

Programming Note: Remember those National Enquirer ads? Ah, those were the early days before magazine tabloids came to be mandatory poolside reading for the younger set.

Incense and Peppermints

So, it has been many years since I have heard people devoting this much time to talking about Marijuana. Of course when I hear it now at the State House it is in a very different context.

What to do about those Med Marijuana Regs. By statute, New Jersey needs to implement the law that passed in the lame-duck session before Christie took office. But it is the Christie Administration that is now charged with building New Jersey’s program.

Advocates for patients and supporters of the bill say the Department of Health and Senior Services has made the regulations too restrictive. For example, by insisting on a low THC content in the drug, forcing Physicians to wait two years before adding new ailments as eligible for treatment and having doctors verify that all other means of treatment have been exhausted before writing a script for medicinal pot. And don’t even get me started on the whole flap about the number of distribution centers ( dude, it’s like totally overwhelming!!! ).

So, clearly there are some who believe this is Christie himself being a bit of a Difficult-A-Saurus Rex ( which is not to be confused with Puff The Magic Dragon. He-he ).

The Dems will pass a resolution putting the regs under review. The Admin then has 30 days to re-write them. If they refuse, the legislature can invalidate the rules. Does anyone see where this is headed? Yep. You guessed it…Court, which probably suits the Christie Administration just fine.

Programming Note: “Incense and Peppermints” is that ridiculous late 60″s song by that even more ridiculously named group “Strawberry Alarm Clock.” Oddly enough, the lead singer, Ed King eventually left the group and joined Lynyrd Skynyrd, which couldn’t more exemplify southern ( non-psychedelic ) 70’s rock. Those crazy musicians!!!

War On Twitter

Several years ago Susan Lucci hosted Saturday Night Live. This was around the time she would constantly get nominated for an Emmy, but never win. For the opening skit she walked around the SNL studios and each cast member was using his or her Emmy for some mundane purpose. One guy was hammering a nail with it, someone else was using it as a paper weight and in the climax of the scene she walks into another room and someone yells “Emmy Fight!” And they all take their multiple Emmy’s and begin hurling them at each other in a playful manner.

It was a pretty funny skit, and she was a good sport for going along with it. But it came to mind recently when questions were raised about how often Governor Christie uses Twitter and for what purposes ( alright, I’m reaching again…but you gotta admit that skit was pretty funny, right? ).

Governor Christie has fully embraced Twitter as a means of getting his message out. And that includes bantering back and forth over policy as he did two weeks ago with White Horse Strategies Democratic Consultant Joshua Henne. It was over the ARC tunnel. And a sampling is below. When people drew my attention to it ( and by the way, lots of people were talking about this ) the words “Twitter Fight” immediately jumped into my head. Kinda like when Belushi yelled “Food Fight!” in Animal House or when SNL-ers yelled “Emmy Fight.” Ok, there is the connection. Phew.

Henne: @GovChristie Isn’t it unfair how much NJ gives to fed taxes & $$ goes to other states? With ARC fed gov would pitch in. For once NJ benefits

Gov: @JoshuaHenne How do we pay for $2-5 billion in cost overruns?

Henne: @GovChristie Why do you pick+choose when to use “we just dont have the money” mantra. Example- how ya gonna pay for proposed income tax

Gov: @JoshuaHenne Talk about fast & loose! Figures came from fed DOT (as I already said) & I am now clear u have no answer on $. Typical partisan

Henne: @GovChristie I’m proud to be called a typical partisan by a bush ranger. I’ll wear that as a badge of honor.

Gov: About to enter the premiere of “The Soprano State” movie. Chronicles 7 yrs of my life chasing crooked pols around NJ. Looking forward to it.

Is Christie doing his own tweets? It certainly sounds like him. But it was these political tweets that wound up drawing criticism.

Gov: @mattmeadforgov Great job Matt. We are rooting 4 u here in NJ.

Gov: Getting ready to enter rally for Jon Runyon for Congress in Toms River. 9 days until big change in NJ CD-3!

Gov: Great rally with @CharlieBaker in Melrose, MA. Change is coming to Massachusetts in 9 days with Gov-elect Baker. Thanks Massachusetts!

Senate President Stephen Sweeney said Wednesday that it is wrong to use the Governor’s taxpayer funded Twitter account for politics.

Then of course there was the widely reported back-and-forth the Governor had with Jimmy Fallon who made some crack about only coming to New Jersey when one is lost. I am not going to reproduce that one, but you get the idea.

Here is what I would say about all of this. To begin with we are living in an unprecendented age of new communications. The boundaries are still being drawn. I have informal contacts with people over social media sites, even if I know them in a more formal setting. And everyone seems to draw their own conclusions about where those boundaries lie.

Years ago, Governors would send sharply worded letters on “Office of the Governor” stationary ( as Christie mighta down with fallon in another era ). Today, Twitter makes that much easier. It’s also less stilted and more conversational. That plays to this Governor’s strengths.

Suffice to say that I am generally of the opinion that more communications particularly on policy are a positive thing for the State. As for using it for poltical purposes…that is a little trickier. I do recall people being very unhappy about Al Gore making fundraising calls from the White House.



3rd I Blind

Not a great election for Democrats overall,  but the 3rd Congressional District results should make the South Jersey Dems shudder.

Cherry Hill is the only portion of the District in Camden County. That’s John Adler’s home town. Republican Jim Saxton who served the district for more than two decades used to lose Cherry Hill by 16,000 votes.

Jon Runyan only lost it by 4400. That’s astounding. Adler won Cherry Hill two years ago by 10,500. If he had just pulled even with that result he would have won the race because he lost by a total of 6000 votes district wide.

So, basically the Dems did not come out for their guy. Why is that?

Sure it was a Republican year. But maybe that’s an easy excuse. As one Democratic operative said to me ‘Adler was the first guy to endorse Obama for President, and the first guy to abandon him on his signature policy achievement which is health care.’ Both those moves were for political expediency, but then where does it leave your base of supporters? Confused and frustrated and ultimately absent on election day.

Adler also made some curious comments during the campaign. At one point he was asked in a debate about “illegal immigrants,” and in his answer he referred to them as “cheats.” That is the kind of  inflammatory rhetoric that doesn’t exactly ingratiate liberals with core constituency groups.

You can’t out-Republican the Republican. And on election day the Dem base let Adler and the South Jersey D’s know that.

The Magical Mystery Tour

My alarm went off at 4 am. I snoozed. The alarm went off again ten minutes later. I snoozed again. But at 4:20, I rose.

I was on my way to Reading Pennsylvania Friday for the Chris Christie Road Show starring Tim Pawlenty, Haley Barbour and of course, the man of the hour – Chris Christie ( who btw, rolled up  in a private jet I watched land that taxied and came to a stop just a  few hundred feet from the event stage. Diplomatic parking indeed ).

So, you hearda these guys? Probably yes. That’s because Pawlenty and Barbour are the oft mentioned names among the Punditocracy as possible Presidential contenders in 2012. Today, in what was likely not an accident, Christie literally joined them. And I don’t just mean for the campaign tour.

The Fab Three will hit six states in two days for GOP gubernatorial candidates. Who wouldn’t want them as campaigners? These guys are literally the stars of the party which is in the midst of a nationwide comeback after stumbling off a cliff when the economy went bust two years ago. But as Hendrik Hertzberg acutely points out, it was Obama who was in office when the worst of this recession hit. And voters are about to let him know just how much it’s been hurting with these Mid-term elections.

So, give Christie his due. Right now the Republican party needs leadership, and he is very much filling that void by getting away from divisive social issues and bringing the GOP back to it’s core message: fiscal discipline.

But after delivering such strong soundbites ( I recall something about him saying “no” to the “Gods of the Republican party” ) that he is not seeking the nod in two years, will the NJ Gov be able to change his mind??? I suppose that is what makes this mystery tour so magical.

Programming Note: I feel a little bad about slamming  Emilio Estevez so hard the other day in light of this week’s developments. Please note, that I made those comments prior to his brother’s meltdown at the Plaza Hotel. After all, I would never step on someone’s head while they are down…like that dude at the Rand Paul rally.

Crumblin’ Caucus

Speaker Oliver is in a tight spot.  She owes her job to the Essex connection…and now those same forces are aligning against her. It may be “only a matter of time” until they really move against her. For good.

Like I said to all who would listen ten months ago when I was asked what I thought about the Speaker in waiting…she is not to be underestimated. And one of these days she is gonna tell the powers that be her answer is “no.” Her personality is not suited to taking marching orders, even when given by those who employ her.

Let’s back up a little. All last week, a long and tedious negotiation was underway to reform arbitration awards. On Thursday, Lou Greenwald, Sheila Oliver and Stephen Sweeney held press conference to announce that they had reached a deal on an arbitration bill. The Gov didn’t like it because it had no hard cap like Republican Declan O’Scanlon’s bill does. O”Scanlon and Greenwald had been meeting with Chief Counsel Jeff Chiesa to hammer out a deal everyone could live with. When those negotiations fell through, the Dems cut their own deal and went public.

On friday, I’m told that a Republican lawmaker called Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo who works hand-in-hand with Big Chief Steve Adubato from Newark’s North Ward. When this Republican gave him a bit of a hard time, Joe D hit the phones.

Fast forward to Monday’s Democratic Assembly Caucus. When Oliver tests the room to see if there are enough votes to move Greenwald’s arbitration bill the entire Essex delegation tells her “no.” Bill is shelved. The Democrats once again appear in disarray.

The unions say, “hey we were against this from the beginning…this latest crumble has got nothing to do with us.” Dems thought they had the votes, but the Gov’s reach runs deep in the county of Essex, which lived up to it’s mantra of “Essex First.”

I think it was the 80’s hit “The Breakfast Club” where Mr. Vernon warned a young Judd Nelson not to “mess with the bull” or he’ll “get the horns.” The horns are awfully sharp in Essex these days.

And while we are talking about the “Breakfast Club” let me just take a moment to vent about Emilio Estevez who was great in that movie, and was also a fantastic Kirby Kager in St. Elmo’s. But “The Mighty Ducks” franchise was truly an affront to the civilized world. He oughta be brought up on charges and tried at the Hague for crimes against humanity for those films.