Thursday, January 30, 2014

Attacking Funding for the Arts, But Ignoring Ethical Boundaries - The GOP's Christie Quandary

New Jersey Lt. Gov Kim Guadagno - (Photo-The Star Ledger)
It's common knowledge that conservatives in this country have been stripping away government funding for the cultural and artistic enrichment of the lives of American citizens for 30 years.

But not many of the people around the nation outside the Tri-State area who've seen New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on television trying to stake his claim as the 2016 GOP presidential candidate know about his vindictive war against the arts here in the Garden State.

For a politician who holds up his ability to appeal to a broad cross-section of voters as strong evidence of his ability to lead the Republican party back to the White House, Christie's hostility towards government funding for the arts is remarkably out of step with the views of a huge portion of the electorate he'd need to win over to become President - and sheds light on deeper issues.   

For instance, in the summer of 2011 after a series of back door meetings conducted outside public scrutiny or open debate, he sold off NJN, New Jersey's former state-owned public television and radio network, laid off it's staff of 120 and closed the operation after 43 years. 

But as an eye-opening article in the Gotham section of Monday's New York Times clearly illustrates, his administration had begun efforts to cut off government funding for the arts long before he shut down NJN.

With the help of current New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, the Christie administration went much further. Michael Powell wrote a scathing account of Guadagno's bizarre year-long campaign against the New Jersey Council on the Arts; which she zealously led in 2010 - a year before Christie dismantled NJN and sold the pieces off as if it were some kind of derelict shipyard.

One really must read Michael Powell's well-written Times article (click the link above) to truly appreciate how far Guadagno and the Christie administration went to try to attack the New Jersey Council on the Arts; railing against the well-respected organization with irrational hysteria.

As if the modest $16 million NJCA distributed around the state annually to support the arts was somehow corrupt in nature, or the cause of the Garden State's economic and fiscal woes.

But it's Guadagno's year long effort to try and discredit a modest, organized and civic minded New Jersey artist/writer named Daniel Aubrey that bears real scrutiny; and offers insight into the mindset of Guadagno and the Christie administrations vendetta against government's role in supporting artistic enrichment.

Aubrey was earning $12 - $15 dollars an hour working on a time-line of the events surrounding 9/11 for Liberty State Park, but according to Michael Powell's article, Guadagno tried to suggest his contract from the NJCA and his work was a fraud.   

The charges later proved to be totally unfounded, but Guadagno's conduct in the matter raises questions; particularly with regard to more recent allegations that she threatened a NJ mayor with political extortion.  It shows a pattern of behavior not befitting a public servant.

Before being tapped as Lieutenant Governor, Guadagno was a prosecutor (like Christie) and her treatment of Daniel Aubrey in 2011 certainly comes off as a witch hunt - even though it's now clear no wrongdoing on the part of the NJCA or Aubrey related to the project in Liberty State Park had ever taken place.

When Guadagno (pictured above) dismissively shrugged off recent accusations from Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer that she'd relayed a carefully veiled threat from governor Chris Christie (in a parking lot no less) demanding that Zimmer back a land redevelopment project or risk loosing Sandy relief funds for Hoboken, her denial was almost contemptuous.

Like her boss casually brushing off the initial allegations of political motivations behind Bridge-gate, Guadagno's self-righteous denials to the press in January that she'd threatened Zimmer gave the distinct impression that she was offended someone would even ask her such a thing; she didn't deny meeting Zimmer in the parking lot though.

When she quickly surfaced in front of television cameras volunteering at a Sandy Aid project in New Jersey pitching in for hurricane victims; it came off as disingenuous and staged.

In light of disturbing new revelations that Christie approved $6 million of Federal block grant funds (earmarked for parts of New Jersey that were seriously damaged by Hurricane Sandy) for Franklin Manor; an affordable housing complex for seniors in Belleville, NJ, there's been a renewed focus on Dawn Zimmer's allegations that she and the citizens of Hoboken were denied additional Sandy relief funds because she failed to support the governor.

Aside from some downed trees and power lines, Belleville wasn't really hit that hard by Sandy; it certainly wasn't flooded like Hoboken. There's no evidence any residents were displaced by the storm; and two weeks after the $6 million was approved, the town's Democratic mayor publicly endorsed Christie for governor.

By itself it's not a smoking gun or anything; or all that shocking for state politics.

But on top of the Bridge-gate allegations, the charges that the governor's office used Sandy relief funds to try and strong-arm Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer into supporting the land redevelopment deal, and the recent news from that Christie's brother Todd invested heavily in land around a Harrison, NJ PATH train station linking the town to Manhattan then flipped the properties for a huge profit after local property values soared once the PATH improvement project was announced - one thing is clear. The governor has an ethics problem of massive proportions.

Take a look at WNYC's list of Christie's 18 State Secrets - it's not very presidential.

Something just doesn't sit well with a politician who on one hand vilifies government funds being used to support the arts by (in part) using his lieutenant governor to smear legitimate expenditures; then on the other hand demonstrates an almost ceaseless appetite to use the power and influence of his position to financially enrich his family, friends and close associates.

It just doesn't come off as presidential when you don't seem to really stand for anything other than enriching those around you; or turning a blind eye to flagrant ethics violations.

Baggage like that just isn't going to make it through the unyielding 24-7 media meat grinder of the presidential nomination process. At this point, based on this ever-growing list of political shenanigans, choosing Chris Christie as the GOP nominee for 2016 would be like handing over ammunition on a silver platter for the opposition to use.

By virtue of their absence of rational policy direction that appeals to mainstream America, allowing Tea Party extremists to dictate the party's agenda and tone, and an absolutely atrocious legislative record in the House of Representatives, Republicans have enough of an uphill battle on their hands with upcoming Congressional elections, let alone the 2016 quest for the White House - they simply can't afford Chris Christie's ethical shortcomings; and those of the people around him.

Dragging those things to Iowa or New Hampshire would be disastrous for the GOP - my guess is the smart money in Republican circles are already quietly vetting candidates who can make it through the grueling party nomination process and emerge intact enough to match up against the political juggernaut that Hillary Clinton is going to represent.

You can be sure it's on the agenda for the three day Republican Congressional pow-wow going on in Maryland at the moment; where the weight of Chris Christie's baggage will be oft discussed.


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