Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Christie's July 4th Jersey Debacle

Chris Christie and his family enjoy Island Beach
State Park while the public is shut out
"I understand that that's because the governor has a residence at Island Beach. Others don't. That's the way it goes. Run for governor then you can have the residence." 

That was Republican NJ Governor Chris Christie responding to the wide-spread criticism he received after aerial photographs showed him and his family relaxing on Island Beach State Park over the weekend.

Normally the governor chilling out on the beach wouldn't be a big deal.

But last week Island Beach State Park, like other NJ state park and recreational facilities, the Motor Vehicle Commission, the Department of Health and a host of other state government services were closed to the public for the weekend leading into the July 4th holiday.

A crucial day to the hundreds of small business owners whose livelihood is dependent on the thousands of Independence Day beachgoers who flock to the Jersey shore.

Part of what enraged New Jerseyans about the photo of Christie enjoying Island Beach State Park over the weekend with his family while it was closed to the public stems from the fact that this unprecedented state government shutdown wasn't caused by any actual government crisis.

It was the result of Christie trying to blackmail the normal state budget process over his efforts to bully Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield (a not-for-profit and the largest insurer in the state) into diverting hundreds of millions of dollars from its surplus fund in order to fund opioid abuse and other programs that have become Christie's focus in the final months of his term in office.

Regardless of whether of one's political party, if you're the governor and you want $300 million for a program, you have to go through the normal budget and appropriations process and work with the state assembly to fund it.

Signs Christie had posted that blame
Speaker Prieto for NJ park closings 
You don't circumvent that process by passing a bill that authorizes the state to essentially seize funds from a not-for-profit to pay for initiatives that you want.

But Christie did, and he tried using that as leverage to get him to sign the state budget.

When State Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto refused, the government went into shutdown ahead of the weekend, not only shutting down essential state services, but disrupting the holiday plans of thousands of people.

Christie even had the gall to try and blame Prieto.

In a remarkably pathetic attempt to try and absolve himself of responsibility for his own refusal to sign the state budget into law, Christie actually had color flyers printed up with a photo of Prieto on it that blamed the government shutdown on the state assembly.

But it was the photo of Christie and his family casually enjoying the beach that was closed to NJ tax payers who pay for it that blew up nationally, further tarnishing the image of the man who famously demonstrated a willingness to shutdown access lanes on the NJ side of the George Washington Bridge in order to "get back" at a mayor who refused to endorse him.

Part of what's amazing is that Christie seems almost clinically detached from the optics of what an insensitive asshole he looks like for taking his family to a public beach that he closed to taxpayers.

He even tried to deny that he'd been on the beach sunning himself with his family in front of reporters during a government shutdown, bristling at the suggestion that he'd been hanging out on the beach until the photo of him sitting in a beach chair went national and blew up in mainstream and social media.

Last Friday afternoon I stopped by my local the Franklin Tavern and the consensus of regulars there, both Republican and Democrat alike, was that Christie's government closure was an outrage - take a listen to some of the comments from NJ citizens who called into The Brian Lehrer Show on Friday morning for a segment discussing the impact of Christie's actions.

A banner from a plane flown over the beach in NJ
Uncaring "let them eat cake" hypocrisy like that?

From a despised governor who spent the bulk of his two terms in public office absent from the state focused on his own presidential ambitions before shilling for Donald Trump in the hopes of scoring himself a cushy position in the federal government?

Low rent.

It should give you an idea of why Christie literally has the lowest approval rating (15%) of a sitting governor ever recorded by a Quinnipiac University poll.

Let's be clear, I'm not saying that opioid abuse isn't a major public health crisis that needs to be dealt with on the state and federal level (frankly it's been a major public health issue in urban and rural communities for years, but that's another blog).

But Christie had seven years as governor to work with the state assembly to try and secure budget proper funding for what's become his pet project, during that time he opposed the Affordable Care Act that provided federal subsidies through Medicaid to help pay for opioid abuse treatment.

So his efforts to use the final year of his two years as governor to remake his soiled public image into the "caring opioid abuse czar" reeks of self-serving hypocrisy.

The vast majority of people in New Jersey recognize it little more than a desperate attempt to avoid being branded for life as the "Bridgegate Governor" who backed Donald Trump, failed to bite the bullet and secure tax revenue to pay for the ARC train tunnel project, and accomplished almost nothing of substance.

Christie defending his shutdown to reporters
And that's how he's going to be remembered.

That's his self-created political legacy.

Tom Moran, the politically-plugged in columnist for both the Newark Star Ledger and NJ.com called the needless government closure the 'Seinfeld Shutdown' because it's a government shutdown based on nothing except for Christie's own arrogance.

While the beaches and state parks were finally opened in time for July 4th after Christie finally yielded and signed the $34.7 billion budget late Monday night, the sense of public outrage is still simmering.

As Marianne Tennpenny, a resident of Bayville, New Jersey who's family shelled out $175 for a season pass to Island Beach State Park told NJ.com, the beaches may be open but people from New Jersey aren't going to forget Christie's three-day shutdown that ruined many people's weekend holiday plans.

Tennpenny actually tried to track Christie down on the boardwalk where he's often spotted in the summer to give him a piece of her mind, but he was nowhere to be found.

"I know he didn't want to show his face. This is the biggest blunder since Bridgegate. It's just unbelievable how arrogant he is. He's just plain arrogant. It was inconsiderate and selfish. He's not thinking about the people he represents."

I'm not sure Christie has ever has thought about anyone other than himself as governor.

The beaches and state parks may be open, but his last July 4th as governor was a total debacle.

An Independence Day that's going to leave a bad taste in the mouths of many and a blight on the already tarnished legacy of Governor Chris Christie.

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