Chris Christie: A Conservative Myth - Part 3

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gov_christie1Lately, it has become fashionable among conservatives and Republicans nationwide to lavish effusive praise and encomiums upon Governor Chris Christie as the “Conservative Savior” of New Jersey - and this trend has begun to mushroom into a fervent cult of pseudo-personality that is already calling for him to throw his hat into the 2012 Presidential campaign ring.

Myth #3: Gov. Christie has ensured that his cabinet appointments and judicial nominees share a conservative world view.

Here are the facts: It is true that when the time came to decide whether or not to re-appoint uber-liberal NJ Supreme Court Justice John Wallace for lifetime tenure, Gov. Christie declined to do so and instead nominated Anne M. Patterson - who has yet to be confirmed by the Democrat-dominated legislature.

The Governor was forthright about his reason for refusing to extend tenure to Wallace:

“The court over the course of the last three decades has gotten out of control,” Christie said during a press conference in Trenton. “It inappropriately invaded the executive and legislative constitutional functions. It’s not for the court to set some of the policies that I believe that they’ve set. And I’ve talked all during the campaign about changing the court. The only way to change the court is to change its members.”

All good and well and we would be disingenuous if we did not laud Mr. Christie for making a well-considered decision. On the other hand, the Governor has been mostly silent since August about state Senate President’s Stephen Sweeney’s adamant refusal to conduct a confirmation hearing until 2012 - the year Wallace would have had to retire. Nor has he been vocal about objecting to Chief Justice Rabner’s decision to replace Wallace with a temporary Justice - another reliable liberal named Edwin Stern.

We are left wondering what happened to Mr. Christie’s trademark take-no-prisoners bellicosity that made him a YouTube sensation and the darling of Reagan-starved conservatives nationwide. Here is yet another missed opportunity to publicly rub the Democrats’ collective nose in a pile of political excrement by excoriating them at weekly press conferences.

Moreover, his other cabinet appointments leave us scratching our heads wondering what Mr. Christie is thinking, what his overall strategy could be or if there is an ulterior motive behind the decision. Perhaps his selection of Paula Dow to be the Attorney-General of New Jersey will shed some light.

Paula Dow

In December of 2009 - several weeks before he was sworn into office - Governor-elect Christie announced that he chose Essex County Prosecutor Paula Dow as his nominee for Attorney-General of New Jersey. The decision stunned conservative observers: Paula Dow is a liberal Democrat whose inclinations are anything but conservative. However, Dow did work with with Christie when he was the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey and that could explain his decision.

How is this relevant with Gov. Christie’s refusal to re-appoint Justice John Wallace? Once again, Paul Mulshine connects the dots with input from conservative Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll:

“The attorney general is, in effect, the administration’s constitutional lawyer,” said Carroll. “And the administration is free to disagree with the Supreme Court on what the constitution requires.”

The only way to make this state affordable again is to take on the Supreme Court on a number of issues on which Dow and Christie might disagree, said Carroll. At the top of the list is the court’s takeover of education funding in its endless series of decisions in the Abbott case. The schools in Essex County get a hugely disproportionate amount of state aid thanks to the court. So Dow’s views on that topic might differ from those of the type of conservative Christie purports to be.

Similarly, the court’s decisions on affordable housing have also created an urban-suburban divide. Christie has promised to “gut” the state Council on Affordable Housing, but once Dow is safely sworn in, she is free to oppose that view. And then there’s the old standby, abortion. Christie campaigned as a pro-lifer, but Dow’s views are unknown.

This sort of thing is not just academic, Carroll noted. Back in the Whitman administration, the Legislature passed a parental-notification law concerning abortion over Whitman’s veto. When the law was challenged in court, Whitman’s attorney general, Peter Verniero, declined to defend it. The legislators then had to hire their own attorney to do the job the AG should have been doing.

By securing a constructionist Supreme Court AND a liberal Attorney-General, Gov. Christie gets the best of both worlds and a no-lose political strategy: when liberal policies are challenged, the Attorney-General will vigorously defend them. If those policies are struck down by the Court, the Governor can take a victory lap. If they prevail, the Governor can always throw the Attorney-General under the bus.

On the other hand, when conservative policies are challenged, odds are she will employ the Verniero Gambit and decline to defend them. If the conservative policy prevails, the Governor can claim victory; if the policy is struck down by the Court, the Governor can save face with his cheerleaders by throwing Dow under the bus.

Other noteworthy appointments include:

  • Bob Martin as Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection - which embraces whole-heartedly the myth of anthropogenic climate change;
  • Poonam Alaigh, MD as Commissioner of the Department of Health and Senior Services. She is on record as a supporter of Obamacare and a generous donor to the campaign coffers of Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ-06) - a liberal who brags about authoring the Obamacare bill;
  • Janet Rosenzweig as  Director of the Department of Children and Families. Gov. Christie abruptly withdrew his nomination of Dr. Rosenzweig after it was discovered that she was the acting executive director of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, a decidedly Kinseyan outfit of dubious integrity.

There was at least one bright light in the Cabinet firmament, but it ended up being a shooting star: in March of 2010 Gov. Christie nominated Brett Schundler as the Commissioner of Education.

Schundler, former two-term Republican Mayor of the Democrat stronghold known as Jersey City, became famous in the 1990s for his Reaganesque governing style. During his time in office the crime rate dropped and property taxes were lowered as tax receipts and property values increased. Medical savings accounts were created for city employees and the water utility was privatized. As such, Schundler had the singular distinction of being the only true conservative among Gov. Christie’s appointees and the dubious distinction of getting fired just five months later in the wake of the Race to the Top debacle.

Race to the Top is a $4.35 billion federal program funded by the Stimulus Bill that is designed to spur reforms in state and local district K through 12 education. States are eligible for block grants raging from $20 million to $700 million depending on their share of the federal population of children between the ages of 5-17 (New Jersey was eligible for a grant of $400 million). The state applications are scored on the basis of six primary criteria for a maximum of 500 points. States with the highest scores are given the grants.

After the NJ Department of Education made its pitch in Washington, DC, the federal panel discovered an error: instead of using 2008/2009 data requested by the feds, the DOE used 2011 budget data. When called out on the mistake, Schundler and company were caught flat-footed and unable to provide the correct information. The mistake cost points and New Jersey ultimately lost the grant. It’s just as well: according to the conditions attached to it, the recipient state would be prohibited from cutting its education budget once the funds were depleted.

A furious Gov. Christie held a press conference in which

he blasted “bureaucrats in Washington,” saying New Jersey tried to furnish the missing data during the presentation in the Capitol, but officials refused to accept it. The next day the U.S. Department of Education released a video of the presentation showing Schundler and the New Jersey team made no attempt to provide the data. It was a flat contradiction to what Christie said at his press conference.

At that point a humiliated Gov. Christie turned his wrath on Schundler and essentially labeled Schundler a liar when he claimed the latter knowingly misled him by saying he tried to correct the data at that meeting.  The Governor demanded Schundler’s resignation.

Schundler…said he never told the Governor he tried to add new information to the state’s application — which would have been against the rules. But he said he told a reviewer the state would have met the application’s requirements had the correct information been included.

Schundler said Christie knew this but got carried away in his press conference.

Schundler was fired on August 27, 2010 for blowing an opportunity to grab yet another fistful of Stimulus cash that Governor Christie promised he would not accept.

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In Part 4 we will examine the myth that Gov. Christie endorses and stumps for Republican candidates who are Reagan conservatives.

Here are links to all the articles in this series:

How New Jersey Lost Its Mojo
Introduction to the Christie Conservative Myth
Part 1 - Budget Myths
Part 2 - Unions and State Employees
Part 3 - Conservative Appointees
Part 4 - Political Endorsements
Part 5 - Cap & Trade and “Green Technology”
Part 6 - Gov. Christie and Obamacare
Part 7 - Illegal Aliens, Gun Control and the GZ Mosque
Part 8 - A Conservative Myth Exposed

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