All the New Jersey media is abuzz over the leaked audio and transcript of a talk that Governor Chris Christie delivered to a secret meeting of GOP mega-donors organized by the Koch brothers in Colorado on June 26. The meeting was so secret that Christie did not disclose to the press, as is customary, that he was leaving the state and transferring power to the Lt. Governor.
What has everyone in a tizzy is a story that Christie told the group about how he saved Sheila Oliver’s speakership during the landmark pension and benefit bill negotiations:
And Thursday night it came time for the Assembly. And they started to caucus at 11:00 in the morning. They were supposed to start voting at 1:00. It got to be 5:30 and they were still in the caucus room. And the reports I was getting out of there were not positive about what was going on to my friend the Speaker. She was takin’ a beating at the hands of her own party. At 5:30 she called me and she said to me, “Governor, I don’t know how this is going to play out, but I’m going to, I want to post the bill but I think when I go on the floor, my own party’s going to take a run at me to remove me as Speaker. So I can’t post the bill.” She said, “I think the only way I survive is if the 33 Republicans in the chamber will agree to vote for me for Speaker. Can you work it out?” [scattered laughter] So I said, “Give me five minutes.” [laughter]
So I went down to the Republican Assembly caucus room. I stood at the front of the room and I said, “Ladies and gentleman, it’s a historic day today. You’re going to get an opportunity to cast two historic votes.” [laughter] “The first one, of course, is about pension and benefit reform and I know that everybody in this room supports it. The second one is a little more unusual.” [laughter] I said, “Probably for the only time in my governorship I’m going to actually ask you to vote for a Democrat. I said Sheila Oliver is under siege. And she wants to do the right thing. And we cannot be slaves to party or partisanship. She is right on this issue and she is with us on this issue. So if they take a run at her on the floor, I need all of you to vote for her for Speaker.” I had these men and women look back at me like, “What?” [scattered laughter] And I said to ’em, “We were sent here to lead. Not to preen and posture, posture and pose. To lead. A public office to lead. We need to do this. So raise your hands. Are you with me or aren’t you?” All 33 of them raised their hands and said they were with me.
And so I went back to my office, I got on the phone and I called the Speaker, and I said, “You just got 33 new votes.” And she said, “Well, you just got yourself a bill.” And she went on the floor, she led the debate, another two and a half hours of debate. They never took a run at her. It was the Minority Leader who suddenly went over to the Majority Leader of the Assembly, it was the guy who was gonna take a run at her, and said, “By the way, we’ve got her back, so don’t try it.” [very scattered chuckles] They didn’t. They opened up the board, they cast the votes, by then 46 to 32, with 33 Republicans and 13 Democrats, we passed health and pension reform that will save the taxpayers of New Jersey over the next 30 years at least 132 billion dollars. [audience: “wows”, whistles, applause]
When I get back to New Jersey tomorrow morning, we will sign the bill on Tuesday and make it law and it will become effective July 1st. And that’s what we were sent to do to govern.
At a press conference in Atlantic City today, Christie confirmed he delivered the speech and he issued a correction. He said there were 32 in Assembly members in the Republican caucus room, not 33 as he said in Colorado. The Star Ledger quotes Christie today saying he was “proud” that he helped protect Oliver’s speakership. He said that the story shows that “Republicans put policy over politics,” according to the Ledger.
Oliver said Christie “is deranged” :
“The assertions that Gov. Christie has made, they are outright lies. Outright lies. I am beginning to wonder if Gov. Christie is mentally deranged,” Oliver said. “At no time did I ever, ever pick up the telephone, call Gov. Christie and ask him to quote ‘save my leadership.’ ” The governor was engaged in a chest-thumping vaudeville entertainment session in front of the Republican donors, she said. “I don’t expect to call him at all,” she said. “I think it’s disgraceful.”
Now the Democratic leaders of both houses of the New Jersey legislature have called Christie a liar. In January Senate President Stephen Sweeney refuted Christie’s claim that he was in direct contact with Sweeney during the December blizzard while Sweeney was Acting Governor.
Sweeney famously called Christie a “rotten prick” in July after Christie used the line item veto to balance the budget. Today Oliver called Christie “mentally deranged.” Christie calls these people his friends.
Multiple people who were in the Republican caucus room spoke to MMM on the condition of anonymity. They confirmed Christie’s version of the story, sort of. Let’s just say that while 32 hands went up, not all of them had five fingers raised.
The caucus knew that Oliver was under siege. They expected Majority Leader Joe Cryan to try to replace her in order to prevent the pension and benefits reform bill from being posted.
No one could confirm Christie’s account of Minority Leader Alex DeCroce going over to Cryan and telling him, “By the way, we’ve got her back, so don’t try it.” If it happened, it may have been a bluff.
Several of the more conservative members of the caucus were very concerned about casting a vote for Oliver as speaker. “Such a vote will follow me for the rest of my career, if I have a career,” one Assembly member said, according to a source who was in the room.
“There are two factions if the Republican caucus,” said the source, “those who are concerned about primary challenges from Tea Partiers and those from the more moderate districts who are concerned about winning the general election. The conservatives were worried about having to vote for Oliver.”
There is some truth to Oliver’s carefully worded response to the leaked tapes. Christie’s speech was entertainment. As Assemlbyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex) told the Ledger, this was “a red meat speech.”
As those who have followed Christie on the stump know, the Governor is a great story teller, in the tradition of great Irish story tellers.
Great stories and tales get better every time they are told by a master. While the underlying truth remains, the details get embellished and the story gets “better.” It makes a point better, is more moving or entertaining. Anyone who has attended three or more of Christie’s town hall meetings knows Christie is a great story teller.