By Art Gallagher
In his OpEd published this morning, former Kean and Whitman Administration spokesman Carl Golden makes the case why it is safe for New Jersey’s Republican legislators to defy Governor Chris Christie and join the Democratic majority in overriding Christie’s of the Port Authority reform legislation.
The two identical bills that Governors Christie and Cuomo vetoed on the Saturday between Christmas and New Years Day had passed overwhelmingly with bi-partisan support in both houses of the New Jersey and New York legislatures. The bills would have required increased transparency and accountability on the part of Port Authority of NY/NJ.
In vetoing the bills, Christie and Cuomo endorsed reforms proposed by a panel they had appointed and urged both legislatures to adopt them instead. But as Golden noted in his OpEd, the vetoes have been widely viewed as maintaining the status quo of disfunctionality, wasteful spending and gubernatorial abuse at Port Authority.
In his five years in office, none of Christie’s vetoes have been overridden, even if the original bills passed the legislature with bi-partisan support and by veto proof majorities. Republican legislators have frequently “flip-flopped” and changed their votes to uphold the Governor’s will. As Golden explains,
Entering his sixth year in office, Christie has run the table in having his vetoes upheld, thanks to Senate Republicans standing steadfast behind his actions, even when it meant a public reversal of their prior positions and votes.
Flip-flopping — even when it was embarrassing — was preferable to crossing their governor and risking retaliation.
Golden argues that the political landscape in New Jersey has changed in the last year since ‘Bridgegate” and Christie becoming an unannounced presidential candidate. The Governor’s poll numbers in New Jersey are negative. Maybe, Golden says, Republican legislators will conclude that it is in their own best interest to distance themselves from Christie.
In this markedly changed climate, Republican legislators, recognizing that the governor has been weakened, may conclude that opposing him no longer exposes them to the high risk it once did and that it would be in their longer term best interest to assert their independence and put some distance between themselves and Christie.
Legislators will never again appear on the ballot with Christie at the top of the ticket providing a hand up and will be less dependent on him for fundraising.
Don’t count on it.
The politic landscape in New Jersey may have changed, but Christie hasn’t. Call it retaliation, vindictiveness or party discipline, there are consequences to crossing Christie.
In order for Christie’s veto of the Port Authority reform bill to be overridden, 3 of 16 Republican State Senators would have to vote with the Senate Democrats. Even though 14 of those 16 Republican senators voted for the original bill (Senators Kevin O’Toole and Christopher Connors didn’t vote), I don’t see any except perhaps Senator Mike Doherty voting for an override.
Doherty has always been his own man. He became a senator by beating the establishment candidate in a primary. He doesn’t feel beholden to the bosses. He made headlines last week with his fierce criticism of Christie following the State of the State Address. Doherty obviously doesn’t care if or how Christie retaliates against him. Doherty told PolitickerNJ that he’s “reaching the end of his shelf life” which is why he is more willing that other Republicans to speak out against Christie.
But for most if not all of the other Republican senators, crossing Christie is just not work the risk. Each of them is in a “safe” seat so their jobs as senators are safe so long as they have the party’s support. Christie could hold up legislation, appointments or projects important to their districts. They know that and they know there are consequences to crossing the Governor.
No Senator has to face the voters until 2017. By then Christie will either be President with even greater powers of party discipline or he will be in his final months in office. There is no upside for a Republican senator to cross Christie now. There are downsides.
If the override vote fails in the Senate, the Assembly is off the hook and the thirty two Republican Assembly members who do have the face the voters this November won’t have an override vote to help or hurt them. Politically, that is another reason for the Republican Senators to go along and get along.