Earlier this week, I wrote that NJ Gov. Chris Christie faced a national test on the decisions he needed to make to fill the vacancy of deceased Sen. Frank Lautenberg. Apparently, Christie decided to audit the class. Instead, he chose the path most traveled by politicians and made decisions that solely benefit himself. Good short term politics? No doubt. Leadership the nation needs to meet its challenges? Not so much.
Thursday afternoon, Christie announced that he was naming Attorney General Jeff Chiesa to hold Lautenberg’s seat until the special election in October. Chiesa has been on staff with Christie since the Governor was US Attorney in New Jersey. Before Chiesa was Attorney General, which uniquely in New Jersey is an appointed position, he was Chief Counsel for the Governor. The relationship between the two is so close, that Christie effectively appointed himself to the Senate seat.
Oh, and Chiesa is just a placeholder and won’t run for the seat in the special election. This eliminates even the outside chance the GOP had to contest the seat in this Fall’s election. Despite the party’s disadvantage in the state, the expected low turnout in the special and five months of incumbency to build name recognition offered at least a chance for the party to make a credible challenge. Instead, for just five months there will be one additional Senator with an R behind their name.
Perhaps the most brazen of Christie’s decisions on this matter, though, was announced on Wednesday. Facing a confusing legal situation, Christie chose to hold a special election this October, instead of the already scheduled general election a couple weeks later. The decision is expected to cost New Jersey taxpayers $24 million to run the separate election.
There were legal grounds to push the special election to November, 2014, but Democrats vowed to file a challenge to that in the courts. The other option was to hold the special during this year’s general election in November. That, however, would have put the Senate race on the same ballot as Christie’s reelection. Christie feared that the all-but-certain Democrat nominee Cory Booker could have boosted Democrat and minority turnout in the election, reducing the Governor’s expected victory margin.
Christie chose a third path and selected October this year for the special. In other words, Christie created an entirely separate election, at great cost to taxpayers, for the sole purpose of winning reelection with the maximum share of the vote.
In the closing days of the Presidential campaign in 2012 and in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Christie went out of his way to shower praise on President Obama. It wasn’t based on merit, as his praise came before the Feds even had the opportunity to respond. Christie’s praise was “paying to forward,” allowing him to get as much federal support as possible for recovery. It was also about positioning himself for reelection this year.
It is all undoubtedly good politics in New Jersey. It is not what the country needs, however. Christie is a good Governor of the Garden State. May he remain in office there a very long time.