In appointing Rich Bagger as Chief of Staff, Governor- elect Chris Christie has made an absolutely superb appointment. Bagger will obviously be making a considerable financial sacrifice by leaving Pfizer to join the Governor’s office, but New Jersey is certainly the better for it.
Governmental policy making is the ultimate arena of the confluence of politics, policy, and law, and nobody is more uniquely equipped to evaluate these three considerations than Rich Bagger. He has had an outstanding career as a lawyer, legislator, and mayor, and his remarkable political skills enabled him to both achieve success in elections and work effectively with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
The two major challenges faced by the Christie administration are the burgeoning budget deficit and widespread public outrage about high property taxes. Much publicity has been given to Bagger’s successful tenure as Chair of the Assembly Appropriations Committee and the experience and expertise that gives him to deal with the budget quagmire.
What few people know, however, is Bagger’s expertise in dealing with the area of shared services and consolidation of governmental entities. This has been a cornerstone of Chris Christie’s approach to property tax control.
I am aware of Bagger’s special insight on this issue, due to my work with him on a bill providing incentives for school district mergers while I served as a Senior Policy Advisor on the Assembly Republican Staff in 1992-1993. The legislation allowed the newly created school district to retain during a transition period virtually all the state school aid previously received by the individual merging school districts.
The then Assemblyman Bagger’s goal was to maintain quality education while increasing efficiency of administration. I have no doubt that he will be most valuable to the new Governor in working with the departments of Education and Community Affairs and school districts and municipalities throughout the state in maintaining local levels of service while increasing efficiencies.
In the past, Governors and their respective Chiefs of Staff have often effectively played the game of “good cop/bad cop” when dealing with legislators or local government leaders. Usually the Governor has been the “good cop”, while the Chief of Staff has been the “bad cop”.
In the case of Chris Christie and Rich Bagger, I think the roles may be reversed, with Christie playing the “bad cop” and Bagger playing the “good cop.” This combination has the potential to work quite effectively.
Over the past four decades, there have been two notably outstanding Chiefs of Staff: Harold Hodes under former Governor Brendan Byrne and the late Greg Stevens under former Governor Tom Kean. Rich Bagger has the potential to become the third such topflight Chief of Staff.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and seven federally recognized Indian nations.