“Beyond words” is how Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno described Gov. Chris Christie’s weekend visit to a state-owned beach that remains closed to the general public amid a government shutdown.
“If I were governor, I sure wouldn’t be sitting on the beach if taxpayers didn’t have access to state beaches,” Guadagno, a resident of Monmouth Beach, said about a series of now-famous pictures taken by NJ Advance Media from a rental plane on Sunday.
The photos show Christie and his family relaxing on a pristine and vacant Island Beach State Park, where the governor has an official residence that he and his guests can access even as the public gets turned away en masse because of the shutdown. The pictures set off a social media firestorm and immediately became an emblem of out-of-touch politics and official excess.
For Guadagno, the Republican nominee for governor this year, polls and political experts say the biggest weakness is her close association with Christie, whose approval rating recently declined to a historic low of 15 percent — before the shutdown and the beach pictures.
“Gov. Chris Christie is very unpopular, which makes Guadagno’s task in this race exponentially harder,” Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of the Cook Political Report, wrote in an analysis last month, shifting New Jersey to the “likely Democratic” column from “lean Democratic.”
The state government remained shut down for a third day on Monday, as Christie and legislative leaders remained at an impasse over the $34.7 billion budget and separate legislation to restructure the state’s largest health insurer, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield. Although Senate President Steve Sweeney passed the Horizon bill through his chamber, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto refuses to post it for a vote because he says the bill is unfair and not a budget priority.
“We need to end the shutdown now,” Guadagno said. “It’s hurting small businesses and ordinary New Jerseyans. Instead of political games, Governor Christie, Speaker Prieto and Senate President Sweeney should pass a budget that delivers property tax relief and puts taxpayers first.”
If both houses of the Legislature do pass the bill without Horizon, Christie has promised to red-line up to $320 million in Democratic spending priorities before signing it. Hoping to get Prieto to cave on Horizon so they can protect that funding, around two dozen Assembly Democrats have abstained from voting on the budget, and the Senate has not posted it for a vote.
Christie on Monday defended his decision to visit the closed state beach and bashed NJ Advance Media for the photos and the front-page placement in the Star-Ledger, New Jersey’s largest newspaper.
“They actually caught a politician being where he said he was going to be with the people he said he was going to be with, his wife and children and their friends,” Christie told Fox 5. “I am sure they will get a Pulitzer for this one. They caught me doing what I said I was going to do with the people I said I was going to be with.”
On Twitter, Christie encouraged New Jerseyans to visit other New Jersey beaches during the shutdown.
On Friday, Guadagno called on Christie and Democrats to table the Horizon bill, pass the budget and end the “disgusting display of Trenton politics.” Her efforts to distance herself from her politically damaged boss continued on Monday. She planned an afternoon campaign event close to Island Beach State Park to “discuss the negative impact the state government shutdown is having on the economy during the crucial Fourth of July holiday.”
The Democratic gubernatorial nominee — Phil Murphy — also has called on Democrats and Christie to decouple the Horizon bill from the budget negotiations. For his part, Prieto said Sunday that Christie should not be using any public beaches while they remain closed to the actual public.