While I have written extensively about the ineptitude of the Christie campaign, I have never wavered in my belief that Chris Christie is by far the best choice for Governor among the three leading candidates in the Tuesday, November 3, 2009 election.
I make this judgment as a political conservative. There are four strong ideological reasons for conservatives to vote for Chris Christie for Governor, to wit: 1) Fiscal management; 2) Economic development; 3) Gay marriage; and 4) Judicial appointments. There is a fifth reason for conservatives to support Chris Christie for Governor which is not an ideological reason but very much a factor for voters across the political spectrum: Chris Christie is much better at governance than he is at campaigning.
A good point of departure for analyzing this issue is to compare the fiscal management of former Governor Christie Whitman with the governors who followed her.
Christie Whitman was a social liberal but very much a fiscal conservative, despite all the slanders of her record by Jim McGreevey. Her annual spending increase rate of 5.1 percent was the lowest of all the governors from Cahill through McGreevey. Even her much derided 1997 Pension Bond Act was a wise move from a fiscal conservative point of view: it converted an unfunded pension liability into a long term debt with a lower rate of interest. The 1997 Pension Bond Act actually reduced the amount the State of New Jersey needed to appropriate to fund state pension obligations.
When Whitman stepped down as governor in 2001 to become the EPA Administrator, she left the state in excellent fiscal shape. The last budget she signed provided for a surplus of $1.2 billion. Under Governor Jon Corzine’s governance, we are now facing a Fiscal Year 2011 structural deficit of $8 billion.
Under Christie Whitman’s governance, the state’s credit rating was excellent. State debt over the seven years of her administration increased from $10 billion to $15 billion, a total of 50%.
In August, under Governor Corzine’s watch, Moody’s revised the outlook on the state’s general obligation bonds from stable to negative. Since 2002, state debt has more than doubled, from $15 billion in 2002 to $36.5 billion in 2008.
In all fairness, the decline in the state fiscal condition cannot be blamed solely on Whitman’s Democrat successors. Her immediate Republican interim successor, Don DiFrancesco was responsible for the enactment of the most fiscally irresponsible legislation in the past two decades – the nine percent increase in pension benefits for state retirees.
It is clear, however, that the state’s fiscal condition has worsened under Jon Corzine, despite his Wall Street background. He is totally beholden to public employee unions and special interests, and therefore, he will be unable to make the necessary reductions and reforms in the budget in the years ahead. If Corzine is reelected, California’s present may be New Jersey’s future.
By contrast, Chris Christie is beholden to nobody, and therefore, he is in a far better position than Corzine to deal with New Jersey’s fiscal crisis.
Again, the administration of Christie Whitman marks a good point of departure for analyzing this issue.
Without hyperbole, one can say that during the years of her administration, Christie Whitman was the nation’s most outstanding Governor in terms of economic development. Her 30 percent tax cut and the enactment of her Business Employment Incentive Program enabled New Jersey to have the best business climate in the region.
Since Whitman left office, her Democrat successors have raised taxes to the point where New Jersey has the worst business climate in her nation and trails neighboring states on virtually every economic indicator. Corzine’s most recent measure, the surcharge on the top income earners in the state, is in reality a tax on successful small businesses in New Jersey.
Corzine refuses to rule out keeping the surcharge in effect. Daggett has pledged to further expand the sales tax. Christie has pledged to cut income taxes. Accordingly, for conservatives, Christie is the only acceptable alternative.
Civil unions are one matter, gay marriage is another. It is an absolute litmus test for conservatives that marriage continues to be defined in the law as strictly between a man and a woman.
Governor Corzine has stated his intention to sign into law a gay marriage bill that reaches his desk. Christie has continued to reaffirm his opposition to gay marriage. Christie’s position on this issue alone makes it incumbent upon conservatives to support him.
Both the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) and the continued excessive diversion of state school aid from suburban to urban districts are the result of decisions in which the justices of the New Jersey Supreme Court legislated from the bench rather than restricting themselves to interpreting the law.
Christie has pledged to appoint Supreme Court justices who refrain from legislating from the bench. By contrast, in the third debate, Corzine emphasized his intention to continue to appoint liberal activist justices to the state’s high court.
During the next two years, two New Jersey Supreme Court justices will reach the mandatory retirement age, and two others will be up for reappointment. This election may well determine the direction of the New Jersey Supreme Court for decades.
The matter of Supreme Court appointments is for conservatives perhaps the most important issue in this campaign. Christie’s stance on judicial appointments constitutes the most compelling reason for conservatives to remain in support of him.
Christie: Better at Governance Than at Campaigning
This is indeed a campaign where both major party candidates are ineffective campaigners. Corzine is a very decent and honorable individual. As a campaigner, however, he reminds one of Tom Landry, the late former coach of the Dallas Cowboys, who as a personality was a national cure for insomnia.
The private Chris Christie can be warm and engaging. The public Chris Christie is, in a word, saturnine. This is a good image for a U.S. Attorney but a terrible one for a candidate. The Republican nominee barely cracked a smile when he spoke to his supporters on his victorious primary night.
Corzine is an unsuccessful Governor who on the advice of a superb political brain trust has run a perfect campaign. By contrast, Christie, the most successful U.S. Attorney for New Jersey in modern times, has run the worst strategized New Jersey Republican statewide campaign over the past two decades.
The good news for voters is that Christie has always been far better at governance than at campaigning. He was a very able Morris County Freeholder-Director, and he left an outstanding legacy of corruption fighting as U.S. Attorney. In the latter position, he demonstrated his excellent management and leadership skills that will serve him well as a Governor.
A Governor will be as successful as the persons he appoints to key positions in the executive branch. In designating Kim Guadagno as his running mate, Christie has demonstrated excellent judgment in appointing a person of superb capability, integrity, and leadership skills.
There is no doubt in my mind that Christie would appoint people of similar quality to Cabinet positions. Perhaps the best news is the unlikelihood of him appointing anybody on his campaign strategy and management team to any high position in his administration.
Christie will have to deal with a Democrat legislature, but I do not see him having a problem in negotiating with leaders in the opposition party. One asset he will have in this regard is his close relationship with Senator Joe Kyrillos (R-Monmouth), an individual highly regarded by legislators on both sides of the political aisle. Kyrillos can be an ideal facilitator of relationships between the Christie administration and legislators of both political parties.
Christie’s strong ethics and integrity will serve him well in the Governor’s office. These qualities will be decisive in preventing any past friends and associates from attempting to exercise undue influence on Christie administration policy or operations.
With one week to go, Chris Christie now faces an uphill election struggle resulting from his totally flawed campaign. The good news is that if he is elected despite the ineptitude of his campaign, he is likely to be a good Governor who offers the state far more hope than the continuance of an unsuccessful Corzine administration.
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.