The week after Christopher Christie takes office as governor, the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce will hold their 73rd annual Walk to Washington, a chartered train that allows special interests to schmooze with elected officials – “Build Your Contacts During Two Days of Intense Networking,” according to the chamber website. But the rift between the business advocacy group and state Republicans could cause the trip to be a bust.
Chamber of Commerce president Joan Verplanck became closely allied with Gov. Jon Corzine over the last few years. She angered Republican legislative leaders by endorsing Corzine’s toll hike plan, causing some Republicans to call on local businesses to leave the organization. Verplanck was reportedly considered by Corzine as a possible candidate for Lt. Governor.
Many top Republicans, including Christie, declined to participate in this year’s chamber trip to Washington. " Christie wants to bring real change to Trenton and that comes with ending politics as usual, which this trip has become a symbol of,” his campaign manager, Bill Stepien, said earlier this year. Verplanck called the GOP protest “stupid.”
Anne Evans Estabrook, a former Chamber of Commerce chair and briefly in 2008 a candidate for the GOP U.S. Senate nomination, contributed to Christopher Daggett's independent campaign for governor.
Republicans have also been upset with New Jersey Business & Industry Association President Philip Kirschner, who forged an alliance with Corzine. In a not to subtle jab at Verplanck and Kirschner, Christie named Debra DiLorenzo, the President of the Southern New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, to his transition team.
If Christie, his front office staff, members of his cabinet, and key GOP legislators decline to take the train to Washington, you have to wonder if business leaders will want to spend the money just to talk to a group of Democrats.