Has Chris Christie given up?
No, I’m not talking about his doomed presidential run, where the RealClearPolitics average has him in ninth place at 3.6 percent and a new post-debate poll in must-win New Hampshire puts him in ninth place.
I’m talking about his supposed day job, being governor of New Jersey.
According to reporting by Matt Arco at NJ.com, Christie has spent nearly 55 percent of 2015 outside the Garden State. In the past six weeks alone, he’s been out of the office about two-thirds of the time. He’s out of the state so often, my former colleague Matt Katz has a Christie Tracker on WNYC’s website that shows if Christie is or isn’t in the state at any given moment (as of this writing, he is).
Unfortunately his constituents, who had high hopes for the former prosecutor following a disappointing four years under Jon “I lost $2 billion” Corzine, have begun to notice the time away. Christie’s job approval rating in the state he governs has fallen to record lows, and according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton poll, 54 percent of New Jersey registered voters don’t even see Christie as being “presidential.” A majority of respondents label him “arrogant” (58 percent), “self-centered” (52 percent) and “bully” (50 percent).
The more and more Christie speaks, he sounds less like the chief executive of a state and more like an uninterested partner in a failing marriage. Last month, when reporters asked the governor why he hasn’t held one of his trademark town-hall meetings in New Jersey in nearly two months, Christie (who still has three years left in his second term) said, “I got tired of it. I’ll just be honest with you: I got tired of it. So I didn’t do it.”
Sorry New Jersey, but that doesn’t sound like a guy trying to save a relationship.
In all fairness, Christie wouldn’t be the first governor to get slammed about the time he’s spending out of state campaigning. Michael Dukakis, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Mitt Romney – all ran for president as sitting governors and faced heated criticism about the amount of time they spent campaigning.
But he is the “Telling it like it is” candidate, and so far, his response to any criticism of his time away from New Jersey has been, “I can walk and chew gum at the same time.” Unfortunately his performance as the state’s chief executive might call that statement into question, as it has become increasing clear Christie’s top policy concern is propping up his lifeless presidential campaign at the cost of New Jerseyans.
When asked about the state’s lagging unemployment rate, underfunded public-employee pension system and series of credit-rating downgrades, Christie passes the buck, joking that “If you think it’s bad now, you should have seen it when I got there.” To paraphrase republicans, he’s been governor for over five years, and he’s still blaming Corzine?
Christie’s economy is getting worse, not better. Despite a drop in the unemployment rate, New Jersey actually lost 7,400 jobs in June, with 5,700 of those coming from Christie’s much-heralded private sector.
This while he makes aspirational promises to grow the nation’s economy by an astounding 4 percent annually, which it hasn’t done consistently since the 1950s and 1960s. Then there’s Atlantic City, the crown jewel of Christie’s failed policies, which idles as the governor continues to leave a package of bills addressing the resort town’s crisis untouched. Maybe the problem is they’ve been collecting dust on his unused desk since June. Can someone email him a copy?
Meanwhile, New Jersey taxpayers are footing the bill for Christie’s security detail. Unfortunately, no one know how much it’s costing the state since Mr. “Telling It Like It Is” has fought in court to keep it secret behind the absurd claim it could put him at risk. Concerns for his safety didn’t stop him from telling Cub Scout Charlie Tertaglia the number of state troopers assigned to the unit protecting him while he travels.
None of this is new for those of us who have followed Christie, but much of it might come as a surprise to the fiscally conservative voters across the country he’s trying to court. How would they feel about the $300,000 in taxpayer money Christie spent on NFL concessions? Or the $11 million he’s billed tax and toll payers for his defense of the Bridgegate fiasco?
Christie has always had expensive tastes when traveling out of state, noting to the New York Times that, “I try to squeeze all the juice out of the orange that I can.” He has a long history of staying at “five-star properties” on trade missions, including a weekend in Jordan (paid by King Abdullah) where he stayed in rooms in luxurious Kempinski hotels and enjoyed a Champagne reception in the desert.
In another trade mission to Israel, Christie opted for a private plane (where he had his own bedroom) lent to him by casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. In Mexico, he stayed at the luxurious Intercontinental in Mexico City. His hotel in London, the Corinthia, had a Baccarat chandelier and masses of flowers refreshed every morning.
And let’s not forget all his Cowboy galavanting, paid for by hugging partner Jerry Jones (whose company received a contract with the Port Authority of NY & NJ following Christie’s support).
(I’d mention the time he spent on the private plane and in the stadium box of New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, but at least he stayed in New Jersey for that trip.)
As his staff worries about the perception of the lavish taste of their boss, Christie defends it all, noting that King Abdulla, Jerry Jones and Mr. Adelson are all “friends.” How all of these helped the taxpayers of New Jersey, who payed his salary and at least $120,000 for his three most recent foreign trips, has yet to be explained.
“He’s not doing the state any good by spending the bulk of his time out of state,” said State Sen. Raymond Lesniak, a common foe of Christie who happens to be 100 percent right. “And even when he’s in-state, he’s focusing on what he has to do to get elected president — which is often runs contrary to what he ought to do for the state.”
Should politicians resign to run for higher office? Probably, but you’d have an easier time convincing Christie to stay at a Holiday Inn than getting politicians to actually live up to their responsibilities to taxpayers.
Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and WHYY contributor. Follow Rob on Twitter @RobTornoe