This is commentary from political blogger and cartoonist Rob Tornoe.
Governor Chris Christie has done a fantastic job as an advocate for New Jersey residents affected by Hurricane Sandy. From partnering with President Obama early on to fighting tooth and nail for every available resource residents need, Christie is deserving of the high marks and record popularity voters have bestowed upon him in recent months.
But if Christie wants to really help New Jersey, he’ll come down from the Sandy wave he is riding and use this record popularity to dish out some of his self-anointed leadership to help the rest of the state. After all, Hurricane Sandy was rough, but once New Jersey recovers and rebuilds, the state will still face record-high property taxes, a budget deficit close to $2 billion and an unemployment rate among the worst in the nation.
It doesn’t really take much leadership to call out a Congress so dysfunctional it can’t manage to reauthorize something a non-controversial as the Violence Against Women Act. Sure, he gets some points for being willing to yell at fellow Republicans, but he’s the one who helped campaign for them to get elected.
You know where I’d really like to see more leadership? The issue of property taxes. While taxes only went up 1.7 percent last year, the smallest increase in almost two decades, residents sill pay on average $7,870.28 in property taxes.
Imagine if Christie took a quarter of the time and energy he’s putting into his Hurricane Sandy marketing campaign (and yes, complete with a new YouTube video) and went down to the League of Municipalities to exert some real pressure on towns to merge their services.
Does Beachwood, a sleepy suburb of Toms River with a population just over 11,000 really need to pay a police chief over $116,000 while Camden lays off police officers en masse? What about the borough of Ho-Ho-Kus, whose 4,000 residents pay their police chief $142,000 a year?
While I’ve heard a lot from Christie over the years about overpaid teachers, he’s been virtually silent on the topic of New Jersey police salaries, which are the highest in the country and also protected by a powerful labor union. (As a side note, is the Asbury Park Press’s Data Universe to find out what the police chief in your town is earning.)
All this talk about police officers dovetails nicely into the issue of gun violence, another area of importance Christie refuses to show leadership. Camden set a new homicide record last year, and as noted by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Christie was in support of a state assault-weapons ban back in 1995 when he was campaigning for a seat in the N.J. Assembly. Unfortunately, now that he’s on the short list for GOP presidential candidates in 2016, Mr. Outspoken Straight-Talker was silent when Matt Lauer of the Today Show asked Christie four times if he still supported the ban.
Where’s the YouTube video decrying the gun violence in Newark and Camden? If the compete omission of guns from his State of the State speech is any indication, it’s just not a priority for him. Not as he mounts a possible Presidential campaign as a Republican, anyway.
New Jersey’s economy is also in need of some strong leadership. The state’s unemployment rate currently sits at a decades-high 9.6 percent, much higher than the national average of 7.9 percent. New Jersey also has the nation’s second highest foreclosure rate, with 7 percent of all homeowners currently in foreclosure. Aside from proposing a nonsensical income tax cut and mismanaging $300 million in federal funding intended to keep people from losing their homes, it seems the only jobs Christie has been able to grow are the number of staffers working in his office.
As state Senate President Steve Sweeney noted prior to Christie’s State of the State Speech, “The governor got elected by saying he would do something about the economy in New Jersey, but our unemployment rate is nearly identical now to what it was when he came into office.” I bring these up to not to bash Christie, but to plead with him. He is popular. He has the ability to form a consensus. He can be tough when he wants to. New Jerseyans need him to be all those things to help lift our state out of the morass and move past all the problems the state faces, most of which preceded his time in office. They just need him to do it for more than just hurricane victims.
Rob Tornoe is a political cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. See more of his work at RobTornoe.com, and follow him on twitter @RobTornoe.