Saturday, November 27, 2010

Biting The Hand That Feeds

Hoboken has decided to join Parsippany in bringing suit to challenge the Governor's alleged right to limit superintendent pay.

At issue is local rule. Municipalities have control over their schools, not the State. And the legal challenges assert that the State lacks the authority to limit superintendent pay.

As a matter of political reality, the Governor seems to have peed in his own backyard. Rich Republican towns know that high school quality maintains property values, and these towns do not like being told that they cannot decide to hire top-notch talent for their school systems. And so it would seem that the Governor's supporters are none too pleased with this particular policy.

Since Chris Christie is first and foremost a fundraiser, it is truly unusual for him to be at odds with his financial backers.

The 2012 Election Begins

The Republican Presidential primary has begun. Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney are at the head of the pack. Republican Governors Mitch Daniels and Tim Pawlenty are also frequently mentioned.

And then there's Haley Barbour. In truth, Barbour's candidacy is at least one major factor influencing Chris Christie's decision not to run. As head of the Republican Governors Association, Haley Barbour funneled about $7 million into Christie's gubernatorial campaign. Since Christie has a policy of rewarding those who help him, he raised over $8 million for the RGA and will not run against Barbour.

As Republican governors, Haley and Christie have a lot in common. Both have been lobbyists and fundraisers. Under cover of the economic downturn both slashed state spending while remaining popular with voters. Both men criticize the Federal government's excessive spending while accepting Federal stimulus dollars.

And as candidates, both men promised not to raise taxes. Barbour, however, broke that pledge. He reinstated a hospital tax used to fund Medicaid and increased cigarette taxes.

So it would seem that the reception Barbour gets on the campaign trail will inform Chris Christie's decisions as governor. If Barbour is pilloried by conservatives in the primary race for raising taxes, then certainly Christie will stand firm on his pledge. But if Barbour gets a pass on his tax increases, it creates a window of opportunity here in New Jersey.

Let the games begin.

Monday, November 15, 2010

So Much For Smaller Government

New Jersey's Casino Control Commission is an independent agency which is in, but not of, the Department of Treasury. The CCC is responsible for administering the Casino Control Act and its regulations, and for supporting the tourist and convention capabilities of Atlantic City. The 5 members of the independent CCC are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate, and no more than 3 members may be from any given political party. The CCC shares its regulatory authority with the Division of Gaming Enforcement, which is a division within the office of the Attorney General.

The Christie administration has prepared draft legislation which would limit the role of the CCC to casino licensing, and consolidate all other CCC functions within the Division of Gaming Enforcement. Thus, in large part, the CCC would join the Inspector General and the Medicaid Inspector General as independent agencies which have been brought under the control of the executive branch. Governor Christie has also proposed bringing all county prosecutors under the jurisdiction of the Attorney General and eliminating the sole remaining independent investigative agency, the State Commission of Investigations.

At what point do people start to notice that the man who campaigned for smaller government is intent on expanding the executive branch at every turn?

Monday, November 8, 2010

State Commission of Investigation in the Cross-Hairs Again.

Ted Sherman of the Star Ledger reports that "some" are suggesting that the State Commission of Investigation has outlived its time. Yes, the SCI was central in investigating organized crime, especially in Atlantic City. But that was 40 years ago, which has lead "some" (including Dem. Sen. Richard Codey) to question whether or not the SCI model is outmoded.

The reasons? The number of annual SCI reports has dropped precipitously -- from 3 to 2. This year it put out only 1. And that 1 wasn't about organized crime, it was about the State's governing body for high school athletics. And 20 staffers at SCI make more than $100,000 a year. And the Inspector General, Medicaid Inspector General and State Comptroller also investigate corruption.

Of course, the SCI is the sole investigative body in the State not under the control of the Governor. Which is why Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono says the SCI is an absolutely necessary independent check on the executive branch. As Governor Christie plans to take control of the Atlantic City casino district, the elimination of the SCI would be ironic at best.

However, the true agenda has nothing to do with whether or not the SCI is outmoded, or duplicative. Since he was a U.S. Attorney, Chris Christie has shown a willingness to politicize the investigative powers of government. While other U.S. Attorneys serving under Alberto Gonzalez were fired for their refusal to bring political prosecutions against Democrats, Christie launched a major sting operating against Democrats in New Jersey and leaked an indictment involving Senator Roberto Menendez during the 2006 campaign.

Christie intends to draw all of the State's investigative power under his control, and then use that power to further his agenda. Attorney General Paula Dow has already said that political prosecutions are a priority for this administration, even though such cases are usually handled by the U.S Attorney's office. Already, the Christie administration has launched voter fraud investigations in Atlantic City and Essex County.

So, who are these "some" with questions? Other than Senator Codey, the only person cited by the article is Michael Herbert, the attorney for the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association -- i.e., the subject of the SCI's 1 report this year. And, BTW, that report was a doozy, highlighting the NJSIAA's profligate spending and perks.

Which strongly suggests that some of those "some" are speaking without attribution, laying the groundwork for the Governor's 2011 budget axe.

Truly, the only surprising part of this whole story is that the Christie Administration would even try to sway public opinion against the SCI before lowering the boom.

Friday, November 5, 2010

That's So Rude It's Unconstitutional

The Commissioner of Education traditionally addresses the NJEA convention every year. But not this year. Acting Education Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks declined to take the opportunity to address tens of thousands of teachers on the grounds that the union has shows itself unwilling to work with Governor Christie to effect reform. Hendricks says her door is open if the union wants to discuss rewarding good teachers and replacing bad teachers.

On its face, this is just silly. Somehow, an invitation to talk is evidence of a refusal to work together. Truth be told, Governor Christie wants the NJEA as a political foil and not a partner in reform; Hendricks is merely following the Governor's lead.

Says union head Barbara Keshishian: "Acting Commissioner Hendricks’ refusal to engage in a discussion with professional educators in a professional development setting is astounding. The tone of Hendrick's e-mail is consistent with prior statements from the Christie administration: filled with political rhetoric and inaccurate characterizations of NJEA."

Not only is it astounding, it may be unconsititional. The New Jersey Constitution provides, in relevant part, that "[p]ersons in public employment shall have the right to organize, present to and make known to the State, or any of its political subdivisions or agencies, their grievances and proposals through representatives of their own choosing."

In other words, the Governor and his administration have a Constitutional duty to work with the NJEA.

Truly, this is just another example of the Christie administration's willingness to ignore the law when it suits the Governor. Like the Governor's refusal to fund the public employee pension fund, even though he is legally obligated to do so. or the Governor's failure to balance the State budget (despite his claims to the contrary.)

Apparently, respect for the rule of law is no longer a conservative value.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Team Christie Long On Public Corruption Experience

Mark Lagerkvist of New Jersey Watchdog thinks he has uncovered a scandal pertaining to Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno.

In September, 2008, when she was Monmouth County Sheriff, Guadagno hired Michael W. Donovan, Jr. to replace John Cerrato as Sheriff's Chief, a job which paid $87,500 a year. However, Donovan was already receiving more than $85,000 in retirement benefits from the State, and he would be required to give up that pension to become Chief.

So, Guadagno officially hired Donovan as Chief Warrant Officer. While the Sheriff's Chief oversees the day-to-day operations of the 145 officers and civilians in the Law Enforcement Division, the Chief Warrant Officer is a civilian position responsible for community relations. Donovan would be able to serve in a civilian capacity without giving up his State pension.

In fact, the Chief Warrant Officer position is so non-essential that, two weeks before hiring Donovan, Guadagno said she was eliminating the position. And this is the scandal New Jersey Watchdog is breaking.

What Lagerkvist failed to take into account is that, prior to becoming Monmouth County Sherriff, Kim Guadagno was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the District of New Jersey. In fact, she was responsible for corruption prosecutions. So it's safe to say that Guadagno knows how to tapdance her way through legally getting the State to pay a pension to someone working for the State full-time.

Lagerkvist has, however, hit on a pattern. Not an illegal pattern, mind you, not a RICO violation, but something significant. He found Guadagno using her knowledge of political corruption law and her power as Sheriff for her own benefit. In other words, Lagerkvist found out why Guadagno is perfectly qualified to serve in the Christie administration.

For example, in addition to Guadagno, Attorney General Paula Dow was a former A.U.A. before becoming Essex County Prosecutor. In fact, from 2002-2003, Paula Dow served as counsel to District Attorney Chris Christie.

In a recent interview on New Jersey Capital Report, Dow stated that her top priorities as Attorney General will be violent crime and public corruption Says Dow, "Public corruption has got to play a key role."

Dow acknowledged that the Christie administration would be focusing on public corruption more than previous administrations. Previous administrations left public corruption investigations to the U.S. Attorney, because of the potential conflict of interest inherent when one political appointee uses the power of the State to investigate other politicians.

But, reasons Dow, since the old U.S. Attorney is now the Governor "[W]e have a big role to play" in political corruption investigations.

Dow claims the Governor played a role in the 2008 indictment of Joe Vas. Vas was a Democratic boss in Perth Amboy and Middlesex County running for re-election as Mayor of Perth Amboy. His 2008 defeat was shocking, and ultimately he was convicted.

Dow also claims that the Attorney General's office is investigating election fraud in Atlantic City (a Democratic stronghold) and Essex County (another Democratic stronghold).

So, what Lagerkvist has stumbled onto is the Governor's intention to use the investigative power of this office willing to use their political power and their expertise in political corruption to attack Democrats.

Chris Christie Gives Back

Chris Christie has been travelling the country supporting Republican gubernatorial candidates on his own personal "I'm not running no matter what it looks like" tour.

Here's how the Wall Street Journal describes it. The Republican Governor's Association spent $7 million to get Chris Christie elected. And now Chris Christie's advisors are letting it be known that Chris Christie has raised about $7 million for Republican governor races across the country.

And this is an essential part of the Chris Christie brand. Chris Christie rewards those who help him.

For example, many cited Christie’s appointment as a Federal prosecutor by President Bush as little more than political payback. However, Herbert Stern supported Christie’s appointment. Stern had previously held the job of U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, before becoming a respected jurist and ultimately returning to private practice.

For his support, Herbert Stern’s law firm was later awarded a no-bid monitor contract by U.S. Attorney Christie, which paid $500 an hour and ultimately netted the firm over $8 million. Also, when Sam Stern, Herbert’s son, applied for a position as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the District of New Jersey and was turned down, Christie personally intervened and Stern the younger was ultimately hired. Such intervention in personnel matters is against the regulations governing the hiring of Assistant U.S. Attorneys.

And John Ashcroft, the Attorney General when Chris Christie was appointed U.S. Attorney, was also rewarded. When Ashcroft returned to private practice, Christie appointed John Ashcroft’s firm to a Federal monitor position which paid more than $52 million over 18 months, one of the highest payouts ever to a Federal monitor.

Now, the good people at Reform Jersey Now are spending a lot of money to push forward the Christie agenda. One wonders how the good Governor will pay them back.