The Democrats and their media friends in the state of New Jersey finally have something to celebrate.
The Christie Administration finally made a misstep - and a somewhat big one considering the price tag - $400 million of Federal education money. The background is that the state applied for Race To The Top funds and only lost out to Ohio thanks to the failure to include education budget numbers for 2008 and 2009 as requested. The DoEd's reviewers docked New Jersey 5 points, which enabled Ohio to come out with a 3 point lead.
Worse, when the results came out, Christie was apparently told by Education Commissioner Bret Schundler, who led the state's delegation to DC for the presentation and interview part of the application process, that the DoEd officials refused to allow them include the 2008 and 2009 numbers because the June 1 deadline had passed. Christie, righteously outraged, after having Schundler "walk him through the details of the mistake", had some choice words to say about that during the Press Conference following the news that NJ had lost out on the $400 million to OH.
"When we went in for the personal interview, two weeks before the decision was made, they raised the issue with us." Christie said. "Commissioner Schundler gave them, in the interview, the numbers for ’08 and ’09 because the mistake was raised. But they still didn’t give us the credit for the points."
The problem? Schundler did not provide the information as he said he did. He actually never did have the information. The DoEd, following Christie's denunciation of them for penalizing the state over a mere "clerical error", released a recording of the interview, proving conclusively that Schundler was guilty of not being entirely truthful ...
About one hour into the presentation, held on Aug. 11 in Washington, D.C., a soft-spoken reviewer asked for help locating missing information in the state’s application for Race to the Top funding. After a few moments of silence, New Jersey Education Commissioner Bret Schundler turned to the assistant commissioner to his left.
"No I cannot. I don’t, um..." said the assistant commissioner, Willa Spicer.
"We can come back to that, if someone wants to take a look, that would be fine," said a reviewer, one of five who would grade the state’s application.
Though Christie has portrayed federal officials as nitpicking and begrudging about the state’s application, the video shows that toward the end of the session, federal reviewers asked the New Jersey delegation a second time if they had found the correct information.
"No. No, we all searched," Spicer said.
And with that, jubilant New Jersey's Democrats, from Lautenberg in DC to the others in the state legislature are calling for "investigations" and "top-to-bottom hearings". Teachers' union bosses are dancing in the streets with the hope that they can convince NJ voters that Christie handwrote (all 1000 pages) and made the error of omitting the numbers himself.
Fully onboard with the mission to drive Christie's poll numbers down by any means necessary (note the tendentious headlining of this Star-Ledger story and then read the nothingburger it actually is), NJ's liberal columnists are busy penning outraged editorials while their newsroom buddies are frantically thinking of ways to shoehorn the story into their write-ups on Tiger Woods' divorce, the War in Afghanistan and the flooding in Pakistan.
Well, a red-in-the-face Christie gave Schundler the boot today. Much as I have been a fan of Schundler since 2001, he richly deserved it.
Granted, this is certainly a black eye for Christie, but he should not allow the Democrats to make more of it than what it is. He was right the first time, it was almost certainly just a "clerical error" - but it was compounded by the fact that none of the members of the NJ delegation thought to excuse him or herself to go out to the hallway, call home base and light a fire under someone to find those figures, and then to compound it even further, they came home and lied to him.
So, is this the beginning of the end for Chris Christie as so many dispirited NJ Democrats hope? Have the Democrats in NJ finally found their issue to take him down? Will the Star Ledger finally be able to drive his approval ratings down? Is the NJ Press Corps going to macaca this issue until 2013? Is Christie about to go into the fetal position and hope this all goes away?
But I wouldn't bet against the Trenton Thunder.