In the four months since Chris Christie was sworn in as the 55th Governor of the state of New Jersey, he's earned himself a few nicknames and prayers for his death. "Governor Krispy Kreme" or Governor Bully by his Leftist detractors on most NJ websites where they congregate. A liberal Newark Star-Ledger columnist prefers the double-entendre of Governor Wrecking Ball. Admirers, including George Will, have appropriated the name of a local minor league team for the Governor - the Trenton Thunder.
Me? Geek that I am, I call him Governor Kratos.
Anybody who plays video games knows the thoroughly fearless mortal protagonist of the God of War series of games on the PlayStation. Kill Ares, the god of War? Sure. Kill Zeus? Okay. Kill all the gods and the Titans? [Ed. Note: that's Kratos fighting Kronos - father or Zeus] Why not?
Anyone who decides, as Christie clearly has, to take on what one of the most powerful and corrupt political machines in the country without so much as a moment of hesitation, is surely as brave as a mortal deciding to go kill a god or face a 100 foot Titan without flinching.
Last year, I, along with many other conservatives woke up on June 3 and winced somewhat in disappointment at the news coming out of New Jersey. Former U.S. Attorney Christopher James Christie, the moderate candidate, had just defeated former Bogota Mayor and conservative favorite Steve Lonegan by a two-digit margin in the GOP Gubernatorial primary and was now officially the Republican standard-bearer to face Jon Corzine in November.
Then somehow, despite being heavily outspent by an over 3-to-1 margin thanks to the former Goldman-Sachs CEO's deep pockets, despite the Obama Campaign's best and brightest being deployed from Washington to oversee the Democratic operation, despite multiple Presidential visits by a President who carried the state by double digits just a year before, despite the unions throwing everything including the kitchen sink to defeat him, despite the hostility of the NJ Press Corps, a sponsored spoiler third party candidate to siphon off his votes, despite a 3-to-2 Democratic-to-Republican registration advantage, Christie managed to win.
Considering his two most recent Republican predecessors, the strength of the majority Democrats in the legislature, the safe assumption was that he would, as moderates are wont to do, tack significantly to the left, cut deals with the public employee unions and other Left-Wing groups in the hope that the favor would be returned by not-quite so vociferous opposition when he runs for re-election in four years, and avoid making any decisions that could be described as controversial in the Press. When it comes to reforms he would just tinker around the edges, try mightily not to rock the boat, generally serve as conciliatory caretaker until he hands over to a Democratic successor, ambition satisfied and on to the next office.
So I assumed. So did many others. (check the comments)
Mea culpa. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.
And to be honest, I don't think I've ever been more happy to be proven so utterly and completely wrong.
It's not so much that Chris Christie is a Conservative, it's the sheer bloody-minded courage of the man that leaves your jaw on the ground. I don't believe there's any mainstream high-profile politician in America today that's more fearless than New Jersey's new Governor. And what's even more awe-inspiring about it is that this is not the false courage liberals in the media rave about when a Republican violates his promises to the GOP base and votes for higher taxes, endorses Democrats, attacks other Republicans or defects, i.e. does something they approve of and would reward with softball doe-eyed interviews on Sunday morning and plenty of hagiographical column space - that actually takes no courage whatsoever.
When was the last time a Republican Governor so openly took on a public employee union? Much less all of them and their media and Democrat supporters at the same time? Even in the Reddest of states, Utah, the UTGOP fearfully sat on its hands as the state's teachers' union defeated a voucher bill. Christie on the hand, in deep Blue New Jersey, looked at the forces arrayed against him, cried havoc and let loose the dogs of war.
New Jersey's Blue political machine and its media arm had become so used to getting its way, it had not faced a real opponent in decades - the few Republicans who had made it to the Governor's office in Trenton always blinked first. Wanting to be part of the club, members of both parties in the NJ capital were careful to keep the ruinous deals and agreements that were rapidly puncturing holes into the state's fiscal health under wraps. Christie apparently had no wish to join that nice little Bipartisan club.
The machine has never actually had an opponent that hit back - and boy, does he hit back.
- The children will be the ones to suffer from your education cuts.
"The real question is, who's for the kids, and who's for their raises? This isn't about the kids. Let's dispense with that portion of the argument. Don't let them tell you that ever again while they are reaching into your pockets."
- Your policies favor the rich.
"We have the worst unemployment in the region and the highest taxes in America, and that's no coincidence."
- Why not renew the 'millionaire's tax'?
"The top 1% of taxpayers in New Jersey pay 40% of the income tax. In addition, we've got a situation where that tax applies to small businesses. I'm simply not going to put my foot on the back of the neck of small business while I want them to try to grow jobs by giving more revenue to New Jersey."
- Budget cuts are unfair.
"The special interests have already begun to scream their favorite word—which, coincidentally, is my 9-year-old son's favorite word when we are making him do something he knows is right but does not want to do—'unfair.' . . . One state retiree, 49 years old, paid, over the course of his entire career, a total of $124,000 towards his retirement pension and health benefits. What will we pay him? $3.3 million in pension payments over his life, and nearly $500,000 for health care benefits—a total of $3.8 million on a $120,000 investment. Is that fair?"
- State budget cuts only shift the pain to our towns.
"[L]et's remember this, in 2009 the private sector in New Jersey lost 121,000 jobs. In 2009, municipalities and school boards added 11,300 jobs. Now that's just outrageous. And they're going to have to start to lay some people off, not continue to hire at the pace they hired in 2009 in the middle of a recession."
The usual Republican response to such boilerplate criticism is to run and hide, afraid to go further lest they be labeled - heaven forbid - "controversial". Christie instead pounded back.
And the amazing thing is that he's winning. To the shock of the Trenton political establishment and their media allies, he went toe to toe with the teachers unions on the state's local school budget elections, usually low turnout affairs that are dominated by the unions and their allies. Except his time, Christie waded in, asking New Jerseyans to reject any budget where the local teachers union had refused to reject a one-year pay freeze and to contribute a measly 1.5% of their salary to their own lavish health care coverage premiums; 58% - the highest percentage since 1976 - of the budgets were rejected.
Over and over again, where a typical politician would attempt to duck, punt or compromise, Christie instead dons his armor, unsheathes his sword and charges straight into the breach, swinging all the way. Refreshingly, critics are not allowed to get away with anything; Christie apparently never got the memo that advises all Republicans under fire to be "above the fray" and not respond to their critics - the theory being, according to the geniuses advising top-echelon Republicans, that happily taking abuse appeals to the "middle" who supposedly go to sleep at night crying into their pillows because they can't stand "the bickering."
Christie's most recent episode of awesome is his refusal to grant lifetime tenure to the New Jersey Supreme Court's only African American member, even though he certainly knew the shrieks of "RAAAAAAAACISM!!!" would not be far behind. Under the New Jersey state Constitution, after the first seven years, NJSC Justices are eligible for lifetime tenure, at the Governor's discretion, until they reach the mandatory retirement age of 70. Since this rule was adopted in the 1940s, not one Justice has ever not been reconfirmed by the Governor. Until now.
The unfortunate effect of this is that NJ Supreme Court Justices have, over the last three decades arrogated to themselves powers reserved to the other branches of government. Confident of no reprisals, over the years they have seized the power of the purse away from the legislature by mandating how education funds must be raised and spent, blatantly and partisanly allowed the Democrats to substitute a candidate (Lautenberg for Torricelli) in an election well past the deadline, ordered the legislature to institute same-sex marriage, etc.
Christie campaigned on reining in the NJ Supreme Court and making sure they return to their proper constitutional role and out of the policy-making business; white, black or green with pink polka-dots, Justice John Wallace is as activist and liberal as the typical member of the NJSC. So, instead of ducking the "controversy" (especially since Wallace is 68 and must retire in less than two years), the shrieks from the usual suspects from the Press to Democratic subsidiaries like the NAACP, Christie broke with the tradition, another of the establishment's comfortable unwritten arrangements, and instead thanked Wallace for his service and nominated a replacement.
Once again showing that he means to shake up Trenton, Gov. Christopher J. Christie declined on Monday to reappoint a sitting justice to the New Jersey Supreme Court, instead appointing someone who he said would show the restraint that was missing from the court.
The justice, John E. Wallace Jr., became the first one to seek reappointment and be refused by a New Jersey governor since the current State Constitution was adopted 63 years ago.
Justice Wallace’s departure also means that for the first time in 16 years, the court will not have a black justice. If confirmed by the State Senate, Mr. Christie’s appointment of Anne M. Patterson, a Morris County lawyer, will give the court its first female majority.
Speaking to reporters in Trenton, Mr. Christie had only kind words for Justice Wallace, but he described the historically liberal court as “out of control” over the last three decades, usurping the roles of the governor and the Legislature in setting social and tax policies.
The NJSC Chief Justice, terrified that the Court's informal policy-making role that it has enjoyed for so long is about to be stripped away, and highlighting once again why a total revamp of the court is necessary issued a panicked press release criticizing the decision. The Left is shrieking as one of its most secure redoubts in NJ government (NJ Democrats in the legislature rely on the court to enact unpopular liberal policies they're not brave enough to vote for) is put squarely in the crosshairs
Christie is clearly establishing his position for future fights on this subject down the road - five (including Wallace) of the current seven members of the New Jersey Supreme Court are up for either retirement of re-appointment during Christie's term and he's clearly sending a signal that it's not going to be business as usual; while his Republican predecessors re-appointed liberal activist Justices to avoid controversy, he does not intend to.
Whether or not Christie is going to succeed in his quest to transform New Jersey into a state worth investing in, remains to be seen. But this is what is called leadership and I hope elected Republicans everywhere are taking note of how its done.
All hail Governor Chratos.