Christie outs Oliver as his puppet in secret Koch Bros. meeting we weren’t supposed to know about

News broke today of Gov. Chris Christie’s remarks – with audio – claiming he protected Sheila Oliver’s position as Speaker with the promise of GOP votes if she couldn’t get Democrats, in exchange for her support to post the Christie-Sweeney-Oliver pen-ben bill and shepherd votes. His remarks came at a meeting in Colorado Christie took pains to cover up – failing to disclose it, its hosts (far-right oil billionaire Koch brothers) or even his out-of-state travel that day. No matter which account you believe – if either – what we learned today confirms something is very wrong in the way decisions are made in New Jersey.  

The 4 hour-plus time lag before an Oliver denial of Christie’s story concerns me. If Christie’s story was bullshit, you’d expect her to say so immediately. First, Oliver’s late-day statement – a humdinger:

“The assertions that Gov. Christie has made, they are outright lies. Outright lies. I am beginning to wonder if Gov. Christie is mentally deranged,” Oliver said. “At no time did I ever, ever pick up the telephone, call Gov. Christie and ask him to quote ‘save my leadership.’ ” The governor was engaged in a chest-thumping vaudeville entertainment session in front of the Republican donors, she said. “I don’t expect to call him at all,” she said. “I think it’s disgraceful.”

Mentally deranged, she calls Christie. This story may unleash a war of words between the GOP governor and the Democratic Speaker, a breaking of the confederacy between them that has infuriated so many Democrats. And it may mean that the compliance Christie counts on from Oliver may be cracking as Oliver attempts to save herself from political embarrassment. Though, it’s impossible to miss that Oliver expended her energy distancing herself from political allegations from the Governor; she still hasn’t said anything worth reporting about her role pushing pen-ben, in defiance of core principles. The possibility that Oliver may now wiggle out from under Christie’s thumb and begin to lead as she was elected to do, keeps us from calling for her ouster from leadership.  


Let’s go back and review a day of breaking news.

It started early today, with revelations in BradBlog and Mother Jones (both by Brad Friedman) of what Christie said at an ultra-secretive meeting of far-right bigwigs convened by the Koch Brothers in Vail, hours after the pen-ben drama hit apex.

Christie outed Oliver as a puppet figure controlled by him in (at least) that vote, and dependent on him and his power to compel lockstep GOP legislators to do his bidding  – even so far as pledging their vote to keep a Democrat in the Speakers chair. Those alt-press published reports forced Christie today to own his Vail remarks, claiming to the well-heeled Koch crowd that Oliver personally asked him for GOP support to stay in power if the Democrats tried to dump her as Speaker to stop the bill. In case of a coup … a coup that never came. Ask yourself why.

Audio & transcript of Gov. Christie’s speech to secretive meeting convened by Koch Brothers.  A damning Christie statement:  

So I went down to the Republican Assembly caucus room. I stood at the front of the room and I said, “Ladies and gentleman, it’s a historic day today. You’re going to get an opportunity to cast two historic votes.” [laughter] “The first one, of course, is about pension and benefit reform and I know that everybody in this room supports it. The second one is a little more unusual.” [laughter] I said, “Probably for the only time in my governorship I’m going to actually ask you to vote for a Democrat. I said Sheila Oliver is under siege. And she wants to do the right thing. And we cannot be slaves to party or partisanship. She is right on this issue and she is with us on this issue. So if they take a run at her on the floor, I need all of you to vote for her for Speaker.” I had these men and women look back at me like, “What?” [scattered laughter] And I said to ’em, “We were sent here to lead. Not to preen and posture, posture and pose. To lead. A public office to lead. We need to do this. So raise your hands. Are you with me or aren’t you?” All 33 of them raised their hands and said they were with me.

This story is a tangle of conflicting accounts that spotlights so much of what is wrong with New Jersey politics as we witness it. Lies (one’s lying, the other telling the truth, or both lie). Back-room decisions conducted by shadow powers. Failure of bi-partisanship. Capitulation to a unitary executive. A meglomaniac governor.  

Troubling issues it raises about Christie:

  • Christie’s daily schedule (supplied to press) did not list this event. Between a morning event and appearances the next day on TV (in studio), Christie flew to Colorado. Why did Christie conceal what he was doing? What else does he fail to disclose?
  • What is a governor who campaigned on transparency doing speaking at GOP donor event so secretive that audio speakers around the periphery of the venue blasted static to thwart eavesdroppers? (it leaked anyway)
  • This statement: I don’t want to deal with those people down the hall.” (read: the legislative branch of government)
  • His version of the Millionaire’s Tax.
  • Secret meetings with Koch Brothers make clear how tied he is to their far-right agenda, and sheds light on his pulling NJ out of RGGI – their top priority. A connection Blue Jersey pointed out 4 months ago. What is the quid pro quo between our governor and these guys?
  • How much of NJ policy is driven by Christie’s national ambitions?

    Troubling issues this raises about Sheila Oliver:

  • Oliver’s position is shaky. Has been for months. It’s completely in-bounds to ask how she can continue to lead. Whether she’s been leading at all. Is she more beholden to the Republican governor for her power than to the people of New Jersey or her fellow Democrats?
  • Senate President Sweeney appears equally dependent on – and indebted and obligated to – Republican power. Sweeney’s confederacy is tied to Oliver’s and both infuriated voting Democrats and elected members of their own Party. What’s in it for them?  
  • There was faith placed in Sheila Oliver, the first African-American woman elected Speaker in NJ history. Her conduct during pen-ben diminishes her; Christie’s story, which is already national, would explain her behavior.

    What may be worst of all is that Christie’s story – undoubtably exaggerated to puff himself – explains why there was no coup in either House of the legislature after the betrayals of Oliver, Sweeney and the machine Democrats that powered both pen-ben and NJN votes. If Democrats were clued that the Christie fix was in to protect Oliver (and Sweeney?) with GOP votes in exchange for pushing the Governor’s agenda, why would they rock the boat and face certain failure when every single one of them faced their own re-elections just months later?

    This is not a bi-partisan government. The Democratic-majority New Jersey legislature is run with unreported allegiance to the Republican governor, and with both Sweeney and Oliver doing the bidding of shadow powers of their own Party more loyal to the governor than to the people of New Jersey. We have a legislature whose leaders have chained to the agenda of the most political governor in the United States, Chris Christie, who was elected with the advice and assistance of the Bush White House and whose power is supported by a network of far-right interests Christie attempts to shield from public view.

    We should be indebted to BradBlog and to Mother Jones for breaking this story. Sometimes the truth will out only in ‘alternative’ media.

  • Comments (17)

    1. cerrano

      while i wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if concrete evidence surfaced of this conversation between oliver and christie, i am just wondering something that maybe someone here can clear up.

      with so many turncoats voting for the bill, was oliver ever really in danger of being ousted?  in other words, say the authentic dems tried to remove her for introducing the bill, those dems who voted for it woudln’t be very likely to go along with the coup leaders, and republicans, knowing that they wouldn’t be able to elect one of theirs, would oppose her removal because the new speaker wouldn’t post pen-ben.

      the timing of the leak is interesting as mid-term elections are just around the corner, and what better way for christie and republicans to remind voters how fractured the new jersey democratic party actually is, and how republicans  rode in on their white horse and “saved” the nj taxpayer from the parasitic public worker?

      i agree that it looks terrible for oliver to delay her response, and maybe it’s early for partisan sabotage, but to me, and besides the obvious reasons, this story doesn’t ring quite true.

      but my logic might be off.  either way, i’m still f*@king angry about this issue.

    2. DSWright

      Hat Tip Mother Jones and Brad Blog.

    3. Hopeful

      while the Christie story with raising hands might be exaggerated, something along those lines is probably true. Maybe Sweeney asked Christie on Oliver’s behalf. He is the one who knows how to run a coup after all.


    4. Jay Lassiter

      …because i am actually stunned.  I was was more comfortable with this as a conspiracy theory than confirmed on Brad’s blog.


    5. Alex

      Leaving aside whose account (Christie’s vs Oliver’s) is closer to the truth, the fact remains that Oliver shepherded through the pen-ben bill and, by so doing, did Christie’s job for him. Christie can now go around the country painting himself as a governor who can get Democrats to see the light and cooperate with him. Not only did she aid the phony class war rhetoric of the right and help alienate a key Democratic constituency from her own party, she else strengthened Christie’s national ambitions. So folks like Oliver can say what they like but their actions can’t be undone. What remains to be seen is if the Democratic caucus will retain her in her position.

    6. 12mileseastofTrenton

      At no time did I ever, ever pick up the telephone, call Gov. Christie and ask him to quote ‘save my leadership.’ ”

      So, did she speak to him in person?  Did someone speak to him on her behalf?

      This is akin to a non-denial denial.  I tend to believe Christie on this one.

    7. Bertin Lefkovic

      …to find that gambling is going on in here!”

      Captain Louis Renault



      As if anyone should have needed proof to know that Sweeney and Oliver are beholden to George Norcross and Steve Adubato and that Norcross and Adubato are in bed with Governor Christie.  Anyone who knows anything about NJ politics could have predicted this when real Democrats like Dick Codey and Bonnie Watson Coleman were screwed over by Sweeney, Oliver, and their Democratic colleagues prior to the 2009 elections and I wouldn’t be surprised if our Democratic “leaders” suppressed the Democratic vote to help elect Christie and oust Corzine.

      This dynamic has all but rendered the upcoming legislative elections as pointless as the Democratic majority that we used to have has been replaced by a DINO-Republican cabal.  Obviously, it is important that Democrats win in the few competitive districts like LD14, LD27, and LD38, but when all is said and done, we are going to have a Christie-friendly legislature until we elect a new Governor AND a new legislature in 2013.

      Hopefully, this “revelation” will inspire progressives to finally start working to create a progressive movement within the Democratic Party in the same aggressive way that the TPM has created a conservative movement within the Republican Party.  Regardless of the fact that we dont agree with teabagging wingnuts on any policy issue of any kind, we could and should learn from their willingness to use primary elections to change their party.

      Looking ahead, progressives need to forget about 2012 and focus solely on 2013.  We need to find a gubernatorial candidate who is going to run with his or her own slate of legislative candidates to ensure that future Democratic majorities are truly Democratic.  As much as I like Barbara Buono, I am not convinced that she is someone who would be willing to run with insurgents in counties where she does not have the party line.

      I also think that it would be terrible to lose her as a State Senator if she doesn’t win the gubernatorial nomination or the November election.  With his father as Middlesex County Chairman, there can be no doubt that the State Senate candidate in her district would be anti-choice Assemblyman Peter Barnes III.  I would prefer to see her remain in the State Senate and become its first female President.

      I think that the progressive movement’s best hope to reclaim our party and our state would be Senator Codey, who has had a long and distinguished career, was an effective and popular Acting Governor, and has absolutely nothing to lose.  His replacement would most likely be Assemblyman John McKeon, who is one of the more progressive members of the State Assembly.

    8. DSWright

      They first hedged, apparently not wanting to admit they would have ‘voted for a Democrat’ to stay in power.


      Amodeo in Star Ledger


      DeCroce in Politicker

      Admitted the meeting took place and that Christie asked and they agreed to provide Oliver insurance on the bill and her remaining Speaker should the party challenge her.

      Still not beyond a reasonable doubt that Oliver asked for the help, if you really want to believe that.

      The alternative is that Christie took the initiative, with no guidance or request from Oliver, to make sure she remained speaker. That’s hard to swallow given that Christie and Sweeney and then Oliver negotiated the bill together.  

    9. Rosi Efthim (Post author)

      Christie likes to be asked about himself, and likes people to marvel at his powers. So, as noted, there’s little doubt he exaggerated. Part of where the exaggeration may come in is his claim that Sheila Oliver asked him personally for help against her own party. But – if it’s true – whether Oliver asked him herself or the powers that direct Oliver asked is not as important as the possibility that the rest is true, that the Democratic Speaker’s continued power in office depends on whether a GOP governor says it’s okay.  

    10. Adam L

      very carefully chosen words.  did she do it in person?  Did she pick up the telephone and say something else?

    11. brendanod

      There had to be conversation and assurances made to her to bring such a volatile bill  to the floor knowing what a chasm it would cause within her own party.

      This is probably old news to many. The coup attempt never occurred, which means to me those who would attempt a coup knew he/she would go down in flames with the other side of the aisle supporting Oliver.

    12. Rosi Efthim (Post author)

      is a very interesting observation.  

    13. William Weber (WjcW)

      Joe Cryan verfiy this whole thing?

      Doesn’t the story follow that the minority leader in the assembly told Cryan a coup would be fruitless because the Republican’s ‘had her back’?

      Just ask Cryan, he should be more than willing acknowledge that conversation if it occurred.

    14. 12mileseastofTrenton

      before the new year.  We’ll see.

    15. DSWright

      Not so sure about that, though his absence from today’s story is interesting.  

    16. DSWright

      Oh boy.

    17. Bertin Lefkovic

      …to see Cryan as the next Assembly Speaker.  How does a Codey-Watson Coleman ticket sound to you?  I would love to see her debate Guadagno.

      It would also be good to see her make a comeback after the way that she was screwed over by Sweeney/Norcross and Oliver/Adubato and then publicly trashed by Christie.


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