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:
Troubling issues this raises about Sheila Oliver:
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.