The above was the headline in a Star-Ledger article yesterday. The reporter got it about half right. He first posed the question, “So when Christie’s away who runs the show?” His correct answer was, “The reality is that Gov. Christie is in charge.” Next he asked the question, “But who minds the shop?” He answered, “That would be L.G. Kim Guadagno.” In no way does our lieutenant governor mind the shop. Constitutionally she is given control when he is out of state but the reins are tightly managed by the same people whether Christie is in or out of state.
Christie delegates those reins to his executive staff, most particularly Chief of Staff Regina Egea, Chief Counsel Chris Porrino, and their subordinates. Most cabinet members are kept on a short leash and must go through the chief of staff’s office for anything that’s not routine. If there is an issue normally the chief of staff, knowing what the governor wants, will address it or contact the governor and then get back to the cabinet member. For certain matters related to politics the office might call Christie confidantes such as Mike DuHaime or Bill Palatucci.
Our constitution does not specify the duties of the lieutenant governor. Mrs. Guadagno runs the Department of State and is tasked with being a liaison with the business community, but she is not in Christie’s inner circle. When the governor is away she may sign a bill prepared by Christie’s office or organize a relief effort, but as the Ledger reporter adds, “She hasn’t dared make a move without the governor’s OK.” It is too bad that she is not more broadly involved because if Christie were to leave office she would be better prepared.
So what is the impact of Christie’s travels and his tight control? Because he like most previous governors centralizes the power in his office, when he is away less gets done. Yes, he can chew gum and walk at the same time, but his attention is diverted. Important initiatives that require Christie’s planning, negotiation, and discussion like the economy, Pen/Ben, Sandy recovery, Atlantic City, transportation, and housing are placed on the back burner. Cabinet members continue implementation and management, but not improvisation or initiation. And with our governor away so frequently the critical needs of our state suffer. So all too often when he is away nobody is running NJ.