In the aftermath of the legislative Democrats finally rallying together to defeat Kwon’s Supreme Court nomination, Governor Christie needed a response. Although the Governor likes to talk tough on responsibility an accountability, those values seem to apply to everyone but him. So he followed Step 1 in the Christie political rule book, he shifted the blame.
Why did Kwon’s nomination fail? According to Christie: “a partisan side show,” “political payback by the Democratic Party,” “appealing back to their base.” In essence, it is not due to his actions or the lack of qualifications of his nominee, but it is the vengeful Democrats who are responsible.
This excuse line is laughably weak, but we must remember that passing the buck is par for the course for Chris Christie. Most notably, when he fired former New Jersey Education Commissioner Bret Schundler, after Schundler “mislead” the Governor on Race to the Top. Schundler vehemently denied the Governor’s false accusations… but that’s old history.
The reason this most recent passing of the buck by Christie is worrisome is that it just might work. Instead of focusing on the mangled mess which was Kwon’s nomination, the narrative appears to be moving towards viewing the events as “political payback.” In particular an article in PolitickerNJ and one in the Star Ledger caught my eye. But after a brief search, they are just two of many that follow the Governor’s accusatory line of blaming.
It plays into a narrative Christie exploits to great applause: him waging war against all enemies on behalf of New Jersey! Christie is supposedly taking on the Union bosses, the free-spending Democrats, the corrupt politicos, the overpaid teachers, the overpaid firefighters and policemen… the list goes on and on. The Governor is most comfortable in a fight.
But the Democrats need to ensure that they don’t fight this fight on his grounds. Kwon’s failed nomination was not about political payback, it was about Governor Christie playing political games with the New Jersey Supreme court!
As Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg have already said, legislators have “a serious responsibility in confirming nominees to the state’s highest court.” This a serious task, that requires serious nominees from our Governor. Not politically convenient choices, not choices that try to deceive the court by claiming to be “independent.” A claim that does not pass the smell test.
At the moment, the argument coming from the Democrats is that Governor Christie was trying to reshape the court in “his own liking.” Supposedly, the Democrats had to stop this. While I understand where they are coming from, I think it’s a losing argument. Criticizing someone for reshaping the court in their own image after just voting down their nominee does not compute. It may be embarrassing for the Governor, but there is only so far you can pursue this criticism before a voter steps back and says, “why are you so worked up? It’s not like his efforts succeeded… no harm, no foul.”
Furthermore, the whole debate was not really about “ideological judges” and “mainstream values.” It was about politics, about court composition, and about Christie trying to railroad his nominees onto the court. We know this, the press know this, voters who have been paying attention know this. So instead of making an argument that does not ring true, I think the Democrats should combat Christie’s “political payback” narrative by calling it as it is: Christie was playing political games with the court and is now passing the buck.
From the start, it was clear that Christie had not chosen the most qualified nominees. I am not saying that they may or may not be qualified to sit on the court, but it is widely acknowledged, even among some Republicans publicly, that Christie passed over many other more qualified potential choices. Realizing the challenges to any standard choice, he decided to pick two candidates who won him applause for diversity and one Republican who he hoped to sneak on as “independent.” This was political gamesmanship at its finest, or arguably, at its worst.
As a lawyer and former U.S. Attorney, one would have hoped that Christie’s criteria would have included more substantive factors. But alas not.
This was a political games show where Christie showed disrespect for the court, for the New Jersey residents who are subject to the court’s decisions, and to the intelligence of all New Jerseyans. It is DISRESPECTFUL. We need to make this argument more vociferously. Governor Christie time and again chooses the politically convenient path or uses political games to advance his agenda. All at the expense of the integrity of the legislature, the voters and our public process.
It ties into a wider narrative of political gamesmanship and disrespect. When confronted with Marriage Equality Bill, Christie played a political game called: “referendum.” He passed the buck. When confronted with the reality that his desired budget was not realistic Christie played a political game called: “inflate projections, and create the most optimistic forecasts in the country.” He passed the buck. When confronted with the reality that his Supreme Court nominees were under qualified, Christie played a political game called: “blame the Democrats!” He passed the buck.
We need to fight back against this false narrative. We need to ensure the public finger is pointing at the real culprit for this fiasco: Governor Christie.
The Governor is playing political games with New Jersey’s future and when caught he tries to pass the buck. If Christie wants to talk about responsibility and accountability, it is time he practiced both.