Author Archive: jeffpickens

“Coptergate” eclipses “Iowagate”

Or, “Drumthwacketgate”, if you're into tongue twisters.

By now we all know that Governor Christie used a state helicopter to watch his son's baseball game at St Joe's in Montvale Tuesday, and the Liberal Media was all over it.

Am I alone in being less than apoplectic about this? I am no expert in the do's and don'ts of the use of state vehicles by the governor, so I can't say if this was an improper use of the state helicopter, although it certainly seems so. And for all I know there may have been some important state business he needed to get to or from before or after the game.

In the list of outrages committed by this governor this incident ranks somewhere towards the bottom. Bad optics? Absolutely. But hey, he was going to watch his kid play ball, so at least he walks the walk rides the limo when it comes to family values.

Far more offensive (to me at least), and I'm no lawyer but possibly illegal, is his using the taxpayer owned governor's mansion, Drumthwacket, to host a cadre of GOP bigwig donors form Iowa to beg him to run for president. This story was buried deep below the fold Tuesday; I needed to hit “next” several times on nj.com to find any reference to it. As of this writing there's only a passing reference to it Wednesday morning.

If outrage is a limited resource, we should care more about Iowagate and less about Coptergate.

This is neither the first time nor the last time Christie  has misused NJ taxpayer dollars (e.g. “town hall” meetings, YouTube videos). Does anyone care that he hosted GOP donors from Iowa at the taxpayer-owned governor's mansion?

We should all wonder what he was anticipating was going to happen at that meeting to cause him to pull a stunt like Coptergate to create such a diversion and deflect attention from the Iowa meeting, which was a more egregious misuse of taxpayer funds. If creating a diversion was his intention, it worked.

Imagine someone still driving around with one of these?

 In our house, Joey never referred to Edwards by name, only as 'FluffyBoy'. Unfortunately, I was on the NJ ballot for Edwards, along with half the people I know. Some of you others were smarter … – promoted by Rosi

Spotted recently in a parking lot in Atlanta:

 

If I had one of these at the time, I would have covered it up:

 

Another Weekday, Another “Town Hall”

 So, now we know the Governor doesn't feel he should be expected to have any “Town Halls” at night, when most working people can attend, because he doesn't work nights. Seems he doesn't work weekends, either. – promoted by Rosi

This is getting old. I got the news late Saturday afternoon that Governor Chris Christie would be taking his “Town Hall” road show to Evesham, NJ this Tuesday, May 10th. Again on a weekday, again in the middle of the day.

I learned this through a Google alert, in a news site I hadn't heard of called southjerseylocalnews.com. Apparently I have once again been purged from the governor's email list. After a conversation with a Christie staffer a few weeks ago, in which he denied that non-supporters were being removed from the email lists, and denied the existence of a secret advance notice email list for supporters, the staffer promised to add me back to the list.

After that I got not one but two invites to last week's Manalapan event, one from the standard email distribution and one personally sent by my new “friend” from the governor's constituent relations office. I politely declined, citing the need to show up for my day job.

I was told by my friend from the governor's office that these events cannot be held in the evenings because the governor works very hard during the day, has four kids, and spends evenings with his family. 

Elections Matter

They certainly matter to NJ Governor Chris Christie, who took a special interest in the election for State Senate in the 8th Legislative District, in which Olympic Gold Medalist and Willingboro native Carl Lewis had plans to run as a Democrat.

Now, it is hardly breaking news that the Governor is a petty, vindictive bully. By the time Lewis formally announced his candidacy on April 11, calling Christie a “good friend”, Christie's plan to derail Lewis' candidacy was well underway, and the fate of the campaign had been all but sealed.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Christie sent one of his young thugs after Lewis, in a series of “increasingly tense phone calls”, marked by attempted intimidation and implied threats:

(H)e received the first of increasingly tense phone calls from Frank Luna, a veteran political operative who performs constituent services for the governor.

Luna asked Walker, executive director of the Carl Lewis Foundation, whether Lewis was running for the Eighth District Senate seat. According to Walker, Luna told him: “The governor is concerned.”

The two spoke daily the next two days, and on April 9, Walker said, Luna told him “the governor is very upset and disappointed, and Carl would be embarrassing himself by running.”

Walker said that in that April 9 conversation, Luna told him, “How can you expect the governor to work hand-in-hand with Carl when Carl is working against him? You can forget about this program.”

Christie and Lewis spoke April 10.

Christie knew that, should Lewis decide to declare anyway, the Republicans would challenge Lewis' NJ residency in court, and if the court punted, he could count on Lt Governor / Secretary of State Kim Guadagno to pull a Katherine Harris and rule against Lewis,

We get the government we deserve. For those Democrats who were disappointed with the Corzine campaign and decided to stay home in November 2009, or worse, voted for Christie thinking “how bad can he be?”, consider this: It could have been Loretta Weinberg making the decision on Carl Lewis' eligibility to run in NJ.While we cannot know for sure how a Secretary of State Weinberg would have ruled, we can be reasonably sure that, stateswoman that she is, she would have given careful consideration to the facts of the case and ruled as Secretary of State, not as the Governor's sock puppet.

To paraphrase Bill Clinton: if you don't vote, you are, in fact, voting for the person you don't want. Let's not let that happen again.

Get out and vote today if your school district is holding elections today.

Get out and vote in November. We need a Democratic majority in the Legislature to hold this out-of-control Governor in check.

Remember, elections matter.

This Is Not Kosher – The Wall of Separation, Redux

Another week, another “town hall”.

This time it's at the Westlake Golf and Country Club, an over-55 community  in Jackson, NJ. This event is about the same as all the others, held on a weekday morning, with little or no advance notice, except to Christie supporters, all but guaranteeing a homogeneous crowd, this time packed with retirees who feel they no longer should pay property taxes, now that they no longer have kids in school.

But what makes this “town hall” different from the others?

Because this event is being held on Tuesday, April 19th, the second day of Pesach, or Passover, when Jews are preparing for the second seder, and will be unable to attend. This is either a deliberate attempt to exclude Jews from the event, or at best, extreme, insensitive, political tone-deafness.

In March 9, Christie breached (in my opinion) the wall of separation between church and state by holding a “town hall” at a Catholic Church on Ash Wednesday, a Catholic holiday. An OPRA request that I filed to learn who paid for this event was blown-off by the governor's office, on a technicality, when I made the mistake of using the word “information” in my request. Although the governor's counsel understood full well the intent of my inquiry, he refused to answer.

About a week later, the governor held a “town hall” in Woodbridge, where he stacked the audience with parochial school students wearing t-shirts supporting the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a voucher program that would steer taxpayer funds into private schools.

There is no question, now, that the governor is using these “town hall” meetings as a tool to promote his anti-women's health, anti-public education, pro-voucher, papist agenda. This is further borne out by the timing of the latest “town hall”, erecting a new wall of separation by making it difficult or impossible for Jews to attend.

If this bothers you, and it should, please write to the governor's office to express your outrage.

Contact Matt Mowers at the Office of the Governor: Matt.Mowers@gov.state.nj.us

and cc Constituent Relations:Constituent.Relations@gov.state.nj.us

Remind Governor Christie he is he Governor of ALL the people of New Jersey.

My OPRA Request – Answered! (well, not quite)

A recent blog post I wrote, “The Wall of Separation?“, which raised questions about the First Amendment implications of Chris Christie holding a “town hall” meeting at a Catholic church, on Ash Wednesday, a Catholic holiday, sparked an interesting comment thread about the appropriateness of holding such an event at such a place on such a date.

Some commenters were interested in how much was paid for the hall rental and by whom. So on March 9th I submitted OPRA request #W56799:

Requesting information as to how the $300.00 rental fee was paid to to Jude's Church for use of the parish hall for Governor Christie's town hall meeting on Wednesday, March 9, 2011. Please provide a copy of the rental agreement, which should identify who were the parties to the agreement, and proof of payment, identifying who paid the $300.00.

I did not expect a timely response, actually I did not expect a response at all. So imagine my surprise when, less than two weeks later, I saw an email from the Governor's office on my cell phone. I could hardly wait to get back to my laptop and read the pdf, which I could not open on the phone.

Here is the non-response, from Assistant Counsel Raymond Brandes:

Please be advised that the first portion of your request is a request for information and not for a specific identifiable government record, and therefor is an invalid OPRA request, OPRA is a records law, not an “information” law. OPRA does not countenance “(w)holesale requests for general information” {..then some legalese..}

This was not a “two-portion” request. It was a request for documents; the first portion was simply the what-and-where, so the OPRA responder would know what documents I was requesting. Now, the response to the second portion:

Please be further advised that this office has reviewed its records in response to the second portion or your request, for a copy of a rental agreement and proof of payment. That search has not identified any documents responsive to your request. Accordingly this request is hereby closed.

Uh, no, Mr. Brandes, the request is not closed. You have not answered the question.
Is there no purchase order?
No agreement?
No receipt?
No cancelled check?

This is either poor fiscal housekeeping or the hall was provided free of charge to the Governor.

If it's the former, and the Governor's office cannot account for a simple $300.00 hall rental payment, how can he be trusted with a $29.4 billion state budget?

If it's the latter, we have a Catholic church providing a free venue for a Catholic Governor to hold a political event on church property. What about that wall of separation?

 

An Open Letter to NJ Assemblyman Paul Moriarty – Has Governor Christie Violated Election Laws?

The Honorable Paul D. Moriarty
NJ State Assemblyman, Legislative District #4
129 Johnson Road
Suite 1
Turnersville, NJ 08012

Dear Mr. Moriarty:

As a citizen and taxpayer in the State of New Jersey, I applaud your recent remarks criticizing Governor Chris Christie for his partisan political rallies, masquerading as “Town Hall” meetings, at taxpayer expense. I am proud to be represented by such a dedicated public servant, looking out for the best interests of the citizens of New Jersey.

You stated:

These are taxpayer-funded events organized and promoted by the taxpayer-funded governor’s office. If the governor sticks to public policy, that’s fine. But if the governor wants to campaign, he must dip into his own wallet.

I agree with you 100%

 

These so-called “Town Hall” meetings are, in fact, political rallies to benefit the Governor’s political agenda, characterized by:

  • The events are purportedly open to the public, but appear to be planned in stealth and supporters are notified in advance. Public notice is typically two days before the event.
  • It appears the non-supporters have been identified and purged from the Governor’s email list.
  • The events are always held during the day, on a weekday, making it difficult or impossible for working people to attend, and all but ensuring a homogenous pro-Christie crowd.
  • Governor Christie has in the past used the Q&A section of the events to rudely berate constituents who do not agree with him, for the benefit of his taxpayer funded YouTube channel. This practice has recently subsided in favor of Q&A involving what appear to be planted questioners lobbing softballs, again to be promoted on the Governor’s taxpayer-funded YouTube channel.
  • The Governor typically makes a show of referring at least one of the questioners to his Constituent Relations staffer to make the event appear to be non-political.
  • His most recent egregious partisan move at a “town hall” was to conscript a group of students from St. James School in Woodbridge to support passage of the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a proposed school voucher program. The students appeared wearing t-shirts supporting the Act.

In light of the above, and other examples not listed of which you are certainly aware, I respectfully request that you initiate in the Assembly, hearings and investigations of possible violations of the Campaign Contributions and Expenditures Reporting Act, N.J.S.A. 19:44A-1, the Personal Financial Disclosure Act, N.J.S.A. 19:44B-1, and the Legislative and Governmental Processes Activities Disclosure Act, N.J.S.A. 52:13C-18, for the purposes of filing a complaint with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (“ELEC”) on behalf of the taxpayers of New Jersey.

Thank you for considering this request and your consistent excellent service to your constituents in the 4th Legislative District.

Respectfully Submitted,
Jeffrey R. Pickens

Where’s The Outrage?

 promoted by Rosi

I know, I just asked for a moratorium on press coverage of Chris Christie's sham “Town Hall” meetings, which are really campaign rallies in disguise funded by NJ's taxpayers. But if you're going to spill any ink (or megabytes) on it, at least report on something of substance.

Here is what passes for journalism in the non-blog section of the Asbury Park Press

McGreevey's dad steals show at Christie town hall

And in the Star-Ledger:

Former Gov. McGreevey's father quizzes Christie on 'hot and sexy' comment

Thank goodness for  John Schoonejongen of the APP's Capitol Quickies blog, who at least reported on Christie's remarks about pension elimination “reform”, along with this nugget:

…a group of about two dozen students from St. James School in Woodbridge — there to support passage of the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a proposed school voucher program — were part of the background.

Twenty-four students excused from school, to serve as props for public subsidizing of parochial schools? Why weren't these kids in school? Are they “drug mules” for the voucher lobby?

Remember the right-wing outrage over President Obama's televised back-to-school address to students? Where's the outrage here?

In the meantime, there is quite a lively discussion going on in the comments section of Capitol Quickies, over pensions and the like.

Enjoy.

 

 

Town Hall, Shmown Hall

How about a moratorium on reporting on Governor Christie's so-called “town hall meetings” until one or more is held in the evening or on a weekend, when working people can attend? Now, if you are not on the Governor's coveted mailing list, you must scour the news websites for announcements, which typically come out with 1-2 days notice. By then, the Faithful have already been tipped off, and can make arrangements to attend, while the rest of us must either miss the event due to work, or jeopardize our jobs by calling in sick. There is a “town hall” scheduled for Woodbridge Tuesday morning. NJ.com dutifully announced the event on Thursday but managed to leave out the date and location. This has since been corrected in later versions of the post.

I have been to one of these, and from what I witnessed and have read about subsequent town hall meetings, they are routine, the same tired stories. The same script.

The Governor approaches the stage to wild applause, talks about “reform” (since when did “reform” become a synonym for “dismantling”?), blasts the usual scapegoats, the Legislature, public workers, and reminds us that his beef is not with teachers but the NJEA.

Then comes the Q&A, which may result in a “YouTube” moment, followed by his closing remarks, a heart-wrenching story about visiting his cancer-stricken mother on her deathbed, where she tells him to get back to work because “there's nothing left unsaid between us”. Every town hall ends with this story, and there is barely a dry eye in the house.

Now, I am not in any way mocking Mrs. Christie's untimely death, but I cannot help but wonder, if she was the tough cookie he often describes, would she approve of her son cynically exploiting this intimate mother-son moment to score political points? I am sure my late mother would haunt my ass, big-time, if I pulled a stunt like that.

Note that, ever since the fiasco in Parsippany, where the Governor invited a questioner to the stage, berated him, and had him expelled from the meeting by his State Police detail, there have been no more reports of confrontations at these town halls. Is this the sign of a new, mellowed, improved Chris Christie, or has his staff become more adept at packing the hall with sycophants? Lately the format has featured the Governor performing in-the-round, in a roped-off area resembling a pro wrestling ring.

In my last diary about possible 1st amendment issues with holding one of these town halls at a Catholic church facility, on Ash Wednesday, a Catholic holiday, Blue Jersey staff writer Deciminyan posted the following comment:

Is it time yet to post a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that these “Town Hall' meetings are really political events and should be funded by Christie's shadow campaign organizations instead of the taxpayer?

Good question. As long as these events continue to be held at a time to maximize a pro-Christie crowd, when it is difficult or impossible for working people to attend, the question remains, are they really “town hall meetings” or partisan campaign events?

If they are the latter, and each one follows the same predictable script, why bother covering them, other than to raise this question and explore possible FEC violations?