In evaluating Chris Christie’s leadership record as the Republican Governor of New Jersey, there are plenty of reasons for the moderate or liberal voter to be concerned. Christie took the oath of office on January 19, 2010 and initially offered a rather tired retread of the same G.O.P policies that have been called into question for decades: an across the board 10 percent state income tax cut, opposition to same sex marriage and the defeat of the Hudson River Tunnel Project. The infrastructure initiative would have doubled the rail capacity for Jersey commuters traveling to New York City, and Christie killed the project according to NJ.com “even as Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was urging him from behind the scenes not to pull the plug before the two had a chance to discuss the matter, according to officials in the office of U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).”
All that said, there is good cause to believe that Christie feels no need to submit to the “true conservative” litmus tests which pandering former moderates such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell routinely and disingenuously undergo. By the “white, straight male is right” standards of his party mates, Christie’s appointments of the openly gay Bruce Harris, and several Asian Americans, to the New Jersey Supreme Court were a breath of fresh, modern air.
On January 2 of this year, Christie openly and savagely criticized Congress’s postponement of a Hurricane Sandy disaster relief bill as “selfishness and duplicity” that was “disgusting to watch.” Most pointedly and grievously in terms of his party standing, the Governor claimed there was “only one group to blame, the Republican Party and Speaker Boehner.” Insult to injury as far as the G.O.P. was concerned after this photo of “The Hug,” a rare moment of emotional bipartisanship between a Republican leader and President Obama.
Two months ago, Christie signed a bill outlawing gay conversion therapy in children, making New Jersey the second state to implement such a law. While this may sound like average, tolerant and compassionate good sense, bear in mind that the party lags far behind the American people when it comes to the recognition of equality for all. Consider the loathsome “pray away the gay” clinics once operated by Marcus Bachmann, husband of Tea Party standard bearer, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.
Christie is far from perfect. His temper is legendary, and in 1996, the Governor switched from a pro-choice to a pro-life viewpoint, a move widely seen as base pandering rather than authentic change of heart. However, Christie is not the first politician from either party to adapt his platform to his public (see Obama’s often frustrating “evolution” on LGBT equality questions). By and large, the burly boss appears real and unscripted in an age of kowtowing and carefully scripted sound bites.
Early into the week, Christie once again finds himself on the wrong side of Republican party doctrine. The New York Times published a story on Monday by writer Marc Santora with the title, Christie Withdraws Appeal of Same-Sex Marriage Ruling in New Jersey. Although the Governor’s team was clear that the withdrawal should not be taken as support of the state’s Supreme Court ruling that hurdles to equality must be immediately and finitely removed, Christie breeches again with the right wing by embracing common sense. He will not continue to waste time and taxpayer money on a battle he can’t win. “‘Although the governor strongly disagrees with the court substituting its judgment for the constitutional process of the elected branches or a vote of the people, the court has now spoken clearly as to their view of the New Jersey Constitution and, therefore, same-sex marriage is the law,’ Mr. Christie’s administration said in a statement. ‘The governor will do his constitutional duty and ensure his administration enforces the law as dictated by the New Jersey Supreme Court.’”
At the risk of giving the Governor too much credit for simply refusing to take up residence in despotic Fantasyland, I find myself relishing a good 2016 Presidential contest in the event that Christie is able to overcome his party’s primary season extremism. One can always hope that conservative voters will come to see the merits of nominating someone who might actually, you know, win a general election. I’m unlikely to cast a ballot for Christie myself, especially if Hillary Clinton makes a formal decision to run, but it would be awfully nice to be able to summon some respect for the opposition. It’s been too long.